I’ve been a church-goer all my life. I was baptized as an infant at the local United Methodist Church, Dallas in 1981 or 1982, and I vaguely remember bits and pieces of the next nine years in that church: Dad giving a stewardship sermon, learning books of the Bible and the Lord’s Prayer at Sunday School, playtime at the youth center across the street, summer camps where we watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, catching frogs at some kind of “moving up” retreat where I received a Bible from the church. Nothing spiritually significant except that it was consistent. Church wasn’t optional.
When I was in the third grade, we transferred our membership to Saint’s Episcopal Church. Mom wanted to go back to her Episcopal roots. We tried a couple of churches: Saint’s and the Church of the Nativity. I was very vocal about how much I hated Nativity, the “long really long amen,” I called it. That “really long amen” was the Gloria, now one of my favorite parts of the liturgy, and Incarnation later took over a very large portion of my heart. We attended Saint’s regularly, sometimes in the morning and sometimes the 5pm casual service. As I watched TV all Sunday afternoon, I secretly hoped Dad would fall asleep and Mom would have a long phone call, and we’d skip church. I always tried to skip Christmas Eve service too. I’d fake a stomach ache or pretend to fall asleep before we’d leave. Clearly I didn’t get it yet.
Then sixth grade happened. This is known as my “dark year” in my house. There is one picture from this year of my life, not a time my parents were eager to capture. After leaving competitive athletics, I needed to find some new friends. I found some, but it wasn’t what my mom had hoped for. My prim and proper mother’s only child chose black jeans, a chain wallet, No Fear and Yaga t-shirts, and begged for Doc Martens. I talked back, argued, and was a pretty typical middle school nightmare. So of course, this was the year for Confirmation. I didn’t want to be confirmed. It might mean getting up in front of people, and I had to go to class with people I didn’t like. All lessons were lost on me because I was too busy being mad I was there. Ever committed and consistent though, my parents made sure I went to every class, so I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church by the bishop with the rest of my class in 1994. I remember him slapping us on the cheek after he crossed our foreheads and said it was because Confirmation was like when we were born and the doctor slapped us on our rear end. Interesting guy.
In seventh and eighth grade, I still attended church with my parents, but also attended youth group (and church when I could get away with it) at another UMC. This is the first time I remember wanting to learn more about the Bible, Jesus, and church. I engaged in Sunday School, and was involved (spiritually, intellectually, emotionally) in our Disciple Now weekend there in 8th grade. I continued at Youth Group off and on until tenth grade. The time here was significant for me because I realized that I was there for equal parts social and spiritual growth purposes, whereas for most it was primarily social or obligatory reasons. The Bible was, for the first time, an intriguing document.
It was at this same time that I attended a Christian summer camp in the Texas Hill Country. Camp grew a love for Christ and a love for others in my heart. It was where I first heard, “God is 1st, my neighbor is 2nd, and I am third.” I strive to live by that rule every day. Camp is where I took my first position in spiritual leadership, elected as the chaplain of my tribe at 16. My job included leading prayers with 150 campers and planning and organizing a Vespers service for the whole camp. I attended camp for seven years as a camper, took a year off to travel around Europe, and returned as a counselor for three years after that. It too occupies a large space in my heart. The highlight of my summer each year is returning to drop my niece off in August.
Many of my friends in ninth and tenth grade were from a different school and most didn’t attend church, so I was back to attending with my family at Saint’s for the most part. Very reserved about my spirituality around my family, I wasn’t growing. I was aching for something more. My best friend (Sam) and a mutual friend (the rector’s daughter) attended Church of the Nativity. I started attending Youth Group with them (and church when I could). Sam’s grandmother was a strong influence in my walk. Her faith was clear in all that she did. Her Anglicanisms were part of her lifestyle, not just at church. As an example, every time we left the house, she’d send us off with “The Lord be with you.” And we’d reply, “And with thy spirit.” We didn’t talk explicitly about faith a whole lot, but I consider her a mentor nonetheless. Grandmother lived out love in everything she did, every interaction. From the outside looking in, she had things she could be upset about, annoyed with, less than understanding, but she demonstrated love and devotion in every interaction. Her faith was real, not canned platitudes people utter so others know they’re a believer. She handles everyone with grace, and it’s beautiful.
It was around this point that I realized something about my dad: He was firm and strong in his faith. All my life, he’d disappear into his office at home as soon as he was dressed and ready for work. I’d always assumed he was working. He was actually reading his daily devotional from The Upper Room. My dad’s faith was overshadowed by his role as disciplinarian in my home. As an adult, seeing this in retrospect was powerful for me.
High school was spent weaving in and out of a relationship with Jesus. I, as most high school students do, sought “my thing.” What was it that set me apart from my friends? I had my one best friend, but then I had other groups of friends, and most of these groups didn’t overlap. The summer after my junior year of high school, my mom foolishly trusted me to visit a friend taking a summer course in New York City. Unbeknownst to my mom, I came home with a tattoo. It’s a heart with an ichthus in it. I had decided what separated me from my friends was my spirituality. There was now a permanent reminder on my body of how I felt about Christ and church. I needed it. I made a lot of stupid decisions in high school and escaped some serious consequences. I believe these experiences saved me from more life-altering mistakes in college. I’m grateful for them.
The summer after my senior year of high school, I was abroad in Europe. Our last Sunday, I broke off from the group to visit Hampton Court and chose to visit Holy Trinity Sloan Square on Trinity Sunday on my own. I was already in love with the Episcopal Church, but getting to experience the same liturgy halfway around the world was powerful. In the spirit of experiencing God around the world, I took my first mission trip that same summer. I traveled with Nativity to the Dominican Republic. As most mission trips are, it was an amazing experience and left a hole in my heart for missions. I dream of heading abroad more once my boys are of the appropriate age to participate.
