|Martha in the Pot Sink...again!|
When I think about my humble beginnings in youth ministry, it's very easy to trace my roots back to Martha Ratledge Farlow. Martha was a grade ahead of me in school and was an active participant in the youth group at New Garden Friends Meeting when I got involved in the 8th grade. As the years went by she sang in the school chorus with me, acted in plays with me (she was a remarkable Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes!) and was part of the thriving Young Life community that became very important in my life. She dated my best friend Steve for a time (and later on my other best friend Alan). And she was always a good friend to me. By the time she joined the Quaker Lake Camp summer staff upon her graduation in 1976, she was already a big part of my life. Little did I know that she had only just begun to influence me...
Martha was the music leader at QLC in my early years of volunteering and working summer staff, and so much of what became my own "style" of leading music with youth came from watching her in action. That's not to say that we didn't harass her...we did, OFTEN! We would sing the words to The George Fox Song when she was playing Simple Gifts. We made up parts to songs to get the campers fired up and quite often a little out of control. We even tried to create our own song sheets full of songs she didn't like- see Project Myrtle. We did not make things easy on our friend, but we loved her. Even after I began to accompany her with my guitar, I was often more trouble than I was worth. But Martha always supported me. Martha was a wonderful musician; I was (and still am) a hacker. I can still see her tilting her head or pulling on her ear when either my guitar or the singing was out of tune. I can also still hear her singing Boy From the Country, totally ruining the John Denver version because her's was so much better. She had patience, and taught me so many songs that were part of my own ministry in the early years. And she and I loved singing together. I have great memories of us standing around the dishwasher and harmonizing to Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms or My Angel Baby or murdering the lyrics to to old classic Camptown Races- "Camptown ladies 5 miles long? Oh the do-dah day!" (Side note: My Angel Baby was a one hit wonder by a band called Toby Beau. It's not on I-Tunes and I can't find it anywhere. It you find it, PLEASE let me know. I want it badly!) We fussed, we argued. we laughed and we had a ball together. And that was good, because we were about to get even more time together.
In 1979 Martha and I became the youth leaders at our home meeting, New Garden. It was something we both loved, but again, Martha put up with a lot. I was always making wild suggestions and trying to get her to do crazy stuff. She was organized and a bit more serious. I kept telling her not to worry and that things "didn't matter." I made her a little crazy at times, but we were a good combination for the youth we served. In 1980 she had an idea to plan a beach weekend for our old youth group friends, and so we did. The first year we had a blast; the second year we changed houses and found a little place called the Betsy B. Every youth group I led in later years should be thankful to Martha for discovering it!
Martha worked 6 summers at camp and went on to marry Mark Farlow, another QLC staff member, and to have 3 kids. Her family has remained involved, with Martha serving as the chairperson of the QLC Board for a number of years and volunteering at camp. In fact, the last time I was at camp for a week as camp pastor in 2006, Martha was volunteering, Mark was around a bit, her son Carl (named after his grandfather, but Carl Semmler and I both still dispute that!) was on staff and her son Jacob was a high school camper. One of the highlights of the week for me was getting to play guitars and lead music with Martha once again. It felt like things had come full circle.
So today it gives me great joy to make Martha Ratledge Farlow a part of my youth ministry Hall of Fame. She was there at the beginning and taught me so much (including hidden gems like not drinking milk for breakfast when you are singing in church- it builds phlegm!). And I have to admit that every now and then, when I hear an out-of-tune guitar or someone hit a real clunker of a note while singing, I tilt my head, pull on my ear, and smile. Martha is always with me. Like any great friend...
Because of Jesus,