A New Song In Deed: 20th Anniversary of Cindy Lapp’s Ordination

November 13, 2022
Psalm 98; Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 6: 20-26; I Timothy 1:3-5

Good morning on this festive occasion of Cindy Lapp’s 20th Anniversary of Ordination. What a great day for Hyattsville Mennonite Church, indeed for the whole community into which her ministry has spread.

Cindy invited me to share a few reflections with you, both because we are dear friends and colleagues, and because she knew that as a Catholic I would tend more toward a pithy homily rather than a full blown ‘work yourself into a lather’ sermon. So it shall be!

My sermon is entitled “A New Song Indeed.” Today’s Psalm 98:1 carries the theme of the day—“Sing a new song.” That is what I believe under-girds Cindy’s ministry. There is always a new song which she sings not only gloriously with her voice, but leading the rest of us to chirp along. Her ministry is always in deeds—the concrete works of love and justice that we heard about in Luke 6:20—attention to the poor, the hungry, the bereaved, the oppressed, the marginalized, and others. So today let us “Sing a New Song in Deed” as this ministry continues to unfold.

It is not just because Cindy Lapp is modest and humble that I say that this day belongs to you the congregation. She is a good Mennonite in that way. But she has every reason to be proud, especially today, of the special part she plays as pastor in a style that is unique and effective. Nonetheless, it is because you as a community have chosen and chosen and chosen again, against considerable odds at times, to live out your faith commitments together with her special brand of leadership, that we have this day to celebrate. Congratulations and thank you.

I have been privileged to share in Cindy’s ministry for two decades and longer. She came to WATER, the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual, where I work, when she was a masters student at Wesley Theological Seminary. She needed a book for her research. I hope she found it because she stayed on as an intern and then as a staff person for six years. We all enjoyed our time together and it laid the foundation for our friendship and collaboration.

First baby Cecilia, then baby Jamie, came with Cindy to the WATER office. Somehow we got the work done between their feedings and naps. Their presence gave deeper meaning and urgency to the work of social and ecclesial justice. By the time baby Elijah arrived, Cindy decided on congregational ministry as her parents had done before her. So she came here, to Hyattsville, where as you know so well, she offers a hearty welcome and attentive ministry. The babies are now wonderful adults. Eric and Cindy have shown us all something about parenting in these challenging times. And Hyattsville Mennonite Church thrives while most mainline churches are in decline.

I did not know many Mennonites before Cindy. I’m not sure she knew many Catholics before we became friends. But now we live under a happy myth: I believe that she is the essence of what it means to be a Mennonite and she is quite convinced that I as a queer, pro-choice, anti-war, anti-gun citizen am quintessentially Catholic. So goes feminist ecumenism.          Coming from a tradition where women are still barred from ordination because we “do not bear a natural resemblance to Jesus in the Eucharist” (I leave that to your fertile imaginations on Sunday morning to decide what that means), I rejoice in a special way that Cindy is ordained.

Some people move from pulpit to pulpit over their ministerial careers. But in Cindy’s case, it is the church that has moved. I refer of course to the long and windy path that the Mennonite Church, like so many other denominations, took on same-sex love. Cindy, think of all the time and money, the heartbreak and hassle from which we tried to save them. Alas, if they had only listened to us.

Cindy took a principled stance early, risking her ordination and the congregation’s standing to witness to the importance of love wherever it emerges. The pain of exclusion and the struggle for recognition has largely abated. This is due to the creative persistence of Pink Mennos and their friends. It has eventually given way to more inclusive ways in many but not all congregations. The work continues. This congregation has been in the lead. Cindy patiently and steadfastly moved each step right up to now when there are, as I understand it, even conversations about reparations for those who have been so egregiously harmed. Today is a day to acknowledge the great pain suffered by so many individuals and families, the pain Cindy and her colleagues tried to stop. It is also a day to recommit, especially to trans inclusion, lest history repeat itself in this dangerous anti-democratic period in which we find ourselves. Annabeth Roeschley has her work cut out for her.

I was recently with some rabbi colleagues who were ordained in 1979 and 1983 respectively. They, like Cindy, were relatively early in their denomination’s recognition of women’s leadership. But now, forty years later, as they recount their ministries, what stands out, like in your case Cindy, is not one issue, even being a woman, a queer person, a person of color in ministry which has its own challenges. What comes to the fore are the many and varied fronts on which they, like you, have ministered.

Their ordination, the public recognition of their calls to ministry and their willingness to engage in it, yielded a huge harvest. They had jobs with salaries, benefits, and pensions.  Catholic women can’t even dream of that. They had standing from which to claim to speak for a bigger community than themselves, congregations whose voices they as pastors amplify. And they had encouragement to move from pressing justice issue to pressing justice issue because that is what their Jewish faith expects. You have had that too, Cindy—a good job, standing as a religious leader to witness to justice, and an encouraging community that frankly expects you to do it because that is who Mennonites are. I can’t bear to imagine our world if you had been barred from doing your marvelous work.

I think of your efforts against domestic and gun violence. I can still see the tee shirts displayed on East-West Highway for all to see. When I say “your work” Cindy, I mean that your presence is Hyattsville’s presence, one multiplying the other and adding geometrically to campaigns to meet the needs of our world. Your connection with local law enforcement here in Prince George’s County puts a non-violent spin on community policing. Your work with immigrants is so important.

I was sure I was in Black Lives Plaza when you went downtown a few years ago to witness to the fact that Black Lives Matter. I worried along with others when you were in Charlottesville in August of 2017, once again making clear that injustice is intolerable. You did it, you risked, but through you we were all there. I like to think that perhaps because of us you found your strength. Isn’t that just the way with effective ministry—that the graces flow in all directions!

These have not been easy decades in our dear world’s history. Just take the last six years as an example. We had four of the roughest years ever when it comes to clashing values. Virtually everything that this congregation deplores with most people of good will was up for grabs— war, greed, sexism, poverty, trans-erasure, ecological disaster, racism, homohatred, empire. It is a litany of evils that was promoted by the highest government officials.

If this were not enough to try the souls of the most stalwart churches, along came Covid. Ministers had to reinvent the wheel—moving to services on-line, visiting the sick from a distance, preaching a word of hope when no one knew what was coming next. This church, with Cindy at the helm, negotiated those choppy waters with style.

So it is with gratitude that we are back in this sanctuary, back in person though who knows for how long, and able to include friends at a distance because we learned something practical from the pandemic about how far community reaches. It is all a new song, making up verses as we go.

Today’s new verse is a hearty Alleluia for Cindy’s two decades of ordained ministry and an equally loud chorus of praise for this congregation’s faithfulness in doing the deeds of justice. On celebrative occasions Catholics always drag out the Latin and say, ad multos annos, literally, to many more years. That is my wish for you – many more years of life-giving ministry because the world needs what you do and who you are. Thank you, Cindy. Thank you, Hyattsville Mennonite Church. Thanks to the Spirit who writes the songs. Cue the music.

Thank you and blessed be.