Tribute to Barbara Hawkinson

1924-2006

by Douglas Johnson

[Excepts from the Memorial Service homily at North Park Covenant Church, Chicago, Saturday, October 7, by Pastor Douglas Johnson]

Mark 9:33-37

Every so often the heart of this tough city is made tender by an act of great kindness. There are moments when this city of broad shoulders stoops from its haughtiness and political argumentativeness to a posture of grace and mercy.

The gospel of God. The vulnerable are not only to be loved, they are to be served. And as one serves the vulnerable, God is welcomed. Only as we come to understand this can we begin to grasp Christ’s being among us with outstretched arms.

This leads to an unforgettable teaching moment for the Church today. In a sense we now move downstairs to the Toddler Room as we have gathered to remember Barb Hawkinson before God and each other. Peer through the window with me. First, it’s circle time. The technique is as old as the hills. A good teacher knows when the pupils have become restless and that it’s time to draw them in and harness their energy for learning. Listen for her voice—“Let’s put our feet in first. Let’s keep our hands to ourselves. Let’s open our ears to listen. Let’s open our eyes to see something new.”

A few months ago I met Miss Barb after worship in the hallway. She had once again offered her ministry of care to the children, parents, and to the wider church. Family and friends know what I mean when I say that Barb never lacked for honest conversation. One was rarely left wondering what Barb was thinking. That day her bright eyes twinkled as usual as she gave report, saying, “We had a roomful of screamers today!” Undaunted, she continued on her way knowing the ministry that awaited her next Sunday among the little ones.

With outstretched arms Jesus welcomed the twelve to learn what it really means to be great. “Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all….” All?? Jesus shaped the twelve so that the world would come to know the embrace of God and how people are to serve God by serving one another. Second, Jesus enacted a parable of welcome by embracing a child who was seen by that adult world as one who did not count. They did not count as citizens. They did not count as pupils. They did not count period in the eyes of the Roman world. “He took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the One who sent me.’”

Borrowing a phrase from Eugene Peterson’s The Message: “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do, embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.” The disciples argumentativeness about greatness needed to come face to face with lowliness and humility and vulnerability. They needed to learn how to serve with outstretched arms.

A church is built from the Nursery/Toddler Room on up. Community is built by serving those who can do the least for it, but who in the flow of history, will transform it. That’s what Miss Barb was up to for years! When she was welcomed into membership of this congregation on October 5, 1952, little did others know what they were in for! She wouldn’t let this church that can easily think it’s supposed to be more adult forget that the gospel instructs it to be more child-like! She wouldn’t let this church stop holding the vulnerable in our arms lest we think of ourselves as those greater than they. Barb’s outstretched arms never let go of the children in our midst because she held them in her heart.

God invited and continues to invite adults to be like children playing in the south garden of the church, shrieking with joy in the sunshine, trusting that the outstretched arms of Jesus declare that God is love.

This past July, Noah and Jonah, two little brothers new to our church, were baptized at this font. Their father, Patrick, is Swiss and Swedish and their mother, Pamela and her family are Africans from Zimbabwe. This made the baptism an international event. Relatives from around the world gathered for the baptism. Following the worship service the family hosted a baptismal luncheon. Friends of Patrick and Pamela, people we had never met, kept streaming through the door of their home, many with infants in arm or toddlers in tow. It was a beautiful sight to observe. Then, who should come through the door but Barb. She was so excited to meet the boys’ international family and guests. She graciously extended herself to those in the house. And then she reveled in honoring Noah and his infant brother Jonah with outstretched arms. It was like another parable in another age unfolding before our eyes. Once again the servant extends the kingdom of the One who is servant of all. That is Gospel! In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Peace to the memory of Barbara Hawkinson!

Douglas Johnson is Senior Pastor of North Park Covenant Church, Chicago, Illinois.

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