Wednesday, October 11, 2006

St. Carla Menagh

Walter Hooper and I baptizing St. Carla in the Jordan River, Feb. 1995:

Reflections at Carla Menagh‘s Memorial Service
October 5, 2006

Dave Wainscott
Given at First United Methodist Church; Delano, California

The family was hoping I had a copy of my remarks. As usual, I didn't; only scribbled notes. But here's what I reconstructed to post.

When I found out I would be helping at the service, I googled her name to see if there was an obituary online, or anything written about her online. I found...absolutely nothing! (later note: see this!) At first, I thought, "Isn't that like Carla: she didn't want a lot of P.R., never had a blog, never made the news...anywhere on the world... But just quietly served without a spotlight (compare me! Google my name sometime!!) But then I thought, "Well, that's not fair. What if someone searched her name online ..even years from now.. to learn about this saint...and found nothing to tell her story." I knew that if I posted her name here, it would soon show up highly on Google soon. So I posted her name a few days ago here, and it almost immediately shot to #1 on Google returns! Then I added the full message below. Now I now someone will at least be able to celebrate a life extraordinarily well lived! -dw

“I can’t type, and I can’t spell…and uh, hi; I’m your secretary!”

That’s basically the first thing Carla said to me; the first time I met her; here in this very building; July 1991.

She looked kind of sheepish and serious; but I knew she was half-kidding.

I saw that smile.

So I teased back:

“Uh, great…Pleased to meet you. What can you do, then?”


“But there must be some reason Pastor Scott and the Staff-Parish Committee speak so glowingly of you.”

Actually, in a sense, it turned out that Carla was telling the truth.

Now, don’t get me wrong. She was a wonderful secretary for my seven great years at this great church. And she COULD type
         ….better than she thought.
                                    And she COULD spell…
                                                but not as well as  Kathy!(:

What do I mean then when I say she was partly right?

It was her claim “I can do nothing…” that was truthful.

But not in the sense you’re thinking.

Let me put it this way: Of all the pictures I have been going through since I heard the news this week about Carla’s graduation to Jesus; many stand out…I have literal photos, videos, but what better; more appropriate picture of Carla to highlight today than the one that Pastor Elmar just read from Philippians 2:3:

DO NOTHING out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others more important than yourself…Don’t look after your own interests, but look after the interests of others…This is the attitude that was found in Christ Jesus.”

Wow, have you ever seen or heard a more accurate description; better picture of Carla? Have you ever met anyone who lived out this Scripture more faithfully than Carla?

Neither have I.

So she did “DO NOTHING…” That is she, like no one else I have met; let alone have counted a close friend and secretary, “DID NOTHING out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.”


I know she wanted Pastor Scott to sing at her funeral. And wasn’t it beautiful? And I know she wanted me to….

…tell this joke!

I just didn’t plan on telling it so soon.

There is an old preacher joke about a pastor talking to and teasing his nicest church member.

“Gee, you are so nice, “ the pastor told her…“You could probably even say something nice about the devil!”

The woman paused for a moment and responded:

“Well, you certainly have to admire his persistence.”

We often told Carla that joke. That woman was her.

Don’t get me wrong. She didn’t admire the devil. But she was so relentlessly and naturally….persistently; consistently; insistently nice…She so well “DID NOTHING out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”….that the devil himself, as persistent as he was, couldn’t get through to her.

She was too much like Jesus.

Persistently so.

Even though she persistently disobeyed the first instructions I ever gave her!(:

Seeing immediately how wonderfully nice, and persistently selfless she was; I figured here at this busy downtown church office, with all kinds of homeless people and transients coming in for help; Carla would likely be TOO nice.

Sure, we wanted to help the people in legitimate need; those God wanted us to help. But there are many who are just working the system, I warned her. She should not be too nice to them; or be quick to give them money or food.

I even hung up a great article from a Christian magazine on her bulletin board .

Kathy remembers it well.

Carla doesn’t.

It was designed for church secretaries, in church offices where a lot of people come in off the street for help; to discern who was “working the system.”

I don’t think she ever read it.

Thank God.

She did nothing…DID ABSOLUTELY “NOTHING out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.”

I’m sure she helped a few fakers; but I would rather err that way than my way.

She was so nice she may well have accidentally helped the devil (Just kidding).

But what’s worse is I may have NOT helped an angel, or Jesus in disguise, as Scripture warns us about.

Carla never missed a chance. She was naturally persistent.

She cried with people, prayed with people, fed people.

She could do no other. She had “the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus” in her.

Nothing; absolutely nothing did she do….out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.


I think Carla was given a raise at the time I came on board.

For at least two reasons, I would guess.

First, I know she was a bit worried about me; she loved Pastor Scott; so who was this new kid coming in? She actually admitted seeing a picture of me before she met me, and worrying she wouldn’t like me(:

Secondly, What is a church secretary’s job description, bottom line? It’s, in a nutshell, to make the pastor look good.

I guess she took one look at my picture, and said “I’m going to have to work awful hard to make this guy look good.” (:

If anything good came out my years here where I looked good, I bet it can be traced back to Carla.

We never payed her what she was worth.

She typed like crazy; she spelled well. She did everything asked of her and more…But she did nothing, DID ABSOLUTELY “NOTHING….

…out of selfish ambition or vain conceit…“ always considering, like Christ Jesus did, others more important than herself..

…Which means she prayed for me. She may have…thank God…disobeyed my first instructions to her….ignoring that foolish sign. But she over-obeyed my second “job” for her.

See this church directory? It’s from my tenure here. To my shame, it looks brand new.
Do you know what Carla’s church directory looked like?

It was a mess.

