Most of the folks in my congregation know that I come from a very conservative church background. I wasn’t actually raised in a family of church-goers, but when friends invited me, I went, and the friends who invited me were from the “invite a girl to church and save her soul” wing of the faith.
I was baptized by immersion when I was sixteen years old, proclaiming Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I attended a conservative Christian college and a Baptist seminary, both of which held that women did not qualify for church leadership. Most of my friends from that time in my life were part of that conservative crowd. My pastors and my teachers were too.
By the time I found the UCC, I was in my mid-thirties. In stepping away from the conservative church, I was also stepping back from two decades of folks who had been my pastors, my teachers, and my friends. There were many in that circle I would never see again. There were some I would never be close to again. Only a few would stay with me through the changes. It was a hard time.
But over the many more decades since then, I have discovered that such significant connections do not just disappear. This last week has reminded me again of how deep the bonds can be, and how far they can reach.
Micah is the grandson of Dave and Ruth. Dave was a New Testament scholar and Ruth was the older sister of one of my best friends, and the younger sister of one of my most influential professors. Ruth’s whole family shaped my education, my friendships, and my early faith development.
Now Ruth’s grandson Micah is living in Seattle, studying at Seattle Pacific University and planning to become an Orthodox priest. He reached out to me about six months ago when the small, inclusive, affirming Universal Orthodox community he is part of was looking for a place to worship. They now gather in our chapel every Sunday night for evening prayer.
Sam is the grandson of John, the professor at the small conservative college I mentioned earlier, who taught the psychology courses I took. John also taught me how to ride a motorcycle. It was a little green Yamaha 125, fun and easy to handle. After I graduated, John and his family moved up to Oregon where he pastored a church in Eugene. My sister attended that church and was married there. John and I performed the ceremony, which was the first wedding I ever did. I was 27 years old, and still years away from the UCC. John didn’t believe women could be pastors, but at my sister’s insistence he made room that day for me.
John’s grandson Sam moved to Seattle a few years ago, to study at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. He has a heart for social justice and biblical studies. A lot like me. Sam reached out to me last week when he needed to find a new place to park the “tiny home” he built to live in while he was finishing graduate school. This weekend he will move that home to my farm, in the lower part of the ram pen, down by the gate, and take up residence there while he finishes his graduate studies.
I am profoundly moved by these connections with the grandsons of the folks who shaped my life so long ago, and who I had to leave behind when I left that church. Who could ever have imagined that their grandchildren would some day find their way into my life?
Well, God could. As a specialist in connections and surprises, God could see a future for me that was full of such imaginative relationships. And somewhere in the recesses of my heart I guess I could imagine it too.
We live in dark times. Deep divides run through our world, our nation, our churches, our friendships, and even our families. It seems impossible to imagine a future of healing and reconnection.
But this I know. If I continue faithfully in the path of Jesus, which is a path of love and justice, a path of truth and reconciliation, a path of peace, that path will circle around in a way that will surprise and delight. I know it because I have seen it, in the chapel of my church, in the lower pasture of my farm, and before my very eyes.