Why Johanna Came to Pilgrim

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The first time I came to Pilgrim was on a Good Friday. I had started attending Immanuel Lutheran, which shares Lent services with Pilgrim, so Good Friday was here. Good Friday has been my favorite church service since I was in middle school.

Although I had continued to go to church alone long after my family stopped going, when I moved to Macalester for college I didn’t bother to get into weekly services again. I looked up nearby churches on the internet and never went to any of them, aside from the occasional holiday. Even Good Friday fell prey to my busy schedule; we had the day off school but there was always a track meet at Gustavus. My faith was still important to me, as I decided to pursue a career in Biblical Studies, but it wasn’t until my life began to fall apart that I went back to church, because I had to.

When I was 23 my boyfriend of two years broke up with me. Although it was my third long-term relationship I had never been dumped before. It turned out to be the crisis that activated trauma I had blocked out from childhood. Now I know why I always liked the more morbid church services; they gave meaning to the ever-present but inexplicable sense of tragedy I inherited from my childhood abuses.

I became suicidal, drank too much, and cut myself for awhile. Then I developed an eating disorder, which proved to be the most effective and devastating coping mechanism yet. At the same time, I got myself out of a toxic living situation, moved back to the Macalester neighborhood, and started going to church.

By the time I walked through Pilgrim’s doors, I was scared of everything. The post-traumatic stress combined with the neurological effects of prolonged starvation made life almost impossible. Every time I saw a man looking at me, I felt a choking sensation which could last up to a week. I was so anxious I couldn’t stay in one place for more than an hour. I was in constant state of fight or flight. I couldn’t socialize, I was falling behind in school and my job as a TA, and simple tasks like riding the bus had begun to terrify me. Church was the only place I felt safe, so I went every chance I got, and that brought me to Pilgrim on Good Friday in 2007.

As I entered the old sanctuary, the setting sun burned red through the stained glass and the mounting tragedy of the service was echoed by the darkening of the sky. I loved the haunting music and the ancient feel of the liturgy. I came back for the Nordic service and sang about wandering pilgrims and sat in silence and heard God. Where else might a terrified, roaming anorexic find rest than “a home for hungry minds and souls?”

Since then, I started treatment, became a member at Pilgrim, and I am almost done with my master’s degree in Religions in Antiquity. I still plan on being a biblical scholar, but I have a lot more work to do with my eating disorder and the PTSD. I need church as much as ever and I am so happy I found a home at Pilgrim.

Johanna Shreve

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