It is an honor of ordained ministry to lead a worship service of God that remembers a saint of the church. Phylis Moder was many things a devoted wife, mother and grandmother, a competent and accomplished medical specialists but in all those roles she was first a child of God.
Phylis was born in Marion to parents that had moved off of the farm. She came to Columbus to go to Ohio State and never returned to Marion. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Medical Technology, credentialed by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists and stayed on for another year to become a specialist in Blood Banking, credentialed by the American Association of Blood Banks. She stayed in this field her entire career, serving at St. Anthony’s, the Red Cross, and for the last ten years before retirement Children’s Hospital. She saw her job as ministry. She won the Children’s Service from the Heart Award when she realized a needed operation for a child at Children’s Hospital was not going to happen because the right blood was not in her bank. Since she was a match, she insisted on a transfusion immediately so the child could be healed.
As dedicated as she was at these hospitals, this was only a part of who she was in the world. Even more important to Phylis was her family. Her first marriage in college didn’t survive, but it did give her one of her greatest gifts her son Scott. For the first six years of his life, she was a single working mother. Ron worked at St. Anthony’s and met her as the coach of the hospital softball team. Ron was given needed help in the courtship by her older brother who advised that he was a keeper. They appreciated each other’s genuine interest and care for their children, both thought analytically and loved detail and both had the same passion for their faith. They were married here, in February 1982, in this Chancel with just Scott, two witnesses and Pastor Fritz. Ron being the big spender treated them all to a free honeymoon in Florida at his in laws romantic double wide.
Ron and Phylis worked to blend their families. They loved their family without regard to who was whose. They visited Ron’s daughter joyfully. They delighted in their grandsons, Phylis especially, spoiling them when they stayed overnight over the objections of Grandpa Ron. They took them to Disney, a trip made memorable when Phylis was frisked and deemed a national security risk because of a slotted spoon she had in her purse. They travelled with Scott and Jennifer to Italy and looked forward to their wedding on a beach this spring. They took Dan and Scott and their families to a beach house in the Carolinas. This was her favorite vacation ever because everyone was together.
Phylis was accomplished professionally, devoted to her family, but at Messiah we simply knew her as friend and fellow servant. She was very active, always. She eschewed leadership roles, but just a partial list shows all of the gifts she shared with God’s world through the church. Early on she helped Ethel Cochran in the kitchen for the Senior Luncheons. She worked with Nancy Becker and others to create our first Cookie Walk. She was part of our ministry of presence team that were trained to visit shut ins. She worked monthly at the LSS Food Pantry. She enjoyed transporting the Rebecca House women to our Joseph’s Coat and planned on doing that more before she got sick. She worked in our church office for Linda when she went on vacation and she was the one we called when we needed help creating spread sheets and things needed organized.
In recent years, she was most thankful for our Cheers! Fellowship groups. These couples were a true support for her in this illness. Ron honored her love for them by asking the men in the group to be her pall bearers today.
Her greatest passion in the church, without a doubt was music and worship. She rarely missed a Sunday of worship and sang in the choir of Messiah for decades with breaks here and there. She loved the anthems, the members and the gift of music they brought to worship. Her organizational skills were put to use by Kay, our choir director. For the last few years she has been the one figuring out logistics, a frustrating job for anyone, comparable to herding cats. She would say with exasperation to Ron, “You can tell them and tell them which way to move, but always one of the men will still go the wrong way.” Maybe, today in her honor when you guys come up here, one of the men can move the wrong way.
When Ron and Phylis bought a house in German Village Phylis insisted they still not only attend Messiah, but stay active. Years later, they moved back to the area because of this faith community. This was the place God called them to serve.
It is her faith that grounded Phylis through this illness that seemed to move through her body in the last six months like a wild fire. Ron and Phylis together would wonder how people live through such a thing without a strong church family around them. These were sentiments that Ron shared with me again last Friday moments after Phylis died. She was thankful for the many prayers that all of us lifted up to God, but trusted God’s presence regardless of the outcome.
Phylis’ life is a witness of how our faith can be lived out in whole and good ways through our work and family. Our worry for our sister in Christ was manifested in prayers, visits, calls, Christmas Caroling and many casserole dishes. Similar gifts of love that Phylis had shared with other in this church. Her commitment to Christ and Christ’s church fed her and filled her. My hope is that others, whose faith in God doesn’t bring them to worship or community, be moved by her life and find a place to live out their baptism. The benefits are great.
The Kingdom of God that Phylis announced by the way she lived her life is now the Kingdom that welcomes her fully, that she calls home. She waits for us now, encouraging us as our journey from baptism continues. She lifts up our worries in the presence of God. She will eat with us today and weekly as we share the food of heaven in communion.
As church, family and friends we commit to take care of her children, grandchildren, husband and each other. Scott and Jennifer’s much anticipated wedding will be sadder without Phylis but still a good witness of the love she shared and always hoped Scott would find. Joe and Gabe will become men in this world without Phylis at their graduations, but they are forever marked by the grace, acceptance and encouragement she shared with them. Our choir loses a voice, but remains committed to encourage this congregation with music. Our church loses one of our most active servants, but trusts that God will continue to send us workers for His Kingdom, because we know there is still much work to be done.
And for Ron, a man we love deeply here at Messiah, what now? Their grandchild Joe wondered whether grandpa would have to move in with them. Ron felt he looked more alarmed about the prospect than anything. I suspect his words came from Phylis herself, who never missed an opportunity to point out she was much younger than Ron. I don’t think grandpa will have to move in with you, yet. Trust him with us in the long, likely sad months ahead. Just as Ron saw it as an honor to take care of Phylis these last few months, and Scott structured his world and life around numerous long visits to his mom, regardless of her objections, we will care for him. This is what people who love in the name of Christ, do. We will grieve together as people of hope, just as Phylis lived as a child of hope. In Phylis, we all learn that God has not only great plans for us in death, but wonderful gifts for us to unpack in life. Praise be to God. Amen