Lynnewood United Methodist Church gave me permission to doubt.
In many ways, this began for me during the Confirmation process. The philosophy behind Confirmation is simple: when you’re an infant, your parents choose to baptize you in the church; once you’re older, you have a chance to choose for yourself.
It’s easy to assume that this process consists mainly of focusing on this particular church and its particular tenets of belief—learning them, studying them, reciting them—but where would choice be if we didn’t actually know the options?
In our Confirmation class, we didn’t just learn about Methodism, Protestantism, or Christianity as a whole. We learned about Catholicism, about Mormonism, about Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. We attended different religious services and read from the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran. It was essentially a History of World Religions crash-course, and what this emphasized over and over was the wide variety of experiences that can lead different people to different systems of belief. We discussed how faith is not just blindly following a religion because someone told you to; it’s about grappling with your own questions, coming to terms with your own doubt, and growing in your own experiences to understand what you believe and why.
At the time, I didn’t fully grasp what this meant. I was twelve, white, cisgender, and had lived a pretty sheltered life in a rather affluent community. But as I grew and as life changed—when I moved across the country, when I came out as bisexual, when I battled trauma and anxiety—I found that the questions I grappled with grew and changed, too. And with that, the answers to those questions became more elusive, ambiguous, and tough to pin down.
Whenever I returned to Lynnewood, though, I had a community that didn’t just affirm my faith; I had a community that would allow me to question, that would make space for my doubt. This was a place where it was not just okay to raise the tough questions—Who (or what) is God? Why do bad things happen to good people? What if I don’t believe what I used to, or what everyone else does?—but where it was equally okay to admit we don’t have a perfect answer.
As I branched out of the Lynnewood community—working for Sierra Service Project, attending a new church in New York, volunteering with new organizations—this value of doubt stayed with me. I’ve been able to grow and evolve as a person of faith because of the foundation that Lynnewood instilled and nurtured in me at a young age. And I feel I’m only just beginning to understand those lessons—that faith comes not from rote recitation or blind following, but from a deep digging in, from the personal experiences that shape us, and from the questions we give ourselves permission to ask. Because of Lynnewood, I will continue to grow, evolve, learn, question, love, and serve.