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Finding A Progressive Church


Lisa
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Just wanted to post something about my frustration with finding a progressive/liberal Christian church. My husband and I left the Roman Catholic church about 7 years ago and we've been searching ever since. We have been to everything from UU to Methodist to Episcopal...

 

We live in a rural area on the Delmarva Pennisula. It is a conservative area, politically as well as spiritually.

 

We really like where the Episcopal church is headed on many issues but we haven't found one near us that has a progressive/liberal rector/leader.

 

Any advice or ideas on what to do?

Edited by Lisa
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This is a challenging enterprise. Here are some initial observations:

 

1. In many denominations, like the UMC and Episcopal Church, etc. the pastors are appointed on a rotational basis and so the theological perspective of one pastor at a certain church doesn't mean that the next pastor will share that same perspective.

 

2. That said, it is probably fair to say that rural areas tend to be more conservative in many ways than urban ones and so it is likely that bishops will appoint pastors of that perspective to those settings.

 

3. I don't know how far you are to an urban area, but you might consider driving to an urban area once a month and participate in a more progressive community of faith - to get those needs met - and to also be active in the least conservative congregation near you to allow other needs to be met.

 

4. You could always search out an appealing progressive congregation and then move to their locale (or to a more easily commutable location nearby).

 

5. There are "virtual" internet congregations out there, but... they don't really appeal to me.

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Lisa, Ironically, you live in an area (the Delmarva Penninsula) that was a HIGHLY progressive area within historical Methodism. It was there that early colonial Methodism experienced incredible racial diversity and harmony within their class meetings and worship services.

 

One other note - even though a certain congregation might be served by a progressive pastor, if a critical mass of the lay people don't share that perspective, it would be a stretch to call it a truly progressive church.

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Lise & other friends,

I'm retired United Methodist minister after being a very devout Catholic for the first half of my life, climaxing with ordination and teaching in an R.C. seminary until Pope John 23 died, and the reformation with him.

Although the N.Y. is relatively progressive, I have pretty much given up hope of any church that needs much money to function being very "Liberal", as they have to sell their soul in order to keep their contributors happy. I spell this all out in a section of my web site called LiberalsLikeChrist.Org/Challenge

 

"Liberals Like Christ" can't offer people the benefits of face to face contact, the satisfaction of worshiping together, the smell of incence, sacramental communion, but when you can't find a church that speaks to your mind and shares your beliefs about where the world and the country is going or needs to go, then you may want to turn your computer on to nourish your soul and your mind.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I just recently read Bishop Spong's book Saving the Bible from Fundamentalism and while much of it's technicality of the Bible overwhelmed me, the main message was not lost on me and was moved to tears at the last chapter ---finally feeling validated in my thoughts and beliefs. My favorite quote from Spong was "my heart cannot worship what my mind does not understand". I have never had a problem having a relationship with God/Christ but to try to be inspired was continually frustrating when the weekly fundamentalist/literal message/Bible study just didn't make sense!

 

My frustration now is that there is not a church that I have found yet that feels comfortable....and why is that all these conservative evangelical churches have wonderfully inspiring and joyful music but the advertised liberal churches (episcopal / methodist) have music that sounds like a dirge! At least I have found this forum and others that are sustaining me. Thank you for being there for me! ;)

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Well, one dynamic that's involved is that the more mainline and/or liberal churches tend to follow the lectionary and/or Church seasonal calendar (Advent, lent, etc) and the contempoary Christian music industry hasn't put out much that fits this pattern - let alone much music with lyrics that deal with social justice or liberal theology.

 

That said, quite often, United Methodist, UCC, ELCA Lutheran, and Episcopal churches offer a "contemporary worship service." These range from being more of a blended service (with traditional and contemp. music) to full out contemp. music with praise bands. More often than not (in my experience) the churches with the most contemporary worship music tend to lean more evangelical themselves - but not always.

 

I wish you well with your pursuit for a good and healthy church home!

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You have identified the crux of the matter. It is very difficult to find a church home where we can feel accepted for who we are. Everything Brother Rog and others have said is true. You may find a congregation where you feel at home, but in a denomination that uses itineracy (ministers moving around), you never know what you'll get for ministerial leadership. They try to match congregations with ministers who are somewhat like them, but the system is not perfect and you can find congregations with ministers who together are not at all agreed on any kind of theology. There were some appointments my husband, Rev. Heretic, had, which, after the first month, had us exclaim, "What were they THINKING by putting us here???" The frustrating part of being in a church where you do not feel comfortable is the necessity of having to hide a part of yourself, your beliefs, etc. This is an exceptionally difficult role for a minister, but can be equally difficult for a regular congregation member.

