Emmie Arnold is a second year student at Princeton Theological Seminary and is currently serving as a field education intern with Princeton Presbyterians. Read her reflection of gratitude on Breaking Bread Worship.
It was a cold night in December 2014 while I was home for my winter break of my senior year of college. It was a season of many no’s, disappointments, and moments of ambiguity about my past, present, and future. I had discerned that, instead of going to the West Coast for grad school, God was calling me home to New Jersey to do the same task. I was bitter about it. I didn’t want to go home; I wanted a new adventure. However, on this cold night as I walked into Niles Chapel for a Christian young adult group I had heard about from a friend, I experienced one joyful and transformative piece of my future homecoming fall into place.
I had never experienced church like it. It was small, dimly lit with candles, and full of the kind of tangible joy that comes from having also experienced sorrow. The prayer requests were real, even hauntingly deep – the kinds of words that lay hidden within my own heart. The music moved me. The chaplain at the time, Tara, and the intern, Hayley, shared beautiful words about God, God’s welcoming community, and longings for God’s justice, both during and after the service. Everyone introduced themselves to my friend and me, and assured us that we were fully accepted as LGBTQIA Christians, despite of our hearing and experiencing less-than-hospitable embraces before. After months of pain in my heart about coming home for a while, I now couldn’t wait to come back in a few months. Amazingly, they said they couldn’t wait, either! I’d only known them for an hour, but I knew we would be friends for the long haul.
Almost 3 years have passed since that late night in December 2014. I’m grateful that new adventures can be had anywhere, and that my first piece of reassurance that my experience of coming home for grad school would be redemptive came in Niles Chapel. I’ve cried, laughed, and grown in faith, friendship, and authenticity under the same hallowed roof. I’ve experienced what God’s beloved community can look like here. I’ve learned about what it looks like to be a Christian that hungers for justice here. I’ve broken bread and taken the cup more times than I can count here. I heard the word that I was born to become a hospital chaplain instead of a medical social worker here. I decided to become a part of the Presbyterian denomination because of the people here and their faithful walks of all kinds and denominations. Now, as an intern, I have the privilege of serving the very community that has served me so much. What a blessing it is to be a part of this small piece within the church universal, of the broken and beautiful Body of Christ.