Katrina and I first came to this church simply looking for a place to get married. We had explored 3 or 4 locations and basically came here because Katrina’s parents had been married in this church. We knew nothing about the church or even this denomination. It has now been 19 years and we still keep coming back … almost every week.
Katrina and I were married at this church. Both of my daughters were baptized here. Katrina sang with the choir for several years. My parents later also joined the church. Jimmy conducted the service when my father died. I had no idea any of this would happen when we first sat down in the pews that first day.
I spent a lot of time trying to decide what to speak about. I am very self-conscious to be following the speakers from the last few years, who I find to be much more accomplished and experienced than I am. They spoke wonderfully and so incredibly honestly about their life experiences.
First I planned to talk about my experiences as a father. I thought - 5 simple tips from a young father. My father died 11 years ago so I never got to discuss fathering or get advice specific from him. Katrina and I had various excuses which delayed starting a family, first I was in law school, then we were both starting new jobs and wanted to focus on our careers. But with the loss of my father, we put aside our hesitation and were blessed with two daughters. My father was a great role model as a father and a person.
I asked my 9-year-old daughter Anya what makes me a good father. Not yet a teenager, she is still talking to me, but simply said “I don’t know” and wouldn’t give me a more detailed answer. My 5-year-old daughter Amelia only said “I was the best”. It made me feel great, but didn’t help me figure out what to say. My wife said nice things about being involved in my girls lives and caring about their happiness, but this would not stretch out long enough for my talk today. My girls are still young and I have a good grasp on how to care for them at this point. If the saying “small kids- small problems – big kids, big problems” is correct then I’m in no rush to deal with the impending issues ahead, from harder school classes, planning for college, when they start dating, or all the other peer pressure possibilities that my girls will face at school.
Usually the best practical advice I have given my friends who were about to become fathers, is to wear socks at night. Because you will get up in the middle of the night for a quick diaper change, or a feeding, and before you know it, that is the night you will be sitting in a chair with a fussy child. 3 hours later, you will still be in the chair and not want to move an inch so that the baby stays asleep, but your feet will be freezing and you will be too uncomfortable to fall asleep also.
After these thoughts, I landed on talking about something very difficult for me, namely my faith and journey to better understand God. I say this is difficult because I was not raised in a religious household. The Congregational Church of Manhasset is not an Evangelical church and our speakers and sermons don’t focus on spreading the faith in a prosthletyzing way. It’s not a vocabulary that I have or a background that I can relate to. For the most part, I don’t talk to my friends about faith.
Until coming to this church I did not attend any religious services. My family is a varied mix of faiths. I was born to a (technically) Jewish mother, was baptized Catholic and am now a practicing Protestant.
My mother’s family are Hungarian Jews who fled Europe just before WWII. They arrived in the USA and were able to get some of the family out of Europe before the worst of the horrors began. My grandfather joined the Army and fought in Italy with the 10th Mountain Division. The family name in Hungarian was pronounced Meekesh, but spelled MIKES. I’m sure my Grandfather was unable to convince his drill sergeant at boot camp in 1940 that he was mispronouncing the name. I am told that the family in Hungary was not particularly religious and it was important for them to assimilate in America. So, after the war my mother, aunt and uncle were raised as Methodists. My mother recalls attending church and teaching at Sunday school.
My father’s family is Catholic. My grandfather was in the Army Air Corp and my father grew up on army bases all over the world until my Grandfather died. He didn’t attend regular services as a youth. We never attended services when I was younger, even on Easter or Christmas. We celebrated these holidays. I don’t recall ever having any detailed conversation with my father about his beliefs or thoughts on religion. He was basically an atheist.
To muddy the waters even more, my Sister chose to practice the Jewish faith. Under Jewish tradition, you are considered Jewish if born to a Jewish mother. Even though my mother grew up Methodist, my Grandmother was historically Jewish, so my sister and I are considered Jewish by birth. She has raised her children as Jewish, and studied to make her Bat Matzah in her 40s. I grew up in Lawrence, where the majority of people in the Five Towns (maybe 70-80 percent) were Jewish. However, I never identified myself as Jewish, and always considered myself agnostic growing up.
