Friday, August 24, 2007

Ridge Church Part 2

A friend of mine was upset about what I wrote two weeks ago in the newsletter. He felt that I was building up Ridge by putting down 1st Church in Hammond. If anyone felt that way, I apologize, that was never my intent. Instead, was trying to celebrate their great history. Unfortunately, a church must change, or die — Ridge Church included — and the vision of 1960, most likely isn’t the same one in 2007. And what is exciting about First UMC in Hammond is that they are discovering a whole new vision, one that fits their current context, rather than trying to be something that no longer exists.

But, what surprised me the most, was that I have not gotten any feedback. I challenged you to share with me your understanding about the purpose of the church, and only one person responded — my friend Christine, an anthropologist, who lives out West.

Christine has been very helpful in getting me to see beyond my paradigms, which sometimes make me blind. She has really helped me to see, how others, who are not so wrapped up in the church, see Christianity.

Over the last several weeks I have thought a great deal about what I understand the purpose of the church to be. And I can say quite honestly, that my understanding has changed greatly over my 23 years in the ordained ministry. I think today, I have a much healthier vision of the function and purpose of the church.

And if I had to define it with two words they would be family (community) and justice. That is what I believe Jesus was most concerned about. Building an inclusive family and making sure that those who live within the family and those who live outside the family live in a just society.
The implications of this understanding are huge. What would it mean to look at our neighbors and see them as brothers or sisters? How do we make sure that everyone has what they need, and no one is better than anyone else?

I am still wanting this to be a dialog.


Anonymous said...

Growing up as a Southern Baptist is a strongly Southern Baptist town, I was taught the exclusivist version of Christianity. To wit, "we're right, everyone else is wrong and, if they don't repent and be baptised (read, immersed), they are, of a necessity, going to Hell.

This made me think. Are the great minds of history, pre-Christ, in Hell? Plato, Aristophanes, Siddhartha Gautama? Really?? Okay, what about those with, supposedly, no excuse. Muhammad, Gandhi, the various Dalai Lamas? Are we really to believe that, because they're not Christian and, further, not the "right kind" of Christian, they're in Hell?

This is where I parted company with the Southern Baptists and declared plurality. I do believe that we are called to be understanding of all belief systems. Granted, as you have said, there are some whack jobs out there - Koresh, Jones, Rev. Moon - that defy logic.

If we would approach our fellow man seeking to learn instead of seeking to pass judgement and "cure", would we have the situation in the Middle East today? I doubt it.

I think that there are many paths to God. True enlightenment comes from understanding as many of them as possible. And, if on the journey, someone finds their path through our example, that's called salvation.

Steve Rogers

Steve Conger said...

This was sent to me via e-mail, but I think it really adds to the discussion.

Steve - First - you pose the questiion in the Ridge News "What is the purpose of Ridge Church"? I think it is to lead souls to believe and trust in God and Jesus Christ through the various ministeries of the church. I always feel like a better person after leaving any of the ministeries I attend, so I know it is doing good in my soul.

Being a convert from Catholicism I find the Methodist Church very social and outgoing as compared to the in-depth spiritualism of the Catholic Church. I often felt afraid to express my opinion and felt more introverted than extroverted - especially since being in the convent where you are limited to speech.

So, I believe the mission of the church is to help souls see the beauty of living a "God Centered" life through the various ministeries of the church.

Second - The most important things we can be doing to ahieve the first purpose of the church, I believe we are already doing through the many ministeries. Ridge is in a prime location right across from the middle and high schools. Ridge is definitely a leader in the protestant churches in Munster, as witnessed by other churches trying to follow,. You are giving good example for the other churches to follow. RIDGE IS DEFINITELY A LEADER AND NOT A FOLLOWER!!.

Are Methodist churches allowed to have schools? That would certainly bring in more members. St. John's Evangelical Church of Jesus Christ in Collinsville, Illinois (The church my sister-in-law belongs to) recently started an after-school tutoring program which was very successful. They now have a l,000 membership with 50 ministeries.

Steve Conger said...


Thanks for your comments. I grew up in a home that was always open to people of other traditions (even though we really didn't have any of them living close by). It never crossed my mind that God might not love them, as much as God loved me.

When I got to High School, I went to a pretty diverse school (for the 70's). Diverse in religion, not in race. And my getting to know people who were Jewish, just confirmed all that I had grown up with.

I could never be part of a denomination that was so narrow. I think that is why I have stayed in the UMC, it allows me to engage not only my heart, but also my head.

Steve Conger said...

Thank your answers, but you should know by now that I am not going to let you off that easily. You say the purpose of Christianity is "to lead souls to believe and trust in God and Jesus Christ through the various ministeries of the church". Too often we quit at the believe part and never become.

Christinaity to me is an action, a way of life, a journey --- that is filled with belief and doubt. But knowing that as we journey, God goes with us, offering to us a more wholistic way.

It is interesting that you percieve that RC church as being more spiritual --- In all my years, I constantly come across Catholics who BELIEVE, but have never read the Bible. They believe what they are taught to believe and never wrestle with those beliefs.

I was excited to see (maybe excited is the wrong word) the article in TIME about Mother Teresa as she talked and wrestled with her doubts.

Belief is always temperd by the Human Condition, which ultimately means to me that we live in a word in need of transformation, but that transformation will require much from us.

Thanks for you very provactive thoughts --- I get caught up in my own paradigm much to quickly!

Christina is... said...

Steve wrote:

"And my getting to know people who were Jewish, just confirmed all that I had grown up with.

I could never be part of a denomination that was so narrow."

Are you saying you could never be part of the Jewish denomination because you feel it is so narrow? Or do you mean something else?

Steve Conger said...


I mean a Christian denomination. Like Steve R said (Southern Baptists). One of the things I appreciate about the United Methodist CHurch is that we can have more room to wrestle with God.

Steve Conger said...


I mean a Christian denomination. Like Steve R said (Southern Baptists). One of the things I appreciate about the United Methodist CHurch is that we can have more room to wrestle with God.

Anonymous said...

Ithink the puroose of the church is basically two fold. The first is to teach and support us as individuals in becoming disciples.
Then to connect us to God, through Jesus Christ, to connect us to each other as as a congregation, and finally to connect us to the surrounding community and beyond to put our discpleship into action.
Like I said in our class one week I think of Disciple as a verb because a verb is an action word.


Christina is... said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for answering my question. I appreciate it. I get what you meant, now!

I want to add that taking care of the environment should be right up there! There are many ways to act. The entire earth is the Garden of Eden and we have been tasked to protect it--this means reducing garbage by consuming less "stuff," using less gas and other natural resources that cause global warming, demanding environmentally kind development, etc. Jesus was really very pro-environment. In my view the church MUST teach this--I've been lucky enough to hear more than one priest talk about this topic during mass.

Steve Conger said...


One of the neatest ministries we have here at Ridge Church is our environmental ministry team. They are constantly challenging all of us to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with. Right now we are collecting shoes to be recycled or re-used. I think we are over 1,000 pairs!

Thanks for your comments. When are you going to start writing again?