There’s a video saved in the very back of my phone. It’s a snapchat of the old living room in the UKirk house. It was finals week during Advent and late in the afternoon. The Christmas tree stood, decorated with glitter and ornaments, in the corner by the back door. The walls were painted that weird green color. I sat curled up on the couch and read over history essays trying to cram in as much about Machiavelli and the Medici as I possibly could. Christmas carols played softly in the background.
I keep it in my phone, despite the constant reminder from Apple that I am out of iCloud space and my phone hasn’t been backed up in seven months. I keep it because I know what that room looks like now and I saw it when it was stripped and gutted the following summer.
Of course, no one would trade UPerk for that old living room that hardly ever got used. I only used it because it was startlingly quiet, unlike the library and my house. I had only joined the crew at UKirk that year and was on my way out of college, but there was space for me there. And there was space for me there as a confused grad student trying to figure out how I’d ended up in a Public Administration program that I hated.
As short a time as it may have been, those two years I spent walking in and out of the house on 1831 Melrose Ave taught me something invaluable that has served me very well during my time at seminary in Richmond.
For those of you who have listened to seminary students talk about their experiences, you might know that the whole experience can feel a little, or a lot, like being gutted.
My first year at seminary was a lot like that summer after I graduated college. Like the comfortable, quiet living room at the UKirk house, I felt myself being stripped and gutted. Last winter, if you could look inside my brain and heart, it would have looked a lot like that renovation. Dirt and dust on the ground, chunks of paint and plaster, ladders and empty light fixtures, dirty hands at the end of rolled up sleeves.
For a time during that renovation, I felt a small amount of grief. That living room had been beautiful to me. It had been a place of convenient comfort and it was so soon gone after I’d barely had time to enjoy it.
It’s hard to keep your faith for the inbreaking of new things during those times when what you used to know is so very far away and you can’t go back to it and you’re stuck waiting through the slow and grueling process of renovation.
During that time, when I was observing the renovation and helping make plans for how UPerk would run, what its values were, and what we ultimately dreamed it would become, I had a community to help me through the small amount of grief. A community of people that helped me imagine what was to come and what it could be. That was enough.
So, when I found myself in the frightening spot of wondering if I would ever make it back to anything resembling the faith that I used to have… I sought out and clung to a community. A new community that helped me hold on and imagine. And that has been enough.
Now when I pass through town, I’m always inclined to stop for a cup of coffee and marvel at what that once empty and pale green living room has become. A vibrant place for laughter, hard conversations, solace, fun, rejuvenation, or just existing. A place with room for everyone.
So may it be with me too.
Mary Grace Reynolds
UKirk Alum/Union Presbyterian Seminary Student