The Methodist ship took its final tour through the straights of Lindsay Sunday, then docked and disembarked its passengers, who were many. Only a few were those who had been holding down the pews for the last decade. Many more were former pewholders who came to say goodbye to this blessed vessel.

A couple of prior pastors worshipped with us, Mark Smith and Karen Stoffers-Pugh, for whom this church had been their first pulpit. They both spoke to the importance of the congregation’s warm welcome and gentle tolerance as they learned their new roles. The current pastor, Allison Byerly, who also serves Tulare’s Methodists, brought members of that congregation to welcome the Lindsay members to their pews until they find a new faith home. A luncheon afterward was catered by Francis Lloyd, a Lindsay woman who has served more of this community’s people over the course of her lifetime than any pastor. Her food was a balm.

These are some of the things an old-time small-town newspaper once might have reported. It also would have mentioned some of the families represented, like the Barkers, Bodines and Burrs, who were early figures in the town’s development as well as the church’s. Many of the former beloved members were also represented in the memories spoken by those who’d come: the musicians Mary DeVan and Florence Filmore, and the inveterate welcomers like Jack Burr, Joyce Slagle and Russ Kehn, whose outstretched hands were readily remembered.

I tipped my hat to the ghosts I have loved and thanked them for making a place for me so many years ago now. I spoke of the pastor who invited me there when I first moved to this town ’way back in ’93, the Rev. Dick Pitcher, whose community activism after the 1990 Freeze impressed me greatly. We sang a few hymns accompanied by organist Steve Slagle, and a few more to recorded music with lyrics projected onto the front wall. And then slowly, by ones and twos, we passengers slipped away, returning to the lives we live largely elsewhere.

Before the service, however, I would not have seen us as passengers. My vision was being shaped by my sense of loss: loss of an anchor, loss of a sanctuary, literally a refuge for meeting with God. Loss of a place that once provided some kind of identity and position within the community, loss of the community itself, even—at least the one that was built by people who had populated this church in the past. But there were these two outsiders, Pastors Jorge Dominguez and David Niu, who came as officials of the Central Valley District of the Cal-Nevada Conference of the United Methodist Church. They provided ballast for this solemn ceremony and raised the periscope to see the larger picture. Their perspectives liberated us from our building’s bonds and set us free to keep sailing.

It strikes me now as important that both visitors were born on foreign soil, from places not even in North America. One was Brazilian, the other from the island nation of Tonga, both people now far from home, both more experienced sailors than the rest of us. I felt my spirit rise as they prayed over us and spoke, describing their own experiences in the midst of inevitable change, encouraging us to remember who we belong to, not what. It turned the worship service into what writer Rachel Naomi Remen calls an “endbeginning” in her book “Kitchen Table Wisdom” (1996). They provided relief from the narrow confines of self-identity.

And now, on this morning after the memorial service, the opening lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” have arrived. “The birds, they sang at the break of day. Start again, I heard them say. Don’t dwell on what has passed away, or what is yet to be…” Amen.

Trudy Wischemann is a wandering German (¼) who writes from her berth in Lindsay. You can send her your endbeginning stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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