Church has changed over recent years. It is important that the Strafford community understand what is different because the church is a community resource. It is yours if and when you want or need it. I hope this letter helps open a window into it.
I went to church as a boy, then I stopped going for a decade, and then I moved to Strafford in 1983 and at Ned and Vi Coffin’s invitation came to the United Church of Strafford. I had become disillusioned with the wider church and aghast at the direction that the most visible wing of the church had taken, but when I walked into this sanctuary and heard the Rev. Dana Douglass preach, I felt completely comfortable and at home.
I became a Deacon and served on other committees and eventually entered the ministry. In the thirty-six years since then another wing of the church has evolved and changed what church means dramatically.
Right now you can see many elements of that new church in evidence in the United Church of Strafford.
This Sunday, February 17th, in worship you will hear the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., you will hear gospel and spiritual and contemporary music, and after the service you will get to be part of a congregational meeting sitting in a restorative justice-style circle talking about a challenging topic in a way that allows all perspectives to be respected and heard.
The topic is how we will fulfill our new Future Directions vision statement where it says,“We intend to be a force, not merely a presence, effecting positive social change for peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.”
You can also read on our website a recent sermon by our Strafford neighbor, Mark Kutolowski. Mark is a Christian contemplative spiritual teacher and author who leads wilderness retreats and offers spiritual direction. His sermon may be nothing like what you ever heard in a mainline Christian church, and certainly it would have been highly unusual to hear it before this new type of church evolved. It describes a spiritual path that is new to most of us but is as ancient as Jesus and the tradition behind him. You can read it at https://unitedchurchofstrafford.com/category/past-sermons/.
The new kind of church teaches about the Christian contemplative path, a form of meditation and mindfulness similar to those of all other spiritual traditions but with its own distinct forms and strengths. Our congregation offers a time of practice and conversation every Thursday evening at 5:45 PM called the Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle, co-founded by Mark and Lisa Kutolowski with me. I have been teaching this path for twenty-five years in other churches, but I started right here when the Rev. Regina Harding was pastor. You can read about what we offer now on our website at https://wp.me/p95Qj3-8A.
The church still plays the roles it always has in the community, helping those in need, supporting local and global missions, marrying and burying, being a place people can turn to for comfort and support in hard times, and teaching children the values and virtues and spiritual wisdom of our tradition and other traditions.
Children have been a central part of this church’s loving community for a long time, but now the children learn about all the new dimensions to this different kind of church as well.
The church may be different from what you think or have experienced in the past. It is useful in new ways. It is a major community resource in Strafford, so it is important that people understand what it is.
The church is here for you whenever and however you want or need it. And if it is not for you, it is here as a neighbor working to make your community as resilient and strong and loving as it can be in these challenging times.
Pastor Tom Kinder