What Is Your Westminster Story?

June 18, 2017
Reverend Timothy Hart-Andersen, Joan Hyde, Dureen Ruff

Deuteronomy 26:5b-9; Matthew 28:16-20

Hart-Andersen: The Church is a collection of stories. It’s not a body of ecclesiastical rules and regulations, but a community of people with stories of faith. That understanding of the nature of the Church comes from our ancestors in the faith. The Hebrew people embraced a tradition of remembering the stories of their forbears and retelling those stories over and over again.

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor,” they would begin, and then the memory would be shared…how the people of God were enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years, and how God came to them and brought them out of bondage into the freedom of the Land of Promise.

Jewish worship became the time to re-tell the story, to teach the memory, to celebrate the people of God and all they had gone through, the good and bad. In that way, religion is a collective recounting of how God has acted in the life of a people. In worship the people of God rehearse their story.

Early Christians did that, as well. At each service of worship they re-told the story of Jesus and celebrated the Lord’s Supper, a meal of memory. The Apostle Paul said he was passing on what he had received from others, as he intoned the words over the table. We say those same words and tell the same story today.

Westminster will be 160 years old in August. This congregation has thrived all those years because of the stories of faith and faithfulness of the people who have made up this community of faith. In times of struggle and pain, and in times of joy and new life, Westminster has kept the story alive. Through it all, as promised at the end of Matthew, the risen Christ has been with us, “even to the close of the age.”

Today we honor those who have been part of this congregation’s story for more than half a century – all 238 of them! I have asked two of the long-time members, Dureen Ruff and Joan Hyde, to reflect on their long experience in this historic congregation.

When we tell stories of faith we bring the abstract and inexpressible down to earth. We come to know our faith in God in the lives of around us. Thank you, Dureen and Joan, for helping us hear Westminster’s story today.

How did you come to be a part of Westminster?

Ruff: In the summer of 1957, my husband Rick and I moved from California to Minneapolis. Still newlyweds, we moved into an apartment near Lake Calhoun.

During that summer and fall, in our new city, we began looking for a church home. Since we were living close to downtown, we started by visiting downtown churches. We both had grown up in small churches, Rick was a Baptist and I a Congregationalist. Little did we know how far apart those were.

We were intrigued by the possibility of being a part of a large congregation and one that would possibly bridge the differences between the two churches of our growing up years.

As we sat in the balcony (and I have some family up there today) that first Sunday, surrounded by the beauty of this sanctuary and the lovely music from the choir loft…and even before Dr. Lowe had finished his sermon, we looked at each other and nodded in agreement….we had found our church home.

After attending membership classes, we became Westminster members in the spring of 1958…almost 60 years ago!

Hart-Andersen: Dureen, your coming here with Rick, a Baptist and a Congregationalist, is a common story for our new members. Rarely are our new members born and bred Presbyterians. That is common today among many who join this church. How about you, Joan? How did you come to Westminster?

Hyde: It was a long time ago…it was 1950 when my parents, Rachel and Herbert Bissell, moved to Mpls ( in 64” of snow) in response to a new job opportunity at Mpls. Honeywell.

I was 10 years old and understood that Sunday was “a day for church”…usually “all day” as far as my mother was concerned.  Her family were Quakers.  My parents had a long and active history with the Presbyterian church in Philadelphia and Toledo.  For them, Westminster reflected what they were searching for in a new city…a beautiful service, great preaching and outstanding music.

As you might guess, I traveled this same course, was enrolled in “Communicants Class,” and officially joined church in 1952 at age 12.  I must add, that even though I memorized all my Bible verses and recited a few in front of the congregation, I had no idea what becoming a member meant, what faith looked like, or would hold for me as the years unfolded.  I only remember it as a little bit scary!

Hart-Andersen:  You used the phrase, “Communicants Class.” That is what we called it back then because we admitted 12 year olds to communion, so they were “communicants.”  You couldn’t receive communion until then. We’ve changed that since then, for the good. Today we invite all want to participate and trust in Jesus Christ and want to receive the sacrament, including little children. When we give them the sacrament we say, “This is so you remember God loves you.”

