Lisa Maria BoylesBy Lisa Maria Boyles, presented during worship on April 30, 2017

Like Pastor Chris, I’m an introvert. Writing is my thing – public speaking, not so much. So I’ve written down some thoughts to share with you.

My path to this church has been circuitous. I first belonged for about 5 years in the late 1990s. I was a journalist then, and I met Rev. Gail while interviewing her for an article. She impressed me, so I started coming here and bringing my Grandma, who had Alzheimer’s.

While I was a member then, we celebrated the church’s 40th anniversary. I edited the church newsletter, Tapestries, and I chaperoned some work-service trips with our congregation’s young people.

Some things in my life changed, and I left for a few years, but I always stayed peripherally connected. I attended another church for a while, but nowhere else ever felt so much like my church home as this congregation did, even when I didn’t come regularly.

A few years ago, Charlene Toews told me about the new pastor and his family, and suggested I come back and check things out. I did.

Later, I started coming to the Women’s Book Club Discussion group. A year ago, Sharon Powers-Smith invited me to join a church committee, and I became a Trustee. And a couple of months ago, my youngest daughter – who wasn’t even born when I first came to Community UCC – asked about coming to church with me.

During last year’s Stewardship Campaign, Tony Fazio called me and talked to me about making a pledge. “You can even make an automatic donation through the church website,” he told me. This appealed to me.

Sometimes, when I came here before, the collection part of the service was uncomfortable for me. I was in a different place in my life, financially, back then. Sometimes I felt bad when the basket went by when I couldn’t give enough or maybe couldn’t give anything at all. Also, I’m not here every Sunday, and I felt guilty that I wasn’t helping the church financially on the weeks when I’m not in church.

After talking to Tony, I thought about it, considered what I can afford to give, and decided to do a monthly automatic pledge. Like Ruben said last week, it’s almost painless coming out automatically. And I know from my perspective as a member of the Trustees, it helps to have regular donations we can count on coming in to keep our church going, paying our staff and our bills and meeting our mission obligations.

I don’t feel uncomfortable anymore during the collection, or if I miss a Sunday. I know I’ve still met my pledge with my monthly gift to the church. And I can add something extra for special offerings. Making my pledge automatically helps me to be a joyful giver.

There’s a reason this church feels like the right place for me to be. It’s a different kind of church. Community UCC shines as a beacon of social justice in our community.

Our forebears in faith were early advocates in the anti-slavery movement. The United Church of Christ was the first denomination to ordain an African-American pastor, first to ordain a woman pastor, first to ordain an openly gay pastor.

I was proud to be a member here with my Grandma when our congregation went through the important work of becoming an Open and Affirming congregation. Fresno can be an unwelcoming place for the LGBTQ community. Our doors and our arms are open to all.

I woke up the day after the election in November despondent about the outcome. So many things happening every day since then make me feel, “This is not my country.”

But the day after the inauguration, when women across our nation – and many men – took to the streets to protest, I was reassured to see so many of our church members joining those protests, not only here in Fresno, but in Sacramento, in San Jose and in Idaho. Vicki Wall’s sign in the Fresno protest read, “We march for the poor, the outcasts, the earth.”

The messages I hear in this church, and the actions I see members and our pastor carrying out inspire me to be more and do more in my own life. Our community and our world need what Community UCC leads us to be.

No matter who you are, or where you are on your journey, you are welcome here.

Our church gives me hope. If it gives you that same hope, I ask that you consider what you can give to help keep our congregation’s light keep shining in this community.