Seven New Members Share Their Stories


Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ

Spiritually Alive, Joyfully Inclusive, Committed to Justice

Sharing Our Stories

Seven of our new members share testimonies of “God Moments” or “Spiritual Highpoints” in their lives

Hello! I’m Tom Beilman. My wife Diane and I joined ORUCC early in 2022, and we’re

the parents of ORUCC Member Joanna Beilman-Dulin.

Pastors Julia and Ken invited me to share a defining time in my own faith journey and spiritual development.

So, I want to tell you about a life-changing trip I took back in 2015. This was an authentic “witness” trip to Palestine-Israel. The trip was sponsored by Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ. Leading the trip were Jeff Wright, a Disciples of Christ minister, and his wife Janet. For 10 days, we traveled the length and breadth of Palestine’s West Bank, with day-trips into Israel. We visited several United Church of Christ partner organizations in Palestine, including an elementary school in East Jerusalem, where young Palestinian Muslim and Christian children brought us to tears with their heartfelt rendition – in English – of the song, “We Shall Overcome.”

Throughout this 10-day trip, I witnessed firsthand the effects of Israel’s military occupation on the men, woman and children of Palestine. One stop encapsulated for me the awfulness of this occupation — our visit to a village of sheep herders in the Judean desert a few miles east of

Jerusalem. A few days before our visit, scores Israeli soldiers had arrived with machines of destruction, and they flattened that village – literally flattened it – levelling all of the structures the families depended on for housing, and for food storage, and for their very livelihoods. The

raw inhumanity of this methodical, planned destruction turned my heart and fired my soul. It forced me to see and understand with new eyes and a new heart the example Jesus set in his special care for children and the oppressed.

My journey in Palestine was my church speaking to me. When I returned home, my voice was welcomed as I began speaking to my church. I joined the UCC Palestine-Israel Network and wrote a Resolution of Witness highlighting the abusive system of arrest and detention of

Palestinian children by Israeli military forces. This resolution was studied, debated, and passed overwhelmingly by United Church of Christ delegates to General Synod 21 in Baltimore, in 2017.

Following the adoption of this resolution by the United Church of Christ, I created a video-based curriculum on this same subject of incarcerated Palestinian children. Sharing this curriculum within and beyond United Church of Christ congregations, including here at ORUCC this past

spring, continues to deepen my commitment and my faith. I am grateful to be here.

I am Diane Dulin and I joined the church several months ago along with my husband Tom Beilman. We are so happy to be here along with our daughter Joanna and her family of George, Clara and Neil. 

The spiritual experience I want to share with you contains several dynamics which are frequently present within my encounters with God: First, I noticed my own stunning ignorance. Second, working and walking outdoors opened me in a special way to God. And third, my love for Jesus was at the center.

I spent two weeks in the Holy Land in 2011 as part of a pastoral sabbatical. This was my first trip there and I have returned several times since.  I spent ten days harvesting olives with farmers in Palestine (the West Bank), and four more days walking a route called the Jesus Trail, from Nazareth to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Lots of time working and walking outside, lots of time connecting with people, lots of time alone.

Again and again over those two weeks, my stunning ignorance was revealed and challenged. I discovered how little I knew about the land of Jesus. I knew far less about the brutal military occupation under which the people there spend their lives. As I spent time in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Hebron, Jericho, Nazareth, the Judean Desert, the Jordan Valley and walking through the Galilee region, I saw realities which surprised me and shocked me. I met amazing people. I said some stupid things and asked countless naïve questions. The cognitive dissonance of what I expected to see, and what I actually saw, was disorienting. 

And yet, after ten days harvesting olives and four days hiking the Jesus Trail, I stood at the shore of the Sea of Galilee and understood viscerally that I was standing where Jesus had stood in human flesh. This was actually the least surprising element of my trip, but it’s the moment I remember as transcendent and revelatory in a personal way. 

I looked over the same water he also looked over. I watched people from all over the world arrive in tour busses, dressed in clothing that showed they hailed from India, Africa, Europe, Asia and all up and down the Americas. Many of them took off their shoes to wade in the water, and then they climbed back onto their busses with huge smiles on their faces. I was lucky: I wasn’t on a tour, so I was able to remain on that beach as long as I chose. The power of Jesus inviting the first disciples to come and see a new way of life, to follow and learn how to be close to God, felt very personal. 

My Holy Land epiphany did not feature a parting of the clouds, the voice of God or an angelic soundtrack. But I took my shoes off and got my feet wet like all the others. Back home, the justice advocacy on behalf of Palestine which proved compelling to me eleven years ago has still not ended. I remain ignorant in many ways. But I also possess an open heart to Jesus Christ and to the people of Palestine. For this I say, thanks be to God!

Hello! I am Becky Baumbach. On the first day I visited Orchard Ridge and I heard Julia sound a singing bowl and invite us to take a breath, I knew I had found a spiritual home.

I have been a part of a Lutheran church all my life. My father was a pastor and our lives were centered around the church and its activities. But what I discovered in the past couple years is that finding my true self and my relationship with the Divine has happened in many ways and is a life long process to be open to each day.

