Thoughts on belonging

Stewardship Talk from November 4, 2012

I first came to Bryn Mawr Church over 20 years ago, a refugee from Westminster Church which was too large, too fancy and too formal for me. I knew I wanted a church community but was not at all sure I had found it here with the few gray and white haired women – and an occasional man — who adorned the pews on a Sunday morning – and even fewer little children. But I stayed. I stayed because, although we had little in common, the people provided what I needed just then – a church community reminding me weekly of God’s presence in my life.As the years went on, I became an active member of the church – singing in the Choir, serving a few stints on the Session, leading worship, attending and often leading Adult Sunday School – like all of us, contributing where I could. And I watched the Church grow and change in ways I had never imagined all those many years ago. I had not imagined the young families and children and certainly had not imagined the More Light movement and the role Bryn Mawr would play in that movement. I had not imagined our transformed building. And I had not imagined how I would feel about being a member of this community.
Which brings me to a discussion I had several months ago with another member of our little community. During coffee hour one day, this person and I struck up a conversation and he asked me, “How does it feel to you to be here where virtually nobody is in your age group?” He noted that so many families in our congregation are close to one another in part because they are raising children, facing the same life challenges, depending on each other for support, validation, touch points when they need reassurance. I said I’d never thought much about that – that I have another community where I’ve shared those experiences, that I feel at home here and that I was touched that he had noticed.
This conversation was a reminder for me of so many things I love about our community – that people see each other as individuals – and whole people – not what we look like, not what we do for a living, not how much money we have or haven’t – but just as believing and searching individuals. I also realized that the person had given me an insight into the fact that the community is different for each of us. And that we are enriched when we stay open to the possibilities our community offers ourselves – and those with whom we worship every Sunday. We may hear the same words in the hymns, the scriptures, the sermon – but we do not hear the same message because the words mean something different in each of our lives. And it is the sharing of these perspectives that broadens each of us.
In Adult Sunday School we are currently reading the book “Living Buddha, Living Christ” by Thich Nhat Hanh. There we are learning about the importance of mindfulness – of being wholly present to God in our lives. Thich Nhat Hanh holds out the LIFE of Jesus as the most important part of our faith. How many times have you sat in these pews and wondered whether you REALLY believe every word of the Apostles Creed, for example? I have had those thoughts. What Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us is that it is not so much about what we believe as what we practice. He talks about “Communities of Practice” and I realized that, for me, Bryn Mawr Church is very much a community of practice. I learn here – and practice here – among people whom I love and who love me – the life of Jesus so that I can live in a world that is, sadly, quite alien to that life. “It is crucial, he says, “to be in a community where everyone practices together.”
Practice has never been my strong suit. I like to DO things – whether it is to speak another language or play the piano or use the latest technology. I suffer from the fact that things often come easily to me and am impatient when they don’t. I don’t like making mistakes – especially for all to see. So it has really helped me to think about this place as one where I PRACTICE being what God wants me to be. And I come back next week for additional inspiration and encouragement on that journey.
For me, there is no more blessed moment in our life together as a community than the celebration of communion when we come as individuals to receive the sign of our membership in God’s community – the visible sign of our Oneness with God. During the celebration, I am mindful of each person I have grown to love over the years – and of those who hold that potential for me. I receive the blessing of belonging to a worldwide community of practice and I prepare myself to be that presence in the world outside these church walls.
That is what this church has offered me over the years – a continuing reminder that I belong to God and to a community, and a place where I can practice living in the Spirit as part of that community so that I can be more of what God wants me to be when I am not in this safe, warm, welcoming place we call Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.