By: Kate Kennedy, Coracle Fellow ’18
In talking matters of faith, I’m inevitably asked the question, “so what’s your denomination?” My reaction is always the same. I grin and say, “well, the easiest way to describe myself is with two words – Christian mutt.”
Growing up, I was raised Catholic. During in my childhood, I attended mass regularly. I took comfort in the consistency of masses when, at age nine, my parents divorced. In high school I started to explore different denominations under the Christian banner. I started attending a Methodist Church in a quaint seaside town on the Jersey shore. There, I felt a deepening of my faith during my teenage years and true spiritual formation start to take place.
It was in the pew of a different Methodist Church, in my college years, that I first heard Psalm 139 – the poetry and beauty of that Psalm – “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5). At that time I was in deep need of knowing how much I meant to God, that He was in the details. I will never forget the pastor of that church describing what that Psalm meant to him and his life. It made an impression on me. I learned how Psalm 139 and its poetic truths could seep into my being.
A few years later in a Presbyterian church just a few miles from the Pentagon, I felt completely held on the evening of September 11, 2001 when the world felt off its axis and nothing made sense. We were all shell-shocked, shedding tears, holding candles, mourning with God. And He was present. The sound of a violin being played in an Anglican church with slow, methodical devotion during a Holy Thursday service — producing such mournful notes — transported me to the Garden of Gethsemane. During Good Friday Mass I’ve inhaled the rich aroma of soothing, holy incense and felt like God was breathing into me. Tears pricked my eyes as a stirring rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” rang out on Easter Sunday at a Lutheran Church — convincing me the skylights to heaven had opened and a ray of God’s light touched the sanctuary.
Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Anglican, Non-Denominational — you name it and I have probably worshiped there at some point. I have felt, in a unique way, lovingly surrounded by God in each of those experiences and settings. Each of these sanctuaries has framed my faith, challenged me, moved me to action. They have each played a role in leading me along my personal journey to know who God is. In being open to the Holy Spirit and where I was being led, I can look back on this tapestry of my faith and know fervently that each of these churches — their services, pastors, congregations — came into my life at just the right time. They were perfectly timed, divine invitations to enter into the mystery of our faith.
Yes, each denomination has their unique worship and liturgy. But they each instructed me, in their own beautiful way, on what it means to show up, on the grace that exists in collective voices offering prayers and singing hymns, on the sacredness of Holy Communion, and on and on. Each of those Sunday services became a rudder for the week ahead throughout the years, a safe place to exhale, and a nook where I could reliably find God.
Looking at my spiritual journey, to me, is like looking at a dazzling stained glass window. Each of those services in various Christian traditions has become a piece of glass placed in the colorful mosaic of a stained glass window, a piece of a much larger picture. God is the light that illuminates the colors. He brings them to life. Individually, the glass pieces work to uniquely reflect the beauty of His many-colored Creation. Collectively, they are bonded to reflect the body of Christ – the ultimate divine artist.
And so, while on this journey of what I affectionately call being a Christian vagabond, I have found myself less caught up in the details of how each house of worship produces a service and more in awe of how God is the at the center of it all. I’ve had a front row seat to the diversity of the body of Christ. It is through that diversity that I believe God likes to showcase the unique, varying qualities that make up the faith. He honors and acknowledges the vast ways in which He is worshiped and praised. And because of this eye-opening journey into the diversity of the Church, I have deepened my faith. I can truthfully declare that wherever you are, that’s where God can be found.