Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor
How time flies… I think about my girls and their friends, and about all the young people of St. Paul’s. And I am amazed at how much they have moved beyond their former selves, heading into new grades and new schools, starting college, graduating, and forging their way in new careers, new relationships, new lives, all the while growing into the beautiful people they are becoming. It is exciting to witness, indeed an honor and a privilege, even if it evokes a certain amount of wistful nostalgia. (OK, I know “wistful nostalgia” may be a bit redundant, but I like it.)
It only seems fair that the young people grow and change. Life happens to and with and for us all, for better… and for worse, too, I suppose. Working on the new church picture directory over the Summer has been a fascinating experience of looking back at the last one published in 2006 while at the same time having the opportunity to see advance copies of the awesome latest edition. Even as I celebrate the sheer multi-faceted beauty of who we are now as a congregation, I remember how and who we were back then as well, including those whose pictures, for whatever reasons, don’t appear in the current version. And I feel genuine fondness for all.
Since that 2006 directory was published, so much else has changed. At that time we were just barely thinking about wading into conversations about possibly becoming an Open and Affirming Congregation, maybe. With a mix of determination and trepidation, we were contemplating the process of study that would help us make our decision. And, unbelievably, it’s now been ten years since we endorsed our Open and Affirming declaration. Wow, how that changed us, how that radically expanded our welcome and helped us appreciate the blessings of coming together across sometimes seemingly vast differences that, despite our initial worries, can never obscure all that we hold in common and all that brings us together still.
Not only has becoming Open and Affirming changed who we are, it has shaped what we do. For example, as an Open and Affirming congregation we have helped create and continue to host a flourishing PFLAG Chapter in our midst and, in collaboration with PFLAG, we have been host to hugely successful community meetings and events, and to lovely annual Valentine’s dances, and to a drag show that packed Fellowship Hall with enthusiastic guests. We have created First Fridays that is thriving as a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer young people. And, with the dawning of Marriage Equality, we have held joy-filled and long-awaited same-gender weddings in our Sanctuary. Throughout, St. Paul’s has been overwhelmingly blessed, enriched, and strengthened by the myriad contributions made by wonderful, talented, committed people who might never have crossed the church threshold if not for the courage and wisdom to live up to and live into the ONA declaration. We are immeasurably better for becoming Open and Affirming, and for living beyond that, for really meaning it when we say “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!”
We have not stopped expanding our welcome and vigorously engaging in all sorts of work in pursuit of authentic social justice and extravagant inclusion. Yet, as much as the world has changed in the past ten or twelve years, I find it rather remarkable that we are still the only Open and Affirming Christian congregation in Carroll County. May there soon be others, who finally discover the love at the heart of the Christian message, get past misinformed and misplaced obstacles, and simply get on with it.
Of course there is so much more for us to do, and we shall continue to boldly engage in the work that lies ahead. Yet for this moment, we will pause to mark this very special occasion, to celebrate this Tenth Anniversary, and to look forward to the next ten years with hope and renewed zeal.
In the meanwhile, we will, with similar fortitude and dedication, take on the next parallel but unrelated process: becoming a WISE Congregation (Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged with Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, and Brain Disorders). We will do this so that we can be better prepared to extend welcome and love in even more ways to even more people. Becoming WISE will be the major theme of this church year, and the work begins with the recognition that there is a whole group of people who do not yet feel like there is a church home for them. We will become that church home and more.
In all of this, all of us together are making a difference in people’s lives and in the world, and we are doing so in the footsteps of Jesus, who calls us still to share God’s love with every person everywhere. May it be so. And may God be with us on this next phase of our congregational journey.