She stood at the front door of St. David’s United Church, on a cold Calgary morning, hesitant to enter the front doors as it had been years since she embraced or was part of a living spiritual community. Her heart had been searching for a place to call home…to be safe, to express her inner passion and her spiritual walk. She had visited many other spiritual places but none that resonated with her search, none that spoke to her of a Christ that she loved. Her passion was to understand the parables of Jesus just as his disciples did, and to deepen her spiritual experience. Was it here that she would finally meet with a living vibrant faith? Was it here that she would come face to face with strangers and in a moments glance recognize this as her community? Would those who start as strangers become some of her closest friends?
She took a deep breath and walked through the front doors. She moved past the greeters who smiled warmly and found her seat at the back of the Sanctuary, in her shyness and reluctance she wanted to be unseen. She watched as adults, youth, children, and people of all ages, enter with so much familiarity. What are the stories of these people she thought? What stories could these people teach her? Could they speak of God’s wisdom and truth…and their own spiritual lives? What are the building blocks of this community?
As the Sanctuary filled with more people, she started to get a sense of the community as people smiled, shook hands and engaged in conversation and laughter. She felt a sense of spontaneity, a trust and a caring. It filled her heart with warmth, a feeling that she had not experienced in quite some time.
As the morning unfolded the theme embraced her present experience--struggling to keep her faith in the midst of a storm. The presentation and liturgy gave her hope. Looking around the sanctuary at the scene of nature’s winter, the banners, the candles, and the welcoming ambiance, she felt connected to something beyond the present space. There was a palpable aliveness, a vital force…how do they keep this spirit alive she thought? Her question was answered as she read the insert about what the congregation valued. Is this how the church thrives? The values certainly said something about this faith community. For the first time in a long time she began to relax and simply allow herself to be in the presence of mystery, of God, of a community.
“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” - John F. Kennedy
Much to her amazement, here she was again, moving slowly toward the front steps of St. David’s. As usual, the week passed far too quickly yet what made the past week different from other weeks was an inner peace that stayed with her long after she left the last week’s service. She liked the feeling and it was this feeling that tugged at her and drew her back this morning despite the cold and snow. If she was being truly honest with herself she had to admit that she had been quite intrigued by the myriad of ways that people at St. David’s valued their faith community. She smiled to herself as she thought about all the questions that occupied her the past week that were inspired by what felt like a short hour at St. David’s. She wondered how the synchronicity of her thoughts might be a part of the reflection this week!
She made her way into the Sanctuary and looked up to see a sign that hung between the two entrance pillars…”Diversity”. “Ah, another value perhaps”, she thought. Does this mean spiritual diversity? She took her seat and thought about diversity as she perused the worship folder. Wow, the guest speaker was talking about the spirituality of Islam, Emine is her name. Emine was born in Turkey and moved to Canada when she was about four years old. This is indeed a treat and a surprise: to be sitting in a Christian community and experiencing how it embraces people of other faiths is simply amazing. Is this a community that makes space for others to express their spiritual understanding and support everyone in their faith? Perhaps in making space for others we create more space for ourselves? Is this the meaning of community – a place in which respect, tolerance, and understanding thrive?
When she arrived home from her time at St. David’s she felt stillness settle within her. She thought about her experience most of that day, the significance of what she felt, heard and saw, and the life-giving moment of taking communion and sharing such a grace with others. She wondered if she could become a part of this community and would she be able to feel a genuine feeling of unity with others…especially strangers! It had been such a long time since she had been with a group of people in which respect and care and openness grew out of a shared experience. She knew that in those moments in her life in which she felt loved, understood and valued that her heart expanded and her humanity intensified.
She thought of community. Community within the neighborhood …within Alberta…within Canada…within the world. She wondered if she really understood what community meant or if perhaps she had been influenced all of her life by singularity and a certain way of being and believing. Perhaps it was time to question some of her beliefs… to open her heart so she can experience the world and herself from a different perspective. Perhaps St. David’s will be the community in which she will find the space and place and the freedom to question, explore and connect ... a place in which her heart would expand, her compassion grow, and her gratitude and generosity flourish … perhaps ...
