Tag Archives: service

How to recognize a sheep

November 23, 2011



Dorothy Newcomb

I don’t think Jesus wanted anyone to sit comfortably with Sunday’s Gospel about dividing the sheep and the goats at the Last Judgment (Mt. 25:31-46). In the parable, the sheep on His right represent those who have heard and answered God’s call to serve the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the imprisoned. The goats on His left were those who didn’t act on that call.

As a 1970s Christian singer put it, “The only difference between the sheep and goats is what they did and didn’t do.”

While it’s clear that things won’t go well for us unless we get involved in works of mercy, I don’t think we have to look hard to find opportunities to be sheep. One person who blessed me by how she took on what Jesus sent her way was my former neighbor, Dorothy Newcomb, who passed away last week.

A single woman who lived most of her 98 years in the same St. Paul home, Dorothy was very aware of, and involved in the world around her. Her long career in state and federal government  included 21 years working for the CIA in Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis.

Dorothy’s Episcopal Church community provided many opportunities to serve and she responded wholeheartedly. In the 50s and 60s, she befriended and cared for Native Americans who were migrating from rural Minnesota to the Twin Cities. Dorothy’s small white house near the Mississippi River was known among Native Americans as a place where they could find assistance.

In service of those in need

Dorothy kept her front closet full of clothes she collected from friends so she could outfit families that came her way. Sometimes they’d call with a specific request and other times there’d be a knock on the door and she would set a traveler up on the couch for the night.

Later she learned about a Hmong family who needed a sponsor to come to the United States. While sponsoring them, Dorothy also mobilized her church to provide items for the family’s household.

In the 70s, Dorothy heard about a Nigerian immigrant whose family was joining him in the United States. They needed a place to live while in transition so Dorothy let the entire family stay in her three-bedroom house as she helped them get established.

At Thanksgiving, Dorothy invited all “her families” for a meal around her big dining room table. She also found time to tutor elementary school students and for many years was a companion for an adult with special needs.

Dorothy cared for her own family, including her three nieces and their children. During a turbulent time in one niece’s adolescence, she offered a place away from home to regroup and focus.

Godmother to 17

Though she had no children of her own, Dorothy was godmother to 17, including children from a variety of cultures. Well into her 90s, she worked to maintain relationships with all of them and their families.

You wouldn’t have noticed anything sheep-like about Dorothy on first glance. It was more evident in how she looked at others. It turns out that sheep have better eyesight than goats–they can see the face of Christ in those they meet. And just as importantly, their quick reflexes don’t allow them to sit back and do nothing when they’re called to act.

Eternal rest grant unto Dorothy, O Lord, and thank you for her life as a sheep.

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