Brooks-Howell is a retirement facility
for United Methodist mission personnel.
Near downtown Asheville, North Carolina,
it is a remarkable place.
It’s where many Deaconesses live.
These are women who were Deaconesses
in the years when they devoted their lives
to their cutting edge ministries
for love and justice
and weren’t permitted to marry.
Community has always been
their family
and so it still is.

Every room,
every hallway,
every sitting area
in this large facility is decorated
with artifacts, gathered from all over the world
by these amazing women
testament to their connecting with all kinds of people
and cultures
and to the fact that they share what they have
with all.
They are women who saw needs
and developed cutting edge programs and organizations
in which they served to see that those needs were met.
They helped run the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries
and co-founded the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Professionally trained,
they worked in hospitals, schools,
community centers.
In New Orleans, their free meals
open to everybody
helped inspire school desegregation.
I had breakfast with a woman
who was one of the first women
to become a surgeon. She then taught surgery
in South Korea.
One of my colleagues here for meetings
sat at the piano with the wife of a man
who composed many of the songs my friend
sang in church all the time he was growing up.
He was in tears telling us about
this encounter with greatness.

Officially “retired,”
these women are still involved.
I shared a cup of coffee with a new resident
now chairing the Green Team here.
They are composting, recycling, changing light bulbs,
looking at solar panels…
(This afternoon, we’re touring
Warren Wilson College,
one of the country’s most sustainable colleges.)
These women are still active in local churches
and advocating for justice
in a myriad of ways.
We visiting Deaconesses and Home Missioners
still in “active service”
are on hallowed ground here at Brooks-Howell
among the ones who have gone before us,
who still inspire us.
It is hard to describe the gentle spirit,
the heart for justice
that is palpable in a place
where so many are gathered
who have lived our call.

The retired surgeon
said it best:
“This is a little bit of heaven
for us.”
Indeed it is—
for anyone who steps through the door
into this sacred space
where the saints
have gathered.

 

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Today, Pat (pictured on the right) was ordained as a United Methodist Deaconess, which is a lay person commissioned to a lifetime of ministry in the areas of love, justice and service in the world. Her Deaconess appointment is doing ministries of ecospirituality and environmental justice at Turtle Rock Farm. (That was also her birthday, but we won’t say which one.) We are very proud of her! To see Pat’s presentation about Turtle Rock Farm go to our website or click here.