Looking Back and Moving Ahead
St. Paul has been a part of my life for almost my entire life. There was a brief period of time right after I was born that my family attended a different church, but I don’t remember any of it so I don’t think it counts. I grew up at St. Paul. I remember the old fellowship hall with the mural of Noah’s Ark on the back wall, I remember singing ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’ in the old kitchen, and I remember holding Pastor Henry’s hand while we prayed during Children’s Time before the sermon, and I remember when the addition was put in and how different everything seemed. I went through Sunday school and Godly Play and confirmation and then helped teach some of those same classes. I’ve helped set up and clean up after so many coffee hours that I don’t even want to think about trying to count them. And now I’m nearing the end of my stint as the parish administrator. I think the one thing I haven’t done here so far is preach a sermon. Needless to say, being a part of St. Paul has had a huge influence on who I have become as a person.
This is why it was so strange for me when I got to college at Texas A&M. Though I grew up and have been involved with a church my whole life, religious culture in Texas (and especially at A&M, which has been ranked as the most conservative college campus in the nation) is very different than it is in Massachusetts. One of the first girls I met there told me she wanted to be a missionary and go to India to spread the Gospel. I had never met anyone like that before. My roommate was nice enough but we had very different views on life and faith. She believed that unless you proclaimed aloud that Jesus is your Lord and savior, you would go to hell. My conception of the afterlife is much more nuanced. These two young women were not outliers. There were Bible study groups everywhere. One of the most popular weekly events on campus is a non-denominational worship service called Breakaway, held in our sports arena. Every week it is packed. And through all of this is an unspoken pressure to fit in.
I didn’t attend church weekly my freshman year, and that’s something I hope to change as I head into my sophomore year. Being in such a different religious culture shook me. At times I felt much more religious, and at times I questioned my ties to any sort of church at all. Everyone there seemed so sure of their faith and it was so different from mine (even though we believed in the same core stories and ideas) that I found myself thinking, “If this is what it means to be a Christian, I don’t want to be one.” I was going back and forth between two extremes, neither of which felt right to me. There are a few ELCA churches in College Station and I wish I had looked into them last year. My hope for this year is to find a middle ground at one of those churches- one where people are welcomed as they are. And if I can’t find that place, I’ll make it myself.
On another note, next week will be my last week here at St. Paul as Parish Admin. I'd like to thank everyone who has made my time here so meaningful and fun! Ross and Alissa keep asking me to drop out of college so I can keep working here, but unfortunately I would like to fulfill my higher education and get a degree, so I must leave.