My Faith Story: Marjorie Swett
"I have been at St. Columba’s for over 30 years now. I am a cradle Episcopalian. My father was a career military officer, and as a result we lived all over the world, including Central America, where I became keenly aware of the great gulf between rich and poor, and the wrongness of that fact. It was a formative experience, and has a lot to do with my choosing clinical social work as a profession.
As a family we went to church regularly throughout my childhood. I accepted Christian teaching, though as time passed I began to puzzle about aspects of the doctrines, as I understood them at the time.
For me, the central message of Christianity was an inclusive one. It was about love, loving God, loving my neighbor. When I went to college, I brought this frame of reference to the work I did in a volunteer “town and gown” program coordinated between the college and the local Social Services and Welfare Department, pairing students with families in need. I loved my program family and became very involved in their day-to-day life—organizing activities with the four children, recruiting my classmates to help with home repair projects, trying to be useful in other various ways. The mother had a major mental illness, schizophrenia, but seemed utterly “normal” to me—until, that is, she suffered an episode of psychosis and was hospitalized. I went to visit her and was overwhelmed by how ill she was. She did not make sense. And she did not know who I was, which was extremely confusing to me. This proved to be a developmental turning point, causing me to confront my naivete, and my belief that “all you need is love.” No. Love is not enough. Necessary, but not sufficient. Love cannot protect someone from mental illness. Expert knowledge and skill are also required.
I worked after college as a social worker, obtaining my MSW along the way; and also along the way I stopped identifying as a Christian. When I read CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity, in which he describes the imperative of dying to the self, I said “That’s it. I’m not a Christian.” I was after all, immersed in professional development where becoming a self, and helping other people become themselves, was a fundamental goal. I realized I was agnostic, veering towards but not quite committing to being an atheist.
A change occurred after I attended my first-born nephew’s baptism here, at St. Columba’s. Bill Tully preached. I don’t remember the sermon, but I do remember the impact it had on me. I was inspired. And curious.
A few years later I moved down here and joined St. Columba’s right away. I had decided that despite my continuing agnosticism, I would suspend my disbelief and live into the practice of faith through engaging in an energetic, inquiring, loving community. I decided to have faith that the meaning of Christianity would emerge and evolve through this experience.
In the ensuing 30 years, I have greatly benefited from the transformative power of the worship services, and from participation in many of the educational offerings, including the four-year Education for Ministry program. I have served on numerous committees, been a Rite 13 leader, and currently continue in the Benedictine Cell, and the annual silent retreats at Holy Cross monastery in New York. All these experiences, I have come to recognize, are in support of the goal of equipping me to bear the realities of life, with its relentless succession of losses, and sorrow and pain; yet still to appreciate and be responsive to, the great mystery and joy of life as well; to love as much as possible, in combination with knowledge and skill. To learn from Jesus.
Some years back I was at an annual professional dinner for the Center where I was in an advanced psychotherapy training program. My supervisor in the training is married to a minister, and she knew that I attended St. Columba’s. She called me over to introduce me to a colleague, saying, to my surprise, “This is Marjorie, she’s a Christian, too.” I had never before announced myself to be a Christian outside of my church community. But I crossed a threshold then and there. I know I am a Christian, despite ongoing doubts. There is much I cannot make sense of, I cannot explain. I fail daily in following Jesus’s example. But I am a Christian. I believe."