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Gillian Okimoto: 

Good morning, St. Michael’s!

First of all, I’d like to start out by lowering everyone’s expectations. I’m sure all of you remember my sister’s wonderful sermon last year, but I’m afraid mine will be a little less dazzling. I’m saving all the good nuggets for my real senior sermon next year.

It’s been an absolutely wonderful year for me in this church. Many of you know that I’m carrying on Allison’s legacy in Godly Play—she did it for a great many years and with an abundance of patience that I’m quite envious of.

There is one thing that I’ve managed to do that my sister didn’t—I am now an official storyteller for Godly Play! It has been hilarious in so many ways—and I’ve learned a lot. These children have taught me many lessons and told me many stories of their own. I hope to share a few of them with you today.

We’ll start with the shorter ones:
I’ve been told that hell is actually in New Jersey
If you have to marry one of Jesus’s disciples, you should marry Matthew, because he’s a tax collector so he must be rich.
Some backstory for this next one—every week, we ask the kids what the most important part is, what their favorite part is, and what part is the least important and could be left out. So, I’ve been told that Jesus is actually not that important to the story of Easter

Those are just a few of the many things that I’ve heard. But I’ve also learned a lot more.

Children will ask a lot of questions. For example, why are there disciples? Why are there three Marys? Why on earth is she washing his feet with her hair? They know these stories well—better than me, sometimes, and we all know how they can be repetitive, and confusing.

I’ve had a lot of similar questions growing up in this church, too. These interactions have brought me back to my own times in Sunday School—back when it was called Word Made Young. I’ve been in this church since I was six years old, and I’m seventeen now. I remember playing with cardboard cutouts of angels, dressing up for Christmas pageants, acolyting and singing in those horrible robes—remind me why we wear all of these layers, again?

I’ve gone through a lot of challenges since I joined this church, as many of you know. I’m sure that all of you can relate when I tell you that I have questioned my faith many times, and still do.

But learning about God with these kids has changed my thinking in so many ways.

Despite all these questions that kids have, their faith remains strong. They still trust God. After all their doubts, they still join our group in prayer. They thank God for their parents, for their goldfish snacks, for the birthday party they’re looking forward to next week. They bring their concerns and their fears to God, and they trust that they will be answered. They love God.

Despite questioning God, they believe in God.

I still doubt, and I doubt often. I’m scared a lot. I get angry a lot. And looking back at what has happened in these past five years, I wonder if God is really out there.

But seeing these kids, their faith strong, it brings me faith too.

So if you ever lose faith, maybe talk to a child for a little bit. There’s a little bit of God in what they say, and in the way that they think, and in the questions they ask. They’ve shared that with me this past year. And I hope I was able to share that with you today.

Thank you.

Daisy Thomas: 

As I prepare to leave this faith community and move on to a new chapter, I have been reflecting on the significance of St. Michael’s in my life. Church has given me an opportunity to be close to God, a community to grow up in, and the motivation to work for good.

I would like to begin this reflection by sharing my atheist history teacher’s perspective. Last semester, we studied the complex ethical issues which arose for people living in China during the Cultural Revolution. At one point during the lesson, he said: “I wish I were religious, because I would always know exactly the right thing to do.” Maybe I misunderstand Christianity, but I rarely feel so confident in the best path forward. Perhaps my teacher envisioned a kind of holy email, where I send God a moral quandary and she gets back to me in 3-5 business days. Easy peasy!

To be sure, church allows for connection with God, even if it is not so direct. God sings to me in the music on Easter, as we join voices and raise our hands in praise. I see God in the soft light shining through the stained glass on Monday evenings during Homework Help. More often, I feel God in connections with others.

God speaks to me through Ms. Olivia Cannady. She is my pewmate, my Confirmation sponsor, and my mentor in faith. During the pandemic, she mailed me kind notes with daisy seeds. Her warmth reminds me that I am loved and cared for at St. Michael’s. She is a model of neighborly kindness. 

Because of mentors like Ms. Olivia, and traditions for every aspect of childhood, church is a wonderful place to grow up in. When I was little, I could not appreciate the meaning of the readings, but I enjoyed spending time with friends in Sunday School. A little later, I got to be an acolyte. My favorite was lighting the candles for the Christmas Eve service, illuminating pine boughs which marked the season. In middle school, my class got to play main characters in the Christmas Pageant. Beautiful costumes made up for the stress of memorizing lines. In high school, I started volunteering with Homework Help. I also did virtual pilgrimages for racial justice with the national Episcopal Church and Union Theological Seminary.

These experiences have helped me learn about the essential link between faith and civic engagement. I had the honor of hearing the Very Reverend Kelly Brown Douglas speak. She preaches that it is our duty as Christians to “live God’s future now.” We have never attained “God’s future,” where each of us is treated as sacred and equal. Voting, protest, political action are all forms of working towards this ideal.

In my nonreligious history class, we read the work of Paolo Freire. He defines “love” as “a commitment to others.” There is an abundance of love at St. Michael’s. Neighbors express love through volunteering at the Soup Kitchen or as Midnight Marauders, through lending their voice in choir or serving on the vestry, through teaching Sunday School or leading as acolytes. 

So, St. Michael’s, I leave here with my endless gratitude and a promise that I will take your love with me over the next four years, and the rest of my life.

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