A Shelter in the Storm
On Tuesday night I, like the rest of this city and the country, was struggling with what do in the wake of the tragic bombings of the Boston Marathon. Boston is my adopted hometown for now, and I felt a very strong connection to Monday’s events, even though I did not personally know anyone who was injured. I’ve walked down Boylston St. where the bombs went off many times, and could easily have made a fateful decision to go down to watch the marathon that day; also, a young boy who was killed lived only a few blocks from me.
So I attended one of the candlelight vigils that were blossoming around the city in shows of mutual support and grief. I went to Arlington Street Church (ASC), one of our downtown Boston UU congregations, expecting it to be full. What I didn’t expect was for it to be packed – with young adults!
ASC certainly has a respectable young adult presence on any given Sunday, but the crowd present on Tuesday was easily a third under forty. Were these folks regular ASC attendees? Did they come from the other congregations represented in the interfaith service ASC hosted? Had they just seen the announcement come across an email list? (I’m guessing because I sent a few of those emails myself.)
It was clear to me that in this moment of senseless suffering that we needed church. Big questions about fate, compassion, and good and evil had interrupted our lives to force us to grapple with them. No amount of commentary or friendly conversation could have had the calming and centering effect that gathering for ASC’s candlelight vigil had on my troubled soul. Every person is important. We practice compassion for one another. The sadness is real, but will subside. There is goodness all around.
Whenever I talk about the “future” of church given my generation’s general disinterest in religious institutions, I find myself typically thinking about weekly, maybe monthly roles and activities. But there’s a more fundamental niche that church fills, which the ASC service showed to be unchallenged: church is the home for the most profound questions, the ones no one else can touch, the ones we can only answer together. Weddings and funerals too, to be sure, but the powerful gift that our faith communities offer in these times of need is a solace for our irreconcilable confusion and grief for the world. When tragedy strikes, we know who to call. It’s an essential role that it seems few other groups or places can play, and one that my generation needs as much as any other.