We, United Methodists, pride ourselves on being a connectional church. In simplest terms, that means that each United Methodist Church is connected to every other United Methodist Church, and together we can do more for the Kingdom of God than we could do individually. It also means we can do ministry in very personal ways across a great distance.
One Monday, after my weekly lunch with fellow pastors, I noticed a “missed call” on my cell phone with a North Carolina area code. I knew that, because as a graduate of the Divinity School at Duke University, I had lived in that area code. A voicemail awaited me from Pastor David Clift of the North Raleigh United Methodist Church. That name sounded familiar. I remembered a seminary classmate by that name and sure enough, he had called. He asked me to call him about a family in the North Raleigh congregation that would be moving to Fishers.
I returned the call. David told me that Jeff and Selena Krajewski of the North Raleigh congregation had just gone through the tragic deaths of their twins born very prematurely. Jeff and Selena had already visited Indiana as Jeff would be taking a new position at Eli Lilly and would be relocating to Fishers. As Selena’s due date for the twins was after the date they had planned to move, they had checked out doctors and hospitals in Indianapolis, but while still in Raleigh, Selena had gone into labor.
The twins, Sean and Jillian, both died shortly after delivery. David had conducted a memorial service for Sean and Jillian in Raleigh, but Jeff and Selena wanted the twins buried in Indiana so that they could be close to their graves. David asked if I would conduct a graveside service here once the family moved. Of course, I agreed to do so.
I contacted Jeff to express my sympathy and offered to conduct the graveside service. All the time, I could not imagine the additional pain that he and Selena were undergoing at having to leave a congregation where they had experienced the love of Christ and the support of a Christian community through the awful grief of having lost their children. Now, they would be moving to a new community where they would not know anyone, except for some contacts at Eli Lilly, whom Jeff had indicated had been extremely supportive.
In talking with Jeff, he asked for a contact at Highland Cemetery where the twins would be buried. I put him in contact with Mattijane Jellison, a member of our Fishers congregation and a board member of the cemetery. Jeff called her, and she proved very helpful in helping make the necessary arrangements. I also learned from Jeff when he and Selena planned to move to Fishers. I put out an appeal to the people of the Fishers congregation to provide meals for them upon their arrival. Several women responded immediately and organized a schedule for people to take food to Jeff, Selena and their two year-old son, Alex. I also visited with Jeff, Selena, Alex and other family members the day before the service.
On a cold Saturday morning, just a week before Christmas, my wife Jacquie and I made our way to Highland Cemetery to meet the family for the graveside service, joined by Mattijane Jellison and her brother Jim Brooks, then serving as chairperson of the Staff-Parish Relations Committee at Fishers UMC. After the service, Jacquie and I visited with the Krajewskis and family members at their home. The next day, family members attended worship at Fishers.
In February, Jeff and Selena became members of our Fishers congregation. Both of them affirmed the love and support they had received throughout their horrible ordeal from the congregations of both the North Raleigh and Fishers churches. To me, their experience illustrates connectionalism at its best.
Michael Reed is senior pastor of Fishers United Methodist Church.
We can do ministry in very personal ways across a great distance.