The following articles are a series called "Faith Stories," featuring members of our church family. The stories will focus on parishioners’ religious lives, variously defined. This project was conceived by Jo Trepagnier and the interviews were conducted and written up by Nanette Smith.
When they say, the church is its people, it’s people like Marty Cottrell who embody that notion. Marty, with his wife, Carol, and others, whom Marty named (like Jim and Bernadette Hartshorne, Mo and Patricia Gaukler ) have been as essential to building our church as the brick and mortar. In his modest and matter-of-fact way, Marty told me about all he has been involved with in the church during the decades of his membership—from vestry to choir to JFK to several key committees. After raising his three children in the two Allentown Episcopal churches, Grace and Mediator, Marty retired early from his position as an engineer at PPL. A month after his retirement, the fire of 1996 badly damaged our church, and he had a new job immediately, supervising the work on repairs and rebuilding. He also helped get Jo’s computer up and running. For a while, he said, "it seems like I was at the church two or three times a day."
After some time, Marty began to see how his work to help others could take him outward, beyond the church walls, and yet still be an expression of his religious roots. His work has taken him to the scouts, the Allentown Library, United Way and Habitat for Humanity. Marty says he looks for opportunities to help others and likes to do this mainly by solving problems. Through the examples he gave me, I could see he is gifted in analyzing situations, then designing solutions. He says he prefers being behind the scenes, what he called "doing the dog work." For example, at Habitat, these days he works mostly in the warehouse with the tools and materials. "Thank goodness Nick Waters gave us that forklift," he said grinning. "Otherwise I don’t know that I could do the work." At United Way, Marty has been involved in a variety of projects, such as Humana Way and the Alliance on the Aging. Marty also oversees AARP tax aide in Allentown, which assists people around tax time free of charge.
When I asked him how his religious life or church played into all his volunteer work, Marty said with a touch of wit: "I don’t necessarily go around telling everyone I come into contact with about my faith, but sometimes they do catch on." In his typically unassuming manner, he said, "I don’t call what I do a ministry per se. It’s an opportunity to help people out there with the base being the church and the people in the church."
I was particularly interested to learn about how Marty was involved in two exciting movements during the 70s and 80s: an ecumenical formal "covenant" of four area churches and Cursillo. Founded in Spain, the Cursillo movement was designed to help renew parishes by enlivening the spiritual lives of individuals and by building community. Various techniques were used, including retreats and small group formation. Marty was very active in the movement after his own experiences with it. I heard how deep and ongoing relationships were cemented through Cursillo among a number of our parishioners. I think those of us who missed those exciting times could learn a lot from those who lived them.
Outside the Cottrell’s home are quite a few "Welcome" signs and mats. And I did feel welcomed on a cool August afternoon, sitting on the patio and watching the varieties of birds that visit the couple’s feeders. Somewhere in our talk, Marty told me that his philosophy of life is to "use every minute." Certainly he would seem to live that philosophy to help church and community in wide-ranging ways. Several times, Marty said, "You really should talk to Carol, not me." I’m looking forward to it, Carol!↑ Return to Top
Most people know the Diehls as family-oriented, hard-working, charitable people very active in the church. What informs that in Barry, I learned, are the examples of his mother and father and his approach toward his faith. Barry told me that he believes that if he isn’t practicing his beliefs in any situation, he’s really not fully taking advantage of what that faith offers and what it’s about. "What is important to us," he said, referring also to his wife Sue, "is there’s never a reason not to do something for others, and if we can be of help for others in some way we will." He stressed that they may not be rich, but they have health and a willingness to help.
As many might also know, Barry was baptized at Mediator by Father Birney and grew up in the church; he fondly remembers Jim Hartshorne and Mo Gaukler leading youth groups. They were great, he said. As an adult, he moved out of state, wasn’t always a churchgoer, and when he first returned to Allentown, he attended his wife’s family’s Lutheran church for a while. Then in 2005, Barry’s mother’s passing away precipitated an awakening of sorts for him and ended up bringing him back to his childhood parish. The people here were very supportive during that time, and one could imagine that being in this church connects him to his mother. Barry’s father was very involved with the boy scouts at Mediator. Barry continues in the tradition of volunteer work of his parents. One thing he still does, he laughingly said, though he hates it, is give blood to the Red Cross as a sort of tribute to his father, who did the same all his life.
