March 1, 2023

Paula Hutchinson – March 1, 2023 Lenten Reflection

In the time before I became a member of Gloria Dei, I was a person of faith who had been long out of the habit and practice of attending church. I was taking classes to explore spiritual ideas. I attended retreats. I read books and online reflections. I had a handful of close friends and loved ones who I talked to about God – and how the Divine was showing up in our lives. It was helpful. And good. And not nearly enough. I began to realize that I was missing community. So one Sunday I mustered up the courage to just try out that church across the street. This church. Our community.

I sat in a pew in the middle of the sanctuary and soaked in the miracle of being with other people in worship. Sunday after Sunday. I marveled at the pockets of conversation both before and after the service. The messages of hope and God’s grace shared through preaching, and song, and people caring for one another. Some Sundays I would weep because my heart was so full to be in the presence of it all. I wasn’t sure where any of this was going to lead. I only knew it felt like a place that could be home. Like the new place you move into. Where you don’t know the neighbors, but they seem friendly. You don’t know where all your favorite, cherished bits and pieces are yet or when they might show up. In my case, I didn’t even know how to find my way to the choir loft from the parking lot entrance for new member orientation after I discovered my “Sunday morning door” was locked on that weeknight. However, I just needed to show up inside the building and eventually one of the pastors walked me upstairs to where I needed to be. He might have seen the hint of panic in my eyes – I was late and not comprehending the explanation of take those stairs, turn right and right again. Or maybe he said teleport? Or click the heels of your ruby slippers together? I’m not sure. And I still have no idea which stairway I was at when help arrived. Yet here I am. A grateful member of this beautiful faith community.

I share all of this because I was invited to reflect on how I am being called to re-engage with our faith community as we navigate this time where we are moving out of pandemic constraints. When I consider what it looks like to return to the communal life of the church, it felt important to share how I found myself here to begin with.

In the devotion for today in Water & Spirit, the author reflects on Jesus at the Wedding in Cana; spending a bit of time speculating on whether Jesus RSVP’d or simply showed up; finally landing on the side of Jesus being an unanticipated guest. Probably one of many, because the wine ran out. The writer shares, “It’s also likely that Jesus just showed up because that’s what Jesus seems to do. There is a need, and he’s mysteriously present. Sometimes we don’t recognize his presence until afterward, but in retrospect we see that he was with us all along.”

Something about this reflection tickles me. Probably because I’ve been coached for years to just show up. Be present. See what happens without worrying about the outcome. Repeat. My personal experience is that by showing up, I’m already participating in something bigger than myself whether I know it or not.

When I drive myself to church to sit in the sanctuary with all of you, I am opening myself up to possibilities of connection and belonging. Sometimes that connection arrives in the form of an idea from a lesson. It could also be the words of a favorite hymn. Or maybe it’s witnessing the parents in the pew in front of me – arms reaching across the back of the chairs behind their squirming children, hands touching while they participate in worship – modeling presence on multiple levels. My showing up also looks like logging into You Tube for the recording of the Ash Wednesday service. Knowing that I was not alone in my disappointment that a snowstorm was closing the building and preventing so many of us from being right here in this space last Wednesday night. Instead, I was snuggled up with my dog and delighted with myself for recognizing how many people I knew in the video feed. Not only from the front, but from the back. Courtesy of one of our cameras that gives an expansive view of who is in the sanctuary. I was naming people out loud & I should add that I was doing it with glee. It was a moment where I became very aware of my sense of belonging with all of you.

Why I think this kind of belonging matters is this: the feeling of it is a gift. It came as a surprise awareness. It was in part a result of conscious choices I made incrementally over time. I didn’t realize it, but I was investing myself in our community. The investments were like seedings that were nurtured by God through the people of Gloria Dei. I just showed up. But unlike Jesus in the wedding story, the showing up itself was my part. Share from my heart. Be awkward. Be real. Be anxious. Be quiet. Listen. Be present. The rest of the mysterious shaping of this belonging is manifesting through the work our Creator.

The author of today’s devotion also shared something that sums up these ideas beautifully. “Jesus’ presence in our world fills creation to the brim with new possibilities. And like the couple in the wedding story, we can expect to be surprised by what his presence has to offer us, and just how much his being among us changes things.”

So as I step more fully back into the life our congregation, my intention is to continue down the path that has worked for me so far. I will show up again and again. In a community that provides a level of emotional safety for us to be stretched out of our comfort zones and into a world that desperately needs us. This same community that gathers each of us in for the times when our hearts are tender with grief, heartbreak, or the need for respite. Or where we simply gather to share the joys of so many everyday happenings in our lives

My invitation to you is to try this, too. Remembering that it is Spirit weaving these possibilities of belonging together. We only need to show up.