Sometimes you have to stop searching to find what you’re looking for. Both Clementine and I found that to be true in our faith journey that ultimately led us to CMYK. Our paths could not have been more different. I’m a third generation preacher’s kid and Clem is a daughter of a staunch atheist. Through both of our journeys one thing was consistent; the search for truth and a desire for authenticity.
If I think back to my earliest childhood memories I can’t recall a time without church, Sunday school, vacation bible school, and youth groups. I simply didn’t know anything else and for many years didn’t question anything that I was being taught. To be fair, I was taught many good things during those formative years. My core values of honesty, integrity, and kindness, along with my work ethic, were born out of my evangelical upbringing.
But a crack in my faith was exposed when I was around ten years old. My parents went through a very messy divorce and our denomination stripped my father of his credentials. Even as a child it was clear how hurtful and embarrassing it was to both my parents -- and it simply didn’t match what I had been taught about God or Jesus or Christianity, for that matter. The crack didn’t expand for a few years, but this was my first real exposure to a side of religion that was hypocritical, judgmental and, in my opinion, spiteful.
I don’t really remember exactly when I started to have doubts about Christianity and some of the religiosity I grew up with. What I can say is that by the time I entered high school I had serious questions and doubts about some of the things I was being told I had to believe if I wanted to be “saved”. The idea that convincing someone to accept Jesus was the ultimate goal of being a Christian seemed to be in direct contradiction to the actual teachings of Jesus.
This discomfort grew quickly and I didn’t have a good outlet for it. For reasons that even today I don’t fully understand, I moved out of my dad and step-mom’s house in my sophomore year of high school and spent my remaining years living with the aunt and uncle of the woman I would end up marrying one month after high school graduation. I lived those years without the weight of church or the pressures that I had experienced as the preacher’s son.
Now as a father, I look back on those years and I am saddened by my decisions. Although I didn’t fully understand some of the influencers on my decisions I certainly didn’t realize how hurtful those decisions were on my parents. I’m proud to say now that our relationship is strong and I hope they’ve been able to move past some of the pain.
Clementine grew up in a household where church and religion were seen very differently. Her mom was raised Catholic and although she took Clementine to Mass periodically as a young child, there really was no strong connection to the church and her father is a self-professed atheist.
When Clementine was in high school she, like many teenagers, struggled with social acceptance and navigating the landscape of cliques. She then discovered an evangelical church youth group where she was immediately embraced. It was in that environment that Clementine first experienced non-judgmental love and acceptance from people that she hadn’t known at all.
After high school Clementine headed to Seattle University, a Jesuit college, but didn’t experience the same level of connection as she had in her high school youth group. Before the year was up Clementine had applied for and accepted a transfer to a college in Tennessee, where her best friend from high school was attending. However, it was through tragedy that she found what she really needed.
At the end of the Clementine’s freshman year she received news that one of her close friends from youth group was killed in a head on car crash. Within hours of receiving the news she was comforted by an endless line of students, many of whom she didn’t even know.
It was what she needed in that moment, but truly it was much more than that. The kindness shown by so many people gave Clementine the connection she needed and she decided to stay for another year.
Clementine’s faith was transforming and expanding. In high school, her connection with the youth group was primarily social. She needed to feel accepted and loved and that is what she found in that setting. But her college experience was much more than a social connection, it was a real personal connection with God.
When she returned to Seattle for her sophomore year, Clementine decided to attend a student retreat hosted by campus ministry. The experience was transformative and something she will never forget. The final night of the retreat the participants received Palanca (letters written by family members or friends as the participants spend time in reflection and prayer to God.) Hearing from family and friends who Clementine thought only knew her superficially emphasized the connection she had experienced between God and Human. The box of letters she received is a still treasured possession that she embraces when she needs to remember the importance of God and community.
We now come to the convergence of our stories. In 2005, I had divorced and moved back to Billings with my nine year old son, Isaiah. Clementine was living in Seattle. We met at a wedding and began a long distance relationship very quickly. Our connection was immediate and stronger than either of us had experienced before. It didn’t take long before Clementine had moved to Billings and the three of us began our adventures together.
We were married in 2008 and have two children together that were born in 2010 and 2012. Through our first eight years of marriage we were unable to find much common ground in our faith lives. I was still highly skeptical of organized religion and Clementine longed for a place where she felt the community and spirituality she experienced in her college years. We visited many churches in Billings over that period of time, trying to find something that worked for both of us. To be fair, I was convinced we would never find anything that met my needs, so I was just hoping for a place where I could hold my nose and make do.
After being part of a church and feeling as though it might be a fit, we discovered it was lacking a deeper seeded sense of community, and we just stopped going. After that failed experience, we simply stopped our search. It was disheartening and challenging for us as a couple to come to the conclusion that faith wouldn’t be a part of our lives. Clementine longed for a faith community and I was convinced I would never find anything that I would really enjoy. The decision at first was unspoken, but grew to a clear understanding between us that we would be raising our family without a common foundation in faith.
Eventually we heard about CMYK from a few people around town and several people that I worked with. We heard it was a close knit community that was open and non-judgmental. That it was a place where it was okay to ask tough questions and that no one would give us “the answer”. Before we made a decision to give it a try, I did some reconnaissance to try to confirm that CMYK was just like every other church and that they had just done a good job of making it seem different.
I went to the CMYK website and looked for one specific thing, the statement of faith. My experience with church was that all of the judgement started with a statement of faith. A statement simply said to me that there wasn’t room for questions -- if you want to be accepted you must follow our rules. I was surprised to find the CMYK website didn’t have one, and instead I found language that was the exact opposite of what I expected. We decided it was worth a try.
From the first Sunday we attended a CMYK gathering, we were both convinced that it was the place for us. We found a community that wasn’t just the polar opposite of the evangelical faith I was raised on, but was instead a place where everyone was truly welcomed and accepted.
It was a place where people of vastly different political beliefs were interacting and loving each other without any fear of reproach. It was a community where we saw people of any sexual preference truly accepted as a part of our community without the undercurrent of disapproval that I was used to witnessing.
We are now in a place that neither of us expected to be. We have found a community that accepts us -- and anyone -- for who they are and supports them in their faith without qualification. I’ve been able to find Jesus in a way that I quite honestly never expected. For both of us, the family that we have joined is one that shows us so much love that we are overwhelmed and humbled. Although the journey to find CMYK and to find a community was long, we are anxious to share what we have found with anyone else who might feel that they will never find a home.