30 Oct “Not Church As Usual” – we put a lot into those four words.
Some people have asked those of us who are part of the Messaging Ministry here at Winnetka Congregational Church how we came up with the set of words that you see displayed boldly on the front page of our website and in other places, in our recently developed church communications: Not Church As Usual. I’ve had several folks who’ve been here at Winnetka Congregational a long time say to me: ”But Jeff, we’re not that unusual, are we?”
Well, guess what? One of the eye-opening things we’ve all become very aware of, over the past year through research and conversations with some of the newer members of the Winnetka Congregational Church community, is that what may seem like the norm to those who’ve been here for a long time, simply isn’t.
There are a whole lot of people out there who’ve had very different experiences in churches.
Around here, you may be used to church being a place where everyone belongs, diversity is valued, where questions are good, where we hear about a God who loves everyone on this planet (and the planet itself) and calls us to work for the common good.
But that’s not something you’ll find when you walk in the doors of every church.
And it’s not what most people believe to be true about church. For example, only about a quarter (27%) of the US population believes that churches have a very positive impact in their communities (Barna Group, 2019).
And the list of terms surveyed Americans used to define church-going Christians includes: homophobic, politically conservative, narrow-minded, misogynistic, and racist.
So, if the church these days is thought of a place full of people who look, sound, dress, think, and vote alike, then Winnetka Congregational Church is definitely NOT church as usual.
What does our not-so-usual look like?
It looks like less shame and more celebration.
Questions, doubts, shifts in perspective, and exploration of who God is and what it could mean to follow Jesus in our world today…to us this is the faith journey. We believe God loves variety, so we try to do the same around here. That means we also respect and celebrate the diversity of paths to God. We believe the Bible is a living, breathing word that doesn’t have to be taken literally to be taken as truth and that God loves curiosity, mystery and unanswered questions.
It looks like less talk and more action.
While we’re far from perfect around here, we believe what we do – how we live, love ourselves and each other, and serve our community – matters more than what we say. We strive to be people of integrity who live what we preach and consistently show up as allies for justice and peace.
It looks like less them and more us.
When we say we’re inclusive, we mean it – no fine print, no exceptions. Many people have experienced exclusion, either explicitly or implicitly, because of their LGBTQ+ identity, skin color, background, beliefs, bank balance, marital status, or abilities. But here at Winnetka CongregationaL, we affirm and honor you exactly as you are. We believe that church should never be us vs. them. We believe in us together, fully enough and fully loved by God.
It looks like love for God, for others, AND for yourself.
We believe to love ourselves is to trust that God loves us as we are…and loves us into who we can be. We believe that tending to our personal and spiritual growth, along with our mental, emotional, and physical health is a reflection of God’s love for all of us.
Now, if you look around and ask your neighbors and friends about it, you might discover a number of them whose experience of church has been different from the one we’re describing here. They may have pretty much given up on church completely. And probably for very good reasons.
But, if they’re willing to give it one last shot, you might even want to invite them to check things out around here. I know… many of us kind of cringe at that suggestion a little…I know we don’t want to feel like we’re being weird or pushy about our faith, or “proselytizing.” But you could think of it more like how you’d tell someone about an awesome book club you’re in or a great yoga class you’ve found…no pressure, just sharing something really good you’ve discovered.
One other thing: “Not church as usual” describes who we are currently in a lot of ways, yet I also hear it as a call to all of us who call Winnetka Congregational Church home to continue to grow, to not settle, to keep being open to new possibilities, new ways of being church in the world, and to keep following where God might be leading us – or pulling us, kicking and screaming – next.
“Not church as usual” is a big claim, I know. But it’s one that inspires me and one that I personally am very grateful to work to live into, with all of you.
Rev. Jeffrey D. Braun has been the Senior Pastor of Winnetka Congregational Church since 2015. He lives in Winnetka and when he’s not delivering a sermon, chatting with folks on Zoom or having fun with our 8th grade confirmation group, you might spot him on one of his long, early morning runs, headphones on, with his favorite playlist going.