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What is the vision for the church in 2020?


It was three weeks ago today that Dad (Nate) "summoned" the three of us kids after lunch. He had returned home the day before after being diagnosed with stage 4 mantel cell lymphoma over the weekend. At that point we did not know if we had days, weeks, or months, but we had an awareness of wanting to connect and process. As we sat down in the living room, Dad posed the most professorial and pastoral question I could imagine: “What is the vision for the church in 2020?”

To be honest, we didn’t really try to answer his question—I told him point blank that I would try, but that I would also need to say what I needed to say, given the grieving and trauma that we were experiencing as a family.  But as I reflected on that question over the next day or so, I found myself drawn to the VMMissions vision statement:

VMMissions envisions a Spirit-filled church of many cultures living out God’s kingdom in every sphere of life.

In fact, I even grabbed my binder to take with me to my parents’ house.  I must admit that I never pulled it out as other questions and agenda became more pressing.  But this is obviously a question that I carry with me—and one that I extend to us collectively—as we journey together:

What is the vision for the church in 2020?

And relatedly: What does it mean to be the church in the midst of COVID-19?

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April 16, 2020

Since January of 2019, Nate joined the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Wellness Center to exercise in their Rock Steady Boxing program 3 mornings a week. This consistent movement benefited his balance and function.  For example, many neighbors have talked about seeing him out walking in March.  Here is a reflection posted on the Rock Steady Boxing Rocktown Facebook page:

RSB Rocktown boxer Nathan Yoder passed away on April 3. Nate's quiet, thoughtful demeanor was a welcome part of our classes, and he always had some wisdom or a laugh ready for other boxers and coaches. When class started Nate always gave his best effort, often exceeding the number of reps or pace called for in a given exercise. If push ups were on the menu he'd do them on his fingertips. If 30 jumping jacks were called for in a round, he'd finish them or do a few extras even after the time was up. It was a given that you'd see him bounding across the room when the agility ladder came out, and he often led the class in outdoor jogs. Whatever the task, he always brought creativity and exuberance to his training partners.

Even when he had "off" periods in class, Nate never got discouraged. He worked through it with determination until suddenly he was throwing rapid fire punches or knocking out squats like a man half his age. He was quick on the mitts and it was a highlight each class to see how fast we could push it. Perhaps a favorite memory was the day that his wife came to watch class- we'd been training for about two months. Nate picked up a jump rope and began cranking out two minutes of fast skips with a casual smile at his wife, whose jaw was open in disbelief. As hard as he worked he never hesitated to help another boxer who might be struggling with an activity.

Thank you for what you brought to our lives Nate!


41 years and 2 weeks

Nate and Mim got married on April 14, 1979.  At their wedding they sang two songs that Nate's grandpa Evan J. Miller wrote.  Two weeks ago tonight, Mom and Dad surprised us by singing Hold My Hand when the family was gathered at their house:

Hold My Hand by Evan J. Miller (1953)
verse 1
Day by day, my God and Savior as thru life I swiftly go
Hold my hand (dear Lord in Thine)
Hold my Hand (in love divine)
When the clouds of earth surround me and the shadows darker grow
Give Thy hand to hold my own and lead me on.

Hold my hand (dear Lord) in Thine
Keep me Thine (yes) wholly Thine
Lead me onward Lord, till shadows all are gone.

verse 2
When the task I need to do is burd'ing me from day to day
Hold my hand (dear Lord in Thine)
Hold my Hand (in love divine)
And I feel I cannot conquer all I meet along my way
Give They hand dear Lord and lift me up to Thee.

Hold my hand (dear Lord) in Thine
Keep me Thine (yes) wholly Thine
Keep me Lord and grant Thy Spirit pow'r to me.

verse 3
When the sun of life is sinking in a rosy-tinted west
Hold my hand (dear Lord in Thine)
Hold my Hand (in love divine)
When I near the time of leaving for my heav'nly home on high
Give me grace to trust Thy love and tender care.

Hold my hand (dear Lord) in Thine
Keep me Thine (yes) wholly Thine
Till I see Thee face to face forever there.


Reflections from Elroy and Linda Miller

Nate was our brother-in-law, from the time he married Elroy’s sister, Mim.  He was also a neighbor for the last 25 years while both families lived in the Park View neighborhood.  He was a pleasant and gentle presence at small and large family gatherings.  Often his contributions to the conversation showed a thoughtfulness that pushed the rest of us to deepen and broaden our own understandings.  Since we lived in the area, we were able to attend Nate’s burial service, albeit at a distance.  Although we could not hear the words spoken, we could hear the music.  And for us, standing at a distance, the service was accompanied by two Eastern Meadowlarks singing antiphonally, “Spring of the year.  Spring of the year.”  Spring – a time of birth, of beginnings.  It didn’t feel that way to us.  But it is for Nate.  A whole new beginning.  And with that hope for him, and ultimately for us, we can say “Good-bye, Nate.  Rest in peace. We will miss you greatly but plan to see you again in our own ‘Spring of the year.’”


A Private Graveside Service

Committal Service for Nate Yoder

Mt. Clinton Cemetery

Monday, April 6, 2020

11:00 AM

Family carries casket from hearse

Psalm Reading:    Psalm 139;

Two songs:          Children of the Heavenly Father, 

My life flows on

Devotion:        I Thess 4:13-18;  Rev 22:1-5.

