God, church and faith
Rev. Dr. Helen Hunter
Thesis/Antithesis: Some of the worst things I ever experienced are related to my involvement in the church.; while some of the best things that I ever experienced are related to my involvement in the church. I was raised in the Black Baptist Church from birth to age 16.
In my mid-twenties, I began attending an Apostolic/Holiness church where I experienced a ‘spiritual’ conversion and audible call to ministry. About 20 years later, I accepted my call to ministry, joined the AME Church, and enrolled in the AMEC five-year ordination process. I also completed MTS and MDiv studies in a Lutheran seminary and doctoral studies at a Methodist seminary. Therefore, I have a broad range of experiences with religion and ‘the church.’
As I have lived out my faith and calling in the church, I realized church and faith were separate realities. The church is man-made, but faith is God-made. I became aware of the glaring flaws and negative elements in the church — immorality, hypocrisy, infighting, judgmentalism, sexism, racism, greed and dishonesty — characteristics of man-made institutions. I found comfort as I studied the book of Revelations and its assessment of the Seven Churches — noting both good and bad characteristics — concluding that the church is flawed because people are flawed.
As I learned to embrace the things of God and reject the things of man, which were ungodly and unhealthy for me, I experienced greater peace and joy as I continued to live by my faith in God through prayer, meditation, fasting, sharing, giving, teaching and preaching. As I participate in the inspiring and uplifting elements of God’s Church, i.e., fellowship (and sisterhood), communion and community, my relationship with the divine is enhanced and sustained. And yes, there is an entity greater than us, whatever you call it and whether you ascribe to any religious or faith tradition, church coupled with God-inspired faith prevails.
I understand that faith in GOD is greater than church or religion. I understand that to get the ‘good stuff’ from church, a divine encounter (theologians refer to it as a theophany or epiphany) is required; wherein church/religion is imbued and illuminated with God-made, God-inspired faith. From my encounters with the divine, love replaced hate, empathy replaced self-centeredness, courage replaced fear, confidence replaced insecurity and thankfulness replaced loss and disappointment.
I am inspired to live out my faith in the imperfect church with imperfect people, like me. I discarded the things that caused me pain and suffering and embraced the good things from God that bring me joy, comfort, peace, inspiration and encouragement. I embraced the 1st and 2nd Commandments — love God and love your neighbor as yourself — and I put love to work at AZIFM, promoting faith and the Golden Rule.
Whether you believe the biblical account or not, do not close the door to your heart. God is bigger. Keep your heart, your mind, your arms and your eyes wide open to the possibility (perhaps, inevitability) of an ongoing encounter with God and church.
I continue to be inspired by the transformational and uplifting impact of the church. And I can say with conviction God and the church are the best things that ever happened to me.
Rev. Dr. Helen Hunter is an American Methodist Episcopal (AME), Ordained AMEC Itinerant Elder, Board-Certified Chaplain, Small Business Owner and Community Advocate.
From my encounters with the divine, love replaced hate, empathy replaced self-centeredness, courage replaced fear, confidence replaced insecurity and thankfulness replaced loss and disappointment.