Another week passed. She sat in her car on a traffic congested Friday afternoon looking forward to getting home, where she could light a candle and just be…still. She reflected on her week and breathed a long exhausted sigh. She thought about what she might do over the weekend…a long walk, some quiet reflection…then the thought of going to St. David’s came to mind, once again she was curious to see what a visit might bring this Sunday. She reflected on her last experience at St. David’s and on the value of diversity as presented beautifully throughout the worship experience. She thought about this new faith community she had discovered and while this would only be her third visit she wondered that if she stayed how she might be involved …or not. What would she contribute? How could she make a difference? She was humbled as she realized, she could possibly do more. But what? St. David’s was still so unfamiliar and she was still searching and seeking.
When she arrived at St. David’s on Sunday morning, the minister had recognized her. She was warmed by the sincere smile of welcome and the glint of light in the minister’s eyes. In that moment her heart filled with gratitude and felt a strong sense of belonging. There was no question. She knew she was going to be a part of this community. It seemed that, effortlessly, this community and experience was filling her with a feeling of family and security. Her heart was full with the desire to reciprocate.
She made her way closer to the front of the church, not feeling so intimidated this time. In this gentle ambiance she observed her breath in peace and contentment. She marveled at her surroundings, the cleanliness, the music, the soft lighting...the graceful work of the volunteers helping to coordinate a loving space and service. She now noticed the careful planning, the small perhaps unnoticed skills to bring this all together.
She perused through her worship folder and saw the programs offered to all its members, bible study, brain gym, pastoral care, children's programs, youth programs...how does a church support all this great programming? Is this government funded? Does our tax dollars support our local churches and all of these services? Inside of the folder was a diagram of steps...each step signifying the amount of dollars donated by members of congregation. She studied the diagram. Ah? So the programming or budget is supported by the members of this congregation, not an outside source.
She knew that the congregation was seeking to be rid of its deficit and this step diagram was rather revealing about why there was a deficit. It seemed odd to her to look at the givings of the first few steps and wondered how these reflected the way members valued this congregation because they seem to truly value their faith family according to the values shown some Sundays ago. These steps show how the church sustains itself. She felt humbled once again as she looked deeper at the step diagram, the church really does offer much for those who are seeking and searching but many people, including her, don’t express their appreciation for its spiritual guidance through financial support. This thought really hit home for her because she never has been very good at expressing gratitude with money or perhaps to be more truthful never quite considered the importance of such visible expression of thanksgiving. All of the years she had had attended some spiritual place she had not supported them financially. This was a wake-up call for her heart indeed. “An average donation of $22.00 per week will support local operating costs.” Wow that is quite doable she thought.
As the minister made her way to the front of the church, she continued to flip through the worship folder. Interesting and thought provoking messages once again...”We are whole, free, and unlimited Potential,” a simple set of words…she held them close to her heart in the silence of the church and felt empowered by this phrase. I have unlimited potential within my heart to help this church financially and expressing my gratitude will make whole my heart and free my spirit. She smiled. What a great day this has been.
On her drive home she had come to realize that the church in her community needed her support. How little thought she gave to the importance of her local church and what impact it has in the community. As small as it might be she could make a difference. She thought of ways that she could manage $20.00 a Sunday…or just be part of the steps and commit to one step up…how important was her two Starbuck’s a day, her bag of chips…there are ways, she thought………there are ways.
As she sat quietly in the pew listening to the quiet conversations, the organ music, the peals of soft laughter, and watched the heads together sharing information or greeting, her thoughts wandered gently over the past week’s activities since the last time she sat in this sacred space.