After heated deliberation, I found myself just far enough away from home for college. Going to college without high school friends was the best thing ever. I could pursue my interest in Christ without the self-consciousness I had regarding religion. I made the Bible study rounds to find what fit: Campus Crusades for Christ, Reformed University Fellowship, a church’s Bible study, etc. I also started showing up to Young Life leadership training. I met some amazing people in Young Life. And more than being a minister to others, my time in Young Life was a ministry to me. I saw Christian Community at its best and in a way I was prepared to handle it. I hadn’t known a lot of diversity in my life. The people I met in YL weren’t perfect. Some had struggled with significant sin. Some challenged me on my sin. I never gave a Young Life talk. My relationships with kids were pretty surface level, but God was chipping away at my comfort zone. It was through Young Life I met my future husband. It was a love I’d never known from the beginning. This guy was going to be my “best guy friend.” I had a boyfriend. This was going to be my best guy friend. Always a gentleman, my new friend tried to break off our friendship several times when he realized where it was going. I finally broke up with my high school sweetheart in the fall of my sophomore year, and my new friend and I started dating a couple of months later. We were engaged about eighteen months after that.
After graduation, I moved to my home town, and my fiancé and I went back to Nativity. We were engaged and went through classes with Fr. Smith, the rector. We became involved (I don’t even remember how!) in the planning and leadership committee for a new, contemporary service at Nativity. We were focused on the rapidly increasing population of our urban zip code. Being part of this process was the first time I was in communion with a sizeable multi-aged group, all from different life backgrounds, and working toward a shared goal. This was grown-up stuff to me.
One of the best decisions I didn’t intentionally make was for my new husband and me to take our honeymoon a month after our wedding. The day after our wedding, we went to church, and we went to Theology Live (a lecture and fellowship event at a local bar) the following day. This was significant to me because it was a realization that church is a priority to me. I had every excuse in the world to hole up in our apartment or go out with friends, but where I wanted to be, craved to be, was at church.
I loved our time at Nativity. When it was time to move to a whole new city, I was most sad about leaving Nativity. I have a great attachment to that church that I can’t explain – I even will drive by when I’m in town or say a quick prayer while driving by the campus. It was the vehicle of a powerful change in me.
When we visited our new city to house-hunt, we visited a couple of churches on the recommendations of friends. Saint J was quite welcoming and because we had mutual friends in the congregation, we found it easy to connect. We attended SJD for several months, joined a small group, and participated in young singles/married ministry events. I found this to be more a tool for plugging into our new city (and later, motherhood) than a place or time of spiritual growth. There is one exception to this: I took part in a young women’s Bible study that took me WAY out of my comfort zone. On a couple of occasions, we participated in Lectio Divina. This meaningful meditation and prayer were VERY new to me. While participating in Lectio Divina, I saw and heard a very distinct God whisper that led me to go home and have a confident discussion with my husband that we were ready for kids.
After moving from the city to the suburbs we decided to find a church closer to home. This is when we found Saint D’s. “That priest, Fr. Bob, from Nativity, is there. Let’s try it.” We were home. There were all the things present that in the scheme of things don’t really matter, but in the world we live in, do: We were welcomed by a nice young couple that, as it turns out, lives around the corner for us. The icons above the alter appealed to our more ancient preferences. Father Bob preached in a way that engaged us. The young families’ ministry was active and thriving. It was geographically convenient. ß All of these outside things that are pretty irrelevant, but make you feel comfortable enough to go deeper with God, were here.
We settled in, got involved, showed up. Pretty close together, I had two more significant “God Whispers.” One guided us in the creation of our second child. The other was for us to teach junior high Sunday school. I used to detest the thought of middle schoolers; they’re rude, awkward, not funny. I was a TERRIBLE middle school kid. I never had any desire to interact with them more than I had to. One day, my mind drifted to the idea that maybe I’d want to leave elementary school and move up to junior high (I’m a teacher). Yanking myself back in to reality, I shook it off and moved on. About two months later, Father Bob approached us to teach junior high Sunday School. There it was. I could tell that God had planted that seed a few months prior in order to soften my heart to the idea of junior high Sunday School. Junior high is my most-favorite ministry to date.
My husband and I were as active as we could see possible with our two little ones at home, but were still a little incomplete in our ministry. Then, Fr. Bob asked my husband if he’d ever considered ordination. He had. Discussions began between all relevant parties, and we began the process of discernment. This has been an incredible journey for me personally.
I grew up in a home where there was right and wrong… in everything. What we did or believed in our house was considered “right.” Others: wrong. Always a little different from the rest of my family, I argued, resisted, played Devil’s Advocate, pushed the envelope. I even argued the platform of a democrat while sitting around a country club dinner table full of WASPs… as a twelve year old. (Gasp!) This idea of right and wrong has been something I’ve struggled with all my life. In the past six months, I’ve learned that there’s more than right and wrong. Throughout the discernment process, I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who don’t fit my molds. Whether their lifestyle is right or wrong isn’t up to me. I can agree or disagree, but I don’t get to decide right or wrong. I’ve learned this is true about the liturgy I love. It’s ancient, and it’s beautiful, but it’s not the only way to worship. Christianity and the Christian Church are two different things. I’m fortunate to have a love for both despite their individual flaws. It’s perhaps in this distinction that we’re able to bring more people to Christ. We are disciples of Christ. We are (hopefully) engaged in a Christian community. The church offers the opportunity to connect in that community. I’m looking forward to a new community in seminary surrounded by disciples of Christ, interested in growing His church, should God take us that direction.