One song        It is well

Committal:        Minister’s Manual prayers and text

Place flowers on casket

Family steps back from grave

**Lowering of casket

Family returns to burial site 

Return to burial site to say good-bye and shovel

Thanks to Rufus Miller (father of Nate’s daughter-in-law Kelsi) who made the casket and Casey Lowery for photographs.


Grieving in a Time of Social Distance: An Invitation

A pandemic changes so many aspects of life.  So there was a certain irony when we learned that Dad (Nate) was being diagnosed with a terminal illness that was not related to COVID-19.  While our family has missed many of the routines and rituals that our community typically embraces when someone dies, we have been extremely blessed by being able to spend time together as children, siblings, grandchildren, and cousins.  We recognize that many who are facing COVID-19 or being hospitalized for other reasons are facing even greater isolation.

We are also blessed by innovative approaches that have allowed us to connect with friends and family during this time of social distance.  On Thursday, we used Zoom to see and talk with family, saying good-byes that the miles between us could easily have prevented under the best of circumstances.  Yesterday, Jim Hershberger, Pastor of Mt. Clinton Mennonite Church, hosted a drive-by viewing of sorts, during which members of the congregation could drop off a card and pass by the burial site.  We have also appreciated the numerous points of contact via cards, text messages, emails, social media, and the funeral home website.

In sum, I want to convey two thoughts:
First, I want to say "Thank you" to the countless friends and family from so many communities who have shared prayers and words of encouragement.  We receive your words as a gift.  We have felt the peace for which you have prayed.

Second, I want to extend an invitation for continued remembrance and fellowship.  We know that all of us are facing anxiety and stress during this pandemic.  This makes grieving well that much more important.  At the same time, we are unable to congregate at a funeral or share a meal together.  As such, I invite our community to engage in creative ways.  The "Well Wishes" function on this Caring Bridge page provides one possible outlet for continued reflection.  In this vein, we invite you to post a memory of Nate that you hold dear.  Those wishing to pay their respects may visit the Mt. Clinton Cemetery in accordance with social distancing guidelines.  We also know of social media posts and virtual meetings that can help groups of people connect.  As we continue to face loss and encounter disorienting realities in our daily lives, may we all reach out in ways that cross the social distances so that we can grieve well together.

Grandpa Yoder

One of the hardest parts of saying good-bye to Dad (Nate) is losing Grandpa Yoder and knowing how many times we will think of him at our children’s events and milestones.  
Our son is three.  He confidently reports that Grandpa is in Heaven.  When I asked, “What do you think Heaven is like?” He replied, “Heaven is like people.”  Indeed, what we look forward to the most about Heaven is relationship with Jesus and God’s people!
Today, as we buried Dad in a private ceremony it was our son’s turn to ask a question: “Why did Grandpa have to die?”  His tone was inquisitive, not the anguish of grief but the curiosity of a child.  At a loss for words, I simply hugged him close.  Sometimes there are no good answers to the very best of questions.



Nathan E. Yoder, 64

Nathan Emerson “Nate” Yoder, 64, a resident of Harrisonburg, passed away on Friday, April 3, 2020 at his home. Nate was born on August 4, 1955 in Meyersdale, PA and was a son of the late Paul H. and Martha Marie (Miller) Yoder. On April 14, 1979, he married Miriam “Mim” (Miller) Yoder who survives.

Also surviving are Nate’s children and grandchildren, Paul J. and Katrina (Martin) Yoder with grandchildren Isela Joy and Matias Benjamin, of Harrisonburg; Amelia Marie and Blake Showalter with grandchildren Alex Ty, Amiah Grace, and Aleah Faith, of Dayton, VA; and Evan Jay and Kelsey (Miller) Yoder of Blacksburg, VA.

Nate served at Eastern Mennonite University & Seminary for more than 20 years as a professor of church history and university archivist. He earned his MA and PhD from the University of Notre Dame. In 2014, he published Together in the Work of the Lord, a history of the Conservative Mennonite Conference. Nate was a former pastor of Dayton (Virginia) Mennonite Church. He was a member of Mt. Clinton (Virginia) Mennonite Church.

Nate was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, friend, and mentor to many. He is remembered for his profound faith and strength of character. Nate blessed countless lives as a pastor, professor, premarital counselor, and brother in the Way of Jesus. His warm presence, grace, wisdom, and compassion will be deeply missed.

In addition to his parents, Nate was preceded in death by two brothers, Jesse Yoder and Sheldon Yoder. He is survived by siblings and their spouses, Nelson and Pat Yoder of Narvon, PA; Michael and Delores Yoder of Grantsville, MD; Ethel and Robert Zook of Allensville, PA; Juanita Jo Yoder of Springs, PA; and Marcella and David Baugh of Lexington, KY.

A private graveside service will be held with Pastor Jim Hershberger officiating. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Those wishing to pay their respects may visit the Mt. Clinton Cemetery in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Brethren & Mennonite Heritage Center, P.O. Box 1563, Harrisonburg, VA 22803.

Online condolences may be made to the family by visiting www.mcmullenfh.com or www.caringbridge.org.

McMullen Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.