By Daniel R. Gangler
INDIANAPOLIS - More than 400 colleagues, family members and friends, gave a final farewell and hour of honor to Bishop David Jerald Lawson, whose life and legacy were celebrated in a memorial communion service June 11 at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.
Lawson, 77, died of cancer at his home in Franklin, Ind., on Thursday, May 31, 2007, following a lengthy illness.
"We have been touched deeply and significantly by David Lawson. We have been touched deeply by the love and mystery of God made know to us by the person of David Lawson," said Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher, resident bishop of the Illinois (Great Rivers) Area and former bishop's executive assistance to Lawson in Wisconsin.
She said Lawson was a visionary leader. "David spun out this vision in his own energizing way that filled deep holes in our hearts. David's visionary leadership led the way for the Council of Bishops' conversations about the global nature of the church. He talked about the need for us to consider the global nature of the church."
She said it was Lawson's leadership that gave birth to new ordained orders and to Africa University. He also led the way to spiritual formation and was known for being a learning teaching bishop. His keen mind was always making connection at schools of Christian mission, Christian-Muslim dialogues, clergy retreats - He taught informally everywhere where he could bring others into his "Lawson Leadership Lab."
Brown Christopher, said at the very center of his life has been a family he deeply loved. He and Martha just celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary; they met as high school freshmen in biology class 61 years ago. When John was a newborn, David bought him an encyclopedia. Grandchildren Matthew, Rachel and Jacob where his delight.
The foundation of his life that made all this possible was a deep personal relationship in God through Jesus Christ. Brown Christopher said she believed that his close relationship with God made him tenacious - a holy impatience. He would not take "no" for an answer.
"Through his life and through prayer, he was rooted in another world, the City of God, with an ultimate loyalty to a loving God," she said.
With Bishop Michael J. Coyner of the Indiana Area, Lawson wrote and designed his memorial service weeks before his death. He requested Holy Communion be a part of the service. He also asked colleagues Bishops Judith Craig, retired, and Donald Ott, retired, to be witnesses to his life.
Ott began that honor during the service by carrying Lawson's ashes into the sanctuary and placing them on the communion table.
During his co-eulogy, Ott began, "There is something decidedly wrong about being the one to carry the ashes of our colleague and friend into the sanctuary, for years he carried me and many of you."
Craig responded, "he had a huge spirit and carried me in many ways."
The two reminded their hearers that Lawson was in the first group to work on Africa University who selected the site with many trips. Craig said he also had a "wonderful love of the Holy Land."
Ott said, "he was so accepting of other people, encouraging everyone to do his or her best. He did so many things well."