The significant moments in my spiritual development were found in small voices, tears, losses, a wise counselor or two, open doors, silence (lots of silence) rivers, mountains, and lots of listening. It was the Heart moments.

Two years ago I entered a training program and became a certified Interspiritual Spiritual Director, often called Guide, Counselor or Companion. One of our first assignments was to write a spiritual memoir of our life – significant events that lead to our development and transformation.

I brought to memory singing “This is My Father’s World” at Bible camp and not knowing why I was lead to tears. I remembered on my confirmation day in 8th grade, after the open house at our home, just sitting and crying because I felt I had made an important commitment to my faith. Looking back, the Spirit was at work in my heart then, in those random moments, but I didn’t know what it was. As an adult, it seemed that experiences that were outside of my daily routine spoke to me when I was not distracted by daily life – Retreats, Yoga Teacher training, Learning Centering Prayer and Meditation. These quiet nudges and voices of the Divine kept reminding me of her presence even though I wasn’t always paying attention.

But it wasn’t until after much of life’s pain, disappointments, and loss of relationships, that I found myself alone for a year, during COVID, emptied of many of the blessings of life that I thought were my source of happiness.

During that year while in my interspiritual guide training, my heart opened:

·        to a more diverse world and the oneness of humanity,

·        to a world with many faiths and beliefs, all with the same goal

·        to a world with many spiritual traditions that spoke to me in addition to

those of my roots

·        to a world desperate for Love

·        to the true source of happiness that lies within.

And, so I land here, a place where my open heart finds peace and comfort, and where I hope I can shine my light.

I’m Barb Wells, and I grew up, a child of the 60s and 70s, on a farm 10 miles north of Reedsburg so attending church was sporadic and eventually stopped when I was in grade school after my parents divorced. My mom worried she would be judged because she was divorced – remember this was the early 70s, small town Wisconsin, and women didn’t talk about being victims of domestic violence.

I occasionally went to church with friends or family when spending the night. 

As young adults, my husband and I joined his family’s United Methodist Church in Cazenovia, where we were married. We later transferred to the United Methodist Church in Reedsburg. As a family we were very active there for over 30 years. My husband died in 2016 and I moved to Milwaukee in 2017. Through a connection, I found and joined Christ Church United Church of Christ in Bayview. It was a great place to be. The United Church of Christ doors are wider open than the United Methodist, which was important to me as an LGBTQ ally. When I moved to Madison in 2020, Pastor Dan Stark at Christ Church suggested Orchard Ridge and offered to write a note of introduction to Pastor Julia. Another connection. After several months, and at least one or two more nudges from Pastor Dan, I decided it was time to find a new church home in Madison.

I work at UW Hospital in Outpatient Registration. I only see people for a brief amount of time, but often know when someone needs extra encouragement, support or maybe an advocate. I’ve been the patient. I’ve been the parent on the other side of the desk. One day last July, I connected with such a patient, and I do have permission to share this story. Registration turned into a conversation. The person mentioned that he was struggling with the death of his husband, and I shared a little of my own personal experience losing a spouse. I listened, encouraged and extended love in the form of a hug. I even told him I wished I could clock out and grab a coffee just so we could continue the conversation. The next day I received a Hi-5 (a note of recognition) from his nurse because, as she said, I made a difference. I helped him feel like he was not alone and that his feelings were valid. My caring did not go unnoticed. I later told my supervisor and co-workers that I felt like I was meant to meet him. A God incidence? Definitely. I carried this person in my heart that week, and still do.

I often meet people who I may see once or twice and never again; however, I was pleasantly surprised when on the second Sunday that I visited Orchard Ridge under the tents last fall, I recognized the man that I met at the hospital in July. What were the odds? A connection. Goosebumps. I approached him after service and was quickly embraced in a tight hug before I could finish introducing myself. Bruce Gladstone, our choir director, remembered me.    

Hello! I’m Peg Knueve. Tragedy and difficult times are inevitable in life. Since I deal with Celtic melancholy and perfectionistic tendencies I am often plagued by anxiety and fear. Somehow I know that this unsettling existence is not the way God wants me to live. I love the old saying :Things don’t happen to us, they happen for us. As a result, the effort I actively pursue is to find gratitude for my imperfect life and to recognize that all humans struggle with these things and are carrying their own important stories and hurts. I will admit that this quest is not always easy, but has given me hope and a strength of purpose. God is always there. My biggest fear is that I won’t be able to listen.

One tragedy gave me new confidence in this quest. In 2014 I spent some months driving from our home in Defiance Ohio to babysit for our daughter Kate’s two beautiful young children while she was teaching music in a Cleveland elementary school. One Sunday I drove to her home, we went for a walk with the children and had a lovely evening. That night she died in her sleep. After her distraught husband went with the body to the hospital I was alone in the house with my sleeping grandchildren. Often when I am overwhelmed, I journal with the God inside me. This time I was in total despair, sure that I could not survive this loss. In my writing I plainly heard I AM WITH YOU PEGGY; WATCH CLOSELY FOR THE GOD MOMENTS. The God moments have been happening ever since enriching my life with new perspective and understanding bringing new experiences and hidden gems of joy and insight.

