This morning, my boys and I returned to church. For the past five and a half months, the Universalist Unitarian Church of Farmington was closed for construction. The problem? Our 160-plus year old meeting-house and it’s newer additions were far from accessible to the disabled. From the rocky, uneven parking lot to the series of steps needed to enter the meeting-house, our boast at being a welcoming congregation was limited to welcoming those who could manage the unwelcoming barriers in and out of church. We closed at the end of June, with plans to reopen in September, but construction rarely proceeds as planned, and numerous delays pushed that day back to today. There’s still work to be done. An elevator, connecting the meeting-house to the lower level of the building, should be complete in January. Other odds and ends are yet to be installed as well. But we’re back, and that’s what matters most now.
Five and a half months is a long time to go without a church meeting as church. Honestly, the first two months were a gift. We traveled extensively this summer, and for many of the weekends of July and August, we weren’t around anyway. I’ll admit to enjoying the break in Sunday routine and taking pleasure in extended jammie time. By September, I was ready to return, although I admit to luxuriating in our free Sunday mornings, the only morning of the week with no driving force behind it to do anything. I’ve moved from anxiously anticipating the opening to a rather apathetic stance toward this church I love and back to anticipation. Good thing we’re back before I cycled ’round again.
Today did not disappoint. I’d been in the building the previous day, cleaning and preparing with dozens of congregants as eager as I. But none of that prepared me for the elation I experienced pulling up to UUCF this morning for service. Stepping into the gathering hall in the basement, filling with familiar faces, brought a flood of love. Love for a place that’s endured the decades, changing as needed, even when change hurt. Love for the spirit the church embodies, enduring throughout those changes. Love for that community, that welcoming community, dedicated to creating a place for the religious (or not so religious) progressive, the spiritual seeker, and the lost.
I hung my coat and ascended to the new, accessible vestibule and entered the meeting-house. With ten minutes to go before the service, the room was filling rapidly. I found a spot with friends, and our smiles reflected in each other’s faces. Despite the setbacks, delays, meetings (sometimes unpleasant), and upheaval, we were still there. More than that, we were there with energy and enthusiasm for the place we’d been drawn to two, five, ten, and even forty years earlier.
It’s been four for the boys and I, four years of previously unimaginable change and a fair amount of pain and and the healing that follows, if we allow it. Four years I can’t imagine having managed (managed sanity, at least) without that community. Sometimes all that help me together was singing hymns in the meeting-house on a Sunday morning. When chaos erupts, any small routine can anchor a soul to earth, and those hymns sung in that community were my anchors many times. With questioning encouraged, my wondering children found a home where deliberation rather than doctrine dominate. Reason rules, compassion and acceptance accompany that reason, making this a home with a heart and soul, not just a brain.
This morning, my boys and I returned to church. We returned to a place that existed long before we were imagined and will, with the strength of community witnessed through these last, long five and a half months, continue long after we’re gone.