“The Water that Connects Us All”

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Brittany LaFleur

November 12, 2017

Psalm 46

 

Home is a feeling, not a place. I feel at home most through my interactions with those that I love. I know that I am home when I visit Woodstock, the community that helped me to grow and create a vision of who I want to become. I feel at home in Keene, where I go to college, the environment that has tested what I thought I knew about the world and has helped me to determine my values as an individual. I also have felt at home at General Synod, the National Gathering of the United Church of Christ, where my spirituality continues to blossom and my energy is renewed. I have been thinking a lot about how this could be. How can I feel at home in three different places- in three different states? I have discovered that “feeling at home” is just that…it is a feeling.

Over the summer, I was fortunate to attend my second UCC General Synod, as a young adult delegate for the Windham Association of the Connecticut Conference. I traveled to Baltimore midsummer, with the desire to learn and the excitement to serve. Synod is often referred to as a big family reunion where thousands of UCC people come together to share our time, experience, and love with one another. This summer, the new vision for the UCC was expressed with joy. This movement “A Just World for All” focuses on the Three Great Loves; love of neighbor, love of children, and the love of creation. It is our denomination’s opportunity to express our love and to work together to address the inequities in our world. Over the next two years, the United Church of Christ will discern how to act on these Three Great Loves, sharing our story of purpose along the journey together. The three great loves help to connect our denomination, and to unite us as a community. The expression of these elements helps me to feel at home. It is the laughter and joy of children, the closeness of friends who are practically family, and the sensation of being among nature that helps me to feel connected. For together, our UCC family is lifting up these Three Great Loves and together we are helping to transform the world.

This past summer, the theme for the UCC’s biennial gathering was “Make Glad”, coming from Psalm 46 which was read this morning, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells”. This passage does not describe any particular river or stream, but the image that it creates is one of calm and peace, bringing life to the city of God. This gently flowing stream can be compared to the rough ocean waves however, each are still made up of water; a transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid. This liquid forms oceans, seas, lakes, streams, and rain. This liquid is the basis of the fluids of living organisms. This liquid can be transformed into a solid or a gas and it can also transform us. Water is a substance that can be sprinkled, splashed, or sprayed and it can dampen or drench. There is so much meaning and potential filling this five letter word.

Water is an essential element of baptism. It is the prominent symbol of cleansing and of life in the Bible. The sacrament of baptism is a visible sign of the grace of God. Through baptism, God grants in us the power of forgiveness, the renewal of the spirit, and the knowledge of the call to be God’s people. This blessing is meaningful to me, as I am sure it is for many of you. I was baptized roughly fifteen years ago, right here in this space. As a young six year old, I was scared of being in front of so many people, but the smiling faces from my church family helped those feelings to fade. I remember how Pastor Jamie lifted me up so that the whole congregation could see me, and so that I could see the congregation that helped in my blessing. These moments, especially the moments that have both water and people, are special. They remind me that we are connected and that we are a family, wherever we may be.

The water that we use for baptism comes from many members of this congregation.  This year, Jocelyn gathered small samples of water that members collected, then mixed them together and purified them. These small samples of water were from our favorite vacation spots, the stream in our backyard, or the tap of a meaningful place. All of these samples were mixed together, connecting our experiences. We used the mixture of water to baptize Eliza and Emma today along with those who have already been and those who will be baptized this year. This mixture of liquid represents how water connects us all.

Here in Woodstock, we live very close to the Quinebaug River, which winds throughout our surrounding towns. I grew up passing over the river multiple times per week, always admiring the view of the water and asking my mom to slow down in downtown Putnam so I could look at the crashing waterfalls for just a few more seconds. The Quinebaug flows into the Thames River, making its way to Long Island Sound and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

Where I go to college, in the beautiful city of Keene, NH, I live practically on the bank of a local river, as my Residence Hall is just feet away. I often stop by the Ashuelot River on my way to or from classes. If I am ambitious, sometimes I get up early so that I can eat my breakfast outside at one of my favorite “river viewing” spots. To me, the Ashuelot is a reminder of nonstop change, especially after a big rain, for the river becomes a very dynamic site as the water rushes over the rocks and past the bank where I sit. The Ashuelot River flows into the Connecticut River, also making its way to Long Island Sound and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

At Synod, in Baltimore, Maryland, we were also closeby to water. One afternoon, I walked around the Inner Harbor area with my new UCC friends. A couple days later, we sat on the rooftop of a hotel with dozens of other people, to watch the Independence Day fireworks that exploded over the harbor. Hundreds of people gathered together in that one area by the water, for a single common purpose. The Inner Harbor connects to the Patapsco River, flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

Somehow, despite being located in completely different states, these three places that feel like home to me, are all connected by water, just as every human being is connected through the water that sustains all of our lives and binds us all together.

At synod, I felt connected among the thousands of people in attendance. There were 700 voting delegates from 38 different conferences that voted on resolutions during the 31st General Synod. We sat with one another during Plenary; praying, singing, and voting together. My vote did not always agree with each majority decision for all of the resolutions, but I did find that it was easier to process my thoughts when I remembered that I was among hundreds of other people that were also making decisions about resolutions, each resolution having a connection to one (or more) of the Three Great Loves. It was the trust that I put in my church family and in God that helped me to actively listen and to think deeply. It was the trust that we had in each other to open our hearts and let the movement of the holy spirit run through us, just as the water that connects all our home places.

To me, home is a feeling. This feeling often develops from living in a place for a period of time but I know that it can also blossom within hours, for in Baltimore, I felt at home as soon as I was among thousands of UCC people. The members of our denomination are more than friends to me because when we are gathered together, united by water and the Holy Spirit, we are a dynamic and diverse family, just like my families in Woodstock and Keene. Together we have conversations about heavy topics. Together we make change. TOGETHER our prayers are stronger, our singing is louder, and our hearts are more full. Together we are one and wow, that feeling is refreshing.

 


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