Jen Cordes on October 23rd:
My name is Jen Cordes. I, along with my husband Mark and our daughters Ellie and Brooke, joined Christ Church roughly eight years ago when my family and I moved from the city to North Andover, MA. I grew up in Danvers, MA and was raised an Episcopalian. Growing up, my family was active in the church through choir, the Vestry, a lector, and much more. I personally was an acolyte and junior choir member. You could say the seeds were sown early on for a life with church in the center – it was a “given”. As I prepared to write this, I considered why I attended as a teen when the choices for Sunday morning became more plentiful and more of my own – the choice for sleep, friends or sports/activities. I guess I went for two reasons...first, if I’m honest, was an obligation to parents who could lay out the guilt - it made the rest of the day easier to just acquiesce - but it was also a day when it was a chance to be closer to each other. No one was working or otherwise engaged and we could travel the road together – even if it was just for the morning. I’m not sure if at the time I was attending for me – pretty sure I wasn’t and I’m not even sure if it matters the “why” but I was there and slowly I found my faith and I began my journey.
Today at Christ Church I teach youth group, have taught Sunday School, my girls have been in the choir, and I’ve served on many committees.
So when Jeff approached about a committee focused on Community, Connection and Commitment, considering those words on this committee, it made sense – if you felt connected here to your faith, your God, each other, if you enjoyed a sense of community, then you understood the commitment needed to pay the bills here, to pay it forward for others in need and ultimately to pledge – the drive should be easy - right…
So I can’t speak to your story or why you choose or don’t choose to pledge, but here today I share mine in the humble hope that there is something that resonates for you.
Thinking of Commitment, Connection and Community, at the age of 70 plus, both my parents embody those ideals. They work tirelessly to “give back” to their parish in Naples, Florida. My Dad started a Farmers Market which he runs every Saturday which provides much needed income to a struggling church. They sing in the choir, conduct outreach mission and even cut the grass. They’ve always had a sense of Commitment and Community but it came with a price. There were disagreements – it wasn’t always angels and Kumbaya around the dinner table. There were disagreements and discussions about choices the church was making, the minister – what he had done or hadn’t done, there were times they were absent in a physical show of disagreement, etc. I remember at the time thinking, not for me – he got underneath the hood and knew too much. I believed that would ruin church for me. I want to be inspired, to sit and listen – no judgment of others, no difficult discussions – perhaps a little one-sided but it was my story and I was sticking to it. He had gotten it wrong and I had the way.
There was a seminal moment in my church experience that would fly in the face of that mindset. Carolyn Cuozzo came up to me and said, “Listen, I want you to join us at this MOMS group and I want you to help me lead it. I didn’t really know any of the women, and it certainly was against my philosophy of “Keep your hands clean”, but I jumped in. It was a changing moment for me. A group of women with many differences and some commonality came together and dove deep. We were asked to consider: Who we are? What our talents are? What we hope to be? And what God asks of us? I talked to others in this small community and was enlightened by many. I met people I wouldn’t have met and got to know them. I listened and was heard. It forever changed me and how I operate my life. I looked at where and how I spent my time and realized it didn’t always align with what and who I said I valued. It made me more conscious of being an active participant in my life and my faith and “working at it”. I can just sit on the sidelines and be, but there is more to be gained by jumping in. I got that here.
As Mark and I have raised our children, we knew religion should be a cornerstone of their upbringing, but why?
Today’s world is filled to the brim with responsibilities, for us and for our children. We all seem to be doing more with less and we attach outcomes to it. Measuring time and money invested and what came back on our investments. How children scored on their MCAS or GMAT? What the score of the game is? How many saves? Missed forehands? Etc. All measurable. We are focused on it all. Our investment with the church may seem a bit more fuzzy. Our time and our money for God...What are the outcomes? There have been some moments that made me see the hopeful outcomes in this place.
