Courage For Fresh Starts
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child;
when I became an adult I put an end to childish ways.” Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians,
It takes some courage to come as a stranger into a new church. Often, it was a series of bad experiences in some other church that made it hard to give a new congregation a chance. But the very human need for both a divine connection and a community to support it helps people to find the strength to take a chance.
Over the last several months, this congregation has experienced an influx of new members, which is a great thing. I see it as an affirmation that our church offers a comfortable and safe environment for the development of both the individual’s faith life and for the building up of our community of faith. My approach with prospective members is NOT to run a one-size-fits-all membership class. Instead, I set up an opportunity or two to talk about what questions they bring as they contemplate making a commitment to God through this particular little congregation. During the course of these discussions, we tend to hit on many of the topics that would be covered in a traditional class, such as how are decisions made? How is this place financed? How long have I been the pastor here?
One question, which comes up frequently, and one, which rarely comes up at all, speaks to the needs people bring with them as they explore joining this church. The question that invariably arises is: what kind of things do you do here? That’s about points of entry. Church Without Walls, choir, social events like movie night and book club, and all kinds of other things get discussed in response to that question.
The question that rarely comes up these days is the following: What do you believe here? In one way or another, of course, I try to answer that unspoken question anyway, and that usually goes something like this: my job is not to tell you what to believe. That’s not how the United Church of Christ as a whole works, and it’s certainly not the way it works here. There is no catechism. Instead, my job is to help you to articulate your own questions, then to find answers that make sense to you at this point in life. In other words, the conversation turns to what YOU believe. Then we explore the process of building faith through worship and membership in a church.
As it turns out, our faith tends to change over time. As we age and our experiences impact us, our problems and challenges and concerns will change. So will our questions. The faith of a ten year old, a thirty-year-old, and a fifty-year-old person are and should be different things unless we haven’t done or learned or given anything any thought since you were ten years old. Membership class won’t answer all those questions. A relationship with a pastor and our experiences in church over the years may well be of some help, however.
The conversation about what has gone wrong for people in other religious settings is a sensitive, often painful discussion. Their willingness to reflect on the past, however, is an important indication that there is something in this church that looks promising enough to justify taking a chance. As we move through Lent and toward Easter, that experience of hitting bottom, then rising above it all is explicitly reflected in our services of worship. From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunrise, we go through that process as a community of faith. New members come with hope in their hearts. God’s message is that hope and faith are fully justified. You’ve come to the right place.
The welcome is real.
See you in church?