Bethany Stories: Hannah Rumsey

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During our Bethany Stories series, we’re hearing stories about our namesake, a town outside Jerusalem where Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived. We’re also hearing stories from our Bethany, especially from the past year.

On Sunday May 19th, regular Bethany visitor and dedicated Refugee One volunteer Hannah Rumsey shared some of her experience helping to resettle a refugee family (as part of our partnership with our friends and neighbors at Pilgrim Lutheran).

Hannah’s Bethany story:

For several months I’ve visited the refugee family from Burma. The father, Mohammad, speaks some English—and with him I can have short conversations, like remarking on the weather, or pointing to the sports game on TV and asking him if he likes to play. The 3-year-old girl, Nur Ritzke, is extremely outgoing, always chattering and bossing me around in Rohingyan, and saying occasional English phrases like, “OK,” “come on!” or when we leave, “thank you so much, bye-bye!”

The mother, Husen, speaks almost no English, and because of that I think, she is the most withdrawn when we’re there. The first couple of visits, she would sit a little removed from us, or be buried in cooking or cleaning. She has opened up more and more over time, but because of the language barrier I just didn’t know how to connect with her. So, I started by pointing to objects and asking her how to say it in her native language, Rohingyan, and I noticed that her usual look of vague panic or confusion would relax into a smile. So I kept doing it. Over time she’s taught me the words for many objects and animals, and the ONLY one that I’ve managed to remember is the word for horse. GOOLA.

The first time she taught it to me, was when Nur Ritzke got a wooden rocking horse. She dragged it out to the middle of the living room excitedly, chattering incessantly as her parents giggled and watched on from the couch. She got on the horse and then turned to me, pointing behind her and telling me what I assume was: “Get on! Get behind me.” I kept saying “I can’t, I can’t fit!” Because there was about this much space behind her, and there was no way that I would be able to fit without injuring me, her, or the horse, but I couldn’t explain that to her, so I eventually gave in and squatted in the air behind her, and we went on the fasted, silliest, rowdiest horse ride I’ve ever been on, yelling and “yeehaing!”—and if there was a landscape it would be ZOOMING past us, and the most amazing thing happened. We were ALL laughing, but Husen was laughing hysterically—hardly able to breathe, rocking back and forth on the couch, tears streaming down her face--the kind of laughter that happens when you’re with your best friend, and you’re doubled over, clutching at each other, dizzy and light and drunk with joy.

This went on for several minutes, and it was so simple, and spontaneous, and beautiful, to all be breathless and happy together.

For weeks after that, I kept going back to that horse. I was like a child telling the same joke to her parents over and over again, because it made them laugh that first time. “Goola!” I’d say, pointing to the horse, and we’d pull it out and play on it again, and it’d get a smile and a few chuckles, but it just wasn’t the same.

Nur-Ritzke pulled it out again several weeks later. I watched from a distance as she rocked faster and faster, and right when I started to think that she might be going too fast, the horse tipped over and she crashed onto the coffee table. She screamed and cried immediately, and in less than a second Husen was scooping her up, clutching her to her chest, frantically checking her head and limbs for injury, and then promptly whisked her away to the other room. I sat there, stunned, not knowing whether or not she was hurt, not knowing how to help. A few seconds later the crying stopped, and Husen slowly walked back into the room and sat on the couch with a teary Nur Ritzke in her lap. We were all quiet after that, not really knowing what to do or say, and I dragged the horse back to its corner.

And I was a little sad. Like the kind of sadness that I felt in high school when I got together with my old middle school friends and we would tell stories of the fun times we had together, but each time we told them we’d laugh less and less, because it had faded into something we could no longer grasp; like a memory of a memory.

I’ve found that there’s a melancholy that follows extreme joy. Especially when it’s shared. Because you know that you can’t experience it again, and you can’t recreate it. So I’m trying to be grateful that I did have a moment of intense connection, and look forward to the next one—which will probably come, as it always does, as a complete surprise and without any effort.



Bethany Stories: Sara Haas

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During our Bethany Stories series, we’re hearing stories about our namesake, a town outside Jerusalem where Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived. We’re also hearing stories from our Bethany, especially from the past year.

On Sunday May 12th, elementary school principal and Church Council member Sara Haas shared some of what it’s like to teach our growing Sunday School cohort. (We meet, ages 4 through 2nd grade, every other Sunday during 10:30 worship. Come join us!)

Sara’s Bethany story:

I identify myself as an educator.  For those of you who might not know, it is what I spend over 40 hours a week doing to earn a paycheck.  But I am a mother too, so I am proud to say that my role as educator doesn't end when as I drive away from my school each evening.  So putting on my teacher hat when on Sunday mornings feels right to me.   Teaching kids about God would be a breeze!  I grew up in Sunday School, I attended summer camp at church, went through confirmation class and sang in the high school choir.  But have you ever sat to think about how much death, and destruction, and sadness there is in the bible?  I open my daughters story bible and Daniel is sentenced to be eaten to death by lions, Moses is sent down the river after babies are ordered to be drown, Jonah is swallowed by a whale and lives to tell of it.   

I remember the first time I questioned how I was going to explain some very grown up ideas to some very young kids.  It was the story of Lazarus, raised from the dead by Jesus.  Our family cat had recently died and so death had been explained to my then three year old, the permanence of it emphasized.  Our kitty was not coming back.  So how was I going to reconcile that with this story of resurrection.  

But logic and order and the black and white reality that I apply to my adult view isn’t a issue for young kids.  They already live in a world of fairy tales and believe in happy endings.  They readily accept that God will take care of us in our darkest time.  They see the good and joy in the world before they see the hurt and are ready to project that good back towards others.  And seeing this easy faith that comes to kids in the Sunday School room makes mine that much stronger.  

