"The Visitors", a Reflection by Dan Sealy

posted Feb 3, 2014, 6:52 PM by Terry Brady   [ updated Feb 25, 2014, 9:34 AM by Parish Administrator ]

I’m sitting here in a strangely new pew next to my husband, Bryan with my self-adhesive name tag announcing “Dan Sealy” and unwritten but obvious subtitle: “visitor.” Or perhaps the subtitle is “possible evangelical opportunity.” Or perhaps that is written on my forehead. I’m not sure. As we begin a slow transition from our spiritual home at St. Margaret’s in Washington, D.C. to our new home in Trinidad (Humboldt County) California, I feel like the tables have been turned and perhaps readers might be interested in knowing how this feels right now.

We are moving from the large and diverse city environs of Washington, D.C. to the rural, far north coast of California; home of tall redwoods, rocky coast and small towns  (correction: tiny- we live next to a town of 325)  about 300 miles north of San Francisco. (No- we are not on the Oregon border. That is another 80 – 100 miles north.) It is beautiful, inspiring and wonderful here and we have friends. It is our new home.

When Bryan and I met, I was a member of an Episcopal parish in Alexandria, VA and Bryan was a non-active Methodist relocated from New Orleans, LA. Although I loved my parish, we agreed as we moved to Maryland; we needed to find a church that was home for both of us. We tried several churches and eventually went frequently to an Episcopal church in DC where Bryan had a friend. Although we liked many things about that parish, it never felt just right (in Goldilocks terms) for us. Perhaps it was a lack of obvious outreach ministry and community involvement that left us to question if we wanted to land there. We discussed our reluctance to join with our friend and he said “You should try St. Margaret’s. I went there before I came here and really liked it.”  The silent blessing of God was in that recommendation. We knew right away from the inspiring sermons and friendly, diverse parishioners that this felt right. But the deal was sealed when we asked a person in a robe (Mitch Wood) what ministries St. Margaret’s was active in. He easily launched into a rich description of a variety of important work from AIDS and educational ministries to the signature ministry: Charlie’s Place. We were hooked. We surprised even ourselves when were married at St. Margaret’s in 2007.

But now we are spoiled. We visit churches in our soon-to-be new home and find no St. Margaret’s. It is not fair to compare parishes, of course, but sometimes I cry when I think of leaving St. Margaret’s. But this decision has been made and we are happy about our new home.

As we try out meet new parishes it is odd to think we are in a process of “choosing” a new spiritual home and thus “rejecting” others in our new community. How un-Christian is that? I think it feels more like “finding” rather than “choosing.”  As I sit in this pew I look around at these people, these families and this clergy and try to imagine them as our new spiritual home. I ask myself, “What am I listening for?” Does God have  thoughts of wisdom for us? What is Goldilocks looking for as I look around this nice parish?

Welcoming people (check)

Active ministries (check)

A sense of community (check)

A sense of spirit and faith in the clerical words and parishioner words and actions (check)

Looking to a better future (check- I think)

Love of our fellow people (check?)

Dedication to stewardship of God’s creation (check?)

Diversity (ummmm- that would require a liberal interpretation: not checked)

It gets harder. We don’t know them yet.  We try to picture ourselves here. Some of the parish puzzle pieces feel similar to St. Margaret’s.  Similar though never the same. Parishes need a Florence organizer, a Farar leader, a Carson Family, a firebrand Heidi, families with children, parishioners with physical and emotional needs as well as spiritual needs and parishioners who put strong faith behind their work.  Parishioners want to feel the comfort of spiritual leadership and pastoral care in their clergy. None of these elements are exactly the same between parishes, of course. I look around me and see people here in these pews and up at the altar filling similar roles in this parish. But do these folks embrace a range of beliefs and work? Do they laugh like we do at St. Margaret’s? Do they like to dance?  Will they roll their eyes in friendly amusement when I say something stupid?

What part do Bryan and I play in this role reversal? Easy- we are the “VISITORS.” You know- the new faces everyone makes a big attempt to say hello to; find out a little background on; pass along to clergy to seal the deal. Yep, we are the visitors. It kind of scares me; like leaving home. But just as clergy and seminarians take a little of St. Margaret’s with them as they move on, I think wherever we land, we  will infuse a little of the St. Margaret spirit in our new home with the fun, dancing and hard work of God.  I think it will be a mutual calling and hopefully a mutual blessing.  OK- this must be the end because now I am beginning to get tears as I write this and think about it for the first time in a real sense. But God and our friends at St. Margaret’s will see us through it.  Your laughing and dancing and heartfelt praying will lead us.