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The Eulogy Sermon for Ethel Rounsaville

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 11:38 pm on Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Eulogy Sermon for Ethel Rounsaville

April 18, 2017

1Corinthians 13

Ethel rounsavilleI remember when I first met Ethel.  It was June of 1982. I was 26 years old, fresh out of seminary, and newly arrived in Everittstown, sometime during the week before my first Sunday leading worship.  It was late afternoon and I must have been out on the porch of the parsonage, because Ethel saw me as she drove by and stopped, got out of her car and greeted me.  She was wearing her visiting nurse uniform, on her way home from her work caring for some sick, home bound patient.  Ethel said a few words of warm welcome, which I appreciated.  I had never lived out in the country, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there, fearing I would be lonely living out there surrounded by farms.

Since I received word of Ethel’s death at the age of 95 I’ve been thinking a lot about that memory.  I’ve now lived significantly more years of my life since that moment in time than I had lived up to that moment.  I did the math, and Ethel was at the time of our meeting a few months younger that I am now.  And so it’s made me pretty conscious of the passage of time, and in true Ethel fashion, a verse from a hymn came to mind, that of Isaac Watt’s, “O God Our Help in Ages Past”:

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the op’ning day.

“They fly, forgotten, as a dream…”  Time rushes by, but one of the expressions of the love that lived in Ethel’s heart was that she didn’t forget — she held me and so many others in her heart with the loveliness of her memory.   Though I only rarely saw her in the 28 years since I left Everittstown, Ethel would remember me with cards at Christmas and on my birthday.  She would let me know that she was still holding me in her heart, recalling the details of my life — not only the details of the seven years I spent there in Everittstown — but also the details of the years since – the family I formed in my post-Everittstown years.  Even as her health failed, the cards continued, the last as I recall dictated by her and written by the hand of her beloved home health aide.

Hearing of Ethel’s passing during Holy Week, she was on my mind as I once again experienced the story of Good Friday.  I thought of Ethel when I heard the words exchanged by the thief on the cross with Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.  The thief cries out, “Lord, when you come into your kingdom, remember me.” And Jesus replies, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” We long to be remembered, and Ethel did just that.  And now she is in paradise with Jesus, and she remembers us still.

The second to last time I saw Ethel was a couple of years ago.  My wife Sarah was recovering from a virus that had kept her housebound for several days, and it was a lovely Spring day so we decided to take a drive out into the country through Everittstown and beyond – to see where my mother — who had recently died –had once lived across the river in Pennsylvania.  We meant to travel incognito – but I stopped in the grocery store in Frenchtown to get some throat lozenges for my wife – and as I did, both Sarah and I had this feeling that I would run into somebody I knew, and sure enough I did.  There was Bruce coming out as I came in, greeting me warmly and encouraging me to stop by the house to see his mom.  Our meeting seemed mysteriously planned by God, and so in the late afternoon on our way back home we did stop, and while Sarah — concerned with the germs she might be carrying stayed outside talking with Bruce — I went in to the house to visit with Ethel.  She greeted me with such delight, and we reminisced, and the visit is the memory that stands out from that day.  Ethel remembered my mother well from her occasional visits to Everittstown all those years ago.  She understood what my mother had meant to me, and the grief I was feeling.

Because of his love for soccer, Sarah and I sent our youngest son Bobby to a Catholic Prep school in Newark run by Benedictine monks.  I learned that Benedictines have a vow they take that distinguishes them from other orders which they call a “vow of stability to place.”  They make a vow to stay settled in one place for their entire lives.   This is a passage I came across describing the vow:

We vow to remain all our life with our local community. We live together, pray together, work together, relax together. We give up the temptation to move from place to place in search of an ideal situation. Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion. And when interpersonal conflicts arise, we have a great incentive to work things out and restore peace. This means learning the practices of love and forgiving.

Ethel intuitively grasped the meaning of a “vow to stability of place”, staying planted on the same beautiful patch of farm land, in that same small farm house for nearly 75 years – the home she had raised her four greatly loved children:  Dave, Carol, Bruce and Tim.  She rarely strayed far from that home or the community of Everittstown and Frenchtown, staying put to love the family and neighbors God had given her to love, and at times grieving deeply, as she did when her heart broke for her son Tim when he was taken too soon.

Ethel cultivated friendships.  I remember in particular her friendship with Margaret Bush, her next door neighbor and for a long stretch of time the director of the choir Ethel sang in all those years in Everittstown – two good talkers who treasured each other, sharing a love of music, especially music sung unto the Lord.  I remember how heartily they laughed together.  “My sweet little Ethel,” is how Margaret used to refer to her dear friend.

The last time I saw Ethel was when I visited her in the hospital six weeks ago in Morristown.  I marveled once again at all the hymns she knew by heart – how in the solitude that life often imposed upon this innately sociable woman — especially as her health deteriorated in later years — she would have her hymns to turn to – songs through which she poured forth to God all that was within her heart.  She recalled the anthem – not just the title, but the words themselves – that was sung on my first Sunday leading worship in Everittstown, appropriately titled, “Love Grows Here.”

