It's only a few days into Lent, and already I'm having difficulty meeting my self-set goal for daily prayer and journaling. I'm not giving up, but usually I have an easier time staying on track at the start of a new discipline. It's later on that I struggle to maintain it. Perhaps that's a good thing -- it isn't supposed to be easy.
Friday's meditation centered around 2 Timothy 1:1-6. The purpose of the meditation was to reflect on and thank those people in my life who taught me the faith, and then to think about I can carry the faith forward. Believe it or not, I had difficulty with this prompt. There are many people who are responsible for teaching me about God -- my mother, my uncle, Sunday school teachers, ministers, friends, and I've tried to carry on that tradition in whatever way I can. I was "raised" in Sunday school so to speak. My mother and aunt taught the nursery school/kindergarten Sunday school class and I went to Sunday school with my mom as early as 2 months old. By the time I was old enough to attend the class as an official student, the stories and songs were a part of me. I still catch myself humming snatches of old tunes or remembering odd phrases from songs I used to know like the back of my hand. (There was one lovely song about the Easter lily -- the bulb went into the ground all cold and dead, but on Easter morning it raised its head . . . There's a similar song in the New Century Hymnal, but it's not the one I remember well in dreams, but not during waking hours!). I attended Sunday school and vacation Bible school throughout childhood, and was blessed with an amazing curriculum and set of teachers. When I think back on my first church experiences, I remember sunlight, acceptance, and lots of hands-on experiences. My church was an old New England one, dating its existence back to 1639. It was the First Church, having been established when the town was first settled. It split during the Great Awakening into 2 churches, and the second church was built one block down the road. In 1926, the two congregations reunited, keeping both buildings. During the 1960's, when I was a child in this church, the second building was where the Sunday school was located. We had our own sanctuary where Sunday school started with a short worship service, and then we headed off into the classrooms for our lessons. I loved the Plymouth Chapel. I have strong visceral memories of sitting in the pew, sunlight streaming through the clear glass, as we sang "This is My Father's World" and "For the Beauty of the Earth." I can't hear either of those hymns without tearing up! What truly amazes me is how wide the curriculum was. In addition to all of the usual Sunday school lessons, we learned a great deal about the ancient Hebrews and Judaism. We built Succoth booths and we had seders, and we learned about Purim and Hanukkah. I knew Jesus was Jewish. This may not sound unusual nowadays, but believe me, it wasn't common back in the early 1960's!
I used to say I was a life-long UCC member, but then I realized the UCC was born after I was! I do remember when my church added UCC to its name. Then we when we moved to New Jersey we spent several years at a Congregational church that did not join the UCC. But that church also had a dynamite Christian education program, again with a children's chapel where we met for a short worship service. This church was definitely more conservative than my previous church. This is the Sunday school where we sang many of what I call "missionary" hymns: "Onward Christian Soldiers", "Follow the Gleam" (we sang this one lustily and at much faster pace than the link plays it) are the hymns that I associate with this dark, wood paneled inner sanctuary. (The only chapel I've ever been in without windows). I was confirmed in this church in 8th grade. That was a traumatic experience as my mother had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage 4 days before my confirmation. A neighbor (who attended a different church) drove me to church, and then to a gas station where my cousins from Ct met me to take me to my aunt's until Mom came home from the hospital. No one in my family was there at church with me on that day because Mom was still in intensive care. I've just now realized how weird that was ---- I don't remember any question of my not being confirmed on that Sunday, and I suspect, knowing my parents, that nobody told the minister that my mom was so ill! It was a large church, and it was 30 minutes away from where we lived, so I don't think anyone knew!!
Two years later we moved further west, and joined a UCC church near Cleveland, OH. It was now the '70's and we had what folks might term a "hippie" youth minister. I remember great youth fellowship meetings watching thought-provoking movies like "A Gentleman's Agreement" with Gregory Peck, "Cool Hand Luke," and "To Kill A Mockingbird." I also remember an overnight retreat at the minister's house. It felt very risque', as it was co-ed. We all slept on the living room floor and when the minister served communion to us, he used real wine!
When I went to college back east, I continued to attend church - this time Storrs Congregational Church at the University of Connecticut. They had an active campus ministry and even had a minister hired specifically for college students. The ministry team held Sunday night dinners for college students and I remember being specifically invited to attend by members of the congregation who also came to the dinners. I got very involved in the church, becoming the secretary to the campus minister, and eventually transferring my membership to that church. When I got married, the campus minister co-officiated at my wedding. What I took from those years was a deep sense of personal faith and community. There was a small group of us who gathered on Friday afternoons in a small chapel at the church for communion. (One of my jobs as the minister's secretary was to get the bread - a lovely loaf of freshly-baked bread from a small bakery). We usually sat in a circle on the floor, 6 or 7 us, and shared the bread and wine, prayed together, and sang together. The church opened its Sunday school classrooms to us, at night, and we'd gather there to study -- it was much friendlier than the college library, and much more conducive to study than our dorms! We were a small circle within the congregation who welcomed us, supported us, and prayed for us.
I am now a member of the United Church of Jaffrey, UCC - a small but very active congregation. For over 30 years I've worshiped here and I've been involved in almost all aspects of church life. I've been a trustee, a deacon, on stewardship, taught Sunday school, senior high youth leader, confirmation class teacher, and now, I'm the moderator. We're an Open and Affirming, Just Peace congregation and we maintain both an emergency shelter and a food pantry. Like most small churches we are really struggling to raise funds and to balance the needs of our ministries with the availability of able hands. We're in the position of having very willing spirits, but rather weak flesh!
I didn't really expect to trace my church history quite so extensively, but this where this particular meditation took me. I have learned from all of the people I've encountered in all these places. I've learned to love, to share, to be open to new stirrings of the spirit in the many experiences I've had in these places. I have seen faithful service modeled for me. I've been provoked to new ways of understanding scripture by sermons and conversations and study groups. I've grown in my faith as I've attempted to share and explain it with others, young and old alike. Evangelism is being discussed right now in a study group that I can't actively participate in, but I'm attempting to follow the conversation. I think that in my tradition, sharing the good news has been done quietly, subtly, through example, rather than by trumpeting it through the streets. It's seeped into the pores of my generation and an older generation through osmosis. That's not enough anymore --- we need to be more blatant, by naming our ministries as evangelism, and by speaking and sharing the WHY of our outreach and service.
My prayer this week is that I am able not only to make the time for this prayer discipline, but that I WANT to make time for it.