Like some of you, I’ve spent a lot of my life uncomfortable with organized religion and the idea of “church.”
It started in my second grade Congregational Sunday School when the lesson centered on Christ’s infallibility. I asked a logical question: Didn’t Jesus ever spill his milk? From the end of the long table came the reply: Jesus Christ, our Lord, never spilled his milk! Other experiences calcified this feeling that church lacked an honesty and humanity worthy of my Sunday mornings.
Then I discovered the preaching at First Parish. Howard Dana, our Senior Minister, has a deep taproot. His sermons are informed by a childhood enriched by religion in rural Montana, by lots of reading, and by periods of extended solitude and reflection skimming along Adirondack lakes in his kayak. There is a depth of thought and feeling in many of his sermons that helps me “move my rocks.”
I think of my limitations of perspective as rocks in my river. They disrupt the flow and are hard to dislodge. I look to FP and Howard’s sermons to help me move them. His early “getting-to-know-you” sermons revealed his deep life-long love and appreciation of Church. It was clear that he loved the whole business of Church. The particulars of doctrine mattered less than the experience of having a constant faith community in one’s life. I began to look at church differently.
A year ago, Howard delivered a sermon entitled “The Fire Next Time” in which he described Black and White clergy coming together in Harrisburg around the deaths of Black teens in their city. When there was a murder, they would just show up and bear witness. This story of him “just showing up” to stand with Black clergy on a tragic street corner stayed with me over the summer.
I met with Howard In September to explore ways I could venture across the color barrier as a white woman from Concord, to “just show up.” Here’s what he said: I should attend Union United Methodist Church, a progressive church on Columbus Ave. in Boston. I trusted Howard so I went and was overwhelmed with the welcome I received. Hugs, handshakes, smiles. Each time I’ve gone it’s been the same. In that context, the Christian message of forgiveness and love feels perfectly right and true. I know that a Christian context will never feel like my spiritual home, but the experience at Union United has dislodged that old rock. Howard’s sermon started that.
So, why should you pledge to FP? How many churches can you attend where your minister tells you to go to another church? If you have any rocks that need moving, I hope you’ll do the moving with us!