2024 Pledge Campaign – Suzan Brinker

Hello, my name is Suzan Brinker, and it’s a pleasure to speak in support of the annual pledge campaign.

I’ve wanted to belong somewhere my whole life. But growing up in Germany with a German mother and a Turkish father, belonging was hard to come by. Turks, as the largest minority in Germany, face distrust and racism. I didn’t speak Turkish, but I looked Turkish. I felt German, but half of my extended family lived on another continent, and the other half was suspicious of that half. Religion was another issue. My mom grew up Catholic, my dad grew up Muslim. Both despised organized religion. In my homogenous German suburb in the 90s and early 2000s, my friends were either Catholic or Protestant. They went through communion or confirmation, they attended baptisms and weddings, and they went to youth groups at their churches. I was jealous of them for how much they belonged, but I also loved that my world was more expansive and interesting.

As a teenager, I got deeply interested in philosophy and religion. Lacking better options, I started going to church with my Catholic grandma, who always feared for my soul. One time, I went to church by myself and brought home a host, unsure what it was. A priest had handed it to me during communion, but it didn’t look appetizing enough to eat, so I just put it in my pocket. Back home, I showed it to my Grandma, who enthusiastically tried to stuff it in my mouth. My mom noticed just in time, and the two of them wrestled each other over whether I should be eating the body of Christ even though I wasn’t baptized. For the record, the Catholic God scared me enough that once I found out that eating the body of Christ is only ok for Catholics who’ve received their first communion, I politely declined.

Once I moved to the U.S. to attend college and grad school, circumstances led me into Catholic Higher Education, which was fascinating, but Catholicism still could never quite satisfy my hunger for spirituality on the one hand and my deep desire for freedom on the other.

When my husband Dave and I graduated from Marquette and moved to Central Pennsylvania for doctoral work at Penn State, we discovered the UU church there. It quickly became the place we went on Sundays, where we made many good friends and found new inspiration for spiritual and intellectual questioning.

When we moved to Somerville in 2019, we immediately started attending First Parish in Concord, and then moved to Concord during the early pandemic. What drew us here? Well, for a history and literature-obsessed European like me, this was a place that made me deeply curious. I had long given up on the hope that I may fully belong somewhere, but I loved being an anthropologist of sorts, experiencing communities and cultures I once could only imagine. So as we were attending services here and enrolling our growing number of children in RE, it felt like enough to just kind of exist on the outskirts of this community — one we were told takes a long time to warm up to people — and isn’t that what they say about all of New England?

But I knew something else from my experience of growing up as a half something and half another thing, of moving to a different country and of relocating several times for school and jobs. I knew that if you show up consistently, relationships form. So that’s what we did. We came here almost every Sunday; we had our two daughters, Elise and Nora, dedicated by Amy and Howard (and little Leo later got his very own special blessing from Liz Weber in the parking lot during Covid), we participated in church traditions like the holiday workshop, and we attended Ferry Beach. And here we are now, having met some of our best friends at First Parish, enjoying some wonderful intergenerational relationships, and with our kids — for better or for worse — feeling like this building belongs to them and they should have a free run of it at all times.

When I stand in the parlor, I no longer think so much about all the amazing history that took place there (although I love that that’s the case), I think about the cozy fire we had last year at the women’s retreat, about caroling with cookies before the holidays, my kids playing with the doll house, and how much my son Leo loves the toy ambulance. It doesn’t feel like we’re on the outskirts anymore. It feels, dare I say it, like we belong.