Yesterday I started field education. That’s an internship, so to speak, working at another church. I’ll gain valuable parish experience and perform new and familiar roles in a congregation that isn’t my home church.
The difficult part of this transition is that Chris and I spend every Sunday morning together, and we have so few chances to spend time in each other’s company, that I miss those mornings … even though we’ve only spent one Sunday apart. In addition, First Church in Ipswich is the longest I’ve ever been rooted in one faith community. We’ve belonged there for 18 years. To spend a schoolyear away from my own congregation, working elsewhere, feels as if the ground is shifting under my feet.
Yes, I know intellectually, that this stretching and moving away from what’s familiar and easy, is all necessary. To work and grow in this new vocation, I must step outside my comfort zone, which in this case is my own community.
It’s what I want. That’s what I tell myself, though I miss what I must give up to be there. Even after one morning away.
So yesterday I spent my first morning in a new congregation. Spent time with both pastors, who have already welcomed me onto their staff. Met some of the congregation’s compassionate and committed lay leaders and community members. Witnessed the youth of this church presenting their summer mission trip to Maryland.
It was all quite nice. Safe. Just not my own faith community.
Finally, at the end of yesterday’s worship service, a friend of mine appeared. I hadn’t expected to see her there. She belongs to this new church where I’m working (I didn’t realize it). One of the ministers is her daughter (I didn’t know that either).
This friend of mine used to be on staff at Winthrop Elementary years ago, where both Sarah and Jessie attended school. She was especially instrumental in Jessie’s successful interludes at school. We all shared an intense journey together each time Jessie made the re-entry to Winthrop classrooms and culture. Her office was often a retreat, when Jessie needed a safe sanctuary to collect herself. They developed a special friendship independent of my connection to this woman. She represents, even now, some of the most wonderful and tempestuous experiences in our long journey with childhood cancer.
So when she appeared unexpectedly in front of me, at the new church, we leaned across the pew and hugged each other. I think I yelped with happiness.
Then I burst into tears. Held onto her much longer than the embrace of friends exchanging greetings. Hung on as if she was holding me up.
I think a knot of emotions all rose to the surface. Every loss and transition I’ve experienced in the last few weeks and months. And maybe ever years.
So much has changed. So much has fallen away. Jessie is gone. Sarah is off at school. I’m starting college again. Chris and I are struggling to find times to maintain connection. And I’m spending a lot of time away from my entire community, including the church which sustained us through everything.
My friend received that grief with a hug. And then I was laughing, overjoyed that I know someone in this new place, this new congregation with whom I’ll sojourn for the next two semesters. Growing. Reaching outside myself for something more. Connecting with something greater. Trying to remain rooted in what continues to be important to me: family and community.
When my friend greeted me in that new house of worship, suddenly I felt as if this new church could also become home.
Can you be at home in two places? Or even more places? Of course you can.
I have many homes. My house on North Main street in Ipswich is intimately familiar, though rather empty now. Ipswich is where I feel connected. First Church’s congregation has been our extended family for years. Already the Harvard graduate school campus feels comfortable.
And now this new church? When I first sat through the worship service, it felt just a little off-kilter and strange. As if I was trying to transpose my former surroundings — the place and feelings of worship among old friends — onto a new and different congregation. Perhaps I was. I * want * to feel comfortable and connected there. But as we all know, as I must remind myself, that comes with time and experience.
Then my friend reached over the pew, and held onto me while I acknowledged everything I’d lost. And everything I’m trying to reclaim. Suddenly, it began to feel more like a new home. Another circle of belonging.