Adapted from a conversation between Jacqueline Cruz and Ellie Stewart, pastoral intern.
How long have you been here at First Pres?
So I’ve been at First Pres since about fourth or fifth grade. We were relatively new to town, and I have an older brother. We were kind of looking around for a church. And we would attend service. We had been to some of the Easters, some of the Christmas services here and there, and we just hadn’t formally joined the church yet, because prior to that, both of my parents were some degree Catholic, and that’s what they were really looking for.
At our church, we get — I want to say it’s hymnals when the children enter kindergarten? And then they get Bibles when they enter the first grade, if I remember it correctly. And I wasn’t here for that. I distinctly remember during, like, my first year or second new year of Sunday school, when the teachers were telling us, “OK, next week, bring your Bibles.” And I kind of had to shimmy over to my teacher and be like, “. . .I don’t have one of those.” And she was a little confused, like “You should have gotten one,” but then, “Oh, right!” I remember it very sweetly because in my head, it seems like you don’t remember a time I wasn’t here in your brain. It’s a very nice sentiment, I thought. I appreciated it.
What parts of your faith journey, both at First Pres and in general, have been formative?
I think the foundation of so much of my faith has come from being able to go to different places and act it out. Over spring break, we would do mission trips. I’ve come to learn that mission trips at our church and mission trips in different groups are very different. Learning that other churches go in a uniform, and they have the brochures, and they’re like, “Please convert to our religion” — we never did that. For us, it was always, “We’re going to go to a place, a community in need, we’re going to do service, and privately amongst ourselves, we’re going to connect that to faith.” But never once imposing — never once was it conditional that if you didn’t believe in our religion, we were not going to provide a service for you. And it was always a little odd coming back from spring break and kids talking about, like, well, what did you do, where did you go, and it’s like, “I got to milk goats for spring break, and collect eggs, and do manual labor for a week, and I loved it, and I would do it again.”
What parts of life at First Presbyterian have brought you joy?
I think the fact that I’ve known these people forever, even if I’m not always the best with names or with faces. There’s always a sense of “this person knows me, and I know them.” It’s a really wonderful community, especially even as people leave other people going to college or moving away for this and that. Having new people come into the church is always a delight. Especially because I was one of the high school teachers this past year, I was working with the older children, and occasionally getting to meet a new family that was in with one of the younger kids, or maybe someone who had joined during the pandemic that I haven’t gotten to know yet. It’s a wonderful place for building community, and I really appreciate that.
What’s been your experience being a young person in the church?
You hear a lot of people say often, and this is, you know, statistically proven, that a lot of young people are leaving the church for whatever reason, X, Y, Z. You hear, not even necessarily older members, just members in general discussing this just as a phenomenon. And it’s like well. . . hi! I’m a young person that’s still here! We haven’t all left! I understand the concern, genuinely. I have some of it for myself as well. But it’s like, let’s not go full panic mode. And I think I’m trying to outgrow the little kid image — I have my own thoughts and opinions, and it’s learning how to be at the big kids’ table, basically.
Where have you seen a triune God recently?
It might have been the first Montreat College Conference I went to, which would have been not this past January, but the January before that. It was a delightful time, and unfortunately, I’m never very good at remembering the names of the speakers or the people who talked there, and I always feel bad. But I do remember something that was said during one of the keynotes which was describing God’s voice. And I thought it was very interesting, because the way that the keynote speaker described it is that God’s voice is like the wind. It’s kind of perpetually moving. Sometimes it’s so still you can barely hear it, but it’s there, and it grows and wanes, and it’s something that has stuck with me so strongly that whenever it’s windy, my brain just goes, “Oh, hi, God!” Like, “Hi, it’s nice to hear from you again!” Just very casually, like an old friend.