Snippets from some of the year’s story tellers:
I go to church because I love the traditions and stories and the individual people in our church, and to think about something besides myself for a while, and to be reminded about the nature of love, and I think it helps – at least, I think I would be worse without it.
I don’t know about eternal life, but Jesus doesn’t strike me as someone who would make stuff up.
My definition of fervor has broadened — but not beyond recognition. There’s a spirit in the air at Ginter Park — you could call it the Holy Spirit — that makes my heart leap if not the rest of me. There’s a preacher who can make tears well up in my eyes. The choir and its genius leader have many of us almost, almost dancing. And if some of us leapt and wept and danced, I know this church would wrap its arms around us in celebration, joy, empathy.
I love that at GPPC we wrestle with worthwhile issues. We challenge and simultaneously uplift one another. We wrap our heads around faith and what it means to be faithful, and what faith calls us to do in the world. GPPC is a place where we can reflect on how privileged we are, and know that that reflection, itself—the awareness of privilege—may be the first step in extending privilege and hospitality to all.
* Don’t tell your friends you have gum.
* Don’t feel like you have to fit the status quo or the “norm”.
* Be nice to people and people will be nice back.
* It’s OK to fail.
* Your parents are only doing what they truly believe is best for you.
* Appreciate the small stuff
Matthew & Deborah (Life Advice compiled for their infant friend Elliot)
My church was an integral, formative part of my childhood, so it warms my heart to hear my children talk about “their church” and “their church friends.” I want them to learn what it means to have faith and be part of a church community. I want them to experience the warmth and sustained love that emanates from Ginter Park, and to learn how to be generous while serving others under God.
Five years ago, my family and I experienced a great loss. My daughter died because someone made the irresponsible choice to drive while intoxicated. For the next four years I was lost in a world of deep grief, overwhelming despair, and fierce anger. My faith felt as if it had turned to dust. I doubted everything I had ever believed about God. I wandered through the ruins of what had been my life looking for answers, thinking that I could find them on my own, believing that if I did this thing or that thing, I could fix myself. I was definitely Lost.
Lost is where God found me. God then led me to GPPC. Every person I encountered that first visit helped me to feel welcomed. I didn’t know anyone in the congregation, yet people treated me not as a Stranger, but as a person who belonged. Initially, I had seen this awful thing that happened as God’s abandonment. Through worship at GPPC, I’ve been reminded that it is through God’s mercy and grace that I can trust that God has been and is always present with me, providing for and protecting me. As we say in prayer together during worship, “Lord we believe. Help our unbelief.”
Life after death – I think we have no idea, and so we cherish what we need, what we feel … and perhaps this very feeling is another part of God’s revelation. I know not what, but it will be all right, and something within me will live – a great new adventure, unimaginable now.
Betsy Rice (CREDO)
As I fed the parking meter, a man approached with a little small talk and then asked if I could help him because he was very hungry. I heard myself offer to buy him a burger. And we had lunch, at table together. Before I maxed out on such an extroverted, first-time experience and excused myself back to work, Tremaine and I had learned a half dozen things about each other.
My dad would have offered him a ride somewhere, taken down his contact info, followed up on his efforts to get disability. Maybe next time for me. One thing about Communion: the invitations keep coming ’round.
“We ask for fairness, and fairness only,” is the sign I carried at the courthouse last month. It’s what I want and what I pray for as I think about LGBTQ members of the church, which is, thanks be to God, a broader and more diverse family than once imagined. These members want what all God’s children want – to be seen, understood, and appreciated. To love and be loved. To be able to marry the people they love.
Carla Pratt Keyes
If you ever start feeling overwhelmed or sorry for yourself, remember the story of the custodian of the First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. After a hurricane, he was working in the front yard of the church when a friend of ours, the pastor Dr. Charles Kraemer came to look at the wreckage strewn about. Dr. Kraemer asked the custodian what he was going to do about it. He replied “I’ll just pick up one stick at a time.”
Jim & Margaret Sydnor (1986)
This week as I worked in our Community Garden I was greeted by and chatted with several neighbors who were walking by on Chamberlayne Ave. Some were wondering if anything was ready to be picked, one woman wanted to know if she could bring some plants to add to the garden, and one man wanted to come in and help me weed. It occurred to me that our little plot of fertile ground is allowing God, through us, to figuratively sow seeds as well as to literally plant them . Once again, my soul was fed.
28 years ago, I had serious breast cancer and entered an eight-month maelstrom of surgeries and chemotherapy. During this challenging time, Ginter Park Church prayed for me, and asked others around the country to pray for me. They fed my family. They took me to chemotherapy, and made sure my children were cared for. My son never missed a soccer practice. I know in the deepest part of my heart that the love of God expressed in the hands and feet and, yes – the mouths of the Christians here helped save my life.
I also love knowing that my children will grow up in a church that invites their spontaneous participation to such a degree that children dance during “Somos Uno,” full of the Holy Spirit. They are invited to the front during baptisms and asked for their help in raising other children. They often help write parts of the service and bake the bread for communion. And my seven-year-old son Kent can run down the stairs from the choir loft, then dash up the aisle to see Carla’s book during the sermon, as he did last week. Everyone’s faces and hearts invited him to do that. This, to me, is exactly the right place to be.
God has entrusted all of us with his seeds of love and faith. It is a bag of seeds that never runs out. I can’t make the seeds grow, but I can happily fling them far and wide wherever I go. I trust that some will land in “good soil” and when the time is right, God will make these grow. I may or may not see the seeds sprout and fruit, but that’s all right. Gardens that others have planted are just as beautiful.
Even amid a few expressions of doubts and anxieties, I have perceived and experienced a true and strong sense of energy and dedication on the part of my co-elders elect. This, in turn, has translated to a renewal and enhancement of the strong feelings I – and I hope we all – have for GPPC. I continue to believe that we are blessed to be a part of this particular community of faith and am hopeful that we can and will continue our collective efforts to maintain and expand our presence and influence in and service to our community, neighborhood, city and the world.
We are then held accountable to extend [God’s] welcome to everyone that enters through the doors. A few years ago, I saw and felt that welcome and continue to see it today. Being able to have the opportunity to serve on Session, knowing what God and the leaders of this church have done to help mold me, I feel extremely excited and willing to extend the nurture and love to the people I encounter.
I still want to be connected to something bigger than me. That’s why our family chose GPPC. Because GPPC accepts our family as we are and because GPPC believes it can make a difference in the lives of one young person living in shame and in people half-way across the world living in poverty and grace. That’s why we give to GPPC. It’s part of the fabric of how I was raised but more than that, I have seen the good things that can happen when I do.
But there is something magical, maybe even sacramental, about choosing to light a candle even in the midst of the mess. Choosing to take a deep breath when life feels overwhelming, choosing to practice gratitude when life is burdensome, choosing to honor the process when everything feels incomplete, choosing to start wherever you are even when you are yet far off, this is what fills even our mundane, stressful days with light and hope.
Emily Rhodes Hunter
It is hard for me to explain the connection between two such vastly different experiences- an outdoor march in DC and an Advent service inside a warm, well-decorated sanctuary. But the sights, smells, sounds, and most importantly, the people in both places reminded me of the promises of Advent. I am reminded of hope that comes as people gather together to work for justice and the peace that comes with gathering together to worship.
Many thanks to all our 2014 contributors, including Kimberly Carswell, Bill Metzel, Owen Sharman, Eleanor Workman, and Barbara Henn. You can enjoy their stories again or for the first time right here at Telling Our Stories .