I recently completed a 70 week long search for a community of faith. During that journey I received more advice from others than anticipated, and spent time in more congregations than I had initially planned. Throughout these experiences I was reminded of just how different communities of faith can be – even and sometimes especially those geographically near one another and/or those sharing a denominational affiliation.
I was also reminded of the importance of diversity within a congregational culture that respects, values, and intentionally learns from the wisdom of many perspectives. I happened across the following wise words only after committing myself to active involvement in two specific faith communities. Written by Unitarian Universalist Minister Dana E. Worsnop, these framing thoughts capture an important part of my own understanding and present such more beautifully than I could.
Often people say that they love coming to a place with so many like-minded people.
I know just what they are getting at — and I know that they aren’t getting it quite right.
I don’t want to be with a bunch of people who think just like me.
I want to be in a beloved community where I don’t have to think like everyone else to be loved, to be eligible for salvation.
I want to be with people who value compassion, justice, love and truth, though they have different thoughts and opinions about all sorts of things.
I want to be with independent-minded people of good heart.
I want to be with people who have many names and no name at all for God.
I want to be with people who see in me goodness and dignity, who also see my failings and foibles, and who still love me.
I want to be with people who feel their inter-connection with all existence and let it guide their footfalls upon the earth.
I want to be with people who see life as a paradox and don’t always rush to resolve it.
I want to be with people who are willing to walk the tight rope that is life and who will hold my hand as I walk mine.
I want to be with people who let church call them into a different way of being in the world.
I want to be with people who support, encourage and even challenge each other to higher and more ethical living.
I want to be with people who inspire one another to follow the call of the spirit.
I want to be with people who covenant to be honest, engaged and kind, who strive to keep their promises and hold me to the promises I make.
I want to be with people who give of themselves, who share their hearts and minds and gifts.
I want to be with people who know that human community is often warm and generous, sometimes challenging and almost always a grand adventure.
In short, I want to be with people like you.
I live in the Bible belt. I meet people every week who are excited about their communities of faith – congregations that are filled with like minded people ready to learn how to become more alike through increased understanding of and adherence to very specific sets of shared beliefs. Most of these people have a gift of seeing all areas of life as good or evil, right or wrong, Christian or unChristian.
I have spent my life in Mainline Protestant congregations. As a group and at their best, these traditions value diversity, encourage open minded pursuit of the Way of Jesus, and invite creative activity that seeks to make more real God’s realm of justice and peace on earth as it already is in heaven.
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy hanging out with people who look like me, think like me, and act like me. I also, however, realize that I am my best when I am with people like you – people with differing experiences, differing perspectives, and differing passions. Together we can and will change the world.
- How diverse is your community of faith? overall? racially? socio-economically? theologically? politically?
- Does your community of faith consider its diversity a core part of its DNA or not? How is the importance or lack of importance of diversity of all kinds communicated formally and informally in your congregation?
- How would you complete the phrase: I want to be with people who ______?