Opening Words from Sun. March 15 by Gena Gardiner

My name is Gena.

I am a recovering theist.

My husband, Bob, and I are relatively new members to the Ethical Society and I volunteered to give opening remarks. That, it and of itself, is remarkable for me as I usually run from any public speaking. My performance anxiety, if you will, dates back to a piano recital when I was 16 years old where I froze in the middle of a nocturne piece. My teacher had to yell to me on the stage “start back with the B flat chord”.

Nevertheless, I stand before you as one of your newest converts.

My husband and I moved back to the states about 5 1/12 years ago after having lived in Germany for 6 plus years. Prior to that we had met and lived in Oklahoma City and attended a church called Mayflower Congregational. Congregational churches have what is called an open pulpit. The minister is not really censored, but can be fired by the board. This particular church was as progressive and liberal as one could possibly find in Oklahoma City or even in Oklahoma. Sermons ran from “Was Mary a Virgin and does it really matter?” to “Homosexuals in the Church”. God was referred to as a “she” as often as a “he” and you would often hear a few gasps and many more chuckles. Mayflower performed same sex marriages before they were legal, and , recently when the state (ahead of Missouri, if you can imagine) legalized these marriages, 34 couples married there were officially recognized by the state. I hear it was quite the party.

But, even before Mayflower, my religious education was quite liberal. The Catholic church I attended with my parents and four sisters as a child was progressive and true to the 60’s spirit. I remember everyone sitting on the ground and the adults wearing peace medallions play-acting the liturgy and passing around loaves of unleavened bread afterwards. I remember smelling marijuana for the first time at a church retreat and it came from the adult meeting room. Community of John 23rd, as it was called, and its priest were eventually kicked out of the Catholic church by the Pope for not following the prescribed liturgy.

I have called myself a Kumbaya Catholic . But, after having gone through the sacrament of confirmation, I admitted to myself that not only was I not really a Catholic, but I didn’t believe in the divinity of Christ, and really don’t believe in a God or supreme being. Saying it out loud to a large group still makes me fear a little of being struck down.

When we moved to Germany we attended no faith based organizations and kind of quit looking.

But, I/we all do have a need for belonging I believe. So, when moving back to the states here to St. Louis, we were asked to join a social group. We had hoped to find a group of people with whom to share good talk and food and wine. We found it lacking however in substance and depth and diversity. After one dinner of Obama bashing, immigration being cited as a way for teenage thugs to enter the US and a venue to herald the NRA, we knew we had had enough.

Then one morning, we received a sign.

We had bicycled to a little vegetarian restaurant called Seedz and Bob struck up a conversation with three others sitting next to us at an outdoor table. These three are well known to you, (Chery Green, David Brown and Nancy Burgess). The conversation
was mostly about bicycling and David invited me and Bob to join them the following week for a ride. We met them at their house and I noticed the bumper sticker “Deed before Creed” on their car. I asked David about the group and he filled us in.

It just clicked with me.

The following day I was talking with some of my more liberal patients (or so I thought) and told them about the bumper sticker and said….. you know… so many of us for years would routinely babble the creed “We believe in on God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth….. They interrupted me and informed me they were Catholic. After removing my foot from my mouth I said, but I DO believe in deed before creed. I do believe in the good within all people and the worth of all people. I believe that actions speak louder than words.

I am here because I want to belong to a community of those who are like-minded and share my values; where difference is encouraged and accepted; where one can be themselves and accepted as they are. I personally want to be more engaged in our community and to live more congruently with my values. I am glad to have found this community.

For the first time in my life, I can say “I have been saved”.

Thank you.