Not just because she was the church secretary, and it was her job to keep the master directory up to date. Any church secretary knows that is an impossible job….constantly fixing corrections, changing addresses, adding new names in pencil…It has to be a mess.

But the major reason it was a mess, well-worn, stained….was because she took to heart her pastor’s advice right here on page 1 of the directory where it says:

“You will use this directory often for resource purposes. That is primarily what it is for. But let me challenge us to make use of it in an additional, even more exciting way: let’s covenant to use it as a prayer directory. With the convenient roster in the back, we can pray daily or weekly for the members and friends of our church.”

I wrote that.

But I sure didn’t live up to it.

Look at my directory.

Carla did.

She over-obeyed.

She did nothing, did nothing, DID NOTHING out of selfish ambition or vain
conceit…I have a hard time placing those words in the same sentence as Carla!…and always; persistently considered others more important than herself..

…which explains the fact that her directory was worn out, tear-stained, prayed through.

Only God knows how many people in the room, and who have gone before us, owe their salvation , healing, or breakthrough to a selfless secretary who prayed for us selflessly. Year after year after year…



Weeks before I met Carla, as I was about to graduate seminary and move to my first church…not knowing it would be here alongside such a saint as Carla, one of my professors washed each of our feet in a moving foot washing service. And as he wiped our feet each with an individual towel that he would later give to us as a reminder to…well, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”….he spoke prophetic words over each of us. To me he said:

“God has given you great compassion, Let it grow.“

I have not done well living out that word. But if I learned compassion at all the next seven years. it was from Carla.

Sure, for all my years here at the church, I had that towel hanging over my diploma to remind me of what was really important in ministry.

But I didn’t need that towel in my office when I could walk to the next office in see Carla Menagh, who lived out that word.

I eventually lost that towel.

Carla never lost hers.

She washed feet for a living; symbolically ..every day. With every phone call, with every newsletter typed, assembled, spelled well and mailed from that office…with every handout of food, with every prayer she spoke over you from this weathered directory…

My professor also recently went to be with Jesus.

I have lost his towel. But with Carla’s inspiration; maybe I can start to not lose his words and challenge.

I know I did not give to Carla a fraction of the blessing she gave to me.

But one thing I did try to give her: I loved to challenge her to do things she thought she couldn’t do.

Like pray through the directory…she put me to shame.

Like pray with people…even over the phone when they called the church office.
She even had a Rolodex of Scriptures on her desk which she used for that.

Like preach! When she preached her first sermon, from the same pulpit I am in right now….against her will, I talked her into it(:….she of course preached a powerful, tear-filled message on (no surprise!) “considering others more important than yourself.” It was called “Others.” In it, she quoted her favorite poem. I can still hear it:

“Others, Lord, Others.
Let that my motto be.

Let me live for others;
That I might live for Thee.”

Like go to Israel!

She almost killed me there.

Because I almost killed her there.

I see many of you in the room that I had the privilege of baptizing in the Jordan River on that first trip in 1995.…Carla was among that number.

She was so thrilled, she smiled the whole trip through…except for one historic, hysteric minute.

You may have hear pastors complain about the step they are to strand on under the water there at the Jordan. It is slippery. They often slip.

Like I did after baptizing Carla.

Of course she was smiling big time when she went down into the water.

But when she cane up…and I have this right here on video...was perhaps the only time I ever saw her not smiling.

Because I was slipping, she started slipping. And you can see a brief panic on her face (photo at top) that for a moment she thought she would float down the River Jordan and die there..(:

In her typical self-effacing style, she blamed it on her weight.
No, it was me.

But you know her baptism “took” anyway.

Because she trusted not the slippery character who baptized her, but Someone Else who was baptized in the Jordan River; traditionally at the exact same spot,

Someone of whom it is written had an attitude that “did nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” Someone named Christ Jesus whom Carla trusted and held onto there in the Jordan, and in the waters of life and ministry.

And Philippians 2 amazingly tells us we too can be like that.

I cannot imagine being as selfless as Carla.

But what better tribute to Carla than to ask right now:

Who would like to honor her memory?

Everyone here, of course; That is why you are here.

Then I recommend…Then I challenge you (as I did Carla so often) to do something you feel is beyond you: would you be daring and Carla-like enough to pray with me here today that somehow the Lord would make us to be selfless like she was, even to inherit a version of that holy smile she wore.

That we too would “do nothing”.

That is, “do nothing out f selfish ambition or vain conceit.”
That we could trust God enough to make us like she was like Jesus.

Raise your hand if you’d like to pray that.

“Lord Jesus, how we give You thanks for the wonderful gift of grace that is Carla…she did nothing out out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Would You send Your Holy Spirit upon us gathered here, and impart to us a measure of the same Spirit that was on her..
And let her keynote Scripture be true of us…as if she were speaking and prophesying it over us:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,
if any comfort from his love,
if any common sharing in the Spirit,
if any tenderness and compassion,
then make my joy complete by being like-minded,
having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Do nothing

out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

And Lord Jesus, since Carla has ahead of us now kneeled bowed, and confessed that You are Lord …literally in Your presence; we ask that each of us who remain receive a portion of that selfless heart and mind that was Carla Menagh.

Until we meet her, and You, face to face.



  1. What a wonderful tribute to a church secretary. Oh, how I pray to be more like her. Susan Smith

  2. You are, Susan

    But if I am around to do your 80 years or so, I will call the mesasge "Joyful Harvester"..
    and i will tell stories about Craig and I praying for your "joy to be made (even more) full" , It is amazing we got any work done on days when that happened

    8:24 AM

  3. Wow..that last comment response to Susan, the church secretary at my next church...was posted in 2006....and I DID wind up doing her funeral last year.

    And I did tell stories about her joy!


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!