It felt as if the spirituality of the congregation was seeping into her being, weaving its way into her heart and thoughts as the sun slowly spreads its awakening light through the early morning skies. Since her short time spent at St. David’s she has learned much about the value of diversity, the spiritual integrity of other faith, the power of community, and the struggle around how one expresses her appreciation toward a community that offers so much to one’s heart and spirit.
This week she had attended a number of workshops required by the not-for -profit organization she has worked with for the past five years. Her organization is not significantly different from the church as it too depends on the compassion and charitable hearts of the people of Calgary and Alberta. One workshop in particular fascinated her as it offered quite an interested observation of how the various generations support charities and how they interrelate financially to the world in which they live. She learned that Civics (people born 1945 and earlier) “support a wider variety of causes than younger generations and that Civics actually give more money than other generations; however, their population is dwindling and their income is holding steady.”
The five million Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are the number largest donor group and the largest contributors. “They will exert an outsize influence on charitable giving for the foreseeable future, but Generation X (born 1965-1980) is quickly catching up and the generation to watch in the present time.”
“Generation Y (Born 1981-1995) and X are far more likely to give online. Generation Y donors have distinct priorities and preferences with regard to causes they support. Notably, they are far more likely to demand accountability and transparency than older donors.”
Younger donors want to know how their money is making a difference. “Nearly 55 percent of Generation Y and 44 percent of Generation X say the ability to see directly the impact of their donation would have a significant bearing on their decision to give.”
Well, there was a lot of information at the workshop and this gave her pause. She wondered if St. David’s understood the donating practices of the generations. Perhaps this knowledge would help them discern more clearly how to tap into these resources in effective ways. Well, time will tell, perhaps. As a baby boomer it was important for her to give, and with each passing Sunday she was beginning to acknowledge the pull in her to give, to give as an expression of her gratitude and her appreciation for what the church offers, and a manifestation of God love living through her. How delighted she felt in her commitment to get on that first step of giving and make the promise to give $22.00 a week. She knew that putting it into her budget was a small step. She hoped that in her doing this it would energetically spread out to everyone…to take one small step up!
As a silence fell upon the congregation, and the minister’s words “Namaste” the divine within me greets the divine within you, she quietly gave thanks for the divine in her, recognized by others, and affirmed for herself. . .She was looking forward to hearing about the Bahai faith and how it would speak to her awakening heart ...
There is an alarming and unfortunate truth…one that people might not believe! That truth: we do not genuinely honor what we understand to be the most valuable things in our life: family, friends, health, creation, kind-heartedness, and goodness. We come recognize what is truly important in life only when those things are lost to us.
Sitting in the middle of the busyness of Chinook Mall, sipping her tea, she fell into a silent space within her mind and reflected on her surroundings. Families gathered here, in this shrine of conspicuous consumption…purchasing, spending, buying “things” that she thought had no significance to real happiness and fulfillment. Just across from where she was sitting was a Starbuck’s. People of all nationalities and ages lined up at the entrance for their daily dose of what they thought they needed…right now. As she watched the rush, the serious faces, the anxious children she felt sad because it seemed to her that people have lost touch, lost touch with what is really important in life. People seem discontent, impatient, and have become blatantly obsessed with consuming.
May be this is so because people are seeking to fill an emptiness that exists inside. So we buy stuff that we think will make us content and at peace, trying to fill a void that can never be filled with material things. Many, not even realizing that there is a void. We have become influenced by advertisers, marketers and media telling us that we “have to have” in order to be safe or happy. |Going to the mall had become people’s weekend worship ritual. She focused on the faces that passed by her and realized that she was no different, she too had her own attachments and as the minister said last week, too easily tempted by the attractions of the exterior world.
What was her priority in her life? The answer came quick to her mind…”to embody all that Jesus came to teach of course,” but, when a thought comes that quickly, perhaps a deeper one should follow. Perhaps she was not in integrity to the words that came easy. Maybe her commitment was not a commitment, but rather just a bunch of words that fell easily from her lips. It was true, she was no different. This realization immersed her in deep thought all day.
