Dear Friends and Members of the United Church of Norman-UCC
“The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.”- William Temple
John Spong starts his book on Eternal Life talking about funerals. In them, he notes, the services are not (or should not be) directed to members of the church. It is really for those who are gathered.
And when it comes to weddings and funerals, the one thing you know is that most of the folks in attendance are not church members. They come from all walks of life, many are part of, what Spong, calls the “church alumni association.” To relate faith in this context means to relate to everybody.
There’s a value to this. It means that you have to relate to the human condition, to those shared experiences that make us human. It means you have to relate to the person, in their individuality as opposed to forcing them to fit the rubrics of your religion. That does not mean you are not drawing from your religious tradition but it is in the service of the person and their situation.
The closest thing I can think of to this kind of work is chaplaincy. I remember when I was in grad school I volunteered as a chaplain at the local hospital. The important thing was not your tradition, it was the needs of the patient. You met them where they were at.
It’s one reason religious exclusivists wouldn’t participate in this program. The volunteer chaplains came mainly from open and pluralistic churches.
It was because they felt comfortable setting aside their religious notions to relate to the needs of the patient, to do a referral if a specific religious rite was needed, even if it was not from their own tradition.
To pull this off certain theological presuppositions are needed. 1) God is the God of the whole world, not just of the church. You cannot make divisions between insiders and outsiders 2) Theology comes from the lived experience of people, not the institutional needs of the church 3) The church primarily exists for those outside of the church.
I’d suggest such a vision models the life and ministry of Jesus who always related to people across the divisions of religion and society. And I believe it finds it’s expression within liberal religious communities, such as those found in the mainline.
So when I read the Pew report on the continuing collapse of the mainline and the increased religious polarization of the country, I feel like we’re losing something important.
As Christianity has become identified with the culture war, especially opposition to LGBT equality, people who are liberally minded and who may have experienced the divine in their lives will never think of accessing the resources faith communities can offer.
That is churches, like every other group, are finding that people are sorting themselves based on their political alignment. That is recipe for further polarization.
And I think that is a shame and denies the gift the church can be in our society. When religion is an indicator of your political tribe, when it defines who is in and who is out, when it is defined by “true beliefs” it ceases to perform the role of what binds us together as human beings.
It becomes another interest group which one must rally behind or rally against. That way may produce interest and numbers. But the church will increasingly cease to be seen as offering good news.
Rev. Dwight Welch
By the way this Sunday, Samuel McCann, a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary will lead a discussion on Christology during our worship time. Afterwards you are invited to lunch with him as we discuss the ideas he shared during the service.
On August 20th I’d like to preach on topics you’ve raised.If you have any questions or topics you’d like covered this Sunday email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll include them into the sermon. We’ll also be celebrating communion as well that Sunday.
August 13th Sunday
After church there will be an Adult Education meeting to plan out the fall semester offerings.
August 13th, August 20th, August 27th Sunday
Chris Carter will be leading a discussion on the PBS series on the historical Jesus, called from Christ to Jesus.
We’re discussing a new book A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman at Nancy Logan’s home 3200 Summit Bend at 7pm.
Resident and Shelter Needs include soap, cleaning supplies, furniture, diapers. Kitchen Needs are dry sealed foods. Care Packets for the homeless include deodorant, self care products, snack foods