Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is the purpose of church transformation?

Yesterday I received my copy of the new book, The Growing Church: Keys To Congregational Vitality, edited by Thom Belote. The first essay is by Rev. Michael Schuler, the Pastor at the First Unitarian Society of Madison entitled "Transformation".

Rev. Schuler writes some interesting things like " Many clergy are reluctant to broach serious social issues, assuming that people come to church to be comforted, not stirred up or disturbed. But a growing number of Americans are deeply concerned about the current cultural climate, have limited confidence in the media, and are ready to hear the sort of straight talk that can lead to an alternative vision." P.12

Wow, I regret that the First Unitarian Society of Madison is so far away from way I live because it sounds like my kind of place.

I have heard Rev. Schuler preach via podcasts and he is a powerful speaker always informative and inspiring. I have found his sermons "transformative", motivating, and enlightening.

I was wondering why you go to church. Is it to be comforted or transformed? Probably a little of both. Maybe being transformed from a state of distress is comforting. At any rate, I am curious about your ideas about whether Church should be disturbing, challenging, calling us to be more than we currently are, that is, grow and move outside our comfort zone, or be consoling, soothing, and peaceful?

Schuler's church is growing. It has tripled in the last 20 years from 500 in 1988 to 1500 in 2008, so they must be doing something right out there if church growth is any valid indicator.

Personal, family, and societal transformation requires a conversion which Schuler explains means a "turning around" or a "turning one's attention to". Turning one's attention to what? Some would say God, the Spirit Of Life, the ground of our existence, the transcendent rather than our own egos.

I say that it is to our UU values which for me have transcendent value. We are called by our faith to be more than we currently are. If we say for example that we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, how can we be engaged in two immoral wars, still engage in capital punishment, condone torture, incarcerate over 2 million of our fellow citizens even though only 8% have engage in violent crime, detain and export our fellow human beings just because they weren't born on this plot of land on the planet?

Most of us have hardened hearts because we live in fear. How do we transform our fear based behavior to love based behavior? That's the need for transformation in our society and I think Schuler has a great point that this is what our churches need to be preaching and teaching and supporting.

I recommend his essay to you.

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