Tag Archives: Noble Road Presbyterian Church

Eric’s Ordination

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On 29 October, 2017 at Noble Road Presbyterian Church,
my son Eric was ordained as a minister of the Word and Sacrament
in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Essie and I were privileged to celebrate communion with him.
Of course I had to talk.
Eric serves as a Resident Minister at the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor where Essie serves as the Youth Ministries Coordinator.
Thanks to Maria Bernardo for the photo.

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Farewell to the Matrix

MatrixTransition is the nature of life. For individuals, families, communities, nations, the world, change happens.

Our family is no different. We have passed through many changes through the years.

This year has brought an acceleration of change. Eric graduated from seminary as did his fiancé, Essie. They remained engaged for about five days after their graduation and then, in a wonderful celebration, they became Eric and Essie Koenig-Reinke. And then they moved to Michigan for jobs with First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor.

Tricia received a new job in Louisville with the Office of the General Assembly. I received a new job in New York with the Presbytery of New York City.

Sean and grandpuppy Henrik have been the eye of calm in the midst of all the changes.

This weekend, we have gathered in Cleveland Heights for Eric’s ordination as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It will take place at Noble Road Presbyterian Church where Eric grew up and where he remains a member, until his ordination.

We all stayed in the house on Navahoe Road that Tricia and I rented in 1985 when we came to Noble Road. Tricia has stayed in the house ever since, which we finally came to own a couple years ago. This may be the last time we all stay together here, although thanks to a dear family friend, Renee Boykin, we will continue to own the house. Renee will rent.

Another marker of this time of transition came when Eric pulled into the driveway on Friday night driving a Toyota Matrix. It had been my car, purchased in 2004, and it is my favorite of all the cars I have owned or co-owned.

Now it has Michigan plates and belongs to Eric. Of course he has been driving it since I first moved to New York in 2010. But the title remained in my name and Tricia and I paid the insurance bill. And it still felt like mine.

No longer. Eric transferred the title a while back, put on the Michigan plates and started paying for the insurance. The Matrix is his.

An era ends. A new one begins.

Farewell, Matrix.

See you along the Trail.

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Never, Merdine T., never

Some messages should be delivered in person and not left in a voice mail box or sent by email.

Some times we have no choice but to leave such messages.

Tricia left one for me today.

I think I said farewell“Sorry to have to leave a voice mail. I need to leave. But I just got an email that Merdine T. died last night. And I wanted you to know.”

Some realities cannot be expressed adequately in words. They simply have too much meaning.

My relationship with Merdine T. Morris is such a reality. She was one of the most significant people in my life outside of my family. She helped make me who I am today – at least any part of me that is good and kind and faithful. I take full responsibility for my failings and shortcomings.

While I have been gone from Cleveland for almost 14 years, while the times that Merdine T. and I saw each other on a regular basis occurred long ago, while her health has declined and I knew this moment was coming, while I am a great believer in the Communion of Saints, I have to confess my heart bears a ragged hole this evening. I miss Merdine T. immensely. And I probably always will.

Merdine T. and I were friends for more than 20 years. Friend really does not do our relationship justice, she is my mentor, teacher, challenger, comforter, disturber of my peace, guide, anchor . . . the list goes on. She and her husband Luke played  and will play significant roles in my life. Luke passed away some 12 years ago, not too long after I left Cleveland.

Merdine T. and I have shared some amazing moments . . . conversations . . . experiences . . . times of learning and growth . . . disappointments . . . violations . . . injustices . . . ordinations . . . presbytery meetings (incredible to say, I know) . . . graduations . . . transitions . . . acts of justice . . . moments of witness.

If you want to hear some amazing stories about a child of grace and a faithful follower of Jesus, buy me a Jameson and ask me about Merdine T. some time.

Merdine T.’s health began to fail some years back. As she became increasingly fragile, I began to wonder each time I saw her if that time would be the last time.

And finally it was.

