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My spiritual journey at Westminster began over 45 years ago when I enrolled my children in the Early Childhood Programs, and received a personal drop-in visit by Senior Pastor, Tom Stewart. Since then, the journey is I have been inspired by the incredible music and thought-provoking sermons, intellectual stimulation through the Adult Programs, mission trips to Maine, and Westminster’s social activism in the area of civil rights and gay rights. Most important to my spiritual – and physical – health would be how our church’s patient and compassionate pastors helped me recover from alcoholism, and develop a true and workable theology.
For as far as I can remember, prayer and religion gave me hope, but when life took an unexpected turn, the Catholic Church turned me away. After a few years of attending Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols, my husband and I decided to worship on Sunday morning. We are touched by the Pastor’s message week after week. We became members and continue to enjoy the many programs available for spiritual growth. Along with my fellow Year of the Bible classmates, we read the complete bible in one year! WPC is a welcoming congregation allowing all to embrace their individuality, while joining together to do God’s work in the community.
Tom’s messages from the pulpit always stir 'the better angels of our mercy.' He delivers them with calls to action, based on understanding and respecting 'where other people were coming from.' Tom knows the evocative quality of poetry: how skilled writers can conjure deep emotions with apt turns of phrase, metaphor or whatever. We’ve never heard finer sermons. Tom's leadership and deeply rooted spirituality make him a unique force for the Buffalo community. More than a preacher to Westminster, he serves as pastor to the greater metropolitan area. Tom understands others' basic beliefs. Recognizing how many senseless conflicts have been fought over different belief systems, he works for understanding.
Spiritual Life is a compassionate forum where participants take turns facilitating discussions of topics which consider spirituality across different cultures and traditions. Topics range from sharing one's own spiritual journey, "My Story," to Shinrin Yoku or Forest Bathing, to defining and re-defining meditation. We seek new perspectives and fresh ideas. We provide a supportive environment to hone your public speaking skills and experience with the space to share your knowledge and ideas. We look forward to people sharing from diverse backgrounds with insights into matters scientific, psychological, mythical, mystical, and creative.
Westminster caught me by surprise in 2013 with the Christmas Eve service. The music was exceptional and the atmosphere beautiful and calm. Over the next few years I attended various concerts and, encouraged by a few choral friends, joined the choir in the fall of 2016. As those initial months passed it was not only the music ministry that drew me closer to WPC, but the message I heard each Sunday morning, including conversations about ongoing outreach throughout Western New York. I had not been a practicing Presbyterian since my childhood, but my spiritual and mission interests were becoming more apparent. On March 26, 2017, I attended an Inquirer Class and became a member. Since then, I have embarked on a spiritual journey while attending “Year With the Bible,” and have enjoyed learning and volunteering as a docent during stained-glass tours of the Sanctuary. Westminster has enriched my life in more ways than I could have possibly imagined.
When our family moved to Buffalo thirty-five years ago we set out to find our spiritual home in this new city. We discovered Westminster and searched no further. Much to our delight we found the church in all its dimensions an inspirational home. We were immediately drawn into its warm welcoming community, amazing music, brilliant spiritual leadership, and its courageous community commitment.
Personally, as an architectural historian, I was drawn into Westminster on yet another level. Sacred architecture, when well-conceived, not only establishes unique places, but also forms unique spaces. Church architecture establishes “sacred ground” and creates an environment set apart from the traffic of daily life. For me, this dimension of Westminster is an important element in my personal spiritual life. Not only does the spire “inspire,” but the sanctuary, with its surround of stained glass, sets me up on a special plane of awareness and meditation. Any cynic might well point out that there is nothing “practical” about our steeple or the voluminous vertical dimension of our sanctuary, but the very fact that “practicality” is violated allows one to break with the outside world and ponder the real mysteries of being.
