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Church members pass away but leave behind a legacy of community


A few weeks ago on a Saturday morning while I was grocery shopping, a friend from church rushed over to tell me that Rowena Newell had died shortly after midnight.
A flood of memories came streaming through my mind. I had not seen Rowena in several years because her health and mind had deteriorated so much that she had to be cared for at all times.
Rowena and Vernon were pillars at the church I have called home for more than 40 years — the Memorial Road Church of Christ. We settled with that congregation, formerly called the College church, after three months of visiting and studying most churches on the north side of Oklahoma City. We made the choice because we had found friendly people and the ideal place for our 3- and 5-year-old daughters.
Shortly after we placed membership, the Newells invited us to come to their house after a Sunday evening service. They did that almost every Sunday evening for newcomers for years.
Vernon was a very successful businessman. He had a host of stories, and he never tired of supporting Oklahoma Christian University. He had contracted to construct the church’s first building.
Both Newells spoke their minds freely. Rowena gravitated to Bible classes I was teaching. She was always kind, but she would not dream of flattering. She would often ask questions to help get me on the right track. Vernon was more likely to take me aside and set me straight.
I respected them deeply.
Both Newells are now deceased, but we still go to church with their two daughters, who have grown children and young grandchildren. Rowena’s funeral reminded me that my precious church family is coming to the end of era. Her three grandsons, Jason and Jared Kaaiohelo and Kelby Pope, closed the funeral with remembrances of Rowena, her sense of humor, her generosity and her devotion to the church. When one struggled with emotion, the other two moved close for support. Their comments made it clear a new generation was coming on.
The foundation of 40 years ago established a community of faith and service. In the beginning we were a small group that took care of each other. Prayers for families were so common that they became the hallmark of the congregation. Generic prayers seldom were heard in public assemblies. Bible classes were serious and people studied diligently. People were in each other’s homes regularly.
The church now has about 2,500 present on Sunday, so the easy familiarity is not as common. We have members I do not know by name. But we are still a vibrant community.
In 2007 more than 1,200 members were involved in mission efforts around the world. The youth regularly work in Mexico for a week each summer. The church has for each of the past five years given more than $500,000 on Mission Sunday, in addition to the budget that has much funding for missions. Every other year many members spend part of a week at a family encampment in Colorado to worship and play together.
The apostle Paul was fond of using the family metaphor to describe the church. Large or small, churches must create family connections. How great is it when the family has people to model the connection we should have as the redeemed of God. Churches of all sizes must have people (not necessarily elders and deacons) to lead in reaching out to connect with people.
One of my heroes and a great patriarch, C.A. Buchanan, used to always talk about unity, stressing that God’s people had to show the world how Christians love and work together to solve problems. Years ago, when I was appointed a deacon, he took all the new deacons to lunch and told us what he expected of us — use the talents God gave you to serve all the people of the church.
It was his theory that the women of the church determined the quality of the church. Where women gossiped and struggled with each other, the church would fail. He used to say that we had women who worked hard and avoided cliques and rivalry. He shaped the thinking of several generations to be caring church members.
The church that is a strong community is a powerful force to influence lives in and out of the church. If your church is not a community, pray and work to make it a strong family.

Filed under: Insight

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