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Friday, July 15, 2016

Memorial Message About A Memorable Man--Wayne North 1929-2016

photo provided by family
Wayne North was an exceptionally warm and wise pastor and friend. For a number of years prior to his illness I had the privilege of meeting with him and two other men for a monthly breakfast conversation, and learned to appreciate him one of my most valued mentors.

Wayne died July 8 at age 86, leaving a legacy of indelible memories behind (see obituary). Some of his many gifts to his family and church family were highlighted in the message brought at his memorial service by pastor Mark Keller last Friday at the Harrisonburg Mennonite Church.

I post the following abbreviated version with Mark's permission:

Wayne was a thoughtful planner. He carefully worked out most of the details for this service.

Two years ago, after he was given the diagnosis of leukemia and the prospect of soon leaving the world, Wayne added some additional thoughts to his plans that he wanted to be included in this
service.

To me specifically Wayne said, “I want you to concentrate on the scripture text rather than the tributes. It is bad enough having one pastor lying in his grave and the other lying in the pulpit.”

Wayne’s dry, winsome and instructive humor was a gift and blessing throughout his ministry.

Also back in 2014 the Norths purchased two oak trees to be planted in the HMC Memorial Garden. The Oak trees, under which the cremains of both Wayne and Doris will be placed, were to be planted close together so that as they grow the branches will intertwine. What a lovely metaphor of the life of Wayne and Doris together.

Wayne chose the two Oaks as an echo of the Biblical ‘Oaks of Mamre’ under which Abraham and Sarah entertained three angels. However, Wayne turned the text by asking that their memorial trees at HMC to be called the ‘Oaks of Memory’ rather than the ‘Oaks of Mamre.’

The two oaks were transported, planted and cared for by the HMC Creation Care Group. This was accomplished in appreciation of Wayne’s strong affirmation, support and participation in the founding of the Creation Care Group.

In an intimate ceremony the ‘Oaks of Memory’ were dedicated at which time Wayne prayed:

Holy God, Creator and Lord of all Creation, we come to this place to plant two trees. We come because of your enabling and long-suffering love and amazing grace. We give thanks for time to observe the planting of these oak trees.  We plant them with the desire and intention that as they grow they will be witnesses to your faithfulness, your beauty, your glory and your grace. May the memories they stir bring joy and blessing to all those who pass by.  Though they bear our names may they bring honor to you, O God, through every season they endure.  To the praise of your name do we dedicate these trees. Amen.

Those of us who listened to Wayne teach, preach, and pray have long appreciated how he could
so thoughtfully and artistically put into words concepts of the mysterious, the existential and the
divine. He was frequently able to cause us to think more deeply than is often done and with fresh
insights. Many, including myself, experienced the sense of the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking
through Pastor Wayne.

The most recent instance of this I witnessed was that in the April 10 Sunday worship service Wayne led us in the congregation prayer. His prayer touched one listener so profoundly that he asked me if I could send him a copy. One of the sentences from that prayer is so appropriate for today, "Lord Jesus] May we be so gripped by your resurrection power that our doubts are turned to praise and our fear to celebration."

Knowing that Wayne was an effective and skilled communicator and knowing that his life journey would soon be finished, he accepted one last writing ‘assignment’ just a few weeks ago. Wayne agreed to write reflections of his life as he neared the end. Wayne quickly responded to the invitation in an email saying, “I confess I welcome an ‘assignment’ such as this. It will serve as my testimony to a faithful God Who has led me every mile of the journey and without whom I would have nothing to say."

As a part of the reflection assignment Wayne also sent a copy of a reflective devotional he gave at the VMRC ‘Coffee Hour’. From that 2014 VMRC writing, given not long after he was first diagnosed with leukemia, Wayne said, “The only thing at the end is love relationships. The greatest of these is love.”

Just a few days ago Wayne again affirmed that it is now so clear to him that love and love relationships with others are all that matters in life. He went on to say how much he valued Doris and his family and the love from friends and church members.

In the introduction to the ‘writing assignment’ Wayne reflected that, “…interestingly, while it is all about God, every one of the stories I will tell are also about people. People were important--essential if I were to have faith and grow in faith. So this [reflection writing assignment] is about relationships and those many others to whom I owe so much.”

