I have been church-shopping off-and-on (more off than on) for the last decade. I was brought up Episcopal, referred to by my Catholic friends as “Catholic-light.” I joined the Presbyterian Church through my young adult years, and during my post-doctoral fellowship as the Distinguished Scholar in Counseling, I volunteered at St. Timothy’s Methodist Church, Salem College and Wake Forest University’s college student Methodist ministries. Before moving to New Orleans, I worked at St. Lawrence University. St. Lawrence was founded in 1856 by Universalist leaders, a progressive group of Christians who were early proponents for civil rights. Eventually the Universalists merged with the Unitarians, and in Canton, NY, I attended, on occasion, the Unitarian Universalist Church.
As many of you know, I arrived at Loyola University New Orleans almost 10 years ago. I visited quite a few churches over the years; however my faith did not suffer from a lack of church fellowship. I am immensely grateful for the ways in which my spiritual life has grown. I connected immediately to the principles of Ignatian spirituality and dove into an online two-year certificate program on Spiritual Studies, through the School of Theology and Ministry at the University of St. Thomas in Miami, Florida. The program was grounded in Catholic Christian theology and covered the history of Christian spirituality, as well as all the great Christian mystics. I learned a great deal about the rich, historical tradition of the early church and contemplative life. I credit Loyola University New Orleans for providing me with opportunities, such as the Ignatian Colleagues Program, which enlarged my view of social justice and the importance of seeing God in all things and people. I have actually had opportunities now to live my life as a contemplative in action.
On Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016, I joined Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church on St. Charles Avenue. I have been visiting the church for more than three months and increasingly felt called to be a part of this community. Borrowing from the church motto Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors for the title of this piece, this is what I experience each Sunday as Pastor Callie Winn Crawford delivers her message. Rayne has become not just a place of worship, but a place where I am experiencing the shining light of God’s love and grace. In their mission statement, Rayne Memorial United Methodist church declares itself as “ a community of faith and love representing, celebrating, and embracing all God’s children as persons of sacred worth regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, culture, tradition, sexual orientation or gender identity, personal and family history, or station in life. In the full expression of the radically-transforming and all-inclusive love of God as revealed through Jesus Christ, all are welcome!”
As I walked forward to signify my desire to join the church, I was met with hundreds of welcoming smiles and a Loyola colleague ran down from the choir loft to greet me. I have found my church home. Cheryl A. Esplin writes, “Every home is different, but every home where even one individual seeks for truth can make a difference.”
And as we say at the end of every Rayne service:
Let everything you do be done with love.