IMG_3763This past December, our mutual friend Nan Dorer celebrated her 90th birthday today with a party at Noble Road Presbyterian Church. Tricia and I took Merdine T. to the party.

The day was wonderful. Friends old and young, long-time and new, greeted Merdine T. warmly. Her presence meant the world to Nan. We stayed for the children’s program and carol singing. Merdine T. beamed. When we returned to the Fairmount Health Center, staff members commented on the joy that filled her face. A wonderful day.

In her room, as Tricia and I were leaving, Merdine T. reached up from her chair and hugged me. Tears filled her eyes.  And she said the words. The words she said to me every time we said goodbye over the past five or six years.

“Mark. Never forget me.”

Tonight, through my tears, I reply as I always did.

“Never, Merdine T. Never.”

As I grieve my loss, I give thanks that I had the privilege of sharing life with God’s beloved child, Merdine T. Morris.

See you along the Trail.

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Dick Wherley: choices made, choices lived

“We are going to walk across the country as part of a witness for nuclear disarmament.”

I am sure those were not the first words that Dick or Cathie Wherley said to me. They are among the first I remember.

Tricia and I arrived at Noble Road Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights as co-pastors in the fall of 1985. Dick and Cathie served on the Session – the church governing board.

Sometime that winter, they announced their resignations so that they could take part in the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament.

Their faith led them to work for peace in many ways and many places. Seeking racial justice in Cleveland Heights. Working to end gun violence in Cleveland. Advocating for sanctuary for their sisters and brothers fleeing war in Central America. Calling for an end to U.S. arms sales.

Now their faith called them to make another witness for life, the life of the planet. With about 1,200 people they set out from Los Angeles for Washington, DC around March 1. About two weeks into the march, the marchers learned that the supporting organization had declared bankruptcy. The marchers gathered, pondered, thought, dreamed, and planned. On March 28, a smaller group, including Dick and Cathie, started out again.

Dick often drove a support vehicle because of his health. But he and Cathie and the GPM made it to DC. When the march came through Cleveland, about 30 Noble Road members marched with them. A dozen of us went to Washington for the end of the march.

Upon returning to Cleveland Dick and Cathie plunged back into the life of the congregation, the community, and the peace and justice movement. Transitional housing and the inclusion of our LGBT sisters and brothers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) became two areas of particular concern.

The simple reality though, was if people in Cleveland gathered to act in compassion, pursue peace, and do justice, Dick and Cathie were present more often than not.

Dick’s health continue to falter through the years. He appeared in person less often and in the spirit more regularly. His spirit remained strong and true.

This week, Dick died peacefully in his sleep.

My prayers are with Cathie and her children, Joanne, Rick, Tom, and Sandy and their partners and children. May their memories be blessed; may they find comfort in their grief; may the rejoice in love shared and love that binds them together still.

Frodo Baggins, in The Fellowship of the Ring, expresses a wish to have been born at another time, a gentler, kinder, less-troubled time.

Gandalf reminds him that none of us choose the times in which we live. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” the wizard gently says.

Dick Wherley decided what to do with the time he had. Dick chose life. He chose faith. He chose love, peace, and justice. And he lived his choices well.

Thanks be to God.

See you along the Trail.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

A simple star cut from paper bearing a word – received as a gift from God on Epiphany or the Sunday closest to Epiphany.

Many congregations participate in the practice known as Epiphany Stars.

Here’s how it works: Individuals have the opportunity to pick out of a basket a paper star.  The star will have a word on it, naming a gift from God; visually, nothing special, as God’s gifts are not always flashy.  Sometimes the gift is known by all to be one that you already evidence or experience in abundance.  Sometimes you will feel that it is something you’ve needed, a challenge to work on.  Often it’s something you don’t understand, or could learn more about.  In any case, it will provide you an opportunity to ponder and pray in the coming year.  It’s suggested that you display it during the year in a place where you will see it often.

