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Mutual caring of members strengthens church spiritually

By Mary Stamp - Pacific NW UCC Conference News Editor

A senior lunch, an after-church forum and a monthly contemporary service are avenues Emily Tanis-Likkel, associate minister at Eagle Harbor UCC in Bainbridge Island, has used to empower lay people and facilitate their connections with each other.

Ethical Will
Marjory Studerus dictated a spiritual-ethical will to Alice Tawresey. - Photo courtesy of Emily Tanis-Likkel

About 24 of the church’s 175 members attend a “Soup and Such” senior lunch that started in May 2010.

The first program on “Age-ing to Sage-ing” urged seniors to reclaim their role as sages in the community.  Another program led by a chaplain-poet had them write Haiku poems.

Then Tanis-Likkel led a program on writing a “Spiritual-Ethical Will” to leave friends, family and future generations a legacy of values and advice. 

She invited the seniors to fill out a form to share their thoughts on their lives, honor relationships that enriched their lives and express their gratitude.  She found ideas for the form online.

The form asked them what they have most valued in their lives, what life has taught them, what has given them strength in difficult times.  There was space for them to express regrets and forgiveness; share future hopes for the person receiving the letter; tell how they wish their lives to be honored, and express gratitude, love, last thoughts and blessings for the person.

Some hesitated, but others appreciated the exercise.  One woman in her 90s dictated her legacy to a volunteer and left it at the church.  Two weeks later she died, so Tanis-Likkel took it to her family, who were “moved that she had the capacity to think that deeply and with such humor in her last days.”

Men also have a men’s breakfast at the church—drawing a handful from the church and about 70 from the community.  Women also have Women’s Lunch Bunch gatherings.

Bainbridge Island is in a condo-building boom, growing from being a small town.

In an after-church forum in January 2010, about 20 people explored how God may be calling the church to build connections in its community.

We discussed how inter-generational small groups might provide opportunities for friendships across generations.  A middle-aged woman observed the loneliness of elders, and suggested younger folks might offer companionship and practical assistance,” she said.

A young mother expressed interest in her children having an adopted grandparent.  A retired woman and a middle-aged man suggested connecting with busy, young families who need child care to take an evening out.

“In our culture of individualism and isolation, these connections are crucial for our wellbeing,” said Tanis-Likkel who also helped the church train 12 lay visitors.  “Mutual caring is life transforming.”

She and her husband, Brett, moved from Michigan in 1997.  During studies at Fuller Seminary Extension in Seattle, she became involved in the UCC after seeing UCC ads on a bus and reconnecting with UCC minister Kris Ostrem, who had been one of her professors at Seattle Pacific University.

Tanis-Likkel, who was ordained in 2005, has also helped the church establish an 11:30 a.m. contemporary service second Sundays for 30 worshippers. Youth and lay involvement is central to this effort.

For information, call 206-842-4657 or email her at


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © January 2011


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