Keep the Faith: Is church a choice?

“Are you going to church on Sunday?”

If this question were asked of New Testament Christians, they would not know how to respond. That’s because the word for “church” in New Testament Greek, ekklesia, means “called out and gathered together.” Church was not a place or a building but the people who were followers of Jesus Christ. Those who accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior were members of his body, the church. There was no such thing as a follower of Christ who did not regularly gather together with others to worship the God and Father of Jesus.

“I don’t need to go to church. I’m a good Christian. I pray by myself. I give to charities. I serve the community when I can. What really matters is my relationship to God. Church has nothing to do with that. Besides, I tried going to church in the past and all I saw was hypocrisy and squabbling. I prefer to live out my faith on my own. I experience God when I’m gazing at the sunset or walking in the park.”

With minor variations, I’ve heard the above stated many times in my life. How should we respond to this “church is unnecessary” mentality so rampant in our culture?

I start with Jesus himself. No one was more spiritual than he was. Yet the New Testament makes clear that Jesus regularly participated in synagogue worship on the sabbath. The Gospel of Luke states, “When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16).

If Jesus is our example for the way we should conduct our life, then his decision to participate regularly in worship informs us that we must do the same. In fact, how much more do we sinful humans need to attend corporate worship! Some may respond with the objection that Jesus went to synagogue services, sure, but the churches today are filled with duplicitous, insincere people. But that was also the case in Jesus’s day. He regularly encountered hypocritical and disagreeable persons in worship. At the end of his inaugural sermon in Nazareth, the assembly drove him not only out of their religious gathering but out of the town and attempted to throw him off a cliff. This hostile, scary experience did not deter Jesus from continuing his usual practice of worshiping with others. He didn’t say, “Well, if that’s the way they’re going to treat me, I’ll go and worship God alone.” In his humble human form, Jesus customarily sought communion with sinful human beings. He understood that drawing closer to others through prayer and worship allowed him to draw closer to God. Those who think that they can worship God alone in a satisfactory way are fooling themselves.

A regular staple of our worship service on Sunday morning is the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Does it make a difference if we recite the Lord’s Prayer alone or with a body of believers in worship? I think it does. And I think Jesus is telling us this truth in the form of this prayer. Let me quote several key phrases of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven,” “Give us this day our daily bread,” “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Do you notice something in common in all of these phrases? The prayer as taught by Jesus was to be offered by a group of believers, not by a lone individual. He did not teach the prayer in the following way: “My Father, who art in heaven,” “Give me this day my daily bread,” “forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive those who trespass against me,” “lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.” No, Jesus did not teach the prayer in that individualistic way.

Another significant spiritual component to corporate worship is the celebration of Holy Communion. Many don’t seem to notice that word communion. Holy Communion is just that, “communion,” the body of Christ in collective worship. Those who belong to the body of Christ who do not faithfully attend worship services actually cause dysfunction to the church. Do they realize that? If they are not there in worship, something is missing in Christ’s body that cannot be replaced. Jesus intended for his holy meal to be shared by all believers assembled together. Everyone is invited and everyone needs to be there at the gracious request of Christ who is the host of the supper.

In the Old Testament, the communal memory and celebration of God’s redemptive events for the nation of Israel helped draw its people together, unite them, and define them. Likewise, in the New Testament, the church was called upon to gather together on the first day of the week to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For almost 2000 years, this practice has been upheld by Christ’s followers.

By affiliating with a church, including participating in communal worship on Sundays, believers in Christ help each other on a shared journey toward God’s kingdom. We learn to cast off ungodly ways and to embrace righteous ways. We encourage, admonish, and nourish one another. Coming together as a church, we visibly testify to our being God’s children, seeking to be one with God and with one another.

We must never forget that the most important aspect of “going to church” is to worship God. Worship is ultimately for God’s sake. At the same time, it cannot be overestimated how important worshiping God with fellow believers can be to our own personal spiritual life. We cannot find that kind of spiritual nourishment anywhere else. No, not even “gazing at the sunset or walking in the park.”

