EXPERIMENTS IN CHURCH
the story of fellowship
first ten years
J. Bruce Evans
"Fellowship was the hothouse in whose
closeness I first found life and sprouted leaves.
Fellowship was where I learned to live
in marriage, motherhood, friendship and as myself.
Fellowship taught me to bloom.
And how I love flowers."
A Former Member
1. Responses to Fellowship - From Outside
3. History: A Dream of Church
4. What's Wrong With Church
5. Experimental Premises
6. Experiments in Openness
7. Experiments in Ministry
8. Experiments in Theological Change
9. Inward-Outward Experiments
10. Experiments With Money
11. Experiments in Programming
12. Experiments in Growth Together
13. Organizational Experiments
14. Experiments in Politics and Missions
15. History by Date
16. Responses to Fellowship - From Members
RESPONSES TO FELLOWSHIP
A young minister writes:
"Fellowship Church raises a lot of questions in my mind. It makes me wonder whether a traditional church can ever really be much of a real church? I wonder is there any way to re-'form' a traditional church. I wonder do we have to start allover again? These questions are particularly pressing to me now that I am about to get out into the ministry full-time. I do not mind dying to self in order to follow Christ, but I am not sure that I want to deny self in order to give myself to an institutional church...What I want to say is that Fellowship Church makes me rejoice. What I feel like shouting is: Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! Here at last is one church I know of that is really awake!"
From a housewife:
"After discussing and observing (and sometimes criticizing) the apathy or posed religiosity in the churches we have visited here in the East, we want to be definitely committed in a small way to the supporting of Fellowship Church. We believe the new 'experiment' to be practical, realistic, vital, and Christ-centered. It is not easy to walk in the unknown and so many fear to be alone with Christ in any effort. Yet, without question, people are hungry and pastors seem thwarted. How sad when Christ came that we might be free of all that keeps us from Him."
A denominational executive writes:
"I want you to know that those of us who visited from the American Baptist Convention received more in the way of inspiration and fellowship than we could possibly have shared with your group. I was helped personally to a new appreciation of the price that some of you folks have had to pay in order to be true to your convictions when they run counter to the cultural and religious atmosphere and practices of the area. You have a wonderful group of people with whom to work and our prayer is that God will sustain you in your witness as you work your way through the kind of organizational structure and affiliations that will help you to be most effective."
From a mother:
"We enjoy the bulletin each week and wish we could share in the new church venture. Church organization, as we know it, is stifling and does not lend itself to the creative adventure of reaching others and bringing them to the liberating force of the love of the Savior. My husband and I appreciate your efforts and the faith to try something practical that reaches people in their individual daily problems and needs."
From a school teacher:
"We are excited about Fellowship and its program. It is just what we need with its emphasis on creativity in Christianity. I have felt for many years that there is a vast untapped source of spirituality in the creative processes of man which can be a major part of Christianity. Christianity has just got to be more than sin and damnation."
A pastor writes:
"A copy of the newsletter of Fellowship Church was mailed to me by a friend. I found it very interesting. Would it be possible to be placed on your mailing list? I am very interested in churches that are doing creative things and I would like to know more about Fellowship."
From a seminary student:
"Last week one of my professors asked me to see about mimeographing the sermon, 'Fellowship Church--Retrospect, Reality, and Prospect'. He was very impressed with the creative work that is going on there and would like other seminary students to be aware of this."
From a minister:
"Thanks for the exciting things I continue to get from Fellowship Church. There are a lot of new ideas floating around among the churches, and some very good ones in some quarters. But what they mostly amount to is new approaches to the same old thing; and it's the thing that needs the renewal, not the approaches. The breeze from Baton Rouge brings an occasional scent of a new thing, and it's that, lonely and isolated though it may be, that brings hope and encouragement into the dark recesses of the establishment. Thanks."
A minister writes:
"You know, you amaze me. My anxiety had you buried long ago; but the fact that you not only survived, but keep on thriving, gives me a valid hope for Easter."
From a denominational leader:
"The ministry of the Fellowship Church has been a source of continuing encouragement to me. There is a sense of life and vitality that is communicated in everything I read concerning the congregation.
A church staff member writes:
"Your church seems to be full of creative tension, vigor, and mission."
From a Catholic nun:
My association with you has been a refreshing experience. You have much to give and you did so, generously, in so many ways. To you we extend our sincere congratulations for your terrific Christian spirit and our thanks for sharing it with us. You have shown by your Christian love that day-by-day Christ-like living supercedes the sensational. May this priceless and rare element filter through to the lives of many people."
From a young person:
"Fellowship is one venture with which I never want to lose contact."
A couple writes:
"We would appreciate any lead to a similar church as Fellowship in the Houston area. Weighing and evaluating church and denominational life can be both frustrating and establishing. We have been praying for a new kind of church.
Dr. Harvey A. Everett, Associate General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches of the U.S.A. writes:
"As you may know, I have the privilege of receiving the mailing from Fellowship Church. Recently the excellent brochure on 'An Introduction' came through and I was very impressed with the statements of how Fellowship may be contrasted with the traditional church. These were exceedingly concise and moving statements. I wonder if I might purchase about fifty copies of this to share with area and executive ministers of the ABC? I think that they should see this kind of excellent material."
Down in the land of bayous, not far from the bank of the muddy Mississippi, in the capitol city of Louisiana, across the street from a National Food Store stands a small, unpretentious, red-brick building. A sign in front reads: Fellowship Church--An Ecumenical Community Focusing on Fullness of Life.
This azalea-surrounded building is the center of a ten-year experiment in the possibility of more realistic church in our time. Founded on the premise that church can mean more than it does for many, this group of persons has banded together to explore new dimensions of religious experience in community with one another.
In an era of denominational divisions, Fellowship has pioneered in ecumenicity. Members have gathered from many denominations--Protestant, Catholic, and Jew, plus some without religious background,--for worship, service, and to pursue the kingdom of God. The traditional divisions of beliefs and practices have been laid aside in the common quest for the good life. Before integration was acceptable in the South, Fellowship opened its doors to persons of all races and colors, as well as creeds.
Believing that most persons are concerned with the same goal, namely, fullness of life, the church functions on the premise that shared differences can be more productive than similarities in isolation. Moving beyond dogmas and identical patterns of living, the church has explored new frontiers in intellectual and behavioral freedom.
Belief in a list of doctrines is neither required nor expected. Members are encouraged to clarify their own beliefs rather than to accept those of others. Becoming a believing person takes precedence over any religious ideas. in a time when many are uncertain about their beliefs, Fellowship Church has become a laboratory for mental clarification. Both doubting and unbelief are acceptable, as well as staunch dedication to doctrines. In a context of freedom, both atheists and believers may encounter each other in an honest effort to work out their own beliefs. The minister functions as a guide in this quest.
In like manner, no single mode of behavior is championed as inherently right. Practicality is elevated over legalism. No feeling, thought, desire, or deed is judged to be virtuous or evil apart from its context and the motives behind it. Members are guided in becoming themselves and discovering the most practical ways to live, rather than directed to conform to pre-existing standards. In this ecumenical context, no religious ritual or form is considered innately sacred. The church freely utilizes different rituals and rites, always, striving to keep them the servant of the occasion.
Although members are free to think as they will about the possibilities of an afterlife--some believing in life after death and others convinced that "this is it"--the church focuses on fullness of life in the here and now. On the premise that one who enters the kingdom of God now need have no worry about as afterlife--whether there is or is not one--the church focuses an resurrection from the living death. Programs and ministries are designed to guide individuals in working out their own salvation in this present world, leaving any other world as lagniappe, or icing on the cake, rather than the main course. "Prepare to live" is the theme, rather than, "prepare to die."
Fellowship may be contrasted with the traditional church in the following ways:
Time and Place: Fellowship focuses on heaven now, in this world, rather than on an afterlife in another world. The goal is knowing God white one lives instead of only after he dies.
God: God is sought as the Ultimate in Reality, rather than a cosmic being outside of reality.
Man: Man is understood as a potentially unified being, rather than a soul residing in a body.
Sin: Escaping reality through assuming godhood is seen as the meaning of sin, versus thinking bad thoughts, saying bad words, or doing wrong deeds.
Salvation: The goal for individuals is becoming themselves and thereby knowing God, rather than securing a ticket to bliss in another world.
Beliefs: Whereas many churches exist around a basic core of beliefs, Fellowship has no such list. It is concerned with believing as a commitment of the whole person, rather than accepting and following certain ideas.
Behavior: No behavior is sacred in Fellowship. Discovery of a functional lifestyle is elevated over legalism. Rules are given as guidelines in the quest for freedom, not as sources of virtue.
Christ: Christ is considered a symbol for truth, life, and the way; personified in Jesus, but not limited to the Nazarene. Salvation is sought through coming to be in Christ, rather than by accepting or following Jesus.
Rituals: All rituals, forms, and structures are viewed as servants of man, never as masters. They are, therefore, freely revised, changed, or discarded as they cease to serve. The church is for man, not man for the church.
Pleasure: The traditional identification of fun with sin is discarded. Fellowship is pro-pleasure, for having a good time, in fact, the best time possible.
Politics: Seeing the world as the potential garden of Eden, Fellowship views political involvement as essential in responsible dominion over the created order.
Miracles: Fellowship is concerned with the mystery and miracle of life, rather than magical escapes from the laws and activity of nature.
Denominations: In. an effort to break down the walls of denominationalism, Fellowship is an ecumenical church--open to all. The name, Fellowship, was chosen from the Greek word, koinonia, meaning communion. Fellowship Church is a communion of persons seeking fullness of life. Since no large ecumenical framework is yet available, it remains independent and cooperates with other religious groups in areas of mutual concern. Baptist structures allow ecumenical association, so the church is affiliated with the National and World Councils of Churches through the American Baptist Churches of the U.S.A.
Membership: The church is open to persons of any race, color, creed, current or past condition, who are concerned with finding a better life. It focuses on a common quest, rather than on similar beliefs and practices.
Minister: The minister functions as a guide for persons working out their own salvation and as leader for the group, rather than as a religious father, church servant, or dictator.
Organization: The church is a completely autonomous body, functioning democratically with all church authority vested in those members willing to responsibly accept it. Any decision is only one monthly business meeting away.
Because of its unusual stance and approach to religion, Fellowship has been described in a local newspaper as "Baton Rouge's Non-Church Church." With a membership which has never exceeded one hundred active adults at any given time, it has quietly explored many avenues of church organization, programming, and practice. Traditions often considered sacred have been openly faced and evaluated. Some have been kept, others revised, and still others discarded.
During its ten-year history, some two hundred members have gone out to other cities in twenty-two states and three foreign countries. Four thousand guests have passed through its doors. Rejected by a local association of Baptist churches, it became the first church in Louisiana to be affiliated with both the Southern and American Baptist Conventions. It was the first Baptist-affiliated church to join the Louisiana Council of Churches. Pioneering in ecumenicity at the grass roots level, it has become one of the first churches in the South to openly invite and accept both blacks and whites, as well as Protestants, Catholics, and Jews into equal membership.
The church has been featured in articles in The Christian Century, the American Baptist Magazine, the Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate, and the Evangel, a publication of the American Baptist Churches of the South. It has been noted in Imperatives for New Church Development, published by the National Council of Churches. A description of the church appears in a new book by J. Russell Gayer, entitled, You Shall Know the Truth--The Baptist Story. Interviews with members have been included in Soundings II, Religion in the South, a national cassette tape publication. The church's tape ministry has been featured in Quest, a publication of the Division of Parish Development, A.B.C.
The spirit and stance of the church was expressed in the first newsletter on May 25, 1963, which began with the phrase, "Coming to Be," and concluded with this summary:
"Fellowship Baptist Church is indeed an experiment in the possibility of more realistic church in our times. We are setting forth to utilize the clearest insight we can muster for this creative endeavor--maintaining traditions which we perceive as meaningful and abandoning those we discern to be outmoded for our day.
"It is a venture in faith. To experience one's own experience and step forth on first-hand knowledge demands the risk of faith. Those willing to make this committal are invited to personal involvement in the Fellowship Church., a church for our time."
HISTORY: A DREAM OF CHURCH
Although its corporate existence began in 1963, Fellowship history reaches back some thirty years into my dreams. I was born in the church--almost literally. My regular attendance began when I was two weeks old. Since that time, I can count on one hand the Sundays I have missed, barring illness.
I grew up in the church. Most of the significant events of my childhood were either in, around, or because of the church. In the community where I spent my first seventeen years, the church was the dominant influence. Even school took second place when there was a conflict of interest, such as activities on prayer meeting night. Town functions and ordinances were all subject to church scrutiny, since the mayor was also a deacon. The beliefs and practices of this single church permeated the ethos of the town. Persons outside the church were viewed as "lost." They were all potential converts.
My social life revolved around the church. It gave our parties, planned our camping trips, and sponsored our scout troop. Its regular activities provided the structure for my time. Both where we went and what we did were fitted to the schedule and approval of the church. The church gave me direction in life and recognition when I followed its course-which I almost always did.
There I met the girls I dated, including the one I later married. And there I took them on dates. My courting was mostly at, or on the way home from, church activities. There I learned to sing, to speak before others, and to think about ultimate matters. I exercised my mind in memorizing Bible verses. I was rewarded for reciting them. I received approval for playing the guitar and trombone. At church camps I learned to swim, dive, meet people, organize programs, and discover myself.
My significant emotional experiences were related to the church. There I was converted. Them I cried. There I rejoiced. In the church I found adults who saw me as more than "just a kid." For whatever their reasons, they treated me like somebody. What I thought, said, and did, seemed to matter to them. It would be difficult to over-estimate the significance and influence of the church in my early life.
I left home to pursue an education in the field of engineering. Yet even in college the church remained central in my life. My personal activities were focused in the church. I was never far from its long shadow.
Army life following graduation, though certainly not inherently religious, never took me far from the doors or influence of the church. My religious ties became even stronger in this period when they are traditionally diminished or broken. It was during this time that I was called to the ministry. .
Now, to say that I grew up in the church is not to say that I was blinded to its flaws. At first assuming it to be perfect, I soon became aware of the gap between what the church is and what it is supposed to be. I saw hypocrisy. I recognized discrepancies between what church people appeared to be and what they often were. I knew that those who talked of love were often unloving. I realized that those trying to save others were often lost themselves.
Somewhere in the painful course of these realizations and disillusionments, a dream was born in the recesses of my mind. I had a vision of a church without hypocrisy and double standards. I dreamed of a community of people who were open, honest, and caring. I saw a church where people were being saved, instead of learning to pretend. I imagined a body of folk who took Jesus literally when he said, "The kingdom has come," and, "behold, the kingdom is within you." I dreamed of heaven on earth instead of only in the sky after you die.
I imagined a body of people who were acceptive rather than rejective, who were humble sinners-being-saved, rather than self-righteous saints who had arrived. I dreamed of a loving community where beliefs did not divide and legalism was not king. In brief, I dreamed of a church which was what I had imagined church to be in the days of my early innocency. When I was called to the ministry, my call was to my dream, not to the existing institution as it was. I was called to the church ideal, rather than the familiar organization on the corner of Main Street.
After the army, I entered the seminary to educate myself in the ways of professional church. I went to learn how to minister. At that time, I perceived the most accessible avenue to my secret dream to be through the door of working with youth. I thought the young would be most open to the sharing of my vision. I therefore accepted my first assignment as youth director in a five-thousand member church. Soon I learned that activity and programs based on old premises were inadequate. Re-education was needed. So I shifted my course and become director of education.
For a time, this seemed to be the most productive route to the fulfillment of the dream. Again, however, reality crowded in. I realized that the necessary type of education was too often unacceptable, inappropriate, or impossible, within the existing structures of the church. Recognizing the greater freedom of a pastor in shaping a local program as he wished, I determined to move in this direction. Leaving the educational field, I became pastor of a young, liberal, university church. With the freedom to shape both the program and preaching, I proceeded with due haste toward the activation of the dream.
Soon I recognized, however, that even in a liberal church many members were not only uninterested but also resistant to change in the structures they had known. Respecting their rights, I attempted a dual ministry within the one church. I organized programs which were pointed toward the activation of my dream, and continued traditional ministries as well. By alternating leadership with my assistant minister, I was able to successfully maintain the dual effort for some time.
Eventually, however, tensions developed between the old and the new. Those involved in the embryonic dream-church resisted the traditional structures. In turn, the more conservative members opposed the liberal activities. Perhaps an eventual harmony might have developed if the racial issue had not been posited into the scene. Yet it was.
With court-ordered-integration, the members could hardly avoid coming to grips with this immediate issue. The polarization already at work was magnified in the church. Liberal members wanted to stand behind integration. Conservative members resisted the change. A war developed.
Again, I faced a decision. I realized that the pursuit of my dream would be impossible until the fighting could be stopped, peace developed, and deep wounds could be healed. I agonized over my responsibility to this particular group of people and my dedication to a deeper dream. I weighed the prospects of making peace and rebuilding, against the possibilities of starting anew.
Certainly I preferred to pursue the dream within the security of an established church. Yet I did not know if this was possible. Would the old always squelch the new? Was it true that old wineskins can never contain new wine? If the racial issue had not been thrust upon us, would the division have come anyway?
Obviously a dual ministry to the dream and the establishment meant a division of my time, even if there had been no conflict. If I left the establishment I would leave its security, yet I would be free to devote myself fully to the dream. But could such a church exist and sustain itself in the real world? I did not know. I had never seen one. To be sure, it would be radically different from any church I had known before. Perhaps my vision was a pipe dream, possible only in my head.
Yet, I thought not. I believed my dream was valid. If it were or were not, I would never know until I tried with all my efforts. A half-try which failed in the established church would only prove that half enough is not enough.
Against this backdrop of indecision there were some who wanted to start anew, and others who certainly wished I would go--anywhere. Finally, out of the milieu of factors I reached a decision. I would pursue the dream. I resigned my pastorate. I cut the only visible tie separating me from the unencumbered pursuit of a dream born long before.
Now it, was sink of swim. I would follow my dream.
My Moment of Truth
I hover today on my moment of truth;
that precarious instant in the process of life
where temporal destiny totters
on the frail thread of human choice;
where the unlived future cries out
through the pangs of a labored birth.
I hover today on my moment of truth,
that timeless point in existence,
where decades yet unborn, shall return
in tomorrow-years and ponder through sleepless nights
the wisdom of the choice I now make.
Nor will they, 'neath the hoary hairs of experience,
be able to affirm with unquestioned conviction
whether l chose aright or fell prey to wrong,
for they, through their years, will recall
the trauma of decision.
They will view again the shadowy, vision which is now mine.
Through memory's eyes they will see the foreground;
cluttered with the forms and props of an older -age,
the once vital structures, bulwarks of safety,
still standing--but sterile and cold, filled with people
rushing hither and yon, seeking they know not what.
An atomic-aged people,
seeking radiation protection in forms built
to stave off stones and arrows.
A jet-aged people,
asking radar questions of a sunbonnet theology
and receiving repetitious evolution-aged answers:
A lost people,
seeking meaning to a crowded loneliness
in an organized society of washing machines, blue laws, rhinestones.
A sad people, laughing, worrying,
becoming more religious, filling more churches
while raping more and loving less.
And they will see again the graying forms
magnificently arrayed in ivy-covered tradition,
gloriously testifying of their steadfastness in an unsteady age;
oratorically proclaiming an unchanging truth
in a changing form;
valiantly but vainly trying to promulgate
an eternal message-cloaked in dying cultural robes.
These they will see--even as I do now.
And again, their hearts will be pricked
as they reach out with me to this crying, lonely people,
through the forms of an older age,
and realize the pain of failure
when the truth is unable to pierce the form.
And with sympathetic understanding they will know my deep desire
to fall in line with my brothers of the cloth,
to march arm in arm "like a mighty army,"
strengthened by their support,
comforted by their sympathy, and secure with the approval
of those who have followed the "higher calling."
With the amused detachment of the backward look,
they will see me now--hovering, hovering
between the clear-cut possibility of elevated status,
midst the graying, traditional forms.
And on the other hand, the shadowy vision of the
traditionally religious followers crying out in
the unspoken voices of the heart: "Is there no more than this?"
And as I hear them now
in the deep recesses of my own soul, I know
that my decision is already made.
Perhaps in the sleeplessness of long nights ahead
I shall ponder my path and long for my brother's approval,
but I shall arise in the morn and go forth
seeking--seeking to answer the heart's cry
through whatever form I may discover--always remembering
MY MOMENT OF TRUTH
WHAT'S WRONG WITH CHURCH?
For all that was right about the church as I knew it, there existed much that was, in my opinion, wrong. Although the church had maintained its allegiance to the ultimate issues of life, it had in practice fallen far short of its ideals. I believed it was failing to practice what it preached.
I perceived fundamental shortcomings in these areas:
1. Closed doors. Although the church preached one kingdom of God, in practice it was a very divided body. Its theoretically open doors too often turned out to be closed. This was abundantly clear in the racial area. I had sat with church leaders as they debated the most effective ways to keep blacks out of their services. I had known the pressures which come to those who advocated integration--the threats, abusive phone calls and name-calling. I had friends driven from their pulpits because of very moderate racial stands. My wife had been fired from teaching in the public schools because of a sermon I preached on integration. Even though progress was being made in integration in business and education, the churches remained the last, great bastion of segregation. Hotels, restaurants, and classrooms were opened when church doors were still closed.
But while these doors were being opened, I saw little progress in what I considered a far more significant area of closure--one which would remain, even after total racial integration. That was the more subtle closure of the church in the face of sinners. Although it was theoretically open to lost persons and verbally invited them in, I saw the silent walls of rejection which faced those who were in deepest need. The church which was saying, "Whosoever will may come," was unwittingly rejecting at the same time. The theoretically accepting community was often the most rejecting of all groups. For the openly lost person, the bar stool offered more community than the church pew. If blacks were rejected openly, sinners were even more brutally excluded.
Without realizing what had happened, the churches I knew had become bodies of self-righteous ones, the holier-than-thous. It was true that sinners were invited, but only as potential converts or prospects, expected to be immediately different. In other words, they had to change to be accepted. They were not welcome as they were.
Even those sinners already in the church knew this fact. When they gathered with the saints, they donned their best robes of righteousness. At church they pretended to be among the arrived ones. They acted like Christians, even when they knew it was an act. For many such false Christians, eleven o'clock on Sunday morning was the most insincere hour of the entire week. Somehow, they too knew it was not acceptable to be lost at church. The doors partially closed to blacks, were often completely closed to sinners of any color.
The third major area of closure had to do with other denominations and religions. Although all religious groups were theoretically working toward the same goals, the walls between so-called Christians were often impenetrable. I had grown up as a Baptist, thinking that all Catholics were lost and even Methodists were highly suspect. Although I had discarded this thinking, I still found myself in an organization which was closed to other fellow-travelers. A Methodist could not join my church, until he was re-baptised. Certainly no Catholic was acceptable, even a "good Catholic."
The doors of the church I knew were closed to blacks, to sinners, and even to my fellow Christians. I thought this was wrong. I believed that a truly loving community should be open to all.
2. Closed minds. Closely related was what I perceived as a second wrong. The church which 1 knew was focused on beliefs and behavior rather than on being loving. It was more concerned with "thinking right" and "acting right" than with being right. Indeed it seemed to equate the three. Being Christian appeared to be synonymous with behaving and agreeing with certain doctrines. If one "thought right" and "did right" it seemed to be of small consequence that he was an unloving person.
This focus on beliefs and behavior had resulted in what I observed as the "closed, mind" of the church and its members. The church seemed to exist around its beliefs and laws. Members were expected to agree with the accepted list of ideas and live up to the laws. Otherwise they were unacceptable. They could not really be in the community. Deviate beliefs had to be excluded or changed. Variations from the accepted behavior code were intolerable. Before any one was acceptable in the church he had to agree with the minimum list of beliefs and keep the basic rules.
Naturally this premise excluded all those in other denominations. They could not be in our church because they did not think as we did. Sinners were invited, but expected to agree with our beliefs before being accepted. Those with different life styles. or behavior patterns could join only after conforming to our rules. For example, in our church we had one way of baptising. One, could not join us without being immersed.
Even within the church the closed mind situation existed. One of the cardinal sins was doubting, that is, having intellectual uncertainty about any sacred doctrine. Deviant ideas were obviously unacceptable. Although honesty was verbally praised, intellectual dishonesty was more tolerable than honest doubt when related to church dogma. Any behavior contrary to the established rules and patterns quickly, resulted in emotional rejection, if not excommunication. Although we Baptists had no established procedures for official excommunication, we were effective in its daily practice.
The practice of love within the church was limited to those within the established boundaries of belief and practice. We loved those who thought and acted "right." Of course, we said we loved sinners too, but in actual practice it was predicated on their conversion to our ways of thinking and living. Only when they "shaped-up" were they actively loved and accepted. Inside the church it was "shape-up or ship-out."
As I understood Christianity, this situation was wrong. I thought the church should focus on being loving rather than on beliefs and behavior. To be sure, thinking and ways of acting are important, but I felt that the proper emphasis had shifted in the wrong direction. I thought that the church should be open-minded and acceptive, not closed-minded and rejective.
3. Other-Worldly-ness. In spite of its beliefs that "this is our father's world," and "the kingdom of God is within you," I saw a prevailing disinterest in this world and this time. The more appropriate theme seemed to be, "This world is not my home, I'm just a 'passing through." The "other world" received the major attention.
