By Community Alone

This is partially a thank you note to my home congregation but also musings of my personal pedagogy.

I like to say that I grew up in a church when people ask me if I’m religious. I think this speaks to the depth of how much my sense of self comes from my congregation, although I practice no faith and believe in no God.

After two full years and a summer of college and much introspection, I’ve begun to realize how much I was shaped by the faith practice that surrounded me as I grew up. My church, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church is a slowly declining but still vibrant church in south Charlotte with about 200 congregation members. My church is home to the very wealthy but also the very poor, home to several LGBTQ families, people of all ages and abilities, most races and we even have a Jewish man that comes to be blessed every Sunday. I say this not to tokenize members of the congregation, but to say that there is a range of people who feel welcome there. For many years our pastor was a truly inspiring woman with a crew cut and eyes that sparkle with love for every being. (Pastor Sara recently was called to serve for the Bishop), and her spirit still lingers, as with those who came before her.

As I think about all the halls I roamed during every lock-in (youth group sleepovers where we play gym games, sing about Jesus, and eat midnight cookies) I remember what I saw. As any child does, I normalized everything around me and didn’t think anything of it. What I didn’t realize was that the entire church was built not for the use of its parishioners, but for the exchange of people, regardless of if they come to services, pay offerings or practice faith. There are two industrial kitchens, 3 washing machine/drying sets, 20 or so mattresses and closets full of clothes to pass out, old and new. That infrastructure is an investment in the probably thousands of people that come through the doors of St. Luke’s, offering spaces for vital programs such as weekly AA meetings, monthly Drop In Center, and seasonal Room In the Inn.

I think back to all the sermons I’ve heard and what lessons I took away from them. It didn’t and doesn’t matter to me who is doing the work or how (if it’s Jesus through the will of God or if it’s our congregation sharing community with people with different abilities through Drop In), but I learned that the power of church is through its sharing. Share until you have nothing left to give and someone else will be there to share with you. To me, it’s not by faith alone, but community alone. I can do without much of the history, poetry, and baggage of Christianity, but I will say that true believers believe in the paramount power of loving your neighbor, and I couldn’t agree more.

Circling back to my current world of beginning my junior year at RISD, this couldn’t be more relevant. It was a big and scary year for me and many others in my RISD family. Trump was elected, also Trump was elected. As I still recoil inward to grasp the truth of his presidency I am also constantly reminded that it was no surprise and in fact an affirmation of how people really feel and believe, both in my purple home state of North Carolina, but also in my blue adopted home in Rhode Island. The election was affirmation of the bigotry, misunderstanding, and violence that exists in all areas of the United States. I write this personal pedagogy in a response to that, and as a pledge to continue to question, problematize and learn from the church that was so formative to me growing up. As I turn inward I must also respond externally by continuing to strengthen the networks of sharing I have in my life.

Mt. Hope Learning Center, Dorcas International Institute of RI, City of Providence, National Park Service (Bering Land Bridge NP and Delaware Water Gap NP+RA) and cohorts of people I’ve found around RISD through Global Initiative and the Leadership and Community Engagement Program in the Center for Student Involvement have become my new church, and as I continue to work with these beautiful neighbors of mine it is with the gratitude for everything I learned and continue to learn from my family at St. Luke’s.

Thank you for all the love and sharing, St. Luke’s and all the other ‘churches’ in my life.