We celebrate All Saints Day at Westminster on the on the first Sunday of November by holding a special worship service in which we remember our members, friends, and family members who have died this past year. We light a candle as each name is read, and toll the church bells in their honor. It is a solemn, beautiful, poignant service to remember the saints among us.
Presbyterians believe that all people of God are saints. The apostle Paul in his letters to the early churches addressed the members as “saints,” not because of what they accomplished but because of who they were as followers of Christ. We recognize the holy in all people of faith, not just those who are martyrs or miracle workers.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) website says this: “Rather than putting saints on pedestals as holy people set apart in glory, we give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of the believers in this and every age.”
I love that phrase “ordinary, holy lives.” It is best illustrated by the people we will be remembering today. Among the many family members and friends for whom we will light candles today, five we remember were members of Westminster Presbyterian Church. Let me tell you a little about each of them.
Doris Bierer died last year at the age of 102. She grew up in the church, in the days when it was still called Second Presbyterian. Doris’ family was actively involved in the church, and Doris remembered attending Sunday School and youth activities and dances. She continued her love of God and her church throughout her whole life, which she lived quietly and humbly. In later years, when she could no longer attend, she would correspond with my Sunday School students, answering their individual letters with detailed descriptions of what the church meant to her. She was a generous supporter of Westminster in her own quiet way.
Betty Schemerhorn was another lifelong Presbyterian of strong Scottish stock. Betty and her husband Earle were active in so many ways, as elders and deacons, teachers, volunteers, and faithful worshipers-- classic “pillars of the church.” Betty’s severe appearance and tight gray bun belied her warmth and generosity of spirit. She was a woman of few words, but those she used were well chosen and wise.
Marge Pyhtila joined the church later in her life to be a part of the congregation that her daughter loves and serves. Marge had a wonderful smile, and quickly made friends with all ages. She enjoyed being in worship and keeping in touch with her church family after she became more homebound.
Marilyn Fandrich, my own dear mother-in-law, grew up in First Presbyterian Church, where she taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, and was active in their women’s group. She knitted countless blankets over the years to give away to others. She joined Westminster only a few years ago, at a time when her health was failing. Right up to the end, even when other words failed her, Marilyn could belt out the words of all the old familiar hymns.
John Gary Rhodes sang in the Westminster Choir, filling the sanctuary with his beautiful tenor voice. He especially loved singing duets with his daughter Lori Rhodes Pettit, our organist and choir director. Christmas Eve services will not be the same without Gary’s solo of “Oh Holy Night.” His exquisite voice was matched by his passion for the words he sung, taking us soaring with him as he led worship through the gift of song.
What I’ve just described are the ordinary, holy lives of saints. These and many others are the saints who walk beside us, who teach our children, who take care of the sick, who make us laugh, who feed the hungry, who say kind words and offer smiles to strangers, who give of themselves, who welcome the marginalized and friendless, who share their gifts, who love the unlovable, who follow Jesus’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”
We sing “For all the saints who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!” We give thanks for the saints of God we know and love, those still living and those who have died.