Carolyn’s Online Magazine
THE IDEA OF COMMUNAL FAITH
Early on September 20th Boy Scout Troop presented a flag ceremony at the 108th Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival.
Following the flag ceremony a Methodist circuit rider, The. Rev. Anthony Hita*, announced that in the grand nature of this spot of the world we were celebrating the past as we looked eagerly to the future. And so he presented the Festival’s morning worship service.
The site of the Festival was grand in nature. Cool, crisp, pre-autumn weather was accentuated by mild breezes while the sunniness was occasionally interrupted by cloudiness.
Suiting the day The Rev. Hita informed his congregation that his Circuit rider’s outfit made of flax linen.
Preceding the first communal hymn The Rev. Hita shared John Wesley’s directions for singing, written 1761:
Learn these tunes before you learn any others…sing them exactly as they are printed (in the hymnal)…sing all…sing lustily and with good courage…sing modestly. Do not bawl…Sing in time…
Above all, sing spiritually.
Red, yellow, green leaves danced and branches waved gently to the strains of Shall We Gather By the River, the first hymn sung by the congregation.
The Rev. Hita said he likes to remind people of their heritage as a shared experience—that in the United States the Methodists pushed the frontier forward. First the community built a school, then the saloons. Then the people gathered of the church at meeting halls.
Methodist circuit riders drove the frontier forward as they were sent to each community to share how and invite into the community. By the 1860s the Methodist church was bigger than all the other denominations combined.
We need to continue that tradition today, he said. We need to not only live into history but to make history, not only be individual Christians but community Christians, in order to push the country forward.
As The Rev. Hita spoke, I noticed the mixture of old and new: person’s outfits of the past while singing to music created by electronics. Earlier I’d noticed the scouts reading from an electronics device.
The Rev. Hita read the morning Scripture from a Bible which was published in the 1800s, written in the vernacular of the 1800s, the language or our grandparents. He obtained this Bible while cleaning out a school (he wasn’t always a pastor). It had been thrown in the trash, and he rescued it not realizing he’d be reading from it someday. He read Hebrews 10:19-25 from this Bible.
The Book of Hebrews was written 60 years after Jesus. The church at this time was in crisis—probably the first crisis since it was formed.
In the beginning the church had united people from many different backgrounds: the poor and rich, men and women, etc. However, as the newness of the message wore off people gradually returned to their old ways, ways which separated people.
Trouble brewed. People withdrew to themselves and developed an unwelcoming insider language. Faith ceased to matter as members formed separate groupings. This confused and weakened newer Christians. It became problematic to outreach.
2000 years later we still see faith as an individual, not a communal choice, said The Rev. Hita. The problem is that individual choices rarely matter to or affect others.
The purpose of faith is not to benefit oneself but to benefit others—the purpose of other person’s faith is to benefit you. If our faith is only important to us we withdraw, not just from the church but from our individual faith practices. When faith becomes an individual choice we take it to ourselves not to serve others.
Jesus never said when you are by yourself I’m there. He said when two to three gather together he’s there.
We have ceased to gather together. We’ve made our faith about ourselves. Service has become serve-us.
Church is where memories live, experiences are formed. We’ve come to make our church a museum, holding the memories and experiences, the past. But we don’t not bring in the new.
Think about your church. If it closed would you notice? For most people the answer would be NO. It shows our faith doesn’t matter.
Christ is a mediator between you and God, between you and others. A faith that matters builds together.
We don’t change on our own. We need each other, we need Jesus.
When Pope Francis spoke at a mass on the campus of the University of Washington’s Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, he said We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world, according to news reports.
We need to rediscover the idea of faith together, The Rev. Hiita continued.
The foundation for this rediscovery: give up personal needs for each other. Take the past and form newness with new people. Expose self to new ideas. Allow yourself to know people who challenge us to grow. We need to see church not as a building, but as a people.
It was not individuals that built the nation, but community built the nation. You will never be all you can be without others.
*The Rev. Anthony Hita serves Trinity United Methodist Church in Stahlstown, and Pleasant Grove and Zion United Methodist churches in Ligonier, Pennsylvania