We did not get to have the picnic, but we still had the birthday. In September, Pioneer Congregational Church turned 171 years old! On Oct. 31, Protestant Christianity will turn 503 if we consider the nailing of the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Chapel door by Martin Luther in 1517 as the beginning of Protestant Christianity.
It is important to note that we are marking only those starts of churches that have continued to this day. There were other attempts at reforming the Christian Church in Europe but those reformers were burned at the stake and their movements died out. Whether the reform movement succeeded or was suppressed depended on the political powers wielded by the church or the state. Theologians like to think of the turning point in our faith tradition as the true doctrines winning out. That would be true only if the new “true doctrine” empowered the right people.
One of the reasons why the United Church of Christ has amazed me in its formation and its evolution is that it doesn’t depend on the backing of any civic authority. Nor is it a set of new “true doctrines” that unites it. The UCC celebrates diversity in many different ways, including worship styles and theological paradigms. Its strength is the core doctrine of love being understood as actively working for a more just world.
We definitely do not want the historic place of Pioneer to be lost. However, the identity as the oldest protestant church in Sacramento is not as important as the work that we do together.
I have been blessed to read the transcript of an interview that Don King had with Joe Murray about the early involvement that Pioneer Congregational Church had with the Retirement Housing Foundation that led to the building of Trinity House, Pioneer House, and Pioneer Towers. The faith and persistence that it took to bring their vision to reality is awe-inspiring.
I also know how instrumental Pioneer was in the early years of Safe Ground providing overnight shelter and meals for our homeless neighbors. We had little more than space to offer, but we did so, stretching our resources to the limit.
As we celebrate the heritage we have as a protestant Christian faith tradition, I hope we are able to remember the ways we have acted in faith to help those in need around us. I, for one, am not interested in passing on a detailed explanation of the Trinity or Holy Communion or even Ordination. What I would like to pass on is a heritage that can be continued in new forms that help make our world a better place for all. That is the reason for existing and a heritage worth celebrating.