closeup of a stone carving on Wesley's building reading "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart"

Hello, I’m Kerrith Livengood, and I’m going to talk about why I’m part of the Wesley community today. It’s pretty difficult for me to talk about my faith, or my feelings, or about anything about myself at all, but I’d like to share some of these things about myself, especially as I begin as the new Director of Contemporary Worship.

Many of you have seen me here at Wesley for several years now, playing drums in the praise band. I started attending Wesley about a year after moving to Champaign-Urbana, and I first came to Wesley for two reasons: first, I was desperate to meet people, after a year of caring for a new baby and finishing my dissertation in a town where I didn’t know anyone and generally didn’t leave the house; and second, Wesley had placed a Craigslist ad seeking a drummer, and if I was going to go to church, I really, really wanted to play drums.

Drumming had been the center of my church experience for the previous six years or so, during my grad school years in Pittsburgh. When we first moved to Pittsburgh, my husband and I visited a small, friendly Assemblies of God church, similar to churches my husband attended growing up. We kept going back, and soon were asked to join the worship team, and we enjoyed being a part of it. However, over time, things changed. The music minister, who was a good friend, left the church; other members of the worship team left as well. Over time, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the conservative values and rigid biblical interpretations of the church leadership. And I found it hard to make connections with people outside of my narrow graduate school world. But because my husband and I were now two-thirds of the worship team, I felt obliged to stay. So we stayed, and stayed, for years, and more and more I pushed aside how much I disliked going to church. Playing the drums became the only fulfilling part of what was otherwise a dreaded weekly obligation.

To be fair, I’ve never been very good at being part of a church community. I grew up in the United Methodist Church, and I have vivid memories of being literally dragged out of bed to get ready for church as a small girl; and memories of getting in trouble for skipping Sunday school with my brother as a teenager to buy donuts as the supermarket next door. When I left to go to college, I was thrilled at the idea that I could choose never to go to church again, if I wanted. And now, back in 2012, here I was again, in a new place, with no obligation to go to church except for what was in my own heart. And what was in my heart was mostly the desire to play drums again.

So I joined Wesley’s contemporary worship team, and weeks and months and years went by, with what became a pleasant weekly routine of drumming, chatting with familiar folks, and getting out of the house a few times a week. And just within the last year, I realized that something remarkable was happening: I didn’t hate church anymore. I didn’t even sort of quietly resent church anymore, because it didn’t feel like an obligation. It was as if I turned around one day, and the praise team people I had played with for years had become my friends, and the words of scriptures and sermons were meaningful and encouraging. I found myself wanting to be a part of the community, and I looked forward to the support and perspective that Sunday services offered me. I now find myself more involved than ever in the United Methodist Church, with an actual job title and everything. I’m surprised and happy to find myself here, with new responsibilities and a new way of perceiving myself within the body of the church.

The word I choose to answer the question “Why Wesley?” for myself is choice. I care about Wesley because it’s the first time attending church has felt like a positive choice that I’ve for myself. I choose to be a part of a loving community, and I choose to see myself as a positive presence, beloved by Christ, and working for God’s love and justice.