DCC News

 

Weekly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Dublin Community Church

 

February 15, 2008

                                                           

                                      

Much Ado About Aquinas

Some years ago I was to do a bit of phone-a-thon fund raising with Alumni/ae of my seminary. One of the people I was to call was an old friend who lived in the same apartment building with me in Berkeley. I hadn’t spoken to him in over 20 years since he lives in another state.

I phoned, I introduced myself, we renewed our friendship, talked about the old times and had a few laughs as we remembered certain professors from the seminary. Then I came around to the pitch for contributing to seminary fund.

He said, “No!” and then went into a long discourse about how he served a church in Wisconsin and someone in the church asked him about “Summa Theologica” by Aquinas and he didn’t know the answer because “our seminary didn’t prepare him properly” and therefore he was not going to contribute! (In all fairness to the seminary in Berkeley where we went, the seminary was a part of a nine seminary theological consortium and three of the schools were Roman Catholic Seminaries. One could study Aquinas all day for years in those three schools and many of the Protestant seminaries too. Evidently my friend did not avail himself of such scholarly opportunities.)

It occurred to me that I was probably not going to be in regular contact with this guy again after such an exchange, so I wished him well in life. I made a note on the seminary’s computer printout to “Never call this man again!”

A simple “No thank you, I don’t care to contribute at this time” would have been sufficient.

My second thought was, “what DO those church people in Wisconsin talk about?!” Saint Thomas Aquinas?? I could understand it if this guy was serving as a professor in a Roman Catholic seminary. A question on Aquinas would have been fairly understandable. But he served a Methodist Church!

I underestimated those Methodists. Aquinas and Summa Theologica! Indeed. I am impressed! I have served churches for lots of years and I don’t even recall anyone ever asking me how to pronounce “Aquinas”. Of course, I have served only UCC churches and fortunately no one has asked a complex question about Aquinas. I’ve had questions about Ted Williams, Caesar Chavez, the migratory patterns of loons, but nothing on  Aquinas.

So, what do UCC folks talk about if they are not discussing the finer points of theology as set down by the complex and wonderful Roman Catholic Theologian St. Thomas Aquinas?

To answer that, you should come to the New Member’s Enquirers Class.

We have a number of folks who wish to join Dublin Community Church and we gather for informal sessions to explore this church, our faith, our sacraments and what brings us to this point in our lives. I can say without reservation that these sessions are the best moments of my ministry. I love listening to where people are in their faith journey. I learn so much more than I impart.

 

Think about it. Tell me one place; any place that you can go and have a simple, heartfelt discussion about the things that hold you together? Things like God and a belief in Christ and perhaps share a story about a wonderful moment in your earlier life that involved your church. (Or perhaps something about your earlier church that still upsets you.)

No one ever asks you about your faith. I am not talking about an altar-call or revival where there can be real pressure to stand up and be counted. (Never mind that such things are extremely rare in UCC circles anyway.) How often can you sit with a dozen trusted people and say a few things about your faith and feel comfortable about others hearing you? How often can you question your own childhood faith and church, or ask questions of  this church that you are now about to join? How often can you do that?

I think the hot-button items like abortion and stem-cell research and gay issues and euthanasia and war and peace are essential to discuss in light of one’s faith. (I’ll be honest that many of those issues never have been hot-button issues for me, but certain vocal church bodies have grabbed them and presented them as “hot-button” and so now they are.) All of those topics and many more are important to be discussed. That is, indeed, the work of the church, to debate such issues. But for the New Member Sessions, the hottest topic tends to be along the lines of “Why do you have pew communion AND intinction? (and we have even debated whether it is intinction or intincture. The former seems to be the right word.)

“Why did you try Dublin Community Church in the first place” “What made you return for the second Sunday?” What made you decide to officially join this fellowship?” “When do you feel closest and farthest from God?”

Those types of questions. These are subjective questions. They are personal questions about your own faith. One of the things that usually surprises folks is that we have no set answers about how you should feel about God or communion. We don’t tell you how you should feel about your faith. If you want answers, we will be with you and help you explore. We will journey with your spouse and partner and children and answer what we can and keep alive the questions that you have, should there be no set answers. People are surprised at this. Frankly, we should convene these “new member” Enquirer Sessions for all members of our church. The discussions are just plain, flat-out the best thing going around here.

And I will readily admit that I have no answers whatsoever concerning Aquinas. This should come as no surprise. But I do know a Methodist Preacher in Wisconsin who has probably worked this one out. Or at least he has perfected his “Aquinas Excuse” for not contributing to the seminary.

Peace, Rev. Bob Tussing