Dear Friends of Second Church,
The other day, I was thinking about the last time I went “church shopping.”
It was almost exactly fifteen years ago, when I moved back to Connecticut after several years away. I had just started as an English teacher at Kent School—still one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.
It didn’t take long for me to get involved in the local United Church of Christ congregation there, and that church remains my spiritual home in many ways—it’s where I served as a deacon, where I first regularly attended Bible study, where they threw a square dance in my honor to help me with tuition, where I was ordained, where I performed my first wedding, etc., etc.. It’s the place where Melinda, the person I still consider “my pastor” is serving.
But you know what? It almost didn’t happen.
You see, on the Sunday I decided I would finally go “check out that church at the north end of town,” I pulled into the parking lot…a little bit late, so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone, or give my name, or otherwise get caught like a fly in their web. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, and I wanted to make sure I could get myself right back out. I eased into a parking spot, nose out for immediate departure.
And that’s when I saw the old Volvo.
Parked right by the church’s sign was a decrepit old Volvo with faded blue paint—the kind of car that your nephew with the wild streak drives while in college.
The back was covered with bumper stickers. Bumper stickers for Presidential candidates who had been knocked out of the primaries…three elections ago. Bumper stickers for causes that were scarcely even causes, anymore, and others that seemed to presume knowledge of outrages I’d never heard of. Bumper stickers that obviously disagreed with one another, and were meant ironically, but in some way I found obscure. Bumper stickers I agreed with, making me wonder if I needed to reevaluate some of my opinions. And in the back window, there was a UCC shield…just in case I might mistake the car’s owner for a random visitor.
And I took that all in, there in the parking lot, with the organ inside the church already playing the first hymn, and I thought to myself, “Is that what this place is?” “Do I have to agree with all that, somehow, if I’m going to go to church here?”….”Good Lord, what if that’s the pastor’s car?”
Well, I went inside, more non-committal than ever. The service quickly proved itself to be warm, inviting, thought-provoking, reverent—everything I had hoped I would find in my local church. Even so, I found it hard to relax; I couldn’t stop wondering about that Volvo with its bumper stickers, and when the whole thing would start to get weird on me.
It never did. Or maybe I should say, fifteen years later, it still hasn’t yet. (Turns out, the Volvo did belong to random visitor…apparently a random UCC visitor.)
That Volvo was a funny introduction to what would soon become my home church.
That said, in its way, it was a great introduction to broad spectrum of beliefs, opinions, and commitments that can be found in a United Church of Christ congregation, whether it’s in Kent, or here in Greenwich, or in any number of other places.
We understand ourselves to be communities gathered by God, and not simply by the easy affinities that we use to make community in so many other parts of our lives—same backgrounds, same hobbies, same tastes, same politics.
We embrace that we aren’t all in the same place, even when it comes to our faith. Questions such as what it is to be a good person, what human flourishing should look like, or how to imagine the shape of a world of justice and love are not easy matters to agree on, and we don’t pretend they are, or suggest they should be. We don’t all read the Bible in the same way. Or pray alike. Or interpret Christian traditions with a uniform point of view.
We believe in the struggle of seeking answers to all of those questions—and in the further struggle of trying to work out those answers together.
It’s a remarkable and wonderful way to be the Church, but there is neither a roadmap that tells us how to get to our final destination, or a blueprint that tells us how to hunker down and build it where we are.
Somehow, it’s in the striving that the Church comes into its own, and we each come into our own. Anyway, that’s the UCC’s wager.
As the church’s program year begins again this week, I hope you’ll find ways to become a part of that striving. And some Sunday in the near future, if you see a visitor dawdling in the parking lot, wondering what this place is, and if there’s really room for someone like them among us, I hope you’ll greet them warmly and show them the way in.
We’ve been saving them a seat.
See you in church,