When Min-Goo asked me to “share my story”, my first thought was: which one? I have a lot of stories. Min-Goo clarified and said he’d like to hear how the church has changed me, so that helped focus things a bit.
Where do I start?
Do I begin with moving to Fort Garry 15 years ago, and looking for a church nearby to call home? Or do I go back earlier?
How about the story of my first memories, my first impressions of church? Of going to Kirkfield Park United Church in St James with my parents as a toddler, and the smell of coffee and the dull roar of warm grown-up conversation afterwards, and how my parents decided to leave that church when I was old enough for Sunday School, because my Mom didn’t like the idea that the Sunday School was held in a different building from the church, a nearby school?
Or maybe I relate to you my experiences of attending Sturgeon Creek United Church for the rest of my childhood, my teens, and my early adulthood. First in Sunday school and junior choir, then in youth group, then confirmation, then eventually leading that youth group with Marla up until we got married and moved to Fort Garry?
It’s hard to say how church changed me, because I didn’t know any other thing as a kid. They say you don’t appreciate something until it’s gone, and it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s and had to work on Sundays, missing church most weeks, that I really came to appreciate what church meant to me. That weekly check in with my “church family”. The wonderful experience of intergenerational worship with a diverse group (well not THAT diverse, we’re talking St. James here), who shared certain common beliefs and values, while at the same time knowing we all brought something unique and special to our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. The power of forgiveness, the still small voice that reminds us that we are loved despite everything. The wonder of creation. The intersection of interconnectedness that you really don’t get anywhere else, as far as I know. I remember one time the imagery of the cross was used in a sermon in that it represents two relationships. The top down relationship we have personally between us and God, and the horizontal connection that we all share with each other, and our connection to the world. Both are important.
Or maybe I tell the story of how the church was such a loving support to me when my Dad died unexpectedly when I was 16, and how one of the ministers helped me to understand that maybe it makes sense to believe in a loving God even while we live in a cruel indifferent world, than it is to believe in an all-powerful God who allows terrible things to happen to awesome people. The quote, “Life is hard but God is good” is a saying that stuck.
And of course when I mention “the church” in all this, I’m referring to the people that make up the church. Always the people. This was driven home to me a year after my Dad died when our church burned to the ground in the fall of 1992. I was an usher that Sunday, and it was really, truly a blessing that we all got out without injury, as the fire had already started in the boiler room during worship and quickly spread to the varnished wood sanctuary. That same day, that Sunday night, many of our congregation met at a nearby Anglican church, sang some hymns, comforted one another, and knew that this wasn’t going to be the end of us. Our minister showed us the only things that the firefighters retrieved: a couple of scorched metal offering plates. That very night we began to plan, and dream, and that following Sunday we took over the gym in an unused school, and worshiped there for two years until we could rebuild. It gave all of us a real lesson on what “being the church” really meant.
Fast forward to Fort Garry United Church. It seemed like an obvious choice to at least check it out when we moved into the neighbourhood 15 years ago. The church wasn’t a complete unknown to me, as my Uncle Doug and Aunt Beryl, my Uncle Jack and Aunt Doris were long time members and I had attended family celebrations and memorials here over the years.
It didn’t take long before I was in the choir, and Marla was taking the disciples class. It didn’t take long before Fort Garry felt like our new church home. We made friendships here that I know will last for the rest of our lives, and our daughter Audrey feels welcome and at home here too. The church has changed drastically from when I was Audrey’s age to now, but I do hope that some of it sticks.
I’m sure we all could tell similar stories of what the church means to us.
How has the church changed me? It would be hard to imagine my life without some kind of church connection. It’s important to me to be reminded that I’m a part of something bigger, something beyond my own understanding, and that I’m accepted and loved, despite my million faults. I always feel better after worship than I do before it. I don’t know what that says about church or me, but