As many people know, the Diehls are a largish family at the moment, with five girls. The little twins and the baby are foster children, who they are currently hoping to adopt. I asked Barry what having a Christian family means to him. He said that he wants his children to have the same opportunity he and his wife grew up with—to understand unconditional love—not only from their parents but from Jesus. Also he hopes that they feel they’re part of something bigger, a church community and a worldwide community. Barry said this is a good place for his family. The people have always been very welcoming. He also mentioned how supportive church members were when he lost his job in October. They had just taken their baby, Sara, into their home. "We didn’t know what we were going to do. But people brought over food; everyone helped."
Finally, I asked Barry about his inner spiritual life, wanting to know what sustains him in his life as a volunteer, very active church person and family man. He paused and thought a minute, then said, "I’m a runner, and I run maybe four times a week. And in my running I have conversations with myself about what’s going on in my life." Those times he spends running sometimes become a form of prayer. And he figures things out.
"I was extremely skeptical into my 30s," he continued in this vein. "But so many things do happen that I can’t explain that while I may not always hear the answers, they sometimes just come. He gave a beautiful example: When he and Sue first started fostering children, their first was a little boy named Emmanuel. When we brought him to church, not only were people very welcoming but so many commented on the meaning of his name, "God is with us." Perhaps a sign that they were doing the right thing with fostering.
Later they fostered Isabella and Heaven. And now one of the 21-month old twins they’ve fostered is named Mariah. Even more remarkable at some point early on Barry’s wife Sue called to tell him that she’d just learned the twins were born on October 3rd, his father’s birthday. "I just about fell on the floor," he said.
Finally, Barry said he was very glad we were interviewing parishioners. "Especially some of the older people," he said. Earlier he had said how glad he was that people welcomed his sometimes rambunctious kids because without kids, the church can’t grow and continue. I saw that Barry clearly has a sense of the importance of what the church is - a diverse and multigenerational family all of whose members are important.↑ Return to Top
Mark Jeske bridges two worlds—the Lutheran and Episcopal Churches—as an ordained Lutheran pastor who has officiated at Mediator at times throughout the last year. Raised a Lutheran with clergy/pastors on both sides of his family, he attended an Episcopal school in high school, and ever since had many Episcopalian friends and had fallen back in love with the Book of Common Prayer and its liturgy. So he was truly delighted when the two churches joined into full communion in 1999. Mark attended a seminary close to an Episcopal seminary and was steeped in things ecumenical ever since. “After 400 years or so of schism, it’s exciting to think after thirty years of dialogue we were so close.” Now both churches have been celebrating that relationship for 10 years. Attending Lutheran services on Saturday nights and Mediator Sunday mornings, Mark embodies that important union. He feels he has a lot in common with the leadership of Mediator--especially with Maria’s interest in ecumenism, interfaith work, and biblical languages.
Mark’s father was a Lutheran pastor and a professor of
New Testament and his mother’s family were missionaries. Mark recalled a time
when he was “eleven years old and my grandparents had just come back from
Mark has a gently dry sense of humor. When I asked him why he became ordained, “I was set up for it,” referring to his family’s history with the Church. And when I asked him why he started attending Mediator when he moved to Allentown a year ago to begin his chaplaincy residency at Lehigh Valley Hospital, he said he immediately noticed the church in the process of his move because it was close to where he would be living. “It’s like the heavens opened up” as soon as he saw the church he said. Seriously, though, he did say he had a strong intuition about the place. “Each church has a ministry,” he said. “And the ministry of hospitality is an important one. I feel strongly that hospitality is one of the key ministries of the church….And Mediator has it.
Having been a pastor/rector at a church in York, Mark now feels called to work as a chaplain in a hospital, hospice or assisted living setting. “These ministries, like prison ministries, and others, are very closely tied to the church as we are shaped first by worship. We’re called to live out our baptismal vows and the gifts we’re given in our sending from the walls and place of the church….These other places are extensions of the congregational ministry, taking the Church to the world,” he said.
His gifts include being a good listener and the ability to be present to people. In his hospital work, this includes not only the patients, but the patients’ families and even staff. “The hospital bed is where a lot of pressing questions come up for people.”
