Caroline and I have been thinking about “Why Wesley” in one word, and we decided to choose the same word as a couple: HOPE.
Caroline and I have very similar church upbringings. We’ve attended church with each others’ families, and though she grew up Lutheran and I grew up in the Nazarene church, our childhood churches have the same feel.
They are both situated in small, rural farming communities – small little churches where the pews are filled with like-minded folks who also all grew up in that same little community. In fact, most church members have known each other for decades and share bloodlines somewhere.
These are wonderful little churches that seem to be the perfect fit for those little communities; however, as Caroline and I have each grown and matured, we grew somewhat estranged from these childhood churches. I want to be clear, we grew estranged from the “church” as we knew it, not from the people in them as we still know many of them as “family” and “friends.”
We each left these small communities after high school and have each traveled internationally, and attended universities far from our homes. We immersed ourselves in the vibrate and colorful world of diverse thought and opinions. We found friendships in people who worshiped in different ways and through different belief systems. Some prayed differently than we were taught. Some didn’t pray at all. Some challenged our faith – and wanted to know – what is so special about what you believe. This challenged our faith.
We became close friends and colleagues with people who would likely not be welcomed into the churches we grew up in. Not because of any direct ill-intent, but simply because we grew up in churches where “discomfort” is not welcomed on Sunday morning.
But we know that for us, it has been this very “discomfort” that has grown our faith.
When we started dating and began discussing “faith” and our relationship with Christ, we found we both faced a frightening and glaring challenge…
We asked, together, can we reconcile the faith we grew up, the faith family we know and love with the realities and people of the world we now also know and love? We asked, if we can’t in good faith be the Christians of our childhood, what are we to be? And most challenging, we asked, is it even possible that there is a church family that exists that can help us bridge that divide between who we were and who we want to become?
And then we found Wesley. A place of hope.
A place where we don’t have to “dumb it down” on Sunday morning; a place where discomfort is welcomed. But also a place where the emotion and spiritual connections of our childhood faith are not judged. A place where the Holy Spirit is a real thing and you can feel it. It gives us hope.
Joining Wesley’s community certainly gave us hope as individuals as to how our expanded views of the world could have a place and appreciation within the faith. On a smaller scale, it also gives us hope week to week.
When I first moved to Champaign in December 2014 for my job – 9 months before Blaze would move here – I never envisioned that I would be spending so many weeks and weekends alone. The need for Blaze to stay in Ghana for his work continued to extend. You may or may not have even been aware that I was lonely and angry. With each new Sunday, I found bitterness for the fact I had to come to church “alone” when I had never needed to before in my life. I always had a family or group of friends. However, over time, I came to experience that within the Wesley family, I wasn’t really alone at all.
I remember one of the first Sundays that there were some people running around barefooted, and I thought that was so strange. With time, I would come to realize how a community who allows people to come as they are – with or without shoes even – could also love and welcome me in my estrangement and hurt, even without knowing. When work was always an environment where I had to show up put together – wearing my game face every day – this was a place to be vulnerable and incomplete. I desperately needed that place.
So with that, thank you. Thank you for being that community that gave me hope to persevere with each new week growing in love, in patience, and in understanding. If you asked my husband, I’m sure he’d say I still have some room to grow in those areas… but that’s why we’re here.
I can’t tell you how many Sundays we’ve gone home or to lunch and couldn’t quit discussing the message or a song or testimony and its application in our own lives. We’re big into “processing” in our household and you’ve given us so much to think and talk about. I’m so grateful to have begun this chapter of our lives here and to now officially join our first church as “The Curries.”
And because of Wesley, we have hope that no matter where our journey leads us next, we can find communities like Wesley that bring us this kind of powerful and transformative hope week to week.