Dear Redeemer Friends:
I’m writing to share some of what our faith community means to me. To write all of what the Church of Our Redeemer means in my life would exceed the scope of this task, though I’ll do my best to give you a sense of how important our church is to me, and why.
Some of you have probably heard me tell the story of how I came to be at Redeemer. This seems like a good place to start, because that period really was for me a new beginning. I’ll skip the details about being baptized and raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, experiencing painful dissonance between my innate understanding of God and the words and actions of the Church, and living churchless for several years before finding my way to a tiny Episcopal Church by the lake in Wakefield, MA with my now-husband-then-boyfriend Jamie, a cradle Episcopalian who hadn’t attended church since leaving his childhood home in Maryland to attend MIT at age 18. When Jamie and I entered through that red door, I was 30 years old; he was 34.
We attended Emmanuel for 12 years. We joined the choir shortly after arriving and soon became the “social activity” coordinators for the parish; as Rev. Steve Ayres explained when he asked us to take this on, we were among the youngest lay persons in the congregation. Jamie and I were married there by Steve and one of my Jesuit grad school professors in 1993. Ten years later, Bishop Tom Shaw blessed my very pregnant belly at the communion rail during the Christmas service. Our oldest daughter, Christie, was born in January 2004 and baptized in April that year as the choir sang on behind us. In 1997, we sold our Wakefield home and moved to Lexington. Although we’d been to Redeemer a handful of times in that seven year period — meeting and very much liking Reverends Alden Flanders, Andi Suess Taylor and Terry McCall — we found it difficult to leave Emmanuel because of (1) the deep friendships we’d formed there, especially with fellow choir members (two of whom later became our daughter, Mia’s, godparents) and (2) how settled, welcomed and loved we felt in that community.
But there was something about Redeemer. Although I couldn’t put my finger on it any more than I could stop thinking about it, my experience of those brief visits, spread far apart over seven years, stayed with me.
As we approached the fall of our first year as parents, some sixteen years ago now, I shared with Jamie my gratitude for Emmanuel, and let him know how important it was for me to belong to a church in the town where we lived, the place we were raising our daughter. Christie was not yet a year old, though I wanted her to grow up in the church, to have a second home there as early in her life as possible (maybe this longing was not only about my daughter’s childhood but also mine where the church of my first neighborhood never felt like a home). We officially became members of Redeemer just before Thanksgiving in 2004. With a new daughter, our first, and a new faith community, our second, Jamie and I had a lot to be grateful for.
We felt welcomed at Redeemer right away, and it did not take long before we settled in. We made good friends here, quickly and easily, and have continued to grow friendships in this community as Redeemer grows. As new parents we did not join the choir (and still haven’t), though we very much enjoyed the music ministry at Redeemer (and still do). We watched Christie navigate her earliest years in the church as the youngest member of our “three-family,” until her sister Mia Bella was born and baptized at Redeemer in 2006. Then we had the joy of raising up two little girls in the church, witnessing the miracle of their development as persons and as Christians, and giving them both a second home to thrive in. Over the last 16 years, we have also experienced many losses and challenges, as all families will and do. Throughout it all, I have felt held by this prayerful community. I, too, have a second home in Redeemer. Whenever I think about or join together with this faith community – with each of you even on Zoom – I know I belong to a local cloud of witnesses, a caring community that lives as the earliest Christian communities did, recognizable by their loving care not only of one another but of all persons. Holding up this image of our congregation – lay and clergy – as a cloud of witnesses is the most succinct way I know to communicate why I consider the Redeemer community a blessing of the most important kind.
There is another way to say this, a wordier way that speaks of the blessing that is our community. The Catechism of the Episcopal Church reads “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, 855). I invite you to read that quote again slowly. Really take it in, every word. The phrase that captures my heart is “to restore all people.” For me, reconciliation and resolution are two key aspects of restoration. During the years I was churchless, and for some years after formally turning toward the Episcopal Church and away from the Roman Catholic one, I attempted to reconcile with God. Often. Yet it was not until I began to live into resolution that I could experience true unity with God. The whole of my resolution story is for another time to be sure, though I can tell you now that I have been more fully restored to unity with God at Redeemer than at any other place or time in my life. This restoration for me is like a second baptism, a permanent transformation of the life-giving kind. Here in this place, I seek to live out my dedication to the church, and to trust more deeply God’s presence and action in my life. It has taken some time, but I have finally come to see my faith life as my actual life, rather than as a separate something. It’s a good thing God is patient.
As to the restoration of all people to unity with each other in Christ, I will simply share my pride in and gratitude for the ways in which Redeemer lives out the mission and the teachings of Jesus. Redeemer embodies what it means for the church to love the world. Every body matters, and each of us have gifts to give. In this intergenerational community, we work together to share God’s love, justice and peace. I have served meals with my daughters, Redeemer friends and their children at the Bristol Lodge, served on the liturgy team with my family, the worship committee, the pastoral care committee and a strategic planning committee commissioned by the Vestry. I have been delighted to both serve as a catechist and Lenten/Advent retreat co-facilitator and to share formation programs of my own design with our community (e.g., a mother’s group, “Family Circle,” and recently “The Listening Hour”). I currently participate in “Education for Ministry” (EfM) at our church, an outstanding microcosm of our larger church community and adult formation program (when I tell my Catholic friends about EfM, they are surprised in a way that’s vocally envious: “Your church has formation for adults?!?”). Simply put, belonging to Redeemer is formation in and of itself. Within this belonging, we share the responsibility for exercising what it means to “be church.” There are opportunities for each of us, all of us, to participate and, importantly, to both go at our own pace and be challenged to go farther than we imagined we could, and supported in all efforts to do so.
In closing, I want to say that in Redeemer I often experience the best I think we can rightly hope for as members of a Christian faith community: That Church really is the people of God. We the people, lay and clergy, carry out this mission of restoration. Whereas persons in the ancient, pre-Christian world erected statues to image or represent their Gods on earth, we Christians are told (and by grace come to believe) that we ourselves are made in God’s image. This means we, as the Church, are Christ’s image in the world and to the world. My experience at Redeemer shows me that we live this out not only through prayer and worship but through Gospel living, as best we can, both within the walls of our space and, crucially, outside them. And if I were ever to geographically move my home again, I’d find a way to remain at home with Redeemer.
~ Mary Ann Burnside