The after-life was more important than this life. Although lip-service was given to the theme of religion in life, the common practice seemed to be Sunday religion. The carry-over from the churchly man on Sunday to the business man on Monday was notably poor. The idea that "religion and politics don't mix" prevailed. Churchly interest in the worldly matters was largely limited to those points where the world touched the church (Sunday closing laws, etcetera). Ecology was of small concern to the church since the next world was the main interest.
The spiritual and the physical aspects of life were generally seen as two distinctly different categories. Naturally the church was to be concerned only with the former. As one deacon said to me, "You preachers ought to stick to spiritual matters and stay out of politics and business."
The watchword of the church focused on another world was "prepare to die." Prepare-to-live was only a minor theme. As I understood Christianity, this was wrong. I believed that the possibility of an improved after-life had tempted the church away from its primary concern, namely, fullness of life in the here and now. This world mattered to me, far more than any other world to come later.
4. Limited Concept of Salvation. The prevailing concept of salvation, in the church I new, involved getting a ticket to heaven after death. There were many variations on how to get there, but the central theme remained "are you ready to die?" In our church this involved "accepting Jesus" or being converted. In other churches it required allegiance to certain beliefs and practices.
The old Greek idea of a divisible man--body and soul--was still commonly accepted. Salvation was about "saving the soul," not the whole person. In practice, the procedure usually involved the repression of the body and its various capacities. Salvation was supposed to result from "denying self," interpreted. as physical appetites and expressions. The functional, if not the stated, goal was to negate humanity, rather than to become human.
In general, the church was against freedom and in favor of repression. Although it consciously espoused the cause of freedom, it was, in practice, commonly opposed to its expressions--freedom of belief, freedom of behavior, or freedom of pleasure. While theoretically promoting fullness of life it was often opposed to fun in practice. In the church there remained a deep-seated connection between sin and pleasure, as voiced in the common expression: "This is so much fun it must be sinful." Sexual freedom was particularly repressed.
In the church, salvation had become subtly intertwined with legalism of mind and body. Freedom was replaced by self-righteousness as the outstanding virtue. Presumably one would gain more in heaven from doing "what he was supposed to" (keeping the laws) than from becoming free. Unwittingly the church promoted spiritual martyrdom. Killing oneself spiritually (called "denying self") was elevated over becoming oneself. Instead of focusing on life, the church had become death-oriented. While talking about spirit, it most often succeeded in killing it.
I believed that its concept of salvation was too limited. Somehow, I perceived that the whole person had to be saved. Furthermore, I thought the arena of salvation was the here and now. I believed that "now is the accepted time; behold today is the day of salvation." In my dream church, salvation would involve the whole person being saved in this world.
5. Static Theology. Although the times had changed and the church had moved into the twentieth century, its theology had remained relatively static. Symbols which spoke to previous generations had often become impotent for modern man. The sun-bonnet theology was inadequate for the jet age, in my opinion.. Post-Freudian man was finding it increasingly difficult to explore life's meaning with pre-Copernican theological language. The church, as I saw it, by refusing lo up-date its symbols, was gradually pricing itself out of the thought market. Psychology was the pioneering discipline providing the thought categories for modern man's pilgrimage. Where theologians had refused to give man adequate symbols for pondering his life, psychologists had stepped in to bridge the gap.
Specifically, I thought the church had saddled itself with doctrines of God, Man, Sin, Christ, Satan, Resurrection, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven which were largely outmoded for the mentality of the day.
Not that the realities pointed to by the symbols had lost their meaning or ceased to exist, but that the static interpretations had rendered them ineffective. For example, sin was as real as ever, but the doing-bad-deeds concept was irrelevant to many twentieth century businessmen. Satan was still abundantly evident to the contemplative theologian, but the forked-tailed guy in the red suit was ludicrous to an individual in deep depression.
Certainly man was still pondering his identity, but Platonic concepts could never speak clearly after the discovery of the unconscious.
I thought the church faced a serious task in doing its theological homework. Yet I did not see it being done. My own efforts in this direction were well received by many laymen, but threw me into conflict with the church hierarchy. Although a weekly theological column I was writing in a state Baptist paper was apparently popular, it drew fire from the church powers, resulting in my assignment being dropped. Be that as it may, I thought the church was missing the boat in not up-dating its theological symbols.
7. Role of Minister. Ministering to persons in modern society was a function which I perceived to be fast slipping away from the traditional pastor. Psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists were stepping in to fill the void created by godly ministers who remained above the pains, fears, anxieties, depressions, and identity crises faced by their parishioners. The prevailing role assumed by ministers too often left them out of contact with the real concerns of their people.
Often I received calls from persons outside my church saying, "I wouldn't dare talk to my own minister, but I'm having this problem ..." If they were calling me, I wondered who my own people were calling. Something was wrong. Somehow the role of the minister needed to be revised. He must continue to represent religious truths,
but I thought he must also learn to be accepting and accessible. I believed that the prevailing role of the minister needed radical revision.
7. Religious Magic. Although religion and magic are always intertwined in practice, I thought the church was being excessively attentive to magic while remaining generally inattentive to reality. I perceived the religious pilgrimage as the personal move from the child's world of magic to the adult world of reality. Whereas the church must accept the belief in magic, and even engage in its practice at times, I thought the prevailing allegiance should be to reality.
In practice it seemed to me that the traditional church was catering to magic instead of seriously attempting to wean its members. All too commonly, God was presented as the super-magician, Jesus as his local helper, the Bible as the magic book, and prayer as a magic word to release God's powers. In salvation the emphasis was being placed on a miraculous event, rather than the laborious process involving "fear and trembling."
I thought this was wrong. It seemed to me that parishioners needed more guidance in facing reality, instead of continued sanction in escaping it.
8. Outward Focus. Religious experience, as I understood it, had two thrusts--inward and outward. One must be saved himself--the inward thrust, and be involved in positive moves in life--the outward thrust. Yet as I saw the church in practice, I observed almost total focus on the outward venture and no serious attention to the inward quest.
It seemed to me that the church had gotten so involved in trying to save the world that it had forgotten about its own salvation. Churchmen had become so immersed in the ethic of helping others that they often felt guilty in giving any attention to themselves. The natural fear of the inward journey was often played on by the church as a means of promoting its current causes.
Although good sometimes came from the church's mission efforts, I saw two serious drawbacks: (1) Persons using outward activity, with the usual praise it brings, as an escape from the necessary inward journey, and (2) The church's unwitting sanction of avoiding inwardness through its elevation of mission work. Furthermore, I saw no serious work being done by the established church to develop programs and materials designed to guide in the inward quest. In short, I thought the necessary outward-inward balance was tilted much too far in the missionary direction.
Of course, these eight observations of the organized church were my own limited opinions. Whether or not they were valid, and shared by others, yet remained to be seen. More significantly, the question of how to correct them troubled my dream of church.
After resigning my pastorate, I took my family and went home. That night, eighteen members of my former church gathered in our den. For several hours we discussed what had happened, the successes and failures of the churches we had known, and our own hopes for church. I told them about my dream and my desire to pursue it anew. I told them what I thought was wrong with church and how I wanted to explore new ways of becoming a relevant Christian community. The possibility of an experimental church fascinated them too. In varying degrees, they shared my dream. We parted in the wee hours of that spring night, ten years ago, determined to activate a dream and conduct what we thought to be needed experiments in church.
Organizational meetings were held on two Saturdays in May. Before a month had passed, fifty provisional members were enlisted and nine hundred dollars a month pledged. Fellowship Church was born. Now I had both freedom and limited support to pursue my dream. I could conduct the experiments which I thought pertinent in organized church. Four basic premises would underlie our efforts:
1. The Kingdom Now. "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." (Mark 1:14-15)
"The kingdom of God is come upon you." (Luke 11:20)
When the Pharisees pressed for an answer to the question of "when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and.. said...behold the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21)
"Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2nd Corinthians 6:2)
In spite of the traditional focus on a future kingdom, I believed that the Bible clearly pointed toward the kingdom now. We would base our experiments on this possibility. Instead of focusing on some other world, we would direct our attention to this present world. Instead of waiting for heaven in an afterlife, we would attempt to work out salvation in the here and now. We would try to help bring in His kingdom in this universe. This-world-ism would be our theme. My ministry and preaching, plus our programs and activities, would all be geared toward the possibility of heaven on earth, the kingdom now.
2. Salvation Through Being Human. I had seen the results of attempts at salvation through the negation of humanity. In my own life, and in the lives of many other church people who had come to me for counseling, I had known the frustration of attempting to know God by becoming godly. Contrary to this traditional approach, I had also learned something about a strange paradox. When I had moved toward my own humanity, apparently away from the godly ways in which I had learned to act, an unexpected result followed. Instead of the fires of hell which I had expected, I began to catch glimpses of God in the here and now.
As my counselees explored their humanity, contradicting the godly ways they had learned, the same paradox occurred. Rather than leaving God and becoming less religious, I observed that some were discovering God personally for the first time in their lives. Was the paradox valid? Had I been wrong in my attempts to find God through negating myself? Could it be that the path to God lay in the valley of humanity, instead of in the clouds of godliness?
When Jesus said, "Be ye therefore perfect," could he have meant for us to be ourselves completely, to embrace every human capacity, rather than to strive for an ethical and moral perfectionism? Was he saying, "Be your-selves fully;" rather than "Behave-yourselves perpetually"? Could he have meant, "Be natural," rather than "Act unnaturally"? Was his message, "Be human," rather than "Imitate God"?
In spite of what I had learned at church up to that time, my own experience confirmed the former meaning. I believed that acting righteously led to self-righteousness. The only salvation I had known or seen had resulted from humanity embraced rather than from self-negation.
In this new church we would explore further the possibility of salvation through being human. Our experiments would be based on the premise that we know God through becoming ourselves. Our programs would be designed to implement this process. My preaching would be based on this theme. Ministries would guide in this personal pilgrimage. We would seek resurrection from the living death, rather than waiting for resurrection after physical death.
3. Function Over Form. The traditional church I knew had often been trapped in its own forms and structures. Established thought forms resulted in a type of religious prejudice which was often more binding than secular prejudices. Behavioral patterns, once violable and subject to change, had become rigid and unbending. Ways of doing things had become so entrenched as to be considered more sacred than the life they were originally intended to serve. Forms had taken precedence over function. Religious prejudice was often considered a virtue, religious activity had become inherently righteous, and religious rituals more important than spiritual experience.
In this new church we would reverse this trend. Placing our emphasis on practicality rather than tradition, on people rather than procedures, we would elevate function over form. The guideline would be, "Does it work?," rather than, "How has it been done?" We would elevate thinking over beliefs, living over legalism, and experience over rituals. We would view no idea, no behavior pattern, and no ritual as inherently sacred, apart from its usefulness to those who participated. We would evaluate our traditions in the light of today, keeping those which served us, and abandoning those we discerned to be outmoded.
As best we were able, we would attempt to keep sacredness in the realm of human experience, never transferring it "out there." We would honor function, not forms. Remembering that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," we would strive to keep the programs serving the people, not the people the programs.. This would be one church for man. We would use forms and honor people, rather than using people to honor forms. Our undergirding premise would be, "Is it functional for us at this time?"
4. Freedom Over Law. Although many things can be accomplished by force, I had found that spiritual birth and growth could not be. As I had observed them in myself and in others, they must always be freely chosen. In fact, legislated goodness seemed to work in reverse. Those forced to "be good" often seemed most resentful and bitter. I had learned to fear the wrath of the self-righteous. Those compelled to act loving were often the most unloving, behind the veneer.
I concluded that since spirituality must apparently be freely chosen, the church should strive diligently to maintain conditions of freedom. If it could not legislate goodness, then it should seek to maintain optimum circumstances for its development. In a society often bound by laws and rules, the church should be a community where a pilgrim had the freedom to explore his own beliefs, seek his own life-style, and choose his own spiritual path.
Laws would be needed to maintain the circumstances of freedom, but legalism should not become god in the church. Laws, like all other forms, should be kept as servants, rather than allowed to become masters. As I observed the traditional church, the reverse situation often existed. Instead of a place for freedom, the church often became the strictest form of bondage. I was determined that this new church would not elevate laws over persons. On the premise that spiritual development must always be freely chosen, we would champion freedom. Preaching, programs, and practices would be designed to facilitate growth through freedom.
With these four guidelines in the background--the kingdom now, salvation through being human, function over form, and freedom over law--we would conduct our experiments in church. We proceeded to organize, establish a basic program, look for a meeting place, and explore new ways of being the church in our day.
EXPERIMENTS IN OPENNESS
"I was very much turned off to church. The first time I went to Fellowship, three years ago, I went to a workshop. I did not go to church. I went to a workshop. And I still have a great deal of difficulty. Sometimes I'll be sitting in the service and I'll think, gee, I can't believe I'm in a church, you know, sitting here listening to a preacher, an actual preacher."
"Just as you are" has been the invitation. One who was exploring the drug culture said in amazement, "You mean I can join like I am!" He did, and found acceptance. A black man in jail, accused of attempted murder, was accepted. Originally, the church expected members to be baptised in some form. This requirement was soon dropped. Other church ordinances and traditional rites have been practiced, but have never been required for membership.
This, openness of belief and practice has allowed the church to become a truly ecumenical fellowship where persons of many religious and denominational persuasions can worship together. Because Baptist tradition allowed local autonomy, the church originally carried the name, Baptist. However, the exclusiveness of local Baptist practices caused misunderstanding, and the name was dropped. Members have come from the Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Unitarians, Church of Christ, and Jewish faiths.
After attending services for several weeks, a man who was a Jew called me aside one Sunday and asked if a person had to be a Christian to belong to Fellowship Church. With tongue-in-cheek, I answered, "No," wondering if a person had to be a Christian to join any church! He presented his membership request and was accepted.
Sexual discrimination has never been knowingly practiced by the church. Both males and females have always been eligible for any church position. The first officers included both a senior deacon and deaconess. The present chairman of the diaconate is a woman.
This stance of openness has resulted in an unusual diversity of membership. The major internal contribution has been the stimulus for individual growth. In organizations where members generally think and act alike, acceptance of one another is relatively easy. Differences of belief and practice call for continual re-examination of one's own doctrines and life style. Accepting and loving those who are different in color, creed, or behavior, demands the regular stretching of one's concern. The diversity in Fellowship Church has provided the initiative for an unusual amount of personal growth. I have never known a religious group with the tolerance for difference evidenced among these people.
Freedom to openly examine one's true beliefs with an accepting group has resulted in clarification of thought. Freedom to doubt has led to honesty in belief. The continual presence of those with contrary ideas has resulted in the rejection of dishonest beliefs accepted from others, the sharpening of personal thought, and the development of deeper convictions.
"Fellowship Church was an opportunity for me to freely question some theories that were taught to me as truth in a conservative church environment. I think this process in a caring fellowship allowed me to reinforce the worthwhile values I had learned in church and reject only the values with which I disagreed, rather than reject the church as a whole. The Fellowship experience along with subsequent experiences has helped me develop a philosophy and life style in which my behavior is usually consistent with my values. I am most grateful for those who had the courage to begin Fellowship."
"Conventional, church offers our only source of fellowship where we presently are--and its much the same as we had known before. It's exhausting when no one else thinks it's anything but heresy to raise a question in regard to some things that are very
difficult for me. I covet the opportunity that belongs to those in Fellowship Church and wish this could be our experience too."
"We had a couple come over last night to visit us from a church we visited two weeks ago. It was a small church, close to our home, and we were anxious to go and see how it would be. I don't know how to tell my impressions. The pastor was a man whom I've never seen or heard anything like before, nor do I ever want to again. He screamed so loud that it really scared me. I was sure he'd have a heart attack before his sermon was over.
"The message itself was really something. My husband could hardly keep his seat. I think the subject must have been the great power of God. He brought out how we should pray to God to bring down fire on the many evil things in this city. I really thought this was something for him to say. The more he talked, the more I became upset that I'd never be able to belong to another church again.
"This couple last night made me realize one thing. Fellowship Church has done something for us. I believe it is good, but I imagine the couple must really have some ideas about us. It amounts to this: Instead of just listening to this man's great testimony of how he became saved, and agreeing with every word he said (as we probably would have done)--especially since we're new and eager to meet people --we spoke up for our own beliefs, and disagreed with him openly without even realizing it, I suppose. As you know, my husband is not out spoken unless he is pretty sure of himself. At least, he never has been. But I was really amazed at the way he carried on the conversation last night. It's a wonderful feeling to believe something for yourself, and not because you've been told to believe it. Maybe this is part of the freedom you've told us about. I hope so, I really do."
The freedom to explore different lifestyles in an accepting context has led to greater personal honesty, the abandoning of masks and roles, and the discovery of more authentic ways of living. The acceptance of rebellion within the church, a situation which commonly requires one to leave established religion, has resulted in much individual development through this stage of growth. Encountering others who live differently has caused many to re-evaluate their own rules and habits, often leading to a more conscious philosophy of life. For example, marriages have been strengthened as spouses related to those in the divorce process. Sexual roles have been confirmed through the encounter with those who are different.
The ecumenical stance has allowed the church to more clearly represent the Christian witness of "Whosoever will may come." An honest atheist who was seriously searching for salvation said, "I have never had the chance to honestly discuss my disbelief with those who believe and yet accepted me as I am."
Without the usual denominational drawbacks, the church has been able to cooperate with many other religious groups on projects of mutual concern. It has been able to maintain affiliation with the American Baptist Convention without sacrifice of its own independence. As an autonomous body, the church has freely selected the most appropriate literature available from various denominations.
"The size of a group is not the essential element; it is the depth of consciousness towards which these persons are striving which makes the group effective as Fellowship is today. My life has been touched in a positive and beautiful way in my association with you since the summer of 1966. Your weekly newsletter keeps me posted on your constant Christian effort to be fully human. This gives me support in my own effort as we are searching for the deeper meaning of life together. To say that the eight weeks spent at Fellowship was a good experience is an understatement. I was there as a teacher, but I learned much more than I taught.
"Your Christian community made all this possible for me and the seventy-two Headstart children, five teachers and four aids. The attitude of self-giving among your community was very forceful in a quiet and unassuming way. I felt accepted as a person, as a Roman Catholic sister in a religious garb working in a Baptist environment. The refrain in my mind and heart was--the kingdom is here. To see diversity and unity is a beautiful thing.
"Congratulations on your continued effort to be for others as the Risen Christ is for us."
Of course, openness has also had its practical drawbacks. Initially, openness to persons of any race proved threatening to many. The presence of blacks in a predominantly white church was unacceptable to a large segment of southern whites. The label, "an integrated church," resulted in a bad image which, no doubt, kept many away.
When the Fellowship applied for membership in a local, all-white association of churches, other reasons were given for the rejection, but racial overtones were evidently involved. At on integrated conference on The Place of the Church in the World, reported members of the Ku Klux Klan were noted recording the license plate numbers of participants.
Openness also had a reverse effect on militant blacks. While they attempted to force integration and were bodily rejected from many churches, they seldom attended this one which was open to them. Although the Fellowship has always been open and has regularly entertained black guests, speakers, artists, and musicians, few have chosen to join. Considering this fact and the whites' earlier, prevailing fear of belonging to an integrated church in the South, I conclude that the open racial stance has been a spiritual blessing for those involved, but a practical disadvantage in the beginning.
The open theological stance has also proved threatening or unacceptable to many. Customarily, people consider the beliefs of a particular church and then join if they agree. This has, of course, been impossible in Fellowship. To the often-asked question, "What are the beliefs of Fellowship Church?," I have had to reply, "That depends on who you talk to. We have no official doctrines." Most such questioners have never encountered such a church before. When I have a chance to explain, the response is normally positive. However, some find the freedom to explore their own beliefs an excessive freedom.
"Conflicting views make it difficult for me to share wholeheartedly in the spirit of, or responsibility to, Fellowship Church. I should like to request that my name be taken from the records as a member."
The local association of Baptist churches also found this position unacceptable. Two of the stated reasons for rejecting the church's application for membership were that we had not adopted "the articles of faith" or "the church covenant."
Inside the church, this freedom of belief has also been threatening for some members, particularly at crisis times. Traditionally, many have come to depend on their beliefs--that is, to lean on them in difficult times. For example, the belief that "God takes care of his own" may be a source of stability in a crisis period. Persons who feel free to be "without a God" during fair weather often want to lean on this belief during a storm. Instead of beliefs being an expression of their own experience, they are unproven religious hopes which the church is expected to help them maintain through continual reinforcement. Some have turned away when they have not received this support from the church.
Others have experienced difficult personal times as they worked through their own belief systems, discarding unfounded ideas and admitting their true beliefs. This has proved difficult in family relationships when the beliefs of grown children in Fellowship emerged as different from those of their parents. For example, a minister's child, then in his late twenties, experienced a rejection from his family when he openly faced the fact that he disagreed with the idea of the virgin birth of Jesus and other beliefs held sacred by his father. Although I weigh these events as positive in the long run, in the course of`becoming intellectually honest, they have often proved difficult at the time for the persons involved.
After experiencing the openness of Fellowship, moving to other churches has been difficult for some, as noted in the following letters:
"Having found nothing here that compares in any way with what we experienced in Baton Rouge; we are, I fear, 'unchurched....' and a real challenge to our Christian friends."
"I am unsatisfied with things as they are. I have attended different kinds of churches but I am always disappointed. I'm just about ready to give up on organized religion. I was wondering how things are at Fellowship. Does it still exist? I know that when I attended, there were supporting members who did not attend and received sermons and bulletins by mail. I would like to become a supporting member."
"Two years have passed since we moved here and we still haven't found a church which fills our needs. Notwithstanding, we feel some obligation to affiliate with a church here for both our benefit and that of the children."
"The value of a church dedicated to freedom of ideas was first demonstrated to us by Fellowship, and the value of a whole denomination based on freedom has been demonstrated by our Unitarian group here. I don't know how many other ex-Fellowship members are rattling around in other towns trying to find something to do on Sunday, but if it weren't for this group, we still would be."
The acceptability of various forms of behavior has proven to be one of the most significant elements in the open stance of Fellowship Church--both positively and negatively. The positive factors focus in the area of individual growth. Persons who have never been able to be honest about themselves in other church situations, have risked facing themselves openly in Fellowship. I think this step is crucial in' the salvation process. Although it may prove problematic at the time, the long range results are predominantly positive. I have observed more progress in the lives of individuals who are working out their own salvation here than in any other church context in my acquaintance.
"This afternoon I rested and then watched one of nature's great shows--a thunderstorm, complete with driving rain. From my den you can really be a part of it. I genuinely love the rain. In church this morning, your asked if and how Fellowship has freed us. I could say so much about how Fellowship has made life so much better for me. Today I squeezed the hand and looked into the crying eyes of a friend as she told us bye; I brought myself so completely to that storm. I am thankful for the part Fellowship has played in freeing me from a life-style where the moments went by with far less fulfillment."
On the negative side, the freedoms embraced by members of Fellowship, have often proved threatening to others, resulting in a bad public image. For example, members sometimes bring their coffee into the worship services. Guests accustomed to viewing a service as innately sacred have sometimes responded negatively. That some come barefooted has also bothered those accustomed to always dressing formally for church. From such small incidents, rumors have a way of growing. Recently, l was asked to tape a radio interview for a local station. Afterward the station manager followed me out and laughingly said, "Say, you don't have horns after all!" Then, with obvious hesitation he, said, "May I ask you a question? Do you all wear bathing suits in church?"
Because many people are influenced by such rumors, I believe that this freedom, from which they grow, has hindered the expansion of Fellowship. On a more realistic level, openness to various life styles has proven legitimately threatening to those accustomed to using the church as a distant conscience. Commonly, the church is very legalistic, establishing rules and condemning violators. This rigid stance is helpful in supporting one who does not trust himself. Although many churchmen, who have grown up with this support, wish to rebel and be free, they are untrained in freedom. When presented with circumstances of freedom, they may be initially pleased, but find themselves threatened in the long run. Since Fellowship Church has sided with freedom over legalisms, those requiring rigid behavioral rules have sometimes missed this support.
Difficulties within the church have also occurred because of this openness. Because members have been at various stages of growth, some more rigid than others, the degrees of freedom embraced by the more flexible have troubled the legalistic, and vice versa. In exploring their capacities to be free, members have at times gone too far, both for themselves and their fellow members. Conflicts have arisen within families, within the church, and within individuals. Eventually, most of these conflicts have proven productive, but at the time they have occasionally been traumatic.
Accepting rebellion has created difficulty in church financing and church work. Although the rebellion which many feel is toward the churches of their childhood, the same feelings have sometimes been projected on Fellowship. For example, a person who grew up with a sense of compulsive duty to the church, will naturally reject this compulsion as he works at his salvation. If he tithed compulsively, he will often be unable to separate his compulsion from his present church giving. The result has been that such growing persons explore their freedom by cutting their contributions to Fellowship. So it has been with work. Those who have done church work in the past, out of a sense of duty, have often rebelled against working in Fellowship. Because these freedoms are acceptable in the framework of the church, it has often suffered financially and gone in need of workers.
In spite of the difficulties resulting from openness, I think the positive results far outweigh the negative.
"After four years: A big freedom I have found here. For the first time in my life, I have found that my way of living--my life style--and my religion do agree. Wow! Fellowship Church has come as naturally to me as the feeling of my own skin. Fellowship is like being in a cheery, warm room, seated in a comfortable chair with a lamp casting a strong glow on the pages of a companionable book."
"What has the church meant to me? Freedom to be myself and not feel guilty about having so much fun just living.
"The relief of realizing that I didn't have to know all the answers.
