Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Church is Not Actually All About Community

Now I'm no enemy of the small-group, covenant-group, call it what you will movement among UUs at the moment. Hell, I facilitate such a group! (Though not much longer, too busy, will be glad to continue belonging to a group though).

But, folks, but ... when I hear ministers increasingly say things like "Ah, community is what church is all about" I feel like shouting (rather than muttering, which is what I actually do), "The Hell it is! Andrew Wizowaty didn't risk life and limb in Poland to create a cozy little family church, but to create churches that focussed on what was actually true in their religion as opposed to the falsehoods other churches, even powerful ones, taught.

Do you really think William Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker were all about creating cozy little communities? Well, I don't. And I worry that we are taking refuge in creating our cozy little sweet groups because we don't know how to raise meaningful religious voices about truth and falsehood in the world anymore.

We should listen up to the words of Justin Lee, reported in today's New York Times. Justin is an evangelical Christian, believing in the Virgin Birth, Heaven and Hell, and salvation only through Christ. He also believes he was born gay and is unable to change.

What he said that we UUs may particularly need to hear is: "Church is not about membership in groups. It is about what I believe."

And, for all those UU folk who take offense when some little something or otherthing isn't to their immediate delight and leave in a huff, he goes on: "Just because some people who believe the same things I do aren't very loving doesn't mean I stop believing what I do."



Anonymous said...

Justin Lee stays in the Catholic church because he shares a creedal belief with his church and his fellow Catholics. It's not just what he believes, its what they believe communally.

It's more complex for us in the noncreedal, free church. We don't share a common set of beliefs in the way the creedal churches do. My beliefs are often substantially different than what I hear from the pulpit or professed in the coffee hour.

In my congregation, many of the strongest covenant groups (CG) are organized around beliefs — a Christian CG, two Pagan and two Buddhist CG, a Mysticism and a Conservative CG. The CG ministry is all about what, particularly, we believe in a way that the Sunday worship can't be.

juffie said...

Ah, but then again, a faith position that the universe is too mysterious for its mysteries to be summed up in any creed or book written in human words might be a public faith position even UUs might assent to?

Jess said...

I hear you about the insular nature that covenant groups and warm fuzzy family style church models can create, but I would argue that your use of the word "community" isn't quite right for the point I think you're making.

To me, as I posted a few days ago over at my own blog, community isn't about membership in a group with common traits, inward-looking, but is rather the sense of one's belonging in something larger than oneself, stretching all the way out to the wider inter-connected web of all existence. It's the individual focusing out of the self toward others, not the collective focusing in towards the individuals.

So, I would say that community, outward-focused, is what church is all about.

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