Faith & Culture NW / by Sarah Schwartz

Growing up, my elementary school recitals were held in the beautiful brick Quaker church nestled on the corner of College & 3rd. The day before recitals, brave and patient teachers would accompany dozens of elementary school kids to the church so we could practice walking past rows of worn wooden pews and up the carpeted steps of the stage. Our teachers, older women with kind, soft faces, would shoo us this way and that, reminding us to smile and bend our knees.

It was from the lips of those women that I first heard the story of redemption, tales of this God-man Jesus who wrapped himself in flesh, who died and rose again so we could be made new. They taught me songs and read me stories, prayed before snack time and read from worn Bibles lying open in the folds of their skirts. It was because of their words that I first became captivated by the gospel and the possibility of a life lived in Abba's love.

I returned to that church for the first time in nearly 10 years this past Friday evening for the opening session of Faith & Culture Northwest, a conference featuring some of my favorite bloggers and writers. I had seen it advertised a few months prior, and was unable to resist leaving my California life for a few days to return home and hear from people I have for so long admired from afar.

Blogs...the word can come across so cheap, something inconsequential that only silly millennials are into. But for me, this circle of voices I stumbled across a few years ago have been nothing short of a lifeline.

It started with Rachel, asking the questions I had wondered silently but never spoken aloud, giving me permission to question the status quo, and teaching me to be brave while doing it.

Then there was Sarah, filling my heart with the poetry of living life loved, showing me that I need not be less so a man could be more, singing songs of there being room for all of us in this beautiful, wild Kingdom.

Then there was Emily, writing with passion and wit, speaking of singleness and wholeness in a way I had never before heard, allowing me to take the fragmented pieces of myself and rebuild them into Sarah, a whole person.

And then there was Preston, Micah, Hannah, Emily, and others.  They kept coming, surrounding me with songs of freedom and hope and courage, always pointing me back to this Jesus who first captured my heart in that little town full of coffee and rain and a beautiful brick church.

Rachel Held Evans was quoted in one of the weekend's sessions as saying, "Don't write for your critics. Write for the people you want to make feel less alone."

And so there was something quite right about meeting a few of these dear souls, these people whose words have made me feel less alone, in the place where my story started, where I was first loved into the Kingdom.

They have built upon the foundation laid by those who first told me of Jesus, giving me courage, strength, and room to grow.

For the people of God and this beautiful Kingdom, hallelujah.