Each month we will be sharing the testimony of one member of our community’s experience of and commitment to our life together. This month’s story comes from Whitney Rodden.
We are not meant to be self-sufficient.
We are meant to live this life together.
I grew up on a farm in Plattsburg, Missouri, a town north of Kansas City with fewer than 3000 people. The small-town feel is something I became accustomed to, as well as the closeness of the small Presbyterian church my family and I attended. Growing up on a farm has its positives and negatives. Interestingly, as an adult I find myself even appreciating things I used to think were negatives. Maybe that’s because life seemed simpler as a child.
Being a social butterfly out in the country is a challenge. Sometimes the only one to talk with is an animal. And it isn’t much fun to dig in the dirt or play boardgames by yourself.
In 2010 Cole was 4 and Kinsley was 1. In that year Geoff and I were seeking a new church home. Like other families looking for a place to worship and be with other Christians, we had no idea what we’d discover when we walked into Heritage. The property and buildings at HPC seemed to comfort us immediately, possibly because the barn, silos and open space reminded me of the farm; to Geoff, a guy who likes the outdoors, it was just a pleasant setting. The setting also reinforced memories of the time we were dating. If a church has those things, especially in the middle of the city, then we knew there was a good chance it would feel like home.
I can still remember how welcomed and comfortable we felt that first day. Darlene went out of her way to make sure we felt at home. But our backgrounds made us uncertain. Like many couples, Geoff and I were affiliated with different denominations before we were married. I have always been Presbyterian, whereas Geoff was Lutheran. In fact, all members of his family still attend a Lutheran church. “Breaking away” seemed a little difficult at first.
However, after experiencing such a warm welcome we knew we wanted to stay and grow our family in this loving church!
Since that time, we’ve been able to develop deeper connections with different church members and have enjoyed getting to know them better. Those connections have been made through our active participation in various events, serving on session, and being involved in everyday chats. Growing strong relationships and knowing how much we have each other’s back is vital to maintaining our spiritual health.
Having those deep connections becomes even more important when the unexpected hits. Everyone was so supportive and loving when I suddenly lost my father. When we all lost our sweet Harper, that hit even closer to home for the entire congregation. Harper was our 14-month-old daughter who was hit by a truck at childcare. Losing a family member at such a young age is extremely difficult, and Heritage surrounded us with personal caring and genuine love. There were days we had to let everyone else do all the praying and even daily tasks. As difficult as the impact of her loss was, we felt the prayers working in tangible ways.
There are many things about that time I don’t remember. But to this day I still recall how it felt as we began that walk down the aisle during Harper’s service. It was like an armor of God was wrapped around us. Pastor Clare guided us through those extremely difficult first days and weeks. We didn’t know how to make it through, but she helped us put feelings into words. We all learned so much and grew closer through pain.
As I write this, we are all in quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s during difficult times like this we depend on our church family, lift each other up as a community, and lean on the power of God. When hard times arrive, it is so important for us to have a close community that is already part of our lives.
To us, HPC is this well-kept secret that is so precious, yet it’s important that we try to encourage others to experience it. Times have changed. Our “traditional” routes of worship are different. But what too many people miss is the experience of community that comes with churches like Heritage.
When I talk about groups of people we spend the most time with, I always include my “church family.” To me there is a difference between references made to church and church family. Using those two words, church AND family together shows how much of an impact they make in our lives.