As an introverted artist, I spend lots of time by myself.? I find the spiritual in many places ? especially outside ? and try to put some of the Spirit in my artwork. For me, this one-way communication is comfortable and comforting.
I am also a wife and a mother. Throughout our dating and married lives, my husband Tom and I have sought out places where we hoped to have some sort of spiritual community. We have experimented with extremes, from Campus Crusade meetings and altar call churches in college, to Methodist and Unitarian services in later years. My husband grew up attending a UCC church, so perhaps for him church has felt somewhat familiar?
I have always felt as if I was doing something wrong in church. I?ve attended evangelical Bible study meetings, and services where God was not mentioned at all, and I always came away thinking I was missing something. I envied people who wanted to come down the front aisle at an altar call or who could be so moved as to shout out ?Amen!? in the middle of a worship service. That searching feeling has stayed with me throughout my adult life, and if I am honest it is still with me, but during my years at First United, I have experience many moments where I feel calm, nurtured and anchored.
My introduction to the First United community came through my next-door neighbor, who invited my kids (then 5 and 7) to attend Vacation Bible School. I went along to help in one of the classes. I was impressed by the energy of the adults running it. I knew that this was a church that had just undergone an extensive renovation, was rapidly aging, and had a new minister.
First United became part of our family?s weekly activities. My children are now in the later teen years. I am still very much an introvert and still have that nagging searching feeling from time to time. But I realize that for me, being part of the First United community strengthens me as an individual, just as much as my push-ups and sit-ups strengthen my middle-aged muscles. It is good for me.
As a visual person, I learn best through examples. Here are a few of my remembrances of when I have felt most connected to the Spirit at First United and why I am still an active member.
The Space: Our worship space was carefully designed to incorporate the best of Mid-Century modern and Japanese architecture. The large windows help me feel like I am in the forest, surrounded by silence, even when I am surrounded by people.
The Sounds: I sometimes close my eyes during the anthems to block out the visual and concentrate solely on the sounds. Our choir director David Wood likes to occasionally bring in a capella works. One Christmas we learned ?I Hear the Prophet Callin?? and we were asked to stomp as a percussive accompaniment to the work.? The rhythms from the entire congregation were transformative.
The People: First United Church is a church run by the congregation. There are many tasks to be done, and a great deal of emphasis is put on helping people learn to give of themselves. For the past five years, I?ve been the supply coordinator for the Interfaith Winter Shelter, which we host two to three nights per week. At times this job has felt overwhelming. I?ve developed more patience with frustrating situations. I?ve learned to consider tasks that I don?t like as spiritual practices. I have had my spirit muscles stretched.
The Words: Our ministers, Jack and Caela, are very accomplished orators with very different styles. I wish that Biblical readings and theological arguments spoke to my soul. But really what speaks to me is when they share from their own experiences and hearts. They are generously honest with the congregation, creating a connection of understanding that no Bible concordance can.
The Freedom: Part of First United?s background lies with the American Baptist Church. One Baptist tenet is soul freedom: you are responsible for your own relationship with the Divine. First United practices this concept by supporting its members in acting out their inspirations. One church member built a covered outdoor seating area in remembrance of his wife. A group of young parents started a cloth diaper ministry. I have been given permission to seek the Spirit through art. I have held art workshops with the congregation and created art installations that fill our corridor.
First United stretches me, pushes me and supports me in ways where most days?I feel like I am doing it right.