Thursday, April 6, 2017

On being Somewhere Else

I’ve been thinking in circles for weeks now about how to write about leaving Christ Church Waltham—and moving away from Boston, which I’d lived in for the last 17 years (minus seminary in New York City).  We bought our house in Pittsburgh exactly four weeks ago.   Writing was a huge part of how I did my job—as solo pastor I preached every week, and in addition to that I wrote a weekly email newsletter. Neither of those things were optional; there was a reliable rhythm to it that led to a certain trust that ideas would turn up when I sat down to receive them.  It also led to a certain attentiveness to my surroundings; like a crow, bringing shiny things home to create my theological nest.  Some pieces sparkled better than others, but the nest was still sufficient for shelter.

The move has been a move home, sort of—Pittsburgh is 120 miles from where I grew up in Erie, and I’ve been surprised by the pieces of Western Pennsylvania that had lain dormant in the back of my mind.  Ridiculous to the sublime: personal injury attorney Edgar B Snyder, who still dominates highway billboards, points his finger at the camera promising no fees “unless WE get money for YOU.”  Eat ‘N Park (the local version of Denny’s) with frosted cookies and bottomless, reliably drinkable coffee.  The fact that you can’t buy beer and whiskey in the same store, because the state of Pennsylvania has claims on the latter.

Also dwelling, sleeper-cell like in the back of my mind in the 20 years since I lived here last, is the day itself. Further west and south than Boston, here the sun comes up closer to 7am than 6am, a blessed relief.  I remember being so appalled by the early sunshine when I first moved to Boston in the year 2000 I tried to tack blankets over my window to block the sinister morning light. Here, there is no hurry: the sun will come up eventually. Of course, it may or may not come out. Boston has no bragging rights for good weather, but it is definitely less dreary than here. Somebody actually quantified this—in their “dreariness index” Boston was tied for fourth nationwide, Pittsburgh for second.   But the greyness feels like home, too.  

Hunt Stained Glass and the Ohio River West End Bridge

My last day at Christ Church was a month ago, March 5.  Our house was packed up to move the next day.   At the same time as I’ve been surprised by how much home this feels, I am also clearly somewhere else.  This struck me most forcefully last Sunday at a youth group talent show at St Paul’s, where Noah just started as rector.  It was fantastic: they did a skit and sang everything from Elvis to Vance Joy (and they were really good!).     The talent show at my church in Waltham was always one of my favorite events. People shared everything: poems about their cats, kids with pogo stick performances, family garage band covers of Nirvana.  All of it fit together in the most beautiful and strange unity.  On Sunday as one of the girls was singing that’s all I could think—I am somewhere else.

Somewhere else: familiar and foreign at the same time, a wide-open space for grace to move.  Sunday night was a moment of the sacramental oneness of church basements.   I have come home to a grey place that is home without being home, and the things that I loved about church are still here to love.  I cried, but for gratitude, not regret. I miss my old church, but I have no reservations at all about being here.  It is always a blessing to witness the astonishing work of what God does in community of all kinds, where everybody gets to be a rock star.

The hard thing about trying to articulate the experience of leaving is that it’s hard to draw lines between what is my story to tell and what is not.  When you leave a parish, you leave: you can’t send secret messages between the lines of a blog post.  The story of Christ Church isn’t my story anymore.   My 11 ½ years there will always have been one of the greatest privileges of my life, and the power that was behind that is the same power that will lead me and them into whatever new thing God is doing.

So for the first time in a long time, I’m sitting in a pew.  It’s been ten years since I had a Holy Week without leading all the services—in 2007 my son had just been born and I was home with him. He got one of his first baths on Maundy Thursday: I washed tiny feet. There’s been something about these last few weeks that has reminded me of those first few days of parenthood—liminal, like the thing that will unfold is not yet, and you can’t quite see where you’re going.  It would have seemed ludicrous to me then that in ten years his feet would almost be the size of my own. It would have been a great surprise to me that parenting turned out to be so much fun, too.  It is only in the very most abstract way that this experience is like having a newborn—this liminal space involves way more time to read novels.  So I’m enjoying myself, and paying close attention to what’s next.  And, for today at least, the sun is out.

note: While the preceding line is a much more poetic ending (and it was true yesterday when I wrote this), it is, in fact, raining now and is forecast to snow tomorrow. 
Yes. Snow. On April 7.  


Mh said...

I was really moved by your post. I have been at and left 12 churches and I am saying yes to be and stay at St. Marks....

sirwin said...

Thanks, Michelle. Heartbreaking and wonderful.

Susan Morgans said...

Sara: I have not met you yet, but I hope to soon. I am a member of St. Paul's. I also am the editor of Mt. Lebanon Magazine, which I hope you have received. And your son is in the same grade as my grandson, who lives just behind you on Forest Glen. Anyway, your husband is right—your are a rock star writer. I wonder if you would be interesting in writing or blogging for our magazine. It is is published by local government, so we can't get into anything theological, but we certainly can publish insightful, inspirational thoughts or pieces that cause us to stop for a minute and appreciate our world or to take time to reach out to others. If you would be interested, I would love to talk with you.