Friday, August 14, 2009

Summer Doldrums

P1000753.JPGImage by BrianWestChest via Flickr

If you've been following my blog, you may realize it's about time for another installment of "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"  This is the on-going struggle I have with the institutionalized church (as some of my non-churched buddies call it now).  As I continue along my spiritual path, I find myself further and further from the Christianity of my youth and trying to find out how "church" fits into where I am now gets increasingly difficult.

What I've realized is that I don't give a rip about the "institutional church".  As denominations go, the United Church of Christ is one of the best.  As churches go, Nexus is really good.  But, for me, it's not about the church, it's about the people.  Nexus is an oasis in a desert, as far as I'm concerned.  We give people who have given up on being able to relate to G-d in a collective setting a chance at finding that again. I'd like to think we serve a pretty special role in our community.

A few years ago when I was fortunate enough (or blessed enough) to find Nexus, I thought "Ah, this is it.".  And, Nexus has been and is good.  Very good.  The best thing about Nexus is I have met some really wonderful and interesting people.  I've met people I would otherwise never have known existed (especially in Southwest OH).  I've met gays and lesbians.  I've met Obama supporters.  I've met people who are passionate about social justice. I've met people who are in favor of health care reform. And, they're all Christians (imagine that).  We have a pastor who is doing a terrific job.   He's passionate about the people in the church and about his role.  He's a good speaker.  He doesn't try to dictate what we should believe.  We all get together outside of church for things like canoe trips and roller derby and pool parties.


So, what's the problem? Sounds terrific.  Well, the major problem is sustainability.  I never imagined how difficult it could/would be to start a church from the ground up; particularly a progressive church in a regressive community.  Nexus will be celebrating its third anniversary in less than four months.  I started attending just after the church started.  We are on our second pastor,;the founding pastor having moved on for greener pastures.  When the founding pastor left us just over a year ago, it looked like it might be the end.  Attendance dipped (and we didn't have enough people in the first place).  With our new pastor, we seemed to have renewed life. But, as I look around, we don't have substantially more people now than we had when first started up.  But, big deal.  I don't need a lot of people, just a few good ones.  The problem is the ugly truth that running a church takes money.  We need to have a certain amount of income to pay things like rent, the pastor's salary and for the music.  Nexus operates on a shoestring budget.  But, even with the grants we've gotten over the years we are on the verge of running out of money.  Unless we get more people, the people coming start giving more (significantly more) or some angel makes a large donation, we are not financially sustainable.  And, after three years of pushing for that, you kind of start to wonder when/if it's going to happen.  We've done everything I can think of to do to get more people in. We spent thousands of dollars on a campaign over Easter.  Attendance jumped up, some. Then summer set in and with vacations, while we're ahead of last year's numbers, we aren't where we need to be.  Summer is a rough time to try to get people to sit in a room for an hour on Sunday morning.

As I look at the people attending, I see a core group of people who are very passionate about our "mission".  We are pioneers out here.  There's a sense of adventure.  Like the Blues Brothers, we are on a "mission from God".  But, I also see everyday life taking its toll.  People leave because they got their feelings hurt.  People leave because of divorce (never understood why they have to leave church when they get divorced).  People leave just because they're tired of or bored with church.  We attract a lot of the spiritually abused. We attract people who have been kicked out of other churches or who have just gotten tired of the whole thing.  The problem with that is they seem to be super-sensitive people, too.  So, as quickly as we pick people up, we lose others.  It feels a little like running in place.  Trying to get liberals/progressives to stick with us feels a little like herding cats.

I've been racking my brain to come up with an answer.  In an ideal world, I'd find a Buddhist temple and join the sangha (community) there.  I think my spirituality/religion is more in line with Buddhism these days than with Christianity.   Sometimes I just get fed up with Christianity.  And, I'm there right now.  I'm sick of all the ridiculous things said and done in the name of religion.  I'm engaged in a conversation right now with people who insist that homosexuality is a sin because the Bible told them so.  And, since sin is sin, being a homosexual is the same as being a murderer.  So, anyone who doesn't throw homosexuals out of the church is in essence coddling murderers.  This stuff makes my head spin.  Then, we have Christians saying Obama is the anti-Christ and using the Bible and some extremely bizarre exegesis to back it up.  I'm sick of arguing with these people.  I know other religions have their nuts, too. But, I'm sick of ours.

