Posted by Kristin Jackson
I was always skeptical of organized religion. Growing up, I went to church at a young age, but as my siblings and I got older and busier, it seemed to just fall out of our schedule. I had no strong ties to any belief systems and preferred the writings of cold, hard science to the mystical words of the bible. Because of this, I was apprehensive at first that we would be attending church services all summer. I understood that attending the services was a principal way to show our gratitude for the hospitality showed to us by the faith communities who offered us housing, yet I had images of cult-like worship and attempted conversions swirling around in my head.
All these worries dissipated when I discovered the connectivity and sense of community surrounding houses of worship. When our housing fell through for our one-night stopover in Concord, Pastor Ruth Richards (a friend of Marla’s and the pastor of the Pawtucket Congregational Church in Lowell where we are finishing our training) put out a call on Facebook to see if anyone could house the 30 of us. Luckily, Pastor Jennie Valentine saw this, and welcomed us into her beautiful church in Manchester. I found it amazing that, with one-day notice, Marla was able to find a place that would welcome all of us with open arms. The First Congregational Church served as an excellent place to recharge our batteries after the 48-mile ride from Camp Wilmot and to prepare for the 30-mile ride to Lowell.
When we arrived in Lowell, all of us were desperate for a real shower and laundry to wash away the sweat and grime of our long travels. Chip Hamblet, his parents John and Hope, and their neighbor Karen welcomed us into their homes, allowing us to use their showers and laundry machines, a deed for which we are all undyingly grateful. They encouraged us to stay in their homes as long as we like, chatted with us, and allowed us to look through a bunch of old books to entertain us on our travels. I made off with an old copy of Jane Eyre, one of the smaller books that hopefully won’t weigh me down too much on my bike.
I realized that these two major favors came about due to the interconnectedness of these church communities. These congregations aren’t just about their dedication to God, but about their dedication to each other. Acquaintances quickly transfer to friends, and vast networks and connections open up to those who are members. This interconnected web reminds me a lot of alumni networks—full of people eager to help those who ask. This realization transformed my skepticism to respect for people of faith—respect for their altruism, for their kindness, and for their overwhelming sense of community.