Mrs. Debby has been a part of my church family for as long as I can remember, all the way back to when she was my Sunday school teacher in Pre-K. When the time came to think about who I wanted to ask to be my mentor, the choice was obvious. I was so thankful when Mrs. Debby agreed to mentor and lead me though this unusual, eventful year. We faced many obstacles, but having Ms. Debby as my mentor throughout the confirmation process has been wonderful. I truly appreciate all the time we spent together to get to know each other and the support she provided to me, along with everyone else in youth group.
The family lore that I remember from my childhood is that my maternal grandparents met in the Holmes Chapel of Westminster while teaching Sunday School - the irreproachable tale of the union of Frances Noble and Willard M. Pottle. My grandfather Pottle was a close friend of Dr. Butzer, and together they were instrumental in the establishment of the “Butzer Building,” where I and other members of my family attended nursery school. Our two daughters attended Sunday School and were eventually confirmed at Westminster. I had a lingering question in my mind, whether my great-grandfather was also a member of Westminster, so I recently did a quick Google search. To my delight, the online copy of the 1917 Westminster Yearbook confirmed that Henry W. Pottle was indeed a member, having joined the Church in 1901. In fact, he and several other men were listed as sponsors of a “Ladies Night” event in 1917 which featured a presentation on Alexander Hamilton, given by a Harvard professor. Those who would have arrived on foot, in carriage, or horseless carriage totaled 320! We are so grateful and proud to be part of the Westminster story for five generations… and counting.
Al and I first met Beth Hennessy when we moved into the city from Williamsville. Al's years of active involvement with Westminster were behind him but he wanted to maintain a connection. Beth provided that, and so much more. She soon became a member of his "board of directors," the way he often referred to helpful and supportive people we knew. It was a mark of his admiration and respect to be asked to be on his "board." Beth's visits were highlights of our quiet life, as she brought friendship, easy good humor, spiritual connection, and caring. Although Al's physical and cognitive skills declined, he always knew Beth and appreciated the gift of her visits. Al has passed now but Beth's support remains invaluable to me.
In 2004, Louise and I served on the 150th Anniversary Committee and compiled a history detailing Westminster’s long history of mission projects, including Jesse Ketchum’s two schools, Hope Chapel at Richmond and Utica, the hospital in Western Iran, Westminster House, and helping the disadvantaged in Buffalo. This history of service built the foundation for present community outreach on Ferguson Avenue, WEDI/West Side Bazaar, Youth-To-Maine, and ENERGY.
Going forward, our Racial Justice Committee is supporting programs on the East Side, including WEDI and Peacemakers in Bailey Green, the restoration of Westminster house, Criminal Justice reforms through VOICE Buffalo. Westminster’s work in mission has inspired my work with the Rotary Club and Louise’s work with the Junior League.
In high school, I remember playing violin with the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra in the beautiful sanctuary at Westminster. After four years away at college, I returned to Buffalo and had many more opportunities to play at Westminster. Although I originally came for the music, I found Westminster’s values align with my own. I recently became a member and am grateful for the new young adult ministry. I enjoy connecting with people my age and the activities that have been offered. Thank you, Westminster, for the music and community that you offer!
In my 57 years at Westminster, several experiences helped light my path to faith, including tutoring in the ENERGY program, and helping Donald Etulo and Ebinda Zacharia publish “A Place to Pray,” recounting their journey from the brutal chaos of civil war in Congo to joining Westminster after more than a decade as refugees without a spiritual home. As Clerk of Session in June of 1983, I reported our decision to “make homosexuality a non-issue” for leadership--as well as membership--by becoming a More Light Congregation. For the next two years we were “corrected” by our Presbytery and by the General Assembly’s Judicial Commission. I represented our interests at Presbytery meetings, joined other members visiting area Presbyterian churches to explain our commitment to Christian inclusiveness, and responded to over 80 letters criticizing our action. In the end, Westminster did indeed shine “more light” on one of the pivotal cultural issues of our time.
When Elodie came to Energy at the age of 8, she spoke little English. For five years, I had the pleasure of watching her develop a passion for reading, writing and learning. She’s now a sophomore at Park School, active in the Westminster youth group, and a thoroughly delightful 15 year old. I’ve seen many ENERGY children light their own paths to academic and social success as they become contributing members of our multicultural society–and that path is a great source of joy and pride for both me and Westminster.
