A place of spirit and community

Sunday morning dawned cool, breezy and drizzly, but even before we knew it wasn’t going to be a great day for outside chores, Douglas and I had decided to go to church.

“It’s been months,” Douglas had said the night before, as we settled gratefully into bed with the cat and the weekend paper. “No one will even remember who we are.” I knew he was exaggerating, but it did seem like a long time since we had seen our friends and neighbors at the Sandy Point Congregational Church.

“Of course we should go,” I agreed, putting on my reading glasses and preparing to do battle with the four-star Sudoko. “Let’s plan on it.”

Our decision was made the easier by having gotten a phone message earlier in the week from our neighbor, the church music director, reminding us that it was “special music Sunday” and that we would be treated to something beyond the usual hymns. The guest performer would be Chris Gray, a Celtic musician from Mount Desert Island, playing the Irish tin whistle and uilleann pipes, a kind of small, lap-held bagpipe.

Sunday morning found us walking briskly up the steep hill near our house toward the highway, dodging traffic across busy Route 1 and navigating the crowded parking lot of the church.

Inside, we were welcomed by familiar faces, smiles and hugs and the enticing smell of strong coffee brewing in the vestry kitchen. We shed our coats and made our way into the bright-lit sanctuary. Our usual pew – the one toward the rear, where Douglas and his late wife, Janet, sat more regularly than we do now – was empty, so we slid in, said hello to our friends in the row behind and settled down for the service.

People who don’t know me well are sometimes surprised to learn that I actually do think of myself as a church-goer. Even though I’m not religious in any conventional sense of the word — not even particularly “spiritual,” whatever that means — I am deeply drawn to the familiar traditions of Christianity, the reassuring cycles of the liturgy and the uplifting language and music of Sunday services.

Equally important is the opportunity to visit with people we rarely see otherwise — community members who, like us, make an effort to think elevated thoughts from time to time, who believe in the value of fellowship and communion and in the power of compassionate right-mindedness over pettiness, fear and self-interest. Christianity, for all its inconsistencies and conundrums, has a lot to teach us about these ideas.

So, although attending church is rarely a priority, I am always glad when my schedule permits it. This Sunday was no exception. Douglas and I came away with a lot to think about during this week leading up to Thanksgiving.

We were reminded that the church supports the local food pantry and asked to make a donation, modestly enough, of bar soap. That seemed pretty do-able.

The responsive reading urged us to serve the lord with gladness. A reading from Philippians assured us that it is safe to be gentle and kind and that a philosophy of peace will protect our hearts and minds – good news in these fractious and divided times.  

And, in her discussion of the parable of the loaves and fishes, in which Jesus miraculously provides food for a multitude — with plenty left over — our minister reminded us to put our faith in a philosophy of giving, of plentitude, and to turn away from fearful talk that spurs greed, mistrust and self-interest.

After the service, we enjoyed that good coffee and friendly conversation before heading back out into the rainy world. I came away feeling uplifted and upheld, reminded of my personal values and gently challenged to live them in a material way. I had sweet music still coursing through my ears and kindly conversation warming my heart. Not a bad return on an hour and a half’s investment.

When it comes to God and church, I may not be a Believer with a capital B, but I am devout in the lower-case, human-to-human sense.

Meg Haskell

About Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.