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Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to oneีs culture.

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Name: jrichard

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Community United Church of Christ

I had often heard about the differences between the United Churches of Christ and the Churches of Christ. Growing up, this distinction was largely one of negative reinforcement: the Church of Christ is the "true church" and the United Church of Christ is a pretender.

In the past few years, I've wondered at the actual difference. The controversies surrounding Jeremiah Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ in the past couple of years had drawn me to examine the movement closer, and I discovered that the largest difference appeared to be of a political persuasion.

Although the Church of Christ is officially apolitical (earlier strands of our movement had even objected to their memberships voting or serving in the military), I believe at this point it is fair to say at this point that the movement is socially conservative. The "progressive" or "liberal churches" that raise the ire of the core of the movement are dubbed so normally only on worship style and format: whether women may participate, what types of music will be offered, what role technology should play in the worship service, etc.

But the United Church of Christ movement is socially progressive, and its membership seems to favor activist stances organized around and through the church.

Community United Church of Christ
would appear to be no exception.

Our first clue to the nature of the congregation was a sign on the front door that indicated that gay and lesbian believers would be welcomed and embraced by the congregation. In addition, the foyer's handout rack (which in conservative churches is normally filled with tracts explaining the "correct" theological position on various issues) was filled with opportunities to become involved in community programs, everything from Habitat for Humanity to race-relational programs to recycling advocacy groups.

The pastor, Pete Terpenning, did not deliver a sermon in the sense that I have been accustomed. Rather, he delivered a communion meditation that referenced our position in this world and our role in the politics of our country. This presentation evolved into a doxology and then a free forum in which members took turns explaining their joys and concerns to the congregation.

At one amusing point, Terpenning took the microphone from a young man who had presented a lengthy collection of thoughts about our role in political injustice and said to the congregation, "This is a good point. If we do not work to combat injustice in our society, who will care for those who cannot fight for themselves?" Without missing a beat, and elderly woman on the front row turned and pumped her fist in the air and cried "OBAMA!"

The congregation broke into soft laughter, and then moved into the communion ritual itself.

It was an odd experience worshiping in a church whose politics lean left of center. Having developed a preference that worship be apolitical (largely because I have rarely felt comfortable expressing conservative ideology in worship, the dominant cultural bias in most churches of which I've been a part), it was strange to feel my private passions vindicated within a communal setting.

I still do not know if my sentiments regarding the intersection between religion and politics will lead me to easy comfort within formal worship expressions of political positions (no matter how deeply those particular positions resonate within my own). But I found the experience affirming and greatly appreciated the love and compassion expressed to others that morning.

This church is my early favorite.

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