I love the question-answer format we use in this space from time to time. It allows me to ask questions, both particular and more general, of our Island faith leaders. Their responses are always insightful, and I feel like I can always draw some wisdom from each of their answers.
This time around I asked clergy this question:
What is the best way to find a faith community that feels like home, and also challenges its members in ways that encourage growth?
The Rev. Chip Seadale, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, shared his thoughts:
I always tell people there’s always more there than meets the eye on any given day. That being said, I strongly encourage folks to go to a church at least six times before they know for sure — and even then, feel free to keep an open mind! Many congregations these days have members coming once or twice a month, so they won’t see all the same people each time. And ask themselves, every time they go, “Can I picture me or my family here? Do I experience the presence of God in worship? Are the sermons deep, and inviting me into a deeper relationship with God and others? Are there programs and service opportunities that might draw me and my family in so that I/we can experience God in our everyday lives? Are there nourishing and informative adult and children and youth formation opportunities so that I/we can grow and mature in our faith?” And perhaps the best question someone looking for a faith community might ask themselves each time before they attend worship: “Can I allow myself to be as open as I can in order to see what grace and blessings may present themselves to me in this holy time and place, apart?”
The Rev. Matthew Splittgerber, pastor of Vineyard Assembly of God in Vineyard Haven, responded:
In Maxine Margolis’ book, “Goodbye, Brazil: Emigrés from the Land of Soccer and Samba,” she quotes a Brazilian immigrant to the U.S. describing their faith community as, “A igreja é como a casa de minha mãe.” (The church is like my mother’s house.)
Granted, some people come to church bearing scars from a dysfunctional home environment, and that can make it difficult for some to make the connection of this simile. However, I think that just as a healthy home provides everything necessary for a child’s natural physical and psychological growth into a meaningful adulthood, so too does a healthy church provide the same for a person’s spiritual growth. Namely, loving acceptance combined with sound Biblical preaching and the encouragement of a personal, experiential relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Faith communities should be continually self-examining, always honestly asking the question, “Are we providing a healthy environment for ourselves and for others?” The New Testament advises Christians to “think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” In this kind of environment, healthy spiritual growth is a natural outcome — just as it is in a healthy home.
The Rev. Cynthia Hubbard, who serves with Father Chip at St. Andrew’s Church, sent this response:
Most people come to a church at a time of crisis, or at least looking for a place that offers comfort, direction, meaning for their lives, and fellowship. The church, at its best, offers these things. Once someone walks through the doors, they will know immediately if that church community offers them the comfort and direction and sense of community that they are searching for. However, as the saying goes, we are to comfort the afflicted, but also sometimes afflict the comfortable. That means making its members reflect on who they are, how they are living in the world, and how else they might contribute to the world around them.
The business of the church is changing people’s lives. That personal transformation happens when they encounter God — in the worship, in their mission, and in the various opportunities for fellowship. If all the church does is talk about God, then it’s unlikely that the visitor, “looking to feel the wind and the spray” rather than just learning about boats, will return.
It is a delicate balancing act, welcoming people regardless of who they are and making them feel accepted on the one hand, but also encouraging people to live into the fullness of who they are as beloved children of God.
Non-denominational minister the Rev. Susan Waldrop wrote this response:
Feeling like a faith community is home and somewhere you belong is often a matter of the heart. Yes, we do need to be in basic agreement with the stated beliefs and the mission and practices of the faith community, but I know of several friends who went “church shopping” to a variety of churches of the same denomination and settled the question by asking themselves where they felt most accepted and welcomed.
So the spirit of openness and ability to reach out to newcomers is a major indication of the depth of real spirituality in a faith community.
That said, the real growth in our souls comes from capturing each thought in the light of love. Recognizing our interior process with radical acceptance — as if God was right there — brings the truth of loving ourselves enough to open to the Light, instead of defending, resenting, ignoring, or denying. How can we accept the love of God if we can’t open our interior places with love and acceptance?
So a pastor’s job, I think, is to keep the love of God present so that we can feel the desire to want more and see our interior conflicts or weaknesses with compassion and hope. We so easily feel guilty and subtly unable or unwilling to let love shine in the dark places. Following basic behavior guidelines is easier than letting God into our interior process and conflicts. Shining light on the wounds is healing, and that healing lets us enjoy the transformation offered by all faiths!
Celebrate All Saints Day on Sunday, Nov. 4, at the Federated Church, 45 South Summer St., Edgartown. The service begins at 10:30 am, with the Rev. David G. Berube, and music by the Federated Church Choir under the direction of Peter R. Boak, minister of music. The church invites you to join them in worship on this special day as they remember the saints who have gone before us, who were members, families, and friends of the Federated Church. In the church’s press release, they say they will also “celebrate the saints (known and unknown) among us.” All are invited to bring a framed photo of someone special in your life who has died, and the photo will be placed on a special table in front of the pulpit.
We’ve got some CROP Walk news from Woody Bowman, the treasurer of the Island’s event. He tells me that Sunday, Oct. 28, at St. Augustine’s Church from 2 to 3 pm, Phil Dietterich will be collecting funds from walkers. You can also reach out to Woody and arrange a convenient time to turn in the donations. Woody’s email is email@example.com. To date, he wrote, they’ve received $20,543.75, with nearly half of that coming from online donations. Great work!
Another cause for celebration comes to the faith community at Grace Church, as they welcome their new rector, the Rev. Stephen Harding, and his family as they move to the Vineyard. The Rev. Harding earned his master of divinity from the Union Theological Seminary, and served in Chelsea, N.Y., and in Manhattan. The Rev. Harding, his wife Storm, and son Theo will live in the rectory on Woodlawn Avenue in Vineyard Haven. His first worship services are at 8 and 10 am on Sunday, Nov. 4, All Saints’ Day. Welcome!
If you have news for Have Faith, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.