I Corinthians 1:10-18

January 26, 2014 by Ken Dale

This past Monday and Tuesday I attended the annual convocation of Bangor Seminary and the theme was ?Heads, Hands, Hearts and Smart Phones.?? The first speaker was Elizabeth Dresher who has done a lot of research on the present state of the church and the world of technology in which we live.? The majority of the two day program just made me feel pretty old as I?m not big on social media like Facebook (I have one friend) and Twitter ? yet that?s the world in which we live.? I?m still sorting it out and have been for quite some time.? I listened to those much younger than I talk of the experience of not only community, but faith community on line.? Seems to me that if you want to be in community you need to be together, face to face and in the same building if not the same room.

Elizabeth Dresher began with an overview of the fastest growing group on the religious landscape of this country ? the ?Nones? ? people who say they have no particular religious affiliation.? They actually have no group but consist of 20% of Americans.? The stats are that 27% are former Catholics and 44% are from the Protestant Church ? so 71% have a background that could be labeled Christian.? The beliefs of the Nones:? 68% believe in God or a Universal Spirit, 55% understand themselves s spiritual or religious and 40% of them pray regularly.? She also shared that in current spirituality, spirituality is experienced most in the following ways called the 4 F?s of spirituality:? Family, Friends, Food, and Fido ? (Fido being pets).? The list continued is desending order with prayer, music, nature, art and physical activity.? The bottom of the list for Nones and Somes was attending worship.? Is there a message here for the Church?

Another interesting fact is that in the church world, decline is largest in the Congregational Church where 63% of people who become part of the church leave and the Episcopal Church not far behind where 55% leave.? Granted these are all numbers but I think they should get our attention.? A common criticism by the Nones of the church is that it?s too much about money and power.? Elizabeth Dresher and other speakers encouraged us to reframe the question so that it was not a matter of ?religious decline? but a matter of ?religious change.?? We live in a different world.

What those spiritual but not religious people ? or the Nones ? are seeking is spirituality ? an experience of God ? a feeling of being in relationship with God ? and with God?s people.? They want to be able to talk about it ? to share the story of their spirituality.? It was also suggested that we as church need a new way to measure how we are doing ? and it is not in terms of numbers ? how many members ? but the focus needs to be on relationship and the experience of God.? During Lent we will have the opportunity of studying Diana Butler Bass?s program Embrasing Spiritual Awakening and the theme of our annual retreat this year is ?discernment.?? I can?t help but think of our moderator?s statement in her annual report of how maybe we need to spend time in prayerful listening to each other and for God?s voice to discern that which God may be calling us to.

A few years ago Mary Bausch shared an article with me about the SBNRs or Nones ? and I couldn?t help but think someone needed to tell them about the UCC ? but then I easily slipped into the ol? mindset of increasing the numbers.? Wrong ? it?s increasing the opportunity for relationships and for spiritual reflection and sharing an experience of God.

People?s experience of church undoubtedly varies greatly ? perhaps as many as there are people in any given church community.? The reality of differences between those people obviously goes all the way back to the beginning as we hear the first verse of our reading from Paul this morning.? He writes: ?Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and same purpose??? ?We might think ? ?Dream on Paul? ? if there are two people, there will be differences.? ?As the passage continues Paul points to the truth that any differences are, as it were, inside the brackets and that Christ alone is outside as ?Lord of all.?? We are to lose or understand those differences, maybe embrace those differences as part of something bigger ? namely the love of God, come to us in Christ.? We are to see and understand each other as fellow children of God in whom Christ dwells.? The last hymn this morning most certainly captures the point ? may we mean it as we sing it.

Diana Butler Bass states the experience of church in the past was first ?believing? ? followed by ?behaving? which came from believing ? and then experience ?belonging.??? She states today that needs to be reversed ? starting with a sense of belonging, then behaving as part of the community and coming to believing which we know is a journey.? That will be considered in our Lenten study.

But now ? with thanks to Hannah MeGhee, Laurie Chandler and Bill Bausch ? let?s take a look at a small sample of the relationships in which the love of God continues to make us the ?work in progress? that is Second Congregational Church UCC in Newcastle?