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An entry for the Blogging A to Z in April challenge

In addition to my daughter and her family, two communities saved my life when we moved after fifty years in Chicago, a city of about 3 million, to the much smaller Sioux Falls, a town of under 300,000.

Those two are OLLI–Osher Life Learning Institute (classes for folks over 50) and Westminster Presbyterian Church.

When we moved here, my husband told me it was my job to find a church. Tongue-in-cheek, I hope, he added that if he didn’t like my choice, I could go alone.

I understood. We’d both experienced what we felt was too much judging and not enough acceptance. He was once a member of a governing body that had to decide who to nominate for elders and deacons. The current body kept finding fault with names suggested until he asked, “And how do you think you got here?”

And I’d had a problem for a long time with women not being allowed to serve as ministers, elders, or deacons. Especially when it seemed like there were equally valid arguments on both sides made by theologians far more knowledgeable than I.

So I went on a quest to find a church. I examined websites. I listened to sermons online. I made a list of possibilities, either in my background of the Christian Reformed and Presbyterian (USA) denominations or close to them in belief. And then I went visiting.

One church I went to was having communion that Sunday. The bulletin said only those people who were right with God could take or they’d be eating and drinking condemnation to themselves.

I remembered words like that from my past where we had to get permission from the governing body of the church, all men, in order to take communion if we were visitors. But I’d long been in churches where the Lord’s table was the Lord’s and all were welcome. At communion time, I did not dare go up to the front. The church was large and many people had to climb over me to get out of the pew. No one acknowledged me, not even a hint of a smile. Obviously, I was new. But no matter, I didn’t belong.

I scooted out, ran to my car, and checked my list of churches. Another church nearby was starting in 15 minutes. I immediately was greeted by a couple and the pastor. “Welcome. Welcome. Oh, you’re new to the neighborhood? Well, try us out. We’d love to have you.”

I greatly enjoyed my church research. And when I reached Westminster Presbyterian, I clicked. ALL are welcome here. All are welcomed, by several folks, when you enter.

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Sioux Falls

Arriving home after my first Sunday here, I told my husband I’d found it. He said, “It’s about time.”

We both joined the church. Marv got involved giving Children’s Sermons; I invited a group of women to my home because I knew I wasn’t going to get to know them just on Sunday morning. I asked my neighbor, who also went to this church, to join me in hosting. Nineteen women came.

Now about four years later, that group still meets and has spawned a book club. Yesterday, we discussed Untamed by Glennon Doyle.

I suggest you read it. Read about this woman’s experience growing up in our world that treats boys and girls and gender preference differently. Learn about the origins of some of our current political/religious differences. Learn about the importance of being true to yourself. Read about why it may not be the best thing to have “this selfless woman gave her all to others” in your obituary. I guarantee if you can discuss this book in a open-minded group, you will have a deeply meaningful discussion.

I believe the church I have chosen is right for me. We are open, honest, inclusive, authentic, and nonjudgmental. There is a place for all if you make your wishes known.

Two years ago, at the age of 77, I became an elder for the first time. I’m very, very moved each time I serve communion, that I, as a woman, am finally entrusted to serve the symbols of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. An awesome privilege for which I am thankful.

Our pastor, Rev. Dr. David Halleen