This Sunday, March 18th, we will be gathering at Jocelyn & Randy Philbrook’s home for a fun family night. RSVP HERE! Jocelyn has offered a beautiful testimonial about her experience with faith and community at St. John’s. Please read, enjoy, and join us for family night!
Faith and Community
Here’s my truth: my faith is a journey and I didn’t always know that. I thought the words said every Sunday about being welcome at God’s table no matter where you are on your journey of faith was something said to make visitors feel welcome. It didn’t apply to me. After all, I was married at St. John’s in 2002. This was my church, and I had a routine of attending service on what seemed like the “right” dates. It fit nicely on my 20-something and then 30-something schedule. My faith wasn’t a journey. I was secure with its position in my life.
My older wiser self looks back and smiles. For many years, St. John’s has been a foundation for my faith. Nurturing and giving me strength without judgement. I was always welcomed with the same warm response regardless of if I had been to service last week or six weeks ago. Rob always answered my calls or emails with the same interest and optimism. On September 11th, it gave me peace. When Randy and I struggled to have children, it offered me hope. I even felt comfortable asking Rob for guidance on big issues of faith – like Christian guilt over Jewish persecution. (Yes… I really did.) For me, then and now, I walk in the doors at St. John’s and I can feel God’s love. It is my refuge from the world.
When I was blessed with my daughter not only was I secure in my faith, but also with my place in the greater community of Portsmouth. Looking back, I was really much more like a tourist than a resident of either. I knew the best spots for coffee, but I probably didn’t know anyone inside the shop. I traveled a lot for work. My business was primarily in Virginia and Ohio. My family lives in Maine and my friends lived all over. I didn’t appreciate why being a participant in community matters.
If I fast-forward to today, I can honestly say motherhood has taught me that everything I thought I understood about faith and community was naïve, to be kind. My three little ones are the biggest blessings of my life, but they have also challenged me in unexpected ways. Yes, there are all those normal parent worries about development milestones, tantrums and potty training, but there is also something else: judgement and self-doubt. God entrusted these three precious souls to me to nurture and love. It is the most important thing I’ll ever do and I pray that I don’t mess it up.
If self-doubt isn’t enough, there are plenty of parents (and non-parents) that have helpful suggestions about what you could do better. “Really the only way Connor is ever going to attend college is if he is fully potty-trained by three. Amelia should actually have an after-school activity every night to reach her full potential. Henley will never sleep through the night if I don’t sleep train him now. I really should spend more time in the office. My kids are only little once, I should spend less time in the office. My favorite … my marriage will most definitely dissolve if we don’t leave the kids and vacation away without them.”
While I certainly appreciate all parenting advice, it can be quite unnerving. The judgements have a way of setting my mind on a continuous cycle of noise. What parent wouldn’t do anything possible to offer their children the best possible outcome? With all that noise, it can be difficult to listen for God, but this is where community and St. John’s becomes so important for me.
St. John’s has offered me the ability to meet and connect with families similar to ours … without judgement. Dealing with a two-year old strong-willed moment? Internally struggling with leaving your baby in the nursery or bringing them to into the service? Arrive an hour late to a family function because who knows what happened? You’ll find someone that’s been in those shoes and will confirm that you’re not alone.
The culture is refreshing and something that shines such a positive light on our week. My children love the family events to a point that Amelia starts reminding us what time we need to leave several hours before. My husband grew up in a different branch of Christianity and is constantly amazed because he came from a background where the church was generally the first to judge.
It is great that this incredible community is together, but it does something else … it gives me the space to listen for God. When the noise of the outside world disappears, that is when I can listen to, and focus on what matters most. The world today can be confusing and harsh. Having a community that rejoices in God’s love and supports everyone regardless of where they are on their journey tops the list of offerings I could give to my children.
Now more than ever, I want my children to know how they fit into our community. I want them to understand God’s love and their ability to improve the world. St. John’s provides the space for all of us to grow and be connected in ways that seem to continually expand.