Friday, September 11, 2015

A Witch in Church Part Three - Conclusions

So in my last two posts I talked about the Church building that we visited for Danielle's funeral and the type of people we met. This post is going to be a bit of rambling of some of the conclusions I came to in the course of this visit.

First of all I loved the building, I loved the way they had made sure it was welcoming to everybody who comes in. The boards with the names and photographs of the members would make any newcomer feel more at ease, he celebrating of new members helps to affirm their connection tot he community. The newsletter with tidbits of personal stories from the pastor and the favorite recipes enhanced the feeling of community and  made you feel like part of an extended family. I loved the sacredness of the space. At most Pagan events we seem to set up in meeting rooms and community halls, which are awesome, but lack the energy of a place where people come together regularly to honor that which is greater than themselves. I would love for there to be more spaces like that, perhaps ones that cater to multiple faiths, to exist.

Secondly I am glad I had the chance to listen to the Pastor’s sermon. I don't know about the rest of you but sometimes I find forging my own spiritual path hard. There are no certainties, your beliefs never exactly match up with other people's beliefs and while there are teachers and guides along the way, there is no roadmap. Listening to the sermon I got the chance to experience the beliefs of an established roadmap, and it totally did not agree with my inner compass. 

Don't get me wrong, he was a good pastor and spoke well of the Gospels and the teachings of the church. For people who believe the same as he does I could see the comfort in the message. For somebody like me, who has been walking her own path for some time I found it left me cold inside and did not match what was in my heart. It reminded me of the groups I have been involved in, both non Pagan and Pagan that did not match what I felt and why it was in my best interest to follow my own path.

However it also made me realize how hard walking one’s own path can be. At the passing of friends and family it has been challenging at times. Those who belong to a church have a built in community of support, with a laid out script to follow. For example, a while ago I found out about the Jewish tradition of sitting Shiva after somebody passes. What a wonderful affirmation of faith while brining a community together to support the family. And in times of great sorrow and heartbreak these rituals provide a comforting anchor in a time when your whole world has fallen away from you.

When my Mother passed away I was a new Pagan, with no established tradition or group whom gathered around me. I had an amazing group of friends and family who were there whenever I needed them to be, but no faith community. The people who spoke of my mother’s passing came from an assortment of faiths and each spoke from their own belief system. I often felt alone while surrounded by people who spoke of either her soul going to Heaven, those who didn’t use the word Heaven but said “a better place” and those who did not believe the soul existed. There was no narrative that I could turn to for comfort while I let myself mourn and heal. 

Naturally it would be a hard thing to accomplish with Pagans in general (go ahead, get a Druid, a Wiccan and a Heathan to agree where we will end up when we pass on…). With so many different paths and traditions and deities finding a common narrative for times like mourning will be a very challenging task. Add to the fact that getting a pagan group organized well in advance is somewhat challenging, let alone a spur of the moment sudden gathering and you are just making the task more difficult (insert cat herding jokes here). To organize something like this would take the patience of a Saint combined with a will of Iron, and yet it would be so valuable. While some of us have been blessed to find Covens, Circles, Hearth’s, Kindred, Groves and any other form of Pagan Group that cares about them and supports them, many have not.  Think about how wonderful it would be to have a group of Pagans, who may not share your actual belief system but have some similarities, stop in to check on you. A group to let you talk, pray with you, light candles with you and support you as your world crashed to a halt (even as the rest of the world marches forward). Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Finally… I love little old Church Ladies! Granted I have never had a bad experience with any of them, so if you have I am sorry to hear that. I love the feeling of all of these Grandmotherly types coming together to care for the community. They were warm, friendly and attentive, and yet I'm not sure anyone really took notice of them. There was no standing ovation for their hard work, nobody stepped into the kitchen and said "Thanks ladies, take a break". These women who all looked like they were in their late 70's and quite honestly their energy put me to shame. They ran from table to table, carrying food out to people, laying a quiet hand on the shoulders of the people who were standing alone in the corners. They made sure everyone who was there was well taken care of, using a combination of grace and humor to ensure we were all well fed. They did not preach, they did not chastise, they just were there, serving those whose hearts were breaking. We need more people like that in this world.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Witch in Church Part Two - the People, the Pastor and the Church Ladies

As I mentioned early I was recently in a church for a friend’s funeral and while I was there I had the chance for the first time in almost a decade to walk around and take in my surroundings. Last post I spent some time talking about the physical attributes to the space, today I want to talk about the people I saw.

First thing I want to note is that the place was packed... I mean we literally had people lining the walls and staying in the front entrance because the place was so busy. Bill is a member of a branch of Emergency Services in the big city by my little town and all of his colleagues came to the funeral, their vehicles parked outside and a radio at the ready in case a call came in. They all made a point of going to see him and his sons, either before or after the funeral, to convey sympathy. The family was most certainly not alone. We were certainly over the building capacity and were lucky that the Fire Marshall was amongst the mourners.

