First Published September 6, 2015, on Leah's former blog, "Being In Berkeley".
A year ago my son started third grade in a new school in a new part of the country, after moving from the midwest the day after second grade had ended. For me, this was welcome news. The beginning of September marked the end of what felt like an interminable summer living in a new city where we knew virtually no one, and in tighter quarters for five people than we had been used to. I was ready for the structure and the social contacts that a new school year would bring. I was ready to have the kids regularly programmed and have time to myself on a consistent basis. But Elliott was apprehensive, unusually so for his outgoing self. And though I was relieved by what the start of school would bring, if I was honest, I, too, found myself nervous on that first day entering the Berkeley School system. Like him, I needed to navigate the social groupings of peers and find hospitable places to build relationship. I felt insecure; I wondered if I was a mom who was "Berkeley" enough. (It's not just me; this is totally a thing.) Would my recent relocation from Iowa make me seem hopelessly misplaced? (Iowa City may be the Berkeley of Iowa...but few people here know that. Many just think "corn" the moment the three syllables are out of my mouth.) I wondered...would I ever find friends here?
The beginning of September also marked an important moment in my vocational aspirations. I had moved to California in June 2014 after years of preparing for the project of starting a faith community in Berkeley. We came in June just the five of us, our whole "congregation" sharing the same last name, and without a clear idea where we'd meet other folks who might be interested in helping us get this little endeavor going. But through networking connections with other recent transplants to the area, somehow by the beginning of September, we had enough folks interested in at least the possibility of beginning a church with us, that we could start hosting meetings on Sunday afternoons in our home.
That first Sunday in early September, when nine adults and five kids came together, it was exciting and terrifying. This was the thing I had been dreaming of and preparing for over several years in major ways: going through seminary while having babies, moving from Chicago to Iowa City to train, and eventually transplanting the whole family again from Iowa to Berkeley to actually go for it. But who knew if this little group-let that was beginning, my "baby church" as I called it, would actually be viable? We were a group of total strangers. We didn’t have a name, we didn’t know each other, we didn’t know who might stick around. Many of us were still fairly new to faith, let alone faith community. No one had ever been a part of starting a church from scratch. In those early weeks, I wondered again and again if the whole thing was about to fall apart. But over time it became clear that that first Sunday in September, something special had been born. Something that by the end of 2014, we had all committed to and decided to call Haven Berkeley.
And so as the calendar has rapidly turned through the summer and we find ourselves at the beginning of another September, I can't help but be struck by the difference a year has made. The change fills me with wonder and immense gratitude. The first day of school this week was very different than it was a year ago. Elliott now has a large posse of friends. His first day was not scary, but exciting, as it was a chance to reconvene with his buddies and get the epic lava-tag battles going. In addition, this year we welcomed Junia to elementary school as well, and, now comfortable in my own skin as a Berkeley mom, I have found myself to be one of the veteran parents, helping the first-time kindergarten parents navigate the quirks of our school. Like Elliott, I have friends there, and I no longer fear that I don't belong.
We've seen other changes as well. Jason moved companies in June and is now working with 3D Robotics in Berkeley, a cutting-edge drone company doing exciting things that are fun for him to be a part of. I joined the amazing Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and I am loving the people there that I am meeting, as well as the opportunity to be a part of larger musical endeavors again. And, gratefully, our quarters are now much less tight, as we moved a few weeks ago into a single-family home in Berkeley that we hope can be a long-term place for all of us, and will work better for Haven going forward, as well.
And that brings me to one of the most profound and heartening changes from where things were a year ago. Haven is no longer a slightly awkward gathering of strangers. We have become a real community. We have spent a year doing real life together, and growing richly in our connections to Jesus and one another as we do. This summer I had the joy of revisiting the midwest for 10 days and preaching at two different churches, including my sending church in Iowa City. But being there, I found myself longing for the crew that has become my spiritual home. In a year, not only have we more than doubled in size, but we've grown considerably in depth as we've found a Haven in one another. This now is where I find safety, I find earnest friendship, and, yes, I find Jesus.
If parenting has taught me anything, it is that each season is to be cherished, even amongst the frustrations of poop and sleepless-ness. Youth truly is fleeting and babies are in kindergarten amazingly quickly, but as the bitter-sweet changes happen there are both new challenges and new opportunities for life in each stage. One year in to celebrating the birth of our "baby church", I am trying to step back and appreciate all the gifts this year has brought, just as I seek to embrace the new ups and downs of the next year and beyond. Here's to Toddler Church.