Alex Novello and Zoe Payne-Taylor both gave a talk at the end of their senior year as did several teens at the Barbara Harris Camp retreat that I attended with Ellie last year. In each instance, I was brought to tears and struck by the honesty, the open heart, the sense of community that each one of them felt with their parish. They shared how their faith helped them navigate difficult teen years, providing them a source of strength and support. At such a young age, they had figured out a lot. I knew each time I heard those talks that I was seeing God through them and it strengthened my belief that I wanted that for my girls. So yes, Mark and I ruffle feathers and bedsheets on Sunday morning because we are hopeful that our girls will understand they are a gift from God, that every person they meet has value and that through living life in this Community, they have opportunities to grow, learn and make a difference. Pretty good outcomes.
So as much as I hate to admit it, my Dad was right. You have to get your hands dirty, you have to work at things, be it your relationships with one another or your faith. Understanding we all have value, talents and contributions to bring and that they are all needed here. We can each travel the road of life in tandem – leading parallel lives - or we can do it together. Each person provides some insight and gift that will help us grow, learn and be.
So yes, I’m a card-carrying pledger - I’m here, I’m invested, and although I continue to shy away at times from some challenges that I hope “someone else” will take care of, I try to stay focused on showing up. As we often say to my Dad when he is up at 5 a.m. at the age of 75 to meet the vendors and set up for the weekly market, “Can’t someone else do it once in a while?” Don’t get me wrong, I think he loves running the show but he also figured something out. We each have something to contribute - a gift, a purpose - that goes beyond just ourselves or even our family. He brings it and inspires me to “bring it” too.
So, I keep coming to this place, keep praying and keep striving to live a life with God in the center and to model that for my family. I fall down in that endeavor a lot but I am also heartened weekly by those I meet and get to know in this place. They make me stronger and challenge me to consider things more carefully and live more fully into who I’m called to be. So yes, I’m here, as part of a community striving for a connection with you all and God and upping my commitment. I hope you’ll join me.
Carol Tringali on October 16th:
Good morning. My name is Carol Tringali.
Along with my husband Dave, my son Matt and my daughter Sarah, I have been coming to Christ Church since we moved to Andover in 2002. As you know, Rick Gossman, Stuart McDowell, Will Swenson, Jen Cordes, Dawn Oulton and I have been asked to share our thoughts about Community, Connection and Commitment to Christ Church.
Let me start, by sharing a little bit about myself. As some of you know, I was born on Guam. One year later, when visiting family back in the states, I was baptized in Woodbury, CT, by my grandfather, who was a Congregational minister. Because my father worked for Naval Intelligence, we moved almost every 2 years while I was growing up. All this moving around, meant that we belonged to many different churches.
When I was 10, we moved to Okinawa for the first time. My parents found a small church, located off of the military base, called All Souls Episcopal. The priest was an American, the majority of parishioners were military families and regular Sunday services were conducted in English. However, Bishop Nakamura conducted my confirmation service in Japanese because of his limited English skills. By the time I turned 17, my family had moved 7 times and we had lived outside of the US for 8 of those 17 years.
For the last 18 years, I have worked for Thomson Reuters which is a large global company. The majority of my co-workers are located in the UK, India, China, Poland, and the Philippines. Most days, I am on conference calls that remind me of a mini United Nations, with a variety of accents, varying levels of English proficiency and significant cultural diversity. This past week I was in Eagan, Minnesota, at one of our larger offices conducting an employee development program for 11 of my colleagues. These employees flew in from all over the world for this event and although I work with some of them over the phone and via email, this was the first time I had met many of them in person. Laurie, Mike, Zach, Sara and Dennis came from various parts of the US, Jeune and Vikas came from India, Jane came from the UK, Qing came from China, Yair came from Israel and Patrycja came from Poland.
So what does any of this have to do with Christ Church and my commitment to it? Well, all of these global experiences have helped form one of my core beliefs.
I believe that people are different. We are not the same – we look different, we value different things, we speak different languages AND – we don’t have to be the same or even believe the same things for GOD to love us – all of us. And, because we are different, God finds different ways to speak to us, to call to us to love him back.
