I grew up in the Anglican church, and at some point, my excitement faded for the Anglican church or organized religion in general. Of course, there were arguments, differences of opinions, trivial matters, really. Excuses mostly. The truth was my life became busy. I never lost my faith; it just shifted. Work, family, and self-interests got in the way. Who has time for church while working fulltime, juggling a husband and step-daughter, and trying to train for a triathlon? Surely, I thought, God will understand and grant me a sabbatical for a time. As the years rolled on, I came to accept that God and I had a very personal relationship, a private relationship. After all, if God hears all our prayers, we could connect as easily on a run or a hike. Why give up a precious Sunday morning to go to church?
In January 2017, my eldest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away eight weeks later. Though I’d distanced myself from the church, my faith in Christ never wavered, yet that day I felt it shatter. I’ve never felt such grief. It wasn’t her cancer that tore me apart, although every day I pray for a cure. Like many of you, I’ve lost friends and relatives to cancer, people I loved, people whose light shone brightly in this world. People I will always say were taken too soon. My husband has battled cancer for thirteen years, and we count every day as a blessing. No (and I pray that I’m not tested again for a very long time), I could accept that cancer took my sister. What shook me to the core, leaving me angry, lost, and adrift, was that she died feeling very much alone. Shelly struggled with depression for most of her life, leading to extreme social anxiety and later addiction issues. That was her fragility or her mental illness. Eventually, she perceived herself as someone without a single friend, becoming a recluse. Can you imagine the isolation of not having a friend to reach out to when you’re afraid? To feel unloved, or unvalued? The bleakness I felt having lost her was a feeling she lived every day.
In the following weeks, I found myself back at Sunday Service. I didn’t know why except I felt comfort in the liturgy, in the rituals, the hymns, comfort that I didn’t find pounding out 10km run on the sea wall or having coffee with a supportive friend. I craved the sacrament. Whether the bread and wine were a metaphor or whether they’d actually become Christ’s blood and body, I didn’t care. I just knew the experience itself gave me comfort. I could sit with my emotions. I could let them simply be, and I thank St. Catherine’s as a congregation for allowing me the space to grieve. Without asking too many questions, you made me feel welcome in this space. Eventually, I was asked to volunteer, and the more I connected to this community through various activities, the more my grief began to heal.
People I never knew two years ago have become cherished friends, and St. Catherine’s, a place that I entered in what so far has been my darkest hour, has become my guiding light. This community stretches beyond Sunday Service. While at work in the garden, I often reflect that St. Catherine’s is like a town square, a place you’ll always find a friend to chat with or share a laugh. That’s truly something special. We often hear the African quote: “It takes a village to raise a child.” But I think that’s an understatement, it takes a village just to get through life. And a village makes space for the young and old, for those struggling and those thriving, for the prosperous and the financially strained. A strong village understands these roles are ever-changing. I’ve come to appreciate that we’re not meant to live life alone or to worship on our own.