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Stories from Westminster, Neil Sagebiel

Maintaining Our Sacred Places

I grew up in southern Indiana. I wasn’t just a church kid; I was a preacher’s kid, or a PK as people used to say.

Our house was next door to Salem Methodist Church and my boyhood flowed between the two. The church buildings and grounds were my territory, where my dad threw football to my brother and me, where I took my first shots on a dirt basketball court, and where I practiced piano for a short time.

Yes, I squirmed during worship, but I liked seeing my dad up front in his black robe and colorful stoles. I liked the potlucks and family programs in the church basement. And I liked running free with my friends, with a bit less adult supervision.

That was church for my first 12 years, and that snapshot has stayed with me into older age.

Fast forward to spring 2019. That was the first time I walked through the red doors of Westminster’s chapel for the 9 o’clock service. I noticed a warmth that was something other than how Andy Shifflett had set the thermostat.

I discovered there were many doors and rooms at Westminster — plus the playground and outdoor spaces — offering a lot of ways for people to gather here. We call it church, but Westminster is also a community center, where people worship, sing, pray, eat, play, learn, grow, serve, meet, vote and shelter.

Oddly, Westminster became my church home during the first pandemic in a century.

I was impressed by the determination and creativity to keep being the church during that hard time. I fondly remember the parking-lot services, and I remember standing in the pouring rain and darkness for a Christmas Eve service. That might sound unpleasant, but I loved it.

This is just one very small story in a 70-year Westminster history that all of us are part of.

We all must decide why and how we give to the things we care about, like Westminster. It’s personal, between each of us and God. In thinking about it this past week, I would say I give because I’ve known generosity all my life. It’s flowed toward me like a river, even when I didn’t recognize or name it. So I give back out of gratitude, and I trust that God will bless and multiply it.

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