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What is a Progressive Church?

By the  Rev. Dr. David Alicea, United Church of Christ of Paradise Hills

What does it mean to be a progressive church which professes that God is still speaking?   What does it mean for the church?  For the community it seeks to serve? 

     There is, I believe, a fervent need to define the role of today’s church, to recognize as imperative the need to help people become empowered, based not only on their virtues and visions but on belief in God’s word, the core of our Christian lifestyle, the foundation of our values and the projection of our faith.

     For this reason, as history turns another page in the United Church of Christ’s theological and social development, we need to discern such ethos through our famous mantra: “God is still speaking.”  This can mean many things but, if we as a church seek growth and understanding of our faith and to become strong and compassionate while living in a hurting world, we must ask ourselves exactly what it means.

     Being a “’progressive church” can, of course, mean many things.  A progressive church is one that embraces the contextual needs of the community while trying to make sense of a God rich in grace and love. Yet, can this simple statement really explain what it means to be a progressive church?  For some conservative groups “progressive” can mean embracing people who have special and “sinful” sexual preferences. To others it may mean taking a gamble which demands theological and social changes, a gamble that may require moving away from traditional paradigms of worship and community outreach.

     Being a progressive church demands a higher sense of definition as well as an in-depth analysis of is social, theological and environmental expressions.  Therefore, what is a progressive church which professes that there is a God who is still speaking?  A progressive church is a church which has realized and accepted that what they have and who they are is relevant to modeling and igniting changes within the realm of their legacy and vision. This interaction will propel a church to embrace a world that is in dire need of a life-changing experience and redeeming love.

     Love is what distinguishes a healthy church from an ill-mannered church.

     Love is what makes the difference between attending church and having church. Love makes the difference between speaking religiously and speaking from the heart.  A progressive church is one that dares to love, and mostly dares to love everybody.  May I add: love is not just embracing those who worship the same way, think the same way or even walk the same way. It is daring to love everybody and in the process, understanding that we are not perfect yet, but we are on the way.. That is a progressive church!

     Yet progressiveness also denotes continuity!  A progressive church must have a foundation. Our history is one forged with a rich understanding of social commitment and claims of justice. In other words, we have walked with the socially wounded, those stung by racism and bias. We have also walked with the sin-broken as the Gospel has met their spiritual needs. We have walked with the hungry and fed with our bread of life and many hunger deprivation programs.  UCC has walked its talk throughout history and faced many challenges as we spearheaded sacred conversations on racism and LGBT concerns.  At the same time, the progressive church must raise a standard or flag in the name of our God and church, a standard which must continue to represent high ethical values.  Let us turn to moral grounds and request from our people a moral standard that enhances our call and acceptance of all people.  Let us turn to the spiritual compass that can enhance our navigation through challenging yet necessary walks in life.  A progressive church does not walk in fear or stray away from its mission.

     Being progressive is more than a title of liberalism or post-modern stands; it, is about serving, educating, revealing, embracing, witnessing and sharing God’s truth in accordance with  God’s word and love. An example of where this can lead can be seen in my recent endeavors at the United Church of Christ of Paradise Hills.  UCC Paradise Hills has had its share of problems and turmoil.  Things have not been “cool” the last few years, with hurts that over time played out as syndromes of distrust between leaders and church members, of distrust between church and Conference and of “We can’t do that!” or “It has never been done this way!”  These and a variety of other challenges had fossilized church growth.

     And yet, my experience (close to one year of pastoral work) at the church has been one typified by new and significant experiences that have led me to ponder the definition of a progressive church.  I have seen and felt a true testimony of love from all of our church members.  Seeing new families coming to visit, among them residents of a nearby Navy housing community, has for me been a human workshop revealing a God-loving church with a huge heart for people from all walks of life.  In the same way, our Social Hall food drives, ice cream social and 4th of July event have highlighted this church’s potential as a progressive church.  What we lack in resources and financial stability we make up in warmth, disposition and the understanding that life is not easy, that people are people and, mostly, that God is still speaking!

     The blessing of such reality, seen through our different church and community events, engages the church in accepting people as they are and in looking forward to helping and supporting.  This truth recently led our church council to vote to develop a Contemporary Worship service to meet our religious post-modern community needs.  It’s going to be a celebration of singing, witnessing and sharing the word of God.  You might think that this is not new, but let me point out a few things about such a huge step.  It means this small church that moves through hearsay versus organizational parameters, that upholds tradition as though it were oxygen for its religious lungs, that has limited personnel and financial resources, still dares to embrace the immediate need of a Contemporary Worship service – a huge step by a church huge in heart. That is a progressive church, one which dares and has the audacity to love in a way in which change starts from within and ends up touching a community of people who need to experience God as they walk through life.  A progressive church is one that dares to love with a love that demands a fervor in action fueled by the belief that God is still speaking.   God’s love is the catalyst that turns numb people into progressive people, rocks of despair into building blocks, bias into the light of truth, the dungeon of ignorance into the castle of wisdom and discord into a harmony of brotherhood.  God bless!


One Response to “What is a Progressive Church?”
  1. Mary Harris says:

    thank you for giving definition to progressive church. / a relevant church that ignites change within the realm of its own legacy and vision. YES

    this is so helpful to me.

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