saint ben’s member Jodi McLaren looks back on the church that formed her, and offers both thanks and a bit of an invitation to the rest of us to watch our assumptions.
he other day during our discussions at one of the saint benedict’s table book breakfasts, someone mentioned something about the United Church. Once again – as I’d seen before – I noticed a rolling of the eyes and an attitude of…of what? It seems in some areas of the theological world, the United Church is synonymous with bubble gum, drama class, sherbet – not real religion.
But as I sit through sermons with anecdotes in my Anglican church, my United upbringing has many similarities. I too praised the Jesus of the felt board. I too memorized Bible verses for each Sunday. I too gathered with other children to sing kiddie hymns and then split to our age groups behind partitions. I attended Explorers and CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training). I sang in youth, teen and adult choirs, gaining more confidence with every solo in front of that delighted gathering. That confidence would come in handy as an adult running my own business, and has truly increased the quality of my life.
I taught Sunday School with the sweetest little kindergarten kids in the world. I was baptized around the age of seven, and then confirmed as a teenager. I spent several years in Youth Group with caring adults who knew what teenagers needed to do, and who talked with us and gave us a place to belong.
My Mom worked as church secretary and lunch cook for the day care, and went on to become Lay Assistant for several years. She is still active in my childhood church, and along with both my Mom and my brother I recently returned to sing as part of a “past and present choir member” celebration for Windsor Park United Church’s 50th Anniversary.
Later, there was a Mom and Tots group once a week where the United Church Women (saints in my eyes) would care for the pre-school aged children giving the moms a much needed break once a week. Community, outreach, belonging.
I listen now to the pain and dissatisfaction of other’s faith backgrounds and I am grateful for being raised in a church that, while pointing out the 10 commandments, didn’t make me feel like I needed to flagellate myself for every sin committed – just ask forgiveness and believe. That is just as we are instructed today; and most of us are still struggling to accept that message. I don’t think my moral compass suffered; it wasn’t an “I can get away with it because I am United”, but a case of “I will be forgiven if I ask because God loves me”.
I don’t have a political bone in my body, and maybe that’s where the eye rolling comes in, but I feel good about the United Church being inclusive. Does saint ben’s not strive to be a place where the broken and humble can sit among the complete and faithful? What did Jesus do?
My gratitude is huge for having a faith background that leaves me scar less and free to pursue my own faith story, and to take in other denominations without fear or pre-determined judgment. Let me tell you, my faith is strong and I was raised United!
So next time you feel the need to criticize the United Church with an action or word, perhaps take a minute to remember that someone in the group may be proud of their United Church background and no matter what our religious upbringing, today we are together at saint ben’s!