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Pastor's Message - May 2024

We have not always had the best PR. There was that whole thing at Salem, a footnote in history until Arthur Miller mapped it onto the Red Scare in the 1953 play “The Crucible.” Then there was the Scarlet Letter.

Neither are representative of the Pilgrim and Puritan traditions that would eventually form Congregationalism. How could a movement that victimized women also be the first Christian church since the Apostolic Age to ordain a woman?

Pilgrims and Puritans were both progressive in their own context, only separated by their relationship with the Church of England. And it is the “separatist” Pilgrims who laid the foundation for our particular progressive Christianity.

As mentioned in last Sunday’s sermon, Pastor John Robinson told the group sailing for the “New World” that there was “yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s Holy Word.” We carry that forward, using dry theological terms like “continuing testament” and popular slogans like “God is still speaking.” In the end, it comes down to this: we are not stuck with the religion of two millennia ago, or even two centuries ago. We remain open to hearing and learning new things.

But that is only half of our weird and reconstructive story. During the early 18th century, a grassroots movement in several regions would seek to simplify the faith, calling themselves “Christian,” and declaring Jesus the only head of the church, the Bible the only rule of faith. In some ways the opposite of Congregationalism, they also adopted a “right of Christian conscience.” That is, every individual Christian must decide what it is they believe.

That became part of the Congregationalist story too, when the two movements merged in the early 20th century, part of the wider United Church of Christ story when those movements merged with German-heritage churches in the middle of the last century, and part of the Park Church’s story when this congregation voted to join the wider church covenant.

We have broad statements of common belief, a denominational “Statement of Faith,” descriptive documents like the Phoenix Affirmations, but they are not creeds, not tests. It is a little harder to figure out what to believe for yourself, but most of us find it worth the effort. You do you. Who knows? Maybe in embracing your funky self, you’ll discover an inner Pilgrim.



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