Sunday morning in church has never done it for me.  I find the best of them to be boring and most of them to be irrelevant.  I don't know how others feel or how the people who have left feel.  But, while Nexus is pretty cutting edge in some ways, when it comes to the Sunday morning format (and it is a format), it's just not different enough.   I don't know if we really shook that up if it would drive more people away or attract more people. I'm sure it'd do a little of both.
 
The next few months will be a critical time for us.  Our treasurer has been sounding the alarm since I can remember. We've pushed and pushed and each time it looked like we would run out of steam, something happened to pull us through.  Maybe that will continue. I hope so. I think Nexus is a pretty special place.  I'd like to see it there for weary travelers.






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13 comments:

Don said...

Brian- I admire you for staying. I don't know how you manage. Sometimes I feel the need to be with others of like or similar belief...but that usually fades with my best friend, Chaplain Roy and I share a long phone call. I really have no regrets leaving the Southern Baptist church (as you might guess), and have not looked back.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Brian, I can relate to your frustration as I always found something lacking at the churches I attended. I was actually most happy at the church I was attending at the point of my deconversion, and the church had nothing to do with my doubts. Quite the contrary, I thought it was a church that was actually doing very good things in the community. I still read the blog of the head pastor there.

As for the starting up a church, I've really only seen the breakdown on a smaller level with Bible studies. We would start out with these vibrant Bible studies that would go on for months or years and then fizzle out as schedules clashed or someone got their theological panties in a bunch.

As for homosexuality, I wish it wasn't mentioned by Paul because that's what they cling to, since they ignore all the other Levitical BS, but Paul reiterated that bit of bigotry.

As a Christian and now as an atheist I still ask the same question, why would God care what goes on in the bedroom as long as it's consensual and loving?

okiedragon said...

I've only attended church or synagogue a few times since I left the Assembly of God religion at age 30. I did go to a few Quaker meetings but being new to the faith and not understanding a silent meeting for which I did not meditate - it was too, for lack of better wording, boring. The Urantia Book reading group - well, it was exceedingly small and one member seemed to enjoy gossiping - and she snarled over another members dropping out and I just didn't have that want-to-stay anymore. In fact, I am kind of a hermit when it comes to group time. I'd rather watch a snake eat a bullfrog than be with a bunch of people who can't be nice to one another.

I'll make a suggestion for your church group - which may sound odd but instead of having church (format singing, preaching) has the group considered taking on a activity that would provide working together for someone else's common good. Instead of church, work 1/2 day at a Habitat for Humanity, work in a soup kitchen, do a service of some kind. If I was going to be a part of a group today, I'd rather be doing good than doing nothing. I even dropped out of the garden club because - well, I had suggested it take on the job of working with the schools and it didn't fly and I just didn't see the point. It was all politics and fluff and churches get all bent for many stupid reasons.

There's an explanation about homosexuality I heard from one of the guys in the Quaker group - if I can find the info - it is a biblical explanation that I had found to be very interesting - that it had more to do with the second class status of females than the actual sex act. And remember, if homosexuality is a sin, murder is a sin, then by golly isn't gluttony a sin? And what about the gossip, pride, etc? I remember lots of preachers up there preaching on the sin of smoking and drinking and they weighted way more than normal. Some people are just bound and determined that they need someone to be worse than they are to make themselves feel better. And Paul may have spoken about homosexuality but it was Jesus who admonised about divorce and that's as common as apple pie.

Angela said...

