Aren’t All Churches the Same?

 

By Rev. Dr. Mark Hatfield

Calais Congregational Church

calaiscong@myfairpoint.net

 

Definitely not. Here’s why. 

First, they aren’t for the same reason all people aren’t.  For example, some people are more inclined to be open-minded, think for themselves and accept that different folks have different strokes.  In contrast, other individuals have opposite tendencies.

Second, the different denominations (plus the so-called non-denominational groups), all have a history. That means every group has some “skeletons in their closets.”

Third, churches aren’t the same for this no-brainer reason. The Bible is a collection of ancient understandings of reality.  When churches decide how they should apply them to today’s realities, there are conflicting points of views. Did you know that in the Bible, God never promises to give anyone the ability to “correctly” interpret its messages? But does this stop the churches, who promote themselves as being the most Bible-believing, from boasting how their understanding of scripture is the most God-honoring? Absolutely not! 

If you—like me—are a think-for-yourself  kind of person and are allergic to blind faith, it takes some searching to find a church that works for you. I chose the Congregational church. Here’s why. Instead of just pretending the skeletons in their closet didn’t exist, they decided to learn from their past sins. That’s why the Congregationalists chose to promote open-mindedness, to see science as fellow-seeker of truth and to stop forcing people to believe the only way they could benefit from the Bible was by interpreting every word literally.

My ministry began in 1981 in South Paris.  For 20 years, people in this community (including many non-church-going folks who cared deeply about their community’s Well-Being) and ministers in the different churches told me their stories. In the process, they taught me life-changing lessons.  To my dismay, too many of their stories were about how their faith had been damaged or shattered by know-it-all Christians and churches. 

What I learned made me sad, mad and forced me to try to answer this question: what would Jesus do? I asked myself, were his points of view supported by the “religious people” of his day? No way! And if the people who shared their stories with me—had been talking to him instead—how would he have responded if they said, “the idea of God doesn’t work for me anymore.” 

This was my guess. Instead of giving them ten reasons why they were wrong, Jesus would let them be. These events persuaded me to devote my time as a Congregational minister to spreading this message: in this church, we support all the people who work for the Good of our community.  Your opinions about God—be they pro or con—will be given the deference they deserve.

Today, in the divisive, angry times in which we live, what is your opinion? Don’t you think, that more than ever our town and every other one needs places—where the differences we have, be they religious or political, will be respected?  Do you think we want a site where the people, who care about the Good of our community, can gather for the sake of identifying the topics that they agree about the most and then work together to address them? Yes or no?