Editor’s note: Kate Erlich presented the following piece at Carmichael Presbyterian Church in Carmichael, CA on April 15, 2012 as a testimony about how God is alive and at work in her life. It’s also a great slice of family history, so I’m thrilled that she allowed me to share it here, augmented (of course!) with a slide show.
Becoming Presbyterian has been a work in progress for me for nearly 18 years. Unlike those of you born and raised with generations before and after you in this church, my faith journey has been more like a kaleidoscope.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin was a great place to be a kid in the 1950s with its diverse ethnic neighborhoods, state fair, Milwaukee Braves, and Lake Michigan in January. The third of four children, I was baptized Lutheran and confirmed Methodist with strong Catholic influences. We lived a short drive from my motherʼs family and spent most weekends and holidays with them. Sunday afternoons were noisey in my grandmotherʼs house, full of kids and dogs, and parakeets. It was lovely.
Unlike Presbyterians, there was no daily exchange of how we saw God in our lives. Perhaps it was assumed that we did. Church attendance was based more on weather than doctrine. The Lutheran church was only two blocks from my grandmother on Christmas Eve. By Easter, roads were clear of ice and snow, safer to drive further into the city to celebrate with the Methodists.
Even though we went to Sunday School and confirmation class, said grace at dinner and the Lordʼs Prayer at bedtime, religion was not really open for discussion. Early Bible lessons came from my grandmother who had been educated in Catholic schools in Iowa. She was the family peacemaker and most reliable source of family history. She had been widowed three times. As a child, I loved to sit up late with her as she sorted through her three Bibles, one for each husband. I have those Bibles now, stuffed with her photos, dried flowers, hat feathers, and ribbons marking her favorite passages. Those tender moments were a mix of scripture, recipes, titles, and geography. Garrison Keillor would have liked us. It went something like this.
Oscar, the Norwegian Lutheran, was the love of her life who died in the flu epidemic of 1918 leaving her with two small children, including my beloved Aunt Caroline. Herring and rosettes honored his memory every Christmas Eve. Sam, the English Methodist (my motherʼs father), owned a barbershop and liked vinegar on his potatoes. Third husband, Walter, the German Ecumenical, was the only grandfather I knew. He was just plain easy-going and liked cold coffee with his strudel.
I never had a real conversation with my dad about why he believed what he believed. He was a complicated man, charming, restless, and passionate about his family, his horses, and his cars. In the community, he was “Lucky” Red Smith for the color of his hair and the fact that he survived the South Pacific. His grandparents had come from Ireland and Scotland. He referred to us as “Protestant,” but his extended family was a curious mix of Southern Baptist and Italian Catholic. Fortunately, my mother kept everything, including my dadʼs baptism certificate. Was he Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, or Catholic? Nope. First Presbyterian Church, Plover, Iowa, June 27, 1918. He had been a Presbyterian all along.
I first came to CPC on a cold, rainy Christmas Eve because it was close to home. I hovered in the back pew anonymously for the next few years. Because I knew nothing of Presbyterians, I was afraid I would not be welcome. I was wrong. Becoming Presbyterian has brought many firsts into my life, a sense of community I had not felt in other churches. Never had a church with an art gallery, auction, orchestra, or handbells. But the greatest gift has been learning to speak to God through prayer. Thank you for teaching me how to do that. I am still a work in progress, so thank you for your friendship, forgiveness, and patience. What may seem business as usual to you can feel quite remarkable to someone like me. Now that itʼs my turn to help children in my family understand who they are, I am delighted that my teenage nephew signs his emails, “Have a good day with the Presbyterians.” When my time comes, I hope to be remembered as Auntie K, the Irish Presbyterian from California who liked mustard on her scrambled eggs.