When I arrived in Everittstown thirty-five years ago, I longed to feel like a grown up — like somebody strong and wise who had his life pretty much all together.  In truth, I was anything but – I was in fact a pretty broken person — a child trying to put on the clothes of a grown up.

My seven years in Everittstown were not easy ones for me — not but because of the congregation — but because of my own personal inner turmoil. I arrived as I said quite lonely, and three years into my tenure my loneliness led me to enter an ill-conceived marriage after a courtship of just six months.  The whole community gathered to pack the Everittstown Church to celebrate the wedding.  The marriage led, nineteen months after the wedding to the blessing of the birth of Andrew, my beloved first born child, but just eight months after his birth my wife and I separated, eventually divorcing.

My parents had gotten divorced, and with some arrogance I had been determined that I would never do the same.  “Love… is not arrogant,” said the Apostle Paul, and I was humbled in my time in Everittstown.

When the possibility arose in my mind that my marriage would end in divorce, the thought that arose alongside that possibility was that such an outcome would mean the end of my ministry — that it would expose me as a fraud and envelop me in shame.

For quite some time as my marriage deteriorated I had been quietly withdrawing from people.  But as the separation came to pass, people like Ethel reached out to me with unconditional love, and also practical help and support as I spent a great deal of time parenting my very young son.  Loved in my brokenness, the connection I felt with folks grew very deep. Although by then I had been an ordained minister for several years, it was during this time that I first experienced the true meaning of grace.

As the years have passed, my clarity that I do, in fact have a calling to be a pastor has deepened.  I have grown into this vocation.  I am no longer a child trying to play a part, but a pastor with frailties easily acknowledged relying upon Christ’s power made perfect in weakness.  It might not have been so.  I very well could have left the ministry, if not for the grace experienced through folks like Ethel.

Love, the Apostle Paul reminds us, is the one thing that that doesn’t end.  Everything else passes away.  And love is all that really matters.  That is why God put us here on earth: to learn to love.  We all have blockages in our heart that impedes the flow of God’s love through us, but hopefully as we embrace this journey of following Jesus, through the grace of God these blockages begin to give way.

John Wesley believed in the possibility of being perfected in love in this life, though he did not claim to have reached such full “sanctification” for himself.  He believed that for the vast majority of us the moment when this perfection of love occurs is in the moment of our deaths.  Jesus stands before us in a blaze of light and love inviting us to come and enter his kingdom.  The only requirement is that we leave behind all those things to which we have clung in the course of our lives that has blocked the flow of God’s love.

In my imagination, when Ethel breathed her last breath and came to that glorious moment of invitation into the kingdom, after 95 years of faithfully practicing the ways of love there wasn’t much left for her to leave behind.  She stepped freely, joyfully into the embrace of the Lord.

I thought of Ethel on Good Friday when I sang the old hymn, “What Wondrous Love Is This.”  The final verse in particular struck me.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,  and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on; and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be, and through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on, and through eternity I’ll sing on.

Sing on, Ethel.  Sing with Tim, and Orville, and Margaret and all the saints.  Sing on and joyful be.  And one day we hope to join you in that song.

Ethel’s Obituary

Ethel L. Rounsaville ALEXANDRIA TOWNSHIP, NJ Ethel L. Rounsaville, 95, of Alexandria Township, NJ, passed away on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at her home. Ethel was born in Philadelphia, PA, on Sept. 14, 1921. She was the only child of Otto and Mae (Weldon) Hubenthal. Ethel’s early years were spent in Philadelphia as her father was a police officer. Upon her father’s retirement, the family moved to North Wales, PA, before settling in Alexandria Township, NJ, in the 1930s. Ethel graduated from Frenchtown High School. She was a member of the National Honor Society in 1940, the first year the honor society was instituted at Frenchtown High School. She worked as a telephone exchange operator in Frenchtown. Ethel was married in 1942 to Orville Rounsaville and they resided in their home on Route 513. Together they raised four children, David, Carol, Bruce, and Timothy. To help her husband offset the cost of running a dairy farm and a barbershop, Ethel became a home health aide for the Hunterdon Medical Center Visiting Nurses for 23 years. Ethel was an active member of the Everittstown United Methodist Church for over 70 years. She taught Sunday school, sang in the choir, and was a member of the Women’s Society. Ethel was also a Girl Scout and Brownie leader and the secretary to the now disbanded Frenchtown Senior Citizens. In recent years, Ethel was a member of the Frenchtown Library Book Club, as she was an avid reader. Fellow members were amazed by her total recall of poems from days gone by. Ethel is survived by her children, David Rounsaville and his wife, Terri, Carol Higgins and her husband, Ron, and Bruce Rounsaville and his wife, Amy; her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was preceded by her beloved husband, Orville F. Rounsaville, in 1990 and her son, Timothy Rounsaville. Ethel was a friend to all who knew her. Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, at 11 a.m. at the Johnson-Walton Funeral Home, 24 Church Road, Holland Township, NJ. Interment will follow at the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Alexandria Township, NJ.

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