"A fresh breath of air in a very rare altitude where the view is magnificent.
"Finding a completeness in each minute.
"A savoring of each event, striving for the glimpse of the eternality of it, and getting deliriously drunk over the intoxication of it.
"The Heaven of the here and now (I never could imagine being anything but bored with the old one.)
"A lot of frustration over so many miles between us."
"If reminds the a lot of the way I felt one time. Some pine siskins came to our feeding station one winter. They fought and scrapped amongst themselves and I thought they were a quarrelsome lot. And then one day 1 stood under the feeding station and held out my hand with some feed in my palm and one flew down and perched on my finger and fed. The faith of that bird touched me as nothing had ever before, and I'll never be the same again in the way I think about siskins or anything or anybody."
EXPERIMENTS IN MINISTRY
I'm not bad mouthing
(and all that goes with it)
It's gonna be'
('cause folks need it all
and will have what they want"
I'm just saying
it's not the ministry for me
the dead and dying
(No matter how old they are)
and being their magician
if that's what one wants to do
but not me
I like live
Role of Minister
In recent years the traditional role of the minister as the authoritarian man-of-God, high and lifted-up above his parishioners, has eroded and in many instances vanished. The pious, de-humanized preacher of earlier years removed his
clerical collar, started smoking and drinking openly, and began embracing his own humanity. Street language came into the pulpit; Playboy came into the manse; the minister moved into the world.
Laymen and clergy moved closer together. Golf-playing ministers began socializing with parishioners. They invited him to their parties and he welcomed them to his cloister. He joined their fraternal clubs and they began reading theology. The middle wall of partition came tumbling down. Some laymen became so religious, and some ministers so human, that the distinctions vanished or even reversed.
As I began my ministry with Fellowship Church, I was somewhere to the left of center in this general change. I had moved out of the holy-man role, toward becoming human, yet had remained more authoritative than most of my liberal friends in the ministry. I was well aware that the older role left much to be desired. The godly priest was too far removed from his parishioners to facilitate the open sharing of their burdens and problems with him. Yet, at the same time, I saw serious flaws in the emerging role of the buddy-type minister. Although many laymen had acquired theological knowledge and religious sophistication, they still evidenced need of a spiritual shepherd. Whereas the new role placed the minister among his people, somehow he seemed to be abandoning his shepherding function.
My first experimental change was to move further to the left, toward greater humanity. I concluded at the time that the problem was still too much authoritarianism. The minister had become more human, but not yet human enough with his people. I thought that the functional role would be for the minister to abandon all protective authority and become a fellow-pilgrim with his people. If they could be involved with a companion-struggler, one who faced the same problems they did, openly and with. them, then their progress should be easier. I determined to become a layman among laymen, a minister among lay-ministers. My primary distinction would lie in the fact that the group would pay me a salary so I could devote my full time to our common task. We would minister to one another as we attempted to work out our salvation in proximity.
Accordingly, I posited church leadership on them. I placed the responsibility for the progress of the church in their hands. The moderator was a layman. The organization would move only in proportion to their willingness to lead and cooperate together. At the same time, I quietly joined their ranks more completely. While still serving as their minister in the traditional ways, I became like one of them. I shared my own problems with them, looking to them to minister to me, as I did to them. I became their friend. I partied with them, played golf and fished, told jokes and danced. My clay feet were openly exposed.
For three years I experimented with this role. Many positive results ensued. Laymen, who had never had occasion to know a minister personally, appeared pleased to discover that the preacher was really human. This encouraged them to more openly accept their own humanity. After all, if the preacher had problems, surely they could too.
By having leadership thrust upon them, many developed quickly in areas which might otherwise have taken years. The experience was unquestionably positive for me. Being human with them taught me to be more acceptive of them.
In spite of these positive values, the negative results seemed to outweigh them. The dual role of minister-friend was obviously too much for some. They could not adjust to both and so took the easy way out by seeing me only as a friend. Some were able to say, "Your humanity is just too much for me." Others silently withdrew. The church also suffered from lack of leadership. When I did not supply the direction which some wanted, they simply sat and waited.
Finally I realized that a change in my role was in order. I had already rejected being godly. Now I found that being more human was not the answer either. The emerging possibility seemed to lie in a wedding of the two. Although the dictionary definitions are opposites, I was becoming aware of the possibility of functioning as a "godly-human," a clay-footed authority. Perhaps "professional" would be an appropriate name for the role I was discerning.
Then, without abandoning the humanity I had embraced during this period, I set about to re-accept the earlier authority which I had laid aside. I would try the role of an authoritative human, one who was no better than his people, was not above them in any way, yet who always functioned responsibly with them. This was an entirely, new, possibility for me. I knew how to act godly; I knew how to be human. Could I also learn to function as a human authority? Searching for guidance in this new direction, I turned to re-study the ministries of Jesus and Paul in the New Testament. A careful review of each recorded encounter between them and their followers seemed to confirm my tentative direction. Two statements from each of them struck me with particular force.
Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men hold them in subjection, exercising authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you" (Matthew 20:25-26).
Yet it was said of Jesus that "he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:29). I began to perceive a distinction between being authoritative and authoritarian. The scribes did have authority. I imagined that they may have been authoritarian like the godly preachers I had known in the past, "lording it over them." On the other hand, Jesus, having no local authority, taught them "as though he did." He must have been authoritative without being lordly. This was the balance I would seek to find.
John recorded Jesus as saying on another occasion, "I do not condemn you either...," and, "You set yourselves up to judge... I do not set myself up to judge or condemn or sentence anyone" (John 8:11, 15). The church authoritarians I had known certainly had not been hesitant to judge or condemn. Indeed they had functioned primarily as the group-conscience. Around these holy men, one had to be on guard, watching his language and step, lest he got caught. Before them one must put his best foot forward, showing his better self only. Because they were judges, condemning evil feelings, thoughts, words, and deeds, one had to "act good" in their presence. Naturally one was hesitant to be honest around those who kept score of sins.
Considering Jesus' response to the adultrous woman and thosewho condemned, I determined to set forth on a ministry devoid of judgment. As best I could I would avoid criticizing or condemning by word or attitude. I would function as an accepting one, around whom parishioners could feel safe to bring both their best and worst selves. I would be an authoritative person who declined the role of judge.
Two statements of Paul seemed pertinent to me in this direction. He had said to those in one church, "I urge and implore you, be imitators of me" (I Corinthians 4:16). My previous life with my parishioners would only partially allow me to repeat him. Often I would be forced to say, "Do as I say, not as I do."
If I followed this guide I would have to make radical changes in my role. Instead of forcing my fullest self upon them, my intimacy at any time would be bounded by my freedom to say, "Be like me." When I could not be an example, I would remain apart. I would always accept them, but never expect or require their acceptance of threatening aspects of my own humanity. I would be friendly with them, but no longer would I be "a friend." Friends are honest and accepting, but often they cannot say, "Imitate me." Nor do friends carry authority with one another. If I were to become authoritative and set an example, I could function in a friendly manner, but never could I be "just a friend" with my parishioners. My friendships would have to be outside the church.
Paul had also said, "Owe no man anything, but to love one another" (Romans 13:8). In relation to my ministry I recognized that I would have to become independent of those I served. If I were indebted to them, if I "owed them anything" except my love, I would not be free to be responsibly authoritative. I could not be dependent on them in any way. Although receiving my pay from them, I must always be emotionally independent of them. I would have to be more like a doctor in private practice than a teacher employed by a school board. At any given point in my relationship with a parishioner or the entire congregation, I would have to stand equally ready to say "Hello" or "Goodbye." I could neither be owned or indebted, if I were to love them.
At this point, I recognized the weight of Jesus' statement that he had come "not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (Matthew 20:25). In my old role I had tried to combine the functions. Henceforth, I would separate the two, limiting myself within the church to ministering.
Seven years later, I look back on the personal struggle involved in facing my failures in the initial role I had chosen, the difficulty in deciding to change, and the continual challenges in becoming a professional minister. Although it has not been an easy route, it has been rewarding. Based on the changes I have seen in the lives of parishioners, the survival and stabilizing of the church, and my own satisfactions in my work, I think my decision was correct.
I do not consider myself to have fully arrived at professionalism. At times I step back; at other times I choose to reject the role. Even so, I am convinced of its functionality in achieving the goals which seem most pertinent to me in the church, namely, the salvation of the people I serve and the extension of His kingdom.
Most often I am with them as their minister, as one who accepts them as they are, yet always represents the higher way. I function mainly as one who points toward a better life and guides those wishing to find it. I never force or pressure anyone to enter or remain in the pilgrimage. My parishioners are always free to begin or cease the spiritual quest. Through preaching, I define the path as clearly as I can. I invite my hearers to pursue it, but the choice remains theirs. I am glad when they do, sad when they do not, yet accepting of their choice.
I am human with them, yet I never make a display of my clay feet. They are obvious enough to those who look. I am friendly, yet I never become the kind of friend one can have or own. As best I can, I never cease to represent reality with them. While accepting their escapes without judgment, I encourage them not to settle for second best, not to camp down while yet unfulfilled, not to stop at half-way houses. I beckon to the less-than and point to the not-yet. I attempt to stand in the gap between each person and the unknown, representing the mystery to those who have never looked, those who stand in fear, and those who think they have it figured out. I try to mediate between what a person is and what he or she might be.
To the best of my ability, I try to be one source of truth in a person's world which may otherwise be crowded with illusion. I represent the facts of life as I understand them. The truthful word may not always be spoken, but I try to remain in position to speak it at the appropriate time. When I cannot be authentic with them, I stand apart--when I have the nerve.
Forms for Ministering
The traditional forms for ministering include worship services with preaching, visiting, presiding over the rituals--baptism, communion, marriage, and death, plus some teaching. In my prior church experiences I had concluded that these forms had often become stereotyped, losing their effectiveness both in ministering and as agents of change. As I saw them, they often served as supportive religious rituals, protecting status quo rather than stimulating progress. I wanted to explore possible changes in their use. I also felt that new forms were needed. My limited experiments in the traditional church could now be more fully developed.
Improvements in the forms for worship were among the earliest experiments. I thought that worship should be an immediate experiencing of the worth-ship of God, a present knowledge of meaning in life. In contrast, I observed that it was merely a religious ritual for many. They attended stereotyped services, singing the same religious songs, praying familiar prayers, hearing old messages--all in predictable order. The value seemed to lie in the going, rather than in what happened. The pertinent question was, "Did you go?," rather than, "What happened for you while there?" I thought that worship should be an event instead of ritual. I saw little value in spending a Sunday morning going through religious motions which had ceased to have present meaning. If no personal spiritual experience occurred, why go?
I wanted to structure the forms in ways conducive to individual encounter with the Ultimate. I felt that many of the old ways had lost their usefulness. In keeping with our third basic premise--function over form--I felt free to salvage the best of the past, abandon the rest, and experiment with new arrangements of stimuli. No form would be inherently sacred for us. We would have no sacred place, no sacred time, no sacred music, no sacred procedures, except as we discovered sacredness with them. We would only use what worked for us.
Recognizing the influence of circumstances, we experimented with many arrangements--people seated in rows, in circles, speakers standing at front, speakers seated, musicians visible and hidden. As soon as we were able to acquire an auditorium, we continued to explore for the most functional arrangement. In time we arrived at this: The pews are arranged diagonally rather than in straight rows, so participants can partially see one another and the front as well. The central area has three focal points: the stage and worship center, a speaker's platform to the left, and an auxiliary platform for musicians or other speakers on the right. This allows the direction of attention to flow easily from one element of the service to the next. The stage is designed to allow dramatic presentations and each speaker's platform is movable to permit versatility in programming.
Lighting is designed to set various moods and to assist in changing the direction of attention without the necessity of words. Windows are painted and covered to allow for total darkness. Spot-lights, each equipped with a dimmer, have been placed to accent each major attention center. The over-all lighting system may be brightened or dimmed to help set various moods for worship.
A large sculpture of the Christ figure is placed near the entrance and spotlighted as an additional, visual stimulus. The worship center, which is changed weekly, is arranged in the center of the stage in view of the entire congregation. It may include sculpture, paintings, flowers, potted plants, or candles. Both floor and ceiling spotlights allow maximum flexibility in using this stimulus.
The sound system is designed for maximum hearing ease at any point in the auditorium. Movable microphones allow speakers and singers to use natural voices and yet be easily heard. A stereophonic music system permits the use of recorded musk. Tape and record players allow for maximum flexibility in playing music and recording services.
A ten by ten foot projection screen for the stage allows the use of slides or moving pictures. Controls for all lighting and sound systems are centered in a booth above and to the rear of the auditorium. This allows the technical director full view so he can receive signals and easily determine the best lighting.
Within these circumstances and in other outside places, we have experimented with various uses of the traditional forms--choir music, congregational singing, prayers, preaching, responsive readings, liturgies, Bible reading, communion, and baptism.
Some additional experimental forms have included meditation periods, silent times, and recorded music. Secular songs apropos to the theme (such as Bridge Over Troubled Waters, and Cabaret) have been used. Various worship centers, many forms of lighting, and the use of incense have set the mood for worship. Dramatic presentations have included Spoon River Anthology, Death of a Salesman, The Fantastics, No Exit, and Zoo Story.
Musical groups have included choirs, soloists, rock groups, jazz groups, piano concerts, recorder groups, guitarists, flutists, and others. Directed experiences in thought, prayer, and touch, poetry readings, dancing, art displays, slide-music presentations, testimonies, sermon talk-backs, and news-sharing from the membership are still other experimental forms explored. Worship programs have been arranged in the auditorium for large groups, in rooms for small groups, and out of doors at retreats and picnics. The atmosphere has varied from formal to informal.
Although experimentation in worship continues, tentative conclusions have been reached concerning various approaches and forms. Of course, personality differences and previous church experiences make certain elements more useful to one individual than another. These conclusions are, therefore, general:
We have found informality to be more conducive to worship experience. When a person is able to relax, he is more likely to face himself and reality honestly. Comfortable clothing is acceptable in our services. Although many dress formally, others come in casual clothes, sometimes barefooted. Coffee and cold drinks are common in the earlier part of a service, since it follows a fellowship period. Participants often enter talking together. Although smoking is uncommon, it is acceptable. Spontaneous expressions, such as observations, questions, or telling experiences may occur during a service. Often I will invite participants to share significant events from the past week. Children come and go; adults often leave for the bathroom or coffee. Members have danced spontaneously during a meditation period; disagreements have been voiced during a sermon. Sometimes members bring musical instruments to play for the group, poems to read, or quotations to share.
Although some of these activities are distracting to others, we have found that the formal atmosphere which would prevent them is an even greater hindrance. Whereas formality is more fitting for the observance of rituals, informality has proven most conducive to individual experiences of worship.
Even though informality is the prevailing practice, structuring is also needed. Lighting, music,.readings, prayers, and directed activities are used to guide the participants' experiences. As worship leader, I attempt to set the stage, arrange the most effective stimuli and invite--verbally and non-verbally--each person to respond to the Ultimate in Reality.
The effectiveness of novelty is the second major conclusion we have reached. Although familiarity encourages comfort, it also "breeds contempt." We have found that persons more easily remain detached when they know what is going to happen. For ritual observance, familiarity is essential; for current experience it proves a hindrance.
Thus, our format is constantly changing. Seldom is one service exactly like the previous one. A rock group on one Sunday may be followed by a recorded Bach concerto on the next. Congregational singing is only periodic. A meditational modern' dance at one service may be' followed the next week by a classical guitarist.
I attempt to plan the general format, but often drop or change it as the Spirit leads me. For instance, when a child recently brought a painting she had done during church school, I realized it was more appropriate than the reading I had planned. I set the reading aside and presented her painting. The Spirit of the morning often dictates which scripture) will read, the type of prayer I lead, and the way I present my message.
Accordingly, orders of service are seldom used. Participants come and take their chances. A member said, "One never knows what will happen next." A Catholic member recently brought his conservative Catholic parents to a service. He later confessed that he had done so with fear and trembling, lest some rock music in church might "shake their faith."
Music, meditation time, scripture reading, and preaching are the four common elements in most services. A service might begin with the lights turned low except for a spotlight focused on the worship center. This center might be composed of a large flowering plant in an orange pot, on a table draped with rust material, banked by two burning candles. Recorded stereo musk of Leonard Bernstein discourages talking and invites meditation.
After several minutes I walk slowly to the platform on the left as the rising light on the pulpit calls for a shift in attention. I read several lines from a Rod McKuen poem chosen to direct thinking toward a subject to be amplified later in the sermon. Then I voice a common prayer for the group. Without concluding the prayer, I invite the congregation to a period of meditation. The lights are dimmed and I step quietly out of view.
The pianist begins to play background music and the lights focus attention on the worship center. After several minutes for private prayer and contemplation, a dancer moves in front of the worship center and begins to interpret the music with her movements. The music softly fades and the dancer remains still in the center of the stage as all lights are slowly dimmed. For a moment the participants sit in only the light of the candles. The dancer moves off-stage.
As the lights rise, I move to the pulpit. I read a relevant biblical passage, translating it into the language of my listeners.
I speak to them about their own lives, applying the scriptural truths to situations confronting them.
Afterward I call the host for the weekend, to pass the plates for offerings. I announce other activities for the week, invite responses from the group, and challenge participants to make individual applications of the message. Without benediction, I exit down the center aisle. A brief period of coffee and fellowship follows for those who wish to linger.
Church music has been problematic from the beginning. Traditional hymns have generally included theological messages inconsistent with the church stance. Congregational singing, though enjoyed by many, has been difficult to weave into the fabric of our services. Perhaps the size and nature of our group, along with the limited available music has been the cause, more than the form of group singing itself. Because of inadequate musical interest and limited leadership, we have never had a successful choir over an extended period of time. Thus choir music has not been a consistent element in our services. I believe, however, that choir music in the typical Protestant church has found a status far above its utility in guiding worship experiences. It tends to be a performance which may be meaningful to choir members and enjoyable by the congregation but not necessarily conducive to corporate worship.
Music has proven most useful for us through the stimulation and pleasure of various individual musicians, groups, and instruments. Its utility in guiding meditation, encouraging thought, and promoting relaxation has been invaluable. I consider impromptu piano playing, matching and encouraging the tone and spirit of the service, to be the most consistent contributing musical form in our services.
Although we have explored various talk-back and dialogue type sermons, I conclude that the traditional preaching form is most useful in a worship experience. Informal questions and dialogue can involve some, but in a group of any size I think that, too many persons are threatened, bored, or left uninvolved.
To confirm the preaching form is not, however, to confirm the typical type of preaching I have known. Neither hell-fire and brimstone, the short, polite homily, or the long, exegetic-type sermon seem useful in promoting worship. After exploring those types of preaching compatible with my temperament, the style I have evolved is low-key, conversational, and informative. I have replaced authoritarian dictation with authoritative guidance. My sermons are designed to call hearers to face some area of reality which I discern to be significant for a large portion of my parishioners. I attempt to clarify the subject, outline the options, recommend a course of action and invite a response. My sermons are intended to provoke rather than placate. I prefer to hear, "I am disturbed by what you said," than, "I enjoyed the message."
In spite of my wishes and concerns for my people, I attempt to limit my sermons to clear communication. Believing that absolute freedom of choice is required for an authentic spiritual experience, I avoid the temptation to play on guilt or emotional needs. I seek to clarify and inform, but never to use psychological manipulation in securing particular responses.
Here is the response of one member:
"Resurrection: Never thought I'd thank anyone for saying words, offering thoughts, making suggestions so that I, after taking these in and relating them to my own situations and emotions, allowed myself to cry on Easter Sunday. (Crying, for God's-sake, on Easter when we're supposed to be happy because He Is Risen and, by God, we ought to act like it, right?). Wrong. Matter of fact, your messages for the last several Sundays have struck the sort of sparks within that send me home swimming in tears. Plus all the other tears--a veritable river of tears--in the past weeks, days, hours. I'm still not entirely comfortable with these tears; still feel a bit embarrassed and chagrined at times; still hear the old voices telling me to buck up, be brave, put that smile on my face, remember that tomorrow will be better. So act like what I'm not.
"Thawing out isn't easy. In fact, it's scary to say: I've been badly hurt, I'm lonely, I'm frightened of the future, and I'm sick of being sick. I've run myself ragged staying busy, busy, busy, so I wouldn't have to think about being alone, alone, alone. For a year I've been telling myself that I still loved my job and not daring to admit that it's become miserably depressing. Clutching at today's importance (as it has seemingly related to me), I've managed for quite a long time to ignore and avoid actual, present reality in my life.
"You may appreciate, then, that Fellowship's unorthodox, indeed contradictory and controversial approach to life, threatened me greatly. So much that I avoided the church for three months. And I'll be truthful, too, about why I came back. There wasn't any other place to go! I'd been all the other routes; I'd tried all the other methods. And, believe me, it hasn't been easy, either, to sit there Sunday after Sunday and discover a new lie I've been living, with each and every service. Your messages have had an uncanny, almost eerie, relationship to my own particular situations, to my own unique place in space and time.
"The aching sense of loss is ebbing. I loved a man very deeply and sincerely. I was, for as long as possible, completely committed to him. Losing him, and going on, has not been easy. (Oh, how fervently I vowed I'd never let anyone hurt me again.) And yet...yet...I find myself lately remembering the happy times, the bright moments, and love given and received. I can even take a deep breath, swallow hard, and say, Yes, I'll try again. I won't quit--I'll accept the risks of living and loving, scary though these may be, too. Because I have known happiness before, in many areas of life, I will not resign myself to being emotionally numb, to being one of the living dead.
"Of course, the tears are still coming, too. I may be awash in them when 1 see you next. But they're in order; they're healing. One day, before too long, I'm going to hear myself laughing again. I'm going to feel the laughter--touch the inner well springs of joy--smile a real smile...someday...again...and again.
"Still scared? You bet! This isn't one of my well-trod, familiar paths I'm standing on. It's a whole, new road ahead of me and not very many of the people I know and associate with are walking along it.(They'd be telling me to take a drink, swallow a tranquilizer, stop crying, please!) But I'm glad I'm finally here. I'm glad I've taken the first step. And, you know something? More than any year I can ever remember, this spring, this day, this hour feels like Easter. Inside me. Thanks and thanks and thanks for pointing out the path..."
As a follow-up on sermons we have found two procedures useful: a sermon discussion which I lead on Sunday evenings, and a sermon lab led by a layman on the following Sunday morning. In the discussion I summarize the points I tried to make, include other related information omitted in the morning, and respond to questions. Participants tell experiences related to the message and I react, The sermon lab, without my presence, allows members to discuss the message among themselves and more freely apply it to their lives.
The visitation of members is another traditional pastoral function which I have explored in various ways. In prior churches I visited members regularly in their homes. I attempted to periodically see every member, and visit those with particular needs mere frequently. In spite of the tradition of pastoral visitation and the apparent desire on the part of many for its continuation, I had serious misgivings about its actual value in achieving my goals. Aside from the fact that it consumed a large amount of time, I was concerned that it might be teaching a message which is contrary to the facts about salvation and spiritual growth as I understood them. If I were correct, some pastoral visitation could actually be a destructive procedure, in the long run.
The potential problem lay in the subtle message of visitation. By going to my parishioners I was saying, non-verbally, "I will be your spiritual father. You can be irresponsible children and I will come to check on you--to chide, comfort, support, or instruct you. I will be your conscience or super-ego. You be a baby; I will be your parent."
If I conveyed this message, I was working against myself, perpetuating the very situation which must inevitably be eliminated in spiritual growth. If my visits voiced my concern and provided an effective occasion for ministering, then well and good. If they trained my people to wait for me to come to them, then they were defeating.
The ideal situation, as I saw it, would be for members to know that I am available as a spiritual guide, and to take the initiative in seeing me at times of need. Obviously they know better than 1 when our encounter can be most useful. Likewise, they know when they are not ready to see me. A pastoral relationship based on an understanding of my availability and their responsibility seemed preferable. Certainly it would provide for a more efficient use of my time.
Two unknown factors confronted me in these speculations: First, by visiting, was I training for dependency rather than maturity, as I suspected, and, second, could members be trained to accept the responsibility for this new type of pastoral relationship?
In Fellowship Church, I set out to answer these questions. At first I carried on in my traditional manner, periodically visiting all members and more frequently seeing those with manifest needs. With discretion, I began to explore the questions. Over an extended period of time, I noted that members did tend to delay facing obvious spiritual needs until I visited them. Knowing that I would eventually "just happen to drop in," they seemed to "just happen to wait." Because of the circumstances, home visits often proved quite inadequate in dealing with such concerns. The conditions of my office proved far more effective in encouraging members to face spiritual problems. Those in periodic counseling seemed to make greater progress than those I saw an equal time in home visits.
With some parishioners I noted the development of an apparent game which might be called "Hold Out." Although probably being played unconsciously, it went like this: Members would drop hints about spiritual needs, for instance when leaving the services on Sunday. The apparent message was, "Come and help me." If I delayed a follow-up visit, the appeal would often be escalated sometime later, either with stronger messages, delayed contributions, or reduced attendance. It was as though the person was "holding out," demanding that I come and solve his problem or play the role of sympathizing father.
When I attempted to resolve the situation by making the visit, I noted two common responses. The person would either pretend that nothing was wrong and immediately become active again, or he would attempt to hand his problem to me. With the first response, I noted that the game would soon begin again. The second procedure went like this: "I'm glad you came--here's my problem; solve it for me." Or, "Look how bad I've had it; don't you feel sorry for me?" Obviously this was an unproductive relationship also.