When she arrived at St. David’s on Sunday morning, there was a larger than usual booth set up in the foyer. It was the Stewardship Ad Hoc committee bringing awareness to everyone… a request for a small increase in their giving…small yet significant in the future of St. David’s. Instantly her mind was drawn back at the Mall, to the shopping bags filled with stuff that in a short time would disintegrate into nothing or thrown into large heaps of garbage or end up on a table at a garage sale. There was no lasting meaning in those things, yet we place such value on them. We value them more than we value the true nature of who we are, what brings us peace and the connection with something far more lasting than a plastic bag full of stuff. She increased her PAR that day by $10.00. Perhaps she wasn’t going to buy that sweater she longed for with great admiration…a sweater that would hang in her closet two years from now, probably worn once or twice.
In the quiet of the sanctuary and in the stillness of her heart, she knew deep down that she did not after all long for material gratification. She longed for meaningful conversations, loving presence, life enriching experiences, caring relationships; connections that value her and that she valued. As each Sunday passed she felt that this community was becoming a valued value…and her heart rested in serenity.
She held her head in her hand, leaning lazily on her desk, taking a moment. It was past five and everyone had gone home for the day. She heard the hum of the computers, the only sound left, a sound that reminded her she was alone for the first time in a long time, or so
it seemed. She felt an emptiness…something missing. Work had control of her life once again, and her heart, as crazy as it seemed, it felt sad or empty, just out of touch with her spirit, her sense of calm, that precious space within her that remained silent in spite of the noise of the world. Where did that space go? Nowhere…she knew it is always there, but she felt she wasn’t present and was far away from the center of her own being. In this thought in this single moment, she was opening again to the familiar feeling of inner stillness within her…ah yes, it IS always there and how easily assessable when we stop for a moment and distract from the external madness! In her busyness she had unconsciously pushed away and put aside everything that nurtured her inner stillness and peace. She didn’t take time to be alone, to breathe, or to walk in nature. Neither had she taken time on Sunday to attend St. David’s. In not taking the time and space to “be” she felt a growing negativity and disquiet. She was impatient, and quick to judge. She had immersed herself in her work with deadlines, unconsciously putting the value of what supported her inner peace aside.
This Sunday she would go to church to ground herself…
Walking into the church was like meeting a long lost friend. She entered the small kitchen and heard the laughter of the coffee volunteers and upon entering the doorway the ladies turned their attention toward her and greeted her with a warm hello. She was taken
in by the enthusiasm of these volunteers and their commitment to be there to serve.
Her heart lightened and she had to turn away for a moment to wipe away a small tear that moved up from her heart. What joy she felt! Although the work of these hands might have appeared small, it left a lasting impression, a stamp on her heart that would always be there. A small but loving effort these volunteers spread throughout this community. This love is what makes this community work. There is heart here.
She looked around the TM room and saw the balloons and cake celebrating these volunteers…ah yes, it was volunteer appreciation week. People started to greet her now…she was becoming a member of this community. Her heart was expanding again as it always did when she was part of this community of care and acceptance...expanded enough that she couldn’t help but want to share and to give. So that is what happens with volunteers! They are full of insight and the knowledge that God’s love is not only about looking after one’s own life but the lives of others. They are aware enough to raise their hands and say yes! Is this the embodiment of holiness, of Jesus’ way, of God’s spirit moving in, through and around?
And to end this renewing and refreshing hour Rev Peggy’s sermon was on Holiness…to quote…”When we can acknowledge that the deepest me is God and therefore holy, then what comes out of us is that of God and our actions reflect what we perceive to be holy actions of God; compassion, love, kindness, good works, acceptance and tolerance.” The message had reminded her of something that she had read, perhaps in one of the bulletins…deepening and growing our spiritual lives…this congregation was doing just that…they were indeed! And, with a quiet knowing smile, she knew that her own spiritual life was growing and deepening as well.