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Real Stories. Real People.
Welcome to Real Stories, Real People. Featured are stories from those who came to Good
Shepherd, what drew them in and why they decided to stay. Please check back, more stories to come.
Why am I here? - Delonda Anderson
What Led Me Here -- For as long as I can remember, I have been a quiet, curious seeker. I love diving into scriptures and spiritual books, spending time listening to God, hearing God, loving God, breathing God. I was born and raised in the mountains of East Tennessee -- in a backwoods holler, to be exact. I often wandered the forest as a child marveling at all creation, overwhelmed by its majesty and mysticism. In those fledgling moments, I understood how to talk to God and how God talked to me.
When I was ten years old, I was baptized in a traditional, fundamentalist church; yet, even then I had a different awareness of a more mystical, peaceful, and loving God and I must admit my girlhood eyes saw how much women’s roles were so terribly stifled, subjugated, and limited. So, like many people, I left my Christian upbringing and spent decades on a journey to find a church and community who shared or supported my beliefs. I eventually married, became the mother of two beautiful Biracial sons, later divorced, then married a second time to a wonderful, loving man and true partner. Throughout all these life episodes I sought God and his community but essentially remained “churchless” for decades. I failed to find that spiritual place of worship that lived grace, love, goodwill, and acceptance, and I craved an opportunity to pay service forward as others had done so thoughtfully for me.
Since 2014, my personal circumstances have been filled with an odd mixture of joy, achievement, sadness, trepidation, and trauma. I returned to college after my sons were well into their teens and achieved a much longed-for English Literature degree. During this time, I was a caregiver for my father who was diagnosed with and eventually passed away from colon cancer. A year later, my father’s parents -- my only living grandparents -- passed away. Those experiences with loss and sorrow renewed a longing for that spiritual community greater than I’d known. So, I searched Knoxville churches close to my home via the internet and traveled prayerfully for several Sundays. I prayed for the church to be tolerant, inclusive, and welcoming. I prayed the church would have opportunities to serve, have women in leadership roles, have a set doctrine and liturgy, yet be open to question or interpretation. I prayed to be so much in awe of its friendliness, peacefulness, and beauty that I couldn’t wait to return. I prayed for God’s guidance and he led me to the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. I was finally home. All my prayers were answered -- from community to doctrine to female priest. I joined in October of 2016.
By March 2017, my faith, my world, and my hope would be irrevocably tested. My vibrant son, my beautiful Gabriel, died suddenly. He was twenty-one years old. Nothing can prepare a mother for the death of a child. Nothing. The void is a never-ending, seemingly unfillable chasm of raw emotion, pain, regret, and deserted wishes. But heartache is a little lightened by a community who cares and rallies around me and my family. They hold my hand through life’s journeys, lift my spirit when I’m down, feed my family when we’re sick, understand my awkwardness, and forgive my faults. They freely and selflessly give precious time and friendship. What greater gifts could a person receive from a gathering with a collective heart of Jesus? And I am in awe of the community of souls God places around me. Each person shines his or her own universe. When some lights are dimmed from life’s challenges, other lights shine through the trials inspiring the dimmed ones to persevere. I am by no means perfect. I doubt, wrestle, hurt, stumble, and disappoint like everyone else. But, somehow, the people of Good Shepherd look past all those imperfections and love me, still.
I have had devastating hardships, yet nowhere near what others have had to face and I do not portend to hold the answers or solace in my own hands, though I must admit I’ve tried. Through my trials, I have come to realize hurt, poverty, and need are prevalent conditions -- so are apathy and passivity. My belief is that it’s imperative to make a difference in this world and to do so is to love and serve with compassion. Great opportunities to pray for and bless others are found while serving, and friendships that develop through formed community are a delightful bonus. The warmth from relationships and friendships is like a sunshine ray breaking through clouded life. Good Shepherd has given me that and so, so much more.
Why am I here?
I was reluctant to attend any church for a long time. I had been unhappy with organized religion for years - it was all about the money and fear of God. Then one day I was invited to attend a Men’s Club meeting at Good Shepherd. I went and found people that welcomed me – without question. Without question of my past, my beliefs and mostly without questions of “Would I join? Huh, huh, would I?”
I attended a service soon thereafter and felt uncomfortable about the ceremony and pageantry. Not uncomfortable because others were looking at me or thinking I’m some yutz, but uncomfortable because of my upbringings, strong Southern Baptist, and I didn’t have a clue why everyone stood, bowed, kneeled, crossed themselves, all at different times. The kneeling I got, it’s just prayer. But again, I was welcomed.
Over the years, I’ve walked the labyrinth, attended Seder meals, had Mardi Gras parties and, yes, even had real wine at some of these events. I’ve sat on the Watch with Jesus and tried to envision the weight of all our sins for all time on one man in one instant. I prefer the talk of Jesus’ love and God’s giving instead of the fear and God’s anger. I like the fact I am encouraged and facilitated in my search for spiritual growth.
As I’m sure with each and every parishioner, my history at the church is much more. But for that, you’ll have to join us and ask. Ask around for others' stories until you find me. I hope to meet you soon.
Why am I here?
As recent new arrival to Knoxville, my wife and I were looking for a church that would be a great place for our infant son and us. We visited a number of Episcopal churches, - Good Shepherd immediately hit us as a friendly, warm community.
As we got to know the church better, we found a church committed to the journey of faith for us as parents and for our son. Godly Play is a great program that we started him in even though we had doubts about how much a 2-year-old would get out of it. He loves it and enjoys the program.
Charles has brought new energy to Good Shepherd and the congregation has responded. We know that Good Shepherd will be our church family for years to come.
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