2016-12-23 / Community

My side of the bridge

Tis the season for faith and healing
By Don Russell

WARNING: The following is a blatant attempt to increase church attendance and membership in our local communities over the next year, starting with me.

Would you be surprised to know that Maine is the least religious state in the country? The national Association of Religion Data Archives found in a U.S. survey that less than 28 percent of Maine’s population aligns with a religion. That score was also down by about 9 percent from when the research was done prior. Nationwide, the decrease over that same period was 2 percent. Wow. Our rate of decline in religion and all that comes with it (attending church, related giving, membership, etc.) is more than four times the national average. And if you also consider that statistics show that urban pockets survey far lower than rural areas, greater Portland could be considered the epicenter of the faithless in all of America.

True, faith is not all about religion, and religion is not all about faith. Maine also boasts very strong per capita research results in volunteerism, charitable contributions and the number of established not for profit organizations. That said, with nearly 20 listed churches and places of faith in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth alone, maybe it is in our best interest to buck the trends and find a second home. The time is right, we need it.

After the most contentious national election in our history, and overall bitter-laced divisiveness (from global issues right down to backyard pipeline lawsuits) that has scarred many a family and friend, a good church, whether you consider yourself spiritual, quasi-religious, willing-totry or none of the above, is a damn good idea.

Our churches can play a significant ongoing role to anyone and everyone in healing, in unifying, in loving and in providing the necessary touch points of common ground to enrich our daily best practices. It doesn’t mean it will be easy, that you have to “believe” or guarantee you will find more answers than questions. I speak from experience. Take for example, the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, on Meeting House Hill. They beautifully succeed in Wallenda walking an attendee profile tightrope through focus and maximum inclusivity.

The Rev. Cindy Maddox explains further.

“It can be a difficult balancing act between being prophetically political and being partisan. Our church is theologically progressive, so most of our members are politically progressive as well. However, those more moderate or conservative are still very much part of the community and their voices are valid and must be honored. But regardless of votes, we come together in the aftermath of the election to stand against the worst things that have happened during and in the wake of it. We condemn hatred in all its forms, particularly racism, homophobia and xenophobia. We come together to welcome all people of all backgrounds. Regardless of how our members voted, we agree on love.”

Can I hear an “Amen.” Love, kindness, goodness and some semblance of mutual respect for our opinions, freedoms and differences should be central to how we interact with each other, always. To poorly paraphrase Mary Poppins, our churches can play a pivotal role in how the medicine goes down. And this can take place while churches themselves struggle with positioning, to be more spiritual or religious, to be more political/activist or less.

“To many people the church has become irrelevant,” Maddox said. “If the church is to have a future, we must change this. We must be relevant by addressing the real needs around us. We must be relevant by improving people’s spiritual lives but also by improving their physical lives, and by working to improve the lives of everyone.”

Still not convinced to give it a try and put a church visit at the top of your 2017 resolutions? Here are some final attempts for us unchurched with my own personal bias I have rationalized in the past.

 Look past the book and believe only in what you feel. Bring some salt and don’t get too tripped up in the dogma or doctrine.

 You will be hard pressed to find any other group gathering where nobody checks their phone.

 The music, the quietness, the sense of something bigger that we explore and share in a moment of togetherness can be extraordinary. Relish that.

 Excellent preachers like Maddox can connect and activate you into personal growth and debate.

 Prayers may not be answered, but deep reflection, healing and profound hope can be revealed.

 Free hot coffee and homemade snacks. Say no more.

A simple Google search will provide plentiful options on either side of the bridge. For more on my favorite, please link to www.fccucc.org.

Don Russell is a local real estate sales agent with The Maine Real Estate Network, and founder of BrandME Marketing. He has lived in South Portland for 20 years. Contact him at don@brandme.net or send a letter to the editor to editor@inthesentry.com. His column appears in the Sentry once a month.

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