As far as I know, the first Presbyterian congregation to experience Epiphany Star Gifts was Carpinteria Community Church in Carpinteria, California when the Rev. Sam Roberson served as pastor. An article about Epiphany Star Gifts appeared sometime during the late 1980s in Presbyterian Survey. A number of congregations picked up the idea, including Noble Road Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights where my partner and I served as co-pastors.

Noble Road has continued to share stars each Sunday. Even after Tricia and I took other calls, our sons would draw stars for us. This year, Tricia preached at Noble Road. The star she drew for me said: RESPECT.

I have long wondered if I am Batman. Now I am thinking that I may be Aretha.

See you along the Trail.

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Always never

Three years ago, I thought I may have said farewell to my mentor and friend Merdine T. Morris. She was ill at the time. Seriously ill. When I left her room at the Fairmount Health Center, I thought that day’s visit might well have been our last. Others agreed with me.

But Merdine T. proved us wrong. She not only made it through that crisis, she improved. She has been able to leave the health center for various events. She did so again today.

IMG_3763Our mutual friend Nan Dorer celebrated her 90th birthday today with a party at Noble Road Presbyterian Church. Tricia and I took Merdine T. to the party.

The day was wonderful. Friends old and young, long-time and new, greeted Merdine T. warmly. Her presence meant the world to Nan. We stayed for the children’s program and carol singing. Merdine T. beamed. When we returned to the Fairmount Health Center, staff members commented on the joy that filled her face. A wonderful day.

A big shout-out to Bob Pescho and Dan Wills for their work on the church’s chair lift that allowed Merdine T. to attend the worship service. A shout-out to Eric, Dan, John, Maria, Cathy, and all who helped Merdine T. navigate her way to the various events. A shout-out to David Dorer who took the photo with this post.

When I visited her three years ago, Merdine T. said “Never forget me.” “Never,” was my response then. “Never,” is my response now.

See you along the Trail.

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Advent 8: Wisdom

Merdine T Morris

7 April 2007
Noble Road Presbyterian Church
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

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Standing and sitting in the rain for justice

My friend Tim Luttermoser wrote this. He granted permission to post his words and photo.

TimHey Francis,

The past few days on campus, a conservative preacher (Tom the Preacher, you can google him) has been on campus doing… well, the typical conservative preacher things. But with larger displays and more professionally, unfortunately. Over the last two days I designed a poster (you can see it, sort of, in my profile picture) of welcoming congregations in the area, including Episcopals, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians (I’m happy to say), UUs, and a Reform Judaism temple, and today I stood across the way from their display for several hours, providing people with an alternative perspective and reminding them that this wasn’t the only face of Christianity or religion in general. I’m happy to say that, for the most part, Tom and Grace Campus Ministry (which invited him to campus) left me alone when I made it clear I was not interested in engaging.

I’m telling you all this because, if you have a minute on Sunday, I’d like you to pass along my thanks to Noble Road Presbyterian Church for me. I can say with confidence that being raised in that particular community has shaped me into who I am today, and I am grateful for the influence. Even as I’ve personally moved on to other religious and spiritual traditions, I always remember the loving and welcoming community of Noble Road, and when faced with hatred and bigotry, I can always draw on my history there and be reminded that there are wonderful religious communities with better approaches. Noble Road did a fantastic job modeling not only acceptance of LGBTQ people, but actively fighting for them, particularly within the religious community, a fight I still consider absolutely essential. While I’m fairly confident I would be supportive of LGBTQ people regardless of where I grew up, I know that growing up in NRPC specifically was what gave me the energy and the passion to contact these congregations, create this display, and stand through the two brief rainstorms to keep making my point all afternoon.

Thank you for all you have done and continue to do, both you in particular and NRPC as a whole.

Mark Koenig and Tricia Dykers Koenig – this thanks LARGELY goes to you as well, don’t forget.

