I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Wholly Different

Well, things are pretty calm here at church right now. Everyone has other things on their minds with Thanksgiving less than 24 hours away. The family and I will be visiting relatives and, no doubt, eating fowl. I actually tend to stock up on cranberries. I love ‘em.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. No doubt this has to do, in part, with the absence of anything specific to do at church! It is a chance to re-group to re-focus and to prepare for life through Advent and into the winter. My favorite event this Thursday will once again be the football game on TV (Go Lions!). All I have to do is sit and yell at the screen. Ah, happiness….

The month of December is an interesting one for a church like Eliot. It is when we really come into our own as a community church, rather than as a representative congregation of a larger movement. Like many churches, we look inward this time of year. Fall was busy for us. The steeple project continues. We had a few surprises and we hired a new Church/RE Administrator. All of this has meant adjustment and now we are just a little tired. Advent is a time to help us refuel. However, unlike many churches, we continue to straddle the line between two different ways of looking at Jesus and, therefore, at the holiday season.

Many Unitarian Universalist churches do not celebrate Christmas, preferring to lift up more general themes of the season and to hold, on the evening of Dec. 24 “Holiday Services.” The Christmas pageant too has become a “holiday pageant” honoring other faiths often in addition to—sometimes to the exclusion of—Christmas. More often one can gat a sense that the minister and the lay leaders are apologizing for having to bring up the whole Jesus and (gasp!) Christ thing. Also popular are the discourses concerning the pagan precursors to Christmas. Yes, there are pagan roots and they are good for us!

I am not, actually complaining it takes many different perspectives to even begin to come close to understanding the world we live in and the transcendence that surrounds us. At Eliot Church we try to be true to who we are. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, plain and simple. However, the Jesus we know and understand is sometimes very different from what our fellow UCCers see. Again, this is OK.

What this does mean, however, is that we are in the position of making meaning for ourselves. The UUA pulls us toward a leveling of all the faiths. This we cannot accept and remain who we are as a faith community. The normative language and culture in the UCC points toward a different understanding of the nature of Jesus, God, and the Easter story than the one that most of our congregation has come to accept. We exist in the middle as mostly—but not all—Liberal Christians with a unitarian Christology. Our church story is changed because of that. We are neither UUs nor UCCers now; we are members of the Eliot Church.

One thing we are forced to do this time of year is to really think about who we are and what we believe. We at Eliot should and will be asking ourselves whether our observance of the holiday properly reflects our understanding of it. We will again consider whether or not what we do speaks to the spirit within us. These questions do not need to be answered in a final once-and-for-all way. Each year is a challenge and a test of faith. Each year we are different people traveling together and needing different things. Through our creative and inspired quest we come to understand ourselves and each other. This is the Christmas Gift of the Eliot Church.

Happy Thanksgiving and Joyous Anticipation of things to come!