 

I often thought, "This is what it must feel like to be gay - to always watch what you say, what you do, hide your true self." It is a lonely situation.

 

Right now I would say every denomination is split down the middle, between progressive thinking and fundamentalist thinking, those who are literalists and those who look for the spirit of the scriptures. It used to be that whatever denomination shingle was hanging by the door, you could pretty much get an idea of what was inside. No more. I know the UMC is so split right now that some congregations have to explicitly state that they are "Reconciling Congregations" (code word: We accept gays) - duh! I thought that was supposed to be what EVERY congregation was! But so many of them are homophobic that those who are accepting feel the need to make that known. What a state for Christ's church to be in!

 

And if you avoid denominations and go in for the nondenominational churches, they are mostly fundamentalist in my experience.

 

I guess the question is - do we go with the flow and attend an established church, feeling lonely and out of place, do we give up attending anywhere and become Rev. Spong's Church in Exile, or do we start our own churches? How on earth would we go about doing that? How do we find the like-minded people?

 

I know my husband, Rev. Heretic, would be willing to start discussion groups/studies/classes/worship services in people's homes, but that's not something you can just take out an ad in the paper for, is it? Yet, the early Christians met in homes, not in big churches.

 

It is unfortunate that in the history of the church, every time a group had disagreements, it would break away and start up another church, or another denomination, or another whatever. It's too bad the church cannot be unified.

If Christianity, as it exists now in most places, is dying (or dead), do we jump ship and resurrect it in a new form or do we stay? My husband becomes very sad when he has had to minister to an obviously dying church desperately trying to save itself. He said he was not called to be in a hospice ministry - which is about all you can do, hold their hand while they are dying and help them with the transition.

 

Maybe through this ongoing dialogue here we can address the issues of where we go from here. We in the church have lost several generations now because the message doesn't make sense anymore. So what now?

 

Mrs. Heretic

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Gerard asks , "But is Spong right?" While I may not be in total alignment with Bishop Spong on every issue (what human can be totally in synch with another on every point and principle), I do know that condemnation of a certain group of people is not "right".... to not allow women to have a place of authority in the church just because their body parts are different is not "right", to worship in a church that wants me to disregard what science has theorized is not "right" and to be in agreement with those who are so arrogantly certain of themselves that it allows for no other interpretation is not "right".... these issues do not make sense to my mind nor my heart and I don't check my brain at the door of a church....afterall going to a church isn't a brainwashing or a cult is it?

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"Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord..." Romans 14.5-6a

 

Oh my gosh, I cannot even begin to explain the difficulties that I have had in trying to find a church to be part of. I moved around from one church to the other growing up and have been to (and become a member of) virtually every kind of church from Pentecostal/Charismatic to Roman Catholic to United Methodist to Presbyterian to Evangelical/Non Denominational. With very little exception, I am not welcomed nor I do belong. Condemned and betrayed. For a long time, I just gave up. I did not attend church for a long time. Then, of course, you get labeled as a heretic for not going to church. But I disagree. I don't think weekly church service is mandated. I don't necessarily believe that there is a "Sabbath day". I think Christ is the Sabbath and that the Sabbath is fulfilled by living in Christ. I don't think Christians "have to go to church". I don't even think the individual places should be called churches. I think the Church is the assembly of all Christians. I don't see why services would be a mandated experience. I'm sorry if this calculation sounds too categorical and labeled; but my experience with mainline places is that their liturgies are in the morning when I'm 90% asleep and boring while nondenom/evangelical/etc. places may be later or even at night with more upbeat services (which is more appealing) but at the same time you get bombarded with fundamentalism. Although I am still part of an ELCA church, I can understand why Kierkegaard eventually abandoned taking part in any "formal church".

 

Honestly, I'm primarily disgusted with the overall "church" situation. Many times the past few years, I've been really close to joining Spong's "Church Alumni" group. Now, don't misunderstand. I do believe in fellowship, and community, and worship. These are all important elements and are all necessary for Christians, these things reach what the Church is. But this does not necessarily imply services, a "sabbath day" etc. etc. We "remember the Sabbath and keep it holy" when we remember the Christ occurrence.

