A Note to Betsy
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
My first encounter with Betsy Hall-Wallace came from an email.
When I was called to be a pastor of this incredible congregation and officially voted in about ten years ago and before I began my first day officially on the job, I got a three page long email from Betsy on September 21, 2012. In this long email, she noted that we were already Facebook friends and that she wanted to tell me all about the liturgical arts ministry that she was invested in here at UCC. I don’t think I responded, even though I was very intrigued and could tell her enthusiasm to meet me and to engage our church with sight and sound.
What is the Liturgical Arts ministry?
Well, if you were lucky enough to be here for worship, especially during one of our holy seasons like Lent, Christmas, Easter, you would walk into a sanctuary that would be transformed – sometimes into radical spaces, like a first century stable, a bus stop as we waited on God to show up, a garden with a stone over a tomb, or a path of railroad ties during Black History month.
Liturgical arts is our ministry in the church focused on grounding worship in a celebration of more than vocal words and music – but in color, shape, symbol, and texture.
Carole Windham, Betsy's dear friend and compatriot in this ministry, said that Betsy was at the heart of this effort because “she could see possibilities in the strangest things.”
She might see a rock – and to us it looks like a rock, but to Betsy it became an elaborate centerpiece to witness to God's beauty and good news. What we might discard as junk at a local yard sale, Betsy would see it from the right angle and think – I can use this at Christmas!
When I came as pastor, I made a bit of a risky decision to say yes to Liturgical Arts. Previous pastors had celebrated this ministry, but I remember Betsy saying that one of them said... don't tell me what you are planning. Just surprise me! Plausible deniability.
But I took the risk to say – let's sync up. Let's work together. And our conversations were always surprising. I might offer a theme and a few images – and somehow, Betsy would take those things and deliver something that helped our scripture and our worship come alive.
In all of that work, and in her roles as an elder and leader, we saw Betsy's heart and enthusiasm – her love of people, her openness, her broad theology of welcome and inclusion, her vibrancy.
Church was not a program or a commitment – participating in church meant building relationships of care to share God's love.
God says through Isaiah – I am about to do a new thing.
To know Betsy was to experience a spirituality and way of seeing life that burst with newness and possibilities.
Betsy saw possibilities in Bill when she met him. She changed his life, and no doubt, he changed her’s. She saw those possibilities in her son, Ian, and his wife, Katie. She saw possibilities in dance students and co-workers and church members. She loved them all.
Just like the people of the Old Testament who wandered through dry wilderness in the desert, Betsy had this way of bringing out abundance on tough days when she asked us to carry boxes up and down, bring out the lift, and move stuff around. On one of those long work days, she would pull out a bag of goodies – it might include scotch eggs, shortbread cookies, olives, chips and salsa, cookies, cheese, sausage, crackers, fresh veggies, on and on. There was always some cold lemonade on hand. You didn’t go away hungry in Betsy’s presence – she made sure you were fed and watered. And sometimes, you needed it – because some of those days were LONG.
And even when her health began to deteriorate, she didn't let that stop her. She continued to work on a chalice of seashells in collaboration with our youth, though her hands didn't move with quite the agility she was used to. She continued to love those around her with those long emails and encouraging messages – her last message in my inbox after Easter this year said, “You all did an amazing job!” She fought hard – even a condition like ALS was not an invitation to give up. Even when she could not communicate verbally, her eyes sparkled with the newness of her abiding love.
She saw in a space like this sanctuary and in human beings a way to convey God's love through a medium far bigger than a painting canvas.
The story of our faith is one of a God, a Creator, who loves us enough to see things possible with our lives that we do not see. God saw that rich possibility in Betsy to help her leave a legacy that will echo on for years to come through the lives of her loved ones and through the worship ministry of our church... and beyond.
God sees possibilities in each of us too. We are invited to respond to that love by sharing our love with others. We are invited to see God doing a new thing and live in such a way that our praise of our Creator echoes through the beauty we create and share.
That is a story that Betsy believed in with all of her heart, and it is that story that she sought to communicate to all of our senses every time we gathered for worship. It speaks to her heart – that of a mother, wife, friend, instructor, and witness that life is an incredible gift to be shared.
Bill and Ian, you did great work in this past year caring for Betsy, providing her with the best that you could in very difficult circumstances. Thank you for witnessing to us what loving attentiveness looks like. I know Betsy felt your love and care to the end.
Betsy, we love you. We will miss you. But your ministry continues. We give thanks that God gave us such a wonderful witness to what is possible. Thanks be to God!