The youth group is important because in this time of quarantine there really isn’t much social interaction other than zoom and virtual contact. The youth group is changing that. We have held socially distanced slushee circles and a field trip to enjoy time together at the zoo. People need that social interaction, especially right now, and relationship building is a priority of our times together. (Erik)
The youth group is very important especially in these times. During COVID-19 people need social interaction. And they can’t keep getting them from the friends we have already seen. So that’s why it’s good to have a variety of different types of personalities and people to connect with in our lives. The youth group had multiple connection circles that brought people together to talk and build relationships. For another excursion we went to the zoo I think everyone had a great time looking at the animals and talking to one another. A part of the zoo was the dip and dots treat when we had a chance to sit down and talk with some new people and maybe just have some time by yourself to re-adjust and relax. The youth group has helped so many people look at life in a new way and just to be a better person overall as we grow together in our faith life. (Calvin)
Having been a member of Westminster for well over 30 years, there have been many "path lighting" moments for me and my late husband. However, the one for which I am most grateful is that Westminster created WEDI and included me in it. Through this amazing venture, I was given the high privilege of coming to know and become friends with many of the phenomenal New Americans (Refugees) who have come to our community. Without this program and its growth, I would never have had the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful attributes these friends have brought to us here in Buffalo. Thank you, Westminster, for opening my life to a vast wealth of knowledge and relationships!
Given everything currently going on in society, joining the Westminster Young Adult Ministry was a decision I made to engage in a positive social group. I feel it's important to surround yourself with like-minded people working together to support one another and demonstrate kindness, connection, and motivation as a community of faith. As a group we've done team building activities such as clean-up projects, dialogue diner, and bagging Halloween candy for children’s ministry.
Our path to Westminster began when the Marriage Equality Act became New York State law in June, 2011. While our faith in God is foundational, we both had experienced rejection by the denominations we cherished. Nonetheless, we were optimistic that Westminster as a More Light congregation might consider having our marriage ceremony within the church.
The next weeks and months revealed that the Holy Spirit was working within our midst. Dr. Yorty and the Session explored the spiritual, legal, and financial challenges of allowing a pastor to perform a same-gender marriage when the larger denomination was still a few years away from accepting that. Concurrently, we worked hard to articulate our hopes and expectations for marriage within a community we never imagined could really welcome us.
The Holy Spirit made a grand intervention about a month before our wedding date. Mary and I attended the PLGC More Light national annual meeting held in Rochester that year. It was a moving reintroduction to our Faith as well as a joyful reminder that God’s Love really is for EVERYONE. Although we didn’t know anyone there, three people from Westminster found us and surrounded us with amazingly unmistakable warmth and welcome. That experience, followed by so many more, told us that we were on the right path to finding the spiritual home we each had yearned for.
We joined Westminster Presbyterian Church a few months later and continue each day to be grateful for the Fellowship, Spiritual Strengthening, Hope, and Love that we find here.
After the 9/11 tragedy back in 2001, Al Ryan and I talked about what we at Westminster could do to facilitate Understanding Islam. We decided to reach out to the Muslim community to hold an interfaith discussion series every February for three weeks before the start of Lent. The Muslim Public Affairs Council led by Dr. Khalid Qazi and Bayram Arman was quite cooperative and after a few years became integral partners with us. Rev. Yorty and our Case Library Committee were also quite supportive. Various programs were held with a variety of Muslim speakers who had never been to Westminster, but found a friendly, inquisitive audience and a welcoming atmosphere.
After Al and I visited a program at Chautauqua Institution on Harvard’s Path of Abraham Program in the Middle East we decided to do something here. Hence was inaugurated the interfaith Walk of Abraham program which partners with the Tent of Abraham program. Both culminate every year with a Ramadan meal at the An-Nur Mosque in Getzville. I can still recall all people who excitedly told me this was the first time they had ever been in a Mosque.
