Guest columnist Mariel E. Addis: Faith journey leads to community

Mariel E. Addis

Mariel E. Addis CONTRIBUTED

By MARIEL E. ADDIS

Published: 11-14-2023 2:02 PM

It may seem odd for a transgender woman to be writing a piece about her love of several faith communities. For a long time, members of the LGBTQ+ community were shunned by many denominations and many churches. However, I have been lucky enough to find great love and support in numerous ones in our community.

I was raised Protestant, and happen to have attended United Church Of Christ churches all my life. That said, I cannot speak to how I’d be received in all UCC churches, particularly those UCC churches outside of this rather liberal valley or commonwealth.

Also, I am not sure what I would experience were I to attend a Catholic church knowing the church’s attitude regarding those in the LGBTQ community. That said, I have many Catholic friends who are extremely happy for me that I found my true self. Per news articles, it seems that even the pope recognizes the importance of the LGBTQ community to the greater church.

Faith-wise, I more or less grew up in what is now known as the First Churches in Northampton. I still have friends in that church and it feels like going home on those rare occasions I attend church there, although there are many faces I don’t recognize. I left that church in 1997 when my family left the area, ultimately settling in Kennebunk, Maine. Although we regularly attended church here in the Valley, in Maine, for some reason, we never connected with a church.

After separating from my wife in 2013 and moving back to this area, I started attending the Williamsburg Congregational Church with my dad. I made connections with the folks there, several of whom I already knew. This was before the beginning of my male-to-female transition in early 2016.

In 2015 or so, the therapist I was working with suggested I might want to check out the Haydenville Congregational Church, as it was known to be welcoming and accepting of members of the LGBTQ community. In a leap of faith, as I virtually knew no one there, I attended my first service there in January 2016. When I heard the church’s welcome, “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here,” I knew I had landed where I was supposed to be; I joined the church as a member two months later.

As much as I love HCC and support this community, I also love the warmth of the members of the “Burgy” congregation. While their services are somewhat more traditional, not unlike church was for me growing up, I always feel loved and welcome there when I attend with my dad. I often joke that the two should stagger their service times just so I can attend both! It is nice to have good friends in both places.

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My transition surprisingly has brought me a closer connection to God, and even though I consider myself somewhat of a “questioning believer,” searching for the meaning of my personal spirituality and understanding God. While some might feel I went against God’s wishes in transitioning from male to female, I like to think that God is happy for me, happy that I’m finally comfortable being me.

I write this piece not to evangelize, but to call out what I feel are three wonderful communities of faith, knowing full well that they don’t have a monopoly in this area. I write this because I worry about these churches — and all churches. I worry about their survival, the dwindling congregations, about the high cost of maintaining and heating these old but beautiful buildings.

Many smaller churches not unlike these have had to close up shop, a situation I find extremely sad.

Some people don’t think church or openly worshiping with others fits in their life anymore, but church is a lot more than sitting in a service on Sunday morning. It is coffee hours, potluck suppers, fundraisers and church fairs. It is community — something I feel we all need more now than ever.

We all need support, especially these days, and for most of us that comes in many forms. While social media does connect people, there is nothing like having real, in-person connections to others, others who can make you feel good in their presence and be there when you need support the most.

While I focused on my church experience, this area abounds in diverse communities of faith — Catholic Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian, and on and on. There is probably one out there for anyone who chooses to include this in their lives.

Mariel Addis is a native of Florence. She left the area for 16 years but returned in 2013.