God speaks to ME, through the Christ Church community. When we started coming to Christ Church, Matthew and Sarah were 5 and 2 years old. Soon after we started attending, I was recruited to be a Sunday School teacher. I remember thinking, I have 2 small kids, I work full-time, this will be too difficult, my life will somehow be DIMINISHED by the amount of work involved with volunteering to be a Sunday School teacher. But, I said yes, because it was important to me that my children participate in Sunday School. Thank God I did. Because the person that benefitted the most from me teaching Sunday School, was me. Not the kids in my class, me.
My life was not diminished but enriched because of the relationships I formed with the children and the other Sunday School teachers.
Over the last 10 years I have been asked to volunteer for a variety of things at Christ Church. You would think I would learn my lesson about being enriched through giving, but I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I am a kind of a slow learner. Each time I have been asked to give, my initial reaction has been pretty consistent.
I have served on the Church School Board, the Vestry, and am currently a Rt 13 Mentor. Each time I have been asked to give of myself, I started from a place where I felt the commitment was going to TAKE something from me. And each time, I could not have been more wrong.
The person that has benefitted the most from me being on the Church School Board, or the vestry or as a Rt. 13 mentor, you guessed it - is me. These commitments have given me the opportunity to fellowship with people I would never have known otherwise. And it is through these relationships, both with the adults and youth of the Christ Church community,that God speaks to me.
What I think God is patiently saying to me, over and over again, is to Love Him, Love One Another and Give of myself. Not because God tells me to, not because it is EXPECTED of me to share my blessings, not because I am being asked, but because it is in the acts of loving God, loving one another and in the giving, that my life is enriched.
Let me finish by sharing some of my other core beliefs. I believe that God is seeking the giver, not the gift. It is in this vein, the Rick, Dawn, Stuart, Will, Jen and I are sharing our connection and commitment to Christ Church. Someone, who shall remain nameless, came up to me after church several weeks ago and said, these CCC moments sound suspiciously like Stewardship. Well, call it what you like, but for me, this is what I believe:
That although I am a slow learner,
God does not give up on me and continually calls me to share in His mission with a glad, generous and grateful heart;
That by giving of myself, my life is transformed and others lives are transformed as well;
That giving is a deeply spiritual matter,
And, that when I give, I am blessed and my life is enriched.
Will Swenson on October 9th:
Good Morning. My name is Will Swenson. Our family (Karen, Emily 4th grade and Ryan 1st grade) has been attending Christ Church for six years. When we first joined, Ryan was only six months old and Emily was 3 and ½. I remember carrying Ryan in the car seat and setting him on a pew next to me and then trying to keep him entertained. Then once he learned to walk, I remember chasing him down the aisle a few times when he tried to make a break for it. Immediately Emily was drawn to coffee hour. I wonder why? She definitely has my sweet tooth. A year or so into our time here we were prepared to try the childcare room. What a gift for all of us! Kristen and Nicole took such good care of the kids and they looked forward to going each week to play with the toys and see their buddies. Karen and I would drop them off, get to our seats, turn to each other and say “alone at last!”
For me the “alone time” in church quickly became precious as a time to reflect on our life, slow down, listen, be grateful, learn something new, and to pray. Now I should qualify by saying I didn’t spend a lot of time in church growing up. I was baptized in the Presbyterian Church as a baby, and attended Quaker Meeting in the Philadelphia area until I graduated High School. Karen was raised Catholic outside of Hartford Connecticut, so naturally we were married in an Episcopal Chapel in New Hampshire. We had a reading at our wedding from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on Nature, which went: “Every spirit builds itself a house, and beyond its house a world, and beyond its world a heaven.” At the time I thought the passage was beautiful and his words meaningful to the life we were starting together. Now that I look back I see these words as an offer, an opportunity and a promise.
Every spirit builds itself a house. I have always appreciated the part of each service when Jeff offers welcome to newcomers: “if you don’t have a spiritual home elsewhere, we hope you’ll join us, and “all are welcome at the table”.
Something happened to me, to us, along the way in our life at Christ Church. As I have been preparing for this privilege to speak with all of you today, I have been struggling with how to articulate it. Sometimes it’s easier for me to think of an example. In meetings with the Stewardship Team, the example I gave was about my journey from plate to pledge. I told them that for the first couple years we did not give an official pledge to Christ Church. My experience in being part of a Church community is fairly limited, and I can only remember seeing my parents add money to the plate growing up on a few occasions. So that is what we did. Then a few years ago we opened the letter from Christ Church, Karen and I talked about it, and made our first commitment.
