Recently, I took a walk around my new neighborhood. The day was glorious, as New Mexico days tend to be and after I finished oogling at the cloudless, azure sky, I took notice of the homes in the neighborhood. Interesting to look at these houses with new-ish eyes.
Here is what I noticed about the homes I passed: virtually every one was adobe-like; many of them had flat roofs - that is common around New Mexico though a few others had red-tiled pitched roofs, which is a bit less common. Some homes had an overhang that gave shade from the winter midday sun. I imagine in the summer, the shade is welcomed. In my previous experience, many windows had adornment around them to set them off - show them off - displaying decoration reflecting the owners taste, but what I saw were windows that we rather plain. Yard decorations and plantings, on the other hand, were expressive, different and inviting. I was jealous that I only have a balcony to adorn, but I returned home determined to make my balcony my own.
This walk reminded me that I never saw the inside of any one of those homes. From the outside, they looked common but shortly I visited one of my congregation members and was amazed at the individuality and the beauty I saw there. As one who has moved far too many times, I feel a huge loss that I am not able to create such a space for myself. Maybe soon.
This sameness and surprising individuality reminds me of the UCC churches in Albuquerque. There are four of us and each may seem the same from the outside: Open and Affirming (ONA), Extravagant Welcome, Faith that is 2,000 years old with thinking that is current. We all subscribe to the same set of doctrines but we express them individually. In one congregation, the people who attend may be more formal, in another more spontaneous and in yet another, more Spanish speaking.
If you were visiting St. Paul's UCC in Rio Rancho on a Sunday morning, you would find a graying congregation (surprise about that) who is struggling to see what "revitalization" means to them. They are asking themselves and each other how clawing their way up from the brink of death will change their church family. Already, we have more contemporary music. In attempting to break a lifetime of referring to God as "he" we stumble on the pronoun and sometimes just go back to the old way of thinking of God as a man in the sky. At least then we knew what God was, now as we refer to "the mystery we call God" the issue confronting us may be "are stones God's being as well?" Sometimes we meet in our coffee room to view and discuss youtube videos. Even a regular Sunday sermon might challenge us to respond to issues the come through the preaching.
From our "UCC" identity, our "ONA" stance, from our challenge to think of scripture with our 21st Century vocabulary, we all look the same. Inside, we are truly individual. Just looking at architecture you would never know! If you are int he neighborhood, stop in and say Hi!