December 31, 2008

Newspaper Article about Phil and Louie Rieman


December 31, 2008

Pastors remembered for kindness, charismaFamily and Northview Church of the Brethren mourn couple known for their thoughtfulness, generosity and nonconformity

Northview Church of the Brethren is small, the kind of place where a good half of the members are volunteers. This week, still reeling from last week's terrible news, they've been particularly busy, borrowing folding chairs from Mennonites, setting them up in the church basement, baking casseroles and pies by the score, and lining up a eulogist.

Their co-pastors, Phil and Louise Rieman, died Friday when their car slid on a patch of ice and struck an oncoming truck. They had been on their way to North Manchester to visit relatives.
"It's an event where your head hears one thing, but your heart says, 'No, it can't be,' " said Sally Schrock, a longtime member.

Phil was 64, Louise 63. Their funeral, at 11 a.m. today, is expected to draw about 400 mourners, which is far more than the 90-member church can comfortably accommodate.

The Church of the Brethren is similar to the Quaker church, with its emphasis on living simply, helpfully, thoughtfully, peacefully -- "really living one's beliefs," Schrock said.

The Riemans did just that.

Several years ago, when Schrock complained that her job was unfulfilling -- she handled billing for a group of anesthesiologists -- Louise urged her to quit and "follow your heart."

Schrock followed the advice. She started a nonprofit that provides housewares to people as they move from homelessness into apartments.

"I wouldn't have done it without Louie," Schrock said. "She kept saying, 'Forget your paycheck,' and 'Trust you're doing the right thing.' "

The Riemans, who had three children, now grown, never sweated over money. They ate well from their huge vegetable garden -- and fed others. On Sundays, they'd bring a haul of zucchini, peppers and tomatoes to the church for folks to take home.

They were content driving a '92 Volkswagen Rabbit.

Phil never wore a tie.

The authors represented in their small study -- besides several Bibles, its shelves contain hundreds of worn volumes -- reflect their open-minded intellectualism: Thomas Merton, Reinhold Niebuhr, Bertrand Russell, Kahlil Gibran.

As pastors, the Riemans led churches in Iowa and Indiana and worked in the Sudan, the Congo and Uganda -- "not to 'save the heathens,' " said their son, Ken, "but to help them preserve their culture and language."

The Riemans routinely withheld roughly half their income tax payment from the government as a way to protest U.S. military spending. They paid the difference to peace groups, civil rights groups, food banks.

That didn't sit well with the Internal Revenue Service, which from time to time sought to garnishee their wages, a move that the churches that employed the Riemans always resisted. In the 1970s, the IRS sent agents to the Riemans' house and seized their car.

"Mamma and Daddy advocated a nonconformity to the culture and its notions of success," said Ken, who's now a Church of the Brethren minister in Seattle. "That creates tension with the culture."

But personally, the Riemans were hard to resist. For all their earnestness (they couldn't get enough of Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary), the people who knew them say, they had charisma and a keen sense of whimsy.

For example, they encouraged neighborhood kids to use the church grounds as their playground. When Phil found kids were using an outdoor stairwell as a urinal, the sign he posted said: "This is not a good place to pee."

Years before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday became a national holiday, Phil would call his kids' schools and offer to put on a program marking the occasion.

"Daddy would come in with his guitar," said Cheri, the Riemans' younger daughter. "It was kind of embarrassing at first."

It wasn't long, however, before he'd have taught the kids not only a bit about the civil rights movement but also the words to "We Shall Overcome."

And by the end of the program, as he strummed his guitar, the children would be singing the song robustly and holding one another's hands.