What Christ Church Means to MeBy Pat Calhoun
When Chuck heard that we are moving to Pittsburgh, he suggested it would be an apt time to talk about “What Christ Church Means to Me.” It would give me the chance to reflect on the many wonderful aspects of our life here in Summit and try to wrap my arms around all of the blessings that we’ve enjoyed. In short, an opportunity to feel the full weight of gratitude that sits below the surface – to be mindful of what we will miss dearly. Central to this is Christ Church.
We came to Christ Church on the recommendation of Mary Pat Akers, a former member who moved to Massachusetts a number of years ago. Our second child, Sam, had just been born and we’d been looking for a church that would suit us. She told me that Christ Church was community oriented and that they’d just gotten a new, hip, young minister who was very cute. Intrigued, that got me in the door and I was pleased to see that Mary Pat hadn’t exaggerated! Chuck is cute, in that preppy, frat boy sort of way. Jay and I attended for a month or so and then received a thoughtful, welcoming letter from Chuck. It took us by surprise and, frankly, scared us off a bit. I mean they just didn’t do that in the Catholic Church where we were raised. However, we knew that we were making the right choice when Chuck came to our Halloween costume party dressed as a very well endowed Brunhilda to accompany Kate’s knight. The high school student who was helping at the party looked at me incredulously and asked, “That’s your minister?” We attended for several years before officially joining – a time worn tradition here. The important thing to note is that we felt fully embraced right from the start.
I was immediately taken with Chuck’s sermons. Here, at last, was someone talking about God, Jesus and the Gospel in a way that recognizes and reflects both the simplicity and complexity of the message. Through the stories and illustrations he uses, Chuck helps me to see how these teachings apply to my daily life and the problems that I face. I also really appreciate having ministers who share the fact that they, too, are human and are not afraid to show their shortcomings. In a town where so many people project that their kids are brilliant and perfect, it is comforting to hear stories about adolescents that seem remarkably familiar to our own experiences. There is hope for us after all! I also like that Chuck uses many sources in addition to Scripture to teach us about the world around us and inspire us to be a better person. I never know from week to week if I’m going to hear about a new scientific study, an article in The Economist or The Atlantic Monthly, a cartoon in The New Yorker or something from history. I do know that it is almost always intellectually, emotionally and spiritually stimulating, with the added bonus of being well written and entertaining. I’m not embarrassed to say that I have been moved to tears on more occasions than I can count while listening to Chuck preach. The words resonate so deeply with me. Jay and I frequently comment on the uncanny way that so many sermons speak to specific issues that we’re dealing with that very week – as if Chuck knew what was weighing on our mind or soul. I wonder if you, too, find that to be the case sometimes.
Like many of our contemporaries, having kids was an impetus for us to return to church. Our three children have been given such a positive introduction here to God and the life and teachings of Christ and his disciples. They’ve certainly learned more about the Bible than I ever did when I was young. And they’ve been taught it in much more interesting and relevant ways, thanks to Julie, Bev York, the Sunday School Committee and the volunteers who serve as teachers and shepherds. It’s a reminder that it does take a village to raise a child and that our children’s lives are richer because of their interactions with so many caring people. I also appreciate the Children’s Message each week and have really enjoyed the wonderful books that Julie reads during them. I was unfamiliar with many, but now count them among my favorites. One that is particularly special is Welcome to the World, which she gave to us when Max was born. We’ll cherish it always and share it through generations!
There is a special place in my heart for the music at Christ Church. It’s such an integral part of the service and adds another layer of meaning and understanding. We have been so privileged to experience sacred music at the hands of Wayne Bradford, Holly Chatham, Daniel Rufolo, the wonderful vocal and handbells choirs, Patrick Wood and the many other musicians, both youths and adults, who have performed at Christ Church and I am truly grateful. I can close my eyes, transcend my surroundings and better glimpse the divine through the music.
I appreciate too many things about Christ Church to innumerate them all. From the special services like Maunday Thursday, Christmas Eve and baptisms to the social activities like the progressive dinner and church picnic, the effect is the same – to create a fellowship of people who share a spiritual connection through worship, service and play.
To be of service in some capacity is essential in my life. In searching for a church, it was important to find one with opportunities to give back locally and globally. Christ Church clearly fits the bill. From Bridges and Good Grief and Glass Roots, to Darfur and our affiliation with organizations in Nicaragua, I’d be surprised if there is anyone who can’t find at least one need or cause that they want to support. The fact that so many people are so actively involved in outreach and service is one of the things that I like a lot about our Church.
And the opportunity to serve starts right here on one of the Church’s boards or committees. I have participated in a number of areas and got back much more than I put in. There are many people in the Church who I knew casually at coffee hour, but whom I got to know much deeper through board and committee work. Through my interactions with these individuals and learning about the ways they approach life and adversity, my life has been greatly enriched. I am truly grateful. And it was fun to work side by side with others on a task that benefits the Church. So, if you haven’t gotten involved yet, I strongly encourage you to start now. It’s these common activities and collective responsibility to each other and our Church that are the threads of our social fabric. You decide how rich you want the tapestry to be.
A big part of why I am so comfortable here is because it isn’t dogmatic or authoritarian. I like that we became “An Open & Affirming” congregation and that we begin each service by stating “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” I appreciate that Chuck doesn’t stand up here each week and tell us what to do, but rather that he explores the complexity of living a spiritually fulfilled life. The climate is one of respect and acceptance. The focus is on God as loving and benevolent. The orientation is positive, not punitive. It isn’t to say that God doesn’t have expectations of us or that atonement isn’t necessary. However, the primary message is that we are always beloved children of God and that we have the chance for redemption. The main themes that I hear repeated are of love, forgiveness, gratitude, acceptance, responsibility, choice and service. I can totally relate to this orientation. When I was growing up, I had a hard time accepting that true salvation was only available to Catholics, as I’d been taught. How could it be that God wouldn’t love and welcome my friend who was Jewish the same as he would me? It was impossible to reconcile this with my conception of God and it’s one of the reasons that I left the Catholic faith.
Being a member of Christ Church has nurtured my personal growth in important ways. I gained the opportunity and confidence to stretch myself and take on challenges that I would have shied away from before. I feel that I have become a better person – more reflective, caring, open, honest and with a deeper commitment to intentionally living my values – because of the lessons and people here. And I am spiritually much stronger. Since I was a very young child, I’ve felt keenly connected to God, and faith has been an elemental part of my foundation. But I lost touch with that relationship for a while. It was still there, in the background, but I wasn’t actively attending to it and it left a gaping hole. So most importantly, coming to Christ Church has helped me to reaffirm and strengthen my relationship with God.
To put it simply, what has kept me coming for almost 15 years is the collective nature and spirit of the entire Church community. You are part of my extended family and have supported me and my family through good and bad times. You have taught me about life and inspired me through your actions, guidance and leadership. In addition, most of my closest friends in Summit are members of Christ Church, as are more than half the people in my book group. Christ Church is my home and my sanctuary. Leaving home is hard. The saving grace is that Christ Church – that all of you – are forever a part of me. I know that we will stay in touch. Our home is your home, so please come to visit. Godspeed and God bless. Thank you.