August 23, 2006
Growing up, my family wasn't religious in the traditional sense of the word. Although I was forced to attend not only Sunday School but a Lutheran elementary school, too, I now believe my mother was overcompensating to make up for her very real reservations about the church.
It wasn't until I got older and was in confirmation class that my mother felt free to discuss her feelings candidly. Turns out she thought organized religion was a farce, congregations comprised of hypocrites who cared more about money and social status than showing any signs of true compassion or Christian behavior.
Nevertheless, my minister was a true source of inspiration for me and instilled in me a deep-rooted faith despite my mother's misgivings.
Then came college and like so many young people, I fell out of the proverbial flock, preferring to spend my Sunday mornings nursing hangovers rather than singing my heart out over a hymnal.
And so it went, until I met my future husband and, after some serious badgering from my mother-in-law (she once even left a "Converting to Catholicism" brochure under my pillow!), agreed to not only marry in the Catholic church but to raise my son in the same religion.
In my defense, I gave it my best shot but never felt the same sense of comfort and belonging I'd known in the church of my childhood.
Until we moved to the East End and a good friend brought me to a Protestant church where, for the first time in decades, I felt I'd found my spiritual home.
At the heart of this, of course, was the minister whose sermons warmed a place in my heart that had long been cold, brought tears to eyes long dry with cynicism.
My minister, with his rich, deep voice, spoke a language I had thought I'd never hear again. A language made up of words such as love, caring, compassion and forgiveness. Churches are like hospitals, he said, where the broken congregate to heal, where it is okay to admit we are patients in pain and in need of solace and nurturing.
My minister was the only one who showed up every single day that my son was hospitalized after being diagnosed for the first time with Type 1 juvenile diabetes. I called the church in a panic before seven in the morning, after Billy had told me, sobbing, that surely God hated him and that's why He'd made him different from the other kids.
My minister was there before nine — he must have gotten in the car only seconds after receiving the message — bringing with him Charlie Brown DVDs and prayer and giving my little boy back his faith.
It is a bond that's deepened over the years, with a friendship that extended beyond the bounds of duty — such as when he showed up to help set up the volleyball net at Billy's last birthday party on the beach — and culminating this year when my son was confirmed.
And so it was with shock that I read a letter I received last week announcing that our beloved minister was resigning. The reasons themselves are unimportant, except for the fact that he left with a heavy heart over an internal church political situation.
The bottom line is that my minister is gone on a leave of absence. I never got to say good-bye. Neither did my son.
We can only hope that he returns soon, so we can embrace him and welcome him home.
All too often, I think we forget that our spiritual leaders are still people. Men and women, just like us, with hearts that can be broken and sorrows too heavy to bear alone. And yet, they pick a career geared toward fighting against the modern tide of cynicism. They recognize a human race intent upon self-destruction and yet, choose to campaign for life and love and forgiveness.
Not an easy gig. But thank God they go for it.
I guess this is an open letter of thanks. I can only hope that somehow, my minister gets the chance to read this and knows how much he has touched my life and that of my son. He has given me back my faith forever. And for that, I will be forever in his debt.