“She was a great encourager—that’s one of her greatest legacies.”
Luella Mulder, widow of former RCA general secretary Ed Mulder, passed away on Sunday, September 23, at the age of 89.
She is remembered in large part as Ed’s wife. Friends and loved ones will attest that she was the love of his life, and he was hers; their 66-year marriage was the embodiment of partnership in ministry. Together they served churches in New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, and New York, faithfully heeding God’s call on their lives.
But Luella was more than her husband’s partner in ministry. While Ed attended seminary, she taught elementary school. When the couple moved to New Jersey, she found another teaching position. Wherever they were led to move, Luella went along and always taught school, using her gifts alongside Ed.
“Not all children come from happy homes,” she said, sharing her story in a video interview earlier this year. “I felt that a lot of parents were so busy with many things, they didn’t have time to spend with their children. That was my job. And I felt blessed to have it.”
Luella nurtured the children she encountered. A rocking chair was always present in her classroom, and she would often sit and spend quality time with those who felt unloved.
“That was the mother in her, the teacher in her,” says Liz Testa, RCA coordinator for Women’s Transformation and Leadership. “She wanted to invest in people and raise them up.”
Liz knows this from personal experience. Luella, at age 65, began leading the 200-member seniors group at Marble Collegiate Church in New York. A few years later, Liz was called to take the same position as director of senior fellowship.
“Luella was so kind to me,” she says. “I really needed help because I hadn’t done that kind of ministry before. I called Luella, and she so generously told me all of her best practices, tricks of the trade, and things she knew worked really well with this group of beloved elders. She set me up for success.”
Luella also gave Liz a bell that she had used instead of her words to call the group to attention. Liz, in turn, did the same—and “Luella’s bell” has graced every subsequent ministry that Liz has been a part of.
“[The bell] is a beautiful embodiment of all she represented: grace, a sense of relationship, wanting to honor and respect people, gathering them in community. … She was elegant and so beautifully put together,” adds Liz.
Luella’s heart for Christ and community was evident even at a young age. When her peers would be outside roller skating, she could be found in a Christian Endeavor meeting.
“I loved doing things in the church and visiting the Ladies’ Aid Society,” she said. “I played the accordion and used to go to all the organizations and do their special music. … All things that probably a child wouldn’t want to do … [but] I loved being where the people in the church were.”
Luella and Ed especially loved young people, serving as parental—even grandparental—figures as they encouraged young people and poured into them, says Liz.
“Their dearest wish was that all of God’s children would know that they were beloved—that there’s a community that will love and nurture them,” she adds.
Love and nurture—and pray—they did. Years after a friend adopted a little girl from China, Luella asked a mutual friend how the daughter was doing. The girl was now a young woman in university, finding her voice and place in the world. Luella paused the conversation, went to her bedroom, and came back with something in her hand.
“This was on my bedside table,” she said, displaying a photo of the young woman as a girl. “Every night I pray for [her].”
“She loved people, she loved the church, and she surely loved God,” says Liz. “She did amazing things as a lay leader, preaching a gospel of love, inclusion, and community—all critical teachings of Jesus. She connected a theological perspective with a very practical one that helped us walk the talk and live out our faith. … She was a wonderful role model—for both women and men. She made people feel special.”