The Rev. Gary Shahinian is pastor of Park Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, located in Davis Chapel of First Baptist Church in Worcester

November 29, 2015 – The First Sunday of Advent

Advent is the beginning of the church calendar year. We are beginning Year C of the lectionary cycle. The word advent is derived from the Latin word, adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” Traditionally, Advent candles have been purple, associated with royalty. This color symbolizes the sovereignty of Jesus, descendant of David, coming to usher in the reign of God. Another tradition calls for the use of a pink candle on the Third Sunday of Advent, known as “Rejoice Sunday,” with the candle being named the “Joy Candle.” The circle of the Advent wreath reminds us of God’s endless mercy and the eternal life that Christ has obtained for all believers. Over the years, Christians have attached a variety of meanings and symbolism to each of the Advent candles, so that the first candle is associated with hope, the second with peace, the third with joy, and the fourth with love. The real symbolism of the candles, however, lies in the circle of light they create together. The large candle in the center of the wreath is the “Christ Candle,” to be lit on Christmas Eve, commemorating the long-awaited birth of Messiah Jesus.

The following are some “Questions to Ponder” on this first Sunday of Advent:

  • What concerns and worries about the future guide our present activities?
  • In seeking to secure a good future for ourselves, are we making the present more difficult for others?
  • Would our present be different if we really believed our future lies in the realm of God?

Sunday School Supper October 24

Join us for our upcoming Sunday School Pasta Supper
When: Saturday, October 24 6:00pm

Where: Gordon Hall at First Baptist Church

Adults: $8.50
Children 5-12 yrs:  $5.00
Children under 5:   free

Basket raffles!
Advance tickets necessary
Please call the church office or speak to Linda Bogosian or Lisa Lindquist

Why I Marched in the Worcester Pride Parade

Some might wonder why I marched in the Worcester Pride Parade on Saturday, September 12.

The simple answer is that I wanted to join my presence in a march with others that acknowledges the full dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.

Some might say, “Why do they need to march every year? After all, this was the 40th Annual Parade in Worcester for gay/lesbian pride. How much longer do they need to do this?” My answer is that we will continue to do this until the gay/lesbian community is fully immersed in society as equal citizens who are granted the same rights and respect as everyone else. This is not the case yet.

UCC Banner

Many people in our society still do not accept the lesbian/gay person as fully worthy of equal rights. There is a long tradition in Western civilization of treating the homosexual as abnormal, even perverted. He/she has been rejected and viciously punished throughout history, including being victims of the death penalty. AND IT HAS BEEN THE CHURCH FOR THE MOST PART THAT HAS PROMOTED THIS CONDEMNATION! That’s why it was important that so many churches were represented in the parade on Saturday. People need to see that being gay and being Christian are not antithetical. The traditional religious belief that has insisted that homosexual behavior is an abomination in God’s sight needs to be abandoned. But that’s only a start. It’s not enough merely to tolerate the gay/lesbian person. He/she needs to be affirmed as a full person fashioned in the image of God who represents part of the wondrous diversity of creation.

Too many times when the subject of same-sex marriage is raised, eyes roll and snickering is heard. Those are the kinds of responses that need to stop. I am thankful that I rarely hear the words “fag” and “dyke” mentioned, though I still do sometimes. Those are terms that should never be heard in church or anywhere else.

Open and Affirming (ONA) is our United Church of Christ’s designation for congregations to make an intentional public welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. The UCC has been at the forefront of the movement to include gays and lesbians as full members in our midst. In 1972, we ordained an openly gay person into the Christian ministry, Rev. Bill Johnson, becoming the first mainline denomination in the country to do so, and founded the Open and Affirming Coalition. The UCC at its General Synod in 1985 passed the Open and Affirming Resolution calling upon congregations to welcome gays and lesbians into the full participation of the church and encouraging the use of their gifts in service to the church. Our own Massachusetts Conference, in fact, passed a similar statement in 1984, becoming the first ecclesiastical body to do so in the nation. Already over 1,200 congregations within the UCC have voted to become Open and Affirming, comprising nearly 250,000 members, about ¼ of the total membership of our denomination.