 

And yet, I'm still unwanted in fellowship, community and worship. I'm not really a liberal, but I'm not a conservative either. The fundamentalists would eat me alive for my views and yet I don't think I share all the views of progressives. What it just really boils down to is that I am unwanted, unloved and forgotten by the church. If we can really call it "the church" anymore.

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Lindalou, I meant was Spong right about not worshipping something we don't understand intellectually.

 

The other things you mention are doctrines and practices: if you can ignore them then fine, but if you feel oppressed by them, you are certainly right to go elsewhere.

 

Yours in Christ,

Gerard

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Gerard, You have reminded me that the more careful I am with my words, the less confusion..... many times I make the assumptions that what I mean is what I have said...I am grateful to you for reminding me to communicate more explicitly...let me give it another go....

 

I probably quoted Spong incorrectly...."my heart cannot worship what my mind does not understand". This probably should have been, "my heart cannot worship what my mind cannot accept" though I could not find the passage to check it.... Yet, I found a similar and more eloquent one from Bishop Spong from which the former probably came..."what the mind cannot believe, the heart can finally never adore".

 

With that clarification, are you wondering whether our hearts can go along with something that we don't understand or something that we don't agree with? If it is the former, I think we (or better yet I) can; the latter I don't. What do you think?

 

Thank you for the challenge to my thinking and my communication. You guys are sharp and are keeping me on my toes!

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I found a similar and more eloquent one from Bishop Spong from which the former probably came..."what the mind cannot believe, the heart can finally never adore".

 

With that clarification, are you wondering whether our hearts can go along with something that we don't understand or something that we don't agree with? If it is the former, I think we (or better yet I) can; the latter I don't. What do you think?

Lindalou

I''m a bit puzzled by what Spong says here. In fact, the more I think about it, the fuzzier it becomes('finally never'?). I can sort of see what he's getting at, but even then I don't think it's self-evidently true.

 

You ask a concrete question which has made me think hard about what I really believe I'm doing.

I think there are concepts/doctrines and stories which are (or can be) helpful to our spiritual life (eg the the Incarnation or the episode with blind man Bartimaeus in Mark 10), there are some which don't have much resonance and there are some we may feel unhappy about.

I find I can pick and choose (and things change over time - prayer and meditation

yield insights you hadn't had before, your own ideas develop etc). I realise many would feel unbale to do that and i respect their view.

 

The things I don't personally agree with and which matter to me are not in those areas but in what we may call the everyday life of the church: a prime example is the place of women.I think it's vital to argue for women priests whenever the opportunity arises. To leave the church would guarantee the that there would be no change.

 

i do appreciate that the context is important. I don't feel isolated, I live in a city where there are several parishes and two universities. Not that I often discuss these matters (that's why this forum is so valuable) but I suspect a lot of the christians I know are similarly pick 'n mix.

 

I'm rambling so I'll stop!

 

Thaks for making think out my position!

 

Gerard

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Gerard,

 

..."what the mind cannot believe, the heart can finally never adore". B Spong

 

try replacing finally with "in the end".... "what the mind cannot believe, the heart can in the end never adore" i.e. we can go on and on listening to certain perspectives and say yes yes I worship God but when we really look at it in the end I realize that I cannot adore this representation of God....I guess where this fits my outlook is when I think of the church representing God as a condemning God....I remember when I was teaching CCD to 4th graders and the lesson was that I had to teach that God sent the locusts and the plagues, etc...I asked my husband how in the world can I teach this when there is no way I see God in this way. I don't even remember what I taught that Sunday but certainly never voiced my opinions "does anyone else thing this is absurb and eh-eh ... why are we worshiping a mean God?" . The old days before I spoke my mind it felt like the story of the emperor's clothes...."hello....doesn't anyone else see what I see?"

 

To me, the church (which to me is synonymous with the doctrines and practices that it employs) that we attend is giving the congregation an interpretation of the way they see God and is manifested in their practices, ie elders being all male, etc.....so to attend that church is saying that I am worshiping their interpretation....if I can't agree with their representation of God it is very hard to be filled with inspiration and fully embrace this representation. There are many things I don't understand like the ins and outs of evolution and how God created this amazing world through this process but I can accept it (and my limitations of understanding) and admire and respect and be in awe of it.

 

Oh I hope that I am making this less murky and not more so..I think I have for myself. I think many times because we are questing for the truth it is important to have this forum in which to fine tune our beliefs and practice communicating them as explicity as we can...it seems the fundamentalists have such quick and pat answers and I am thankful that I have this forum in which we can mull over these things without stock answers and the attitude that we "know it all". I just know that I am trying to get closer to God

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I have enjoyed reading everyones responses to my initial post. To comment...