It is with this background that Katrina and I found this church. We got engaged at a young age, we were both 22 and barely out of college. As we began planning the wedding, it was more important to Katrina than me to find a church for the ceremony. We explored several different churches, without really caring which denomination we went to. Like many other people, we were impressed with the church’s choir and welcoming message.
We met with Jimmy several times for pre-marriage counseling. We didn’t attend regularly, but came back several times for services. I don’t remember when we made the decision, but it was only a few months after our first visit that we decided to join the church.
It’s hard to express how welcoming I found this church. People introduced themselves to Katrina and me. They remembered us when we when came back. Katrina’s grandmother is Catholic, but comes here with us often. She is constantly amazed how often Jimmy greats her by name and is so happy to see her come. All my other visits to a church or synagogue were for an occasion, such as a wedding, bar mitzvah, or christening. It was transactional not inspirational. As soon as the event was over I left. No one at these places cared if I was present.
I think the first time I was asked to read and consider a passage of the Bible was during a high school project. At this church, I found for the first time not just a willingness, but an interest to learn more. Here, the message and atmosphere kept me wanting to come back.
It was during this period that Katrina was undergoing several procedures leading up to brain surgery. I can clearly remember the moment I first felt God’s presence. The second vascular procedure she underwent was more complicated than the first. Doctors usually give you a standard boilerplate talk about how surgery comes with risks. However, we were given more than just the basic warning from the doctor that there could be potential consequences. Katrina’s grandmother and I were in the waiting room and I remember praying. As I mentioned before, I didn’t have much of a vocabulary to talk about faith and it’s still hard to describe what I felt. But the nervousness instantly left me. I felt a calmness. This was not a peaceful feeling you can get with meditation, because I had been a tight ball of tension a moment before. It’s a sensation that I have only had a few other times in my life, including the day of my wedding and at 2 am holding a feverish 6-week-old Anya admitted in the hospital.
I am colorblind. I can see the difference between red and blue and brown etc. But I have a lot of trouble with shades of different colors. I never knew I was color blind until the last week of college. I needed a required science elective, and was taking the physics of light. During the last class the teacher was discussing how the eye perceives light and color. He put up several discs and asked who can’t see the letters and numbers. I was the only person to raise my hand. This was particularly concerning because I was graduating with a dual major in History and Theater. In the theater department, I focused on light, sound and stage designing. I had designed the lights for 5 full length shows and over 10 dance acts. It made me second guess all of my lighting color choices and wonder if people were simply being polite. It was not until that moment that I ever knew I was missing something. It made me confront how I perceived the physical life before me. By the way, I whole heartily give Katrina credit for my stylish suit and tie combinations. When you see Anya or Amelia in mismatching outfits, that is always my fault. I beg you to not judge me too hard.
Having that moment of calmness in the hospital was similar. I felt a shifting in my life. It’s been over 19 years since then and I still clearly recall this sensation. I have had friends tell me it was a chemical reaction. Dopamine or something my body released to help combat the stress of the day. Yet I choose to believe it was more. I choose to believe it was God giving me comfort. Which is why we all come here. We believe. And I know that without finding this church I would not have been prepared to recognize that presence. Even now, inside this place, with people who also come to worship in the same way as I do, I have trouble finding the word and even the strength to talk about my faith and why I believe in God.
So I am thankful to Jimmy and Lori for their preaching. For their ministering to my family, and all of us, during the hard times. For celebrating with us during the weddings, births and other life achievements. I am thankful for the members of the Congregation who welcomed Katrina and I. For everyone who prayed for Katrina during her surgeries a few months ago. For all those who encouraged us to find rewards in serving others. For the time and effort people give to support the church’s committees and projects.
I have found a great comfort here, I hope you have also. I hear many people speak about attending this church because they were raised here. But Katrina and I were not. We choose to come and stay here. In the future, I hope that together we can continue giving the blessing of faith and peace to others. Especially to those people, like me, who didn’t know the wonders they can find, and didn’t know what they were missing in their lives, until they stepped into this Church for the first time. Thank you for listening. I hope you have a wonderful Father’s Day.