In case you have not looked at the ‘Replies’ we are getting to our post seminar question on why or why I don’t attend church , here is a sample:
1.MY JOURNEY INTO ‘PROGRESSIVE’ FAITH
I had a traditional Catholic upbringing, including Catholic schools but not especially devout parents. My mother was Italian Catholic and my father Church of England but religion didn’t play a big part in our family. A sense of God and the sacred seemed to be a central part of my life though and I was open to issues of faith.
At university I chose the Protestant route but it was an evangelical, fundamentalist denomination although I managed to find the more relational, personal stream of that denomination fortunately. Doctrine was central to having a strong relationship and independent thinking was discouraged over ‘faithful’ obedience and belief in a set of rules.
Once childrearing was slowing down, and I started mixing more in the wider world through work. I started pushing the boundaries of the traditional beliefs (my husband was an evangelistic minister) and my thirst for deeper spiritual values was ignited. I could no longer agree with the most fundamental theology of my denomination which led to my choosing to be removed from membership.
My journey didn’t end there, as now I started questioning the fundamental beliefs of Christianity itself – did Jesus really say all those things?; did he have to die for my sins?; what kind of God allows so much suffering?; is the bible really an accurate account of history and God’s interaction with mankind?; who is God?….
With the internet I could explore and I was esp drawn to the writings of Marcus Borg, Rob Bell, Henri Nouwen and then I came across the writings of David Richo a former catholic priest who wove together ideas of Christianity, Buddhism and Jungian psychology. That is where my heart resonated. I have deep respect for the compassionate values of all faiths and no faith and I now believe Christianity is a little arrogant when it says it is the only way to God (or the sacred).
God has become much bigger and more mysterious than any one faith teaches for me and I believe we do well when we learn from one another and help one another to grow closer to the greatest values of loving kindness and do no harm.
I did try to find a faith community but I ended up in a small coastal town where there are only a few individuals here and there who might have similar journeys. I would say I align the most with progressive uniting church ways and Universalism. I am not used to liturgy though after leaving the Catholic church so I really don’t miss that.
I like to think I belong to a tribe somewhere but I have grown more content with surrounding myself with individuals with similar values whether they have a faith or not. I find there are many places where these people can be found – bushwalkers, environmentalists, meditators, those interested in health, community volunteers, artistic people, and social justice advocates. I don’t feel the need specifically to be in a church. Part of me believes that if I belonged to a denomination again it would be a step backwards in my journey.
Having said that there is one sacred gathering that I did feel met a need in my heart but it was only in Canberra. It was a monthly gathering called “the Gathering” and it was a reflective hour where a theme was chosen based on world issues and art, music, and reflections from wisdom teachers (including Jesus) were shared by 2 leaders and a time of contemplation and fellowship over a meal was included. That would be the most I would look for now. Otherwise I feel I belong to the world and do not want to be labeled or boxed in by a denominational label. That is my journey which as others have expressed is always ongoing. It is encouraging to know there are like minded people out there also journeying in somewhat similar ways even though the specifics are all unique to each one of us.
Thank you for the opportunity of sharing.
2. MY EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH
Paul and readers, my experience of church as a child through the 60s, early 70s will be familiar to many. My way of understanding this experience is to acknowledge to myself that my childhood saw the death of an innate desire to explore a wonderful supportive presence that I could sense but not explain. I’m not sure if back then I viewed this presence as resulting from imagination or not, but it sure felt real. Unfortunately the strong message that got through to me was that Jesus died as payment for my sins and that I was a worthless sinner, fit only as kindling for the great fires of hell where most of us were destined to spend eternity. Eternity being a concept a little beyond my understanding as a 12 year old. So by age 16 I decided not to set foot in church again, except for marriages, deaths and christenings. Now the most wonderful thing is that I can see with hindsight that supportive presence of my childhood never left me. Don’t now focus too much on the word GOD, but it seemed I had rediscovered the supportive arms of GOD whilst understanding this was the case all along. All completely at odds with that main message I received from the church. Very important to note I genuinely harbor no ill will to those that delivered the message. No space to explain here but the all pervasive spirit and the Jesus story are central to my genuinely not retaining any malice at the theological teachings received as a child which ran parallel with Billy Graham crusades in Brisbane at the time. At 50 years of age I wanted to strengthen bonds with the supportive arms of GOD which I now understood as real because I deeply needed that connection. I saw the only option to get help with this quest was to reconnect with church. I went to a Uniting church, initially found some help there but after a couple of years saw that the old theology was still dominant, just not as overtly marketed. That may have been the end of church for me but along the way I discovered Greta Vosper and the wider progressive movement. This gave me the space to continue the quest which is very ably facilitated by the West End Contemplative service and West End Explorers group (I do not live close to West End but it is the best I am aware of to continue a quest around the GOD question, though I also do not sense that Progressive theology is dominant in this congregation. But at least we so called progressives are tolerated there and quite possibly are genuinely welcome) Would love so say more about how Sunday evenings at West End are helpful to my quest, but obviously can’t do so in this post. Maybe later if any are interested.
Peace – Peter Marshall