Worcester City Hall

Is Park Congregational Church willing to take the step of beginning the Open and Affirming process? This is not something that can be done overnight. It usually takes between 18 and 24 months to complete. You might ask why it should take so long. The answer is because the congregation needs to fully understand the process that will lead to a vote on becoming Open and Affirming. The process involves monthly meetings led by a team within the church, regular Bible studies on the issue, led by the pastor, perhaps inviting ONA consultants to speak from the national setting of the UCC, completing all of the conditions of the ONA starter kit, and making sure that every member of the congregation feels safe and is accepted for who they are, regardless of their sexual orientation, identity, or expression.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of faith often experience emotional and spiritual injury in churches that condemn their capacity to love and seek love. Because they’ve learned that “All Are Welcome” usually doesn’t apply to them, they can’t assume that every church will be safe for them and their families. In addition many straight families and individuals searching for churches to attend want to know that the congregation is supportive of gays and lesbians and their rights. Becoming ONA will tell them immediately that we are such a congregation.

If you would like to hear more about this issue or to discuss more about it, please comment below.

-Rev. Dr. Gary R. Shahinian

Ash Wednesday

An Ash Wednesday Service will take place on February 18 at 8pm in Davis Chapel.


Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. During this service we will, if we choose, receive ashes on our forehead (or back of the hand), hear a brief message from Pastor Gary, and receive Holy Communion. Every is encouraged to attend, including children. Start your Lenten pilgrimage in the right way by attending this important service.

Lenten Series 2015 – The Twilight Zone

The Lenten Series during the Sundays of Lent (February 22, March 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29) will feature episodes from The Twilight Zone.

The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone was one of the most influential programs in television history. For five spellbinding seasons (1959-1964), it kept audiences on the edge of their seats with its unique brand of chills and suspense. Though outwardly a fantasy/science fiction series, The Twilight Zone really focused on everyday fears, superstitions, and prejudices by which we are all victimized. May of the ways in which these human foibles were depicted lent themselves to spiritual interpretation. Rod Serling, while writing the series, was an active member along with his wife, Carol, of the Unitarian Community Church of Santa Monica, California. Watching these episodes will be a very entertaining way to address important issues from a spiritual perspective.

We will begin on February 22 with what is considered to be the best episode, “A Private World of Darkness.” The title of this episode was later changed (I won’t tell you what it is for those who have never seen it, since it might give away the surprise ending!). A signup sheet is posted on the bulletin board outside Davis Chapel for those attending. Please mark off the Sundays you will be attending as we need to know how many to expect for lunch each week. The cost is $5.50. Sunday School children will eat for free. The Confirmation Class, Youth Group, and Sunday School Children are encouraged to attend as they will enjoy the episodes very much. We will have lunch first together in the Lee Room beginning at 11:15am, and then at 12:00noon, we will watch the episode (about 24 minutes). Then we will spend about half an hour discussing the spiritual themes in the story.

We hope to see you there!

Blessing of the Animals Service

On July 13, 2014, Park Congregational Church and First Baptist Church held a joint Blessing of the Animals Service. The service was well attended by dogs, cats, goats, hamsters, birds, fish and their owners. We’re hoping to make this an annual event. The video below includes highlights from the day.


Hello and welcome to Park Congregational Church’s blog! Here you’ll find general church news, information about upcoming events, links to interesting articles or related web content, photos, opinions, musings and more. We hope you’ll check back here with us often – or better yet, subscribe for email updates so you never miss a post.

In addition to our newly-designed website, you can find us on Facebook, and most importantly at Worship Service on Sundays at 10am in Davis Chapel, 111 Park Avenue, Worcester, Massachusetts.