What was it about the church, Dureen, back then that captured your attention?

Ruff: I am a very visual person, so the beauty of the sanctuary and its impressive architecture captured me. Rick loved music and had sung with high school and college choirs, so he was eager to be a part of Westminster’s outstanding choir.

We very quickly made friends and found ways in which we could be useful in this warm and welcoming community. We were asked to serve on the planning committee for Merry Weds, a delightful social group that met monthly for dinner and a program. Many of you who are wearing this yellow carnation today will well remember those years and the friendships made that continue to this day.

In addition to Merry Weds, I was soon part of Mother’s Club and the Woman’s Association, taught Sunday School, repainted the walls of the Nursery, and, of course, served on committees, especially those involved with property and architecture – and also served as an Elder and Trustee.

Rick, too, was involved with committees (after all we are Presbyterians!) and served as a Deacon, Elder and Trustee, but he was most passionate about singing in the choir, which he did for 40 years.

Our affection for our church family grew, as our own family grew, and our home life and church life became permanently entwined.

Hart-Andersen: Dureen, it is good to hear you say you have trouble separating your personal home family from your church family. That means we’ve been good at building relationships. In a congregation like ours that is difficult to do. We work hard today at building small groups so that people have a place to connect and belong to one another. Because the church is a set of stories entwined like you’ve described.

Joan, what was it about the church that captured your attention all those years ago?

Hyde: At first, as a young girl, I was entranced by the big round sanctuary, radiant blue windows and a formal and orderly service with Dr. Lowe preaching.  I was entranced by his words, his accent, and his commanding presence.

Regarding attire, Mother always wore a hat and her best church suit and for me, my best dress.  Dad soon became an officer of the church and the rule of “no red ties” for ushers, session members serving communion, or those in the choir, was discussed among our family with some amusement. There were, however, red cushions on the pews … some of those pews were informally and formally reserved as your place to sit each Sunday….without question!

Hart-Andersen: Joan, you’re describing the practice back then of actually renting pews. This is one way that Westminster raised its annual budget – by renting pews to families and individuals. They paid a monthly fee to rent their pew, and the ushers held that pew until the last five minutes before the service and then you could sit there. And some families, still to this day, sit in that same pew. I won’t name names…but we still have a map of all the names of those who rented certain pews.

Hyde: Well Mac and I skirted around that issues, because we had our same pew but paid no rent.

In those early married days, I introduced my new husband, Mac, to Westminster.  He had a long church history as an Episcopalian at St. Marks where he was an acolyte. He particularly enjoyed the liturgy and formality of the service. Somewhat gently, but in a direct fashion, I suggested that he become a member of Westminster, because I did not intend to leave!

Volunteering was “a big thing” in our family. I was encouraged, (actually directed by mother & dad) to help out in the Nursery with Marion Fulton to comfort crying babies. Later, I became a “candy striper” at Abbott Hospital.  All this and more, led to a long term volunteer career which I still treasure today.

Hart-Andersen:  That connection with Abbott Hospital goes way back. Many of you know this, but Westminster was given Abbott hospital in a will (it had been a private hospital) and we owned it and ran it until the mid-1960’s. Young people were encouraged to be a part of our ministry and Abbott by becoming candy stripers.

Through the years, where have you seen God at work in this congregation or in your life?

Hyde: Over the years, my family and I have experienced the kindness and loving outreach of generations of Westminster members as we participated in memorable life events…

  • Five family weddings in the chapel — two of which were for my dad. Herb Bissell, who kept outliving his wives.

Hart-Andersen: Herb’s last marriage was at age 92.

  • My mother, Rachel, was his first bride and they were married in Philadelphia.
  • Six baptisms of children and grandchildren here and at The Basilica with Tim and Father Michael O’Connell presiding. And, Frankie, you probably don’t remember this; we were all there celebrating your baptism. And Samuel and Rachel, you were baptized in this church.
  • Three funerals of family members.

