Written by Daniel Hazard
What if my congregation believes in a different God than I do? What if they say it "doesn't matter" who worships who? What shall I do, besides wring my hands? Shall I try to worship their God? Or agree that it doesn't matter? What are my options?
Rev. Question Mark
Dear Rev. Question Mark,
I suppose wanting to wring your hands is better than wanting to wring your own neck or the neck of your congregants. You don't want to do either, right? Just checking.
The first question to come to my mind when I read your letter is: Why were you called to serve that community as its pastor? You were called to be in community with this congregation. Surely there is something you bring to the table the community trusts and respects. Perhaps your outlook on faith and God is different, but yet you were called into that sacred place. Could it be the community is waiting for you to step out on faith and authentically express your beliefs? I don't gather they want you to abandon your beliefs or just accept "their God." Maybe they are waiting for you to show them yours.
Should you respect persons and communities of different faith? Absolutely. And it sounds to me like you are already achieving this. It takes a great level of commitment and respect to enter into a space that counters your own level of comfort and perhaps even challenges your truth. You are modeling what could be called a beloved community. And perhaps this sort of unapologetic love is what this congregation is aiming for when they say "it doesn't matter." Maybe it does matter and they are simply saying all are welcome here, no matter who you are or where you are on life's journey.
With that said, should you be concerned if the community says who you worship is irrelevant? Perhaps. I would be a little concerned. Because if they don't see the value and importance in their own rituals and more importantly, their own God, then how can you be expected to see it? To say "it doesn't matter" threatens to diminish God in the process. Then what are you left to do, besides wring your hands?
We are challenged to share and rejoice in a beloved community, hallelujah! But we are not asked to abandon God in the process. Our love for God makes our love for others deeper, making it quite possible to share in this community and still be faithful to your God and to yourself. It is one thing to respect the spiritual foundations of other religions and to even acknowledge that God can be called by different names and be found in diverse experiences. But to acknowledge the great depth of a ubiquitous God should not come at the sacrifice of your own faith practice.
Being in community is a beautiful thing, but it is not always easy when the community is varied in its wide range of thinking. This is tough, but this is also the beauty of community. We can strengthen our own faith in such a way by learning from others and becoming more in tune with our own convictions and practice of faith.
You are called to lead and serve your congregation. Serve them by leading them authentically, unapologetically and faithfully as God has called you.
"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds--one main writer and two respite writers. We're hoping the questions will span all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas, and everything in between.
Every week will feature a new letter and a new answer. Please write Dear Theo with your questions and problems by sending to email@example.com. Letter writers identities will also ALWAYS remain anonymous.