My St. Michael’s Story: Tola Marts

Posted by on Sun, Sep 16, 2018 in Giving

For most of the last thirty years, I was what I would describe as cheerfully agnostic towards the subject of faith. “It’s not a music I hear,” I would tell people. “I don’t have anything against people who do, but it’s just not my thing.” I had joined a church as a teenager, but had drifted away. Even when my Mom died ten years ago, that didn’t change.

In her last days, I was able to spend some time with one of her brothers. There were five kids in my Mom’s family, and Rick was the next oldest. He was a man of quiet faith, and he shared it with me as we spent time with my Mom. Not in a pushy way, but with great humility.

Rick had the type of life that some people describe with the phrase “rode hard and put away wet.” There had been a number of heart attacks at that point, and he had been sober for about 20 years. But he persevered, and later he even reunited with his high school sweetheart.

But four years later, she died and he had another heart attack. I found myself wanting to pray for him. *That* was a surprise! To whom? What would I say? I briefly tried out the church I had joined as a teenager. I realized why it hadn’t stuck.

I decided I wanted to find a new church. Being an engineer, I made a trade study. I’d go to Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, and UCC churches, and compare their strengths and weaknesses. I figured I was probably going to wind up Lutheran, because I’m from Minnesota and many of best Christian friends were Lutherans.

But John Rittenhouse was also a friend of mine, and one day while having lunch at Pogacha Restaurant, he told me about St. Michael’s. Give it a try, he said. I did. And then I went again. And again. And then I put away the trade study, and.. here I am.

I discovered two things I really loved about the Episcopal faith. The first is the three legged stool: scripture, tradition, and reason. These are three things not currently often envisioned when we talk about faith in the public sphere. People have a caricature about Christians, and it just doesn’t describe us Episcopalians. This is why I have become small-e evangelical about Episcopalianism.

The other thing- and the thing I am most proud of as an Episcopalian- is the fact that we invite all who seek a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ to join us in Communion every Sunday. The world has become a more and more isolated place, each of us seeking a smaller and smaller circle of like minded people. But Episcopalianism is additive rather than subtractive. I believe that if our very troubled world is going to heal itself, it will do so through organizations like the Episcopal Church.

This was brought home to me a few years ago, when I went back to that other church I used to attend to give a eulogy for a friend who had passed away. I asked the priest if he would be OK with my taking Communion; I had been baptized into that church, after all, but was currently attending an Episcopal church. “Thank you for asking,” he said, “but I’m going to have to say no. It doesn’t mean the same thing for you as it does for us.”

I’m pretty sure it does mean the same thing.

So as it happens, Rick died about 10 weeks ago, in Bath, NY. He didn’t die of a heart attack as we all assumed he would, but rather of cancer. His daughters, my three wonderful cousins, wanted me there to be with them. I’m confident that the lessons I’ve learned here at St. Michael’s, through my time with you and seeing the loss some of you have dealt with these past few years, made me more confident that Rick was going to a better place, and made me better able to help my cousins.

So I want to say thank you to St. Michael’s, and to all of you here, for all that you have taught me and continue to bring to my life. I appreciate it so much.

—Tola Marts