On other occasions I would respond by waiting; that is, pretending to ignore the apparent call for help. In these instances, the person might send clues through others, dramatize his need through a physical or behavioral expression, or get angry with me. Finally, he might call, make an appointment and come for counseling.
These latter situations were the ones which proved most productive. It seemed to be a truism that spiritual growth only becomes possible when one is willing to responsibly seek it. Otherwise, the parent-child games and relationships developed, delaying or preventing real progress.
Over the years, I have concluded that some ninety percent of my pastoral visiting unfortunately fell in this latter category. Occasionally, positive growth would ensue from a visit with a new parishioner who was totally unfamiliar with office counseling. Also, visits during crisis times, or when illness prevented coming to my office were sometimes positive.
Based on these observations, it seemed reasonable that I attempt to avoid the games which pastoral visitation often invited. This raised the second question: Since visitation was traditional could the church be educated to accept a revised pastoral role and greater personal responsibility for their own needs.
A number of experiments have been attempted in this latter direction. In the beginning, periodic pastoral counseling was required for directing membership as an incentive to accept personal responsibility. This procedure proved valuable for some persons, but eventually was determined to be impractical and hence dropped as a requirement. My availability for personal counseling was made known through brochures, preaching, and church orientation sessions. Gradually, I ceased the traditional, periodic visitation of members except in rare instances. When I received clues about personal needs, 1 suggested making an appointment.
A trial program of Drop-In Encounters, in which members were encouraged to drop by the pastor's office whenever they wished to talk, was inaugurated. Members were invited to come by, without making an appointment, to discuss matters which concerned them. The program proved useful for some, but was not generally productive.
Another experiment was attempted in scheduling regular conferences with all members involved in the various private courses on Working out Salvation. Again, this proved to be of limited success. Currently, we are involved in an experiment with How It Is Conferences. All members are invited to schedule monthly or bi-monthly spiritual check-up periods with me. These are informal appointments in which we discuss how things are for the person. The program has proven functional to this point.
My summary evaluation of this change in pastoral role from traveling visitor to office counselor is generally positive. To be sure, it has been a difficult adjustment for some who had learned to rely on having their preacher visit them. Probably we have lost some members in the process. However, the increased productivity of counseling versus visiting, the teaching of spiritual responsibility, and the more efficient use of my time seem to warrant the change.
The third, traditional, ministerial function of presiding over the rituals has been continued in Fellowship with one major exception. With dedication to function over form, and in accord with our desire to be an ecumenical church, we have experimented with greater flexibility, in the forms of the rituals. For example, I have baptised by immersion and by sprinkling, depending on the person and the circumstances.
Communion has been observed in traditional ways with symbolic elements during a service, and with real bread and wine during Agape meals. On some occasions I serve the elements. On others, participants come to receive them. Sometimes, the service is very formal, at other times relaxed. We have used special bread and wine, as well as the regular foods from the table, such as crackers and milk.
Marriage ceremonies have also been flexible, varying from formal services in the auditorium to gala occasions in the city park. I may use a service I have written or invite the participants to write their own vows. Music has varied from recordings and solos, to original guitar instrumentals. Some have included the traditional wedding songs; others have used music written for the occasion.
Funerals have been more traditional, usually conducted in the home, at the funeral parlor, or at the grave side.
As originally noted, I thought new forms for ministering were needed to supplement these traditional ones. I have experimented with various types of pastoral counseling, growth groups, directed programs of individual growth, and an emerging type of group encounter which we still call sermon discussion.
In general counseling I have experimented with the non-directive approach, with strong direction, with behavioral modification, limited analysis, hypnosis, dream analysis, communication therapy, confession, directed repentance, and specialized instruction. Although different approaches are called for by different people, the most productive form I now use is a type of behavioral modification based on the premise that through changing patterns of communication and action, an individual is best able to free his potential for becoming fully human and Christian.
Specialized forms of counseling developed over the years include:
1. Self-knowledge: Six sessions designed to assist an individual in facing and coming to know himself better. Inventories and personality tests are utilized.
2. Pre-marital counseling: Six sessions for the couple considering marriage. Subjects include: Understanding Marriage, Roles of Husband and Wife, Sex, Understanding Each Other, Communication in Marriage, Potential Problems, and Outside Relationships.
3. Marriage Improvement counseling: Six sessions to help a couple find greater happiness in marriage, Content is flexible. Subjects commonly include: Facing Marriage Honestly, Communication Patterns, Personality Conflicts, Sexual Relations, Re-discovering Romance, Children or Family Problems, Outside Relationships, and Special Concerns. Although intended for both partners, this counselling is available for either spouse.
4. Vocational Counseling: A test battery and individual guidance for determining vocational aptitudes, interests, and abilities; includes an introductory session, two to six hours of testing, test interpretation, and decision guidance.
5. Theological Counseling: Six sessions designed to guide one in understanding the theological perspectives of Fellowship Church and to clarify his own beliefs concerning God, Christ, sin, salvation, and the kingdom of God.
During this ten-year period, I have spent approximately nine thousand hours in private counseling. Some fifty percent of the adult members have utilized this ministry over an extended period of time.
Growth groups have proven to be the most productive form of small group ministry which we have developed so far. I became acquainted with group work in seminary and explored its possibilities on a limited basis in previous churches. In Fellowship I had occasion to openly continue these experiments.
"Growth Group" is a general name which we have applied to small groups of persons who meet regularly with me in an attempt to work out their own salvation together. In attempting to arrive at the most productive form of group we have experimented with many arrangements and formats including variations in size from three to fifteen persons; with children's groups, adult groups, and student groups, couple's groups, single's groups, and young-to-old groups; meeting from one to five hours, with flexible and rigid ending times; meeting in homes, classrooms, and my office; with open and closed membership, with and without topics, directed and unstructured, with and without discipline and rules, with and without leaders, and with and without fees.
Each of these arrangements has had its own advantages. From them we have arrived of this form as being most productive: Group size is limited to eight persons. There are no age limits. Groups meet with me in my office for one and a half hours every other week. Some groups hold alternate week meetings without me. I screen all group members, attempting to select those most likely to profit from group involvement. Members commit themselves to be present unless providentially hindered. They may drop out at any time, but are requested to come to one additional meeting to inform the group of their decision. Beyond this, no discipline is required, except the fee of fifteen dollars per session, or tithing to the church.
The format is unstructured except in time and circumstances. Members discuss any issues, events, problems, decisions, or conditions which concern them. They are also free not to talk when they choose. I generally function as a catalyst, calling attention to the group processes, clarifying interactions which I observe, and occasionally giving emotional support. Some members have been in groups for the full, ten-year, church history. I have spent approximately four thousand hours meeting with growth groups during this time. On an average, between twenty and thirty-five percent of the adult members have consistently been involved in a growth group.
Workshops and developmental groups represent a third form of ministering which has proven successful in Fellowship Chinch. These have included intensive approaches to special concerns of particular groups. Normally they include lecture, discussion, and directed activities for a group of eight to twenty-five persons. The format is determined by the subject, but usually involves from six to eight sessions of one to three hours each, on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings or Saturday mornings. Subjects have included: Responsible Parenthood, Living Single, Making Marriage Creative, Creative Encountering, and Developing Good Communications.
A fourth, new form of ministering has been developed out of the experiments in counseling, growth groups, and workshops. Certain areas of experience and growth were isolated as apparently common to most persons. Although development could occur within the first three forms, problems were discovered in each. Counseling and growth groups failed to provide practical experience in many areas. Growth groups often proved inhibiting for work in certain relevant areas. Workshops were so intensive that participants sometimes had difficulty assimilating the experiences in the time available.
The limited amount of my time, plus the costs of these ministries, often made them prohibitive for some. Certainly, individuals could work privately in these areas, but guidance was also needed. I searched for a procedure which would allow them to work at their own pace in areas of particular need, would cost little, and yet be productive.
A series of directed courses of private study under the heading, Working Out Your Own Salvation, has been developed and proven effective. Following are excerpts from the brochure introducing the courses:
Working Out Your Own Salvation
Courses for Individual Study and Guidance
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2:12
The process of salvation--of coming to know God, of being spiritually alive in the here and now--is an exciting venture which may at times evoke "fear and trembling." Yet the trip is essential for one who would find fullness of life. Although this pilgrimage is always personal, experience has revealed particular areas of work which are common to many persons.
The courses in this series are focused on these common areas and are intended to guide one's work in those courses most pertinent to him. Certainly, one may search on his own without guidance. However, directed work, as opposed to random struggle, may conserve energy and help avoid unnecessary heartache and pain. To that end these courses are designed.
Salvation work may be divided into two parts: One, Private, and, two, Public; that is, being saved alone and with other people. The process of coming to be in Christ is not completed until one can know Him, both privately and in public. Some persons can experience greater degrees of God's presence when they are alone; others meet Him best in community. Full salvation requires constant communion with God--alone and with others.
Accordingly, the courses are divided into two parts. Section I deals with personal salvation; Section II relates to being saved with others. Individual courses in each part include the following:
Section I Section II
A. Facing Yourself A. Learning to Listen
B. Accepting Your Body B. Communicating with Others
C. Dealing with False Guilt C. Spiritual Defense
D. Developing Sensitivity D. Purposive Communication
E. Becoming Self-Aware E. Art of Loving
F. Being Emotional
G. Learning to Think
H. Tolerating Pleasure
I. Accepting Sexuality
J. Being Responsible
K. Listening to Dreams
L. Learning to Pray
M. Art of Worship
N. Led by Spirit
In each course, the participant works privately, at his own pace, under the direction of the minister. Cassette tapes, readings, inventories, exercises, and conferences are utilized in guiding one's work. The general format involves listening to a tape which introduces each subject, reading supplementary, materials, doing an exercise designed to provide experience in the given area, evaluating progress, and then proceeding to additional exercises. Some exercises involve inventories for thought stimulation; others are directed experiences related to the subject. Each course involves from five to fifty exercises.
At the conclusion of each course, a conference is scheduled with the minister for discussing questions, evaluating progress, and considering other courses. Additional conferences may be scheduled during a course if feasible. Recommended procedure is to begin with course IA and continue the following courses in order. However, special concerns may suggest skipping around in the series. These decisions should be discussed with the minister.
A Listening Room and cassette player are available at the church building. After listening to the introductory tape in each course, the participant may check out the first exercise from the minister. Depending on what is involved, it may be done at the building or elsewhere. Whenever possible it is recommended that exercises be completed at the church building. After turning in one exercise and completing the report form, instructions for the next exercise may be secured. A regular period of at least one hour per week is recommended for course work.
For persons outside Fellowship Church, the materials can be made available by mail. A cassette player is, of course, required.
The cost of each course is fifteen dollars per month for members and twenty-five dollars per month for non-members. If a participant takes longer than three months to complete a given course, there is no additional charge. Extra conferences with the minister are fifteen dollars each for members and twenty dollars for non-members. Members who tithe to the church are not charged for courses. Credit for work for the church may be secured.
1. Notify the pastor of your interest. Use the "Information to Pastor" card, call 504-387-0884, or write Fellowship Church, 126 South Acadian Thruway, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 70806. The pastor will contact you about beginning.
2. Schedule the Listening Room for hearing the introductory tape for the course you have selected to take. The pastor will set it up for you. If you are taking the course by mail, the tape will be sent to you.
3. Check out the first exercise. Follow the directions. After you finish, complete the report form enclosed with the exercise. Return the exercise, along with your report, by placing it in the box outside the pastor's office, (or mail them back).
4. After reading your report he will immediately place your next exercise in the box or mail it to you.
5. Repeat the same procedure until you have finished the exercises in the course.
6. Schedule a summary conference with the minister. If you take a course by mail, this is, of course, not required, but it is recommended if it can be arranged.
7. Select your next course, if desired, and proceed.
Section 1: Being Saved Alone
A. Facing Yourself
Facing yourself is a critically important beginning step in the salvation process. This course is designed to guide one in taking a systematic look at the person he now is. Self-knowledge is not saving, but is necessary in being saved.
B. Accepting Your Body
While growing up, many people become ashamed of their bodies, gradually developing a sense of bodily disassociation. They can never be themselves, since they always have lingering feelings of shame about being physical. This course is intended to guide one in facing his feelings: about his body and in learning to accept being a physical person.
C. Dealing with False Guilt
False guilt about being oneself is one of the greatest roadblocks in the salvation process. Guilt comes in two forms: True guilt, resulting from actual separation from God; and false guilt, acquired from parents and society. This course is intended to guide one in getting rid of false guilt.
D. Developing Sensitivity
The all-important human experience of loving begins with this basic capacity to receive messages from the outside world. One must be in touch in order to be loving. This course guides one's development in becoming a more sensitive and perceptive person.
E. Becoming Self-Aware
To be Christian, one must be sensitive, but also contained. He must be able to receive messages without losing himself in the process. He must be mentally present, but also have presence of mind. Being fully conscious without becoming self-conscious is the goal. This course is aimed at increasing your awareness and keeping your cool.
F. Being Emotional
Salvation involves two parts in the area of emotions. First, one must learn to be emotional--that is, to feel the feelings which come to him. Through sin one may have learned to judge and repress various emotions. These procedures must be faced and changed from denying the capacity to feel, to embracing all feelings.
The second part of the process is learning to contain one's feelings; that is, to feel without getting lost in emotionalism or acting irresponsibly. A saved person experiences all of his emotions, yet does not lose his presence of mind in the process.
This course guides one in each of these efforts--risking feeling, and learning to stand being emotional.
G. Learning to Think
Although you already know how to think, you may not have developed and learned to accept your mental capacities in each instant of life. In this course you will be guided in developing your memory, imagination, and reasoning ability, and in learning to use each in the difficult process of making good decisions. You will consider the various escapes commonly used in avoiding thought, and practice excluding these destructive habits in your own life.
H. Tolerating Pleasure
In spite of the common goal of having a good time, many are ill-prepared to stand the excitement of pleasure. While consciously seeking happiness, they unconsciously place road-blocks in its course. Uncertain of their ability to tolerate excitement without exploding or acting foolishly, they short-circuit their own fun. They may give parties, but they cannot have a ball in living. This course helps one understand this illogical process and develop his tolerance for fun.
I. Accepting Sexuality
The sexual capacity is one of the least understood and most often repressed aspects of being human. Yet it remains a critically important element in personhood. Salvation involves being responsibly sexual. This course guides one in gaining a
better understanding of the nature of sexuality, in facing and accepting his own sexual capacities, and in learning to be responsibly sexual.
J. Being Responsible
Living responsibly requires that one first learn to respond, and then develop the ability to contain himself while making reasonable choices. Both parts of the process are necessary. Duty without feeling is dead; feeling without containment is deadly. In this course guidance is given in developing both capacities.
K. Listening To Dreams
Salvation requires facing one's unconscious self also. Dreams offer the most accessible avenue to this darker side of man. However, the world of dreams may be chaotic and challenging to face in a positive way. This brief course is designed to introduce one to the dream realm and to teach basic techniques in using dreams positively.
L. Learning To Pray
As one outgrows his perception of God as a cosmic Santa Clause, he also moves beyond the use of prayer as a mere asking for special favors. Unfortunately, many never learn to pray in an adult way. This course is intended to help one understand the wider meaning of prayer and to give practice in this rich art.
M. Art of Worship
Beyond the elemental values of the rituals in a structured worship service lies a vast realm of potential worship in daily living. However, the art of personal worship requires practice and discipline, This course introduces one to the wider dimensions of worshipping God through the senses, emotions, and mind, in everyday life as well as in Sunday services.
N. Led by Spirit
The reality of the Holy Spirit remains but a vague theological concept for many persons. Because they have never learned to listen to or follow the lesser promptings of Spirit, they naturally remain unfamiliar with the stronger direction of the Whole Spirit. This course introduces one to the concept of Whole Spirit and gives direction for learning to follow its leadership.
Section II: Being Saved With Others
A. Learning to Listen
Although hearing words is relatively simple, hearing through words and body language, to understand the person speaking, is a demanding art. Yet such listening is necessary if one is to exist in loving relationships with others. Good hearing is required first as a defense against being overwhelmed or misled; secondly, it is an absolute necessity in relating positively. This course teaches the principles of good listening and gives practice in learning to hear through both non-verbal and verbal languages.
B. Learning to Communicate
Effective communication with another human being is the highest form of art and creativity. Although most persons learn to talk, to carry on a conversation, and to play various types of verbal games, few learn to communicate creatively. One's salvation in relation to others will be limited to how well he learns to communicate. Only good communication can unlock the prison doors of loneliness.
This course helps one develop his bask abilities to speak through body languages and words, to remain spiritually present without playing games, and to converse positively. Rules for sponding (speaking oneself) and responding are taught; the destructive use of such devices, as rituals, compliments, criticism, and questions is explained. One is directed in practicing the various forms of artful communication.
C. Spiritual Defense
The young Christian is often vulnerable to spiritual injury or even destruction by other people. He may be hurt, put down, taken advantage of, used, abused, or killed in spirit by what others say or do. For instance, he may be vulnerable to criticism or verbal attack. Probing questions may drive him into a shell . Even compliments may threaten his presence of mind.
These things ought not to be. The growing Christian has a responsibility for protecting himself from harm, both at the hands of his enemies and loved ones. This course teaches the arts of defense against criticism, questions, compliments, and other dangerous communication forms. The goal is to learn to protect oneself without hurting the other person in the process.
D. Purposive Communication
Sometimes we talk just for the fun of communicating. At other times a specific purpose is involved. We want our listener to respond in a particular way. Perhaps we want Johnny to pick up his blocks, Fred to take out the garbage, Mary to bake a cake for supper, or the club to follow our leadership.
Communication with a purpose in mind is quite different from "just talking." Certain principles of human response are brought into action. Unless one understands these principles and cooperates with them, he may be constantly rebuffed in getting the responses he desires. This course teaches the essential elements in purposive communication and gives practice in learning to get things done through words.
E. Art of Loving
Feeling love is one thing; the artful expression of that love, in positive rather than destructive ways, is something else. Many persons love others, but never learn to convey
their love without hurting the loved one, creating hostility or dependency, or losing themselves in the process.
This course is for those who already feel love for someone, but who need guidance in learning to relate to the person in creative ways. It focuses on two areas: (1) Confirming the loved one in non-verbal and verbal ways, and, (2) Representing reality with the person. Each element is essential in a loving relationship.
Participants have responded in these ways.:
"Words are inadequate for describing what the individual study course opened up for me. Imagine stumbling onto a $1,000 bill marked 'just for you.' Would you go wild? That might describe the excitement I felt at making some of the discoveries about myself. I uncovered feelings about myself that had influenced and shaped my entire life. It's like having a key to ultimate freedom hidden behind a succession of doors, each door opened in privacy, only as you feel able to turn the key. You may stall or proceed as you choose. I was so excited at one point, I wanted to rush out and tell everyone, 'Don't miss taking this course.'"
"I find the course challenging. I've reacted to it in different ways, usually with a lot of thought, and many times with a great deal of emotion. Some exercises have given rise to moments of insight, or more perplexing questions, or just an enjoyable experience. I generally feel satisfied when an exercise is completed, and look forward to the arrival of the next one."
"The course has allowed me to 'face myself' when I could, at my own speed. I have been free to move fast, slow, quit, start again. I have found a sequence, a progression toward. One section prepared me for the next. There was no jumping around. The conferences at the end of each section gave me a reason to talk with someone about myself. I have since parted from my 'prejudged' thoughts about the weakness of a person who goes for help. This is so much so that I do not remember having those fears and negative thoughts.
"The recording of experiences was very helpful. In addition to making the experience more real or more a part of my being, it gave me some practice in creative writing. I had developed a method of writing down, and correcting later, which was previously one of the major obstacles between me and writing.
"This course, for the most part, does not require me to go out of my way. Most of the exercises can be done at home, on the way to work, down at the local cafe, at the supermarket, et cetera. This gives me a sense of the extraordinary within the ordinary; no special tools, no special places, no special people; finding oneself where one has always been.
"I recommend it highly. As a matter of fact, I am using as much of it as I can remember and that which is feasible in my classes. All reports at this point are positive."
"How can a brief statement say what seeing myself means? I have found friends in old memories which I had previously feared. I am fascinated as I increase in intensity of life. And when I accept each challenge, as set forth in this course, I frolic and find cream and cherries on my cake."
A tape ministry has also been developed to meet particular needs. Sermons, lectures, and discussions are taped live and made available for later listening. In addition, I have recorded answers to common theological questions and suggestions for dealing with situations which often arise in life. Tapes have been useful to three groups of persons: Supporting members and friends living away from Baton Rouge, local members who work on Sunday morning or wish to be absent and hear the service later, and individuals studying in a particular area. Persons joining the Tape Club receive tapes regularly on loan. As soon as one is returned, another is sent. Tapes may also be duplicated for purchase.
Currently, over two hundred topics are available on subjects ranging from Who is God to What to Do With Fear. The Tape Club includes members in six states and one foreign country. The church also provides a comfortable listening room with a speaker system for private listening during the week.
Responses to this ministry have included these letters:
"We are especially enjoying the sermon tapes. They are so helpful and relevant. The What to Do with Fear one was really thought provoking. Would you believe, after years of looking under my bed every night just before retiring, after hearing, re-hearing, and seriously thinking about the sermon, I have not looked under my bed since!"
"We went to a small church Sunday and heard a blaring sermon on heaven after physical death! We came home and listened to Dr. Evans' sermon on Heaven Now. Thank God for those tapes. We did indeed go to church Sunday."
"You will never know how much all of us have enjoyed receiving the literature from Fellowship and do hope we can remain on the mailing list. We want you to know that we are certainly very happy about the church, our only wish being that it were nearer to us. I have thoroughly enjoyed 'going to church via mail' and look forward to receiving the materials each week. We admire what you are trying to do and feel that the ideas are what so many people need, especially in this day and time, to maintain their Christian faith and ideals."
"As usual the biggest thing to me is crisp air and vibrant fall colors. Somehow life is great beyond the problems. Fellowship and/or its ideas are still the biggest event in my week."
EXPERIMENTS IN THEOLOGICAL CHANGE
Traditional theology tends to be objectively understood, by the layman if not by the minister who uses it. God often becomes a cosmic magician; Christ becomes the historical Jesus; soul is a ghost in the body; sin, becomes something you do; heaven is a place to go after you die;. and eternal life is perpetual existence. Other-world-ism is a typical result of objective theology. Salvation is primarily focused on an after-life in a heaven elsewhere. Consequently, attention to this world and this life is minor.
My prior church experiences made it clear to me that a radical theological re-orientation would be necessary before the average churchman I knew. would find theological language relevant to his daily life in this world. I had observed that in spite of what I meant by the theological symbols I used, laymen commonly continued with their older, objective understandings. The result: Theology functioned as a mental-escape language from this present world.
In Fellowship Church I continued my own examination of the traditional theological symbols and doctrines. Immediately I began a systematic re-education program designed to guide members in re-facing theology. Carefully we reconsidered the symbols in light of possible meanings for life in this world. The first orientation course, required for voting membership, consisted mainly of a re-look at basic theology. My preaching was based on subjective theological understandings. Special seminars, workshops, and lectures were scheduled for studying theology in depth. The continual effort was to re-examine all themes in terms of here-and-now experiences.
The purpose of this re-education process was to provide us with a functional language for communicating about spiritual truths. Since preaching was my major contact, I needed an understandable set of symbols for this regular communication. If members were to talk to me or each other about their own spiritual experiences, they had to have some common language. In the beginning, psychological jargon and colloquialisms provided the only common way of speaking about current spiritual experiences. Theological words had become so jaded with other-world connotations as to be largely unusable.
In time we have been able to change this situation. The continual teaching process has allowed us to reclaim most theological symbols for honest talk about life and death in this world. The intent has never been to tell anyone what he should think. Rather, we have sought a common language for sharing what we already think.
An abiding question has existed in regard to the utility of this theological endeavor. Why struggle to reclaim theological language? Why not use psychological or other languages? If the old words have become outdated, why not lay them quietly to rest and coin new words? Several reasons have seemed pertinent. First, the currently available terms lack the ultimate connotations of religious words. They do not connote the depth of meaning implied in theological terms. For instance, mental illness can be used to name the condition which theology calls spiritual death. Initially, the term, mental illness, may be more readily understood. However, it lacks the depth of the phrase, spiritual death. Illness implies only a needed medicine or treatment for cure. Death implies the necessity for resurrection or rebirth. I think the latter imagery more clearly portrays the true situation.
Secondly, even with the other-worldly, objective understandings which are common for theological terms, I thought they retained as their essential subject the ultimate issues in life. Psychological terms, though useful for some, lacked the common application to life's abiding mysteries. Even familiar terms, such as happiness or peace of mind, lacked the depth of theological words like salvation and eternal life.
A final reason was related to the acceptability and scope of meaning of theological words. Theological words have the advantage of being almost universally accepted in our society. Everyone has heard of God. Sin may convey a variety of meanings, but is certainly more familiar than paranoia and schizophrenia. Thus, the average person is able to approach theology with more familiarity. The fact that the words do have such breadth of understanding is a practical advantage in mass communication. That Billy Graham and Paul Tillich could both speak of God, with such divergent meanings, testifies to the scope of the word.
Although this is problematic in precise understanding, it does allow one to speak to groups of persons on divergent levels of spiritual experience. In the concrete world of small children and the abstract world of educated adults, the single name, God, can refer to the Ultimate in Reality. The concrete imagery of theological language can be useful at the earliest stages of spiritual understanding. As the mind develops and experience deepens, it can easily become allegorical and still represent ultimate issues. For instance, Graham's "Sky Father" can become Tillich's "Ground of Being" without changing its name.