I was raised a "Christian"...I guess, because my parents didn't go to church but believed in Jesus and were raised Christians themselves. I went to a Salvation Army church with my grandparents for a time when I was young. Then I didn't go at all. Yes, it was boring and seemed pretty pointless. In high school I started going to a Methodist Church with some friends...until the congregation split into two over the subject of homosexuality (and there weren't any homosexuals attending the church...or at least none we knew of!)

After exploring many different faiths and actually reading the bible (few actually read it cover to cover and actually digest what it says) and exploring my own feelings and looking at things with a rational eye (higher education will cause one to do this) I decided the best place to put myself was in the category of "agnostic." I'm pretty close to atheist, but I can't 100% say there is absolutely nothing because there's no evidence to disprove that there might be something out there so it's a possibility. However, I DO NOT believe in any way, shape, or form in any of the world's religions and their interpretation of God (or in some cases gods). I have found nothing but hypocrisy, hatred and judgement of others, and double talk and contradiction in every single one. The truth is, no one on this earth has every really had a real, two way conversation with God and been told what he is, what he's like, what he wants from us, etc. No one has a hotline to God yet everyone insists their religion is the right one.

My suggestion whether you believe in a God, creative force, whatever or not, is to ditch church and let the world be your "church", live by the golden rule everyday. You'll accomplish a heck of a lot more true good than chastising yourself as a sinner and sitting in a building for an hour or more once to several times a week when you could be out there doing something good and worthwhile.

brian said...

Okiedragon,

I appreciate the suggestion to do something different on Sunday mornings (a service project). It's been raised several times before. But, we've never done it.

On the subject of homosexuality, I've studied it extensively and written about it many times here. Let's just say that the Bible doesn't address homosexual relationships at all. Paul talks about abusive man-boy sex and temple sex. And Leviticus talks about lustful homosexual sex. But, no where in the Bible are loving, committed homosexual relationships addressed. But, even if homosexuality were a sin, I'm sick of people equating homosexuality to murder while dismissing gluttony, backstabbing, gossiping, divorce, etc. etc. etc.

brian said...

Angela,

I appreciate your input. I'm 99.9999% sure I'll never be an atheist. For me, the proof of the existence of G-d is abundantly clear, once you removes the shackles that say G-d is an old white guy on a throne.

Believe me, I left the church where people sit around chastising themselves for being sinners a long time ago.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Brian, I agree with your view of homosexuality in the Bible, but the verses are just open enough that they can be interpreted differently, like just about anything, and used to control people. Sad that a book that says the truth will set you free can also be used for the opposite.

Jon said...

Thanks for sharing this Brian. I think there are many who feel as you do.

I don't miss church. I miss hanging out with like-minded people/friends. That's what church seems to give--a steady pool of people to hang with. But since I don't believe in what most churches have to offer, I don't want to be a hypocrite in going and appearing like I believe when I don't just to hang out. Too high a price.

You guys at Nexus are in a tough spot. You have a pastor you really like but basically can't afford because you don't have enough giving units. No easy answer for that one. He could get a job, I guess.

Thanks again for sharing.

brian said...

Mike,

There are verses in the Bible that can be used to justify misogyny, slavery, racism, killing your children, the banning of blended fabrics and a whole host of other things. Just because the verses can be interpreted that way doesn't mean they should.

I don't blame the Bible for the church's homophobic attitude. Anyone with an open mind and a little bit of time can come to the realization the Bible doesn't talk about homosexuality as we know it today.

Peace,
Brian

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Blended fabrics are evil, shellfish too. ;-)

Kansas Bob said...

Enjoyed reading about what is going on at Nexus Brian. Sounds like you may not really need a full-time pastor.. many smaller church venues do well with part-time and volunteer leaders.. but you do have to get outside of the institutional box to get there. Hope things eventually work out.

brian said...

Thanks, Bob. I appreciate your thoughts.

UncleJesse said...

I'm a member of a PCA church, but I've been almost thrown out for having a different view of the resurrection. I'm a preterist and believe we are immortal now. I empathize with the universalist, but don't go quite that far. I don't believe in eternal conscious torment, and wish I could share why to my Christian friends and family.