Because I am a former English major and a current Library student, I’d like to start discussing my belonging and becoming at Wesley with a quote from Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the book we’ve been reading in grad bible study): “God’s Word is to be heard by everyone in his own way and according to the measure of his understanding. A child hears and learns the Bible for the first time in family worship; the adult Christian learns it repeatedly and better, and he will never finish acquiring knowledge of its study” (52).
It’s hard for me to tell you what Wesley has meant for me without providing you with some context. I grew up in the United Methodist church. When I was a child, I knew where I belonged and what my role was in church. My father served on the board of trustees, sang in church choir, and was essentially one of the church’s “go-to” people. My mother at one time or another served as choir director, children’s choir director, Sunday school teacher, vacation bible school coordinator…you get the idea. And I was the one who knew the rules, followed the rules, and reminded my younger brother of the rules. I believed in God the same way I believed in Santa Claus and Jesus Christ was the best imaginary friend ever.
Then adolescence hit. I discovered a passion for science, specifically marine biology, evolution, and anthropology. My scientific and questioning mind struggled to find balance with my Christian faith, which combined with an increasing frustration with the depiction of Christianity in the media and…I don’t know if you know this…but teenagers can be a bit rebellious, causing me to close the door. If people asked, I wouldn’t deny my Christianity, but I would say, “God and me, we’re not on speaking terms,” or, “I’m a Christian, but I have issues with it.”
Then, in my early twenties, life (as it does) got really hard. I found myself praying, pleading, “God, I know it’s been a while, but I need some help.” And God said (sounding remarkably like Charlton Heston) “Hi Erica, I’ve been here the whole time. Are you ready to let me help you?” I began to privately reacquaint myself with my faith. But church….church was still out of the question.
When I moved to Urbana, I knew no one outside my program. And I had increasingly found myself missing hymns and religious music. So, I emailed Wesley’s choir director, Barrington Coleman, asking if I could participate in choir. He said yes, and I began attending rehearsals and Sunday’s traditional service.
As fate (or perhaps Providence?) would have it, that same first fall Wesley had a bible study discussing the book of Genesis. Ah-ha! Here’s where the struggle and questions started: Creationism vs. Evolution. So, in my curiosity, I attended a session where Pastor Julie lead discussion. I’m not sure she knew this at the time, but she (and Wesley as a whole) were being tested. Would this be a place that would welcome and accept my scientific-questioning mind?
Obviously, since I am testifying to you, Wesley passed the test. Wesley has been and is a place where I am figuring out where I fit as a Christian adult. I’ve attended bible studies and events like “Doubt Night,” events and places where I can ask my tough questions and express frustrations with my faith. The people I’ve met at Wesley have helped me to become more secure in my faith by allowing me to be insecure; by encouraging and supporting me as I ask my questions and continue in my ever-evolving journey to understand God and Jesus Christ as my savior.