This range of meaning is extremely important in communicating with groups of persons of various ages and degrees of spiritual understanding. It allows one to be in contact through familiar words and yet continually challenge to deeper experience. This possibility is critical in the use of any language for theological purposes.
The primary work of up-dating theology in Fellowship Church has been opening mental doors to the possibility of metaphorical, allegorical, and subjective meanings of the theological symbols. Everyone knew that the name, God, stood for a Cosmic Sky Father; many had not yet realized that it`could also represent the Ultimate in Reality. That sin could be expressed in committing adultery was common knowledge; that it might also mean assuming a knowledge of good and evil was new thought for some. Everyone had thought of heaven in an after-life; many had not seriously considered heaven on earth or the kingdom of God "within you," as Jesus spoke of it. Resurrection from the soil was familiar imagery; resurrection from depression and hardness of heart was new mental territory for some.
Our goal in these experiments in theological change has been to extend the acceptable scope of the language to include both concrete and abstract thought, both objective and subjective experience. We sought to open the door to its wider applications, not to destroy its objective character. Good metaphors require concrete images. Theological language already had those. What I saw as needed was a climate for utilizing the metaphors, and guidance in making the change.
In my preaching and teaching I have tried to stretch the words, making them useful to persons who have already moved in experience to the realm of the subjective, but who still lacked an acceptable language. I have never tried to curtail its use for concrete thought. Certainly the experience of many persons allows them no knowledge 2.
of spiritual resurrection. For them, an objective event after bodily death remains the only image of hope. Without seeking to remove that objective hope, I have called such persons to the possibility of an immediate resurrection of spirit. Without attempting to destroy the image of God as a cosmic magician, I have invited members to meet him subjectively in the cool of the evening.
Because the objective understanding is already so widespread in our society, I have avoided further promulgation of popular theology. In specific circumstances, I have attempted to convey messages of personal hope through the concrete symbols when I perceived them as understandable. These occasions, however, have been rare. The danger of catering to magical wishes and false dependency is great when objective symbols are used. The prevailing theological need which I see at this time is for subjectivity rather than continuing concreteness
The theological stance emerging from these experiments in openness has come to be affectionately called Now Theology. Based on Paul's statement, ."Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2), and Jesus' declaration, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15), we have proceeded to add a dimension of "nowness" to the traditional doctrine focused on later. The other world has been focused in this world.
God, Christ, Satan, sin, death, the second coming, resurrection, judgment, heaven, and hell, have each been given a dimension of present reality. Traditional objective interpretations have been opened to include the subjective as well. Concrete imagery has been expanded to include abstract possibilities. Literal understandings have been opened to metaphorical interpretations also.
What are the results? How have these theological changes been received? For some, delightfully; for others, with "fear and trembling." The freedom to examine theology openly has been well received by almost every member. The faith required for entering the kingdom of God in the here and now has been a challenge for most. Abandoning childish illusions projected in theological images has been exceedingly difficult for some.
The open theological stance of the church, allowing both concrete and abstract religious thought, has been essential in achieving ecumenicity. Without this theological tolerance, persons from different denominational backgrounds would never have been able to worship together. The presence of conflicting theological ideas in the one fellowship has proven productive in refining and clarifying individual thought, as well as in the development of tolerance.
Nevertheless, it has been difficult for some. Those who had learned to use the church to support their mental uncertainty or tell them what to believe, were often disappointed. The intellectual freedom has proved too threatening for some. One person with a rigid religious background said, "I love this church and would like to join, but I get disturbed when I don't know what I am supposed to believe."
Theological openness has also been the cause of misunderstanding and rejection by persons outside the Fellowship. Traditionally, churches exist around certain dogmas or creeds. Few have encountered a church without an established list of doctrines. The unusual situation has resulted in negative responses by some traditional churchmen. Parents and other relatives of members have sometimes focused their uncertainties on this lack of a formal creed.
Even so, my summary evaluation of these theological changes is positive. I have seen laymen become excited about theology for the first time in their lives. I have been able to speak pointedly to individuals concerning their present spiritual condition in theological words--and be heard. I have seen persons able to communicate with one another about spiritual events in their experience after learning the rich theological terms.
The language has allowed me to preach honestly about the salvation pilgrimage with the familiar religious symbols. Mentally grasping the spiritual events to be anticipated in the salvation process has allowed persons to anticipate and recognize the happenings as they have occurred for them. This prior expectation has eased some of the threat involved in facing the unknown, thereby increasing the joy of the experiences.
I am glad we have experimented with a theology for now.
"Thank you for sending us the Now Theology series of lectures. I rate them right along with Konrad Lorenz's, On Aggression, as being some of the most important words I've ever read."
"I need the Now Theology very much. I have had--and hopefully will continue to experience--the 'now' life, but lacked the theology. Thanks for making the Bible a 'now' revelation."
"I was discussing theology on the golf course the other day with two cohorts who were playing equally as bad as I. They asked what religion I was before Fellowship, and I replied, 'I was a Catholic, then I was a Methodist, and now I'm... (now, that's a tuffy, but my pause was brief)..and now I'm happy."
"One thing that attracted me the most in my coming to Fellowship was the so-called Now Theology which is pointing to a kind of 'today' understanding of what it means to be fully present to life."
The traditional church has focused most of its conscious attention in the outward direction, toward saving and serving others. Many have thought this to be the primary purpose of the church. Success has often been measured by the number of outside persons being helped--spiritually or physically. Saving the world (outside the church) has been the goal of many churchmen.
Inward attention has been largely limited to the initial steps of the salvation process, in whatever way the particular group conceived that beginning. With Billy Graham followers, this has been the "decision for Christ." Others have understood it as confirmation, joining the church, or being converted. As soon as one has made this inward move, church attention tends to shift to the outer directions. Converts are then to go out converting others. Church members are expected to begin loving others, serving people, or changing the world in some way.
Although lip-service is given to Christian growth or sanctification, an inward move, the primary direction of the traditional church is outward. Programs and activities are slanted in that direction. Preaching calls for service and social action. Monies are directed toward mission programs. Serving on mission fields is the most honorable Christian activity.
Not only are programs and guidance for the inward quest extremely limited, the inward movement itself is often viewed with suspicion. In the beginning of Fellowship Church, a liberal, national church leader warned us about the "threat of navel gazing." "People get lost in inwardness," he said.
Against this background I perceived what I thought to be a fundamental error in approach. As I had come to understand human behavior, love for others grew from one's becoming loving himself. It was not self-negation which led to a love for others, but rather self-fulfillment. I understood Jesus to mean we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, not instead of loving ourselves. The common problem which I observed in the church was that people were going out to try to love others before they learned to love themselves.
Long ago I had recognized that much service to others was only an escape from self. I had seen faithful church workers who could not tolerate themselves, wearing themselves out in labor for others. I knew that many worked in the church because they could not stand to be still and face themselves. Although the traditional church approach served to reinforce their need for self-avoidance, it seemed that it did a disservice to them in the long run.
Certainly the outward stance produced positive work. Who could deny the favorable results of some self-sacrificing missionary work? On closer examination, however, I realized that those being served often knew they were being helped but not loved, and in some way were being used. I had seen them rebel against the self-righteous efforts of churchmen to "save them." And I had known church leaders who fell apart at the end of the mission which had sustained them.
I thought the approach of the traditional church was somehow out of order. It seemed to me that the outward move should result from the inward move, not precede or become a substitute for it. It seemed that churchmen were going out to teach before doing their own homework, to save others before being sufficiently saved themselves, to love before becoming loving. A better balance seemed called for.
With this belief I set out to explore for a more functional relationship between the outward and inward quests among the people of Fellowship Church. I would seek to discover an appropriate mixing of attention to the further working out of one's own salvation and efforts toward the salvation of others. I would see if my premise that inwardness leads to outwardness was correct. I already knew much about the results of outwardness without inwardness; what I wanted to know was the effect of a more constant emphasis on inwardness before outwardness, or at least concurrent with it.
Because the earlier members of Fellowship were well trained and oriented to the traditional church approach, I concluded that our first major thrusts should be in the inward direction. I would attempt to lead our members in facing themselves more completely--that is, in the further working out of their own salvation. I would present outward causes, but not pressure them to follow. I would keep the doors of service open, but avoid the traditional, exclusive emphasis on them.
The first major problem to be faced was how? Seminary training had prepared me for promoting outwardness. Prior church experience had given me practice in leading people to serve. Denominational emphasis supported these endeavors. Literature was geared for teaching outwardness. But how does one focus on inwardness?
In seminary 1 had majored in psychology and counseling. Unfortunately, the nature of the churches I had served had only allowed limited practice. Three possibilities had been explored in summary fashion: a new style of preaching focusing on inwardness, personal counseling, and growth groups.
In Fellowship I would develop these avenues more completely. Accordingly, the first programming consisted of scheduling growth groups and private counseling. To strengthen this focus, one or the other of these was made a requirement for voting membership. My preaching was also slanted toward inwardness. Soon I discovered the need for other forms and materials in this process of guiding persons in the further working out of their own salvation. Extensive searching turned up little help. It became evident that we would have to develop our own materials and explore for workable forms in this inward quest. Explorations in this direction are noted in a preceding chapter on experiments in ministry.
Now, ten years later, what about the inward-outward balance? What have we learned? In general, my earlier premises have been confirmed. I am convinced that the traditional church approach--promoting the outward and avoiding the inward--is in error. I believe that the only legitimate love of others is an outgrowth of self-love. Unwittingly, I think the church has fostered an imbalance which may be helpful to society but is often destructive for those involved.
The goal, as I discern it, is love as an overflow; an outpouring to others resulting from inner filling. External service should proceed from internal healing, rather than provide an escape from internal disorder. The apparent selflessness of ideal Christianity is selfishness embraced rather than denied. The Christian appears selfless, not because he has killed his self, but because he has been fulfilled as him or her self.
In practice this means that the proper balance between the inward quest and outward service for any given group will be dependent on the degree of their own individual salvation. People will serve in proportion to their own fulfillment. Those able to go forth will do so. Those with less inner fulfillment will major on their own salvation until they have some degree of overflow.
This does not mean that inwardness excludes outwardness, that one does no outward service until he is totally saved himself. It simply means that of the two, the inward journey is primary. Every person's major attention should first be devoted to working out his own salvation. In this process, he will soon begin to extend himself outward in loving ways.
The fear that "navel-gazing" would become an end in itself has proven untrue. The scope of salvation work has been found to be far greater than originally suspected, but not a consuming trap. Those who have been most diligent in working out their own salvation have also developed into the most useful serving ones.
For instance, one man wrote: "After much consideration I have decided to resign from growth group. I am now a co-leader for a group of seven volunteers at the Mental Health Center. With my group I am busy having fun. Thank you for about ten years of good growth groups!"
Initial curtailment of service activities has been noted when the individual was compulsively involved in helping. Those using service to avoid facing themselves have sometimes dropped the procedure as they came to realize what they had been doing. For a time such persons have devoted more attention to themselves. Perhaps this is where the fear of inwardness replacing outwardness developed. However, as the salvation process continued, we have found that these individuals have again become helpful, now from choice rather than compulsion. The nature of their helping activities have become more productive, better received, and more satisfying.
Many of those who have undertaken the inward journey have continued their service activities. Recognizing that their earlier motives were questionable, they have found their working to help others useful in understanding themselves better. While helping others, they have also helped themselves.
Because of the spiritual positions of most Fellowship members, the inward quest has claimed more attention during the first ten years. Although a number of noteworthy mission activities have been effected, they have been overshadowed by the focus on inwardness. I Suspect that the personal development which has occurred for many will result in more attention directed outward in coming years. Already the signs are evident.
I conclude that the proper church stance is to hold open the doors in both directions, providing avenues for inward discovery and outward service. I believe that the role of the minister is to continually issue invitations in each dimension, placing greater emphasis where he discerns the needs of his parishioners to be. I do not think
that pressure should be applied in either direction. Each member should choose his level of involvement in that direction which appears most appropriate at the time. The minister may invite as he discerns, but should respect the continual right of each member to choose.
What is the proper balance? The answer depends on each church. In general, I think it should focus primarily on the inward while inviting to the outward in a low-key way. I think the major mission of the church in the immediate future will be the salvation of its own members. Then it can turn more lovingly toward the world.
EXPERIMENTS WITH MONEY
"I have been following with great interest your philosophy and methods concerning church finance. It is entirely possible that you may be the spearhead for a changing direction for the church."
Tithes and offerings have been the traditional means of church financing. Through gifts of ten percent from some individuals, and offerings from others, the traditional church has managed to support itself, and even prosper over a long period of time. In spite of the relative success of its financial system, I had three major objections: The perpetuation of legalism by the church, the promotion or play on pride and guilt, and the teaching of a false concept of giving.
Although teaching the legalistic tithe was in keeping with other legalisms in the traditional church, I thought the emphasis was in the wrong place. I believed the church should be using legalism but teaching freedom. Regrettably, I concluded that too often it was settling for legalism only. Perpetuation of the tithe was just one more example.
Furthermore, the tithing system itself seemed to be outmoded in today's society. Although it had originally included all one's possessions and, perhaps even time, energy, and talent, it had generally been reduced to money income only. Since wealth in our society often includes for more than current income, serious problems and unfair situations had developed.
First, there were problems in what should be included in figuring a tithe. Only direct income? Before or after payroll deductions? Before or after taxes? Before or after expenses in earning the money? What about fringe benefits such as vacations and sick leave? What about other charities? Even if all these questions were answered, other gross inequities remained. Whereas a wealthy businessman might be able to handle his deductions and depreciations so that he showed little actual income, and therefore, had little to tithe, a widow on a pension would have to give a literal tenth. Furthermore, ten percent for the poor is certainly inequitable to ten percent for the wealthy. The personal sacrifice of a tenth from a $300.00 per month income for a family of five could hardly be compared with a tithe from $3,000.00 per month for a wealthy bachelor. Whereas five persons would have to live on $270.00 per month, the bachelor would have $2,700.00 left.
My second objection was that the current system caters to high-pressure promotional schemes which encourage pride and play on guilt. When one obeys a legalistic requirement such as a tithe, he is tempted to pride. If he disobeys, false guilt may follow. ''Give as much as you can" is a commendable idea, but in practice it plays on feelings of latent guilt. Emotional pleas to give offerings because "God needs your help" appeal to the vanity of some, promote false guilt in those who do not give, and completely miss those who are more analytically-minded.
Because many persons in our society have become jaded by multiple appeals to give to worthy causes, the church's request often fails to touch them. Those most able may be least affected by emotional requests. The result is often that the poor, or emotionally needy, give more while the rich give less.
My third objection was twofold. The entire system of tithes and/or offerings implies that all contributions are actual gifts. Any money contributed to a church is considered to be a manifestation of giving. While this may be an acceptable understanding for the Department of Internal Revenue, it is far from truthful for many church members. Most church contributions go for church expenses. Members are paying for what they get, rather than giving to a "worthy cause." If the expenses of the buildings, utilities, educational programs, and staff were divided proportionately among members, many are not even paying for services received.
True giving would only begin after one had paid his fair share of the costs of operations. The traditional system teaches, however, that all contributions are a gift. The member who drops a dollar in the offering plate on Sunday may go away feeling that he has "given to the Lord," when in fact he did not even pay his pew cost for the morning.
I considered the current system to be too difficult to administer, often excessive for the poor, unreasonably low for the rich, generally unfair, and above all, a perpetuation of legalism by the church. I recognized that a functional financial system is a necessity in church operations, but I had serious misgivings about the currently available plan. To promote legalistic tithing was contrary to the basic premise of freedom.. I could not consistently preach "freedom in living" and "tithing in giving." Nor was I willing to play on emotions and latent guilt in the promotion of "free-will offerings." If I succeeded in raising money in this fashion I would be defeating my larger goal of helping my parishioners become free from false guilt. Nor did I want to teach an untrue concept of giving.
So what would we do? Money was an obvious necessity, yet the common system seemed contrary to our founding premises. The answer to this question has been a continual challenge since the beginning. At first we experimented with a basic appeal to contribute as much as possible to support our new venture in church. Financial needs were discussed openly and members invited to pledge. The idea of tithing was presented as a worthy guideline, but not as a legalistic expectation. At first this was sufficient to meet immediate needs. The initial excitement of the charter members, coupled with the continuing compulsions of some to tithe allowed us to exist for a time.
However, time was against us. The initial excitement soon wore off. As the needs expanded, the budget became more impersonal. When most of the money went to my support, members had the direct feeling of involvement. In time, the building, utilities, insurance, etc., removed much of the personal element.
Also, the freedom which I preached and they learned to practice, in time, allowed relief from earlier compulsions. Among these was the compulsion to tithe. As members grew spiritually, they acquired the freedom to abandon legalisms. Although this was personally satisfying, to them and me, it was problematic for the church. Unwittingly we had come to depend on these compulsive tithes. We had no system to replace the old one.
At this point we began to explore the concept of proportionate giving. If our financial needs were divided proportionately among us, no one would be over burdened. The idea sounded good, but proved difficult to apply. How would the fair share for students compare with that for established families? What about divided families with only one member in the church? How should number of children or other financial obligations be considered? What about degree of involvement in the church? The fair share of those deeply involved would certainly be greater than that for occasional attenders. After long discussions a detailed chart was developed, based on budget needs, family size, and appropriate fair-share amounts for an average member. It was understood that individuals would make their own adjustments, up or down from the chart figures, considering their degree of involvement and any unusual circumstances.
Proportionate giving worked for a time. Members responded to the idea, made pledges, and the current financial crisis passed. Looking back, I suspect. that the significant factor was facing the issue openly, rather than the plan itself. It did, however, provide a vehicle for members to more realistically consider church financing. It was a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the proportionate giving plan had no teeth. It was dependent on individual responsibility. Without constant reminders, members tended to forget and lapse back into putting the church last when writing checks. I refused to use the pulpit for applying pressure for money, and there was no other plan for continual confrontation. Soon financial problems were developing again. At this point it became evident that any stable financial system, not dependent on continual pressure, would require structuring.
Immediately this raised a problem of principles. How could we maintain the basis of freedom, deemed necessary for valid spiritual growth, and yet require money? Could the free gospel be sold? Could people be charged for church?
After many long discussions we concluded that while everyone should have the privilege of church without charge, those most involved could legitimately decide to tax themselves. Our organizational structure had already vested the authority of the church in directing members who committed themselves to remain involved. If they wished, certainly they could also levy dues on themselves for the benefit of the group. Also, it seemed reasonable that those participating in special ministries could be charged a fee.
Finally this decision was reached. Dues for directing members were set at ten dollars per month. Fees for growth groups and private counseling were set at ten and fifteen dollars per session. Fees were also set for all other special ministries.
In order to allow participation by those unable to pay, a work-credit system was devised. Credit toward payment for special ministries was granted for any work done for the church. These rates were set at three dollars an hour for physical work, $3.50 an hour for secretarial work, five dollars an hour for teaching, and ten dollars an hour for special talents such as music, etc. Lest costs become excessive for one deeply involved in church ministries, we decided, to set ten percent of the adjusted gross income, which we would call a tithe, as the upper limit of expectations. Any member who tithed would not be expected to pay more for special ministries.
I knew this would not solve the problems, but felt that the church had turned a major corner in its decision to charge dues and fees. This minimum was raised to fifteen dollars per month the following year. Recently it has been set at twenty-five dollars per month. Fees fo special ministries have also been increased.
Dues and fees have necessitated the development of a billing system. In addition to individual records for all contributors, a separate record is kept on directing members and those involved in special ministries. Daily notations of such participation are made on my schedule. At the end of each month these are transferred to a summary record. This record notes the date of each ministry, charges, fees received, and balance due. Monthly statements are mailed to participants, showing dues and fees, work credits deducted, contributions, and any balance due. In addition, quarterly summary records are mailed to all contributors for information and tax purposes.
Aside from these experiments in systematic giving procedures, the church has periodically conducted special projects and fund-raising drives for needed items, such as, a piano, auditorium improvements, carpeting, and a new heating system. These have included garage sales, bazaars, bake sales, suppers, concerts, flea markets, the sale of poem books, lectures, and sermons, plus the distribution of cassette tapes of church services.
One unique venture was the organization of an Investment Association. Under this plan members and friends of the church were invited to purchase shares for twenty dollars each. The money was to be used for expanding the church. Seven thousand dollars was raised in a short time. Although the original intention had been a long-range project, the church found a needed building for sale and shareholders agreed to use all funds for this purpose. The association was thereafter dissolved.
Currently this Investment Association is being reorganized as a club for the profit of the investors, with a percentage of all profits going to the church. Also an endowment fund has been established but no fund drive has yet been conducted.
One significant result of these experiments in church financing has been the continued existence of the church. Although local adult membership has never exceeded one hundred, the group has managed to survive without sacrifice of principles. The church has never had any endowment, wealthy backers, or rich members. Last year the average local member contributed $350.00.
Although income has never reached needs, and the experiments cannot be evaluated in terms of long-range financial success, some tentative observations may be appropriate. First, I think the church has developed a realistic approach toward financing in today's society. It has overcome the previously discussed limitations of the tithes-andofferings system. The subject of money is faced openly, yet without the use of psychological pressures.
The decision to begin charging dues for directing members was particularly painful. No person in the church had experience with such an arrangement. In retrospect, however, I am convinced it was a wise one. The fee system for special ministries has not only produced income (thirty percent last year), but also proven valuable in the usefulness of the ministries themselves. Unfortunately there is a tendency in our society to identify cost and value. That which is free is often treated as valueless. Fees help communicate the worth of a personal ministry. The discipline of paying conveys the seriousness of the endeavor and aids the participant in maintaining his independence in the process. When one is paying his own way, he is apt to be more dedicated to his undertaking and not to feel guilty about "taking the minister's time." Fees also make it possible for non-members to be involved in desired ministries in a responsible way.
Supporting members have been a unique element in the church's financial system. Since the beginning, outside persons interested in these experiments in church have been willing to help support them. In addition, local members have regularly moved to other cities and continued to support the Fellowship with contributions. These gifts have consistently represented from fifteen to twenty-five percent of all the church's regular income.
In evaluating our current financial structure I conclude that we have been effective in overcoming the three major objections I had to the traditional system. Unfortunately, this has not resulted in financial stability. We have never had adequate income to support the experiment in accord with its needs. Continually we have functioned without needed equipment and services.
However, I think this results from the size of the congregation rather than the financial structure itself. Our per member income exceeds that of other churches in my acquaintance. I conclude that we have developed a realistic approach to money which could prove even more effective in larger churches.
EXPERIMENTS IN PROGRAMMING
Programming, as I use the word, includes all church activities except those conducted directly by the minister. Traditional church programming concerned me primarily because of its slant, and therefore its typical result. As I had known them, most church programs were slanted toward the intellect and obedience. One was taught what to think and do (how things are, what is right, what to believe, how to act). The result, if one followed the teaching, was obedience--stereotyped thinking and behavior.
Programming was considered successful if it resulted in one's thinking the "right thoughts" (knowing the "'correct answers" to life's mysteries), and "acting right" (living in the prescribed ways). If one became a "good person" (believed and did right), then church teaching had worked. If one became a doubter, disagreed with any accepted doctrines, or chose a different life style, then the program had failed.
In my opinion, this slant was wrong. Carbon-copy Christians was not the goal I sought. I was concerned with becoming one's fullest self and living responsibly in community. I understood becoming to include being able to think one's own thoughts rather than to simply agree with the ideas of others; to feel one's own feelings instead of having prescribed emotions; to find one's own life style rather than acting like everyone else.
In this pilgrimage, freedom to explore one's thoughts, feelings, and ways of living seemed necessary. The typical church program struck me as repressive rather than freeing. Doubting was commonly condemned, feelings were denied, and behavior was judged. It led to predictability and duty, rather than wholeness and responsibility.
As I understood programming, considering the goals I espoused, it should be slanted toward experience rather than thought, toward discovering and developing one's own mind, feelings, and behavior. I was more concerned that one learn to think, than that he think as I did; that he learn to feel, than that he feel "correctly;" that he learn to be responsible, than that he "act right." I wanted programs slanted in these directions.
Traditional forms focused on Sunday school, Bible study, catechism, and other means of instruction. Social activities, when planned by the church, were often considered extraneous, "for the young people," or a device to lure people into the "main program."
I disagreed with this approach. I wanted the program in Fellowship to serve two major purposes: to provide stimulation and experience in personal growth and development, and to provide occasions for learning to live responsibly in this community and the world. I wanted a program which encouraged thinking, not one which squelched thought with old answers; one which allowed emotions, instead of excluding them; one which stimulated thought about how to live, rather than one which condemned any experimentation.
These goals seemed divisible in two parts: programs focused on thinking about experience, and programs designed to facilitate experience. A person should be guided in clearing his mind and in learning to live, I thought. Accordingly, I set about to develop programs in each of these areas. In area one, thought about life, the traditional church school provided an immediately available form. The first problem lay in the slant of available literature. Although children's literature was often focused on development, adult teaching materials continued to perpetuate old doctrinal slants. We conducted studies of literature from various church presses, experimenting with first one and then another--Presbyterian, Baptist, United Church, Methodist, and Unitarian. In time we discovered American Baptist literature to be most useful in children's programs. Now we use it almost exclusively, with free adaptation to our own slant.