 

John Spong and Matt Fox, among others, have inspired me and instilled in me the desire to not accept the same old, same old, so to speak. I can no longer try to fit myself (round peg) into a something that I no longer believe (square hole).

 

I guess that I am searching for that round hole that I can fit into.

 

I have to say that, being around some very good 12 step programs have also contributed to my spiritual growth. I have "come to believe" many things that are more about spirit and connection to a Higher Power than doctrine and theology.

 

I too have attended many, many different Christian churches as well as UU. I have not felt a connection in any of them as they all seem to have one foot in the literal interpretation of the Bible and doctrine and the other kind of just not to sure of where to step next...even those churches that had a "liberal" leader still lived in a world that I no longer belong too.

 

I believe that God is the Ground of all Being and that Ground is the creation from which all life and love springs forth...I believe that Jesus connected to this reality in a way that average people cannot or will not...I believe that there is no where to go but back to God...I believe that death is only a doorway into a new beginning...totally different from the reality that I am now experiencing. I believe that most, if not all RELIGION is/was designed to relieve the "angst" of non-being (Spong) and that those in positions of power use and have used this "angst" to control us all - through politics, religion and economics.

 

Because I have come to believe these things, how can I (round peg) ever think that I could possibily squeeze myself, once again, into that square? I need to grow - a round peg and a flexible round hole...

 

This is a spiritual dilema that my not have a one size fits all answer.

 

Any thoughts? :):)

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Lindalou,

UU stands for Unitarian Universalist. Most UU fellowships or churches are very liberal and do not adhere to any doctrine or theology. Most are welcoming of all people, regardlous of their faith or lack of faith. They do have principles and ideals that they follow but no creeds.

 

Some UU groups can be lead by a minister. Others are Lay lead. Some are very spiritual while others can be very "heady" and more humanist.

 

We have 2 UU groups in our area. One is almost an hour away. The other is about 25 minutes from where we live. We attended this group for about 2 years but they tend to be very heady, and less spiritual.

 

We have yet to find a church or fellowship. We have been searching for a long time.

 

I've come to the conclusion that, living where we live, we will not find what we are looking for. Once our children are grown (which won't be long) my husband and I may relocate to a more urban area. This will definitely help in our search.

 

Lisa

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  • 3 months later...
I guess the question is - do we go with the flow and attend an established church, feeling lonely and out of place, do we give up attending anywhere and become Rev. Spong's Church in Exile, or do we start our own churches? How on earth would we go about doing that? How do we find the like-minded people?

 

Rev. and Mrs. Heretic, there was so much about this entire post that touched me as it reflects my own struggles. I recently discontinued my candidacy in the UMC yet still feel this strong calling to ordained ministry. I live in the Jacksonville, FL area and am desperately seeking a community of like-minded people. THis is a very theologically conservative area. I currently worship in a UM church where the pastors are more progressive, but the congregation at large is very conservative. My family and I have recently transferred to this church because the latest appointment at our former church instituted so many oppressive church practices that I couldn't even breathe! The District Superintendent and Bishop were no help, so it made me question the entire system. So your comment about the itineracy system is right on the mark!

 

We must somehow come together and reclaim/proclaim the Gospel! I'm willing to do whatever it takes to offer an alternative to those in my Jerusalem. I'm all for starting our own churches as I see no point in trying to reform the current ones. I'm praying for the fresh wind of the Spirit to blow through his Bride!

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I relate to this dilemma. It's tough when your world turns upside down but the rest of the world doesn't. I've been fortunate to have a UMC church with a pastor that preaches Spong, Borg and Fox from the pulpit, but this church wasn't always that way. Christ teaches us be like leaven in the loaf...small, but subversive! You might be surprised how many progressives crawl out of the woodwork when one of them has the courage to speak up a little. Then again, sometimes it's just time to move on and lovingly kick the dust of that place off your feet.

 

Thoughts on "moving on":

 

Sometimes its ok to be in a community that loves you more than they agree with you...beliefs change, but love does not.

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  • 3 weeks later...
I just recently read Bishop Spong's book Saving the Bible from Fundamentalism and while much of it's technicality of the Bible overwhelmed me, the main message was not lost on me and was moved to tears at the last chapter ---finally feeling validated in my thoughts and beliefs. My favorite quote from Spong was "my heart cannot worship what my mind does not understand". I have never had a problem having a relationship with God/Christ but to try to be inspired was continually frustrating when the weekly fundamentalist/literal message/Bible study just didn't make sense!