Then something unexpected happened.
What I told my friends on the Stewardship Team was ‘it felt different’. Looking back, for me what was ‘different’ was that I was beginning to feel the long run of our lives and the place this church and community had in it. I started to imagine our family growing here together, in worship together, making good friends, giving back through service, learning in church school and J2A, maybe a wedding someday, our kids coming back to reconnect with old friends when they are off to college and visiting home from hopefully not too far away. In addition I started to see the impact Christ Church has locally, around the country and the world through outreach, in service, through all of you, and I wanted to be more involved. As Rick said a couple weeks ago with the example of the baseball pitch back game, I started to realize that I get back what I put into it. The offer is there, the opportunity waiting for me.
Through reflection I think I can best summarize by saying I feel different because this place has become our spiritual home. The words that were shared on our wedding day have taken shape in our life. The quote finishes with this: “Build therefore your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.”
The reality is this is only the beginning for us, and I look forward to many more years of worship, service, and fellowship with all of you.
Dawn Oulton on October 2nd:
Good morning. I’m Dawn Oulton and I’ve been a part of Christ Church for 4 or 5 years now. I am not a cradle Episcopalian. I grew up in the Advent Christian church, which is an evangelical protestant denomination that looks a lot like the Baptist church, but it’s a relatively small arm of the church. If one member of the church moves from Massachusetts to Florida and meets another one, it is highly likely that they’ll have at least one or two acquaintances in common if not a few close friends. And as a young person in that church I noticed that others were indeed moving to Florida, meaning it’s somewhat of an aging denomination. Not a lot of people my own age and not a lot of young families or other young people migrating into the church.
But it was a comfortable place to be since I knew people. It wasn’t until I was partway through college that I realized I didn’t have to be defined by my denomination. There are lots of other Christians out there. So I started church shopping. The first thing I did was find a really big church and immediately joined the choir. The funny thing was, even being part of the choir and being surrounded by lots of people, I felt no more connected to the community there than I did at my old church. So I started trying other churches. Many of them offered great spiritual nourishment through the pastor’s message, but nobody ever welcomed me when I entered a new congregation. Having grown up in northern New England I’m pretty accustomed to that kind of behavior, but I thought surely the church should be different.
Then I came to Christ Church. The very first Sunday, people welcomed me. And it wasn’t just the person next to me, it was the person in front of me and behind me. I thought maybe it was just a fluke, that I happened to sit next to really friendly people. And so I came back another week as a test, and different people greeted and welcomed me. So I filled out one of those red cards hanging on the back of the pews, thinking this is the real test. Nobody will really call me, they’ll just add my address to some mailing list. But lo and behold, within the next week I got a call from Jeff to get to know me, and a call from Barbara asking about my interest in the choir. That was the kind of genuine connection I was looking for that I didn’t find at other churches, and that’s when I committed to being a part of Christ Church.
It was shortly after that that I joined the choir and I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the smaller community there within Christ Church. A little later on after learning more about the Episcopal church, I made the decision to commit long-term by going through the confirmation process, even though I had chosen to be baptized in the Advent Christian church when I was a young adult there. It has been a fantastic community to be a part of, and for me it’s because there is a place for everyone who wants to contribute, in whatever way they want to contribute. I love being part of the choir, but if you need someone to arrange flowers for the altar I am not your girl. I like to bake and I enjoyed helping out with coffee hour last year, while some of you would dread every minute leading up to that batch of cookies. There is a place for everyone here, and furthermore there is a need for everyone here. We all fill in the gaps for each other. That is what community is for me and that is what I’ve seen in the community here at Christ Church.
Stuart McDowell on October 2nd:
Jeff asked us to briefly talk about this church Community, our Connection to the people of this church, and our Commitment to pass along the energy and God’s Grace from this place to our children.
