Stories from Our Members

Melissa Greenlaw

We so often hear the dark stories of our society, but it’s the care and passion of individuals as a community that makes good things happen. This gives me faith and hope for our society.

I was glad that Tom asked me to share my spiritual journey with you this morning. As there are many things about 1st Parish Weston that I’m thankful to have in my life. I feel blessed to have found this church and community of people.

My husband Mark and I have three children and live in Wayland. We have been attending First Parish for three years. I was raised and confirmed in an ELCA Lutheran church in Southern California. While growing up, much of my family’s social life revolved around our church friends. Many of my parents’ life-long friends were from their church experiences throughout their lives. Although I wasn’t always happy about it, I have been a church goer for most of my life.

In my adult life I took a hiatus from church after graduating from college. But after Mark and I were married and when our son was born we joined a Presbyterian church. It was a difficult time in my life. My father had died a couple years before, we had a new baby, I’d stopped working (at least, receiving a paycheck) and there was a restaurant burglary and murder in our neighborhood. Things felt fragmented and we needed more connection to our community. The congregation was strong and worked hard to be a sanctuary at a difficult time. Mark and our son Dana were baptized there.

After moving East finding a church was important to us. We spent several years attending a Lutheran Church where our two daughters were baptized. It was with heavy hearts that we left that congregation, as during that time too, we had found strength and support there during difficult times in our lives. But as our family had grown, much had changed and we decided as a family it wasn’t where we needed to be and we began our church search.

We attended a Presbyterian church, a Methodist church, a Congregational church and two Episcopal Churches. But we didn’t find the “just right” church for our family. I’m usually an optimist but started losing hope that we’d find a church home. I thought maybe we were just too picky or didn’t fit in, maybe I didn’t really need to go to church…but something was missing from my life not having a church to call home. Then, one day, I picked up the Town Crier to see Geoff and Sarah Gardner’s photo as part of that years’ “new member” group at First Parish. I was thrilled to see this as they are neighbors that we’d shared a pew with elsewhere. I was very eager to hear their opinion of First Parish. They said we had to visit. The sermons were great, the services were Christian and the people were nice, not to mention the easy commute from our neighborhood. In my obsessive search mode, I scoured the First Parish website to learn more about what it was to be a Unitarian. Could I be a Unitarian? Was it too different from the Lutheran or Presbyterian faiths? What would my parents have thought? I was thrilled to read about the Christian aspects of First Parish and to see what was going on with education, community outreach and social activities. I had always loved the exterior of First parish as I drove by, but when we visited, it was the inside that hooked us. We were looking for thought provoking, meaningful, relevant sermons that focused on spiritual ways to work with situations in our modern world. I find Tom’s sermons to be just that. Sermons that fuel me, challenge me and sometimes make me cry. The Service of Remembrance on All Saints Day means a lot to me as I hear the stories of those now departed and honor and remember them. On favorite Hymn Sunday, when parishioners share their connections to the hymns they selected, I find the personal comments bring the music to life. I love Family Sundays when the children are in the sanctuary. The sweetness of the Junior and Youth choirs and the children saying the Lord’s Prayer makes me feel good. I don’t consider myself the evangelist type, and yet I often share messages from sermons or interesting activities that we have going on at First Parish with friends and co-workers.

The strength of and commitment to religious education is another aspect of First Parish that is important to me. The curriculum at First Parish is so well organized. The parishioners of the church, under the organization of our Ministers, DRE Beverly and the Church School Committee, make the program function. Our daughter Claire is one of 19 members of the 8th grade Covenanting Year program. The fact that 19 families feel this is important says a lot. This program has three volunteer teachers and none of them has a child in the class. The Covenanting year curriculum, like that of the Neighboring Faiths journey, is challenging the kids to learn a lot about themselves and their faith and ethics as they begin to make decisions that have greater impact on their lives. As they make their way as independent thinkers in the world, these lessons will serve them well throughout their lives.

The physical space and historical significance of First t Parish, matters to me too. I feel like I’m in Noah’s Ark. Please don’t take offense; I’m not referring to you as animals. It’s the beautiful wooden structure and stained glass, the big windows and the pews with the comfy cushions. We are on a voyage together, sometimes it’s smooth sailing and other times in the midst of a storm. The Children’s Chapel is a wonderful space as well. It’s especially vibrant sitting amongst the kids as they read, sing and learn lessons from the Bible in terms they understand.

I love the longevity and historical connection of this church with so many generations of people that have worshiped here before me. It’s something to be the center of a town around which everything else developed. During church when I hear a siren going by outside, I say a quick prayer of safety for the responders and hope that when they reach their destination, my prayer will somehow help the situation they attend to…I’m guessing that there are several little prayers like mine that are dispatched at the same time from our church.

I like thinking of church as an extension of my home and family and do what I can to help as I’m able. I’ve been inspired by others’ talents, passions and creativity. When it comes down to it, the people of our congregation are our church – there are many ways to get to know others at First Parish. Participating in the Dinner Connections’ multi-aged group of couples and singles has been a wonderful connector with people that I otherwise might not have met. Teaching class and helping with various church school activities has taught me a lot and introduced me to parents and kids in our congregation. I found that helping with the Mitten Tree for Bristol Lodge this year to be a really heart-warming experience. The 6th graders were so energetic about wanting to make Christmas special for someone less fortunate than themselves. When they read the wish list, they were stunned to hear that all that one person had asked for was diapers and baby wipes. They were intent on choosing names from the tree that they could help. Hearing people tell me how their family discussed what books would be right for this child, or how they searched high and low to find the toy on the wish list are examples of the warm spirit of this place.

We so often hear the dark stories of our society, but it’s the care and passion of individuals as a community that makes good things happen. This gives me faith and hope for our society. I am thankful that there are so many transforming opportunities in which to engage at First Parish and look forward to many years of experiencing them.