What Being a Member of Redeemer Means to Me
November 18, 2012
A few months ago, Kate and I had a conversation in which I expressed some thoughts about what it means to me to be a member of Redeemer, and Kate offered that this topic might be worth preaching on some time. So here I am.
But me being up here is not quite that simple. For the friends and family who have known me the longest, the idea that I would be an active congregant at a church, let alone preaching a sermon, doesn’t square easily with the George they have known. For while I had a church-going, Episcopalian upbringing, once I was confirmed, I had in essence fulfilled my familial requirement, and seeing no strong reason to continue attending church, I stopped going. I guess you could call it the “13 and out” program.
As a young adult, I had the sense that religion wasn’t all that important in my life. I was busy with the business of life, establishing myself in my career, my friends, family and ultimately marriage.
Years later, in the aftermath of a divorce and despite success in my career and in my community – what one might call being “established” – I nonetheless began to feel that there was something more, something I was missing.
In a moment of sublime serendipity, I met my wife Beth on an airplane 8 years ago. As we started seeing and getting to know one another, we discussed faith and its place in our lives (or lack of place in my case), and it became clear that faith was and is central in Beth’s life. Through those conversations, I began slowly to shed the armor of cynical agnosticism I had accumulated. She invited me to worship with her at a small Church of Our Savior congregation in Washington that she had been attending, where a half dozen or so people would gather together to pray, have a simple communion, and share their stories and experiences of God’s presence. The group, many of whom had endured major life struggles, including poverty, racism, substance abuse and jail, met in the daycare room of a subsidized housing high-rise. I struggled to reconcile the experience of worshipping with this group with my own ambivalence about faith, but I could not help but be moved by the stories I heard and the testimony to God’s presence and impact in their lives, and the thankfulness to God from people whose lives had been and still were very hard, much harder than anything I had experienced.
I also felt genuinely welcomed by this group, and beyond that, that I was worthy, worthy to share in worship as part of this group, regardless of who I was, what I believed or how little I had in common with the people in the room. Those Thursday night worship sessions became a much-anticipated high point of my week. How could I continue to ignore God’s presence in the face of this?
So this leads me to what I really want to talk about with you today. My subject boils down to what being a member of the Redeemer community means to me.
We tend as individuals to belong to a number of groups, organizations and clubs. I know I do. I have a wallet stuffed with membership cards, and a desk drawer full of ones that don’t fit in my wallet. Some memberships are formal – the sailing club we belong to in Maine, for example, or museum memberships. Joining takes an active step of signing up and paying dues, and once you have done that, you can take advantage of what they have to offer. Some are informal, like social groups, a book club or a group of parents supporting a child’s activities. Membership in these is often loosely defined by who takes part and participates. Some you almost cannot escape, like ones associated with your heritage or your family – you are now and will forever be part of such groups in some way, no matter what, and you contribute what you can or want to – you won’t be kicked out of the family for not helping with the Thanksgiving dishes…although you’ll probably be talked about!
Membership in our church is different from all of these. Unlike a formal group, there is no membership application to fill out or dues to pay, and unlike an informal group, Redeemer is always here and not just an impermanent collection of people united by an issue or interest that may not endure. While in many ways, our Redeemer community feels like a family to us, it is a family we elect to join – we didn’t have to be born or adopted into it. It is our choice.
Being part of our Redeemer community is also different in what this community offers and requires of us. Redeemer offers us a physical and spiritual home for us to worship together, to share communion and community with one another, find support for the challenges we are facing, where we can grow in our understanding and faith, where our children can learn and grow in their own faith journeys. Redeemer also provides us a springboard through our Mission work to become engaged more deeply in sharing our gifts and helping others. In essence, Redeemer offers us a spiritual home where we are fed and where we feed, a place where we are accepted and welcome without qualification.
What Redeemer requires of us is our commitment. That commitment is of course in part financial, and the commitment we make through our pledges is vital, and it is what sustains this church financially. But that is only one piece of the commitment. The other is the giving of our time and talent to support the many and varied activities, initiatives and ministries we collectively chose to pursue. We are fortunate to have such a vital and active congregation, with passion, energy and commitment to do so much, whether in governance groups, such as Vestry or the Property Committee, in church programs like Youth Formation or the Choir, or in our Mission work, like cooking for Bristol Lodge or our work with El Hogar. Some are small, others larger; some are occasional, some ongoing; others take some degree of expertise, but most really just take time and commitment. We are blessed with many able and engaged lay volunteers, and we could always use more! As much as our pledging supports Redeemer financially, we also rely heavily on our time and talent to sustain our community.
I’ll close by telling a story. Growing up, we lived on a street with lots of trees and a lot of leaves to rake in the fall, so many fall Saturdays involved family leaf-raking “parties.” Naturally, as a young boy, I would rather have been playing with my friends or riding my bike than raking leaves. I once I pointed this out to my mother, adding that some of my friends’ parents’ paid them for raking leaves. My mother, not one to mince words, clarified that I would indeed be spending the rest of the afternoon raking leaves, that this was part of what was expected of me as a member of our family, and that my hopes of financial reward were, unrealistic. However, she did offer, that beyond the joy of spending the afternoon in the company of my family, I would also enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the job done and knowing that I had played a key part in that accomplishment. I’m pretty sure that her argument did not convince me then, but as time has gone by, I’ve come to see her point. Among the greatest gifts that Redeemer offers us is the opportunity to play our part in sustaining this, our spiritual home. For me, that has been and continues to be a great joy and reward from being part of the Redeemer family, as I know it has been for so many others.
So I invite you to be open to the opportunity to give of your time and talents, whether on a Liturgy or Coffee Hour team, mowing the lawn, accepting the invitation to serve on Vestry or as a Youth Leader or in one of our Mission activities. In combination with our financial support, this is what sustains our Redeemer community. I hope you will be open also to the joy, satisfaction and deepened relationships that come as a result.