The Tinsley Hook Family
To say I grew up firmly rooted would be an understatement. My mother still lives in the brick split-level ranch house that she and my father built in 1960, in Covington, Georgia. My father’s name, Charlie James Tinsley, is engraved on the cornerstone of our Methodist Church as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees when the sanctuary was built. And each year the C.J. Tinsley Good Samaritan award is presented in his memory at graduation to a Newton County High School senior who has demonstrated exceptional commitment to the community. The first year that my community organized a Martin Luther King Scholarship in conjunction with Oxford College of Emory University, I was selected to be the first recipient. No pressure, of course.
I have never had to wonder about where I come from because it has always been right there in front of me. Rather than struggle to overcome society’s stereotypically low expectations of me as an African-American, my struggle has more often been to live up to my own community’s exceptionally high expectations of me as the daughter of Charlie and Margaret Tinsley. Will I be as devoted to my community? Will I do as much to help others realize their potential? Will I be as patient, inspiring, kind and committed? Standing on the shoulders of my parents who faced hardships I will never know, will I be able to accomplish more than they could ever dream of?
The cultural inheritance I received from the community of my childhood was rich, yet my own life journey broadened my sense of who belonged to my community. Rooted in my insatiable childhood appetite for books and ideas…my curiosity about my fellow human beings…my realization that there are many “right” ways to live…my college years at Emory studying everything from world literature, Women’s Studies, and social justice…through friends, writers, artists, and activists from so many places…even through my beloved college chaplain who expanded my sense of how open-minded a United Methodist minister could be. “My people” are no longer only the people who look like me or who grew up with me or who knew my parents as children. My people are also the people who share a passion for equality and justice, a thirst for ideas, a commitment to diversity, and a respect for all spiritual paths. As much as I still love the community of my birth, “my people” now include the kind of people who come to UUCA. As the UU hymn states, “We are a gentle, angry people.”
In the almost five years that we have been a part of this community, Jeep and I have both found many ways to serve. We love watching our daughter come to know this place as a home away from home and to see her making so many new friends—some of them her own age and some of them who have children my age! Together our family is learning to understand our new faith and what it means to be Unitarian Universalists. In many ways it is just a new label for what we have always known to be true in our hearts.
Sonya Tinsley Hook
Sonya, her husband Jeep, and their daughter Sophia are active in UUCA’s music and Religious Exploration programs. Sonya is UUCA’s volunteer Fun & Fellowship Coordinator. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m David Smith and I’ve been a UUCA member for 22 years.
I arrived not knowing a soul in this town. You gave me friendship. I met a nice lady here, and Rev. John Mackey officiated at our wedding. We started a family and you gave us a loving, nurturing place where our children felt safe to grow and be themselves. You know, you drag your kids out of bed on Sunday morning and you wonder if they will ever understand what you’re trying to do for them. Now my girls are coming of age, and it feels so good to realize, yes, they do understand how special this place is. They get it. They really do!
You gave me your trust — to teach your children and youth, to serve on your board, to serve on your Senior Minister search committee. The search committee gave me the job of initially researching a certain candidate from Texas.
And music! You gave me the opportunity to share music! Even when more than once it crashed and burned. Is the music here awesome, or what? And OMG — signing Spirit of Life with the Phoenix choir in a thousand year old Unitarian church in Transylvania? O-M-freakin-G! You have given me the memories of a lifetime. Thank you.
But I have to tell you my joy…my smile…has sometimes been a mask. Masking layers of unhappiness. Last year I made the hardest decision of my life and ended my marriage after 17 years. It has been difficult. Early in the process, I had this thought: “This is a community that has a lot of resources. Pull UUCA in even closer and UUCA will help you through this.” And did you ever. You may not know this, but last year our Rev. Makar led a course, “Rebuilding After Your Relationship Ends.” Eight of us, all UUCA members, all going through divorces, met for three months. And we helped each other to work through all the stuff; we helped each other start climbing out, and start rebuilding. Thank you, Anthony. Thank you, UUCA. Your resources made this possible.
You have given me so much. Let me tell you…you…UUCA…you are not just changing lives, you are saving lives.
Do you remember the joke Rev. Makar told about the optimist and the room of horse manure? Kid is led into a room piled high with horse manure and, being an optimist, the kid joyfully starts digging.”There must be a pony in here somewhere.” Well, life gave me a pile of horse manure. You helped me dig. And I am here to tell you — there IS a pony in there!
More stories to come!