If you know me you know it was only a matter of time before I dedicated a blog post to my church, because again, if you know me at all, you know how much space Aldersgate takes up in my heart. This post would easily become a book if I sat here and wrote all of the words I wanted to write about Aldersgate, but even if I did that, I wouldn’t be satisfied with the post – after all, how do you put into words something that has shaped who you’ve become over the course of 22 years? You can’t. You just pray that your actions express that gratitude & that you live in a way that’s good enough to be a testament to how much it truly influenced you for the better.
In two weeks, I’ll be moving to North Carolina to begin seminary at Duke. Preparing for this next chapter of my life has led me to do a lot of reflecting, specifically, reflecting on all of the places, people, & steps that have gotten me here, to being an almost 1st year seminary student. This Sunday will be my last Sunday worshiping at Aldersgate before I leave for the semester – since I know I’ll be back to visit, when I think about this being my last Sunday there for a while, I’m not sad because I’m leaving; I’m grateful because I can’t imagine I would be going to seminary if it weren’t for Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
I’ve been going to Aldersgate my whole life. 22 years I’ve called this church home. I was born and baptized in Maryland and my family moved to Virginia shortly after – my parents tell me they visited Aldersgate and never looked anywhere else after that. My sister and I were raised going to this church. We started out in the church nursery, went onto children’s church and Sunday School. As kids we’d always spend one week of each summer at VBS, & as we both got old enough, we joined the youth group. Throughout my time as a youth, Aldersgate was the place I got to explore different areas of the church – from instrumental ensemble, to youth praise band, leading Youth Bible study, volunteering in VBS, mission trips & youth retreats, and participating in Youth Sunday’s. In college I saw a whole other side of ministry as co-lay leader for 5 months, and guest preacher from time to time. Aldersgate is where the seed was both planted and watered in terms of my interest & passion for the pastoral side of ministry.
But before any of that, my faith in our God – which has become the foundation of my life – was explored, nurtured, & deepened there. It’s where I learned, with the help of my wonderful parents, more about who this person Jesus was & is. It’s where I was surrounded by a community of believers who taught me about him & showed me him as best they could. It’s where I’ve been allowed to ask hard (& stupid) questions. It’s where I’ve wrestled with my faith & wrestled with the ugly & beautiful sides of ministry. So much of what I know about myself, about ministry, about people, & about God, comes from what I’ve learned through the people, the small groups, the sermons, the worship, the meetings, the interviews, & workshops here with these people.
This church has been the location at which so many important & transformative moments & experiences have occurred. I was confirmed there, preached my very first sermon there, heard my call to ministry there. I was admitted into the candidacy process right there in room 208, and I was certified there, also in room 208. Aldersgate is where I’ve preached ten times now because I’ve had pastors who have believed in me and my call before and after I believed in it myself, pastors who trusted me with the leadership responsibility of taking their place for a Sunday, and because I’ve had a church family who always graciously welcome me back time & time again to live out my call.
Aldersgate has been my place of refuge – a place I’ve retreated to during the worst & best of times; when we lost my grandma unexpectedly to an aneurysm, when we lost my grandfather to heart failure, when I’ve come out of difficult doctors appointments, when I began recovery, when I was rejected from my top choice college, when I transferred college’s and didn’t know where I was supposed to go next. When I’ve needed a place to process anger, fear, sadness, pain, even unspeakable joy – sitting in Aldersgate’s sanctuary for numerous collective hours listening for God and praying to him have been some of the most peaceful & most transformative moments of my life. Even the office in our church that’s reserved for the pastor has been a safe place in which I’ve had some of the most meaningful conversations, tough conversations, funny conversations, painful conversations, all with people I’ve had the complete privilege of calling “my pastor” at Aldersgate through the years.
Aldersgate you’ve watched me grow up – from being a baby in the church nursery, to preaching in the pulpit, to going off to seminary. Throughout these past 22 years, you’ve become my family, and I feel like that saying is loosely used a lot, but you are 100% my family. And as a family, we’ve been through a lot together. We’ve faced significant losses in our church family and in our own families, and we’ve grieved them together. We’ve been through unexpected & difficult pastoral transitions together. We’ve worshiped together through heavy & dark circumstances, such as the weekend when all of the horrible events in downtown Charlottesville happened, right in our home city. We’ve come together as a team to clean up our church after it was broken into and vandalized. We’ve laughed with (& at) one another, we’ve hit significant milestones with one another, we’ve disagreed with one another, we’ve forgiven one another, we’ve done ministry with one another, we’ve learned from one another, & we’ve grown together. Aldersgate is not perfect, no church is – our church has flaws because people have flaws, and the Church is made up of those people. But we do our best, we remain in love with God, and we remain in support of each other, as brothers & sisters in Christ.
Aldersgate, so much of who I am I owe to you & the ways in which God worked through you to nurture & grow me. I’m still not sure why God thought I deserved an Aldersgate Church in my life, but I’ll always be grateful that he did because I can’t imagine my life without that giant pretty church behind the mall.
As I wrap up this post, what comes to mind are the baptismal statements found in the United Methodist Book of Worship, specifically the words that the congregation reads as the individual is being baptized:
“With God’s help, we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround her with a community of love and forgiveness, that she may grow in her trust of God and be found faithful in her service to others. We will pray for her, that she may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.”
You have – you’ve proclaimed the good news, you’ve surrounded me with love & forgiveness, & you’ve prayed for me, you’ve believed in me, you’ve encouraged me. For all of that and so much more, thank you. I love you, you are forever my family & my home. I’ll see ya’ later.
An additional note:
I am so lucky to have had not 1 but 3 churches impact my life for the better over the course of my 4 years in college. Heritage United Methodist Church in Lynchburg & Asbury United Methodist Church in Harrisonburg were my 2 churches that I got to call home during my time at LU (Heritage), & JMU (Asbury). Both of these churches have played big roles in my call & life, as have the pastors, & I am forever grateful & better because of their witness & presence in my life. Undergrad was quite a journey – a journey on which I knew and God knew I needed strong faith communities, and I can’t believe what a blessing it was to stumble upon these 2 churches in the college towns I found myself in. I didn’t think I’d be that quick to find church homes in both towns, but I did almost immediately, and these were them. All 3 of these churches I’ve mentioned today have helped me get to where I am, and I cannot relay to whoever’s reading this post how much love I have for Heritage, Asbury, & Aldersgate. If you’re ever in the area of any of these churches, check them out. You won’t regret it – you’ll be welcomed by the kindest people, you’ll witness breathtakingly beautiful sanctuaries, you are sure to encounter God at work, & you will get to know the warmest, loveliest communities of faith who will make you laugh & smile a whole lot.