We are reposting this story from our newsletter published in 2011 in memory of Anita Chapman, who passed away May 2, 2016. She is fondly remembered by her Columbus Mennonite Church family.
Anita very quickly found many ways to delight in her time with our fellowship and we, in turn, have found many ways to delight in her presence. Anita’s parents were highly involved in social justice issues during her growing up years (volunteering in Palestinian refugee camps in the Golan Heights and marching with Martin Luther King). I think the combination of ready acceptance by fun-loving adults and a clear message of social justice made our Mennonite congregation a good fit for Anita.
Anita lives in creative housing which provides supportive services. She uses public transportation for people with disabilities to attend Sunday morning worship and as many additional events as we can manage to schedule. Her ready gratitude at being able to attend a potluck, a children’s program, a baby shower, or a social action event are a reminder of how much we take for granted being in control of our own choices of participation. She laughingly remarks that her staff call her "the social butterfly." When we see her happiness with a cup of tea, a new stuffed monkey, a chance to share a story with children, or a good joke, we are reminded to give thanks for the simple gifts we enjoy daily.
Anita is quite aware and sensitive to needs that are presented to the congregation. She loves to contribute cookies for Sunday morning coffee or snacks and books for the nursery. When we have special appeals for donations to a local food bank or to other mission projects, she is eager to contribute. She maintains a keen awareness of both social and political issues and loves to participate in Sunday School issue discussions. While we may be dancing all around a difficult issue, we are often taken aback on how Anita can clearly and simply state what is an obvious truth.
One of the things Anita loves to do is write, a good outlet for a very active mind. Some years ago, she scribbled a poem on a scrap of paper which got translated into a simple song.
“Love is a beautiful thing.
Let’s spread it all over.
Love is catching on.
Let’s pass it on. Pass it on.”
Many a Sunday you will find Anita, during sharing time, make her way to the front of the church to request we sing this song. While the song is simple, the message is profound. One of our members uses Anita’s song in his professional motivational speeches. One newcomer to our church shared that after witnessing Anita and the congregation sharing her song, they decided that this must be a safe place to be, where love and acceptance were demonstrated.
While Anita’s parents were never a part of our congregation, they deeply appreciated the relationship Anita had with our church. We entered into a brotherly agreement to look after Anita after their death. Formalizing our relationship in this way has provided an opportunity for many individuals to get to know Anita in a way they might not have otherwise. There have been some bumps in the road and a number of lessons learned along the way, but having Anita as a part of our church family, I believe, has been a real blessing for all of us.
Thanks to Nancy Franke for contributing this article in 2011 and to Tracey Lehman, Columbus Mennonite's disabilities advocate, for bringing the story to ADN's attention. Both are members of Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church.
Anita Chapman passed away unexpectedly at the age of 62 on May 2, 2016.