Francis Miller, to whom Tim wrote, is currently the pastor at Noble Road Presbyterian Church. Tim lived in South Euclid and attended the church before he went to school. Tricia and I were co-pastors there at the time.

See you along the Trail.

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Studying the Stars

IMG_9912A simple star cut from paper bearing a word – received as a gift from God on Epiphany or the Sunday closest to Epiphany.

That is the essence of Epiphany Star Gifts. As far as I know, the first Presbyterian congregation to experience Epiphany Star Gifts was Carpinteria Community Church in Carpinteria, California when the Rev. Sam Roberson served as pastor. Sam and his partner, Joanne Sizoo, took the idea with them to St. Mark Church in Cincinnati. An article about Epiphany Star Gifts appeared sometime during the late 1980s in Presbyterian Survey. A number of congregations picked up the idea, including Noble Road Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights where my partner and I served as co-pastors.

Today, on the Feast of the Epiphany 2013, many congregations received Epiphany Star Gifts as an ongoing tradition and others received them for the first time including the Church of the Covenant in New York where I preached and the Church of the Western Reserve in Pepper Pike, Ohio where the Rev. Tricia Dykers (my partner) preached this sermon. Matthew 2:1-12 served as the text.

They were men who studied the stars, as Matthew’s Gospel tells it – alert to heavenly signs and their implications for earthly events.  They understood that something momentous was happening, something so important that in order to be part of it they would set out on a long journey into the unknown, laden with the most precious of possessions.  They sought the truth wherever it might be found, and their search brought them to an obscure house in an obscure village in an obscure country, there to worship an infant whom they knew to be king.  By their homage we know that he is king, not just of the Jews but of all the earth – he is our king.  Because of their gifts we celebrate his birth with our own giving and receiving; we celebrate his Epiphany, his manifestation to all people, by rejoicing in his manifestation in our lives.

One way that God is manifest in our lives is through the spiritual gifts bestowed upon us – gifts that make us aware of God’s presence, that enable us to participate in God’s purpose, that witness to God’s promise to love us ultimately.

When I was co-pastor at Noble Road Church, Epiphany was one of my favorite Sundays of the whole year because of a tradition that began a few years into our tenure.  The idea came from an article in the Presbyterian Survey magazine that was spotted by one of our elders – Libby Wills, who died this past summer just a few weeks before her 100th birthday; I later became friends with the pastor who initiated it in the congregation in the article.  Although as far as I know we at Noble Road were the first to adopt the practice in this presbytery, it did spread to other congregations around here.  I was pondering whether to share the tradition with you – after all,  I am not your ongoing pastor and have no idea whether you will want to continue it – but while I was wavering, I read on Facebook of how meaningful it has been to others in far-flung places, and since we have gotten to know each other this year, I thought, why not.  That these gifts may abound in your lives and in the life of this community of faith is my prayer for you going forward.

Ephiphany stars at church of the covenantHere’s how it works: When you come forward to receive communion, you will have the opportunity to pick out of a basket a paper star.  The star will have a word on it, naming a gift from God; visually, nothing special, as God’s gifts are not always flashy.  Sometimes the gift is known by all to be one that you already evidence or experience in abundance.  Sometimes you will feel that it is something you’ve needed, a challenge to work on.  Often it’s something you don’t understand, or could learn more about.  In any case, it will provide you an opportunity to ponder and pray in the coming year.  It’s suggested that you display it during the year in a place where you will see it often – in the course of my ministry I have seen them on walls and mirrors and refrigerators, and my collection is propped prominently on a bookshelf in my office.  This morning you are encouraged to attach it to your clothing, so that we can rejoice and wonder together with one another over the gifts received.  It’s been known to happen that people have had revealing insights into other people’s stars.

Sometimes people looking at one another’s stars are tempted to trade.  I encourage you to receive whatever comes, with the assumption that the Spirit of God has a hand in the process, and to remain open to surprise and mystery and whatever might happen.  Resist the urge to be in control; accept the gift for what it is, a gift freely given.  Many have discovered that the gift that seemed daunting or disappointing at first turned out to be the most meaningful in actual experience.  Perhaps God has something in store that is beyond our planning and imagining.

