All Saints Stories
Why do I love All Saints? I think of All Saints like a big Italian or Irish family. We’re very diverse, lots of spirited discussion on both sides “of the fence”. We can disagree with each other (even with the Priest) and still come together with love and share a meal at the Lord’s table. I’ve never been in a church before where individuality is respected but the overriding feeling is love and caring for each other.
Carol and I first came to All Saints when our daughter Sydney was a baby and wanted her baptized into the church in 2003. I grew up Episcopalian and my mother attended All Saints, so it seemed a logical fit. We had not been regular church-goers for some time and weren’t necessarily looking to become active. We were told by Father Mathews that Baptism was not a one-time event, but a commitment to raise Sydney in the church, become engaged and encourage her spiritual development. We accepted that commitment, but without particular expectations for ourselves beyond trying to be good parents.
The power and love of the All Saints community quickly hit home at the end of 2005 when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and began a year-long journey of surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. The All Saints family provided comfort and support to me and my family in our darkest times. This time also opened my mind and heart to the fact that sometimes you find what you need, even when it wasn’t what you were originally looking for. It was at this time that I began to attend All Saints because it provided me communion with a loving extended family and a pathway to peace, strength and comfort in a relationship with God. I am happy to report that it has been over 11 years and my cancer is gone and has not returned and I am stronger and healthier than ever before.
Since that time, Carol, Sydney and I have been active at All Saints and its various ministries, including teaching Sunday school for kids, being acolytes, serving on Vestry and helping with Backpack ministries. This has provided us with opportunities to give back to All Saints itself to help grow and share with others the friendships and support that we have received. It also allows us to reach beyond the walls of our church to help others in the community.
So in a somewhat unexpected conclusion, what I intended to get from All Saints when I first arrived is not what it means to me today. And I expect it will mean something different tomorrow. Perhaps my original flaw was in thinking of All Saints as a place or a destination unto itself. Instead, All Saints would better be described as a vehicle for a life-long journey with a group of friends and family that will share my path.
My All Saints story begins about a year ago when I first attended. I was so heartbroken and hurt from struggles in my marriage and with my sexuality. I sat near the back and cried for most of the service. There was something about the liturgy and the beauty of taking the Eucharist...
Growing up in a religious household, I was always aware of liturgy and the theology, but it wasn't until I experienced that beauty first-hand did I truly understand the power of coming to the table of the Lord every week as desperate for love and grace as ever before. As powerful as that was, what has drawn me to All Saints are the people. I've never seen a church so loving and outwardly focused. I never once felt out of place or weird because I was new. I was embraced on my spiritual journey exactly where I was and given the room to ask questions and seek clarity. I look forward each week to the hugs and embraces of my brothers and sisters.
The mystery of the grace and love of God has never been more real to me. And I didn't find that grace and love buried under dead and heavy legalism. I found it at the altar with my brothers and sisters as desperate for the love of grace of God as I am. All Saints is a special place to me and I thank God everyday that I found this group of kindred spirits.
My All Saints story began many years ago when the church was new. I am a cradle Episcopalian, and started my church life at St. Mark’s in downtown Gastonia. My Dad and I started to attend All Saints after he and my mother separated, when I was 13. We didn’t attend every Sunday, but began to attend more occasionally.
I left home in 1973, and pretty much fell out of going to church altogether. I didn’t really start attending church again regularly until after my daughter, Elizabeth, was killed in 1994. The priest, Houston Matthews, was my catalyst.
Since then, I’ve seen All Saints go through several transformations, watched families come and go, watched children grow up, welcomed new priests and interim priests, as well as music directors. Through all this, the core church family has been there for one another through births, trials, sicknesses and deaths. I cherish each and every one of these people.
All Saints is a place that welcomes all who want to seek to know Christ in a deeper more personal way, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or social status, and you will see that if you join our congregation to worship. We are all equal in God’s eyes. I have become a much more spiritual and religious person over the years, and my All Saints family has been there to help me grow my personal relationship with Christ through worship and music. Music is my ministry and I play guitar with the Saintly Stringers and sing in the Choir. That also helps me with my spiritual journey because music is a prayer in and of itself. I love the fact that I am appreciated and loved for who I am, regardless of my state of sinfulness. That, in my opinion, is Christianity at its finest, and this is the place that offers it to all.
My All Saints Story began in 2000 not long after Jessica, Abby and I moved to Gastonia. At the time we were a young family new to the city and were looking for a welcoming church for Abby to grow up in. Jessica and I had grown up around the edges of church but neither of us was particularly religious. A board member at the Gaston County Family YMCA suggested we visit All Saints.
I had gone to Catholic school for a bit and being a Navy brat, had often attended Protestant services at whatever base chapel we happened to be near. The Episcopal experience was not totally foreign to me and I was attracted to the value placed on questioning, debate and skepticism.
What I’ve really come to appreciate about All Saints are the relationships God has provided. Attending All Saints over the past 16 years has given me the opportunity to get to know some great people from many different walks of life. These relationships have changed the way I look at the world, at those around me, at myself and my faith.
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