CMA Spring Meeting

Looking for more information about the Annual Spring Meeting of the Chicago Metropolitan Association? You’re in luck!

Included below is information from Rev. Wayne MacPherson, who you can contact with any questions (ilconfwayne@gmail.com, 773-324-7650). And here’s Wayne’s full letter and the registration form (which can be emailed or printed out and mailed; see form for details). We can’t wait to welcome you to Bethany! Want to volunteer that day? Reach out to us at info@bethanychicago.com


Greetings to the Chicago Metropolitan Association congregations, clergy, laity, and UCC-related community, health and educational institutions. Let us gather together at Bethany United Church of Christ, Chicago, Illinois on Saturday, May 4, 2019 for our Annual Spring Meeting. This will be a time for celebration, worship, fellowship, learning and faith sharing.

Bethany UCC is located at the corner of Paulina and Cullom Avenues in Chicago. Cullum is one block south of Montrose and Paulina is one block west of Ashland Avenue. The church is located three blocks east of the Montrose stop on the CTA’s Brown line. Street parking is available as well as parking in the lot of Ravenswood School at 4332 N. Paulina Avenue. Entrance to the lot is on Cullom Avenue.  As usual we encourage ride sharing.

Registration begins at 8:00 a.m. A continental breakfast will be served. There will be a pick-up choir for the worship service and the choir will gather at 8:15a.m. – 8:45 a.m. in the choir room downstairs. Childcare from 8:45 - 12:30. Gather at 9 a.m. for worship, meeting, presentations. 

After greetings from CMA and Illinois Conference leadership as well as our host pastors, we will join in worship led by our host congregations. The rest of the agenda will consist of a business meeting along with three presentations. The first presentation on the Illinois Conference’s Lilly Grant will be led by Rev. Dr. David Russell, Associate Conference Minister of the Illinois Conference. The second presentation will look at Storytelling in Worship and will be led by Rev. Rebecca Anderson, one of our host pastors.  The third presentation will look at the Opioid Epidemic. Discussion will be led by Ms. Deborah Dillon on the Illinois Opioid Alternative Act.

There will be a separate youth event sponsored by Off the Pews.  Attendees will join us for worship but then have their separate program. Program and Registration information will be sent separately.

The registration fee of $25 ($30 on-site) includes continental breakfast, snacks and lunch. There is a reduced registration fee of $15 for Members-in-Discernment and Retired Clergy.  The programOff thePews will cover the registration costs for Youth (23 years and under).

Enclosed with this letter is a registration form. Please register one person per form. Please make additional copies as needed. Early registration is greatly appreciated. Early registration deadline is Friday, April 26, 2019.   

 In an effort to be environmentally responsible, we will be preparing fewerpackets with Annual Reports for thebusiness meetingThese reports will be available around April 25, 2019 at the CMA website, cma.ilucc.org.

* * For further information, contact Rev. Wayne MacPherson, CMA Administrator, at ilconfwayne@gmail.com or 773-324-7650. * *

Pitch In: Bethany Pledge Campaign

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“The people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.” – 2 Chronicles 31:5 

One Thanksgiving I decided I was going to make my favorite dish from scratch: green bean casserole. It was a silly idea, because green bean casserole, of all dishes, was not designed to be homemade. It’s four cans dumped into a 9x13 pan and covered with another can. But sometimes I like to do silly things.

I made a pot of Martha Stewart’s cream of mushroom soup, complete with a pound and a half of cremini mushrooms. I snapped the ends off fresh green beans and blanched them. I sliced onions as thin as my unskillful hands would let me, and painstakingly floured and fried them a few rings at a time. It was a lot of work, but I did it with joy, thinking about the people I was cooking for.

There is something beautiful about sharing our best with one another. Making a dish from scratch. Picking out a bottle that’s nicer than the occasion calls for. Letting a friend in on our secret chocolate stash. In the bible it’s called the “first fruits.” It’s the cream of the crop, the top shelf, the good stuff. And the people of Israel had the practice of giving it to God.

Our theme for this year’s pledge campaign is “Pitch In.” Like the meals that we share throughout the year, everything at Bethany is made from the gifts we give, the things we choose to share.

When we give to Bethany, we’re not handing our money over to a faceless corporation. We’re making a gift to the people in the pews beside us. We’re saying, “I’m giving this gift so you can hear beautiful music. I’m giving this gift so that your child can go to Sunday School. I’m giving this gift so that we can serve food to hungry neighbors, or teach a refugee child English, or experience a call from the Living God.” 

Our pledge campaign this year is ambitious. We hope to receive pledges of $60,000. This money will go toward continuing our service and justice work with The Night Ministry, The Crib, Community Renewal Society, the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches and Refugee One. It will go to an expanded children’s program including Sunday School, Parents’ Night Out, and Faith at Home Workshops. It will go to opportunities for spiritual exploration: for worship, and small groups, and retreats. 

It will also honor the long-time pitching in that Dean Arnold has done as our church treasurer, as we seek to hire a part-time financial administrator who can take over some of the important work he has been doing on our behalf for many years.   

So let’s give each other our best, our first fruits. As you consider making a pledge for 2019, I hope you’ll think of the others with whom you share this community. What difference could your gift make in their lives? What would you give them, if you could give them anything?

The miracle of a pitch-in, is that we each bring just one dish, but we get to share a feast! What dish will you bring this year? What first fruits can you offer to make Bethany a welcoming and vibrant spiritual home for the neighbors we already know and the ones who are coming to join us?

Sign up for online giving here.