My name is Stuart McDowell. I have been at Christ Church since the mid 1990s. My wife’s name is Jane and my two daughters are Emily and Lauren. Here at church I have been involved in the Men’s Ministry, Habitat for Humanity builds, helped out with various fundraisers, I’m an usher, and in the past year have been a J2A teacher for my daughter Emily’s Sunday school class.
The purpose of these conversations was to use our transition back to the renovated church in the fall to strengthen our connection to this place. I argued that being in the Parish Hall has already strengthened this community. We can now see each other’s faces, we are closer to each other in here, we can see each other singing and receiving communion. In a word, it is more intimate in here.
The question I had in our meetings and I have for each of you is “Why do you bother coming to church, why make the effort, why get out of a perfectly warm bed and come HERE to THIS PLACE?”
It can’t be just the routine of coming, or perhaps something you are supposed to do, or even one of Jeff’s lessons that brought you to THIS place on THIS Sunday morning.
I think the answer to these questions brings us to the essence of being a Christian. It is a choice we willingly make. We have to accept God into our lives. He will not work without our consent. “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
My initial reason for coming to church was I found it was the only place during my week that I did not have to be in charge. During the week I am the father, the husband, the coach, the driver, the board member, the business owner, the bill payer. When I’m here, the lessons remind me that God wants to be in charge, I just have to be willing to let him lead. When I leave church, I always have a sense of relief.
Now the reason I come on Sundays is to strengthen the relationships that I have built here at church and perhaps start a new one. Church is the one place where most people have their guard down. People seem to be looking for something, and they seem a little vulnerable. It’s a great place to find God. I tell my kids every day, their job is to go find God. Well this is a great place to find him. It could be in the way a little girls fixes her mother’s hair, in the smiles you get from people during the Peace, to a great conversation you have with someone here, to lyrics in one of the hymns we sing.
God’s Grace is all around us in here.
These are the reasons I come here on Sundays. We would like to find out the reasons why all of you come to church. I once heard that “80% of success is just showing up”. If that is the case, we are all successful.
We all appreciate you letting us speak with you about why we have a connection to this community.
Rick Gossman on September 25th:
Good morning. Last week Jeff introduced what will be a series of talks by a number of folks about Christ Church and their thoughts about this community, their connection with it and what that means relative to their commitment to it. By way of introduction, I’m Rick Gossman and together with my bride, Susan and our kids Emma, who is 11 and Will, who is 8, we’ve been members of Christ Church for a little over 8 years. And, I’m the guy that drew the short straw in Jeff’s Community/Connection/Commitment series. I get to go first, which, upon further review, probably means you all drew the short straw as you have me to launch the series.
When Jeff first asked us if we’d be willing to stand before you and talk about our faith, our connection to Christ Church, I must admit I had more than a little trepidation. When he then asked that we, in the process of our talk, make our remarks somehow spiritually appropriate, my lack of enthusiasm managed to take a further dip.
For those of you whom I haven’t met, I am that rustling noise you often hear from the back of the church just as the processional hymn is ending. That’s me failing to be discreet as I not so successfully sneak into one of the back pews. And that’s probably a reasonably apt description of my participation to date with Christ Church. A little bit of Ushering, a stint with the Church School and a season with the Stewardship campaign. Beyond that, I’ve been pretty solidly camped in the back of the church.
You see, my faith, what shapes it and how I share it has mirrored that biblical story in Matthew about hiding the light under a bushel basket. I know it’s there, but it remains largely under that basket except with family and close friends. I’m not one to testify or give witness. I’ve probably been a better participant than I have a contributor.
Having Emma and Will lit a fuse that began to change that – albeit a slow burning fuse. As they’ve grown, there have been a few seminal moments that have spurred me to get off the pew and get a bit more engaged. Those moments prompted me to look more critically at what I, as a parent, wanted to pass on to our kids. And our faith was front and center on the page.