In this rather dramatic way I have learned to find gratitude for challenges. Hopefully I will hear God’s voice loud and clear when faced with inevitable trials. I like to believe that insurmountable challenges are often beautiful gifts in disguise!

“I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.”

(God speaking in Amos 5:24)

Hello! I’m Manuel Ramminger. From 2002 to 2013, I worked with Bible Schools in an international mission organization. Every year we would take our students through the whole Bible in chronological order. During a staff development time I came across Abraham Heschel and his book “The Prophets”. It opened my eyes to Old Testament passages on justice. I learned that all the Law and the Prophets was about valuing the Image of God in humankind and that justice was restoring value and dignity to those who had been exploited for personal or corporate gain. It also showed me the beauty of God’s character and their love and concern for those that cannot defend themselves as well as the blind oppressors hidden in the message of prophetic wrath. One particular story that really moved my heart was the story of Hagar who when a refugee in the desert met God’s kindness juxtaposed to Abraham’s cruelty, and she called God by a new name –

El Roi, the God who sees me.

These things led me to develop teachings on Justice and the Bible that I was invited to teach in four continents. While traveling I saw much injustice and abuse of image-bearers of God. With close to 40 million people enslaved to human trafficking in our world today, the oppressed cry out! On the one hand I read that God cares, that God sees, and that God hears cries of the oppressed. On the other hand I joined in the chorus of Habakkuk. “How long oh Lord must I cry for help and you do not listen? Where are you in the midst of this injustice.”  

A friend of mine went through a similar process at this time. He would travel to Asia for missions work and buy goods on the streets to sell them here in the US and send donations back to groups he had worked with. He felt though that more could be done to empower women that had been exploited. 

He asked if I wanted to join a prayer time to “hear from God” to get ideas of what could be done. In that prayer time we took our experiences and questions and held them with open hands and hearts before God. 

While doing that the idea for Ethical Trade Co was born. We felt that a key to extreme poverty and exploitation was long term sustainable employment rather than donations only. Over the last seven years, this idea has grown and we are now a donor funded nonprofit that has partners in these places. 

I find great joy that through this ministry we are able to restore dignity to image bearers of God who have been devalued and abused. But our existence is also an indictment of the greed of capitalist consumerism. It sheds light on the darkness of slave labor and exploitation in our supply chain. 

Another result of my study of the Bible and pursuit of justice is that I found myself at odds with positions I encountered in parts of conservative Christianity and caused some painful rejections. This is why I am so glad to now be part of Orchard Ridge UCC as a community and a spiritual home.

Hello! I’m Ginny Stiles. Perhaps you have at some time written a memoir or written down important legacy notes for your heirs. Maybe you’ve purchased and looked up your many relatives…amazing yourself that you even exist as it is so dependent on the courage, tenacity and luck of so many people before you.

I have always seen time as a spiral— shown below with our amazing universe inspiring the background. The dots are homes, places, and events that mark what I remember as important. One of the dots is Greg and I joining the church last May. The dots get closer together toward the outside rings before I spin off into the star dust because the older you get just about everything is amazing and worth celebrating.

I am reminded of all the changes because everyone gets “uprooted” so many times in their lives. Greg and I have “downsized” SO many times. You’d think we’d have it down pat by now. With each uprooting we leave dear friends, dwellings, and our churches behind. Over and over. It’s a big deal. Change is hard.

Sasha LaPoint says, “To uproot something is inherently traumatic. It says so on every potted hibiscus and jasmine start I’ve put in the ground. The instructions are simple: handle the root system with care, be gentle while arranging it into its new home.”

With each uprooting we’ve had to find a new church home. Home. Orchard Ridge has slowly and quietly become that for us. It’s all about all of you here…not the place itself. “Home is People” says Robin Hobb. “Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you see is what is not there anymore.

So here’s one metaphor for how I see this re-rooting thing works right here. It isn’t in an instant thing. Becoming a home takes some time. You don’t just “FIND” a home. You “MAKE” a home.

It’s a little like when Bruce hands out the music for the first time at choir practice and the jumble of the black notes and markings slide before our eyes with no real sense of anything. And then Vicki plays the notes and we run our eyes and fingers over them like braille hoping they’ll be inhaled in some way to make it make sense…then slowly we “come home to it” and the notes begin to slip and slide about and then almost magically between the low and high voices comes a bit of melody. We struggle, make mistakes, practice, suddenly finding a bit of harmony. We begin to take collective breaths now instead of individual ones. We raise up to fill our lungs with some hope…together hoping now that it will begin to sound like something we have created together…and we’ll get home together at the end…waiting and praying for Bruce’s last direction to experience collective silence as the moment of creation is revealed.

A church home is both an individual and also a group spirit, it is not just a place. It is a sheltering concept…home..from which in the security of others who help you hear the music and find the notes, you can move forward together and make a difference. Greg and I are happy to be home!

Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ

1501 Gilbert Road

Madison, WI 53711

Office Hours: M-Th 8:30-12:30

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