Faith Matters: A merciful discontent

  • Rev. Marguerite Sheehan at the Community Meal at The Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls on Friday evening. May 11, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Rev. Marguerite Sheehan at the Community Meal at The Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls on Friday evening. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls. Recorder/Paul Franz Paul Franz

Pastor, Trinity Church
Friday, May 18, 2018

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

Almost 6 years ago, I was searching for a church that would welcome and challenge and hold me close and accountable to my calling as pastor, preacher and friend. When a colleague mentioned that there was an opening at Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls, I was intrigued about this ecumenical church. Born out of necessity in the 1950s when a few small Protestant churches decided to join to become one, Trinity Church was and is a church that is open and welcoming to all and has found ways to nurture the central parts of Christian faith in a time (back then and now) when church life seems to be going out of style.

No longer do all the neighbors jump out of bed and run to get to church on time when they hear the bell toll. No longer do most families protect weekend time for church or synagogue or the mosque. And yet … as the great theologian Elie Wiesel always ended his talks with, and yet … And yet, there is something in the individual and in communities that calls forth a place where we can strive to be more than we feel like we can be. This place, often called “a third place,” is not home and not work. It is not found in commerce or in entertainment and it is not a place where you go to be alone. It is a place where you meet up with people who you might not like but who promise to stick with you as you stretch your wings.

I found this place at Trinity. I am grateful that I heard the whisper to visit what became “my place” and I am grateful that there are many such “third places” that are struggling, thriving, and coming into being in new ways in Franklin County and beyond. Faith communities are not the norm and yet they continue to be central to community life. As a 101-year-old self-declared agnostic parishioner said to me, “Marguerite, it is good for a neighborhood to have a church.”

Religious homes should be places that are not too comfortable or familiar. I have learned to listen to the edginess in a community and to appreciate that the edge is where spiritual growth is likely to occur. I call this edge “a merciful discontent.” Merciful because it comes to serve our need. Discontent because it does not let us settle down. It keeps nagging in a loving yet determined kind of way. It keeps stirring up the pot. It is not willing to say, “it is what it is.”

One of the stirred-up pots at my church and in many houses of worship (including those without buildings, like the Cathedral in the Light in Greenfield) is our community meal. Trinity Church has hosted and nurtured our Friday night meal for more than 25 years. It was hearing about this meal that convinced me to accept the position of minister at the church. I believe that eating with strangers and friends is the heart of church. What I did not know was how much merciful discontent there would be at community meals. I did not know how much I would grow and thrive and cry and laugh once I started participating in the meals.

When we eat in community, we eat food that someone prepared for us whether we like the food or the people! We meet people who live in our neighborhood or are from another town and sometimes another country. In our Friday night meal at Trinity, we invite people to speak aloud about their concerns for people and situations. When we do that we hear the rumble of discontent. Sickness, violence, sorrow, death, love, worry about the world and our place in it. When we line up, shoulder to shoulder at the meal counter, we know that we are more than our hunger. We are a people who have come out of the weather to be together. And we are held together in mercy. And in hunger and in discontent.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be fed.” The places where we meet and eat and pray and stand in lines and help each other get what we need are where I want to spend my life. I found such a place in Shelburne Falls.

Just as “faith matters,” it also matters how we live our faith. For me, mercy and discontent come together in communities who eat together and who make space for each other to be who we are: Hungry and filled with hope. Never content to settle for what is.

About Trinity Church

Trinity Church is an Open and Affirming (ONA) Congregation. We are known for our gracious and open welcome, free community meals every Friday evening, free community Clothes Closet and more. Worship services are held at 8:30 a.m. at 10 a.m (with nursery care). Communion is served at the early service each week and on the first Sunday of the month at the later service. During the summer (July and August), there is just one service at 9:30 a.m. Call 413-625-2341 for more information.