"Love was His meaning." Dame Julian of Norwich
When John and I were weighing our decision to move from Atlanta to Richmond to be near our daughter and son-in-law, at the top of our "minuses" list was leaving our church of 35 years. It was wrenching. First Presbyterian Atlanta was our home, our family. It was a constant in our marriage, central to our spiritual growth, a part of who we were.
We knew moving was the right decision, but still. How could we ever replace First Pres? How would we find a church home? Friends with Richmond connections were generous with advice about churches with outstanding preachers, inspirational music, beautiful architecture, and compassionate outreach programs.
Of course, once we started visiting churches in Richmond, we saw the folly of thinking we could or should try to find a replica of First Pres. Finding the place God meant for us to land would require open minds and hearts. It was also an opportunity to consider how our understanding of "church" had changed along our faith journey. We took a circuitous, sometimes circular path. Along the way we met lovely people, many of whom became friends.
We visited Ginter Park the first Sunday after we moved and felt ourselves being pulled back again and again. Impressions from that first visit stayed with us. We felt God's presence in the sanctuary, the music, and the sermon. What stood out most clearly though was that this was a church whose members embrace the Greatest Commandment. The announcements and bulletin were full of examples of the church's care for and service to its members, the community, and the world. After the service adults and children alike welcomed us. Over and over people told us we should come back to an ice cream social that evening. When we joked about eating off paper plates because we couldn't find the box with our dishes, a member insisted that we take four
dinner plates from the kitchen and refused to accept a donation. That evening we
walked hesitantly into the Fellowship Hall. Did they really mean for us to come for the ice cream social? Not only did they mean it, they'd saved us seats! It was delightful evening of fellowship with singing, dancing, and games. As we headed home we realized our ice cream had melted before we could eat it because we were laughing so hard with these people we'd only just met!
That first Sunday an elder told us we were very much welcomed and very much needed. What a gift to be told you're needed! Four years later when I was asked to consider a call to serve as an elder, the decision was easy.
This lovely Valentine to GPPC is offered by Ann Foster Marinner. She and her fellow Elders-Elect are contributing reflections to our blog this summer.