When I first came to Philadelphia, the First Unitarian Church on Chestnut Street was impossible to miss. With its rainbow flags gently moving in the April breeze, it was forever etched in my memory as a place that I would need to visit when I officially moved to the city. Sure enough, less than four months later, I attended both my first young adult evening worship and a summer choir retreat, and knew that this place was indeed the home my spirit so desperately needed. Here I could lay down my burdens, reveal my brokenness, hold the joys and sorrows of my fellow faith journeyers, and live into a new tradition that counted on all of us working together to change the world. Here I could be part of a chorus, both in song and in deed, that celebrated the transformative and healing power of a diverse and fiercely loving community. And here, within these walls and within your hearts, I learned that the path I was meant to follow was filled with a few more unexpected turns.
On May 15th, I graduated from Union Theological Seminary. It was the end of a three-year portion of my journey that somehow managed to take me away from all that was familiar, and yet bring me closer to truths that my soul already knew. My learning in and beyond the classroom introduced me to scriptures and prophets; poets and scholars; struggle and resilience. My formation as a minister-to-be and as a human-always-in-process involved feelings of hope and despair, certainty and confusion, strength and humility. I learned to trust, celebrated my limitations, and lost and found faith in unexpected places – places I had long tried to push aside. I found new ways to nourish the roots of my life and faith, and in that process re-discovered that it was my roots that gave me wings. It was what I had received that kept me accountable to the possibility of what I could be and do. It was who and what surrounded me in love that reminded me of the love that I am – that we are – called to cultivate in this world.
When I first started out on this heart-opening, tear-inducing, chocolate-requiring journey, I did not expect the intensity of the changes it would bring. I did not expect the ways in which I would need to let go of what had been secure and stable in exchange for a faith in the unknown and unpredictable. I did not expect to cry, laugh, or bake as much as I did. But one thing that I did anticipate was that there would be a time when I would come back to First Unitarian, back to the rainbow flags, back to the faces, voices, and spirits that had welcomed me home during that first fall service. Back to the roots that had given me wings. I knew that I would eventually return to First Unitarian Church not to say that I am leaving, but to share my gratitude for the love, memories, songs, and stories that we have shared. I knew that I would come back, not to say goodbye, but to share a different kind of hello.