My wife and I came home to Bloomington for our retirement.? After many years away, we needed to reacquaint ourselves with our hometown, a process that included finding places for ourselves within the Bloomington community for our respective forms of worship and spiritual practice.
My wife didn?t have to look far: she?s a Buddhist in the Vajrayana (Tibetan) tradition, and Bloomington?s Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center was an obvious choice for her.
I?m a Christian, and I needed to do some shopping.
I started by visiting the churches I remembered from years ago: the ?downtown churches? ? First Methodist, First Christian, First Presbyterian, Trinity Episcopal; Bloomington Friends, on Moore?s Pike; The Unitarians and St. Mark?s, out on the Bypass.? ?First United was on the list, but, for no particular reason, it took me a while to get there.
I got around to attending Sunday worship at First United in 2006, not long before Christmas.?? About ten minutes into the service, I experienced a sort of small epiphany.? It was nothing earth-shaking; I just suddenly felt certain that First United was the place for me.
In hindsight, I think the music and the worship format had a good deal to do with it.? The Sunday service structure at First United is firmly rooted in ?mainstream? Protestant traditions, and First United has a wonderful choir, a brilliant organist, and numerous accomplished musicians in the congregation, who fill the sanctuary every Sunday with beautiful, skillfully-rendered music.? The music and the traditional worship appealed to me with such immediacy that I decided to become a member before I had fully registered on what I discovered soon enough to be other defining characteristics of First United: diversity; a progressive world-view; a strong social-service orientation; and within the church community ? the First United staff, leadership, and congregation ? an absolutely irresistible atmosphere of shared faith and common endeavor, of open, warmhearted, good-humored Christian fellowship.? It?s these things ? the values that inform life at First United ? that have kept me here.? The music and the traditional worship wouldn?t have held me long, if the values hadn?t been right.
The aspect of openness at First United that I think is most important to me personally is theological openness ? a willingness, even an eagerness, encouraged by the pastoral staff and shared by the congregation, to engage in serious comparative exploration of the many doctrines and traditions of Christianity and other faith systems.? That we follow different faith traditions is for my wife and me a mutually affirming aspect of our life partnership; and I find a similar affirming, inclusive doctrinal openness at First United.
Full disclosure: in fact, my wife and I aren?t really all that divergent.? When people ask me about my relationship as a Christian to Eastern mysticism, my stock response is to say I?m a ?philosophical Buddhist.? ??The resulting conversation often turns to Quakerism, or to mystical trends in liberal Catholicism ? Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, the ?Contemplative Prayer? and ?Centering Prayer? movements.
Sometimes I?ll stop by church during the week and look for a place to meditate.?? First United can be a busy place on weekdays, but the chapel is usually available, and when the weather is nice, there?s a gazebo out back, near the labyrinth and the ash garden.? My meditation practice includes some centering prayer, some discursive prayer, and a mantra.
For me, being at First United is lot like being at home.? First United is my home ?
my Christian home, my spiritual home ? a place as affirming and welcoming as the country house my Buddhist wife and I came home to after many years away, the place where we plant our garden, and watch the seasons turn, and share our faith stories.