I confess to being surprised just now when I realized I haven’t written a blog post since March 2nd. Two months?? Wow time flies when you are having fun. Or working your tail off. Or both.
One of the things I’ve been working on lately is our recent Happening weekend. Dozens of youth from around the Diocese gathered at ECC for a youth retreat that was full of love, spirit, and the depth and breadth of God’s love. There were lots of truly wonderful things about the weekend, but for me the most remarkable was a talk that was given by one of the young adults that helped out with the weekend. I’ve asked her if I could share it with you, and she said yes.
So that’s right – my first blog post in two months isn’t even mine. I wish it were – I wish I could tell the story of why church matters with the same grace and wisdom this young woman has. And yet maybe it is more satisfying and more meaningful to hear these words from someone who doesn’t work for the church. It certainly was more meaningful for me.
I’ve got lots of blog posts in my head these days. I’ll make an effort to get them out soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this talk.
As a side note, this is an excellent argument for the importance of a good church website…
Church and Caritas
Church and Caritas have taught me a lot about God’s love.
I was in elementary school volunteering at a food pantry the first time I remember experiencing God’s love. I carted the frozen bread from the back freezer to the front for people to take home. One day, a classmate of mine, Josh, came in. I wasn’t a fan of Josh. He was mean to me. He was mean to my friends. At the end of the day, I remember saying to my dad, “Dad, I know that kid Josh and my friends are not going to believe he has to go to a food pantry.”
My father sat me down and gave me my first memorable lesson about human dignity and about respecting human dignity – especially when people are vulnerable. I tried to fight back with him, “No, dad – you don’t understand, you don’t know Josh. If you knew him, you would know he’s mean, he’s a trouble maker.” My father replied, “Josh is of great worth, he is very valuable and he is loved by God. He doesn’t have to earn or deserve God’s love… by simply being alive, he receives it.”
As a 5th grader, his words shook me. Josh came to that pantry for years and I gave him bread. I gave him respect.
I continued to be actively engaged in Church. I continued to learn about God’s love in that community. But, during high school, church was just… inconvenient. I played soccer and worked on Saturdays. The last thing I wanted to do was wake up early and give away some of my hard-earned money. My church was full of old people. They smelled bad and pinched my cheeks.
My worst nightmare in church was a baptism. They were so long, babies cried and if someone threw water at me one more time there was going to be a throw down. I kept my composure by counting down the songs left in the service and I braided the colorful tassels on the bookmarks in the Book of Common Prayer.
At that time, I thought that I didn’t need church. I saw God in the ocean, I saw God in the trees and I saw God in people. I didn’t need to reluctantly mosey into a run down building every Sunday to prove my relationship with God.
So, I continued to build my relationship with God away from the church. I became interested in activism, advocacy and fundraising to change in the world. I taught myself about human rights, social justice and movement building.
I was lucky enough to get a job working for an international healthcare organization bringing quality care to the poorest of the poor around the world. I was surrounded by passionate and interesting people.
I thought, “This is where God is. This is my community. This is the community I’ve been searching for since high school”. At that time, a day behind my desk working 9-5 was more meaningful than any Sunday I had ever sat in a pew.
As I continued to get to know my coworkers, I learned that we weren’t as similar as I had imagined. It became apparent that people do their jobs for very different reasons. Maybe they were interested in medical research, supply chains or the pharmaceutical industry. Maybe they were influenced by the World Health Organization, the World Bank or the United Nations.
As for me, I did my work because in 5th grade I learned that a kid that I did not like deserved to be loved. I realized that there are under-loved, underserved people all around the world that need to be lifted up and shown that they are of great value and of great worth.
Then, I thought, “Where are you going to find a group of like-minded people?” It was then that I realized that I wanted to go back to church.
Thereafter, I Googled churches in my area, compared websites, picked one and walked over one Sunday. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping. I arrived to read a sign, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” and I was kindly greeted. The exterior of the church was beautiful and interior was gorgeous and I sat down feeling peaceful, adventurous, calm.
Then, I picked up my bulletin and read the big, bold words at the top: “Holy Baptism”. Just as I did in high school, I looked at my watch and began leafing through the bulletin to see how many songs were left in the service.
However, after this Baptism, I never looked at a church or God’s love the same ever again. This time, I didn’t gloss over the usual hand gestures and the words did not bounce off of my ears. For the first time, I understood what it meant to be part of a church community.
It was at these words that I became emotional:
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
I saw a room full of family, friends, strangers crowded around a little child… promising, committing, being accountable to raising that life to know God’s love. I thought back to my baptism, although I don’t remember it, I know that a community of strangers made that promise to me. They vowed to create experiences for me so that I would understand the importance of working towards the peace, justice and human dignity of every human being. Furthermore, I can’t help but recognize those words as the golden thread that’s woven through the fabric of who I am today.
If that is the power of church and God’s love, then that’s something I want to be a part of. That’s something I want to learn about every day.
I still see God in the ocean. I see God in the trees and I see God in people. I have a personal relationship with God. But, I now know that I was missing something extraordinary when I was simply doing that alone.
Being part of a community, for me, helps me understand, as a person of faith, how to face this world. Yes, it is beautiful and it is inspiring. But, it is also downright stressful, scary, and abrasive. In 2013, how do I face homophobia? As a Christian, how do I face Islamophobia? What can I do to help those suffering from financial hardship? What are my options when I am faced with financial hardship? How do I bring people together to minimize the stigma of diseases like HIV and AIDs. How do we make sure people do not die senseless deaths from preventable diseases?
What does, or would be, being a part of the church community mean to you?
Being part of a church/the church connects you to support that comes from a much wider community that spreads across the world and thousands of years of human experience.
It connects you to caritas. Caritas is love. Caritas is charity. It is prayer. It is service. It is not earned or deserved. It is a free gift.
And that is what you are in the middle of experiencing right now… at Happening.
Throughout this weekend, you may find God’s love, caritas – a note, a hug, a song, a high five, Eucharist, dancing, etc. I hope that it is a way for you to open your hearts and minds to re-imagine that person you see in the mirror everyday as extraordinary and truly believe that God Loves You and So Do I.