In life and death we belong to God. (Brief Statement of Faith 10.1)
I was born into a family that believed this and lived it through faithful church attendance and active involvement in the life of the church. As a part of this family in Hanover, PA, I attended Sunday School and VBS, read the Bible, sang in choir, attended worship, and—when old enough—attended church camp in the summer. I was confirmed in our Lutheran church after a lengthy study of Luther’s catechism (fascinating) and examination in front of the congregation (terrifying). Although I had always thought of myself as a child of God, this confirmed it for me.
Looking back, I think what I took off to college with me besides this sense of myself and a love of Bible study were convictions similar to these from the Heidelberg Catechism:
What does God require of us? . . . Love the Lord your God with all your heart, . . . soul, and . . .mind. And . . . love your neighbor as yourself. (4.004)
And with our whole life . . . show ourselves grateful to God for his goodness . . . that he maybe glorified through us. (4.086)
In college and grad school I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what those words meant in practice in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-faith world—one quite different from the small, relatively homogeneous PA town I’d grown up in.
As I was in the process of working out my direction for the next stage of my life, God put in my path a fellow grad student named Tom, and I was smart enough to recognize him as the gift he is. Tom was a Presbyterian and saw himself continuing in the denomination. After attending a few Presbyterian services with him, I decided I could make the switch. We married in the Lutheran church where I grew up, but then joined Brown Memorial Presbyterian in Baltimore and then, six years later, First Presbyterian here.
While Tom got actively involved here right away, for a long time I was loosely connected, attending services occasionally but not much more. Having a Yankee accent and “northern woman ways,” I had some major adjusting to do to fit into the community. In addition, we had two small children and I was working. But at some point my lack of connection began to eat at me; I knew I was supposed to find my place here and get more involved. My children were now growing up in the church and I felt a need to know what they were experiencing. So I volunteered to teach Sunday School—first elementary, then 7th and 8th grade. Through the teaching materials for children and youth, and through the training sessions provided by the church, I began to learn a lot more about my adopted church and feel more a part of it. Then someone asked me if I would consider teaching adults. I would. Would I serve as a deacon? I would. Would I serve as an elder? I would. Would I help out when our ministry of education needed interim leadership? I would. Would I become an active elder again? I would.
Having found my place in this church through one of my passions, learning/teaching, I see faith as something one does. And I have great appreciation for Paul’s description of the church in Romans 12:4-6a:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us; . . .
At this stage of my life, I am deeply grateful to God for bringing us to Spartanburg and to this church. I feel blessed to be a part of a congregation that continues to struggle as I do with what it means to belong to God, what it means to love as God commands us, and what it means to do God’s work of reconciliation. (Confession of 1967)