In some ways it does. This church has deep and meaningful history in the community. We have a few members who have been in this church their entire lives, and part of that history has been willingness to change and adapt. The original church building wasn’t serving needs anymore, so they pulled it down and built the church we have now in 1940. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been. The older building was the one where members had gone through Sunday school, married, watched their children grow up, had funerals, shared meals and prayers. It must have been loved as much as our cute little church now is loved, but they were willing to let it go in order to move into the future. This church called its first woman pastor in 1988 (and as of now, there are still only two of us in the Beavercreek/Oregon City area). It became open and affirming—intentionally declaring unconditional welcome to LGBT people—in 1999. I want this church to be here for a long time in the future, because I think this church matters. It has and continues to bring profound grace into people’s lives. Imagine little girls growing up with a woman pastor. Imagine being gay or lesbian or transgender and hearing that God loves you for exactly who you are. Imagine being a straight white person and finding a church that tells you not to turn off your brain. That is divine work. A tagline in the UCC is that our faith is 2000 years old; our thinking is not. I take a similar approach to ministering at BUCC: honor and appreciate what has gone before in our living faith and retain traditions that are meaningful. To do that, we have to question what traditions are truly meaningful, since “because we always have” is not a reason to continue anything.
So many people have low-to-high level anxiety all the time now, as if we are all walking around with PTSD. The challenges, hatred, greed, prejudice, and violence in the world can seem overwhelming. They are overwhelming. In just the last few years, that sense of fear and exhaustion has become palpable, as we are flooded with fight-or-flight hormones all the time. When we are constantly carrying on our hearts that there are children in cages at our borders, that climate change is heating up our world, that white nationalism is a thing and there are new Nazis, that school shootings come every few days, that so many are losing their jobs and their health care at the same time, and God’s Black children are routinely dying in the streets and put in prison, we are constantly in a state of fear and anxiety. Fight or flight or freeze, filled with chemicals that tell us we have to be alert. It’s so useful when quick response is needed, like getting out of the way of a stampede of woolly mammoths, but not when these chemicals flood us all the time. We are not made to live this way.
I sometimes think my sermons have become variations on a theme of “Yes, things are very hard. Feel that pain, rather than becoming numb to it. Things have been hard before. Our calling as people of faith is to love big, speak truth to power, and work for a more just world. That is needed now more than ever. And God is with us.” Jesus said so very often “Do not be afraid,” not because there weren’t scary things then as now, but because fear co-opts. He knew that we have a great tendency to fear, so he repeated over and over “Do not be afraid.” And he knew that there were very real threats in the world, in his time as well. He didn’t underestimate them. It wasn’t foolish “pretend everything is okay and go about your business.” But he also knew that fear drives out hope. Fear drives out compassion. Fear drives out understanding. Fear drives out love.
This is also part of why I think church is so important at these times. There is much that is frightening and awful, and there is much work to be done to heal the world. Church helps us find God on our side, partners in the work, understanding of the long view, reassurance that we need not fear, and love to sustain us.
Mostly positive. We’ve had a little vandalism. We’ve had a few anonymous nasty messages left on our voicemail or a facebook message or comment. There are some bad reviews of us on social media, from people who’ve never been here.
We have also received letters in the mail from people thanking us for our prophetic witness. We’ve received donations from people who say they aren’t church people, but they appreciate our presence and work. We’ve had people tell us that driving by here each day and seeing the readerboard makes them feel less alone. I and many members have heard people say that if they went to church, they’d come here, and there are people I don’t even know who consider this their church.
One of the criticisms that those anonymous callers often make is that we are political instead of being church or that we should keep politics out of church. They are wrong. Feeding the hungry, setting free the oppressed, welcoming the stranger, caring for widows and orphans (or the modern equivalent) are very much Gospel issues. Immigration, taxation, care for creation are all over the Bible. This is about loving God and neighbor. The word politics comes from Greek, people or city. This is very much the business of people of faith. Church is nothing if it’s all bland platitudes or prosperity gospel without real values. Jesus was a brown-skinned refugee who was legally executed by the state. That has powerful implications for how we approach refugees, the prison industrial complex, capital punishment, and more. We should have some things to say about how our neighbors are treated. The Bible doesn’t give exact policies on immigration, but it does say “God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deut 10:18) and much more—not policies, but values. That should matter. Exactly what the law should be, scripture doesn’t tell us, but it tells us that it should be compassionate, loving, recognizing inherent human rights and dignity, seeing each immigrant and asylum seeker and prisoner and person in poverty and in need of health care as utterly beloved by God. That isn’t the exclusive purview of either of the two major political parties in the US. Jesus criticized the values of the empire, and we have to do that also, whichever party is in power. I would not tell anyone who to vote for, nor try to craft detailed policies. But talking about values and what is right and wrong? That is exactly my calling. And I will stand by our readerboard statement that Jesus would not put babies in cages. That’s not politics. That’s human.
