I Didn't Say Nay...

Although I attend church regularly, I don't see myself as an overly religious person.  I'm not one who is terribly comfortable about talking about my faith or my denomination and I'm certainly not one who is out there to try and convert anyone!  But this post does have it's religious overtones, but it's less about Christianity and more about people...so with that said.

I am a Presbyterian.  I became one because when I reached "that age" my parents told me I had to pick a church and the Presbyterian church was the one I knew the best (which is not saying much).  For me, the confirmation experience was not a fun or joyous one.   It is many years behind me, but I remember not liking confirmation class and not really learning anything "religious."  Nor did my class have any mentors to help us along the way.  I remember being confirmed on my birthday (which I thought was the worst thing EVER) and thinking that now that it was over I didn't have to go back.  And I didn't want to go back.  This is not a reflection on the church or the people who attended; it's just that I didn't feel connected.  And throughout the whole "process" I just didn't get "it".

So I didn't go back (except for the occasional Christmas Eve or Easter Service).  But then after college, I moved back home and honestly I didn't have much of a social life.  And at the same time, the church was undergoing a change; looking for a new minister.  So with my mother, I started attending again.  And when I found I liked the interim pastor, I kept going.  Before I knew it, the choir director, who knew me from when I sang in the junior choir, asked me to sing with the senior choir, I said yes.  (Because you don't say no to Charlotte Cunningham).

And after a few months, a very shrewd and charming rascal by the name of Vince Comisky (now gone, but never forgotten) asked me to serve as a member at large on the Music and Worship committee.  They had me now!

But I would not have stayed in church if I did not like the person who was to become our new minister back in the 1990s.  I remember once he was chosen, the church sent out a letter with a biography and photos.  I thought he and his family looked okay.  But if I didn't like him or what he had to say, I was out of there! I was not adverse (and still am not) to finding another church home IF I don't "mesh" with the church leader and/or his/her message.  Call me crazy, but I think attending church should be an enjoyable experience.

Well is is now 2013 and I am still attending the same church that I was "roped" back into after college.  I've been singing in the church choir now for 24 years!  (And I'm not a particularly a good soprano!).  I've served on the "trinity" of ruling boards that the church has. (I've been an elder, trustee and a deacon.)  I've directed two church plays. I've been married (although not in the church  building but by two ministers of the church).  I've had my son baptized.  I've mentored two confirmation students. (And found that the confirmation process now is much more reflective and relevant now than it was when I was a teen. And it was a joy to get to know the ones that I did mentor and become more than just a mentor) I've been a layreader for over 20 years and am in charge of the scheduling layreaders (which is not always an easy task!).  My son and I have helped make sandwiches for Operation Cheer.  I volunteer my time weekly at the church's thrift shop.

I can't say all of the above is because of one person, but all of the above has been heavily influenced by Pastor Erik Spencer (and by extension his wife, Carol and children Christina and Matthew).  I know that if I didn't respect and like Reverend Spencer as much as I do, I wouldn't have stayed.

And I realize how much the Erik Spencer and his family has touched my life:
  • When I was angry because my maternal grandmother had a major stroke and though alive would never be the same person, Erik asked me to be a layreader and then to head up the scheduling of all the volunteers.
  • During one of the most difficult Christmas's of my life when my grandmother was near the end of her life, he had me run a Christmas Day breakfast.  And after the service, even though he and his family were headed to Cape Cod, he came to visit my grandmother for one last time.  And the memory of the way he spoke to her still brings tears to my eyes.  And somehow as a result that Christmas was not the awful day that I thought it would be; it wasn't wonderful, it was different.  And that was okay.
  • How he had his daughter Christina and I be the layreaders at the Christmas Eve service. It became a tradition for the two of us and even though we are years apart, Christina and I became "Christmas Eve Sisters."  Reading with her was something that I looked forward to on Christmas Eve.
  • How he wouldn't dance with me at my wedding.  He claimed it was bad luck, but to I'm still a little ticked off about that! 
  • When I was so upset that my mother was in the hospital that I couldn't drive, he came and picked me up, drove me down and visited with my mom until it was time for us to go home.
  • When I was in the hospital, he came and visited me every single day.  (And when I finally was allowed to take a shower on my last day at the hospital, I was appalled that he had seen me!)
  • How he bounced my son on his knee during at our house and I could see what was going to happen next, but I couldn't stop it and then next thing I knew he has baby spit up all over his pants.
  • Always getting an honest (and often funny) conversation from Carol at coffee hour.
  • The fantastic photos that he take and how I purchased two prints from him of beach scenes to give as holiday gifts one year.  I loved them so much; I never gave them away.
Now, after all these years (that when I look back on them, went by so quickly), Pastor Spencer is retiring.  His children are grown and married.  He and Carol are moving up to their house on the Cape. Last Sunday there was an "official Presbyterian meeting" after services to dissolve the relationship between the congregation and the pastor.  As always there was a vote to accept the motion.  There was a chorus full of ayes, but I wasn't one of them.  Nor did I have the courage to say "Nay."  And I should have.  Because although Erik may be ready to retire, I am not ready for it.  I am not ready to let go.

I know change is good and change is needed.  It may indeed be time for my congregation to find a new voice.  But until that moment on Sunday, I didn't realize how much I didn't want change.  How much I have treasured the times we have shared together...

But change is coming this summer and my saying Yea or Nay isn't going to prevent it.  Another thing I have learned from Pastor Spencer is to have faith and hope.  And so as I (and the congregation) face the future, I have faith that someone new will continue to lead my church with the enthusiasm and fearlessness that Erik Spencer did.

However, the one thing that will not change is all of those memories I will store in my heart forever.  Thank you Erik, Carol, Christina and Matthew Spencer for being a part of my life.  And (because I can't help myself) to paraphrase one of my favorite song writers of all times, thank you for taking a sad song and making it better.


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