The February after Jerry died I was hired by a wealthy Episcopal congregation in Naples, Florida, to consult with them on stewardship. They brought me down for a month, paid for a rental car, provided me a cottage right on the beach, and paid me well for a very reasonable work load. I did a four session evening program on stewardship open to all members — lots of them came. I recall being amused that in lieu of traditional church pot luck before the sessions, we had catered gourmet food. I did a leadership retreat for the vestry, which is the congregational team elected for a designated term to make decisions on behalf of the church. I did some Executive Coaching with the rector and his clergy staff. I offered to add a couple of child-focused programs as part of Sunday worship for the kids in church school — those I enjoyed immensely. The rest of the time I walked on the beach, got invitations for dinner at the homes of church members, explored Naples, and got to know the long-time church member in whose cottage I was staying. She lived just in front, in a larger home practically on the sand. We had a glass of wine together most evenings and watched the sunset from her screened front patio facing the ocean.
They loved me, and I quite enjoyed them and enjoyed Naples. One of the members had a condo for sale, and they urged me to buy, relocated there, and become part of their community. In the moment, it was tempting. Naples is gorgeous in February. The condo price was within reach, and it was beautiful. I had the promise of a ready-made social connection, via membership in the church. I imagine a lot of people belong to churches more for the social and communal benefits rather than for an experience of faith.
In the end I returned home. I had an inkling that the people who can afford to live in Naples are far more politically conservative than I am — although this congregation was open to gay and lesbian members, which marked it as more progressive than many. The congregation was also mostly coupled, and I newly single without having yet developed the skills to move comfortably in a coupled world. Being an outlier as the consultant was fine. Being an outlier as a member felt far less appealing.
I watched Irma move through Naples on CNN on Sunday morning. The cottage I stayed in, as well as the larger home in front of me right on the sand, is surely engulfed by storm surge. I might have had to evacuate Naples entirely.
In Seattle we live with the background threat of earthquake. In Rochester we had blizzards and ice storms. The Midwest has to deal with tornadoes. States like Montana and Idaho and eastern Washington grapple with widespread forest fires.
At my age it all sounds overwhelming — retreating to a shelter, carrying food and water and clothes and meds for several days, trying to sleep on a cot with the background noise of hundreds or thousands of people.
I’m glad to be watching from a distance, from the safety of my TV. Wishing safety and an orderly return to normal for all of those directly affected.