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  • David Gaddy

A former student recently decided to move away from her small town, having saved up money, gotten a great deal on a used car, and accepted into a college program. Of course, doing this in the midst of a pandemic. However, there was peace in her decision. She felt prepared, she had a plan, and she needed to leave her town behind. However, she did not plan on hitting rock bottom. Her car broke down. Her job did not transfer. The college program was not what she was expecting. The peace she had of new beginnings progressively evaporated and began to find herself without money or a sense of direction. No money meant no food. This student has helped with ministry organizations before but never thought she might lean into one. However, for four months, she leaned into the help of a food pantry while trying to pull herself out of the pit of isolation and depression. Not a place we would typically find God, nor find peace.


Often, peace is found in unexpected ways and places. Moments and spaces we would never think it would flood in, peace reigns supreme. When advent season rolls around and peace is spoken of, I think of the announcement of peace and goodwill to humanity announced from the angels to the shepherds. I am not rushing to a field of sheep to find peace, especially in the middle of the night, as they were likely threats lurking about. However, the angelic chorus in Luke 2 made their way to announce the birth of the Good Shepherd that would bring PEACE on earth. This birth brought a new way of life that could make possible the true way of peace.




The student mentioned above-found healing and peace in that food pantry. She let go of pride and allowed someone to care for her. This ministry announced to her that despite what she may be going through in this season of her life, what really mattered was her well-being. This organization, without question, continued to care for her. She then began to reach out to others that could help her mind and soul. She is now back in her little town, but it was only by the peace offered to her through the divine calling of a food pantry.


Storied Church supports a similar food pantry, Southern Alamance Family Empowerment (SAFE) Food Pantry. Their vision: “To end hunger in our community. Of course hunger is complex: People are hungry for so much more than just food. People are hungry for healthy relationships, safe surroundings, and God’s abundant love. With this in mind, we will build relationships with all who come through our doors, always seeking ways to feed the hungry.”




The student I talked about asked me a few days ago if there was a food pantry she could donate to. This is when she told me her story. I pointed her to SAFE Food Pantry. She said, “I would have starved without that food bank. I am glad it was there because I never saw myself going to a food bank until I was at my lowest. There was so much going wrong all at the same time. Finally, with the food bank, something felt like it was going right. My faith was being restored. I finally had some moments of peace.”


One day she will be able to announce and share her story. That through a food bank, through people donating food when they can to an organization, that people can be restored body, mind, and soul. Her story will be a silver lining in the cloudy skies of someone else’s life to announce “Peace on Earth and goodwill to humanity.”



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  • Jason Gaskin

255,000 deaths in the US due to Covid-19. Someone’s loved one. Most of us know people who have died or been affected by the coronavirus. And it is devastating.


Devastating would be a good way to describe this year. Compounding upon this is the continued election drama.

We are all stressed and anxious. Those who see the world the way I do and those that don’t. Stressed. Anxious.


Stress and anxiety are no respecters of persons.

If one is happy… the other isn’t. Sounds like my kids…

We now can guess who you voted for president if you wear a mask or not.


And where is God in the midst of this chaos? And where are you?

The lectionary text for the first week of Advent comes from Mark 13. This isn’t the story we read to our children. It doesn’t have the elements of Advent and Christmas.


Jesus is forecasting to the disciples that a time is coming when the temple will be no more. God had a place… and it was the temple. As long as the temple stood… God was and is with us. It was the heart of social, political, and religious life.

God was predictable.

We didn’t have to search too hard for God.

And Jesus was telling his disciples that a time was coming when the temple would be rubble.

Where will God be then? And what does that mean for us?


What an image for a season of life for those of us that attended church in a church building when we no longer could attend.


We, like them, are struggling to perceive a faith absent from the building.


Where is God? Where are you?


Advent is about waiting and expectation. The story begins in Isaiah when Isaiah prophesies to a king that a “child shall be born”. The challenge at that moment is how to defeat the rising enemies. And God’s offer was a vulnerable child… that would come… not now… but later.


God’s answer to impending darkness was vulnerability.

And this child wasn’t born in a castle but in a humble stable out of the view of all with the exception of foreign sages and lowly shepherds.


God came when no one was looking or expected veiled in the darkness of night.

God is mysterious. You can’t pin God down.


John Milton wrote a poem called Comus in the 17th century. For which he said this…

“I see ye visibly, and now believe

That he, the Supreme Good, to whom all things ill

Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,

Would send a glistering guardian, if need were

To keep my life and honour unassailed.

Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud

Turn forth her silver lining on the night?

I did not err; there does a sable cloud

Turn forth her silver lining on the night,

And casts a gleam over this tufted grove.”


The silver lining of the cloud helped us to see that what seems to be pure darkness is never devoid of light or possibility. “Casts a gleam over this tufted grove…”

Where is God? Where are you?

There have been a few times that parishioners have asked, “why don’t we see miracles?”


Maybe it’s that we look in all the wrong places.


Maybe it isn’t in the cosmic event of life that God comes… but maybe in the dark and mundane.

I know that isn’t what we want to hear. We want to hear a dualistic, absolute answer. And there isn’t one.

For me? My silver lining in clouds? They come often in simple ordinary moments.


One of those moments was a few nights ago when I was putting my son Isaac to sleep. This is special because for the last few months he hasn’t let me put him to bed and read him a book. At the end of the book, we clasp our hands together and pray what millions have prayed generations past, “Our Father…” I lay him down. Tuck him in. I make sure he has everything he needs. He likes his water, Olaf, Eyeore, and fan on. I checked all the boxes… said “I love you.” And I walked out of the room. Then he screams. I walk back in and ask him what he needs.


“Daddy you forgot hug and kiss.”

