I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. — Philippians 4:13
By Meghan Shea
When I was in my early 20s I sat down at my computer one day and googled "churches in NYC for 20 somethings" and Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church popped up with its NEXT Ministries program. I started going to services with the hopes of meeting some new friends and possibly a cute Presbyterian boyfriend. What I have gotten from my time at Fifth Avenue, particularly as an officer, was so much better than that.
Before joining Fifth Avenue, I had no idea how much a church could help me grow as a person. My faith has been shaped and cultivated more at this church than any other time in my life. Fifth Avenue has taught me that the best way to grow is to question your faith, to sift out your own beliefs about God from those taught to us at a young age, and that when modern Manhattan life seems too daunting, God has a lot to say to us about how he thinks we should be living our day-to-day lives.
So many times I find myself falling into despair reading the latest headlines. It is in those times that I think of Scott’s sermon about hope, when he reminded us of that old hymn, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness," and I remember conversations with Kate when she sat with me and bore witness to my anxiety about the state of our world. She didn’t have any more answers about what would happen next in the world than I did, but she had unshakable faith that God would be with us, guiding us through even the darkest of possibilities for the future.
Often I struggle with the idea of listening to God. I grow frustrated sometimes when people say that God spoke to them, because I am not sure what God’s voice is supposed to sound like. Is it a booming voice in my ear? But then as I reflect on my time as an officer, I think of how God has spoken to me through the other officers. I have truly seen the face of God in each of you, when I see how eagerly and selflessly people jump in to help out, seeing fellow Deacons staying calm when we can’t find an Angel Tree Christmas gift, or when I see the different boards struggle with heavy decisions for the direction of our church with wisdom, compassion and a sense of justice.
I have been shown so much grace—like the day a Deacon took the time to walk me up to the choir loft to show me how to do a new communion task in worship, and when officers checked in on me after I had to cancel worship duty due to work problems (rather than judge me for my late cancellation). The officers have shown me what it is to move forward in life with the strength of Christ, even after difficult times. Often I get stuck in a negative cycle of thoughts, and my own problems can seem larger than life. It seems that, with every Deacon event I go to, I leave with more wisdom and inspiration from even the shortest of conversations, and from their heartfelt prayers.
Meeting with my 90-something-year-old visitee, I feel so much love and admiration and have found a true friend in her. (And to think I joined Fifth Avenue to meet 20-something friends!) Thinking of all the trying times and uncertainty she has lived through has put my own problems into perspective. 2017 wasn’t the only hard year in her life.
From my fellow officers I have learned so much about grit, real hope and overcoming adversity. I have learned about vulnerability reading the officers' powerful testimonies of faith in the Lenten devotionals. Your bravery to share how times of darkness have strengthened your faith has inspired me. Every time I hear a piece of a fellow officer’s story, I am in awe of how God has seen them through difficult times, yet they continue to feel joy, hope and peace, and find new meaning in their lives.
When I was nominated to be a Deacon, I was unsure whether I could make the three-year commitment, because I had no idea where I would be in three years. Yet here I am, living 90 miles north of Fifth Avenue, commuting on the Metro North on Sundays, because being surrounded by people with such compassion, love for others and grace strengthens me. And trust me, taking a 6:50 am train from Poughkeepsie this morning required a lot of Christ’s strength!
Meghan Shea has been a member of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church since 2014. She serves as a Deacon in the Officer Class of 2019. Meghan shared this testimony during closing worship at the annual Officers Retreat on Saturday, May 19.