Back at home in Wausau, WI, my family is a part of a medium-sized Presbyterian…
I’ve been attending Pres House since the fall of 2017 (and now that I’ve said that out loud I instantly feel a whole lot older). I’d like to start off by sharing a few lessons that I’ve learned over the past four years that I wish I would have known before, and then I’ll talk about how Pres House has shaped my journey. The first lesson I’ve learned is to be yourself. Now, I know it sounds cliche, and that people always say this, but I really think that this is one of those sayings that often goes in one ear and out the other, or at least it often did for me. I spent so much time in high school and much of college worrying about what other people would think of me if I did this or believed that, but at the end of the day, I promise that people aren’t judging you nearly as much as you probably think they are. And if they do judge you for being who you are, then they aren’t worth having in your life anyway. So embrace who you are, all of it. Do what makes you happy, surround yourself with people who support and uplift you, and be honest with yourself about the things in your life that might need to change.
Another lesson I learned is that school is not that important. Now, don’t get me wrong, school should be a pretty big part of your college life, and learning and getting good grades are important, but they shouldn’t be the only high priorities in your life. As the perfectionist, overachieving high school student, I put so much effort into getting good grades that I often didn’t make time for other important parts of my life, and this carried over into college. One of the biggest regrets of my college career, and in particular the first couple years of school, is not investing more in the friendships I had and not branching out more to build new ones. Ten years from now, it’s probably not going to matter whether you got an A or a B in Calc 3, but hopefully some of the friendships you built while you were here are still a meaningful part of your life. So try your best in school and take pride in your academic accomplishments, but remember that it’s not the only important part of your life. Make time for relationships and doing the things you enjoy. You only get to be in college once and, believe me, as people always say, it goes by in a flash. So make the most of it and live without regrets.
A final piece of advice I’ll give would be to take more risks. Now, a quick disclaimer, by risks I don’t mean to avoid getting vaccinated or going to the grocery store without a mask on while it’s not yet safe to do so. What I mean is to say yes to more opportunities, especially ones that take you out of your comfort zone. It’s scary, believe me, I know, but that’s another one of my regrets from my early college career. There are so many new things I’ve tried over the past two years that have added so much richness to my life that I only wish I would have tried sooner. And there are very few risks I’ve taken that I have come to regret. So try new things, hang out with different people, ask that person if they’d like to grab coffee with you. The more of the world you experience, the higher the chance of finding people, activities, careers, food, and places that you’ll love.
Alright, now is the time where I switch gears to talk about how this place fits into my journey. I’m gonna try not to make this sound too much like an infomercial for Pres House but no promises. Anway, I’ve been to quite a few churches in my life, and it’s pretty typical to see phrases like “all are welcome” or “come as you are” written on their signs. From my experience, however, it’s pretty rare that they actually mean what those signs say. When Pres House, on the other hand, says “all are welcome,” “you belong,” and “bring all of who you are,” I can say with full confidence that it’s truly genuine. And that’s one of the things I love most about this place. No matter who you are, no matter what your background is, no matter what your beliefs are, no matter what you’ve done in the past, no matter anything, you truly belong at Pres House. There’s no pressure for you to believe certain things or change anything about yourself; you are truly able to bring all of who you are and find yourself among friends who will truly accept and support you with no strings attached. And to me, this culture of unconditional love and acceptance matters a whole lot more than any theology that’s taught in this building, and it embodies the teachings of Christ far better than a sermon ever could.
Those of you who have known me since the beginning of my journey here probably remember that, when I first walked through those doors, I was a completely different person. I thought that the Bible was meant to be taken literally, I was not affirming of the LGBTQ+ community, and I was in denial of my own identity within that community. I believed that all non-Christians were going to Hell, and that God would be angry if I didn’t pray and read the Bible daily. I had a carefully selected Bible verse to answer any theological or existential question that one might pose and had all sorts of walls up when it came to tackling difficult issues. Well, needless to say, Pres House started shaking the snow globe that was my world and hasn’t stopped doing so since. Recognizing that we don’t have the answers to all of life’s questions is a lot harder than pretending that we do, but I’m also confident that it’s better. It helps us to stay curious, allows us to continue growing throughout our lives, and gives us respect and appreciation for the wonderful diversity of beliefs around us.
So, no, Pres House has not given me all the answers to my questions regarding faith and theology. In fact, I probably have more questions and doubts now than I had when I first walked through those doors. But what Pres House has taught me is the type of person that I want to be, regardless of what my future looks like when it comes to faith. I want to be Jessica and Steven Chapman, who took me out to brunch when my tennis match that they were coming to watch just to support me got canceled. I want to be Erik Franze, who fights for the vulnerable and the oppressed to the point of ending up in jail for his efforts. I want to be Becca, fearlessly and unapologetically being who she is and starting a group to provide a safe place of love and support for those whom the church has traditionally cast out with Queerly Beloved. I want to be Erica, who never gives up on any of us, no matter how many times we fail to respond to her emails in a timely manner. I want to be Emily, always willing to go above and beyond to serve others, even if it involves piles and piles of dirty dishes every week. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you all inspire me. You have taught me so much and it is through each of you that I see tiny glimpses of God. None of us individually have all the answers, and none of us are perfect, but collectively there is so much goodness and wisdom in this room and we can learn so much from one another. That’s my final, and perhaps greatest, piece of advice for you today: take full advantage of the amazing community that you’ve found yourself in and don’t take a moment of it for granted.
Alright, I’m going to step off my soapbox now, and I guess the only fitting way for me to close would just be to thank all of you who make up this amazing community for a wonderful four years. In these walls I’ve made some of my closest, dearest friends, gained a deeper, more mature understanding of faith, and have grown so much as a person thanks to the people here. I will forever be grateful for Pres House and each person who has been a part of the community, past and present. You all are incredible and I will never forget the time I’ve had here. Thank you.