Letters to the Editor
April 2001

Give it a chance

I regret your use of United Church News to propagandize for Americans United for Separation of Church and State and its executive director, UCC minister Barry Lynn. I support the separation of church and state. I have never advocated challenging the decisions of the U.S. courts that required the U.S. government to be as strict as it is.

But last year I attended a seminar convened by the Anti-Defamation League and Penn Law School where I learned that U.S. law is in flux on exactly what the Constitution requires. At this seminar respectable legal authorities differed with Barry Lynn as to how the Founding Fathers' intentions should be understood in today's world.

If the UCC wishes to hear the cries of the poor, let it be on the side of new approaches to understanding how to safeguard church-state relations. I believe President Bush's initiative bears consideration.

The Rev. Alfred C. Krass
President, Lower Bucks Center for Church & Community
Levittown, Pa.

Let's not judge

The vote in the Eastern North Carolina Association [to deny UCC standing to an "Open and Affirming" church] was not a vote about conservative versus liberal values. It was about the private sexual activities of some of its members. There is, after all, nothing else that homosexual persons do that is any different than what is considered acceptable in the broad range of heterosexual life choices.

Once particular sexual activities (rather than faithful adherence to the mandate of Jesus) become the criteria, there is nothing to stop any group of people from judging any other group of people "unworthy" on the basis of any behavior they choose to find reprehensible: from eating meat, to wearing non-natural fabrics, to people of different genders having intercourse!

I thought the mandate of Jesus was pretty clear about using power that way. And about judging not lest ye be judged.

The Rev. Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Greenfield, Mass.

‘Not nice' not enough

I was much encouraged to read of the World Council of Church's 10-year program to end violence. And, pleased that UCC leadership was present at the recent meeting to start the program.

Hopefully this will not be another time to talk for 10 years about the need to be gentle and nonviolent toward one another.

Religion has been the source of much of the violence in the world for centuries. Even today it is the basis for conflict in many areas of the world.

Hopefully, Christian leadership will begin the difficult task of serious confession, forgiveness and dialogue across faith lines. It must be initiated at all levels. The UCC Ecumenical Office should spend far more time at that than with trying to mend the 15th century divisions caused by theological and cultural differences that have little relevance today.

The Rev. James R. Smucker
Lacey, Wash.

Many ways to God

In the December issue, there was an article about the "generous spirit" absent in the Vatican document about ecumenical and interfaith relations. Why do so many religions think they are the only way to God? Isn't the Dalai Lama the greatest spiritual leader alive at the moment? He says we are all so different, it's good that there are so many religions. What is it about humans that we always seem to want to control others?

Ruth Davis
from a Discussion Forum

Share stories of risks

Last month's article cites "Lack of conflict" as one of the characteristics of a growing church. I would prefer "Handles conflict in healthy, life-giving ways." Lack of conflict may mean that people have given up or aren't paying attention. At Old First Reformed UCC in Philadelphia, we have some conflict, we take some risks, and we are constantly surprised at what we can do.

As for risk-taking, we seem to have a gift for that!

Beginning with the voyage from Germany in 1727, hiding the Liberty Bell from the British, building or renovating six church buildings, opening the first homeless shelter in a church in Philadelphia, the ONA process and vote, a successful capital campaign, Consecrating Stewards, and on. Sharing the stories of the risks that our predecessors took when they stepped out in faith makes us brave, and helps us see what God is doing in this little congregation.

Margaret Rohdy
from a Discussion Forum

Taking on #1 seed

Thank you for (finally!) addressing the issue of growth. I'm a very active member of a small, 140-member, 12-year-old church in a rapidly growing Southeast town. That is, the town grows rapidly, but not the church.

We have been focused on growing our congregation for two years now. In general, our attrition rate equals our new member rate. Visitors comment that we are extremely welcoming and friendly. We have many exciting ministries and programs. Our members are committed, but frankly, burned out from sustaining these activities!

I am hopeful about a new process to establish a long term vision for the church, but I wonder about the ability of a small church to offer the programs that attract new members.

We lack the resources to compete with larger churches in these areas. I feel like a small conference champion team going into the NCAA tournament against the #1 seed!

Carla Gleason
from a Discussion Forum

Blow your own horn

There is nothing wrong with being a small congregation if you are still making, nurturing, and growing disciples and not just taking care of your own people.

In order to grow, you must meet people where they are. You must do things that attract their attention, welcome them by meeting them where they are, and meet their needs so that they can be challenged to grow.

So, what is your congregation's purpose, mission, and vision? Are you all unified in this "trying to grow" thing? If your whole church is not focused on this, it simply will not work.

We in the UCC do a very poor job of "blowing our own horns." We don't do very well at growing churches because we're terrified we'll lose our existing members. Growth means change. Change means giving up something. What is your church willing to give up to grow?

T.C. Church
from a Discussion Forum