The other day I looked around the room at West Hills Friends, and it struck me that I was in a room full of people I love who know my story. I thought about all the times in the last five years that I stood up to share during Joys & Concerns—about starting and completing grad school, getting a teaching job, a major illness and minor surgery, my mom’s illness and death, struggles with my family, and my grief. I said a prayer of amazement and wonder at what I had weathered these years and shared in this room. The response came back crystal clear and immediate: “Pretty cool that I brought you the community first, eh?” Yes, God, you do have a pretty amazing plan and I am so grateful.
West Hills is the only real church community I’ve ever had. Decades before I was born, my parents had left behind whatever shards of religion remained from their childhoods. My mom did take us to a Unitarian Universalist fellowship when I was a teenager but it never seemed a very coherent community. I attended UU churches during college but they never felt right—too big, too small, too wishy washy about spiritual matters, too far from home, too early on a Sunday morning. But in 2009 I wanted to try again. I was 29, working a job that left me lots of time to think, and feeling the need for community and tradition.
I checked out one of those online quizzes that matches you to religious groups based on your answers to questions, and my results came back neo-pagan (sure), UU (yeah) and liberal Quaker (huh, curious). A little Googling showed me a Quaker meeting in SE Portland, and I set a date with myself to go. That week, though, the memory came to me of another Quaker church in my neighborhood, just down the street from my parents’ house. Wouldn’t that be convenient if it worked out? So, I went there instead
It was the first Sunday of Advent and West Hills was decked out in Christmas finery. I found a place to sit near the beautiful colored windows that let that low winter light shine through. That morning, Mike told a story about Howard Hughes meeting Jesus on a flight to Tel Aviv. Hughes, the notorious hypochondriac, was heading to Israel for an experimental medical procedure that would liberate him from his body. “That’s so funny,” Jesus replied, “I’m going to Bethlehem to GET a body!” I probably looked around with my mouth open a little… what is this place?
I remember two other things from that morning: Eric Witherspoon spoke and Greg Morgan welcomed me. I left thinking that I wanted to spend a lot more time with these weird, wonderful, amazing men and people like them.
A few weeks later, Reverend Tara Wilkins of the Community of Welcoming Congregations spoke. In the Q&A after worship, I asked how West Hills became affiliated with CWC. Being a 21st century kid, I had checked out the Northwest Yearly Meeting website and been quite concerned with what I saw there. Mike told much of the story up to that point, including the work to reconcile their evangelical beliefs with their lived experience that queer people are full members of the WHF community. I remember thinking that even though I don’t identify as queer, a community that can wrestle with this issue can handle anything I might bring to the table. That made me feel welcome, and I hoped maybe these really were my people.
Five years later, I can say that they are. You are. We are. Coming to church never feels like a burden, even in my darkest days. I am greeted with smiles, hugs, and genuine questions about my life and work. The community is growing and changing, but I know for certain that these are my people.