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I grew up in a fairly typical to the conservative side of mainline church of the 60's but always struggled with the message. I can remember sitting in confirmation class asking our minister if the Dalli Lama was going to heaven with the answer he is a great man but he must be a Christian .... thinking thats crap, and never having the idea of Jesus dieing for my sins or the concept of the trinity being explained. So I hung around and tried but never fit in.

 

In college I asked the Chaplin and he said I don't know and asked "What do I think" He was the first person to do that. We talked I now see him as a person whose heart knew truths that his head wouldn't allow. .. a very good but conflicted man. I always sensed a sadness probably due to this conflict. I told him I can feel there is a God but the rest of it makes no sense. He at least encouraged me to question and find my truth which has proved to be the best advise anyone could have given me.

 

As an adult I met and married a woman who attended a Congregational Church the next town over. I started to attend there so as not to disrupt her (now our) children with the intent to change to a local church in a year or two. That was 20 years ago. This church became an odd sort of home. Initially it was a group of people who were individually fairly conservative but as a group were progressive in that they were accepting and supportive of other thought patterns. So I was reasonably happy and satisfied.

 

As the years went by we never argued about things of substance only over how to serve communion, how to decorate the community room, or who to hire..... attendance dwindled to a point where we had to decide whether to fold up shop. I signed on and was elected moderator ... i was sure to help minimize the trauma of closing a 150 year old church. We hired a transitional minister during the time. Things got worse now we were blaming each other for our demise. The transitional minister found a new job so we were soon to be alone.

 

But God may have other plans. A couple of months before she left a group of us started to watch the "Living The Questions" I only went because I was moderator and only 1 other from our church signed up so I thought I should support it. As soon as Borg, Crossen and Spong opened their collective mouths a light went on. Ive been looking for this for 50+ years. There was nothing earth shattering ...most of the generalities I had figured out myself years ago. Finally Christian thought that was intellectually consistent. I am not sure how to describe the feeling. Someone coming home when they have never hasd a home is closest.

 

Since the first of the year what started as 2 from our church and 2 from other churches has grown to 12 and a second group has started at a different time. The church has chosen to re-plant itself amybe as early as this fall as a "Progressive, Inclusive , Faith and Justice Christian Fellowship". I can't be more excited.

 

Thats my Story

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Guest billmc

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Steve. Church service can be such a mixed bag, can it not? And yet, there is Something there...Something still at work.

 

My pastor (a fairly conservative Methodist) was lamenting in last week's service that the mainline denominations are losing members at an exponential rate. He said that while Christianity seems to be growing overseas, it is in decline here. And then he said something that surprised me, giving his conservative stance. He said, "What would happen if we didn't have church next week and, instead, decided to be the church next week? What would happen if our doors were closed for services but we went out into our community to serve?" There was an uncomfortable silence in the auditorium. People couldn't tell whether he was serious or not, and I suspect that was the reaction he was trying to illicite. But then he said that as good Methodists we would have to have open doors. :)

 

After the service, I recommended a wonderful book to him, a book called "Christianity for the Rest of Us" by Diana Butler Bass. Bass's book cites the recent polls that do show a drastic decline in the mainline churches. But she also presents evidence that those remaining within these old-line denominations are becoming much more intentional about their Christianity, instead of traditional about their denomination. In other words, they are no longer going to church because that is what they were raised to do or because that is how our culture was 50 years ago. This small core of Christians are remaining within the mainlines because they are serious about following Jesus and some of the structure of the mainlines can be a good tool to help them make a difference where they are.

 

Your story reminded me of how things can be reborn when other things die. I recall Jesus' mustard seed parable. Yes, parts of the mainline churches are dying, closing their doors. This is because, IMO, they have become irrelevant and often indifferent to the culture in which they exist. They've had a fortress mentality and their members usually just die off. Folks like Hitchens and Dawkins rejoice to see this, claiming that the death knell has sounded for Christianity. Maybe so for Christianity as a structured religion. But those of us who feel that the church should not exist for itself but for the sake of the world and what we call God's kingdom are not dying off. We are, as you have suggested, regrouping; regrouping not to do battle, but to do service, to show compassion, to seek justice. And yes, my friend, it is VERY exciting!

 

Please keep us posted as to how things are going, whether negative or positive. As we and God work, it is usually slow and sometimes 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. But we haven't given up because what we value - progressiveness, inclusivity, faith, justice, and fellowship - are worth preserving.

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