I grew up here, thus some of my favorite childhood memories are wrapped up in these pews and splashed across the beautiful stain glass windows. I spent many a Sunday fidgeting with my robe and attempting to sing as member of the youth choir, I proudly wore the white gloves and watched Ms. Nancy’s every move while playing hand bells, and I learned more about myself and my faith as I was confirmed with a stellar confirmation class. I was even the youth representative who helped the search committee find our tenacious and beloved Pastor Daniel.
The history I have with this church deepens the love I’ve developed for it as I’ve grown into an “adult.”…(I use that word loosely.) I’ve heard friends and acquaintances of my generation talk about how disenchanted they are with organized religion. I’ve heard them gripe and complain and share stories. I shutter to hear how some of their experiences have pushed them away from the church and their own faith. This is something I struggle to understand. This is the only church I’ve ever known. I’ve only ever known a church that is open and affirming and loving and progressive and unconditional. People ask me why I love my church and in a quick response I like to say it’s because it’s traditionally untraditional. It is so current but yet so respectful of our history and traditions. And there is something truly beautiful and refreshing about that.
I recently started reading a book by an author named Marina Keegan who unfortunately tragically passed in a car accident right after her graduation from Yale. Before her commencement she wrote a piece for the Yale newspaper called ‘The Opposite of Loneliness.’ She described how the Yale community was the first place that she felt welcome and alive and even when she was alone she knew she wasn’t because of the people that surrounded her. She said “it’s not quite love, it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, and abundance of people who are in this together. Who are on your team.” She says, “we don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness but if we did, I would say that’s what I want in life.” And I’d have to say the reason I am an ERUCC member is just that. Except here it is love and it is community and we are all in this together. This place, this congregation, and this faith is the opposite of loneliness. And I’m forever grateful for that. Thank you.
When my divorce was finalized in 2008 I looked around at the train wreck that was my life and said ‘now what’. I had no friends, no support group. I was all but estranged from my parents and my brothers. My 18 year old daughter said “Dad, I love you, but I’m moving in with mom. I want all my clothes in one closet”. Even my therapist called me and told me she was retiring. I asked her “what will I do without you” She said, you don’t need therapy. You are just fine. Live your life. Do something for yourself.
Do something for myself. It felt like I hadn’t done anything for myself for 20 years. What was it I liked to do anyway? I had to think. Well, I like to write. I like to paint. I like to sing. I hadn’t done any of these things since 1988. So pick one – and my choice came down to this – writing and painting are solitary endeavors – and I needed to meet people and start to build a life. So I picked singing. I would join a choir. Choirs have people in them and I could meet them.
So I began to research choirs – my options were limited by time and distance – so I decided I would join a local church choir. A CHURCH CHOIR?? I hadn’t stepped inside a church since 1976. I was so disenfranchised and disgusted by organized religion that I knew I would never go back.
A church choir. OK. A church choir. I will hold my nose and I will sing in a church choir. So I went on line and researched the mission statements of the churches around Frederick looking for one that would not send me screaming from the sanctuary in the middle of the sermon. 2 or 3 sounded reasonable. ERUCC made the short list because even though it was Evangelical, at least it had reformed. So one sunny September day, after visiting a couple of other churches around town, I came through the tall narrow doors of ERUCC, was handed a bulletin, walked into the sanctuary….. and experienced Radical Hospitality.
My first ERUCC epiphany came in the form of Pat Sunday. She had me at hello. I love Pat Sunday. Within two minutes, during which I felt like I was the most important person Pat had ever met, I was pouring out my story to her. She asked what was it I liked to do. I said “sing”. While still holding on to me, she somehow sent mental ESP signals across the sanctuary to Dan Smith, who immediately came down from the choir loft and shook my hand. “Hi I’m Dan, welcome to ERUCC.” Pat informed Dan that I wanted to join the choir and handed me off to him. “What part do you sing? Asked Dan. “uh..tenor”. Dan escorted me across the sanctuary to Alison and introduced me as her new tenor. Alison said rehearsal was Thursday at 7. And that was that. I had joined a choir. And it was filled with people – and I met them. And six years in I must tell you the folks you see sitting in the loft are my family now and I love them all dearly. Mission accomplished.
But wait, there is more.
My second epiphany came in the form of Pastor Barbara. ERUCC follows a liturgical cycle, which was new to me. The scripture readings are prescribed, and the pastor does not have the freedom to ignore the sticky ones and focus only on those parts of the scripture that are easy to talk about. So each week I would sit in the choir loft and listen to the scripture reading, cringe and think “OK hear we go”. And every week, Pastor Barbara, god bless her soul, would speak – and she would speak to my heart. She would take the scripture reading and honor it and make it relevant to me. Every time. I would leave church deep in contemplation, or inspired, or humbled, or as Ray would say, sometimes I just “fell out”.
