By Ginny Masterson
My mom’s father was a pastor with a talent for shepherding struggling congregations through times of transition. The ministry took him and his family all over the country, and they never lived in one place for more than a few years. I once asked my mom if that constant uprooting was difficult. “No,” she said, “I never really worried about starting over, because if you’re a Christian you have a family everywhere you go.”
I’m not like my mom. I find starting over to be rather difficult.
I moved to Durham two summers ago because my then-fiancé, now husband, would be starting a Master’s degree at Duke Divinity School that fall. We were to be married in August, but I moved here in June, alone, to start my new job and set up our apartment. I had traded my longtime church home, friends, family, and professional network for an unfamiliar city where I didn’t know a soul. On top of all that, I was planning a wedding remotely. (Public Service Announcement: I don’t recommend taking on all these major life transitions at once!) It was an emotionally raw summer, to say the least.
On my third Sunday in Durham I visited Blacknall, feeling awkward and adrift. Jubilant chords rolled from Dave Stuntz’s fingertips and glorious four-part harmonies rose up from all around the sanctuary. I thought, “Wow...these people are really paying attention. This is a singing congregation!”
During the passing of the peace, the young women sitting nearby struck up a conversation with me -- not to meet some “talk to newcomers” quota or to pressure me to come back, but just because they were genuinely interested. I saw warmth and empathy in their faces as I explained my current life situation. (“Wow...I think I could actually find some friends here if I came back!”)
During the time of congregational prayer, I noticed that Margaret could immediately name the people raising their hands with prayer requests. (“Wow...the staff actually know people here!”)
By the end of the service, as we sang “He Who Watches Over You,” I was moved to tears because it seemed that this place was an oasis in that deeply lonely summer. Each of those small moments throughout the service had added up to something rather rare in my life: a vivid experience of being seen and held by the Holy Spirit.
Drew and I quickly made Blacknall our church home, and my mom’s words finally rang true for me. That September Allan suffered a heart attack, and we witnessed you, Blacknall, being family to the Pooles and to each other over the ensuing months.
I know now that the spirit of unity and service so pervasive then were not unique to that season (though perhaps called into sharper relief by the circumstances). Over these two years we’ve learned a lot about everyday grace through the ways we’ve seen you serve, receive, agree, disagree, conduct church business, and have fun together. We’ve been invited over for so many meals in people’s homes -- such a rarity in the DC area! We’ve been befriended, encouraged, and prayed for by a wonderfully cross-generational array of friends. Perhaps most transformative for me, you’ve taught us to love our new city through service rather than consumption.
New jobs and changing family dynamics are now calling us back to DC, and leaving is bittersweet. There is bitterness in knowing that we’re contributing to the Triangle’s transient dynamic. It’s sweet, however, to leave here equipped with the singular example of Gospel welcome that you, Blacknall family, have given us. We’re resolved to love DC well by emulating all the big and small ways you let people know that they are seen, welcomed, and served.