Below are thoughts which were shared by EP Rev. Scott Lumsden, and Presbytery Moderator Rev. Dale Sewall following the death of Madeleine Brenner:
(from Rev. Dale Sewall)
What can we think of God at a time like this, when we are emotionally grieved and spiritually stunned? The sudden loss of Madeleine Brenner, with the accompanying strong sense of incompletion, is like ending John’s gospel with the burial of Jesus instead of the resurrection. It is like losing Abraham Lincoln on Good Friday in 1865, with so much accomplished and so much remaining to do.
In my situation I have thought much about dying in the past year. Mentally, I have drawn nearer to heaven. I am persuaded that heaven is a good place, better than we can imagine, with goodness at every level that surprises and pleases the soul; and beauty that draws spontaneous joy from the human heart over and over again. I know that Madeleine is ok. She went to the gym, and found herself transported to the place our souls constantly long for without our awareness.
The struggle is not Madeleine’s but ours. The letter of James says that life is a mist that appears for a little while. If life is so fragile and our personal worlds can be so quickly and deeply grieved, how do we go on? And how do we think of God?
We know that Jesus said not to fear death. I assume he meant both our own death and the death of loved ones. He said that God is present even at the death of a small bird. And we are more valued than birds. Jesus knew the death of God’s faithful ones is precious in God’s sight. And God’s final word about death is Jesus himself. Jesus is firstborn from the dead and it is in his resurrection life that we have the assurance of our own. So one answer to the question of how we think of God in this time of grief is “Wait for the Lord.” It is the Lord who must and will one day take the action that turns all our mourning into dancing.
And while we wait, there is something we can do to insure that our sudden loss of this faithful and beloved presbyter is not in vain. We can resolve to be a different kind of presbytery. We can make our focus not business as usual, but affirmation and support, listening to and caring for one another. Presbytery meetings can become an experience of genuine warmth and love. We can make our connectionalism more about the spirit of God among us, and less about polity. We can make Seattle Presbytery a place where every person is welcomed, appreciated and deeply loved.
Others may have better ideas than I of how to do this. But I know that if losing Madeleine somehow transforms our presbytery into a new way of being together, we will have created significant meaning from this loss, and a lasting tribute to the positive presence she was among us for too brief a time.
(from Rev. Scott Lumsden)
You’re going to hear in the people that follow me just a glimpse of the person of Madeleine Brenner--that beautiful, amazing and gifted person that we have all been so blessed share a part of our life with.
You’ll be hearing from friends and family and her church family. I represent a little bit of all three of those areas in that I have the honor of speaking not only as a friend and a colleague in ministry but also as a member of Seattle Presbytery--that church family outside of UPC that Madeleine poured her heart into so faithfully for about the last seven or more years.
You need to know that there are about 20,000 Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Christ from the Greater Puget Sound area whom Madeleine faithfully served in addition to all those other important roles such as loving wife, dedicated mother, steadfast daughter-in-law, BFF, faithful and dedicated UPCer, avid bible study attender (4), sharp as a tack lawyer and law partner, hospitality offerer extraordinaire (can I get an amen on that), and more than capable doer of just about any good work God called her to do.
Like I said, it is in addition to all those other roles (if you can believe it) that Madeleine served a whole other group of Christians who leaned on her for her wisdom, grace and strength.
There is a verse in New Testament book of Ephesians that says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph 2:10. When I reflect on the the person Madeleine was to us this verse just jumps out to me--that this was Madeleine to us--God’s creative gift of abounding good works who came to serve our presbytery at just the right time.
I mention timing. You need to know that when Madeleine said yes to become the moderator of our presbytery (beginning her years of service), she asked if there was anything special that was going to be happening during that year--anything she needed to be thinking about or preparing for--”no, nothing special” they said.
Problem is that wasn’t exactly true. The truth was that no one knew that beginning from about the time Madeleine said yes to serving (moderator), the presbytery would begin to enter into a pretty important time of transition--a change of Executive Presbyter through retirement, all sorts of shifts in leadership and focus, and thankfully over the years as things progressed, a transition to a whole new way of being a presbytery--being the body of Christ in the larger church. There were moments of celebration and hope no doubt, but there were also moments of instability and chaos. Through it all though, God could not have picked a better person to lead us. Madeleine’s gifts for leadership, her attention to detail, her wisdom in times of discernment, her clarity of mind and heart, and her gracious hospitality and compassion for others, transformed a whole presbytery and helped us to see a more faithful future.
There is a story in the Old Testament about a woman who rose to leadership “for such a time as this.” Her name was Esther. Madeleine was our Esther and boy did we need her.
So here is just a snapshot of her service (and in addition to many other roles in the early 2000’s) Madeleine came to serve the presbytery as Moderator in 2006, served on presbytery Council from 2005-2007, served on Committee on Ministry from 2007-2009 then become co-moderator of the Committee on Ministry from 2009 until her passing. And of course, on a personal note--she served on the search committee that brought me here in 2008. She was one of the first people I met in this presbytery and from that day on was one of the people I worked most closely with until the day she died. People say that Madeleine chose people. She did--and I am so blessed she chose me to be a partner with her in this work.
This is all to say that in addition to the Committee on Ministry who is here sitting together, there are just a ton of pastors and members from our presbytery here to honor her legacy.
In those and many other roles, Madeleine presided over numerous meetings, preached more than a few times---and let’s be honest here, she was fine from the pulpit but quite frankly she didn’t need one--Madeleine could always offer the right word at the right time--and in less time than many pastors--as she would remind you if you were a pastor--and one thing about Madeleine, whenever you did get a sermon or a word from her--no matter how hard the situation or circumstance--you just always went away encouraged--always went away with hope.
She ordained and installed pastors (with true joy in her heart), she celebrated congregational milestones, honored pastoral legacies, visited with sessions in good times and in bad (i could write a book on that), trained and encouraged elders (with energy, intelligence, imagination and love), listened with care when people were in trouble, discerned God’s will faithfully with others (always reminding us to pray), brought cookies to every meeting, and (and this is what I loved about her so much) she strategized with the best of them when it was time to act.
Perhaps my most enduring memory of Madeleine however comes not from our work together but from all those holy moments in between where we would talk about the bigger questions of life and faith. Madeleine even joined a small group of us who covenanted together to explore the depths of what it meant to talk theologically about life in the church--a group of 10 pastors and one elder. Yes, Madeleine was the sole elder in the group, does that surprise you? For a long time she wondered if she belonged, but the end, she not only belonged but (not surprisingly to me or the others) was truly an integral part of our each and every discussion we had. Obviously, her ReForming Ministry partners miss her terribly.
So personally and as a presbytery we are devastated by our loss, but we are not without hope. For although there is a gaping hole right now in the fabric of our presbytery, there is an example that stretches far beyond the chasm of our pain. For what God gave us in Madeleine were gifts that endure and a path that is clearer and quite frankly more joy filled than its ever been before. It’s not enough to say Madeleine loved her church, (she did) but she showed her love by the gracious way served. We count our blessings as a church for Madeleine’s witness among us and thank God life and gifts that God gave her to share.