The conviction that God’s presence in the world is embodied through human lives was perhaps the driving force as to why Wayne was such a careful thoughtful and effective pastor. Wayne tried over and over to convey, I believe, that the Christian mission is to be mindfully present and to represent God in his beloved world.

Near the end of the ‘reflection assignment’ Wayne wrote, “Of course receiving a death sentence does wonders for focusing your attention. More than that it forces one to rearrange priorities and name the essentials, only now, the essentials are so much more clear. But then I discover that I’ve been working at that all my life. … It is grace in the form of love that has brought me this far, love will carry me through, and love awaits on the other side."

The final paragraph of Wayne’s writing describes a couple of hospital experiences that were helpful in thinking of the end of life. To one hospital visitor seeking wisdom for some of life’s big questions, Wayne writes that he said, "…when you strip away all the stuff and nonsense, all the pretense and trappings—all that matters is love and that you have loved. After all, God is love and that is what he asks us to be and do.

That insight has great appeal in our world today. When the ‘wisdom seeking visitor’ left, Wayne writes, "…the nurse who had been with us came to my bed, crouched down at the foot of the bed and said, 'Thank you for sharing so deeply. As I heard both of you talk, it was so beautiful I needed to leave the room to cry.'”

Wayne’s clarity of the centrality of love speaks again to our mission as God’s people. Wayne’s ending story of his ‘reflections paper’ illustrates this, I think.

A hospital worker regularly cared for his room. "[She seemed to be] …beaten down by a difficult life, full of fear, She would [come] into the room, head down, not engage eye contact and avoiding conversation. I decided I needed her as friend. I did my best to warmly greet her, tell her how much I
appreciated her service, how much she made my day a better one. She began to smile, talk more easily, tell me about her life, stick around an extra minute and ask if there was something else she could do. … the next time I was on her floor [as a patient]. She was excited to see me and we began to chat like the old friends we were becoming.

"It became so clear to me. That’s why we are here. This is what will endure—the works that will follow us. The treasure we store up in heaven."

That encounter fits so well into Wayne’s declaration: “The only thing at the end is love relationships. The greatest of these is love.”

Wayne’s experience with the Church when he was growing up was love, care and inclusion. Although there were probable other things going on in the Church.. he was accepted. Wayne cared deeply that all people have the experience from the church he had in his formative years."

It seems so simple doesn’t it? Love is Biblical, it is Jesus-like. God so loved the world. Love one another. The greatest of these is love. God is love. That is why, I believe, Wayne wrote that his life reflections are filled with stories about interactions with others.

There is so much more wise beauty in Wayne’s written reflections illustrated by his life experiences. But I am thinking of time and remembering Wayne’s directive to concentrate on the scriptures.

Wayne chose the scriptures for today on which the Brahms Requiem is based. The experience of singing the Requiem in his senior year at Goshen College provided for him a profound spiritual
experience.

He wrote as if he had slipped back in time and he was singing:

Just to learn [Brahms Requiem] … has been a glorious experience. It is lament of death, the comfort of God’s promises, and the exaltation of Christ’s victory over the grave and the beauty of heaven. [In the final presentation of the Requiem] we approach the climax of I Corinthian 15: 'Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: Death has been swallowed up in victory,' the certainty of faith becomes overwhelming real. I am singing with all of my soul, mind and strength. Then comes, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where O death is your sting”? And I am lifted into a realm where there is no doubt only divine joy. I am flinging into the face of Satan his defeat and Jesus’ victory. I finish the chorus with tears streaming down my face and only my mind able to say the words with my spirit on another plane.

I believe Wayne’s life is a reflection and interpretation of these scriptures. Could we not say as Christians that the way we conduct our lives is really our personal interpretation of scripture?

The best way to end this meditation, I believe, is to re-read the scriptures Wayne chose for this day.

For the North family and us all: Matthew 5:4, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

To help us understand Wayne’s reality now after his death: Revelation 14:13, "Then I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. 'Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.'”

To help us understand the mystery of Wayne’s death and ours to come: 1 Corinthians 15:51-57, 'Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52  in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory... But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wayne is now raised in that victory.

Amen

- Mark Keller is associate pastor at Harrisonburg Mennonite, where Wayne himself served as pastor for many years.
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