With classes, chaplain residency at Lehigh Valley Health
Network, and assisting at Mediator, Mark has had an extremely busy year. Hard to
believe the school year is drawing to a close just before Labor Day! Although he
has a place to lay his head with family near Philadelphia or New York and while
he’s excited to see what comes next, he would love it if he could somehow be
able to stay a part of Mediator. We hope so too, Mark.
Kayla Marsland says she cannot imagine not going to church and being involved in it, and she’ll continue to do both when she moves on to college next year. Right now, Kayla is a senior at Parkland High where she plays lacrosse. She does particularly like the Mediator because it’s small. "I feel like if you’re going to church, you need a community, somewhere where people know each other and support each other," she said. You’ll often see her with her family or with friends whom she brings to our church. She somewhat jokingly noted that being a teenager who goes to church "keeps her out of trouble." More seriously, she said, "Being involved in the church keeps me focused."
But you’ll also often see Kayla at the altar as well as in the pews where she has "graduated" from being an acolyte to a lay Eucharistic minister. "I take it very seriously…like a job," she said, "just as I did being an acolyte… Everything is done in a certain way." Kayla is aware, because of her age, that she can serve as a model to kids in the church. She said she always looked up to the lay Eucharistic ministers when she was younger.
Kayla and her family moved a fair amount before landing in the Lehigh Valley—from Florida to Hong Kong to Connecticut—and she is thinking now of going to college out of state and pursuing a career that would allow her to work overseas. In thinking about a career in medicine or the sciences, Kayla’s faith comes into play again. She believes that religion and science do go hand in hand especially when it comes to helping people. Right now she’s thinking about possibly working to help children in Africa or Malta, where, she told me the population of diabetic children is the highest in the world.
Kayla said that her religion and church have given her strength when she needed it. She recalled a time some years ago when her family faced a crisis: In the same week her grandfather died and her father was in a serious skiing accident. "During that time, I couldn’t really talk to anyone in the family…we were all so fragile then." But her youth class in the church and her prayer life both helped her be stronger for her family. "This was my first trigger," she said, "realizing how important my faith was. I had to fall back on it. There was no one else I could turn to but God."
Finally, Kayla noted correctly that many teens leave the church—at least for a while—after they are confirmed. She hopes other young people see in her that you can take a different path. Does she know that she’s an inspiration for us older folks as well?
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Anne Secor is a big part of Mediator, although she downplays her role as church librarian with typical modesty. In the years she’s held that position she has done a tremendous amount of work—organizing, labeling, adding more books, and generally spiffing up the place. With Bob Benedict, she also started our book club, which has looked at the works of Evelyn Underhill, C.S. Lewis, Desmond Tutu, Bishop Sponge, and various historical books on religion. She is sorry that such a fine church library is probably underused. "Especially the children’s books. We have some wonderful books for kids," she says.
Anne was born and raised an Episcopalian in Morris, New York—near Cooperstown. In the last three decades or so of living in the Lehigh Valley, she and her husband Phil attended Trinity Church in Bethlehem and now Mediator. When her family lived in Allentown in the 1970s, they attended Mediator, where yours truly was confirmed. (Yes, in the interest of full disclosure, Anne is my mother!)
She has always loved attending church because, among other reasons, "I believe in corporate prayer—that we’re all in this together." And at the Mediator, she says she likes to talk to people about our beliefs, especially in the book and movie clubs.
Anne was a little reluctant to do this interview. "Talk to your father instead," she said. But I felt she had a meaningful story to tell about her faith and the value of prayer. A story that might help others. When she was sick from cancer, she was attending Trinity. She was surprised at how many people came up to her and said they were praying for her. And they asked how she was and gave her hugs. "I felt unworthy of all the attention, being a retiring sort of person." But in her recovery, "you start to wonder is prayer really efficacious, more than just words….You start to think to yourself that if all these people are praying for me, they must really care for me, and it’s a wonderful thing."
Years later, she had more health problems due to some mistakes made in the treatment of her cancer, and the same thing happened at Mediator as had at Trinity. People prayed for her. She recalled how Carol Cottrell came and visited her. When Carol wanted to pray with her, she protested. Her problems weren’t that bad. Other people had far greater need. Carol told her that we all have needs sometimes and reassured her that her need for prayer was no less. That stuck with Anne.