 

My frustration now is that there is not a church that I have found yet that feels comfortable....and why is that all these conservative evangelical churches have wonderfully inspiring and joyful music but the advertised liberal churches (episcopal / methodist) have music that sounds like a dirge! At least I have found this forum and others that are sustaining me. Thank you for being there for me! ;)

I am in the same exact boat.

 

Thanks for sharing your story...

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Dear mzmolly,

You said: I just recently read Bishop Spong's book Saving the Bible from Fundamentalism and while much of it's technicality of the Bible overwhelmed me, the main message was not lost on me and was moved to tears at the last chapter ---finally feeling validated in my thoughts and beliefs.

 

I agree with you about Bishop Spong's book Resucing the Bible from Fundamentalism. I just read Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes. I really feel that this would be a great one to follow up with.

 

My favorite quote from Spong was "my heart cannot worship what my mind does not understand". I have never had a problem having a relationship with God/Christ but to try to be inspired was continually frustrating when the weekly fundamentalist/literal message/Bible study just didn't make sense!

 

Wow! I totally agree with this statement. I feel that many people sitting in church each week feel the same way but are afraid to admit their ideas or beliefs. So much of religion is based on guilt and fear. Where is the love and the reason?

 

My frustration now is that there is not a church that I have found yet that feels comfortable....and why is that all these conservative evangelical churches have wonderfully inspiring and joyful music but the advertised liberal churches (episcopal / methodist) have music that sounds like a dirge! At least I have found this forum and others that are sustaining me. Thank you for being there for me!

 

I too find the music to be unfullfilling. I was Roman Catholic and the one thing I really loved, especially when I was a child, was the Folk Mass. It usually included guitars, drums and good vocals and had modern lyrics that made some sense to a 20th century person!

I have not found a church yet that I feel that I can be a part of as a member. I just emailed a church with a woman rector to inquire about their ministry. I am very upfront about where I am coming from. I will not waste my time by visiting, hoping and then being disapointed. My family and I have tried this many times...

 

In the mean time, I belong to TCPC and to Spong's message boards/weekly essay site. If you want to join (there is a yearly, one time fee) go to www.bishopspong.org. It is truly a "God Send" in my life to have places to go to communicate with others on a similar journey.

 

It isn't easy not being "in the mainstream" but I couldn't live any other way!

 

Peace

 

Lisa

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Here's a new book that might be of interest to people active on this thread and in this topic. Check out Amazon.com and read the reviews of it (but I always recommend buying books for local independent book stores!)

 

Being Methodist in the Bible Belt: A Theological Survival Guide for Youth, Parents, and Other Confused Methodists by F. Belton Joyner, Belton F. Joyner

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Lisa, me thinks you have me confused with another. ;)

 

But I am so encouraged reading the forums here, and so glad to have found you all.

 

I am very fresh in my search for a church and a christian community that actually feels christ like. I just can't take my family to church to go through the motions. I feel that I would actually doing myself and my God a disservice.

 

Suffice it to say, I am relieved to have found you all, and look forward to beginning to read some of the great books you all suggested.

 

It seems to me there is a great NEED for the churches that we seek.

 

I was thinking last night, that so many are lost to christianity because of the fundimentalists who have taken over and (in my opinion) tarnished the meaning and words of Christ. Its sad that people feel they have to choose between the narrow fundimentalist interpretation and rejecting Christ altogether.

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  • 3 weeks later...

>lindalou: My favorite quote from Spong was "my heart cannot worship what my mind does not understand".

 

>Gerard: But is Spong right?

 

That's a good question Gerard! My opinion is that Spong is indeed wrong about this. Even in the revised quotes that lindalou gave.

 

Here would be my revision of the statement:

 

"My heart cannot worship what my conscience cannot accept." ~ LibChristian

 

There are a lot of things I don't understand about God and Jesus and Christianity, and that's okay.

 

But where I have to reject it, is when God is protrayed as cruel or unjust or bloodthirsty. I can worship what I am confused or frustrated or uncertain or even skeptical about. I cannot worship what I am sickened or revolted by.

 

>fatherman: Sometimes its ok to be in a community that loves you more than they agree with you...beliefs change, but love does not.

 

Amen! I'd take a community that loves me over a community that agrees with me anyday. As long as it was real love, and not "I love you so much I'm preaching that you are Satan's minion for your own good" love of course ;-)

 

~ Lib

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