Find a place that feels comfortable
The Rev. Jill Jarvis, minister, Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, 1263 N. 1100 Road:
I’d advise a seeker to find a congregation that, first and foremost, feels comfortable — inviting to people of all ages, sexual orientations, abilities, family status, ethnicities and theological beliefs (or non-beliefs). To be not only accepted, but appreciated as you are, is non-negotiable.
Not complacently comfortable, though! A faith community should also help us feel challenged. My tradition, Unitarian Universalism, cherishes freedom of conscience and the responsibility of each person to engage his or her own spiritual journey. It’s important that a congregation provide opportunities to challenge our perceptions, learn from one another as well as from the wisdom of the ages and grow in our understanding of self and the complex, interconnected process that is life.
But a religious community has an ultimate purpose beyond itself. What’s the point of religion, if not to bring humanity together in a world of compassion, freedom and justice?
So here’s the single most important question I’d ask, especially if considering a religious environment for my children: Does this congregation support me in becoming a more loving, aware, compassionate person — including toward myself? Or do its teachings justify and empower my human tendencies toward alienation from the “other?” Am I learning to nurture the better angels of my nature, or am I encouraged to feel righteous about separating the saved from the unsaved, the believers from the nonbelievers?
Finally, you have to feel you might fall in love with this community! It will be your sanctuary in an all too fragmented world. Over the years you’ll come together to celebrate your joys and triumphs, mourn your losses and mark the transitions of a lifetime. You’ll laugh and cry together, explore the profound questions of life, and engage the pressing issues of the day. You’ll know you’ve found your people and your home.
— Send email to Jill Jarvis at email@example.com.
Look for closeness to God
Pieter Willems, senior pastor at Mustard Seed Church, 700 Wakarusa Drive:
The first and foremost thing I would look for is this: Will this place help me get to know God better? Through my association with this group of people will I find more of God and who He is? Is there a positive desire to discover how wonderful God is? Will I be challenged to grow in my faith?
Without this, church can easily become a social gathering with very little spiritual progress. If a church cannot stir excitement in you to follow God or an expectation of experiencing Him personally, why go? Church doesn’t exist for itself, it exists to bring people closer to God!
Secondly, after I had attended a church a few times, I would ask myself this question: Could this become home? Every church has a different character, heart and focus. And that’s OK! One church is not for everybody. So, when looking for a church, don’t look for a perfect one (there aren’t any because there are no perfect people). Rather look for one that you could make your home. Did you feel welcomed from the start? Is this a place where you could build friendships; a place where you can put your talents, experience and giftings to work; a place where you can agree and support the vision of the church; a place you would like to bring your friends to? Will this be a place you can call home!
— Send email to Pieter Willems at firstname.lastname@example.org.