Several years ago when Emma was in the Kindergarten class at the church school, Susan and I were teaching the class. The lesson one Sunday was on prayer and praying. We were to engage the kids in a conversation about prayer, how they used it and what they thought about praying. We went around the circle with each child talking about their prayers; how they prayed before dinner or before going to bed, their prayers for their family or for a sick friend. It came time for Emma to share and she thought about it and then thought some more and then she uttered the words no self-respecting Church School teacher wants to hear. She dipped her head just a bit for emphasis and said, “Uh, we don’t pray in our house.” At which point, Susan and I commenced a frenzied defense in front of these 5 year olds about the praying we did do in our house and as to our worthiness to be their church school teachers. We envisioned every one of those kids arriving home and telling their parents that they didn’t need to pray because their church school teachers didn’t. Seminal moment number one.
Earlier this summer, Emma attended her first overnight camp at the Barbara Harris Camp in New Hampshire where she met Kit for the first time. Now, I wouldn’t say we have to drag the kids to church, but it hasn’t been at the top of their list of most desired destinations. One weekend soon after Emma’s Barbara Harris experience; a weekend which coincided with Kit’s first Sunday here at Christ Church, we were going to be away at the beach. Usually that would elicit excitement and some level of anticipation. Imagine our surprise – and pleasure - when Emma not only asked to go to Church, but was actually miffed that we couldn’t make church work with our travel plans. Church was a becoming a destination – a sought after destination. Seminal moment number two.
Then, just a couple of weeks ago, Kit visited Will’s third grade class and they talked about the story in Matthew about the Master hiring workers through the course of the day and paying them all the same regardless of hours worked. The lesson was of forgiveness, of reconciliation and its ability to heal both the giver and the receiver. Fast forward a couple of days and, in a conversation with Will, Susan apologized for some offense perceptible only to an 8 year old. He looked at her as only an 8 year old boy can and said to her, “That’s okay mom. Apology accepted. That’s reconciliation. We’re both better.” You always wonder what the kids absorb in their lessons and sometimes you’re rewarded with a moment when you know. Seminal moment number three.
When I was eight, growing up in Virginia, I played a lot of baseball. We had what I will refer to as a toy. It was called a Pitchback. It was essentially a spring loaded net strung on a metal frame with a target area meant to be a strike zone. You would throw a ball against the net and the springs would throw it back to you. I’d spend hours playing with that Pitchback. Aim low and it would throw back a fly ball. Aim high and back would come a grounder. Throw a perfect strike and you’d better be ready for a line drive. My friends and I would make up all sorts of games with that toy. We even invented a one on one baseball game. The better your aim, the more the Pitchback did for you. If you missed the net, you got nothing in return. And you then had to chase down your miss. The more you practiced, the more you worked at it, the more you got out of the Pitchback. Today that toy would be called a training device. It would have some superstar endorse it and it would cost 4 times what it’s actually worth. I know this because we just bought one for Will. Funny thing though, when I use it with him, when I see him working at it, the cost seems like a bargain.
As I thought about this talk, about Christ Church and my place within it and about my responsibility to it and to my family, the picture of that Pitchback kept circling in my head. The more you worked at it, the more you got out of it. I’ve always wanted church to be a place for our kids. A place where they felt safe, included, a place where they felt confident in themselves and in their relationship with God. We’ve chosen Christ Church to be that place. But I can’t expect that connection to just happen on its own accord. Susan and I have a responsibility to participate in constructing that place, in building this place. We’ve chosen Christ Church as our community. We’ve felt a connection here and we’re seeing the seeds of that connection in Emma and Will. We know we need to continue to nurture that connection and become more committed to this place.
Now, I’m acutely aware that a singular reference to that biblical bushel basket and a mention of the master and the vineyard probably doesn’t meet Jeff’s criteria of scripturally appropriate. So, maybe I should end with an actual passage that resonates with me relative to this idea of Community, Connection and Commitment. It, too, comes from Matthew and it goes, “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” At the heart of us you’ll find our kids. Our faith, our church - this place - is most assuredly the biggest part of our treasure. If, in the end, we’re charged with taking our treasure, nurturing it and growing it to be something bigger than we were given, then I need to think of this place more like I do that Pitchback. Maybe my faith is a training device. It certainly has a superstar endorsing it. As for the cost, well, every time we see that seed growing in Emma and Will, that cost seems like a bargain.