I started coming to this church regularly, after making many annual visits on Christmas Eve. I came because I craved the peacefulness of worship, the solace of the hymns, the uplifting organ music, and this beautiful sanctuary. I also came remembering mother and being at church with her. To be completely truthful, my preference would have been for a church with a female pastor. Yet, Gary was clearly authentic and striving with humility, wisdom and compassion. He speaks deeply from his heart and routinely touches mine. I don’t believe I could have found a better role model, in either gender.
While I came for worship, music, and meaning, unlike many people who go to church, I did not come for community. In fact, I came despite the presence of a congregation. I came with my own walls specifically erected to protect myself from the judgment so prevalent in our society. I am a woman, and in case you don’t know, my intimate partner is a woman. In my life, I have had experiences both direct and indirect, and especially from people who claimed to be Christians, that excluded me, insulted me, and threatened me. For many years, I kept my personal life a secret from almost everyone, or at least everyone who was straight. I was deeply and legitimately afraid for my physical and emotional safety. I was afraid for my job and my ability to advance. I have been afraid for the safety of my three children because of my sexual orientation.
Times have changed, and I now have rights, and there are laws that help protect my family and me, at least here in Vermont. I still get angry at the prejudice and unfairness directed at me personally, when I read the Republican platform on “traditional family values” or listen to the interviews with conservative Christian voters in North Carolina.
I carry deep scars and lessons of distrust of good “Christian” people, who are straight. This was the history that I came to this church with. Thus, I put up walls. It has been my experience that people are hypocritical, purporting to be friendly, but still hiding judgement, even revulsion, towards me and my family. In defense, I give out the message, “stay away”, “I don’t trust you”. This is my outer affect and my walls were thick coming into this church.
And yet, in our first few visits to this church, people spoke to us despite my guardedness. Knight leaned over the pew and engaged with our son, Nicholas, multiple times. He seemed to be genuinely and deeply interested in Nicholas and who he was. Early on, people like Anne, Wayne, Barb, Carolyn and Dave, Diana, Shelly, Jeanne, Alice, Mary, and of course Gary’s extended family, and others, welcomed us openly despite my unspoken message to “stay away”. People shared their joys and concerns trusting me and others with their vulnerabilities. People listened to me and afterwards, earnestly asked about joys and concerns I had shared. Through their stories, I connected with Mary Ann and John, Karin and Bob, Bev and her daughters, and Betty. People remembered my name and acknowledged me repeatedly, and not just politely, but authentically. Marcia and Bill spoke to me often, as did Ginny, apparently oblivious to or maybe ignoring my wall. Janet has always given a friendly greeting.
I have also connected through the children in this church: Cyrus; Grey and Petra; Darien, Emma and Nicholas; Ben and Madeline; Lauren and Gretchen; Tryphene and Sidi; Benedict, Flora, and Simon; and others, bring a smile to my face. Their innocence and energy is refreshing and healing. Alex, even though she had 5 children at the time, took time to bring me a piece of Tyvek to use backpacking. I hardly knew her. Mike spent several hours with Nicholas as his mentor for Confirmation. And of course, there is May's smile. Jenny, Jas, Lisa and Helen, I know you know. There are many others that I could or should mention and I hope you know that you have also made a difference. There are still two people, though, that I would like to explicitly acknowledge who have especially made a difference. First, thank you to Amy for trusting me, sharing yourself with me, and knowing that I would not judge. This has touched me deeply. And finally, thank you to Mary Jane, who reminds me of my mother. Thank you for your acceptance, courage, and ability to create timeless conversation. It has meant the world to me.
Somehow over the last four years, despite my recalcitrant walls, what has kept me here is not only the music, Gary, and worship, it is also this incredible congregation. Why is that? Certainly not just because we are Christians in “name”, my experience tells me better than that. Why, from people I hardly know, have I gained a sense of belonging and acceptance? There is something special here in this community. I am not sure exactly what it is. Maybe because we are all striving to find our best selves and facing our own personal demons. Maybe through that striving we become more open, kind, and warm. We seem to rise to a higher place and most importantly for me, we appear to suspend judgement, we put aside our differences. OR maybe I am using “we” too loosely. Maybe the problem is me, and here I have learned to put aside my many judgments, and forgive.
Whatever it is, it has allowed me to trust this group of people. In this special place, you have helped me to let my guard down. You have given me a sense of belonging. And, it never even occurred to me that could happen. You have shown me and my family, genuine kindness, warmth, and openness. I would like to express my deepest gratitude for that gift. Thank you.