by the Rev. Ann Urinoski
“Do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt
As a millennial priest, I sometimes feel as if I am expected to know the secret formula to welcoming prospective millennial members and their families. I was baptized as an infant, so I cannot remember the first several dozen times I was brought to an Episcopal Church; I have no story of a first profound welcome. I cannot remember not knowing church. What defines my journey of faith and my life in the Episcopal Church is a series of stories that made following Jesus — and the Episcopal Church — irresistible.
From as far back as I can remember, I spent every Sunday of my childhood in church, sitting in a pew comprised of three generations of my family and going to Sunday school and children’s chapel in North Plainfield, New Jersey. I learned all the usual Bible stories and about who Jesus is, and I sang the hymns and said the prayers with my family. What made me want to talk to Jesus myself was my experience of this community of people who followed him. At church, I felt cared for; I learned about God’s love through the love of the community that surrounded my family and me every Sunday. Beyond care for one another, the people who were my Sunday school teachers were also the most likely to be seen serving the community, from the soup kitchen to the annual town Haunted House. As a child, I learned about how God loves by being part of a loving community, where neighbors served neighbors in a myriad of ways — an example of church at its best. Like any healthy, loving relationship, my church community became a group I trusted.
As I entered my teen years, I watched as friends left their churches after feeling judged; their journeys scared me. I wondered what would happen when I asked the questions on my own adolescent heart. In my Sunday school classrooms, with my Sunday school teachers, I can still remember some of the conversations we had about peer pressure, sex, and who God is. We did not always all agree, and that was okay. Sometimes, we did not know the right answer; at other times, there was more than one right answer. There was nothing we could not safely explore together. As a young disciple, through the love of my church, I learned that there was no question or struggle that could break God’s love for me or make me feel unwelcome. Still, this experience of church was all in one corner of creation.
As a young adult, I learned that the church was much more than the one parish that formed me, and in its seemingly limitless breadth, I found the limitless possibilities that come with discipleship. I cannot imagine this chapter of my journey without campus ministry. I saw St. Thomas’s big red sign for Episcopal Campus Ministry (ECM) on my first visit to the University of Delaware (UD). It made such an impression on me then, that now I genuinely wonder if I would have chosen UD without having seen it. In ECM, I learned that the love, trust, and lack of judgement that defined the church I’d grown up in were also characteristic of other healthy corners of the Episcopal Church — and that they would help me find resurrection after the most difficult experiences of my college years. Campus ministry was a place where I could explore my faith as I explored the first years of adulthood, another example of the church meeting me wherever I was in any chapter of my life. There, with my new friends’ support, I found myself doing things I had never expected — serving in local and church-wide leadership. Secure in my relationships with God and with my church, I gained the courage to explore new ways of being church and new ways of being me, as a beloved child of God.
I was in my third year of college when I first discerned my call to the priesthood. I did not fully understand what this call meant or if I was capable of answering it. Still, I was sure of the call, and in campus ministry, I had grown into someone more willing to try and see what happens. In the years since that moment, many other discernments have followed this pattern. The Holy Spirit laughs, and I am constantly, joyfully surprised.
I can summarize my faith journey in something Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do the thing you think you cannot do.” While one might cite it as a secularized version of “In Christ, all things are possible,” Roosevelt’s version reminds us to open ourselves up to the very specific impossibilities we use to limit ourselves and the visions we conjure for our future: the lessons we’ll never learn, the gifts we’ll never have, the adventures we’ll never go on, the depth of connection we’ll never sustain, the kind of person we’ll never be. These are the mountains that God can move with our faith. Faith is nurtured by Christian love that fosters trust, lacks judgement, and calls us to open ourselves to new possibilities in every chapter of our lives; this is the love that makes a church irresistible!
The Rev. Ann Urinoski completed her ministry at Christ Church Christiana Hundred on Sunday, April 26, 2020. She currently serves as the priest-in-charge of two congregations in the Diocese of New Jersey.