This piece was written during the Epiphany season for the Ginter Park Presbyterian Church blog. Noell expresses the nuances and moments of growth that divorce can bring. These words were expressed to the church community during a time that Noell called “raw and messy”. This piece can also be found here.
A few weeks ago, a small group of our church family gathered in my apartment to make Epiphany stars. We stood around the kitchen counter in an assembly line of sorts—tracing, cutting, writing, pinning. I’d gathered a list of 300+ words and was excited that in our stack of 200 stars there wouldn’t be any repeats. Someone picked up ATONEMENT and made a face. “With my luck this is the star I’ll pick tomorrow and I’ll have to learn something.” We laughed. I felt a little guilty for including words that are sometimes heavier and harder to carry through a year, but I think they have a place in this star word tradition Carla has brought to our community.
When I was serving another church, I took star words along with me. I gathered long lists of words from friends and peers in ministry and slowly moved it from an activity that was just for the children to one for the whole congregation. In 2016 the kids passed out stars to everyone in worship, including me. I was excited to see my word and focus for the coming year. What might it be? I hoped for joy or wonder, or perhaps self-care.
As I turned the star over, I balked. You have got to be kidding me!? FIDELITY. There it was in my own writing, a word I had knowingly included. Six months before, my partner and I had separated, and here I was, holding a word that is usually associated with the covenant of marriage.
I felt sorry for myself for a good long while. The Spirit had failed me. This was a useless star word. I snapped a picture for Instagram to elicit some moral support from friends, and then I hid the star away. This star word never resided at the forefront of my consciousness, yet the memory of it has allowed me to look back and consider how FIDELITY has been woven into my daily life since Epiphany 2016.
Often when a couple separates and divorces, new church homes are found or attending church is simply set aside altogether. It’s easier—divorce is raw and messy. It invokes anger and side-taking, and brings up feelings of failure and shame. We probably couldn’t have attended worship together and been actively involved in the community when we first separated. It’s a good thing I was working in another church and could only pop into GPPC once or twice a year. It’s taken time for us to find our footing in the world of positive co-parenting. I’m thankful we had a couple of years for the personal experiences of grief and transition that come following such a huge familial change. It allowed me to adapt. When I left my job last summer to return to school, several people asked me where I would go to church. “Ginter Park,” I’d reply, “it’s my home.” I was grateful that I could be sure of those words.
Over the last ten years this community has fed and nurtured me and my former partner. You have celebrated and grieved significant moments in our adult lives and made promises to Elliot at his baptism. It might seem strange to folks who know us to see the three of us walking together to receive communion or sitting together at the supper table. Strangers probably assume we are just another single household family attending church. We’re standing together, but we aren’t together. It’s weird, I know. Although we are no longer a couple, Jess and I remain connected by a mutual love of our child. In some strange way that is not fully understandable, we remain family, and this is our home.
Opening myself to a wider understanding of what it means to be family, remaining in a community, even when it is hard—these things are, to me, FIDELITY.
In addition to being a beloved child of God, a knitter and quilter, a cook, an artist, an educator, a 9 on the Enneagram, a nursing student, and parent to an awesome preschooler, Noell Rathbun is also is a 2010 MDiv graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary and recipient of the E. T. George Award for Excellence in Homiletics, Worship, and Public Speaking. Noell enjoys connecting life and scripture to children’s books, loves experiencing ritual in the rhythms of daily life, is a fan of puddle stomping with Elliot, and is energized by feeding people.