Changing Systems, Personally | Forum for Theological Exploration

Changing Systems, Personally

By: Jim Ellison
October 25, 2011

I attended the funeral of Marion Zwicker. She was 80 years old. She and her husband, Otte, and their 55-year-old son, Kurt are special people. At one time, they were my parishioners and model church members in terms of attitude, service, and support. You could also say they were change agents, people who made things happen.

With four others, they started up an educational center for developmentally disabled adults. Years later, the founded a jobs center for the same population. They did what needed to be done to make sure their son, Kurt, had the service he needed to have a full life as a disabled adult.

Kurt was perhaps the most valuable member of our parish. Regularly, Kurt would bear the large processional cross down the aisle before the choir and me. It was quite a stirring moment! Kurt continues to live in the family’s home and continues to serve the church.

I went to the funeral home, feeling close to a family that I felt I knew. I thought I really knew Marion and Otte, as change agents, activists, and parents. At the funeral home, I found out more. Otte, now very frail, told me about Kurt’s birth 55 years ago. Otte, ever the sensitive one, not wishing to sound too spiteful, said, “Pastor, you’ve to remember that the times were much different 55 years ago.” He repeated that thought to make sure I understood the context. Then he told me that, at the time of Kurt’s birth, the hospital personnel informed Marion and him that their best option was to go home, tell their family and friends that their child was stillborn. The staff would arrange to have him transferred to a state institution, never to be heard from again.

Stunned, they lived with that reality for a day and a restless night—because that’s how it was 55 years ago. They were young people, desirous of living out a life of faith; young parents dreaming of building a family. Faced with loss and what was then viewed as a compassionate “solution” to their pain, ultimately, their choice was informed by their own faithful hearts.

The next day, Otte stormed the nurses’ station, demanding his son back. He was kindly turned away, assured that it was too late. Otte stood firm, stating, “Either you have my son here in 15 minutes, or I am going to the sheriff to swear out a warrant for the kidnapping of my child!”

I was overwhelmed. I sometimes fool myself into believing that I have been a change agent, someone to make things happen. Whatever my visions, they have been pale in comparison to a couple of 25 year olds who stood up and demanded their dear son—changing their own lives and the lives of others for the next half century and more. Today is not “like it was 55 years ago” because of people like Otte and Marion, two young people of faith who demanded change in the name of love. And many couples today, and all the Kurts of our society, and those of us richly blessed by him and by them, can simply give thanks for their courage and faithfulness.

Tags...: Inspired Leaders

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