I wanted to share my thoughts on my first Homecoming as Pastor of Bethel PCUSA Church. I have loved this congregation, church, and community for a long time now. I served as Youth Minister from 1999-2002 at Bethel while I was in seminary. I have been close with many church people, visited from time to time, and even preached the Homecoming service a few years ago. Bethel really is one of my church homes and I am so glad to be Pastor of Bethel.
Mother’s Day was a hard day to have Homecoming because so many church members were out celebrating the day, but it was a beautiful day to celebrate Ms. Bonnie, Ms. Juanita, all women, and the continued life of Bethel. The meal was wonderful as usual, the fellowship was great with 58 people attending, and the worship service was meaningful thanks to our guest pastor and soloist.
I am blessed to remember both ladies well. When I was living in the manse I would see Ms. Bonnie’s car at the church a lot especially on Wednesdays. She would come early and prepare the Wednesday night meal before we had Bible study and youth club. She was hard working, witty, and fun to be around. It was wonderful that her family was able to see a glimpse of what she meant to Bethel on Sunday.
Ms. Juanita was like family to me and I was glad to be here when she was honored. My last Sunday as youth director of Bethel was an eventful one. I was 7 months pregnant, our furniture had all been packed for our move, and TJ had traveled 5 hours away to preach his last sermon at Concord and something was wrong. I was in a great deal of pain and I called my mother who was 7 hours away and said can you call Ms. Juanita and ask her to come help me. I didn’t have anyone’s phone number and couldn’t think of anyone else to call for help. She called Ms. Margaret who lived closer to come until she could get there. Ms. Juanita and Nell, our custodian and my friend, took me to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital in Memphis Juanita and later Rex stayed with me for hours until TJ could get there. Once they left one of the nurses asked me who they were and I explained they were my friends from church. The nurses seemed to find it odd that a young white girl had such wonderful African American friends. I didn’t find it odd though. Juanita always treated me like family.
A few years ago the roles were reversed somewhat. We had moved back to Memphis and Ms. Juanita was sick and Rex was caring for her. Mr.Edison was still working even though he was in his 80’s. Rex called me at work and said can you do me a favor. I said sure. His dad had fallen off the back of the truck at work and was taken to the hospital in Memphis and Rex couldn’t leave his mother to go to the hospital, so I went. I arrived at the ER that was packed. They let me back to find Mr. Edison sitting on a hospital bed under a room number in the hall. He joked with me and said he was alright, but we had to wait for the test results. While we were waiting his supervisor showed up. I introduced myself as Melissa and said hello. He looked at Mr. Edison like who is this tall white lady. Mr. Edison said Melissa was one of our ministers and explained why I was there. The man offered to stay and when Mr. Edison said no and I said I would make sure he got home the man seemed unsure, but left. It was my turn to be family for the Boyces and I was honored to do what I could.
Bethel really is one big family. Like any family there are disagreements and frustrations, but there is love. One visitor Sunday said the food at the Homecoming meal was so good because the people that made it were so sweet. She was right they are sweet, but even more importantly it was made with love. There are so many people that worked hard to make Homecoming a special day and it was definitely a day filled with love. If you are looking for a place to fill loved and to be part of a family of faith I invite you to visit Bethel. In Christ, Rev. Melissa