All in all, it has been a wonderful interfaith experience in understanding the similar values of our two religions which are both centered around the Golder Rule: Matthew 7-12 and Kitab al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 146.
My path at Westminster started through my son. My husband and I first visited the church when he was a newborn, and early on the congregation encircled us with care. Members sat and prayed with us while our son underwent surgery and, as he recovered at home in a body cast, watched him so we could pack for a move to a new house. Through Sunday School, Dialogue Diner, and Confirmation, I could never repay all that Westminster community gave to my son. I attempted to give back in the ways I could – through teaching Sunday School, joining committees, hosting Meet & Mingles, tending to Westminster’s gardens, and now chairing Case Library Conversations. What I’ve discovered along my path at Westminster is that the more I gave, the more that’s been returned to me in friendship, fellowship, and kindness. More than a place to worship, Westminster has become home and everyone in it part of my family.
I always leave worship with something new to think about, to reflect on, and perhaps to strive for in my own life.I had not been involved in a church since childhood. After the divisiveness and vitriol of the 2016 election, I found myself feeling depleted and sad. I felt a need for some sense of hopefulness, but was not sure where or how to find it. Somewhat coincidentally, I attended Christmas Eve service at WPC that December. Everything about the service – the inspiring music, the beautiful sanctuary, and especially the thoughtful and moving sermon- felt calming and uplifting in a way that I had not experienced in a while. I started attending Sunday morning services, and eventually joined the Church in 2018. For over two years, I have continued to treasure the sense of peace and rejuvenation that I get from the Sunday services, and feel that I have been enriched through them. I always leave worship with something new to think about, to reflect on, and perhaps to strive for in my own life. Along with this, I have enjoyed being a part of the vibrant and engaged congregation and have valued the opportunity to be a part of an organization that is deeply and sincerely committed to the Buffalo community.
We felt immediately at home when we toured Westminster over two years ago. Not only is the Church itself breathtaking and historical, but its members and faith community are warm, welcoming, collegial, and kind. It made perfect sense for us to join and embark on our new journey at and with Westminster. And, now having had a year to look back (and what a year it was!) at all the memories since our wedding day, we could not have imagined sharing in our special and sacred day at any other place but Westminster. Thank you to Tom Yorty and all the Westminster staff for making our day beautiful, and continuing to do so during these challenging times.
Working as a Deacon at Westminster has given me a higher sense of purpose both spiritually and emotionally. I have developed enriching relationships with others who have been called to serve our congregation and community. As deacons, we take pride in serving others through an unyielding dedication and commitment to the church and its members.
To me, being a deacon means being a part of a community. I have found joy and prosperity in creating bonds with the members of the Westminster family. I am proud to act as a role model on behalf of the church as I continue to strengthen my relationships with those affiliated with Westminster and the Buffalo community.
I have celebrated many of life’s greatest joys at Westminster and greatest sorrows too. I will never forget the compassionate and caring support my family and I received from the Westminster staff and congregation when my mother died. Today, Tom and I feel deeply connected to so many of our Westminster family.” You enhance our lives - spiritually, intellectually, and socially. We are so grateful for the worship, study and work that brings us together at Westminster and are grateful to share our paths with each other, and with you.
Westminster is a beacon of hope and assurance as we face the unknown paths ahead of us in the coming year. Our church family is the light we need, but a living church takes our commitments in time and treasure to remain vibrant. I give as a testimony to God’s goodness, as an appreciation of how the church has continued to minister during this past year, and as an acknowledgement that others in our fellowship and community are suffering right now and need our help.
Westminster has been an impactful part of my spiritual journey, lighting the path for many years. Transferred to Buffalo with my husband Carl and just starting our family, we were blessed to find this church family who embraced, loved and supported us. Our boys were baptized here, attended WECP, confirmed here, two were married here and now two of my grandchildren have been baptized here. I have had great mentors for parenting and marriage and have been given opportunities to serve and live my Christian faith. My spiritual path, through good times and sad times, has been and will always be illuminated by Westminster.