Grace was my “Cheers”

“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and are glad you came.” “Cheers” theme song by Gary Portnoy & Judy Hart Angelo

On Sunday my Beloved and I went to service at a UU church in another town about 10 miles away. I had heard from a coworker, that they were a welcoming congregation so I decided I’d see for myself. We entered the sanctuary a few minutes into the 10:30 service so we were at a bit of a disadvantage. I didn’t know if people had greeted each other, if guests had been welcomed or what announcements had been made at the beginning. By the looks of the program booklet, we were only one item in, but still I was uncertain how much we had missed. The minister preached about belonging to each other, belonging someplace where people know your name and people are glad you came. That is the community the UU family in this particular church want to create. Very laudable goal for sure, but as I listened I couldn’t help but wonder if I/we would come to feel a part of any community in this way in these North Country parts. There was not a single Black person in sight.

For those of you who know me well, you know that I’ve struggled with God and Church since finishing Seminary five years ago. I’ve popped in and out of various traditions but haven’t really found a faith home. I haven’t written much about my on and off relationship with organized religion, especially the Catholic Church, although I’ve made jokes here and there through sarcastic pieces.

In October last year, the Provost at my past school gave me a name of a pastor who had just moved to the Berkshires. The Provost said that she’d be willing to brainstorm with me ways to encourage my students to explore their spiritual lives. I put off meeting this minister for weeks because I didn’t think anyone could help me encourage the students. I had failed in the 3 semesters I had been there. Anyway, long story short, I met Janet and we hit it off right away. I visited her church, Grace Episcopal, and I went back a second week and then a third. Me, the Doubting Thomas! In Janet, I re-discovered my own reason for attending seminary. I still didn’t know what I believed or what I subscribed to but I knew her preaching paired with the ritual I was used to, from years in the Catholic Church, was just what my soul needed to return to itself. These two things sandwiched with her community’s sense of social justice and inclusion made me feel the most welcome I had been in the five years since graduating and searching.

I had to leave Grace, a month ago when I moved to North Country. And on Sunday when I sat in the UU church, a profound sadness enveloped me. No one knew my name here. Sure, a couple people came up afterwards to say hello and introduce themselves, but I didn’t belong to a people anymore. I miss my Grace community and I see what a gift it was to have been welcomed and enveloped in folks’ loving arms and had my name mentioned from across the way whenever I arrived for Mass. As I’ve gotten older and stayed childless, church has been more of a community for me, not something I have to do because my parents said so, or worse, for the souls of my kids. So I am acutely bereft once again.

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