By: Christa Meland
It was an ordinary day at Cedar United Methodist Church in Ham Lake, until Rev. H. Grant Tanner got the phone call: A 47-year-old woman named Kim had died on May 23 after a battle with cancer. She had no living relatives, and all of her resources had been put toward her cancer treatment. Several of her friends had donated money for cremation, but they wanted to honor her with a memorial service too. Would Cedar UMC be willing to allow such a service to take place at its building, even though Kim wasn’t a member and there were no funds to pay the church?
Rev. H. Grant Tanner didn’t hesitate before saying “yes,” the church would be honored to host a service to celebrate and remember Kim. He then sent an e-mail to his 150-member congregation, telling them about the phone call and asking, “What would Jesus do?” He told them: “We have a tremendous opportunity to do ministry.”
He invited church members to serve as ushers and greeters; to provide music at the service; and/or to contribute a small donation to cover costs associated with the funeral. Tanner, meanwhile, offered to lead the service.
It was when he met with Kim’s best friend that he learned about her life: She grew up in the Ham Lake area, graduated from Blaine High School, and went to work immediately after that. Before she became too ill to continue working, she spent 28 years in the field of computer security. Kim married later in life and had a child—but she lost her husband in 2009 and her young daughter to SIDS not long after that. Her parents and brother had also died during her lifetime, and she had no other living family members. She loved board games and had wonderful memories of spending time at Big Birch Lake.
Tanner found out later that Cedar UMC was the ninth church that had been asked to host the memorial service. Seven refused outright, and another said it would cost $1,800 just to open the church building. Kim’s best friend had given up hope, but the friend’s mother was committed to helping find a church for Kim’s service. So the friend’s mother said a prayer and opened her phone book to the section listing churches; the page she landed on was the page listing Cedar UMC, and it was that ninth phone call that reached a church delighted to open its doors.
Roughly 30 people from the congregation assisted with the memorial service for Kim, which took place Saturday. Staff created a printed bulletin for visitors; volunteers greeted guests; the organist, choir director, and choir members performed a beautiful adaptation of “Amazing Grace”; and others prepared food for a luncheon after the service. Kim’s friends were deeply touched.
Eighty people—mostly former coworkers—came to the funeral to honor Kim, to share memories, and to say goodbye. Some of them said they planned to come back to Cedar UMC—a church whose members opened their doors and their hearts to strangers who weren’t welcomed elsewhere.
“For me, it was a total blessing just to be part of their lives,” Tanner said. “I feel like we made new friends.”
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, invite in strangers, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners, Tanner said.
“Any ministry of openness or outreach is a simple reflection of what Christ taught us,” he added. “I believe with all my heart that virtually any United Methodist Church in Minnesota would step up and reach out and embrace people like we embraced Kim’s friends. I don’t think they will ever forget it.”
On Sunday, a day after the memorial service, a member of Cedar UMC told Tanner that he knew and went to school with Kim when they were young. Unbeknownst to Tanner or Kim’s friends, Kim was baptized and confirmed at Cedar UMC and had been involved with the church’s youth ministry through high school.
“Those eight churches that passed on her allowed her to come home,” Tanner said.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church