At Noble Road, one reason the tradition became so meaningful was that the sermon time each year after the first included time for all who wished    to share a reflection about their experiences with their stars during the year.  I remember especially the young woman, long frustrated by inability to conceive, who received “joy” on Epiphany Sunday and came the next year with her newborn in her arms.

My first gift was “contentment,” and I wrestled with it all that year.  It came at a time in my life when I was experiencing an odd combination of unusual satisfaction in some areas of my life and abnormal stress in others.  Was I too contented, or not contented enough, or should I be contented with my level of contentment?  Obviously I had reached the stage of over-analysis, at which point it is best to laugh at oneself and not worry about it.  And it was then that one of God’s most helpful epiphanies came to me – contentment is a gift, not an accomplishment.  Should have been obvious all along, right, given that I had received it as an Epiphany Star Gift, but in truth that insight was late in coming.  Contentment is a gift, not an accomplishment – what a liberating reality!

Another very meaningful gift was “laughter” – when it came to me, I wondered – is that a promise, or a challenge?  Then just a few weeks after receiving it, I experienced perhaps the most traumatic event of my life, an assault while out walking.  In addition, my family in Virginia and friends from my previous congregation in Iowa experienced a series of trials that made that year one we were glad to be rid of.  And yet, it was not uniformly bleak – there were many joys, not least the love and support received as we dealt with the sorrows.  I thought about the gift of laughter, rather a bittersweet gift as it turned out; but then, perhaps I should have known that, as evidenced in phrases like “it only hurts when I laugh,” and “we laughed until we cried.”   There is a connection between laughter and tears that is more than physiological.  What I learned was that the gift of laughter is the gift of perspective – of realizing that God gives joy in the midst of great sorrow, that indeed there is no sorrow that can overcome the joy of knowing God’s love.  To laugh in the gifted sense is to keep one’s perspective, to find the joy in sorrow’s midst.  It is a gift I will always treasure.

It would take me much too long to recount all the Epiphany Star Gifts I have received over the years, and all the comfort, challenge, promise and growth they have blessed me with.  There is an element of demand in every gift, an aspect of challenge – what will you do with it? – but the fundamental reality of gift is that it is freely given, and must first be received, then appreciated, if it is truly to be yours.  If you receive the gift, the challenge implicit in it can then be experienced as an opportunity rather than an obligation, as an invitation rather than an imperative.

I hope that you will experience your Epiphany Star as a gift that blesses you in 2013.  If it’s meaningful, perhaps next year you will want to share that in worship and receive another star, though there’s no rule against sharing your reflections anytime during the year.  Every spiritual gift is a particular aspect of God’s freely given love, that you might know God’s love concretely and live out God’s love in the other relationships of your lives.  God wants to bless you – receive the gift!  Amen.

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The quest for coffee

After a bit of a challenge, I made it to Cleveland to celebrate Christmas with family and friends.

Today brought a meeting with my friends, Isaac, John and Frances to talk about the progress of, and the vision for, the Dougbe River Presbyterian School in Liberia. Isaac had the vision and the people of the area, supported by the saints of Noble Road Presbyterian Church and partners in Cleveland and in Liberia, have made it happen.

The school opened at the end of November. Thanks be.

We gathered to talk about what comes next – more students, farming to feed the students, further partnerships, community building, capacity nurturing, more schools in other places. The vision is far reaching. The steps will come one at a time.

We planned to meet over breakfast and coffee. That proved a bit of a challenge. The first two places we visited were closed. Finally, we decided to check out Cafe-Ah-Roma next to Trinity Cathedral.

CoffeeTheir sign extended a warm greeting.

And the coffee and breakfast tasted good!

See you along the Trail.

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