Rebecca Prato- Real PeopleIf you had told me one day I?d be writing something about what has kept me attending a church I would have told you ?No way!? and yet here I am.? To know why this is significant I think it?s important to know a little about me and the path that lead me here.? My parents both struggled with their own views of Christian faith and as a result my early experiences came from other family members, mainly in the form the Southern Baptist Church. I would love to say that these were positive experiences but unfortunately that was not so.? I was still quite young when my involvement with the church came to an end, as I had been embarrassed and scared by my experiences there.? These feelings would stay with me well into adulthood.

When I started college I began to have a growing interest in different faiths.? I began reading about different religions and philosophies.? While I enjoyed educating myself I never really had the desire to look inward at what I really believed.? When asked about my faith I would generally say ?I?m a Christian? but to me they were just empty words.? There were two events in my life that would ultimately change this.

The first event was watching as one of my parents returned to church.? I think it is important to mention that I have a parent who is transgender (my Popillon), who for the first time in my life was sharing their own experiences in the church with me.? I watched as she found a place at a United Church of Christ in New Jersey.? I went a couple times with her and everyone there was welcoming, friendly and more importantly it was the first time I heard a sermon that didn?t completely turn me off.? This was something new for me and quite emotional, however it would still be quite some time before I mustered the courage to do anything about it.

I moved from New Jersey to Indiana in 2009 and came to Bloomington in 2012.? About a year before I moved to Bloomington I began dating my boyfriend, Justin.? Justin grew up in the Nazarene church – we couldn?t have grown up in more opposite worlds!? I made attempts to attend the Nazarene church on several occasions but knew right away it was not for me.? This experience inspired me to finally look at myself and begin to figure out what faith, religion and the role of a church meant to me.

I started out slowly by reading different books that made me realize there were other people like me whose beliefs aligned with mine. I began to understand the things I would need in a church.? They would have to be Open and Affirming, I refused to go anywhere that my Popillon wasn?t welcome.? It would it have to be someplace that welcomed people from all different faiths – celebrated them, in fact.? A place that was in touch with the community in which they existed and reached out to those in need.? A place that wasn?t afraid to say ?We don?t know everything.?? A place that would value education and open discourse.? And a place that celebrated Love.? The Love of God – the Love we experience on a daily basis as we explore our relationship with God.? The Love we experience when we share with one another.? The Love we experience by showing kindness and by practicing compassion.? Once I realized what I was looking for in a church I had the daunting task of actually finding one.? I wasn?t sure it was possible.

Justin agreed to share in this exploration with me.? It was both exciting and nerve racking.? We began visiting different churches in the area but none of them felt right until I came to First United.? When I left after that first visit I felt inspired!? A feeling I had never before associated with church.? In First United I have found a place where both my head and heart feel at ease.? I have no fear when I enter and the sermons inspire me.? At last I have found a welcoming, intellectual place of faith.