My third epiphany came in the form of all of you and the good works that you do. As I met people and started to really watch and listen, it became clear to me that the mission of this church is what really matters. Ed Hoffman and the cold weather shelter, Kelly Spurrier feeding those in need. Gerry Hanberry and Honduras, Mary Meyer and fair trade. Jim Weitz sitting on the floor with the kids during the Thought For The Day. Milt Crutchley and his high heels for heaven’s sake. I can go on.
The mission of this church is so very important. Listen to our mission statement. We are an Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ, welcoming all, respecting our rich heritage as one of Frederick’s oldest downtown churches, and serving the present as a leader in social action and service to the community. It is a clear and vibrant mission of community and social justice and it is felt throughout Frederick and all the way to the state legislature and beyond. The idea that this church would somehow not continue into tomorrow hurts my heart. We need this place. We ARE this place. It matters.
When I walked through the doors of ERUCC 6 years ago, it didn’t matter that I was divorced, or disenfranchised. None of my background mattered. It didn’t matter that I came here just to do something for myself. This church was glad I showed up, glad of who I was, and was very happy to know that I was here to help. Because we have good work to do.
In closing, I offer the lyrics of “Let us Build a House” by Marty Haugen.
“Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;
All are welcome, all are welcome.
All are welcome in this place.“
Now let’s get to work. Thank you
November 16, 2014
A Feather In Your Wings!
I grew up the youngest of 5 children in a household centered in faith. My mother was a novitiate in a convent who left when World War II began to become a part of the Navy Nursing Corp. After the war was over she was stationed in California where she met my father, got married and started her family. I tell you this because her faith was very important to her – not just because of the convent but because she raised 5 children to adulthood and I can’t tell you how many times I heard her say “God help me!”
But I digress . . .
As children growing up, my mother tried to instill in each of us a sense of giving back – to our family, to our friends, to our community, but more important in ways that we would never know the effect of. To people whom we were totally unfamiliar with or that we would not ever have a chance of meeting.
She used to say “every time you give back, no matter how small or inconsequential you may think it to be, you earn a feather in what will one day be the wings that will take you to heaven.” I have always kept those words close to my heart and try to live up to my mom’s belief.
When Glenn and I were searching for a faith community a year ago, one of my firm criteria was that I did not want to attend a church that was only focused internally, always on what they could do for their members. I wanted a church where I could not only participate within the confines of the building but one that truly did what both my God and what my mother had always wanted – to give back. Our first Sunday here, I sat in the balcony as Reverend Jan told us how Reverend Barbara was away with the youth of the church in New York participating in “Night Out”. My response was “hmmmmm, a pastor who goes out with the youth? Interesting.”
Throughout the coming months I heard about mission trips to Franklinton Center in North Carolina and mission trips to Honduras. I saw volunteers at the local soup kitchen. I saw sleeping bags being collected for the homeless. I saw knapsacks and school supplies collected for the children of Frederick and I saw money and food being collected for Mission One. I saw social justice in action from a community that I never expected to see it from and on subjects as widely diverse as immigration reform to marriage equality. I saw people step up and fund projects, giving money freely to a faith community that was doing nothing less than what we have been called to do. In short, I saw in ERUCC a spirit that was alive in their faith to God and their belief in outreach to the community
So here I am, on the verge of stepping in and seeing what kind of contributions I may have for the ERUCC community to use. I am excited to have found a church home where I not only feel welcomed and accepted, but where no matter how small and inconsequential I may think my gifts to be, they mean the world to the community. I have found a faith community where I can explore what God is calling me to do and where I can make a difference. Thank you ERUCC! I am truly blessed to have found you!
From One of Our Youth
Hi, for those who don’t know me or are visiting this wonderful church with a wonderful pastor, my name is Alex Schaeberle. I was asked to speak today about what this church means to me. Well this church is like an extended family to me and to all the members of this church.
Some of the things that have helped me grow in this church and in faith are all the missions we go on as well as the retreats. I’ve gone on these trips with the amazing youth group who are all like my brothers and sister and the wonderful adult leaders that are some much like parents to all the kids. An experience that has stayed with me is the first trip I went on to the Franklinton center in North Carolina. This has stayed with me because this is when it first time the fact that this church has so many amazing people in it and in the whole of the UCC denomination came to me. For example when we went to main last year I worked with Mr. Gaylon. We modified a ladies sunroom to give it the look of more space. He’s an excellent carpenter and friend.
This year when we went to Philadelphia to help at the, I can read every day camp; I met the cook, a man by the name of Brian. He makes amazing food and is a great guy to around. I learned to be a lot more patient then I used to be with the help of Mrs. Stephanie Pain. I learned for the kids at the camp that u can do anything if you put your mind to it.
An example of our church families hospitality is my mom had surgery on her leg the church family helped us through it by taking the stress any by bringing food to us and shuttling me and my brother to the different activates that we participated in. something that amazes some of the adults is that even though they’re the example of the older kids, we are the example of the younger kids. So all in all what this church means to me is a safe haven where I can come and see my family.
ERUCC IS HOME FOR ME
In the short time of a little more than a year, I feel more truly “at home” here than I have felt anywhere. The welcome extended to new people is powerful and genuine.