Hart-Andresen: This is an important ministry of the church, and for those who serve as pastors, being with families as they go through life events, is at the heart of our ministry as a caring community of Christians. I’m honored to have been a part of those events in your life.

Hyde: Clearly, I have been touched personally by the extraordinary beauty of the music at Westminster and have loved singing the old Welsh hymns that remind me of my great-grandfather, a preacher from Wales, who traveled to America in the late 1800s.

I believe I have experienced God’s grace, as well as personal growth, in chairing and participating in various church committees that sometimes grappled with tough issues facing the church.  When asked to be involved in helping to shape change, it presented me with a challenge that I wasn’t sure I had the confidence or skills to handle.  On reflection, I have no doubt that member support, wide involvement and strong leadership was evidence of God’s continued presence and guidance.

Hart-Andersen:  Dureen, where have you seen God at work in this congregation or in your own life?

Ruff: For some reason, I found this an intriguing question.  Where have I seen God at work in this congregation and in my own life?

I have to say that I feel God is always at work in this congregation. Whatever we do as a community or as individuals, I feel we are always being led by God…and supported by our faith in God and God’s faith in us.

On a more personal level, I knew God was working with me when 11 years ago, I learned that my husband’s growing memory loss was only going to seriously decline. Indeed a decline that brought an end to his life 7 years later.

As the years became increasingly difficult for me, I knew that I was not alone as Rick’s caregiver. God was working with me. I had faith that God was beside me. But I also felt that God’s faith in me, gave me the strength I needed. I also felt God was working with Rick.

As the days of the week became nameless to him, Rick somehow knew there was a time he wanted to be in church. Thus, Sunday became “Timothy Day” for him.  He loved Timothy, and there we sat. That hour each week as he sat in the balcony and eagerly sang the hymns and listened cognitively to Tim’s sermon – I knew because I watched his face – was when he was most “at home” within himself. During that time, I felt God was at work for both of us.

Hart-Andersen:  Over the years, Westminster has seen difficult times in its life. How did the church respond to times of challenge and new possibilities?

Hyde: Over 67 years, the church has naturally experienced “the challenge of change!”

The sudden, unexpected departure of our senior pastor and associate pastor presented a thorny situation on many fronts.  At that time, the church had initiated a significant capital campaign to restore and renew this historic building and sanctuary. I won’t forget those years and how we all carried on through thick and thin!

I had been hired to do the administrative work alongside Ford Bell, Mary Adams, and their Campaign Committee. We were amazed and thrilled that members who had made gifts and pledges earlier in the campaign said they did not want their money returned or their pledges negated after the resignation of our senior pastor…rather, their sincere desire was to move ahead during uncomfortable times. We achieved our campaign goal of $13M.

How can I not mention our current efforts to undertake the next chapter for Westminster that brings us closer to “the Land of Promise?”  With our expanding mission locally and world-wide, and a new building that presents fresh possibilities and partnerships on 12th and Nicollet, God’s presence and promise is abundant.

Ruff: How did the church respond to times of challenge?

There was a time 20 years ago, when a serious challenge came from within our own walls and required us as a congregation to face a very difficult situation. The church accepted that challenge… and successfully used it as a “teaching moment,” ….and in the process renewed our strength and continuity as a congregation.

Hart-Andresen: You’ve both referred to this time, and for those of you who weren’t here, we went through serious upheaval in the life of the congregation. It may seem like it wasn’t that long ago but it was two decades ago, now. “Teachable moment” was a phrase Dan Little gave to the congregation when he came to Westminster as interim pastor.

Ruff: Sometimes, as now, we are challenged as a community, to reach beyond our doors, to become an even more telling presence in this increasingly diverse city that surrounds us. Westminster is responding to that challenge with our Open Doors Open Futures project…this exciting and definitely challenging adventure, will take our church well into the next 50 to 100 years. I’m going to be looking!

Beyond our city, I feel our continuing involvement with our sister churches in Cuba, Cameroon, and Palestine, speaks to our response to the peoples and events in the world around us.

