OPINION: A different Squamish Christmas

It is funny where reporting takes you.

Until early this year, I was a vocal atheist.

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Then, my final child left home, and I took stock of everything in my life — I finally had the time to reflect, after about 22 years of non-stop busyness raising four boys.

The one thing I had never challenged about myself was my atheism.

Previously, in the course of my reporting about Squamish, I had interviewed Rev. Karen Millard, of the Squamish United Church. We talked inside the former church on the corner of Fourth Avenue.

It was a couple of years ago when the partnership between the church and Sea to Sky Community Services was ramping up to create Centrepoint.

She didn’t know it, but I had rarely been in a church before that, save for funerals and weddings.

She was nice and “real.”

I filed that interview away in the back, attic-like recesses of my mind, I guess.

Then this year, as I considered my atheism, I read as much as I could about my choices for a church to explore in Squamish and decided the United Church was the most closely aligned with my values. The United Church of Canada allows one of its reverends to remain, even after she declared she is an atheist, for goodness sake. The church is also open to political, socio-economic, gender and sexuality differences.

Once I decided on the church, there was the detail of my walking through the doors of the United Church of Squamish.

At first, I couldn’t do it — it was too scary and too foreign.

Then, I reached out to  Millard via Facebook, of all things. I told her my history, journey and fears.

Her reply brought tears to my eyes.

In short, she said, come as you are. You are welcome whatever you believe — or don’t.

Wow.

So I went, and I went, and continue to go.

I have inched up from the very back row of the church, to somewhere in the middle.

It is not easy to learn a whole new church culture: I sit when I should stand and stand when I should sit.  What am I supposed to do with that white bread again? What do I say back to people who say “peace be with you?”

Mostly, I mouth the words to the hymns and prayers, but thankfully the newly built church within Centrepoint is complete with huge screens that display the words.

The United Church of Squamish is very — well — Squamishy, and that makes me feel at home. Children dominate, the dress is casual, the sermon is relatable, and the desire to create community and be tolerant of others is palpable.

I am still not sure what I believe, but each week, I leave feeling empowered to be better and do better, thanks to the sermon I heard and the people I met.

This life-altering journey — that really began with a routine interview — is just beginning for me, but I am glad I am on it.

It is funny where reporting takes you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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