You are someone’s ancestor; act accordingly.
“Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” Revelation 14:13
This last weekend I attended the memorial service for Virginia Moseley. I know her as the 100-year- old matriarch of Community Presbyterian Church in El Monte. But of course she was much more.
Virginia’s family drew a picture of a vibrant, strong, compassionate, principled, and bold woman. She was a lifelong storyteller, as an actress but more importantly as the bearer of history, especially the role of women in American history and Virginia’s own history as a member of the Greatest Generation. Born and raised in Springfield, Missouri, she joined the many people who found their way to Southern California during World War II. Here, she worked with women from other nations who came to the United States as war brides but were then abandoned here with their children. She also worked with families of people who were incarcerated. And, of course, she was a constant leader and role model for Community Church in El Monte, and a strong supporter for the diverse members of the Community Church family, including her belated friend Eddie Zabala and Rev. Dr. James Lee, president of International Theological Seminary. The church’s relationship with ITS has continued from the time they were located up the street from the church; because Community does not have a pastor, they enjoy preaching from some of our retired pastors but also ITS students who are pastors in Kenya, Cameroon, and many other nations. Thanks to our most honorably retired pastors Larry Ballenger, Peter Hintzoglou, Don Maddox, and others who have preached and cared for the congregation. It was a joy to visit with them during the reception after Virginia’s service. I give thanks for their boundless energy and faithful curiosity and lively minds.
Perhaps Virginia’s strongest impact is on her own family. I know Virginia’s son and daughter-in-law Clarke and Stephene Moseley, who are the tireless faithful leaders of Community Church and the larger community of El Monte. But it was a joy to hear from her grandchildren about the ways her values of family, volunteering, and faith, and her courage, resilience, and compassion have passed to them. I especially enjoyed hearing her granddaughter Kate, who talked about how Virginia taught her that “I am strong, and there’s not a lot that can take me down.” Knowing Kate’s parents Clarke and Stephene, I would suggest that she was indeed built strong, not only by her grandmother!
On a personal level, Virginia’s service reminded me that a few weeks from now, my father would have had his 100th birthday. So many people comment on my family; just yesterday I preached at La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church and Rev. Dr. Steve Davis asked about my father. However people see my ministry, I am among the most conservative of family members, because I am an apple that did not fall far from the tree. Like Virginia’s family, I’m just trying to carry the baton that was passed down to me—though, of course, I take responsibility for however well or badly I’ve done that. (In fact, one of the countless reasons I gave for resisting seminary was wanting to be sure I wasn’t just continuing the “family business.”)
As I sat in Community’s beautiful sanctuary, I heard Rev. Dr. Larry Ballenger reflect on our mortal bodies and the imperishable body we have in eternity, and I thought about how our church buildings are such precious holders of our family memories, just as our bodies are precious holders of our souls.
In both cases, these holders are temporary, and the permanent resting place cannot be seen by the human eye. The memories of our beloved leaders and churches live through the impact they have on all of us, and those who are impacted by us. I have to credit Claremont Walks, son of Rev. Ivan Walks, for this insight, as he reflected on the legacy of South Hills Presbyterian Church.
This last Juneteenth, there was a concert televised on CNN, and reporter Sara Sidner said that the message going out to the crowd was “You are someone’s ancestor; act accordingly.” (Another way things live beyond their temporary homes; I didn’t see the concert but love the quote.)
Just as we look back on our ancestors and the invaluable impact they have had on us and the concentric circles of love and faith and courage that radiate around each of them, we have to accept the awesome responsibility of knowing that we, too, have people watching and learning from us. May we live out that responsibility with all the gifts God has granted us, and all the opportunities to share and teach about God’s saving will that God has entrusted to us. And let us forever give thanks for our ancestors—for our families of birth but, just as important, our families of faith. Even if we don’t have children of our own, we have children in the faith, learning from us who God is and who we are, and how God loves us.