Adult literature proved more problematic. After exploring several denominations we found that literature itself was often a hindrance rather than a help in encouraging adult thought. Consequently, we proceeded to select our own subject matter and class styles in line with what seemed most pertinent to our members. We experimented with the various teaching forms and have evolved a type of open discussion with teacher input which has proved most useful.
Although we have consistently utilized the Sunday morning teaching period, other forms for thought stimulation have been more successful than the continuous classes. These have included special seminars on selected subjects, sometimes utilizing outside speakers. Often these have been conducted at times other than Sunday morning. I have led many of these seminars on Sunday evenings. The general format has included the presentation of the speaker's ideas, then opening the seminar for questions and discussion. The theme has never been: "This-is-how it is." Rather, speakers' have said, "This is how I find it. How does it add up with your experience?"
Some seminars have been followed by group meetings during the week for those more interested. One investigation of extra-sensory perception and the occult led to a weekly group meeting which lasted several years. Other prayer and Bible-study groups have met over an extended period of time. One class format which proved durable over. an extended time was called the "Inquisitorial Chamber." This open class met on Sunday mornings to discuss such perplexing subjects as life after death, immortality, and how prayer works. Any person was free to come and discuss any subject which troubled him, or to raise his questions for group discussion. These "inquests'' were too threatening for some, but valuable for others. The following is a list of the subjects covered in various adult classes and seminars:
Contemporary Religions Philosophy of Art
Introduction to Theology Creative Encountering
Introduction to Church History Racial Issues of the Day
Introduction to the Bible Christian Living
Meaning of Church Dialogue of Concerns
Salvation and Belief Speech
Toward Understanding God Modern Dance and Mime
Revelation and the Bible Art Course
Eschatology Communications Workshop
Marl in Modern World Church and Race
Martin Luther: His Life and Child Development
Theology Must Doctrines Divide?
Contemporary Theology Problems of Real Integration
Contemporary Literature Learning to Listen
Existential Philosophy How Others See You
Historical Background of the Meeting Criticism
New Testament Purposive Communication
Clarifying Your Self Image Situation Ethics
Studies in Ephesians Examining Your Values
Christianity and Communication Exploring Your Feelings'
Judaism Examining Beliefs
Exploring Mysticism Neurotic Guilt
Psychology and Religion Coping With Anger
Philosophy of Religion Making Friends With Wants
Religion and Psychotherapy Accepting Sexuality
Learning to Think Expressing Love
Worry, Anxiety and Depression Handling Questions
Being Dominant or Submissive Responding to Rituals
Dealing With Dependency Self Understanding
Sin, Sex, and Practicality Sibling Relationships
Sex Education in Public Schools Creative Rebellion
Developing Sensitivity Marital Conflicts
Facing Your Roles. Embracing Emotions
Existential Eschatology Being Responsible
Becoming Transcendent Basic Theology
Serious Game of Parenthood Learning to Speak
Arts in Responding Dealing With Conflict
Making Marriage Creative Religious Language
Process of Salvation Living Single
Why Go to Church? Responsible Parenthood
Toward Understanding God Facing Death
Bible in Perspective Affirming a Person
Representing Yourself Spiritual Defense
The second phase of church programming has been slanted directly toward experience. We have sought in these activities to provide occasions for both learning to be, and for being the church. In them, members practice being Christian and function as Christians. They learn to be responsible for themselves, for one another, and for the world outside the church.
Forms for these occasions have included large group activities (open to all), small group events (by invitation only), things to do together, creative expression groups, house churches, and mission activities. Among the group activities have been church retreats for families, men, women; couples, and youth; parties--group games, dances, coffees and teas, meals, table games (bridge, canasta, poker, ping-pong, etc.); camping trips and all-day picnics; sports and athletic events--volleyball, swimming, bowling, softball; fishing trips; church suppers, agape meals, gourmet dinners, Lebanese love feasts, European suppers, Jewish passovers, shrimp boils, cochon de laits, and pot-luck suppers.
Groups have sponsored, conducted, and attended musical concerts with pianists, vocalists, and other instrumentalists. They have held pop festivals, entertained rock groups, jazz combos, recorder groups, and choirs; held art exhibits, poetry readings, and art contests.
On-going small groups have met for various forms of expression and study. Those most continuous have included: dance, drama (adult and youth), poetry, creative writing, prayer, Bible study, art (drawing and painting), bridge, poker, and yoga. These groups have been led by members interested in the area. Membership has been open to both members and non-members. Expressions from some groups have been presented or utilized in worship services. The poetry group has published and sold three volumes of poems written by members and friends of Fellowship.
Responsibility beyond the immediate group has been another area of programming. Various community concerns have become the focal point for the church and groups within the church to work together. These are discussed under Experiments in Politics and Missions.
A revival of the house church gathering has also proven fruitful in the past six years. Recognizing that many of the traditional church functions could best be effected in smaller groups of the church family, we began organizing and exploring various forms of house church meetings. We experimented with leaderless gatherings, directed meetings, open-to-all house churches, closed groups, subject-oriented meetings, function-oriented gatherings, and project-focused groups. We explored the effectiveness of partaking of the Lord's Supper in house church meetings, sometimes, formally, at other times, informally. We tried having a minister preside and letting a layman lead.
Some house churches chose their own subjects and activities. I prepared study materials and exercises for others. Some groups focused on mission activities; others centered on working out their own-salvation. Some gathered to celebrate and have fun; others met to share their concerns and seek better ways to live.
One house church chose inter-racial fellowship as its purpose for an entire summer. At a time when social encounter between blacks and whites was extremely rare in our area, this group provided occasions for a new dimension of experience for many. Another group struggled with Accepting Religious Doubts. At another time, a group of unmarried and divorced persons formed a house church and met over an extended period considering The Concerns of Singles. Several couples met to consider Facing Marital Conflicts. Sexuality was the subject of one group of singles and spouses who met to talk about the place of being sexual in their own lives. They divided the general subject into many areas, assigned individuals to do research, and gathered regularly to share insights.
Transactional Analysis became the focal point of still another house church. Some members made detailed studies of this approach to understanding human relationships. The group gathered to discuss, practice, and interact, studying their own ways of relating to one another.
"We feel so far removed and out of touch simply because life cannot stand still; and these three years since we left have brought changes equally. The names and places I read about in the church letter are so foreign, but aha! that 'house church' is very familiar. Those were really wonderful times, and I wish I could feel as much growth since then as I felt then."
"Now I know what we have been doing over here--having a House Church. And since much of our inspiration for forming it came from Fellowship, perhaps you might like to claim a share in it. It was about five years ago that we became so dissatisfied with the local, meaningless worship service with its vain repetitions and struck out to search for something better. Perhaps the main instigation for our finally making a break came with the realization that we weren't worshipping the same God. The one they go for is a white, middle class, rather low-browed variety. We didn't quite understand this until we had some Cambodian students visiting us with skins too dark to take to church, even though they were interested in attending. No wonder Cambodia doesn't like us!
"Music had always been the most meaningful part of former worship services and I found a choir that welcomed my alto voice, if not my color blindness and that helped fill in some of the voids but it wasn't ' enough'. Here, too, I felt suffocated by the devotion to tradition and the distrust of any innovation...and the scripture I read keeps begging 'Sing unto me a new song.' Despite our differences I feel that for the first time we are experiencing 'koinonia.' For the first time in years I feel that this sort of service is acceptable in the Lord's eye...and it is such a good feeling, I wanted to let you know so you could celebrate with us."
"Thanks for giving me the chance to attend the finest conference I've had the opportunity to participate in. It was provocative, challenging and stimulating. I don't believe I've ever done so much facing up in such a short period of time."
"The teachings of Fellowship Church have enabled me to grow, to know, to be a real person. When I find myself in any kind of situation that befuddles me, instead of my former 'going into a rage,' I calmly use my brain, my body, my feelings, and I allow the moment. Then I pull out former Fellowship classes, sessions, experiences for my next move. (That was very hard to describe. I guess I've never really thought about the whole situation in context!) What I'm trying to say is that I'm grateful. Very grateful. The good life is--there is no word. I fall and I regress and I lack sometimes. But now I have a pretty good idea how to get back..."
"I am currently taking an eight week orientation course at Myers Park in. Charlotte. The initial sessions give me hope of finding there many of the things I have missed since leaving the immediate contact of the Fellowship."
EXPERIMENTS IN GROWTH TOGETHER
"There are so many things I am grateful for about Fellowship..Lately I have been so glad for my Fellowship friends. There's a kinship that is unlike that of any other friends from any other walks of life. Another thing I've been particularly aware of lately that I credit Fellowship Church with is my ever-growing sureness. I am more able now to move through life with confidence and sureness--to make my own decisions, stick to them without need to waver with the wind (wind mainly being other people's words), and stand tall in the face of whatever comes as the result of my moves! Wow! Life is fun! I'm so glad to be a part of it all."
In our society, significant personal growth and emotional healing commonly take place apart from the individual's everyday life circumstances and close friends. Children usually get away from home before they grow up. A person goes to a doctor, psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist in private. Perhaps no other person will know. Usually he will have no contact with the healing figure outside his office. Many psychiatrists will not even treat a friend or close acquaintance. If a patient meets his psychiatrist in public they may choose to ignore each other. Significant group involvements, such as therapy or encounter groups, usually occur in relative isolation from normal life. The participants do not know each other and seldom meet outside the group setting. Often only first names are known in the group.
The isolation of traditional therapy allows the person to present himself as he will, without objective contradiction. If he reveals secrets or acts in a way uncommon to his normal pattern, he is not faced by those who know him thusly in his everyday life. Since group members are not likely to know one's spouse, he can present the marriage picture however he will. No one can contradict him. If, in a moment of confession, one reveals his deepest secrets to his doctor, he does not face the potential embarrassment of meeting him later in church.
Although growth in isolation has advantages, it was a course not open to us. Because of the nature of church fellowship, we were forced to explore the possibilities of growth together. The minister who received confession and guided in the private growth process was the same minister who preached on Sunday. He might also be working with the person in some official capacity on a church board. Often he would know the individual's family and many of those associated with him.
Members of a growth group might also be personal friends. They would meet, not only in the group context, but also on Sunday, in work projects, and socially. Each one would often have contact with the family members of the other. If significant growth were to occur in a church setting, it would be together. This context was radically different from the traditional situation.
How has it worked? Predictably, many members have found it more difficult to open themselves to those who know them and their families. Experience with the traditional minister as a type of holy man representing God has made it difficult for some to be honest with me. After years of practice at acting their best before the minister, some have found it difficult to reverse the situation and honestly reveal their hidden selves. The knowledge that I will be speaking to them on Sunday, as well as be in contact with their families, has no doubt added another source of threat for some.
Against these disadvantages we have discovered many positive results of growth together, instead of in isolation. Even the disadvantages have produced growth, once they were overcome. For instance, the threat of being known by close acquaintances has been offset by two factors. First, there is no need to lie or pretend to those who will see through the untruth. Valuable time may be lost in isolation therapy as one works to impress the doctor or group who does not know him otherwise. Why pretend, for example, about how bad one's spouse is, if group members know him personally? Or, why hide a failure which is already public knowledge to the minister from other sources?
Secondly, the continual contact of a church fellowship allows many varieties of encounter and support not possible in isolation groups. When a group member meets a fellow member on Sunday he will have the Tuesday evening experiences in mind. His Sunday encounter will be richer because of the shared growth time together. The continuing nature of church fellowship tends to extend the actual salvation work far beyond the growth group time. When members meet on other occasions, that which has begun in growth group is likely to continue.
In crisis times the larger church fellowship has proven to be an invaluable daily support for persons working through critical stages of growth. For example, marriages in crisis periods have been accepted by the church, thereby allowing the spouses to work through difficulties in the midst of a caring community instead of in isolation. Needed feedback, support, and confrontation, which would not have been possible in private therapies has been given.
Being in a fellowship where struggle and growth are occurring openly has introduced many to the process--some who might have delayed facing these aspects of reality indefinitely. In everyday society some never come into contact with persons seriously involved in working out their own salvation. The experience may be difficult or frightening, but can also encourage one to pursue his own work more seriously.
The possibility of speaking publicly to those I encounter privately has proven to be an advantage also. After the threats have been overcome, this addition to individual growth situations has allowed me to give needed guidance in a relatively safe circumstance. Since I am speaking publicly, each individual can freely hear or ignore that which is relevant to him. The intensity of private or group encounter often renders this impossible or impractical.
The wide range of contacts which I have with those persons involved in serious growth also assists me in relating to them in more productive ways. For instance, when I know a wife's version of a marital conflict and have seen the effects on the children, I can more realistically relate to the estranged husband.
Certainly there have been difficulties involved in these experiments in growth together. The degrees of acceptance, understanding, and freedom achieved by members growing up together has been threatening to new persons considering joining the church.
Many have never experienced the type of openness and honesty which has come to be accepted in the Fellowship. Even when they greatly desire such relationships, some have found the actual possibility to be disturbing.
One-middle-aged couple voiced the feeling quite honestly. They said they were looking for fellowship and were excited at discovering our church. However, they had decided after several visits that they were simply not ready to face what it entailed. Another couple dropped out of the church because of the jealousy each experienced in seeing the other become friendly with members of the opposite sex. A woman resigned, saying in her letter that she simply wasn't able to deal with the challenges of a real fellowship.
The threat of continually facing those who can accept honesty has also proven difficult for some. As strange as it may seem, acceptance can be quite disconcerting when one is fearful or unwilling to proceed in his own growth. Traditionally, many have learned to pretend at church, to dress up in their best clothes, smiles, and behavior, and to hide their true selves. Faced with the obvious possibility of removing the mask and coming down from the stage, some members have chosen to leave the church instead.
One person said, "At first I was delighted to find a church where I could openly face my religious doubts. However, I find the continual possibility is disturbing and I am choosing to drop out for a while."
Growing together has sometimes been problematic in working together also. Persons willing to face the challenge of relating in a growth group have sometimes found the additional encounters of working with the same persons on a church committee to be too much. Valuing the growth group more than the service activity, they have sometimes chosen to avoid the work. This has, at times, produced problems in securing needed church workers.
As I look back and attempt to weigh the advantages of growth together against the disadvantages, I cast my vote in favor of our experiment. Although this context may prove initially threatening and delay the beginning of the growth process for some, I believe that later progress is more rapid and lasting.
Confirmation of my thinking is implied in these letters:
"Dear Fellowshippers, As David, the kiddies, and I gathered around the table on Thanksgiving, I thought again, as I often do, that this year has been one of the two most blessed and bountiful I have ever had. The other, of course, was the year I was in Baton Rouge and was able to be active at Fellowship. I miss y'all very much."
"I have missed Fellowship Church very much. Very often I wish to share with someone an experience that I have had and I think of doing so with one of you. And on Sundays I miss Fellowship even more. I assume that you would be the first to suggest that what is in Fellowship Church--although unique--is not necessarily confined to that group. I believe that, too. And I hope that we can continue to grow in that direction ourselves and encourage similar growth in others. Thus far, however, this has been a slow process."
"What I'm saying is, 'Jesus it's beautiful and I want to be too.' I'm' just full and I choose to share with the Fellowship, conscious of the fact that it was at Fellowship that it all began for me when I first became involved."
"We have discovered since we left that there are a bunch more 'Fellowshippers' out here in the world. They just don't have a name for themselves yet. It was reassuring after leaving Fellowship to discover that the process of becoming a real person is not dependent on a guide and lots of fellow travelers; though they sure make the trip nicer. We miss you, and as we try to live each now, we look forward to being among you again."
"Dear Friends, What I am grieving over is not the leaving, but the leaving you there. Going away from you has been the personal difficulty for me during our transition from our meaningful life in Baton Rouge Thank you."
"Now that the newness is not so new and the strange is familiar, and all company gone, well, we are homesick. We miss the parties and the fun, but most of all the listening and understanding of people we have come to hold quite dear."
"We do miss all of you and being there, but what you gave us in making church a reality can never be taken away. To whatever degree we learned to relate to people meaningfully, and to whatever degree we learned to live in a fulfilled now, then to that same degree we can never leave Fellowship Church; we take it with us. Our thanks to all of you who helped us come to know this."
"Although the Fellowship helped me move through many, many box-shattering awarenesses--most of which were agonizingly painful, they always helped me nurse the wounds they had helped me to create. During the four and a half years we were in Baton Rouge, many in the Fellowship were more our family than our own relatives. There will always be a very special place in my heart and my memories for the Fellowship group. Only the initial tearing down of unrealistic thoughts and beliefs was painful. With Fellowship came a new awareness of life, love, and joy! I have found that this awareness can be renewed anywhere, at anytime I am able to accept it--whether it be a sunset, a rose, a loved one's face, an inner feeling that a power too great to define is present, or any one of a million other everyday experiences. I try to fill each day with as much as I can, for I know from many past experiences, that heaven can be on earth. Agape...."
I had two primary concerns about the organizational arrangements I had known in the traditional church: the source of authority and the use of structures. I had noted what seemed to be fundamental problems when the authority of a church was displaced upward or outward. Just as a mature individual needed to be responsible for himself so I felt that a community of individuals, a church, needed to be self-determining in order to mature. The right and responsibility for personal decision seemed crucially important, both for individuals and groups. When the authority was displaced outside the group, as in a church hierarchy, I observed that the church tended to remain dependent and immature.' On the other hand, when the authority was dispersed too widely, the church became powerless to act decisively and hence remained immature.
These two problems were graphically evident in Catholic and Baptist churches. In one, the source of authority lay outside the local church; in the other it was widely dispersed within the local group. Each ended up being relatively powerless to act--Catholic communities, because they did not have the authority, and Baptists, because they could not mobilize it.
I concluded that an effective church organization would require complete autonomy, that the local church should be an independent body with the right and responsibility for making all of its decisions. I recognized the risks of being without outside direction or support, but I also knew the dangers of having them. I concluded that in my vision of the dream church, the dangers of dependency outweighed the risks of independency. Somehow we must find a structure that allowed the body to be truly autonomous, yet with local authority organized in a way which would allow the community to act decisively.
My second concern had to do with structure as the servant rather than the master. Too often I had seen the traditional church existing to serve its own organization, instead of using the structure to achieve its goals. I believed that organization should exist always and only to facilitate the church's being itself, never as an end in itself. Unfortunately, I had found the reverse situation all too common. People were meeting just to be meeting. Some organization or procedure, which may have been practical in its day, had ceased to serve, but could not be abandoned. The people had become subservient to the structures. Somehow we needed to get organizational structures in perspective again. We must find a why to use them instead of being used by them.
With these two concerns in the background of our thinking, we set out to form a new structure. We would see if we could find a way for a local community to functionally place its authority and yet keep its perspective on all structures.
The first decision was to be an independent church with complete local autonomy. We determined to keep the right and responsibility for all decisions within our group. This, of course, raised serious problems with denominational relationships. In most denominations the local church was only partially responsible for itself. The one major exception was the Baptist denomination which had historically stood for local autonomy. Even here, however, I knew it was more theoretical than true in practice. With thirty-three years of experience in Baptist churches I recognized that the undefined Baptist hierarchy was often more rigid than the Catholic system of central authority.
Yet it seemed the most likely possibility. We had no desire to be religious isolationists, as were many other non-denominational churches. We wanted to participate in the larger church bodies, yet not at the price of our autonomy.
With this desire we sought to affiliate with the local Southern Baptist Association of Churches. We began immediately to contribute the Cooperative Program of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and were listed as a cooperating church in that body and thus the Southern Baptist Convention. However, we could not conform to the unwritten requirements of the local association without violating our principles, and were hence not accepted for membership.
We explored relationships with other church bodies and finally concluded that the American Baptist Convention offered our most likely avenue to the larger, organized church. Apparently, we could have fellowship with them, cooperate in national concerns, be related to the National and World Councils of Churches, and still remain an autonomous body. On this premise we applied for membership and were accepted, thus becoming the first church in Louisiana to be affiliated with American Baptists and dually aligned with Southern Baptists. So far as we know, we were also the first predominantly white, integrated Baptist church in Louisiana in this century.
For ten years we have been able to remain totally autonomous, and yet cooperative with the larger church through the Parish Ministerial Association, the Louisiana Council of Churches, the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Convention and, hence, the National and World Councils of Churches. We have cooperated with many local denominations on projects of mutual concern (Jews, Unitarians, Catholics, Baptists, and others). Because of limited resources our financial contributions have, of course, been small.
The second problem with authority, namely, its placement within the local group, has proven more difficult. The challenge has been to remain democratic without displacing too much authority into a constitution, thereby becoming inflexible, or dispersing the authority into too many persons and thereby becoming impotent. One reasonable solution seemed to lie in placing the authority of the entire group in the hands of those responsible adults who were most involved in the life of the church. A problem lay in determining who these adults were, and designing a structure which could keep authority in them as the constituency changed.
A second concern was exclusiveness. Our premise of openness to all must be upheld. We had to find a way of saying, "whosoever: will may come" and join us, and yet safeguard the group's authority against an unreasonable dispersion among irresponsible persons. Our premise of freedom required that we allow members to be either responsible or irresponsible in their own process of growth. Also, some members did not want the responsibility for directing the church. How could we continually grant freedom to individuals and yet protect the integrity of the whole group? We believed that individuals should be protected from an oppressive organization, and yet the whole body must somehow be protected from oppressive members. The paradox was a difficult one.
After long discussions we decided to attempt its resolution through different types of membership. We would invite every person who wished to join to accept a type of membership which placed no requirements on him (participating membership). This would maintain the premise of openness to all. To safeguard the group as a whole, however, we would delegate the authority to those members who chose to accept it and meet certain requirements. These persons would become voting members (later called directing members).
The idea of membership types also allowed us to accomplish other goals. By designations we could have local members with varying degrees of interest, as well as members living elsewhere. This system was inaugurated in the beginning and has proven effective over the years. The initial types of membership were supporting (for those living elsewhere), provisional (those investigating the church), participating (those involved in the program), and voting (those with the delegated authority).
Originally, voting membership had these requirements:
1. Committal to the salvation experience and acceptance of the basic principles on which the church is founded.
2. Complection of the church orientation course.
3. Participation in the church's school of Christian education.
4. Completion of eight sessions of a growth group or individual conferences with the minister.
5. Proportionate giving to church approved budget.
7. Approval by Membership Committee and church.
8. Continued active involvement in life of church.
9. Must be sixteen years of age or older.
10. Live so as not to discredit the church or disrupt the fellowship.
Participating membership required: Interest in the church, participation in some phase of the program, minimum contribution of fifty dollars a year; and approval by the Membership Committee and the church.
Provisional membership required interest, approval and some participation. Supporting membership required interest, approval and a minimum contribution of ten dollars a year.
Over the years, various changes were made as we discovered them needed. At this time we have four forms of membership: Trial, Supporting, Participating, and Directing. The first is for those investigating the church. Anyone may join for a three-month trial period without cost. Supporting members, interested but unable, to participate in person, are expected to contribute a minimum of ten dollars a month.
Participating members attend and contribute as they choose. Directing members accept the responsibility for directing the church organization. All church authority is delegated to them. They must be eighteen or older, maintain active involvement in some phase of the church program, and contribute a minimum of twenty-five dollars a month.
In order to keep organization as a servant and find the best ways to get needed work done, we have continually revised our structures for work. Experiments have included: a Diaconate, with senior deacon and deaconess, as a serving body; an Executive Board to manage activities; a pastor's Cabinet; an Activities Council; a Board of Trustees; pastor-appointed officers, lay appointments, nominating committee; layman as moderator; pastor as moderator; committees and task forces; women's and men's organizations doing the work; yearly assignments, temporary assignments church-as-awhole doing the work (without committees); and volunteer workers.
Our current structure, which Is proving more productive than any previous one, involves three councils of four elected and ordained members each, working in the areas of people, programs, and things (facilities and finances). They are called the Diaconate, Activities Council, and Trustees. I appoint the chairman of each council, subject to church approval. Four other members are elected to each body. All members are invited to work with one or more of the councils as they choose.
These councils plan and work in their respective areas. An open, monthly business meeting serves to coordinate work and involve the larger membership. The purpose of the councils is to plan, tend, coordinate, but not necessarily to do all the work in their respective areas. In order to distribute the work assignments, a Work Board, listing specific tasks needing done, is kept in the church foyer. Each task is listed on a separate card with a duplicate. Members are encouraged to stop and review the board
periodically and select a job to do. The second card is signed and left to be picked up by the council chairman in whose area the task lies.
In other experiments we have attempted to separate church membership from salvation experience. In many churches, joining the church is made synonymous with being saved. Baptism or other religious rituals are then made a part of becoming a member. We perceived serious problems in this procedure. It required that one reach a point in spiritual experience before he could belong to the organization intended to foster spiritual development. Those who most needed the guidance of the church were often excluded from membership because they did not meet the belief or behavior requirements. Furthermore, serious problems were evident in determining what legitimate spiritual experience actually was. How could we determine who was saved when he asked to join?
Considering these problems we concluded that it would be more practical to distinguish between the organization of the church and spiritual experience. We would invite persons to join the organization without expecting any particular level of spirituality. We could then honestly invite anyone to "come as you are." Hopefully, spiritual growth would occur in the fellowship after one had joined the organization.
We have experimented with non-exclusive or joint membership. Commonly a person who joins a church severs all ties with any other church. For instance, one cannot be a Catholic and a Methodist at the same time. Nor can he belong to two Methodist churches concurrently. With the traditional understanding of church, this is, of course, logical. If, however, we were to become a truly ecumenical church, certain problems arose. Must a Catholic give up Catholicism to belong to an ecumenical church? Should a life-long Methodist have to sever all his church ties? And what if a person found certain useful elements in both Fellowship and some other church?