Hart-Andersen:  Where do you see the story of Westminster going?

Ruff: Westminster is a “storied” church...with a history of going the extra mile to meet the needs of others…from Sunday School classes for our city’s Chinese community beginning in the 1880’s (that’s even further back than I go)… to the creation of the nation’s first Hmong Boy Scout Troop in the 1970s, to our more recent partnership with Uptown Grace-Trinity Community Church.

With our Open Doors Open Futures project, of which I’ve been a huge champion, Westminster will continue to create stories of even wider involvement, not just within our own local community but also with the world beyond our doors. Stay tuned!

Hyde: A large number of transitions have occurred since 1950.  It’s been a great ride! To use a gardening analogy, I believe we have successfully “nourished the flower” while weeding around its beauty and distinctiveness with great care.

  • we have continued to move forward in creating an open and accepting place to worship and congregate
  • more families and children are among us
  • the dignity and beauty of Sunday worship continue to sustain us
  • we have also explored new pathways of worship
  • with purpose, we have diversified our outreach and enjoyed membership growth

As an historic and great church, I believe we will continue to grow and adapt to find our niche and place of usefulness in a fast-paced world. Some things don’t change. Even as different situations come along, I rest assured that we will always be grounded in our faith and mission to be “a telling presence” in this and our larger community. It is true today and will be a hundred years from now.

Down the road, I think Westminster’s story will be one of openness, flexibility, outreach and care for each other, here and afar, and, of course, excellence, as we embrace God’s promise, “I am with you, to the close of the age.”

Hart-Andersen: Thank you, Joan and Dureen for sharing your stories. Each one of us has a story at this church to share and I encourage you to do so.

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…” So we also remember those that came before us and those who have been leading us these many, many years. The stories of our lives carry within them the story of our God who, indeed, is with us “to the close of the age.”

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Pastoral Prayer ~10:00 am Worship

Meghan Gage-Finn

With our voice we cry out, O Lord, with our voice we plead for mercy to you. We pour out our complaints and tell of our troubles before you, for we feel the fainting of our spirits within us. Comfort, O comfort, your people.

In the Psalms of lament, you offer us a model of wailing and raging before you, O God, laying before you the pain of your people and our communities. After the events of this past week, we find ourselves sinking down to the dust, our bodies clinging to the ground in despair. From that place, O God of justice and mercy, we look for your signs and wonders. From our knees we lift our hearts before you to ask you to, “Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.” Redeem the broken structures and processes, redeem the societal fractures and divisions, redeem the complacency and the in justice ears that don’t hear and the blindness our eyes that won’t see. Redeem our place and participation in privilege and long-held arrangements that perpetually benefit some, but systematically exclude and oppress many others.

Every person is created in the image of God, and if we believe that, then we believe that Black Lives Matter. If we believe that all your children are precious in your sight, then we must speak of and share in Christ’s reconciling work in the church for all who need to know they are valued and beloved.

We pray for all those who hunger and thirst, who seek shelter and safety, those recovering from surgery or illness, and those who are preparing the journey toward death and the family members who surround them. We remember that You are with us always, O God, to the end of the age.

It is in the community of the faithful where we find you, and so we give thanks to you for the many faithful leaders who have prayed, served, and guided this congregation for decades. We praise you for the changes they initiated, the challenges they faced, and for the ways they told of your loving presence in this city and world. May we learn from their wisdom and be led by your Spirit to continue the legacy they have established. God who has created and is creating, we welcome into our church family Adelynn Marie and Crosby James, and we ask that you surround them and their parents with the reassurance of your presence with them. And may they carry our promises of love, encouragement, support and partnership with them as they continue to know and follow Christ.

Christ of all, you call us to begin where we are, but also to see beyond ourselves; to believe that there is a tie that binds all humanity, and so we ask that you grow in us a deeper understanding of our fragile, intertwined lives. In the story of another, may we meet You. By the life of another, may You shape us. With the companionship of another, may Your Spirit guide us. And hear us now as we share in the words taught to us by your Son, saying, Our Father…

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