One night recently, I was awake for a while writing absolutely brilliant posts…..in my head. I woke up the next morning and couldn’t really remember what those brilliant posts were. Next time, I will maybe get up and jot down a couple of ideas. Or not.
The thing that triggered my thoughts was the book by Diana Butler Bass.http://www.dianabutlerbass.com/books-mainmenu-4/11-christianity-for-the-rest-of-us I was reading the chapter on Testimony. I learned that giving testimony, or telling one’s story, was common practice in many churches 200 years ago. Somewhere along the line, it became impolite to speak of religious beliefs…even in church! I was raised in that time where people did not talk about their faith, or about politics. I remember my first exposure to “testimony”. I started going to a Baptist youth group. Not only did they testify, but they prayed extemporaniously. Out loud! This was very different for me. As a shy teen, it was also very intimidating. On the other hand, it was nice to hear real people’s thoughts as they prayed or spoke.
Butler Bass spoke of mainline churches that have started using testimony in their worship. This activity has helped the churches to become more real and vibrant. Our interim minister and current minister have been trying to get our congregation to be more interactive by praying out loud during Prayers for the People. It will progress slowly.
My congregation only has part-time clergy, so we have set up worship teams. Each team is responsible for leading worship on a Sunday morning. This means we get to hear different voices from the pulpit. It means we get to know each other on a different level. We are finding out who has great stories for children. We are finding out who has the courage to write their own sermon. We also learn from those who choose to read a prepared sermon, because of the choice they make. I have written a couple of sermons and have lived to tell about it. That shy teenager I once was would never have believed it! Now that more of our congregation is participating in worship, we are growing in different ways. It is an excellent experience, and a form of testimony.
Last Sunday, we learned more about the history of the United Church of Canada. I knew that small towns in Ontario would often have three large churches on the main corner of their town. There would be an Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist Church on that corner. The churches would be full. When people started moving west, and settling on the Prairies, they considered how to plant churches. They decided that it was silly to have three churches on the main intersection of town, and started a union movement. This would mean having one church for all the Protestant community members. That was new information for this Ontario kid. When they started talking about “The Union” in the early 1900′s, they thought that the 1900′s would be the Christian century. Of course WWI interrupted things. The “War to End All Wars”. Ultimately, ”The Union” happened in 1925 and that was when the United Church of Canada was born. We know of course, that not all Presbyterians joined the union, nor did all the Methodists. The union split families, and communities. I’m not surprised, because we often do not want to change the way we do things. We also know that the 1900′s did not become the Christian century.We also know that this attitude harmed many people. This information was used to explain the “Remits” that we have before us now. A remit is essentially a vote. We are being asked to vote on adding three statements of faith to the doctrine section of the Basis of Union.
After church, we all sat down and talked about what the remits meant, and what each Statement of Faith might mean. It was a good discussion, and it was nice to sit down and talk like that. I learned things. I think other people learned things. We got to learn a little about each other as well.
It will be interesting to see where this leads. It has been almost 100 years since the United Church was formed. The church and society have changed considerably since that time. The role of clergy has changed since that time. Churches of all denominations are in decline, yet people still yearn for spiritual growth. We attend yoga classes, check out buddhism, read self-help books, go see therapists. The church has less authority. Clergy guide us more, and teach us how to lead worship, rather than tell us what to do or how to worship. We want to participate. In this somewhat disconnected world, we yearn to find connection.
So, we need to find new ways to tell our stories of faith. What does it mean to be Christian in the 21st century. Some call this the “Post-Christian Era”. We now live in a world where our neighbours are different from us. They have different beliefs from us. I do not believe we can pretend to hold “The Truth”……though, I have always thought it was presumptiuous to declare oneself “chosen” or holder of the truth…..but that is a topic for another day….
The Church is not a gallery for the exhibition of eminent Christians, but a school for the education of imperfect ones. ~Henry Ward Beecher