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Church Testimonial for Sunday November 15, 2015

It was a typical Friday afternoon on January 17, 2003 when the phone rang in our cozy little office in Upstate NY.  Three hours later I would leave the office and not return for nearly a year and a half on what would be the most exciting and scary adventure of my life.

Until then, my faith was meager at best, even apathetic and ultimately untested.  I attended church nominally, and rarely prayed outside of the sanctuary.  I felt little connection to the rituals, mantras repeated each Sunday.  But on that January weekend that began to change.

Within hours our Pastor was in our house praying with us, her energy and the circle she made with us felt very reassuring.  Three days later my wife and I stood at the Army Reserve Center in Pennsylvania where I’d been assigned.  I did not know a single soul with whom I would soon go to war, and to say I was scared on all levels is a vast understatement.  But officers can’t show fear, so I tried to “suck it up” as best I could.

Uncertain and wandering the Reserve Center hallway, my wife and I passed an open door where a LTC invited me in to chat.  He was the Battalion Chaplain, and he could tell we felt completely and utterly lost.  He made us laugh and put us at ease, and I don’t even think we prayed that first time but his presence made all the difference in that early moment in our deployment. 

The Chaplain and I became good friends and still are to this day.  I began attending church services at our training post, then in a warehouse in Kuwait, and eventually a tent in southern Iraq where we sat on cardboard boxes.  I attended bible study, I read, I prayed at each meal and at night.  Slowly I opened my mind and heart and could feel a spirit trying to move through me.  This, this is what Faith is all about, I told myself.  And it felt good!  The mantras and rituals took on deeper meaning, I became less contradictory and more open to the ideas of religion and faith.

I was a diligent student and eagerly prayed for everyone!  My wife, parents, siblings, service members, the Iraqi people, and I prayed for myself.  I prayed to God that I would make it home safely.  I was becoming truly faithful… or so I thought.

I still worried.  I still flinched whenever I saw something by the side of the road that could be a bomb, I still nervously scanned the bridges and overpasses and a huge sigh of relief would come over me whenever we made it back to our base safely.  What I slowly learned was that faith was not in praying for a certain outcome and rejoicing when things worked out.  True faith was staying alert, but trusting in God that he would see you through no matter what.  As this revelation washed over me, I still prayed, but not for specific outcomes but for the strength to deal with whatever happened. 

I did make it home safe, as did our entire unit and for that I am so thankful.  And when I got home I promised God I would never take anything for granted again- whether time with family, a safe home, or even a cold glass of water.  But I am human, and I do forget.  I let the noise of the moment cloud the joy of my kid’s laughter, I forget to pray at each meal, and occasionally I leave the water running just a little too long.  I forget to trust in God that there is a path for me even when I can’t see it.  But God is generous and each day our faith can be renewed. 

And that is why I come to Church.

And while there are many reasons we come to first parish church specifically, one reason stands out.  We moved to town a few years ago and during our “church shopping” phase our children attended the Vacation Bible School here at First parish.  After a week of high energy singing and dancing and fun they burst out of fellowship hall and declared “We SO want to go to Church here!”  And if that isn’t a testimonial- I don’t know what is.

Bryce Waldrop