It’s all I needed.


Where is God? Where are you?


Where is the silver lining in the midst of this chaos or what seems like hell?


God is here in these moments breathing life and light into our darkness. Or reminding us, “daddy you forgot hug and kiss.”


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  • Korie Dean

Writer: Korie Dean journalism student at UNC Chapel Hill.


It’s 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, and Louise Shulack and Elaine Berry are ready for church.

In the couple’s Mebane home, Gus, a 72-pound golden retriever, and Toby, a 2-pound fluffy white Maltese, play underfoot as Shulack, wearing a purple polo with a Baltimore Ravens logo on the left chest, logs in to her Zoom account.

They meet up with David Gaddy and pastor Jason Gaskin through the computer screen.

Gaddy, sitting in front of a poster that reads, “Love God. Love people. Nothing else matters,” begins the virtual service with announcements: someone in the congregation is hosting a podcast series on composting, and two Sundays from now, there’s a church-sponsored trip to the local early voting location.

Shulack and Berry unmute their mic and follow with a call to worship, reading from the second chapter of Philippians and centering themselves and those tuning in on Facebook Live on the ideas of humility and joy.


At some churches, a married same-sex couple leading worship might cause jaws to drop or eyes to nervously dart around the room.

But not at Storied Church.

It’s exactly the affirming, inclusive faith community Gaskin prayed for when he founded the church a little over a year ago—a place for people who have been hurt, let down or broken by traditional churches to find joy and heal their wounds.

And it all started with Edward.

***


Gaskin had been the pastor of a small United Methodist church in rural Caswell County for five years when, one Sunday in January 2017 he saw Edward for the first time.

He was sitting alone in a pew on the last row of the sanctuary.

No one knew who he was. The mostly elderly congregation gave its implied welcome with judgmental glances and hushed side chatter.

“There was a real xenophobic reality playing out in that community,” Gaskin said.

When Gaskin invited the worshippers up to the altar to renew their baptism, Edward raised more eyebrows by darting to the front of the line, bypassing the conventional front-to-back flow of the service.

Edward stood at the altar, trembling and shaking as he sobbed inconsolably. Gaskin dipped his thumb in the water and made a cross on Edward’s forehead.

“You are a child of God,” Gaskin told him.

In his 10 years of ministry, Gaskin had never seen such an intense reaction to a renewal of baptism. He was sure that Edward would be embarrassed by his outpouring of emotion and never return.

But he did. And after a few months of attending Sunday services, Edward met with Gaskin at the pastor’s home, which doubled as the church office and a Bible study space.

“Jason, I’m gay,” he said through a steady flow of tears.

Gaskin could see the shame Edward had carried for so long weighing down on him.

“Edward, that’s how God made you,” Gaskin said. “Who you are is so beautiful.”

It was the first time someone at a church told Edward he belonged. But he knew he would never feel comfortable bringing a partner to a service or telling the congregation who he really was—and Gaskin knew it, too.

He dreamed of founding a progressive, affirming church that would openly and willingly accept people like Edward.

He shared his vision with his wife, Kiah, on a walk in their Mebane neighborhood.

“You should share your dream with someone,” she told him.

And he did.

In 2019, with the blessing of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church’s New Faith Communities initiative, Gaskin began to form a group of like-minded people in the Mebane community who shared his theology of acceptance.

He offered to meet anyone who would listen to him at local coffee shops in Mebane, like Reed’s—where he met Gaddy, and later Berry and Shulack, who were all hurting from past experiences at church, too.

Like Gaskin, Gaddy struggled to reconcile his own beliefs with conservative leadership at the churches where he worked.

He had been a youth pastor in Mebane for close to 8 years, but when his support of a same-sex couple came into question, he knew it was time to find a new community.

Like Edward, Shulack and Berry, who had been a couple for close to 30 years and married for five, never thought they would be accepted at a traditional church because of their sexuality.

No matter how many volunteer trips they went on or lay councils they served on at Berry’s home church in rural Orange County, they always felt out of place.

“Even though most people knew we were a couple, I wasn’t comfortable putting my arm around Elaine and comforting her,” Shulack said.

Using their respective pain and feelings of betrayal as a source of hope for long-awaited healing, the group worked together to bring Gaskin’s vision to life.

They brainstormed a set of shared values, committing themselves to become a community that embraces everyone, realizes the power of doubt and questioning in faith and knows that everyone’s story matters.

It was a markedly different tone from the conservative churches they were surrounded by in Alamance County, and it wasn’t the right fit for everyone.

But for others, it worked.

The church’s Sunday services started with only six or seven people, but soon grew to 20 or 30, forcing them to relocate from a small side room at Reed’s to larger community spaces, such as the historic Woodlawn School in Mebane.

In early March, at their last in-person gathering before the coronavirus pandemic, the one-room schoolhouse was filled with close to 60 people, dressed in coats because the heating system had been dormant all night.


The pandemic would keep them from gathering in person for close to six months, but on that cold Sunday in March, they were already feeling the pain of separation.

Berry got a call a few days prior.

One of her friends, an early supporter of the church, was in a minor traffic accident months prior.

Now, he was on his way to an ICE detention facility in Georgia, where he would be held for the next three months because of his undocumented status.

Leaning on her wife for support, Berry made the painful announcement to the congregation.

And with tears streaming down their faces, they all held hands as they prayed for their friend’s safety and, in the same breath, publicly demanded progressive policy actions.

It was more than Gaskin ever prayed his vision would become.

As he looked around the room and saw everyone who had journeyed with him to this point, he felt a divine presence.

Amid the deep pain they felt, they each found solace and hope in the community that they had built together, driven by their past brokenness.


The healing had begun.

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