The intentional invitation to participate makes it easy to “get involved”, to serve and to know the wonderful people in this church. I have, at last, found my spiritual home.
My starving soul has been fed and nourished by the insightful and powerful preaching that our two pastors bring to us week after week. The stimulating Sunday School classes and Bible Studies have expanded my mind and encouraged deeper thinking. And then there is the Tuesday Night Book Club which is expanding my world view by reading and discussing books I would never have chosen on my own, but also has allowed me to get to know an incredible group of women who inspire me, make me laugh and show me what true caring is all about.
I cannot go much farther without mentioning one of, if not THE most important aspect of a church for me and that is the music. Anyone who knows me well, knows for me it is all about the music. The first time I heard Alison play this beautiful organ and then heard the choir sing, I knew this would be the right place for me. This choir enjoys coming together and learning to blend our voices in praise. Our excellent leader is not only a masterful musician, she is gracious and welcoming, she picks glorious music and calls us to do our best. Joyful Noise and the manner in which contemporary music is presented has been a delightful surprise.
There are more opportunities for service than I can fit into my schedule. I was so impressed with the “School Supplies Project” last year and was truly disappointed that I was away on vacation and missed it this year. The many mission experiences, the Religious Coalition, and serving meals at the rescue mission are all inspiring works of this church and areas in which I look forward to serving.
I continue to be astounded by the caring hearts and hands of ERUCC. When I was recovering from surgery last spring I was overwhelmed by the cards, calls, visits and meals graciously shared.
The opportunities for gathering and fellowship are many. I never fail to be uplifted and energized by our times together.
ERUCC is a place of inclusion, spiritual feeding and service not only for us but for all who find their way to this place.
Before Cliff, I and my mother moved from Allentown, PA to Maryland Cliff had done research on the internet and pegged ERUCC as the church we were most likely to join. Although I knew no one in the congregation, I can distinctly remember thinking on our first Sunday at the church, “These are the people who will support me when my mother dies.” Mom’s Alzheimer’s Disease and her recent breast cancer weighed heavily on my mind as she left off living independently and moved in with us, our daughter, son-in-law and what would eventually be 2 grandsons.
I knew I would need a church family rallying around me when my mom died, but I had no real idea at the time that these 7 years (so far) would be such a long good-bye. I have watched my mother fade to the point where she no longer walks, has trouble talking and feeding herself, can’t dress or bathe herself, and sometimes doesn’t seem to know who I am. She sleeps a lot but does have happy and more lucid moments. Music is still a joy for her.
Through it all ERUCC has been at my side. Chaplains Esther and Suzanne have been a loving presence at Homewood. Our pastors have visited, as well as the lay visitors who have left me little notes to tell me they’ve seen my mom. Pat Sunday pops in to say hello when she delivers mail at Homewood. Numerous volunteers deliver residents to the chapel for Sunday services on a regular basis. Cliff Harrison organized a caregiver support group for some of us taking the same journey, and those folks have become dear, understanding friends. Thank you to all of you and to those people who say “How’s your mom?” when they see me at church. It’s heartening to know that my mother is not forgotten.
You have met and exceeded my expectations of what it means to be a church family. Thank you.
What is the gift that you have to share?
My name is Kelly Spurrier. I have been a member of the ERUCC for about six years now. I am the person who stands up in church about every three or four months and announces that the ERUCC will be preparing and serving a community meal in the near future, and asks for volunteers and donations. How did I get to this place? Why do I do it?
I was raised a devout member of a local church. I attended Sunday school and church each week, and was an active member of the youth group, the youth choir, and even helped with Vacation Bible School. The summer before my senior year in high school, I found myself expecting my first child. My boyfriend and I decided to marry and begin our family. (This same wonderful man and I will be celebrating 32 incredible years of marriage this month). Suddenly, the people I had considered my church family for 17 years had nothing to say to me. I never did understand their reaction, but was devastated by it, and I withdrew from formal religion.
Many years later, I finally realized how much I missed a relationship with Christ, as well as the fellowship of church and went on a journey to find a new religious home. After a couple of years of searching, a good friend of mine told me that she thought I might enjoy the church where she was singing in the choir, the ERUCC. She was right. As I have heard many people say over the past six years, I knew right away I had come home.
When I decided to become a member and Barbara came to my home to talk to me, she asked me a question that struck me deeply and has stayed with me ever since. She asked me, “What gift do you have that you can share with the church?” That question was a revelation to me when I realized she wasn’t talking about the size of the check I could write, but what gift did I feel God had given me that I could share with my new church family, and, in turn, with my community. I had always enjoyed cooking and feeding people, and as soon as Barbara asked me her question, I knew I wanted to use my organizational and cooking abilities to feed hungry people. Unfortunately, the need is great and the opportunities are abundant to feed the hungry in our community, and so I started to plan.
From the very beginning of this journey, I have received nothing but support, encouragement and enthusiasm from the ERUCC family. By sharing my gift, I have learned so much about my church, my community, my faith, and myself. I encourage each one of you to find your gift, and to share it!