(Pastor’s note: Reena and I have been talking, among many other things, about her experiences as a newcomer to worship at Old First. I asked her if she’d like to author an E-pistle. When I received this, my “E-pistle schedule” was booked with Thanksgiving and Advent themes. I asked for her patience, that I could send it after the holidays. It works well this week, as in my sermon on Sunday, we’re going to consider how Epiphany would have been different if Three Wise Women had come searching for the child.)
As one of the Wellspring volunteer coordinators, I am new to Philadelphia and the East Coast. Apart from the drastic weather differences, I have also noticed a worship style here at Old First that is different for me.
I have never been to a reformed UCC church before, so the structure of Sunday mornings is new for me. I’m still not sure I understand the difference between the lector and the liturgist, or why there is a gate around the altar; but I am learning.
I have been surprised at how frequently we read prayers and statements out loud in unison, the UCC statement of faith for example. In a denomination like the UCC, where we are allowed and encouraged to have diverse beliefs, it feels conflicting to me to read a statement in worship that implies we all believe the same thing.
For me, this resonates as part of a bigger issue in our wider UCC theology. I love what the UCC stands for, and although I wasn’t raised in a religious family, I was so enamored with my church as a youth, I was confirmed and baptized all on my own. But as I’ve grown into an adult and studied in seminary, I’ve begun to realize what a daunting task the UCC has set out to do, and how ripe with contradictions it can be.
Trying to form a church based on the idea that we can all believe exactly what we want, and that God is constantly speaking in new and different ways to each of us… A theology like this is hard to live up to when you’ve got millions of people, each with their own definition of what “still speaking” means in reality.
We try to be inclusive to each person’s image of the Divine, and yet in many UCC churches I still hear the Lord’s Prayer recited beginning with “Our Father”, rather than “Our Mother” or “Our Creator”. Although I’m sure there are many people who see God as a father figure, what about those who aren’t?
For example, my two best friends and I grew up together in a UCC church. One believes in Jesus as her personal savior and in God, her Father. My other best friend was an atheist until a few years ago; now she believes God is a spirit, an abstract but benevolent presence. And me, well, if you’re reading this you can derive that I find solace in the Divine Feminine presence of God; mostly because I find it is so lacking in our culture, our bible, and our church.
Despite our varying theologies, all three of us were raised and still hold membership in the same church! This is an illustration of how radically different we each can experience God’s still speaking voice, and to me that is the best of what the UCC has to offer. If we are truly open and affirming of all God’s children, wherever they are on life’s journey, how can we not expand our language and statements of belief to include their experience of God’s Grace?
I write this with the hope it may spark some dialogue about how we can better live out our faith and our mission as an Open and Affirming congregation and a Progressive Christian denomination. As with most aspects of UCC theology, you’re welcome to take what speaks to you, and leave the rest.
I will invite you to take a moment to envision your unique manifestation of the Divine. What does your God look, talk, and feel like? Do you feel like your God is represented in the UCC and at Old First? Let’s keep the conversation going, and try not to place a period where God has placed a comma.