Considering these factors, we decided that joint memberships should be possible for those who desired them. A Jew should be able to maintain any ties he wished with his synagogue, and yet worship in Fellowship. Members have accordingly been free to belong to both Fellowship Church and any other religious groups when acceptable to the other groups.
Various ways of joining the church have been tried--walking the aisle at the end of a service, public requests, private requests, requests by mail, and following orientations. We concluded that each traditional means had its drawbacks. Finally we settled on the use of a membership request card, available in service, the church foyer, or by mail. The cards may be personally delivered with an invitation to join, or mailed to an individual.
Requests are then taken to the monthly business meeting for approval or rejection by the directing members. Following such approval, membership becomes active.
Membership rolls have been revised every three months. Directing members not meeting the requirements are automatically changed to participating. Those who have dropped from participation are removed from the list of currently active members.
To summarize: We have explored what I believe to be needed areas of change in traditional church organizational structures. Most notably, I think our experiments with complete local autonomy and with placing authority in voting members have proven most successful.
Although our present form of three church councils is more productive than any previous arrangement, I anticipate revisions in this plan as we have more experience. Certainly the experiments with supporting membership have been, invaluable.
EXPERIMENTS IN POLITICS AND MISSIONS
A focus on the here and now required a shift in understanding of mission activity. Whereas an other-worldly religion could rationally avoid the realm of politics, we could not. A concern for fullness of life in this present world necessitated attention to the political arena. Since structures and laws directly affect the quality of life lived within a society, we had to face a responsibility for helping shape these forms. This meant political involvement.
The problem was finding a way to effectively approach politics. How could we structure ourselves so as to reach decisions on significant issues? How could we best exert influence in the political arena? Traditionally, the churches we had known avoided political involvement. We found no model.
Even if we could intellectually face and accept a responsibility for this type of mission, there remained the challenge of dealing with diversity within the church. Certainly there would be divided opinions on any significant issue. The group contained both Democrats and Republicans. Could we arrive at any consensus which would respect individual differences, and yet allow group commitment? Could the fellowship tolerate openly facing divisive issues?
One of the principles of church leadership which I had learned was: "Don't rock the boat"--at least not much. Political involvement would certainly "make waves." Already I had dealt with major repercussions both within and without my previous church because of minor political involvement. I had been thoroughly investigated by a state un-American activities committee, threatened with being driven out of the church; my wife had been fired from a teaching position, and probably my phone had been tapped. Although I was able to avoid involvement in a later trial of a state senator on charges of illegal wire-tapping, my closest fellow-ministers in those times were not. Further, friends, politicians, ministers, and parishioners had advised me to "stay away from politics."
It was with degrees of fear and trembling that I faced the challenges of even greater involvement. The immediate task was three-fold: devising a structure which would allow the church to reach responsible decisions, respecting both the rights of individual members and the integrity of the majority; leading a people who were trained in the "religion and politics don't mix" school to face political involvement as a mission of the church; and thirdly, guiding them in developing tolerance for diversity and willingness to be committed.
An additional challenge evolved from the old concept of segmented persons. The traditional missions we had known involved a focus on either soul, body, or mind. Most commonly we were familiar with mission efforts to "save the souls" of those outside the church. Other mission work was directed toward bodily healing or mental education.
Since our concern centered on the whole person, a different emphasis in personal missions seemed called for. With our understanding of salvation for the person in the here and now, rather than for a separable soul in the hereafter, we must search for ways of serving which were more consistent with our goals.
Thus, two challenges faced us, one in the realm of politics, the other in working with whole persons. The first task was to find a functional structure for facing, deciding, and acting on political issues. Already we had posited the authority of the church in the voting members. Now a procedure was needed for doing the work.
Over the years we experimented with different methods and have currently arrived at this form. The church organizational structure provides for a Political Action Task Force with these responsibilities: The group, composed of a chairman and other interested persons, is responsible for informing and educating the church on political issues and initiating feasible church action. It is authorized to make printed materials available, hold discussions, present programs and candidates, prepare and present resolutions, communicate with public officials, endorse candidates, lobby, and take action in areas of concern. It considers and acts on recommendations from church members and on requests for political action from outside the church. Actions and activities in the name of the church must be approved by two-thirds of the task force and two-thirds vote of the directing members of the church. For these decisions ballots are mailed to each directing member at least two weeks before business meeting. He may give his vote in proxy to any other directing member, or vote it himself at the business meeting.
The second task in the political realm was leading the church to face political involvement as a legitimate mission responsibility. This was attempted in several ways. First, designing and approving the structure for political action required a general consideration by the church. My own political involvements, plus the direction of my preaching, was a continual stimulus for facing this area. A Church in the World Conference, including outside leaders, provided a specific period for re-evaluating the church's role in society. Finally, direct political activities have assisted in keeping this understanding of missions before the church.
The third task--developing tolerance and overcoming prejudice, as a basis for responsible political action--has proven the most difficult one. The entire church program has been geared in this direction.
How has it worked? Considering the challenges, I think our progress has been commendable. For a southern church to face and accept political responsibility in any degree was a major step. I believe our organizational structure is the most functional one I have seen. We have been able to act on issues which other churches felt powerless to deal with.
In the face of a potentially explosive school-desegregation issue in our community, the church took a forthright stand, inviting all other churches to join us. Two hundred sixty-five letters were mailed to churches of all denominations, inviting them to join us in calling on the community to face the problem in a Christian manner. Not a single church chose to take a stand with us. Privately, several ministers voiced this feeling to me: "I respect what your church is doing and wish we could join you. However, I'm afraid it would split our church in half if we had to take a stand."
Numerous activities have taken place since the inauguration of the first political action task force. Political forums have been held, presenting various sides of current issues; candidates have spoken to the church presenting their platforms; campaign literature has been distributed in the church foyer; the building has been made available for political meetings of private groups; and community meetings on public issues have been held in the auditorium.
Although I consider our efforts to face political responsibility to be relatively successful, actual productivity has been minor. Leadership has been sporadic. The Political Action Task Force has never been consistently active. Our functional structure has most often remained unused because we lacked the people to activate it.
The issues we faced have been lively and challenging in developing tolerance among the membership. Discussions have been heated at times, but seldom divisive. Some members, feeling threatened by these activities, have refrained from participation, but have not withdrawn from the church. Many others have been guided in developing and channeling their sense of social responsibility in the political area.
In addition to experiments in politics as a mission of the church, we have explored other mission activities with individuals, including the traditional services of food and clothing, but also focusing on spiritual guidance for the whole person. Unfortunately, few forms for this type of mission have been available for lay use. The church has, therefore, sought out types of services more related to the whole person.
Members have worked with the East Baton Rouge Detention Home in giving guidance to groups of delinquent children; with the International Hospitality Foundation in providing homes for foreign students; with the Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations in various racial projects with individuals; with Operation Upgrade, an adult literacy program; with "The Rhone," a twenty-four-hour community listening service; with prisoners in and returning from the state penitentiary; with the Louisiana State Mental Health Center in guidance to returning mental patients; with the state mental hospital in visiting patients; with the National Organization for Women; with abortion counseling; with Recovery, Inc.,a program for ex-mental patients; and with local YWCA projects.
The church has made its facilities available for many groups and community projects, including YWCA classes, the Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations, the Baha'i Group of Baton Rouge, Recovery, Inc., black-white parent discussion groups, student political meetings, Head Start programs, yoga classes, and community mental health meetings.
Sharing efforts have included sponsoring house churches in Baytown, Texas, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Currently the church, in cooperation with the American Baptist Churches of the South, is sponsoring a new venture in Atlanta, Georgia. Members, both local and supporting, have been active in working with groups in other churches and various correctional institutions. In response to one of these efforts the following letter was received:
"I recently received the Fellowship bulletin and after reading about your plans to prepare a history of the church, I thought this would be an opportune time for me to express what has happened to me since my becoming aware of Fellowship Church. To begin, I am an inmate of the Louisiana Correctional and Industrial School. Some time ago I met one of your members who was attending a Thursday night group discussion we conduct here. He began a series of instructions here which I was fortunate to be a part of. Subjects covered were Creative Decisions and Creative Encountering. In the months that followed I became aware of what it means to be fully human. I cannot begin to express the many eternal moments experienced during this time. Suffice it to say I am eternally grateful."
HISTORY BY DATE
On the night of April 28, a group of eighteen people met with me in my home to consider forming a new church., Those present included Bill and Nancy Beard, Tom Stegall, Roger and Lodi Ulmer, George Platt, Joe Durrett, Tom King, Gary and Barbara Patterson, James Watkins, Joe and Joyce Moreland, Warren Thompson, Carter Chambers, Blue Bell Vidrine, John Glenn, and Duffy Johnson. The decision to proceed was reached and organizational meetings were held on two Saturdays in May. By the 25th, fifty adults had signed requests for provisional membership., Thirty persons had pledged nine hundred dollars a month. Three, eight-session, orientation courses were started on Sunday mornings, Monday afternoons, and Wednesday evenings. Growth groups were initiated and private counseling sessions scheduled. John Glenn, assisted by James Watkins and Donna Jones, started planning an educational program. Warren Thompson was appointed temporary moderator along with other temporary leaders. All these meetings were held in the homes of interested persons.
The name, Fellowship Baptist Church, was selected and later approved by the Secretary of State. A charter was developed. On May 28, for $140, the new church made its first purchase of two used desks, two chairs, and a typewriter (all still in use at this writing). I was paid $408.30 on June 1. Appropriately, the Fellowship next purchased a large coffee pot.
By June 6, four children's classes for various ages were scheduled in different homes on Sunday mornings. Four growth groups, limited to eight adults each, were filling up. My counseling schedule had two vacancies left. Adult classes, also meeting in different homes, were scheduled on Contemporary Religions, Introduction to Theology, Introduction to the Bible, and Introduction to Church History--led by John Glenn, Dick Hill, Ray McCain, and James Watkins. Fellowship occasions were coordinated by Nat Lamb. Pledging reached $1,084.00 a month. The second newsletter closed with these words:
"The growth of a true fellowship in Christ; a real church, is not automatic with organizing activities. If this group is to become more than any other organization it will be because the individuals involved personally allow it to be so. Activities may engage you, but only your personal choice will allow real fellowship to come to be.
That choice is yours. May it be so."
On June 25, a lengthy charter setting out purposes, procedures, and membership requirements was filed with the Secretary of State. With four children's groups, three orientation sessions, four adult classes, and growth groups, all meeting in different houses each week, someone said, "We meet ourselves coming and going."
The first Executive Board, meeting on July 1, with all eleven members present, decided to rent a house at 954 Highland Park Drive, for seventy-five dollars a month, and to purchase chairs for up to two hundred dollars. Contributions to date had reached $2,132.00. A general church meeting was planned for the last week in July to discuss and vote on the charter, the pastor, and to elect permanent officers.
During July the eight orientation sessions on the subjects: Introduction to Church, Meaning of Church, Salvation and Beliefs, Christianity and Life, Toward Understanding God, Revelation and the Bible, Structures of Fellowship, and Life of the Church, were completed. Sixty-eight persons had enrolled and fourteen had completed all eight sessions, becoming eligible for voting membership. On the 14th of July, at the first morning worship service, I preached on "The Will of God."
On August 4, the Diaconate was formed with a senior deacon and senior deaconess. A library was started. At board meeting, Joe Moreland moved that a mimeograph machine be purchased "for as little as possible, spread over as long a time as possible, with as little interest as possible." With forty ballots cast, the new church accepted the provisional charter, approved the appointed officers, and called me as temporary pastor until elections on April 1, 1964. In September a budget of $1,411.60 per month was approved. Committees which had been studying baptism and church affiliations reported. This statement was approved:
"Accepting believer's baptism as a symbolic experience of death and resurrection in Christ, (Romans 6), we baptise by immersion unless circumstances deem otherwise. Such decisions will be made by the membership committee. Members are accepted from other churches on statement of the meaningfulness of their baptism."
The search for suitable church property continued. In the meantime the church accepted an offer of the Unitarian Fellowship to sublease their facilities at 5803 Government Street for use at times when it was not being used by them. Two services were scheduled on Sunday afternoons at 3:30 and 5:30 with adult education between.
The church voted to apply for admission in the Judson Baptist Association. At their annual meeting in October the association refused to accept Fellowship Church. Three reasons were given: "No permanent location; no adoption of 'the Articles of Faith'; and no adoption of the church covenant." By virtue of its contributions to the Cooperative Program the church was already considered a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. It proceeded to investigate dual-alignment with the American Baptist Convention, the Congregational Church, the Unitarian Church, and the United Church of Christ. As a result of these studies the Executive Board pursued the possibility of membership in the American Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ.
In December the first twenty-one voting members were officially approved. They-were: John Glenn, Melvin Bellar, Ralph and Tempe Crosby; Joe and Jackie Durrett; Bruce and Ann Evans,, Bill and Nancy Beard, Duffy Johnson, Warren and Marilyn Thompson, Billie Claire Phillips, George and Ann Platt, Ken Robertson, Joe and Joyce Moreland; and Ted and Izora Holmes.
Participating members included:' Delphine Bellar, Carol Lee Robertson, June Townsend, Edith Rogers, Tom and Sue Perkins, Bob and Kay Warren. Supporting members were: Mr. and Mrs. Tom King, Tallahassee, Fla., Nancy Dunn, New Orleans, Bob Benton, New Orleans, Gary and Barbara Patterson, Rolla, Mo., Aithel McMahon, Baton Rouge, and Mr. and Mrs. Larry Toms, Jonesboro, Louisiana.
The year ended with thirty-one provisional members, six participating members, and twenty-two voting members, a total of fifty-nine resident, adult members. In addition, nine supporting members were listed. Total income for the nine-month period was $8,329.70. The church had assets of $714.74, including chairs, desks; and typewriter ($140.00), folding chairs ($162.74), a mimeograph machine (10 years old -- $257.50), and a phonograph ($154.50).
In February of 1964, the church's application for membership in the American Baptist Convention was approved. The first official church elections were held in March. Warren Thompson was elected moderator along with the following members of the Executive Board: Ralph Crosby, John Glenn, Nat Lamb, Ann Evans, Mel Bellar, Duffy Johnson, and Joe Moreland. I was called as pastor for a three-year term.
In April the Fellowship Baptist Church Investment Association was formed as a way of raising money needed for church property and expansion. Investment shares were issued in twenty-dollar increments. By June three hundred seven shares had been sold. Invitations from the Liberal Synagogue and St. John's Methodist Church to utilize their facilities were considered. It was decided to continue to search for permanent property. Dr. George Head, of the American Baptist Convention, visited the church to May.
In July, negotiations were begun to purchase the facilities of the First Christian Church at 136 South Acadian Throughway. Dr. Jitsuo Morikawa and Mr. Martin England, of the American Baptist Convention, visited the church in August. Building negotiations continued; a $35,000.00 loan request from the American Baptist Extension Corporation was approved and the property and facilities were purchased for $36,000.00. The first services in the new building were held on September 6, 1964.
John Glenn replaced Warren Thompson as moderator in September. A motion to reapply to Judson Baptist Association for membership was defeated five to two. Organizational changes were made, involving establishing several new committees including Political Action and Social Service committees. A decision was made to sponsor a Church in the World Conference, focusing on the extremely tense racial situation in the south.
The Church in the World Conference, held January 25 through January 27, proved to be an exciting event. Some one hundred twenty-five persons from Florida, New York, California, and points between, gathered to discuss, listen, and ponder ideas about the role of the church in our society. Dr. Carlyle Marney was the featured speaker. Other addresses and testimonies were given by Dr. Robert Soileau, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Dr. Fred Wilihoite, Jr.,Government Department, L.S.U.; Dr. Robert Otto, Philosophy`Department, Mercer University; Dr. Lewis White, Southern University; Miss Elizabeth Miller, American Baptist Convention; four pastors--Charles McCullin, Baton Rouge, Clay Lee, Philadelphia, Mississippi, Jerry Chance, Bogalousa, La.,and Robert Collie, Kentwood, La.,who had been involved in racial tensions in local churches in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Perhaps the most significant element in the conference was the fact that both white and black persons concerned with segregation in the churches of the south met together to face a divisive issue. Restaurant and hotel accommodations for black participants involved some tension. Reported members of the Ku Klux Klan were noted taking down license plate numbers of those attending sessions. A full-page report was later given in The Christian Century, a national publication.
In February, an orientation team from the American Baptist Convention, headed by the Reverend LeRoy Cunningham, visited the church. A dance group, bridge class, and art class were started. The tape library was also initiated.
The Baton Rouge Human Relations Council met with the church it March. I was currently serving as chairman. Women of the church held a retreat. Rabbi Marvin Reznikoff was guest speaker at a Sunday service. Dr. Kenneth Cober, Director of the Board of Education and Publications of the American Baptist, Convention, visited the church.
In April, Joe Durrett was elected as moderator. Poetry and art contests were held; and the men went on retreat. May featured a family retreat, the initiation of growth groups for children and the continuation of the church orientation sessions. Serious money problems were developing. My raise was not given and the secretary was not paid.
During the summer the church held a retreat with the Baytown group. Helen Glenn started a junior art class. Tape mailing was organized; auditorium pews were slanted so members could see one another; the dance group continued to meet. Membership requirements were changed so that growth group or counseling were no longer required for voting membership. The church voted nineteen to one to reapply for membership in the Judson Baptist Association. I attended a six-week session at Union Seminary in New York.
September brought the formation of a drama group and the reorganization of the youth choir. Adult orientation sessions were begun again. A seminar on children was held. Adult classes on: World Religions, Man in the Modern World, Martin Luther: His Life and Theology, Contemporary Theology, and Contemporary Literature, were begun. A creative writing group was formed; another family retreat was held; and a square dance was arranged in the fellowship hall.
The Judson Baptist Mission's Committee refused to present the church's request for membership at the annual session "because it had not been received eight weeks before the meeting as required." (It was only six weeks early.)
Serious financial shortages forced consideration of cutting the minister's and the secretary's salaries. After a meeting, which adjourned at midnight, an all-church meeting was called. A proportionate giving plan was developed.
In November, Mr. DeWitt Bateman was ordained to the ministry by the church. An art exhibit was held. Dr. Dale Moody of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary spoke to the group. A Fellowship family album of biographical data on members was started. A youth drama group was started. I led a Church Renewal Conference Retreat in Palestine, Texas, for ministers from Texas and Louisiana. The year was climaxed by a Christmas family party and the traditional New Year's Eve dance.
Existential Philosophy and the Historical Background of the New Testament were the subjects of new adult classes begun in January. A church service featured creative expressions from the group. Orientation sessions were started again. A new church sign was erected.
In March, Women of the Church retreated, and Mr. J. C. Herrin, Assistant General Secretary of the American Baptist Convention visited the church. April brought the publication of the church's first collection of poems, entitled, Of One and Many.
The Head Start program for underprivileged children was being inaugurated in Baton Rouge. Because meeting places were difficult to secure, the church voted to offer its facilities. A family retreat was followed by a men's retreat. A couple's growth group was started and Joe Durrett was re-elected for a second term as moderator. Affiliation with the United Church of Christ was again explored.
A youth talk-back on What I Don't Like About Adults, church services featuring Spoon River Anthology and Death of a Salesman, and an evening of free-style jazz and poetry reading came in May. In June, I was recalled for a second three-year term as pastor. A re-commitment service for voting and participating members, an Agape meal, communion service, and baptism were held.
Ralph Crosby was elected moderator in July. An art seminar featuring Frank Hayden and Van Chambers of Southern University was held. A rock music performance and a seminar on Psychology and Religion led by Dr. John Stabler of L.S.U. rounded out the month. The church voted deep appreciation to Mrs. Duffy Johnson for three years and two months of secretarial service, mostly without pay.
Summer brought some seventy-five children-of all faiths, colors, and backgrounds to the building for the Head Start program. A near accident was reported on Acadian Throughway when a driver turned to watch a Catholic nun sweeping the sidewalk in front of a Baptist church. Sister Maria, who headed the school, was to become a continuing friend of Fellowship Church.
Verbatim, a publication of the writing group, made its first appearance in September. The church voted to sponsor a mission group in Baytown, Texas, and established for the first time a fee schedule for private counseling and growth group (ten dollars and fire dollars). The fall seminar schedule included these topics: Philosophy of Religion, Religion and Psychotherapy, and the Philosophy of Art. Dr. Carl Berreckman of the L.S.U. Philosophy Department lectured. A square dance was held and the orientation sessions were begun again.
October brought serious financial problems--again. I was notified that the church might not be able to pay my salary and was asked to consider outside, part-time work. The Baytown Fellowship was organized, a rock music group played for the church, and Dr, Armin Sheler of the L.S.U. Fine Arts Department spoke. The church decided in November to drop the word, Baptist, from its official name. In its quest to become an ecumenical church, the designation was often misunderstood.
January activities included a concert at the Sunday service by Mr. Charles Walker, concert pianist, Southern University; a lecture by Mr. Wayne Shannon, L.S.U.Department of Government; the beginning of a course on Creative Encountering; a seminar on Racial Issues of the Day; the inauguration of a weekly teen-time with the pastor and a college student open-discussion with the pastor.
A request to the American Baptist Convention for me to be appointed as a church extension pastor was approved. Under this provision, the American Baptist Convention would contribute $200.00 per month toward my salary. The Executive Board also moved that the pastor assume the position of church moderator.
In February, Dr. Ralph Mason Dreger of the L.S.U. Psychology Department, spoke to the group. Ken Murray became Music Director; Joan Brydon, secretary; and Ann Platt set up a schedule for supervision of children over eight years of age during the worship service. Hymn books were purchased. A madrigal singing group was started. A room was made available to the Baha'i group of Baton Rouge for March. Colonel Robert Emerson spoke on Extra-Sensory Perception and Dr. Paul Parker organized a group to pursue the study of psychic phenomenon. An open growth group was formed and a class on Situation Ethics started. New forms for worship were explored. Jim Templeton added to the spirit of worship with his consistently fitting piano improvisations.
A Christian Living Workshop was held in April. Classes included Studies in Ephesians, and Dialogue in Concerns. Discussions were led by a family counselor and Mr. Winborn Davis. A service organization was begun; Barbara Shade, drama coach from Southern University, taught Israel Folk Dancing.
Dorothy Bock became Fellowship Committee chairman and Nancy Beard, pianist. The summer program included a speech class, a modern dance and mime course, and an art course. Money problems developed again. George Platt became finance chairman.
In September, Joel Stegall became the church's first paid Music Director (fifty dollars a month); a class on Christianity and Communication was taught by Harold Hawkins. Fall saw the beginning of the Inquisitorial Chamber--a class for hearty souls willing to take a hard look at difficult subjects like immortality and the afterlife--led by Paul Parker. Supporting member contribution requirements were set at ten dollars -per month.
House-church meetings were begun in December. Eighty-five percent of members attended one or more. The church's second volume of poems, Who's Afraid of Being Adam?,was published. A recorder group from New Orleans, led by Carolyn Jones, performed during worship service. During the year forty new adults joined the church and thirteen left--a net increase of fifty-four percent.
Miss Marjorie Wilson, Educational Consultant from the American Baptist Convention visited in January. Organizational changes included uniting functions into the Diaconate. Harold Hawkins was the new chairman. Operation Biography, a book of information about members which was begun in 1965, was updated to include new members. House churches continued; junior-high students studied Judaism. A dedication of babies was held.
In February the church accepted a large sculpture from Frank Hayden of Southern University to be hung in the auditorium. Spring activities included meetings dealing with racial tensions in Baton Rouge, a communications workshop, church fishing trip, Agape meal, a program on Church and Race, a church retreat, and the beginning of inter-racial house church meetings.
Summer programming included a Jewish Passover Feast of Unleavened Bread, led by Rabbi Marvin Reznikoff, seminar on Child Development, seminar: Must Doctrines Divide, with the Reverend Sam Allen, Louisiana Council of Churches, Father Elmer Powell, Catholic priest, Rabbi Reznikoff, and Dr. Evans; seminar: Problems of Real Integration, Mrs. Pat Miller, Louisiana Council on Human Relations, Mr. Harold Hawkins, Community Advancement, and Mrs. Georgia Dreger, Psychologist.
Father Elmer Powell, Negro pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, was pulpit guest. House churches focused on: Concerns of Singles, Facing Marital Problems, and Accepting Religious Doubts. Other activities were a family retreat, all-day picnic, family camping, group theatre-going, men's fellowship, women's fellowship, bridge and ping-pong tournaments, a square dance, four inter-racial fellowships, and Sunday evening Agape meals.
Bruce Kolb became the new Music Director. The church was accepted as a member of the Louisiana State Council of Churches. Fall and winter programming included: Theological Studies led by the pastor, Exploring Mysticism, Dr. Paul Parker, and workshops on Learning to Listen, How Others See You, Clarifying Your Self-Image, Examining Your Values, Exploring your Feelings, Examining Beliefs, Neurotic Guilt, Coping with Anger, Making Friends with Wants, Accepting Sexuality, Learning to Think, Worry, Anxiety and Depression, Being Dominant or Submissive, Dealing with Dependency, Sibling Relationships, Creative Rebellion, Marital Conflicts, and Facing Your Roles.
In November, a seminar on Existential Eschatology was held; a Lebanese love feast was enjoyed; work with the East Baton Rouge Parish Detention Home was started; a food service mission project was begun and the twelve-week, basic theology seminar ended. American Baptist support to the pastor ended in December.
