It was January 12, 1997. A few weeks earlier, my friend Kyle had asked if I wanted to go to church with him at the Episcopal Church in Almaden. Having accepted Christ into my heart a few years earlier and not having a church of my own, I said “yes”. It terrified me to walk into the church that morning because I am incredibly shy, but I knew in my heart that I needed to be there.
Over the next few weeks, my shyness started dissipating and I started getting to know more and more people. I was welcomed as a member of the church on May 18, 1997, which happened to be the day before my 17th birthday, and I was invited to join the choir that fall. Margaret Kvamme, the choir director, was a professor of music at UC Santa Cruz, and I ended up singing under her baton as a member of the Women’s Chorale during part of my time there. Andy Kerr, the director of the Folk Choir, recruited me as a member and even invited me to play special music at one of the Christmas services when he discovered that I was a classical pianist.
Perhaps the person who had the biggest influence on me was Winnie Jackman, one of the sopranos in the choir. I stood next to her every Sunday morning and I learned the liturgy by heart from hearing it spoken in my ear every Sunday. She and her husband Jack would sometimes give me a ride home from choir practice, and I would occasionally run into Jack when I was walking home from school. They were at my wedding at the church in March 2002, and Winnie remarked that she had not cried at her daughter’s wedding, but she had cried at mine.
In June 2014, I received an email from Margaret. Winnie had passed away after a ten-year fight with dementia, and her funeral was to be at the church that Saturday. I was living in central California at the time and was in the process of moving down to southern California with my former husband and my son Daniel, but I knew I needed to be there. My mom offered to watch Daniel for me, and I walked into the building for the first time in 11 years. The funeral was all familiar music, and it was good to see many of the people again.
As I was walking out the door to head back to my parents’ house, I heard Andy’s voice behind me.
“Jen, I expect you to be at folk choir practice tomorrow morning.”
I smiled. It was good to be home again.
Thank you, Lord, for churches that adopt 17 year olds and welcome them back with open arms. Amen.