Let me introduce myself. My name is Amber. I am a wife, a mother, a friend, an animal lover, an avid crafter, an Instructional Specialist? I identify myself as so many things, but one thing I still have difficulty calling myself is a Christian.
My family and I first came to First United in summer of 2009. We had just recently moved back to Bloomington and began seeking out churches for two reasons: First, we were looking to join a supportive community in which to raise our young sons. Second, my husband had recently suffered the sudden tragic loss of a long time friend and was experiencing an existential crisis of life and faith.
My husband was raised in a very conservative Christian home, but hadn?t attended church regularly in over 20 years. I was raised by two agnostics and considered myself a deist. (Not an atheist. I believed in god, but rejected organized religion.) When my husband said he wanted to start attending church again, I was skeptical that we would actually find a church that would be ?religious? enough for him, yet not ?too religious? for me.
But I wanted to be supportive, so I put my skepticism aside and started researching churches. I googled ?open and affirming churches in Bloomington,? because I figured negative attitudes towards gays would be the easiest litmus test to weed out churches we wouldn?t consider. The second church we tried was First United Church.
I still remember that first Sunday. Jack was preaching. I don?t remember the exact sermon he gave, but I remember getting goose bumps as he preached. I remember lightly squeezing my husband?s thigh every time Jack said something that I swore I thought I?d never hear inside the walls of a church. Near the end of the service, I remember him saying, ?Remember, this is the first week of Ramadan. Come talk to me if you are interested in fasting along side our Muslim brothers and sisters.? I could NOT believe my ears. This man, the leader of a Christian church, was openly embracing the religious observances of a non Judeo-Christian religion. I knew if I was ever going to have a church, this one was it.
And amazingly, my husband felt the same way. He was comfortable with the traditional scripture foundations of the sermons, but appreciated Jack and Caela?s historical and intellectual interpretations.
Over the next few months, over and over again Jack and Caela?s sermons blew away every misconception and preconceived idea I had of the entire Christian community. Before finding First United, my feelings about Christians were mostly negative. To paraphrase Gandhi, I didn?t mind Christ, but wasn?t terribly fond of most Christians. In fact, my general opinion was that the more Christian one claimed to be, the more judgmental, close-minded, and condemning they were. Attending First United, opened my eyes, mind, and heart to a whole new world where Christians were loving, compassionate, and devoted to serving others, even non-Christians.
What I love most about First United Church is that there isn?t a focus on converting people or saving souls. Instead they focus on by being compassionate, taking care of others, serving the community, and loving everyone. First United members take Deuteronomy 6:5 very seriously: ?Love thy neighbor?. Love thy homeless neighbor. Love thy Muslim neighbor. Love thy gay and transsexual neighbors. And yes, even thy deist neighbors!
A hardcore Christian childhood friend of mine actually scoffed when she discovered I had become a member of a Christian church. She asked what had changed about my deist beliefs. And I said ?Nothing. The only thing that has changed is that I found a church that accepts me for who I am and doesn?t judge me.?
And they do. Jack and Caela both know of my beliefs and still allowed me to join the church family. When I volunteer for the winter shelter, they don?t say ?Nope, Christian members only.? When I sign up to host coffee hour, they don?t say ?We only like brownies baked by baptized souls.? Heck, they even let me volunteer to teach Children?s Learning Time. And I?m so glad they do, because I never feel closer to god then when I baking a meal for the college students, laying out mats for the homeless, donating money for the food pantry, participating in the blood drive, teaching the children about unconditional love for others, etc. It is this service to others that feeds my soul and makes me feel closer to god.
Will I ever feel comfortable calling myself a Christian? I don?t know. But for right now, I am a deist who is a member of a Christian church. And I am greatly enjoying being a part of this environmentally conscious, open and affirming, socially conscious, compassionate, loving, serving community of folks that strives to do good works and stand up for the oppressed and marginalized in our society. Because I truly believe that THAT is what Jesus would do.