'God Set Me on a Path to Joy'
Working at Catholic cemeteries led Joni into the Church
Working at Catholic cemeteries led Joni into the Church
Joni Guenther’s favorite Bible passage is Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with your whole heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
“I was working as a family services adviser at a local cemetery in the Lansing area. I had found the posting on Craigslist and I applied, thinking I had no chance of being hired. After my interview, I went home and told my husband, Doug, I got the job. He just smiled and told me ‘You’re going to be awesome at it.’
“He was right. I really loved the work! Meeting with families when they have lost a loved one is such an honor. I guide them with funeral arrangements, deciding on the type of burial they want – grave or mausoleum, marker or monument. I think of it as my ministry to journey with families in this difficult time.
“One evening, my husband and I had just eaten dinner at DeLuca’s Restaurant [in Lansing], and we decided to take a little drive nearby through St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery. As I was admiring the beauty of the grounds, this feeling of peace came over me. The words ‘I’m going to work here someday’ just popped out of my mouth.
“I would say my path to Catholicism began there. Sitting there next to Doug, I felt compelled to say, ‘Really. I’m going to work here someday.’ My husband said simply, ‘God will guide you.’
“About five years ago, the same position opened up at St. Joseph. I applied, even though the posting said they preferred a Catholic. I went into the interview and told them about myself. A short time later, they offered this daughter of a Baptist preacher the job.
“Growing up in the little church my father led, I loved the hand-clapping and joyful music of our faith celebrations. After he passed away, though, I wanted to step out of my dad’s coattails. I guess his passing made me realize the faith I had always practiced wasn’t my own but, rather, something I did to make my Dad happy. So I got out of church for many years.
“My husband, who was raised Lutheran, has a quiet faith that runs deep. After we got married, I realized I needed to get back in church and find what I had been missing for so many years. I knew I needed God back in my life, so we explored a number of churches until we found one that fit us both.
“We settled on one of the big, nondenominational churches that offered something for each of us. But even after attending for a few years, we still knew nobody. I missed the sense of community and belonging I had known in my father’s church. One Sunday after we left services, I broke down in tears.
“Sobbing, I told my husband, ‘I can’t go back there.’ He immediately pulled the car over to the side of the road and said, ’We’re going to pray.’
“The next Saturday at a memorial for unborn children, we started talking to a woman and her daughter. They invited us to join them Sunday at Resurrection Parish. The mother mentioned they were starting an Alpha Course that her neighbor had really loved.
“God answered our prayer with Resurrection. The next Sunday, we attended Mass and immediately signed up for Alpha. It was a life-changing experience for me, and especially for my husband. He had never experienced the Holy Spirit before. Resurrection is filled with the Holy Spirit!
“After attending weekly Mass and Alpha for about a year, Doug and I knew we had found our church home. We enrolled in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), but immediately found we had a hurdle to get over because both of us had been married before.
“Doug raised two sons when his first wife left them, and his second wife died of cancer. I brought up my daughter with her father. We stayed married for 22 years, but even our child could see there was nothing between us. We were living just a fraction of the life God wanted for us, so I chose to start anew.
“Years later, when I met Doug through work, we fell in love, and I finally learned what a good marriage could be. We do everything together, from going to church to sitting in the evenings, talking and playing games. I could not ask for a better husband or a happier life.
“So when [Resurrection Pastor] Father Steve [Mattson] explained that to enter the Catholic Church we had to have our previous marriages annulled, it seemed strange. We would have to allow a tribunal to examine our earlier marriages to decide if they were invalid.”
Eventually, the tribunal reached its decision and Joni and her husband were able to join the Church on Aug. 23, 2020.
“What a wonderful day that was! My husband was conditionally baptized, and we received our sacraments to be fully Catholic. We even renewed our marriage vows during Mass, so we are now married in the Church as well. Our friends and sponsors did the readings, and Father Steve shared the Gospel story of when Jesus declared of Simon Peter,‘Upon this rock I will build my Church.’ It was a perfect message to begin our new lives in the faith.
“The next Sunday I went up for Communion, and I cried all over again! It feels so good to celebrate like everyone else. I know God knew he was going to put me in a church that feels like home. I’m grateful I trusted after all.
“I am so thankful because I know without the hand of God, neither of us would be where we are now. I know God is with me every day. He made it possible for me to have a deeper relationship with him than I have ever known. And he led me to my work at St. Joseph Cemetery – even before I knew it myself.
“I could not ask for a better ministry that I get paid to do! When I sit down with families in that beautiful, holy place, I often do not know what I am going to say. But I trust, and the words just come out, like they did all those years ago when God set me on a path to joy.”