The year began with a children's dedication service and an adult seminar series on the Serious Game of Parenthood. In the Detention Home Mission Project, members met regularly with groups of five to six children assigned to them.
A class on Meaningful Bible Encounters was started. A group was formed for exploring Extra-Sensory Perception and mystical experiences, and a Jewish Passover supper was held. In April, AI Bankston became part-time, assistant minister at a salary of fifty dollars per month. Orientation sessions were started again, and the church faced the challenges of becoming an ecumenical fellowship. Twenty-two members were received by June.
A baby dedication, family retreat, and visit by Dr. Paul Brand, medical missionary, highlighted the Spring. A kindergarten directed by Mrs. Margaret Hawkins was started. During the summer Al Bankston and Harold Hawkins preached on two occasions. Pot luck suppers were held. Seminars focused on Arts in Responding.
To improve circumstances and versatility in worship arrangements, an auditorium improvement fund was started. Of $7,000.00 needed, some $1,500.00 was collected. Fall and winter programming included a Self-Understanding course for private study, and theological studies on: Religious Language, Theology in Perspective, Process of Salvation, Why Go to Church?, Toward Understanding God, and Bible in Perspective. These studies were the basis of what came to be called Now Theology--that is, a theology founded on the here and now, rather than on an afterlife. Other workshops were concerned with: Affirming a Person, Representing Yourself, Personal Defense, Purposive Communication, Meeting Criticism, Expressing Love, Love and Questions, and Responding to Rituals.
A group calling themselves, The Mighty Fellowship Art Players, presented a satire of Fellowship Church in November. The men went an a fishing trip; orientation sessions were held; and the Bayou Players from McNeese State College presented a play, White Lies, directed by Francis Fuselier.
Highlights of the year included an increase in local adult members; addition of the assistant minister; beginning a two-day children's program, a building improvement campaign, the Self-Understanding course with sixteen percent of members enrolled, thirty percent of members in growth groups and/or counseling, and explorations in the use of lighting, drama, and recorded music in worship.
Harold Hawkins was approved as the new assistant minister in January. A program of Drop-In Encounters with the minister was started. Members were invited to stop by and discuss matters pertinent to them. Joe Rich, finance chairman, reported that money problems were developing. The new budget was not being met. A flea market sale was held to raise money. The pastor began a series of lectures on the theology of the church. In March, these lectures were mimeographed, bound into a volume entitled, Now Theology, and sold for $5.00 each. A mission project was promoted involving the International Hospitality Foundation work with foreign students at L.S.U. Women of Fellowship organized and held a gourmet dinner. The seminar subject was Sin, Sex, and Practicality. In April, Mrs. Ann LaFosse exhibited her art in the building. An article about Fellowship Church appeared in the American Baptist Magazine.
Money problems mounted. The pastor proposed a system designed to strengthen financial structures. It included setting dues for directing members and charging fees for all special ministries, including counseling, growth groups, self-knowledge courses, workshops and other courses. An open discussion was held and the church finally made the painful decision to accept the proposal. Dues for directing members were set at ten dollars per month. Fees for special ministries were: workshops: twenty dollars, personal evaluations: seventy-five dollars, Self-Knowledge course: one hundred dollars, growth groups: ten dollars per session, counseling: fifteen dollars per session. Persons who tithed were not expected to pay fees.
The house church, Koinonia Times, was started at the building on Wednesday evenings. Dr. Valerion Smith presented music at a service. The tape ministry was expanded; approval was given to the formation of a southern region of the Amrican Baptist Convention. New voting procedures, including ballots to directing members, were established. The Political Action Committee was activated.
The church faced a difficult decision when presented with a membership request from a black man who had never attended services and was then in jail accused of attempted murder. The premise of openness to all was tested as the church voted to accept him. Some members later withdrew from the church.
With full integration of the Baton Rouge school system due in the fall, and tensions high, the church voted to contact all churches about joining in issuing a public statement to the community, urging, cooperation. Letters were sent to two hundred sixty-five churches. Only five dollars and one hostile letter accusing the church of being communistic was received in reply. The Fellowship proceeded to place its own ad in the newspapers.
Summer activities included an art exhibit by Mary Ethel Theriot, a baby dedication, a forum on Sex Education in Public Schools, led by attorney Tommy Benton, and an art exhibit by the Aquarius Age Arts--a group of black artists. A Sunday worship program featured paintings, sculpture, and poetry.
The. Reverend Toby Van Buren, Unitarian minister, was a pulpit guest. A service was presented by members on The Meaning of Marriage. Harold Hawkins resigned to become a Unitarian minister. Fall and winter workshops included these subjects: Understanding Salvation, Developing Sensitivity, Embracing Emotions; Learning to Be Rational, Accepting Sexuality,' Being Responsible; Becoming Transcendent, Learning to Speak, Learning to "Listen, Spiritual Defense, Accepting a Person, Representing Yourself, Dealing With Conflict, Making Marriage Creative, Living Single, and Responsible Parenthood. The Self-Knowledge course continued.
October brought a tightening of organizational procedures and the beginning of the Sermon Lab--a "Sunday morning discussion of the previous week's sermon. George Platt was appointed as diaconate chairman; Paul McBroom, activities council chairman; and Bob Westerman, trustees chairman.
In November the church lost the use of a piano which had been on loan from Marshall Vidrine. A piano fund drive was started. Mission work was done with the Baton Rouge Council of Human Relations. A Christmas bazaar was held in December. The year ended with twenty-one percent of members in growth groups, nineteen percent enrolled in Individual Salvation workshops, and eighteen percent enrolled in Salvation With Others workshops.
January activities included two dance classes for adults and children, redecorating of the library, expanding tape library, and mission work with Operation Upgrade--an adult literacy program. A European supper was held in February. The Mighty Fellowship Art Players presented their annual satire of the church. Mission work included work with The Phone--a twenty-four-hour listening service for the community and international student work. Tempe Crosby became editor of the newsletter. A Yamaha piano was purchased for $795.00.
In March, the house at 158 South Acadian Throughway was purchased ,for $15,500.00, to be used as a children's building and nursery center. The Edward Albee play, Zoo Story, was presented during worship. John Olmsted preached in April. Mission work involved food for a family of eight, work with returning prisoners from Angola, and anti-war discussions led by the Reverend Delton Pickering; a yoga class and parent's worshop were started. Five house churches were meeting monthly.
May featured a creative writing worship service, drama group, family retreat, writing group, missions work with the Louisiana State Mental Health Center, providing the building for Meetings of Recovery, Inc. (an organization for returned mental patients), the purchase of four air-conditioning units and installing a fence around the children's play yard.
Summer included a communion supper, loan of the building for a Tri-Parish Consortium of black and white parents discussing school problems, services led by Paul McBroom, and Barney and Gwen McKee, starting a nursery school, and the beginning of the Working Out Salvation courses on a private basis.
A new poetry book was started and the Now Theology course was offered on cassette tape. Extensive termite damage was discovered in the children's building. In September the Listening Room was established for use in hearing tapes, study, working on courses, and private meditation. The salvation course was offered by mail. The minimum contribution for directing membership was raised to fifteen dollars per month.
A political forum in October introduced members to candidates in the current local election. Discussions were arranged to guide in voting decisions. A Communion supper, Christmas bazaar, and mission work with mental patients rounded out November activities. December brought the publication of the church's third book of poetry. Thirty-two persons contributed the one hundred poems included in Certain Days Are Islands.
A new approach to utilizing the courses on Working Out Salvation began the year 1972. Members were invited to schedule a monthly conference with the minister and skip around between the fifteen sections which seemed most pertinent at the time. The poetry group continued; the tape ministry expanded; and an artists'guild was started. A Sunday evening open house for artists featured presentations of art and poetry reading. A new eight-week, directed growth group on Learning to be Emotional and Responsible, was started in February.
In March, Fellowship Church hosted the second annual Convention of the American Baptist Churches of the South, with sessions held at the Mount Zion First Baptist Church. The convention was a new experience in inter-church cooperation. Guests included Mrs. Marcus Rohlfs, President of the American Baptist Convention, and Dr. Harvey Cox of Harvard University.
Thanks to Miss Holly Whitehead, the church was featured in a full-page article in the Sunday Advocate newspaper under the title: Salvation is Serious Business at Baton Rouge's Non-Church Church. The Mighty Fellowship Art Players presented A Satirical View of Fellowship Church, Part III, in April. After a time in the army, Bruce Kolb again became Music Director in May. He and Rodney Stuckey presented a Program of Renaissance Music, on guitar, lute, and recorder. Hardy Barnett preached at a morning service. A Women's Club garage sale netted four hundred dollars.
The annual church retreat was held in June. The pastor's office was moved to the old nursery room. Renovation of the children's building was started ($2,300.00), and a new carpet was installed in the auditorium and foyer. Paul McBroom cut the infamous hole from the old carpet and kept it as a souvenir. Tom Buzbee began a class on Now Theology. Earl Taylor, a black tenor soloist, presented a morning concert for the church. Money problems were again developing.
August brought the beginning of a Wednesday evening prayer group, alternating with a Bible study group--led by George Platt and Hardy Barnett. The church was featured on a tape, Religion in the South, produced by the American Baptist Convention. Holly Whitehead, Paul McBroom, and Jackie Durrett were interviewed along with the pastor. A worship service directed by Bruce Kolb featured slides, music, and a children's choir, around the theme: Childlikeness in the Kingdom of God. With repairs completed, a children's building work day resulted in a freshly painted interior.
September featured four sessions on the subject: Facing Death. A doctor, lawyer, and representative of the Baton Rouge Memorial Society were utilized as the pastor guided members in dealing with this aspect of life. Mrs. Margaret Hawkins made a second attempt with a Fellowship Nursery School, this time in the children's building next door to the church. A house church was begun in New Orleans, directed by Paul McBroom.
October brought a free pop concert entitled Solomon's Secret--an original song growing out of a sermon by the minister--featuring :Mike Cappel and Frank Vann. How it Is conferences, regular monthly spiritual check-up sessions with the minister, were initiated. The tape ministry was featured in Quest, a publication of the Division of
Parish Development of the American Baptist Convention. The article said, "When you can't be there yourself a tape is the next best thing! The cassette tape library of Fellowship Church, Baton Rouge, La., has brought much enjoyment and fellowship to its listeners. The church provides a comfortably equipped listening room. by appointment and even tapes Sunday services for Monday morning listening."
The church voted to sponsor a school for two to three-year-olds in Dallas, Texas, directed by Sue Perkins, supporting member. The need for a new heating system brought about a fund drive for $2,350.00. Individual pledges to the church budget were published for the first time. Naturally, some did not approve. Tom Buzbee started a class on Creative Encountering. Members began joining the Baton Rouge Memorial Society, an organization for lessening the costs of funerals and giving individuals a choice in the means of burying or disposing of the body at death.
The fall budget drive was expanded to include commitment to membership, work, and programs, as well as money. New program offerings included special counseling in the areas of pre-marriage, marriage improvement, vocations, and theological understanding, developmental groups, and a new individual study course on Tolerating Pleasure.
In November, a six-session study of Now Theology was started by the pastor; the heating system was installed, and a new brochure introducing Fellowship Church was published. The budget of $3,000.00 per month was underscribed and money problems developed. Individual contributions for the year were published for the first time.
December included a bake sale by the Women's Club, the beginning of a monthly parent's discussion group, an Agape feast, and a candlelight communion, plus, of course, the New Year's Eve party--this year at the John Glenn's.
RESPONSES TO FELLOWSHIP FROM MEMBERS
"I guess I never do get over things. They all tend to stay with me a long time. But I don't see any reason to get over something like being a part of Fellowship Church. I hope it stays with me forever. I had a discussion with my father the other night. He's quite involved in the Presbyterian Church, but also very disgruntled about it. I tried to describe Fellowship Church to him, and all he could say was, 'Don't just go join any church anywhere. You just won't find something like that.' I think I detected in his answer and in his attitude a desire to say, 'Why couldn't I have found something like that?' It's rare, very rare. Thank you for the rare, experience."
"To my friends outside of Fellowship, a word of explanation about the church. I became a 'Christian' at the age of twelve. In 1963 Bill and I became charter members of the new experimental church. We remained active members from the time it was born until we moved in 1968. I used the word Christian in quotes because it was from the time of the birth of Fellowship Church that I gradually came to know the meaning of being Christian.
"I believe that I am still growing in that knowledge. Mainly, to me, it means to live every minute of this life to its fullest and whenever possible to share my joy, my sorrow, my hopes, and my disappointments with others. In other words, to be me, and to share me with others. To me, this is the meaning of 'I am.'
"In 1964 Bill turned down an offer from another company because neither of us at that time would even consider for a minute leaving Fellowship. We still needed the guidance of the pastor and the remarkable fellowship of that group too much at that time. By the time we left in 1968, we felt that we could carry on without its assistance. We still left with much regret! I will always be grateful that we had the opportunity to be a part of the fellowship as long as we were.
"When I try to put my finger on Fellowship's greatest contribution to me, I would say that it was ridding myself of the tremendous burden of false guilt and false pride. Guilt is a very, very heavy burden to carry through life. False pride can cost us much privately and especially in our friendships with others. In my opinion and experience, most traditional churches only add to the weight of each. Christ said that he had come to free us. At Fellowship I found this to be a reality. Fellowship Church and its members accepted Bill and me with all our 'unacceptable quirks' of character, as we were, thereby helping us to accept ourselves and others as they are. I sincerely believe that without Fellowship's help Bill and I would have grown gradually more apart, instead of closer and closer into a very full and meaningful marriage."
"Thank God for Fellowship Church. Life is just so much more fun since Fellowship. It feels marvelous to have a religion so real I can lean on it and know it's not going to fall over (I might, but it won't!). It being God. It's hard to believe religion can be so delightfully believable. Thanks for the opportunity to feel a part of Fellowship Church."
"We moved back to Baton Rouge and I started going to ..... Church. It was like walking into a morgue. I tried to be interested, but it was unbearable. I quit going. I was looking for fellowship in a church, people who aren't afraid to worship freely, and talk about God. When some of my friends told me about Fellowship, I came. Fellowship is a 'whole 'nother church.' It offers me more than I thought possible on this earth. It offers honesty, realism, and gives, or hands you nothing. A person has to grow and develop in Fellowship. There are no rules of 'how to' all laid out. It comes from within!"
"The church is already past my wildest dreams. It's the most honest encounter that I've ever had in a church. Fellowship is such a challenge. It's very daring to be invited to jump into a room of darkness, especially if you're used to having the 'trip' all planned!"
"I feel a need at this time to express thankfulness for what Fellowship means to me. For nearly two years I have been separated from the physical essence of the church. The first was one of much rebellion and personal tears, fears, and frustrations. The last year, as I look back, has been a constructive one. I have been consciously or unconsciously--I'm not sure which--founding my own personal church (an active organism that affects me almost every day.) It is a beautiful thing. I do not mean to infer any extreme thing like all-satisfying (although when my church functions it is that). It is
just that there is something very real, almost tangible, that functions within me that was never, there before. I feel a basic self-confidence and well-being under any circumstance, good or bad, that is joyous in itself. I do not know if this is a permanent thing but somehow it doesn't seem to matter. The important thing to me at this time is that I feel growth within me, and hope. And that no matter where I go I can carry my 'church' with me. I am deeply revered with this knowledge. Thank you for helping me in my beginnings, my birthing. No matter where I am you should know that I am part of your church. In Him."
"Since I have been in Pennsylvania I have continued to be amazed at my own existence. More specifically, I feel as if I'm living in the words of Paul--1st Corinthians 2:9. Situations at school which I believe would have been most disturbing a few months ago, are now just opportunities for me to get better acquainted with students and fellow faculty members. Though 1 have 'visited' various churches here, I have not yet been led to become a part of any one. I shall keep looking, however, as I did in Baton Rouge. I looked for over a year before finding Fellowship."
"We are writing to request that our names be submitted for consideration as supporting members. We have talked about this quite a lot. We have found that no matter where we worship, there hasn't been the fellowship nor spiritual stimulation that we received when we were with our friends in Baton Rouge. It is for this reason and because we believe so much in what the church is trying to do that we would like to have some part in it."
"We went to the local Baptist Church last Sunday (Easter). Yuk! Wish l hadn't gone. That is not the answer to the void in our lives. Wish there was a church, any kind of church, that was geared for being alive and thinking. It's rather difficult to tell people that we will not attend their church because we are too religious, rather than not religious."
"My being with things in the past two weeks has been very big!! I have 'gone on' when I thought I could not; I have 'done' when I thought I would not; and I have 'been' when I thought I am not."
"Dear Friends, I came across a definition in the dictionary on one of those side-road detours my eyes often take when looking up a word and becoming so engrossed in another that I forget what was my original destination...and it made me' think of what
Fellowship Church has meant to me. The word was 'Nirvana' and it was described as the 'dying out in the heart of passion, hatred, and delusion with a resulting emancipation involving a beatific spiritual condition, and freedom from the necessity of future transmigration.' Now, I do not pretend or desire any freedom from passion and I am more than ever before aware of reality, but I have attained (more or less) an aliveness that does shut out any need for a dessert course after this full course meal of the here and now. And I thank you for your part in it."
After her husband's heart surgery a former member wrote:
"It will be eight weeks tomorrow since Bill's surgery. He is fine, but I've had a struggle lately. Would that I could have sat on the mountain top in that glorious experience of faith and strength and possessed that peace and knowing and calm forever. But such is not the way of life. I had to come down and study nutrition and cook three times a day and have dirty broilers, and pots, and more dirty broilers, and even more dirty broilers. I got buried beneath the dirty broilers, but I am pushing my way up and can sometimes see and occasionally feel the sunshine. I feel as if I may even fly again.
"I had an ugly battle with guilt again. Bill and had asked and we had received. Oh, had we received! What an experience! Then I came home and got discouraged and tired because of 'little things' like too many broilers, pans, and dishes. As if I weren't grateful to still be able to cook for him. Guilt! One hundred pounds on each shoulder again. Result: After a few weeks at home Bill feels better than I do. He complains a little when his back or legs hurt. Mine are hurting too. I open my mouth to say so, and Guilt. What right do I have to feel bad? Almost full circle back to ten years ago, I think at first.
"But it's not. I know where I am--down, beaten and bruised after my fall from the mountain top. A big difference though. I have experienced the sunshine, and the mountain top, and I was learning to fly. This I know too. And I will fly again. With love and affection...."
In response, another wrote:
"...she assures me through her letter that what she has gotten from Fellowship, neither time nor distance can diminish. And for me who sometimes doubts, and sometimes. falters, (called humanism, l am aware) it is very comforting to know I can fly again, too. Would you believe soar..."
"Fellowship completely changed my life. I am not among the millions of physically living, dead people who say they look forward to their physical death so they can have their assured 'pie-in-the-sky,' not giving a moment's thought to their present spiritual death. These are the same 'dead ones' who blindly stumble through their's and others' lives, creating spiritual havoc wherever they go, in the name of 'right and good,' holding a Bible, spouting that they are right, because they are 'saved.' In Fellowship I found a very fertile place to grow upward and outward. I was constantly surrounded by the right stimuli for growth in our discussions of ourselves, and our actions with others in relationship to Christ's teachings in the now world."
A charter member recalls: "I remember:
-- When we had our first sessions on sex-and- B.B. got tangled up in all those yards of tape from the recorder.
-- The Christmas party when K.F. and the children made a 'genuine' Mexican pinata out of a clay flower pot. When it finally broke (with help from stronger members), children cut their feet on fragments of pottery scurrying for candy.
-- Bridge or Hearts or coffee after Sunday night discussions with whoever else was in the same mood.
-- The noise from the back of the church the first time wine was used for communion and M. and G. yelled, 'He gave us bourbon!'
-- A hospital visit, when everyone else was saying, 'Congratulations on the new baby,' a different response, 'Maybe sometime you'll really talk.' .
-- The hurt of leaving, the excitement of return, withdrawal, and the fear of being part of--and being accepted even though only half my little toe was in the door.
-- The experience of trying to 'take' mannerisms of others I thought to be more weird than me.
-- Typing material in the office and getting so engrossed that my fingers wouldn't type as fast as I wanted to read.
-- Painting, talking, sharing on Thursday nights.
-- Children coming home at noon on Sunday, eyes dancing, all talking at once of new plans made in church school, or sharing feelings of experiences of the hour before. They never have answered, 'How was church?,' with 'Fine,' but always with definite statements.
Other members recollect:
"I remember Barney's art class way back in May of 1967--made about a hundred dollars for the church!"
"I remember planning (and indeed enjoying) a trip to Mexico with the Westmorelands and M. Thevenots. We had a 'creative garage sale' which all the church members came to and bought our 'art' work so we could earn money to go."
"I remember especially the communion suppers Dub and Abby Fletcher hosted--fruit and cheese, and bread and wine, and delicious encountering."
"I remember the melodious voice of Dorothy Bock, the creativity of Bruce Kolb's music, the excellence of Martha Westmoreland's piano playing, the vitality of Kay Fuselier...."
"One humorous experience Frank and I had was in the summer of 1966. We had been among the group only six months then. I was very eight-and-a-half months pregnant with Holly. Frank and I did the yard work at the church, every Saturday afternoon. The afternoon I'm referring to was extremely hot. Frank had almost finished mowing the yard. Only the very front was left. He looked so hot and tired that I told him I would, very carefully, finish mowing. He had gone in gotten himself a cold coke out of the machine, and had come back out and was resting under a tree in the parking area. About that time, an elderly couple drove by very slowly. When she saw my very obvious condition, and that I was mowing, she looked at me like I was crazy. Then she spotted Frank resting under the tree. Responding only to what she saw at the moment, she gave Frank a look that would have shattered glass. If looks could have killed, he would have been a'goner.'
"Although this happened in a matter of seconds, it is an experience that we will never forget. We've laughed over it many times."
Scattered memories of a charter member:
". . .civil rights . . . who can give me reason? . . . provisionary membership . . . a good time was had by all . . . make checks payable to Fellowship Baptist Church . . . orientation . . .koinonia . . . received reports . . . newly affiliated . . . Church in the World . . . deal me in . . . you will be contacted . . . house-church . . leaking mimeograph machine. . . investment association . . . People . . . but pews might change us. . . many thanks, Jesus . . . growth groups . . . leaving and returning .. . learning ... driving ... that's his problem ... Of One and Many ...cornflowers . . . stay in your own skin. . .Verbatim . . .each of these quiet bits . . . . A Translation of Aloneness . . . .Human Relations . . butterflies and linoleum cuts . . . .Who's Afraid of Being Adam? . . . meetings . . . newsletters . . . New Year's Eve . . . . workdays . . . . retreats . . . . Mighty Fellowship Art
Players . . . . fishing . . . Certain Pays Are Islands .... coming to be . . . .every now and then . . .
"In early efforts to define our fellowship, we called it 'an experiment in the possibility of more realistic church inour times a venture in faith.'
"Ten years later some have been members from the beginning. Others have joined and become a part of our growth. There have been some whose personal circumstances required their moving to other communities and other possibilities. And there are also those who concluded, for various reasons, that the 'experiment' was one which failed for them personally. For whatever the reason, each time we experienced their loss and the organization suffered. At times it was even feared that the pruning might leave wounds too deep to heal.
"In the University Baptist Church bulletin dated March 6, 1960, Bruce Evans wrote:
'Today I met a man.
But not really. . . .
Rather, our paths crossed.
The private paths of our own separate worlds
made a juncture, and we were there.
We told our impersonal names
and shook each other's hand
warmly and firmly--to convey our interest
which wasn't there.
We shared our views
on the weather, politics, the latest news,
and other foreign things
which were not there.
And then the conversation lagged, we said:
'Well, glad to have met you.'
We lied, smiled, extended our hands again,
and parted--glad to be on our separate ways
from our little meeting.
Today I met a man.
But not really.
'Sunday morning we meet a man who was God. His name was Jesus. They called him the Christ. His feet touched our soil for less years than many of us have already lived. He died on a cross. But before he died, he supped with his friends in an upper room and said: 'This do in remembrance of me.'
Pray God, we may meet Him. Really.'
"This, for me, has been and is what we are all about--meeting Him and meeting others who are meeting Him: Really! Every time it has happened and does happen, it is no 'experiment' it was and is Church--Fellowship."
I am sitting in my study on a May afternoon with ten years of experimenting behind me. Both the joys and pains are vividly etched in my mind. In reflection, I am extremely grateful to have been allowed this pilgrimage. I am thankful for those who have supported the venture with their presence, work, money, and prayers. Most especially I am appreciative of those persons who have allowed me to be their minister, teaching me as I guided them. I am grateful also to those who have given me permission to include the excerpts from their letters in this history.
I hope that our experience can be useful to others who are concerned with renewal of traditional churches and establishing new communities of faith. We have explored many blind alleys as well as green pastures. Perhaps our venture will help others avoid the loss of precious time in their own quest.
What about the future of Fellowship? Will itcontinue? Will it expand? I cannot answer these questions. I only know that my thirty-year dream is more of a reality than ever before.
Once a child asked me, "What do you do?" What I wrote in response is still true:
What Do I Do?
I fight demons
I wrestle with devils
tempt hidden people
I stand at open tombs crying out the ageless message:
"Lazarus, come forth!"
And sometimes, some very precious times,
when there is faith,
I see angels overcome demons;
people becoming people.
I see the dead rise.
And I joy,
and sing the doxology,
and the Halleluiah Chorus
in my heart.
What else can I do?
BACK TO INDEX