The pastor for the funeral was the pastor for the emergency services so he know many of the people who had gathered. The church had been chosen as he was one of the pastors of that church so the family had been able to go in with some helpers a day in advance to get everything just the way Bill wanted it. Everyone was complimenting the beautiful arrangements, and admiring all the beautiful pictures of Danielle. The pastor ensured he was in the front of the church with Bill, greeting everyone who was there and introducing himself to everybody he did not know.

The funeral itself was beautiful. Danielle`s best friend provided a wonderful eulogy that had a mix of funny and heart filled stories of Danielle`s life and the love she had. Following that there was a touching picture tribute to Danielle and then the pastor gave a short sermon. The sermon was my least favorite part simply because I do not connect to the Christian message, but  I could appreciate that for those who believe in the message it would be a comforting thing to hear. Bill and his sons then came forward to thank everyone for being there for them. Once they had finished the had two Pipers play ``Amazing Grace`` (that was the one that got me, I cannot hear Amazing Grace on the Pipes without loosing it). The family then departed and went into the room with all the tables and chairs where refreshments were waiting.

We all piled into the room and soon it was overflowing with people, so much so that many people had to stand outside in the parking lot. There were sandwiches, trays of dainties, coffee, tea and juice all being served by a team of little old Church Ladies. I noticed them when we first arrived. We got to the funeral an hour early and when we got there the Church Ladies were already there, 6 or 7 of them, bustling about the kitchen making up the sandwiches and juices, and plating the dainties. WHen the funeral was over they had everything laid out in a very attractive spread and were at the ready, serving the coffee, tea and jucies, taking away people`s garbage, washing cups as they were used and making sure everything was well stocked.

As the crowd mingled these ladies seemed to have a special eye for those who were not eating and would stop by with trays of sandwiches. One of them would approach groups of people and say Ì can`t go back in there with all this food, I will get in trouble, you can`t let me get in trouble, have another sandwich. They were extra attentive to Danielle`s family, running extra food and drinks to them or placing a gentle hand on their shoulders. These women radiated warmth and compassion and were eager to do anything they could to lend a hand. As the gathering wrapped up and people began to head home the Church Ladies wrapped up the extra food for the family to take home and continued to wash a mountain of dishes left over from the mourners. They were bright, cheerful and happy, and I estimate that the youngest of them was in her sixties.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Witch in Church Part One - General Observations

As I mentioned last week we had a very sad blow and lost a beautiful lady, whom I called Danielle. She had passed very suddenly and thankfully peacefully in her sleep of cardiac problems. Loosing anybody is hard, and it seems that the best of people seem to leave us way too soon. We are left with a hole in our worlds, a void that cannot be filled. We learn to move forwards, we continue to live our lives and continue to love and be loved, but nothing will ever take that person's place. After her passing there was a funeral held for her at one of the churches in the big city near my little town.

I don't go to church much (obviously). I attended a wedding recently at an Orthodox Ukrainian Church, which was a beautiful ceremony that I will have to tell you about sometime. Other than the odd wedding held inside a church (where we go in, watch the wedding and leave immediately afterwards) I haven't spent much time inside churches. We came to the funeral early to ensure that we were on hand in case the family needed help with anything and for the first time in almost a decade I actually took the time to look around.

One of the first things that I noticed was the Main foyer of the church. There were multiple bulletin boards lining most of the walls. On one board there were the big picture boards that you normally see lining the hallways of a high school, proclaiming "Class of....” These were pictures of every person in the congregation, as I looked I realized that the church had actually hired a photographer to come and take pictures of the congregation. This was on the board that stated "Our Congregation Welcomes You", just under the names of the pastors. Next to it is a list of the new members under a welcoming message. There were signup sheets for potlucks, for charity drives and for bible studies and the sheets were almost full.

As I stepped further into the main foyer I saw that they had a table with copies of the church newsletter with messages from the pastors, recipes and gardening tips, along with updates on the church and a quarterly financial report. A few paces behind that was a magazine type rack packed with brochures covering a wide variety of topics including (but not limited to) Divorce, Marriage, Suicide, Terminal Illness, Stress, Anxiety, Job Loss, Children. I peeked at a few of them, they had some advice, some bible passages as well as a list of websites for support groups that were Christian as well as secular.

The next room was their Worship Hall that held the main Altar of the Church along with the rows of pews, but just outside of the hall was another room; this room had in it a crib and a rocking chair. It was a reasonably spacious room, the size of a small office. When I went to the bathroom I noticed a change table with some extra wipes under it and there was a bottle of hand lotion on the sink.

The bathrooms were right off a large gathering room where they had set up folding tables and chairs, each of the tables had a nice runner and centerpiece on it. Just next to the big gathering room there was a large kitchen which was full of people… to be continued.