"This was a good learning for me. Now when I say I’ll pray for someone, I know what it means. It’s not a bunch of words. It’s feeling, it’s kindness, it’s empathy. Because somebody prayed for me." How Anne practices her faith now involves prayer—not just for other people, but for peace. She says she is a lover of peace. She said she always tries to do something nice for people every day. "If I can show kindness, I will." She has also learned as her faith has evolved that we all "need to show affection more often than we think." For example, she writes regularly to my step-son Brian, Jr., who is in prison, and whom she has never met. This means a great deal to him.
Nothing would make Anne happier than to see more people checking out the library, her labor of love. "People might be surprised to find something they’d like in the library—of course books on theology and religion, but also lots of good fiction and biographies." And if you visit when she’s there, you’re likely to get interesting conversation, a shy smile…and maybe a hug.↑ Return to Top
Tim Smith was drawn to the Mediator nearly a decade ago by a newspaper ad. "I’m one who still reads newspapers," he says; "I get the Morning Call and The New York Times delivered every day." Searching for a church, he circled five churches in the newspaper, went to Mediator first, and never went to the other four. He says he was attracted by our mission statement, Putting Faith into Action. And he still very much likes how, under Maria’s direction, our parish is oriented to work in the world.
He also agrees with Maria’s viewpoint that we all have our ministries. It might not seem immediately obvious, but Tim very much sees his ministry as being through his work as a bank branch manager. He points out that money is a focal point for a lot of life’s issues from home to job to relationships. He sees a lot of hardships "especially in today’s economy. Sometimes I can’t help people except to show understanding and caring." Through his work he has "learned not to judge people. Just because someone’s going through a tough time doesn’t make them a bad person." This definitely shows how Christian faith can be played out in the real world.
Tim also put his faith into action in his personal life where he was a caretaker for his mother and grandmother for many years. After they died about two years ago, Tim went through a tough time. He told me how our Pastor, Maria, helped him—by giving him a job—assistant treasurer for the church. Here too was an opportunity for Tim to "work his faith" through the important decisions made by the vestry.
A native Allentonian and a graduate of Moravian College, Tim was raised a Lutheran. His family members were "fervent church goers; church was the focus of our life." As with the Lutheran church, the Episcopalian church stresses communion, which was also important to Tim when choosing a church. Tim is an "eight-o-clocker," meaning he nearly always attends the eight a.m. service. He finds a special sense of community in this small group; he also noted that for him it has a particularly contemplative quality. When he said that, I saw that this caring man, who emphasizes putting his religious life into his daily life, has a deeply spiritual side as well. Maybe that will be material for our next conversation↑ Return to Top
Pat Swan is a direct and well-spoken person with a warm smile and calm demeanor who beautifully defines what it means to be an Episcopalian. Raised in the Anglican church of Canada, and an active member of Episcopal parishes all her life, she says she has never wanted to go to any other church. She loves the liturgy and the traditional music of the Episcopal Church. She also said she appreciates how in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition "you can use your mind."
Pat is a mother of three, a grandmother of eight, and a wife. She is also a loyal and good friend, with friendships going back to her childhood in Canada. She loves her volunteer work of reading aloud to children at the Emmaus Library. She’s also been active with the League of Women Voters for many years. It’s one of her passions.
Pat’s stunningly clearheaded view of her religious life came across when I asked her about what faith means to her: "I take a simple view…I don’t worry about the finer theological points and I don’t worry about taking the Bible literally…to me I’ve always felt fortunate in my faith. I’ve always felt looked after."
It was clear that Pat values that ours is a religion of love and kindness. She cited the quote: "They’ll know we are a Christians by our love." And when I asked her what gifts she felt God especially gave her she mentioned a gift for empathizing with others.
One of our long-time parishioners, Pat has been attending Mediator since 1969. For many years she was a Sunday school teacher, and she also served as a vestry member. When asked what Mediator means to her, she said, "It’s my church home," and she looked at me as if to say: No more need be said.
As I said goodbye to Pat on a balmy June evening, enjoying the beautiful garden her husband Burke planted, I thought to myself that Pat’s humility and what she called her "simple view" were much to be admired.↑ Return to Top