College at UM, Divinity School at Yale, and a Masters in counseling from ISU that I did while living and working there. Mostly I think that a good education is possible anywhere for those who want it. I had incredible professors at each university. At Yale, I had access to world-class libraries, theater productions with famous people, and lectures or speeches by public intellectuals. I got to have coffee with the NY Times religion reporter, attend a cocktail hour with Noam Chomsky, meet Kofi Annan, go to breakfast with Barbara Ehrenreich, and get arrested in a protest with Jesse Jackson. One of the best things about being at Yale was the diversity though. I got to know grad students from Puerto Rico, Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Oxford, and all over the US. I liked New England very much too. There is less superficial friendliness, less striking up conversations in grocery stores or smiling at people on the sidewalk, but they are very good people there. I like being able to get to the woods and mountains and also to the city. New Haven had the best food and the most crime. And I’ve never lived south of Pocatello, Idaho, because I do not enjoy being over about 72 degrees.
To some extent, I think we are comparing church membership to artificial highs in the 50s after WWII when society was trying to get back to “traditional values”: mom in the kitchen and family church on Sunday. It’s not a bad thing to get away from church as the thing people do on Sundays because being seen at church is just what you have to do on Sunday. Now, more often people go to church, especially progressives, because they’ve found something good there. People come to BUCC because they love it, and it helps them. That’s positive.
In so many surveys, young people have a negative view of church, and Christianity in particular. Words associated are judgmental, bigoted, mean. And I get that. I see it. It’s not what church, or Christianity in particular, are supposed to be though. We are in a dark ages, where church blasts gay and lesbian people, universities, science, “political correctness” (as if that’s anything more than now getting called on saying racist, sexist things). I wouldn’t want to go to that church either, nor would I be interested in God, the cranky old white man.
There is still spiritual hunger, as real and meaningful as other needs, and we see it in all sorts of alternatives or the spiritual but not religious. Spiritual hunger, desire to be part of something bigger and have relationship with what is sacred is a deep need. So many who have either no experience or bad, even traumatic, experience with church aren’t looking to church to fill it though. Many don’t even recognize it as a need—though rates of the existential anxiety and depression are up. I think this church has so much to offer those who don’t want to be told what to think or believe and who have lgbt folks they love, but there’s the issue of how to show that to people who have been turned off by church.
I’m always reading books! I usually have at least a couple going for church—some biblical commentary or topics for upcoming sermons and some bigger picture. And I always have a novel or fun reading going too. Non-fiction and theology books I’m reading now are Austin Channing Brown’s I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness and Kaitlin B. Curtice’s Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God, and David Bentley Hart’s Theological Territories is waiting for me. And in fiction, I just finished a novella, The Haunting of Tram Car 015, and am starting The Mirror and the Light, the 3rd in the Wolf Hall trilogy.
I adore my doggos. Owen and Finn are my standard poodle boys. Owen is 14, and Finn is 8. Anyone who thinks poodles are fancy has never seen Owen taking a nap with loud snoring and farting or seen Finn race around the yard in enormous circles or nap with his belly up and tongue out. They are very different boys but such strong vibrant personalities. Owen is sweet and calm and mellow; he likes to be on the dog bed a few feet from me or on my feet. He loves stuffies and food. Finn’s settings are naughty or cuddly and sweet; he likes to be right next to me pretty much always. He adores tennis balls. Between them, Finn is the boss, since he was a quarter Owen’s size. I can hardly imagine life without a dog and really do not know why anyone would do that. We are a dog-loving church (and cats and chickens and goats and other critters too).