In order to understand what makes Grace so amazingly special I am going to tell you a bit about myself and my past. I was raised in the Episcopal Church at Grace Church in Elkridge, MD. One of my first “real” jobs was at the day care center run there. Grace was my home and a second family to me. When it was time to go to college I talk not only to my parents, but too many of surrogate moms and dads I had at Grace.
In 2002 at the age of 20, I dropped out of college and joined the US Army as a combat medic. I never felt more purposeful than I did serving my country caring for ill and injured people, not only US Soldiers and allies, but our enemies as well. War opened my eyes to how precious and beautiful life really is. As much as the Army gave me, it took many things away as well. I was sexually assaulted by a member of my unit who was also a pastor in his home church. When charges were brought forth he committed suicide. I became very angry; angry with God, angry with humanity and angry with myself. I stopped going to church.
In 2008 I suffered the first of many health crises that would ultimately change the course of my life. I did what any Soldier would do; I grit my teeth, shut my mouth and carried on. In 2012 I could no longer handle the pain and while stationed in Germany I chose to have the total hysterectomy that the doctors had been pushing for. Eight weeks after surgery I went on a mission to Israel. A very long story short the surgery fixed one problem and caused many others. I look back on my mission to Israel as the last time I felt truly healthy, ironic when you consider I had had a major surgery just a few weeks prior. The thing I remember most about that deployment was the feeling that God was in that place, despite all of the bad things happening all around me, God was there and I missed him. Like most people, I may have missed having God in my life but I wasn’t ready to do anything about it. After Israel, I was stationed at Walter Reed and after an interesting year in Wheaton, MD we decided to move to Charles Town. My health continued to fail and ultimately the Army medically retired me after almost 13 years of faithful service.
I gave you this long aside so that you understand the first time I came to Grace I was as broken as a person can be. My world was defined by the military and my place in the military. It was all going away, and I was hurt, confused, scared, and lost. My mother sent me an email Anjel had written regarding the DUI incident with the bishop and I appreciated the tone and thought that went into it. I decided to check Grace out. The first service I came to Anjel thought she was giving a sermon to everyone but really she was talking to me. She was talking to me about letting go. About being something different than I thought I was. After service I did a very un-Episcopalian thing and I didn’t go for coffee. I sat in my pew and I wept. There was the God I was looking for, right in front of me. I came to few more services alone and ultimately decided that perhaps it was too far. I tried Zion closer to home but I felt the pull to come back to the place I had felt God. When I came back with my kids in tow the very first week Miss Shirley asked where I had been. You have to understand I talked to Anjel and no one else. I slipped in and out those first few times months ago without my children. How did this person know who I was and that I hadn’t been here? Our attendance became regular during the roughest six months of my life. Anjel knew I was having a hard time but somehow when at church it didn’t seem so bad. Slowly things got easier, I enrolled in school and three months after my retirement date I was offered a job. Our regular attendance had some unexpected but joyous consequences, my daughter Miriam became impatient to be baptized. Just before Thanksgiving last year she was baptized here at Grace. Over time I came to know more and more people in the congregation and even made friends, something I have a very hard time doing. When the call for vestry members went out I pondered it and dismissed the notion. We had been coming to Grace less than a year. The idea kept at me, even when I wasn’t in church and finally I told Mother Anjel that if no one came forward and they still needed a person I wouldn’t mind, but I didn’t want to take anything away from anyone. No one stepped forward and in February it was official. Grace Church helped give me hope when I had none, fellowship when I needed it most and a gift that is impossible to describe. Grace gave me myself, flawed and imperfect and loved.