I was about four years old—the same age as my son, Harrison—when my family moved from a tiny row house in Philly to a five-bedroom house in South Jersey. It was only a 45-minute drive, yet somehow Jersey felt like a whole different world. I don’t remember a lot about our home, except that the move allowed me to have my very own playroom and enough space to make a world of mess (to my parents’ dismay). Even the dining room table was larger. We filled the extra seats with so many guests for Sunday dinner after church over the years.
However, there were guests who seemed to overstay their welcome, if you ask me. You see, there were times we had an individual or a family living with us in our new home. As a kid, I didn’t think too much of it. Sometimes it meant I would have an extra childhood friend or a grown-up around to help me tie my shoe. Most of the time I loved having extra people join our family for a few weeks at a time. Other times, I had trouble sharing and gifting my toys to a new family staying with us. I never understood why our guests never exchanged gifts in return. Seemed a little selfish on their part, so one day I asked “why.”
My dad paused, and his response was simple: “We have, so we give.” Confused, I looked around at my dwindling supply of toys. “Umm, look around, what do we have?” He said, “Room in our hearts, and room in this house.”
When we moved to Florida a decade later, I asked dad why we stopped renting our home. The response was a roar of a belly laugh. “What renters?” Perplexed, I reminded Dad of all the tenants who walked through our doors and shared a meal with us at the table. He looked at me and explained, “Jeneca, there were times when we housed the homeless. I grew up with very little and know what’s like to live in their shoes. We have, so we give.”
My dad has never been the church-going or even the Christian type. He’s never picked up a Bible, because he never learned how to read or write, and he was too busy breaking bread on Sunday mornings to stop and attend a service. However, I like to think that my earliest childhood memories of church were in our Jersey home where we simply made room. As Jesus put in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
When I moved to the city in my 20s, I was looking for a place to call home. I stumbled Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and thought, “Why not? If nothing else, it’s close to the Apple store, and I could window shop, right?” Following the 11 am service one day, I was invited to Focus of NEXT, the young adult group. I remember someone telling me that the format was a little different. Instead of a typical discussion led by a seminarian, we heard from Joe Vedella. He discussed homeless ministries at the church. Joe gave us a tour of the men’s shelter in the basement that serves the homeless 365 nights per year. On that Sunday, in that space, I never felt more at home.
For the past 12 years, I’ve lovingly called this church home. I’ve served as chair of the young adult ministries and led various community groups, from women’s Bible study to the educator prayer group to the young parents group. I’ve also had the honor of co-leading two youth mission trips and one adult trip, and twice serving as a confirmation mentor to youth. Currently I am serving for the second time on Session. I’m in love with my church home, so much so that I just can’t seem to get away, even after moving back to Jersey.
Through Family Ministries and FAPC Serves, my husband, Robbyn, and I have created room in our hearts and lives for our children, Harrison and Eleanor, to wrestle with and embrace Matthew 25:40. Our son receives so much joy placing an offering in the plate. One time he whispered, “Why?” I found myself echoing the same words passed down to me, words that still ring so profoundly true: “We have, so we give.”
Through Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, my family and I have experienced the faithfulness of God. By pledging to this church, we show our faithfulness in return.
Jeneca Parker-Tongue has been a member of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church since 2008. She shared this testimony during worship on Sunday, Nov. 3. Learn more about how you can support the 2020 Pledge Campaign: Great Is Thy Faithfulness.