Early in my time serving as pastoral intern at the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren, I had the honor and delight of meeting Miriam O’Donnell. I began serving the Etown congregation as Director of Music Ministries and several years into my ministry I accepted the call into a pastoral role. Pastoral care and visitation became a part of my responsibilities and in this process, I was able to meet many congregants who were not able to attend weekly Sunday services.
It was during one of these visits I met Miriam. Her home was an easy walk from the church and on a beautiful summer day I walked down, knocked on her door and was greeted by a sweet, kind and hospitable Miriam. While she wasn’t physically attending the Sunday services, she was well connected with the life of the congregation and knew me instantly. She was very complimentary of my music ministry. She received the church services weekly by audio recordings, and loved listening to the choir, the a cappella hymns we sang and especially the jazzy keyboard music.
This was the first of several visits I had with Miriam. During our time together her beloved cat would be present taking in everything that was happening. Our time would usually end with me sitting down and playing her piano while she sang along with some of the great old standards we both loved like “Stardust” and “Misty.” These were delightful visits I will never forget.
Years later, after Miriam passed she generously donated a large part of her estate to the music program of Etown CoB. It was clear that her love of the church and especially the music program was important to Miriam. I’m not sure anyone knew just how significant her gift was for the congregation entering into the year 2020 and all that happened.
In 2019, the leadership of the church began to explore expanding the church’s livestream capabilities for worship. Up until that point, the church had experimented with some livestreaming and found it to be a meaningful part of ministry, especially to those, like Miriam, who could not attend worship regularly. To enhance this capability with a focus on enhancement of the music program, the AV team worked with several companies to plan a major upgrade for both in-person worship sound as well as increased livestreaming capabilities.
This work started in 2019 and was completed in February of 2020. No one could have predicted that less than one month later, the church would need to shut down and the newly upgraded livestream service became the primary means of worshiping together for over one full year. Not only did these worship services and music concerts provide a sense of community, comfort and spiritual support for the life of the Etown CoB congregation, but also for the entire Church of the Brethren denomination. Partnering with the Lititz Church of the Brethren, the congregation was able to provide weekly worship services along with other special services and music mini-concerts all throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic, never missing one single week.
While the words in this short tribute could never come close to fully expressing the breadth of ministry Miriam’s memorial contribution provided and continues to provide, it is with sincere gratitude that I share this story as an example of how Miriam’s generosity provided ministry to so many during a crisis unlike any other. Miriam’s generosity will continue to provide enhancement to the congregation’s music ministry for many years in the future. Thank you Miriam—I’m sure you are singing a chorus of “Stardust” wherever you are!
Submitted by Josh Tindall