Summertime is slipping by so quickly. As school supplies appear on shelfs, here at Saint Luke we are still savoring the season and some wonderful stories. Our series “Saint Luke Stories” continues, featuring stories of how various members of our community found their way to Saint Luke and why they call it home. Thus far, we have featured stories from Marie & Jennifer, Ian, TJ, and the DiSciascio family.
This week, Claire Birkholz was kind enough to share her story of surprise with us. Enjoy!
Over twelve hours from home and with hundreds of miles between Pennsylvania and her hometown in Alabama, Claire Birkholz is setting down roots and building a life as a young professional on the mainline. In addition to starting a new job, she has had to create a whole new life here in Pennsylvania, learning her way around, building new friendships, discovering new favorite coffee shops, and searching for a new community of faith to call home.
Back in Alabama, Claire had been raised going to a lutheran church and once she relocated she knew that she wanted to find a church in Pennsylvania. Claire explained sharing, “I was researching churches in the area because I really enjoyed attending when I was growing up. I found the Saint Luke website and I really liked it. I thought it was really engaging.” While she had anticipated having to visit multiple churches before finding the right fit, her search was surprisingly simple. She shared, “I was going to go to a couple of different churches, but I went to Saint Luke on the first try and fell in love and I haven’t gone anywhere else.”
She recalls the surprise she experienced upon her first visit with enthusiasm sharing, “I was surprised by how nice everyone was. I went to service and several people came up to me and said hello and wanted to know me, saying that they hadn’t seen me there before. It just made me feel really welcome and it was a really wonderful experience. It made me want to go again.” To top it off, that morning Pastor Sue had delivered an "amazing sermon." Claire was so captivated by Pastor Sue’s teaching that she decided then and there that she wanted to experience it more. She came back the very next week and Saint Luke has been her church ever since.
Being new to the area, Claire was so thankful for a place that not only helped her cultivate a new sense of home in Pennsylvania but also helped her feel connected to her hometwon back in Alabama. While many miles separate her from her family and the church she grew up in, Saint Luke has been a point of connection. Claire said, “It was a really great way to feel like I was still connecting with home and also meeting a new community of people outside of work. It made the transition to this area a whole lot easier.”
Since arriving at Saint Luke, Claire has been grateful to not only be warmly welcomed by the “incredibly friendly” congregation at Saint Luke, but also to be developing friendships in Saint Luke’s young adults ministry. She enjoys gathering with other young people that value faith and want to make a positive difference in the world. While some may think that Millenials are less interested in church, Claire shows us that perhaps they just need to find the right faith community. She explains, “As a young adult, I definitely think that the message that Saint preaches is really relevant to the millennial generation. It's important and unique to Saint Luke. It strikes a cord.” Each week she anticipates that she will hear Pastor Matt and Pastor Sue talking about “real life topics that are current and relevant.” She always leaves feeling both refreshed and having something to think about for the next week.
Yet, another thing about Saint Luke that will appeal to young adults is that it is a church where faith is not just talked about, but is actually put into practice. One of the things that makes Claire most proud to be a part of Saint Luke is all of the mission work that is accomplished. She confidently shares, “It's good to know that I am attending a place and giving to a place that really contributes to the community, whether it's in the Philadelphia area with the homeless population or the greater community in Devon and on the mainline. I think we are doing some really impactful work.” She loves hearing about not only adults serving but also the youth serving in efforts such as the Appalachia Service Project.
While only being at Saint Luke for about a year thus far, Claire already is looking towards the future. She hopes that the future will be filled with more mission work and is already considering becoming a member. She also is looking forward to experiencing some of the wonderful traditions at Saint Luke. Thus far, her favorite has been the Good Friday Service and the prayer vigil. She reflected, “I signed up for the 3am slot for the prayer vigil and it was so wonderful to just go, and be in the sanctuary and be able to pray in that peaceful environment. The whole entire Holy week was unlike anything I had experience before.”
As you listen to Claire speak about the future, you cannot help but smile in response to the joy that just radiates off of her. She enthusiastically expresses her affection for Saint Luke declaring, “It really adds to my life in a way that no other group can. I really love it.” It is this same experience that she hopes to share with others. When asked what she would say to someone considering visiting Saint Luke, she laughingly exclaims, “Just come. Give it a try. It really is a wonderful place and if you go and open yourself up to that, the rest will work itself out.”
It has worked itself out for Claire. She has experienced such a friendly welcome as a newcomer to the area and is ready to warmly welcome those also looking for a place to belong. Open yourself up and you just might find yourself pleasantly surprised as Claire was.