Wednesday, November 11, 2009

From our Minister

The Deep Roots of Faith and Belief
Last Sunday about ten people returned to the sanctuary after our social hour for a QUEST encounter in which I invited people to share their own experiences of the deaths of loved ones and the ways that those experiences lead to ideas and beliefs about the meaning of death and what may or may not come afterward. The conversation was quiet, respectful, and deeply moving, as people tearfully spoke of a wide range of death experiences, from the delivery of a stillborn child through the dying process of those who had lived full lives.

This conversation embodied two important realities about our religious lives as individuals and as members of a community of lifespan religious exploration. The first reality is that personal faith and religious beliefs come most immediately from our own experience, especially in moments when we feel deeply and meaningfully connected to another person or to some more em-bracing source of being and power. The second reality is that our ability to understand the meaning of such experience is enriched when we engage with one another in sharing similar experiences and speaking about the ideas and understandings that grow out of those experiences.

Our QUEST program (for both adults and children) is designed to build upon this basic recognition that one of the most important ways in which we pursue our mission of inspiring and nurturing religious growth is to provide structured opportunities for us to be mutual teachers and learners. It is in smaller groups, such as the one that gathered last Sunday, that this mutuality can be most meaningfully exercised.

QUEST stands for “Questioning, Understanding, Exploring Spirituality, and Theologizing.” All those activities represent the essence of what it means to a member of a religious community in the liberal tradition—a tradition that calls each of us to take personal responsibility not only for our own religious growth but also to engage with others in a process of sharing the insights that we harvest along the way.

In the near future our QUEST sessions are scheduled for the first Sunday morning of each month. As before, there will be separate sessions for adults and children, with the adult session (led by me) taking place in the sanctuary after the worship service and social hour and the children’s session (led by DRE Emily Carroll) taking place simultaneously in the Fellowship Hall.

But there is talk of additional opportunities for adult religious exploration in the air. Just in the last week I have been in touch with people who are interested in leading courses in women’s spirituality (“Cakes for the Queen of Heaven”) and in conscious-raising on gay-lesbian issues (“Welcoming Congregation”). I’ve also heard a few people talking about reviving a pagan ritual group in our church. Finally, I am hoping that we can gather a study group around the book, A Chosen Faith, that Max Brenner was instrumental in encouraging many of you to buy and read.

All these possibilities speak to our vitality as a community of people on lifelong religious quests. This is one of the most important reasons for the existence of liberal religious congregations. It is a ministry to ourselves and to the wider community, and I am encouraged to see so much interest of this kind “bubbling up” among us.
In faith for healing
ourselves and our world
Jay Atkinson, parish minister
jyatkinson@juno.com

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