Wednesday, February 14, 2018

--- Religions in the Denver area ---

I grew up in Alabama, deep in the Bible Belt. When I was a child, the church was the center of community life. That was where you met everyone that was anyone. And inclusion in the community was inclusion in a church. As I became older, other centers formed - the country club, the office - but the church retained prominence in the Southeast. It was an important fact that I was a member of the church that the administrator of the facility where I worked attended. My immediate supervisor went to a sister church. I can't think of anyone offhand that I worked with that was not a member of some church or another.

So it was an adventure when I spent a week in Denver with a friend in the 80s and never saw a church the whole time I was there. Later, I returned for an interview in Denver and, again, never saw a church. An acquaintance was speaking at a church several miles away, but I couldn't work things out to attend. And, yet again, I visited other friends in Denver and never saw a church.

When I moved to Broomfield in 2013, I found a couple of churches close to where I lived. Both were Calvinist. While I would gladly visit a Calvinist church; I couldn't be comfortable as a member. That's a big difference between the church crowded Bible Belt and the secular Denver area.

In Selma, I was a member of a Baptist church. Next door on one side was an Episcopal church. On the other side was a Presbyterian church. Across the street was a Methodist church. If you couldn't find a church of your particular flavor, turn around and you'd be staring right at the very one for you.

In Broomfield, if you found the right one, you'd best grab it. Of course, when churches are isolated, they tend to hold on to their peculiar distinctions tightly.

Did I say that Denver is "secular"? Well, in a way it is. Being a member of a church isn't a necessary prerequisite for belonging in the community. It's an option. A person isn't looked down on for being a church goer, but outdoor activities are also a definite option, or work, or sleeping in.

On the other hand, Denver is a very religious community, or spiritual. You can easily find the organized versions, or the "metaphysical" ones.

When I moved to south Denver, I found myself in the middle of a plethora of diverse churches - no Baptist churches close by, but I'm not that picky. In fact, I was looking at a small church that made me feel quite comfortable...when we moved again. Let me see. In that neighborhood was an Independent church, a Christian Church, an Episcopal church, a Presbyterian church, Anglican, Lutheran...

Where we moved, there was an Episcopal church across the street and a Unity Fellowship a block over. Within walking distance were Dutch Reformed, Church of Christ Scientists, a biiiiig Baptist, Quaker, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist...oh, Unitarian Universalist, Nazarene, Jewish....I started going to the Episcopal across the street.

Every major world religion is represented in Denver and many (many!) minor ones. I've visited several Christian churches and one Buddhist and plan to visit many more. And there is a large school of theology at Denver University, just down the street, and Denver Seminary a bus ride away. Here is plenty of diversity and much adventure. Then there are the "metaphysical" shops.

My past ministries - including two gospel groups and membership in a chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association - has carried me into many churches and many different kinds of churches and I've always enjoyed the visits. Now I find that Denver is paradise for the student of religion.

Here are a few of the many churches in Denver.

What are your past experiences with organized religions? Were they positive or negative?
How many different religious institutions are there in your area? You can probably use Google Maps to find churches in your area. Just search on your address and then click NEARBY and,  in the Nearby bar, type "churches" or "religions". Use the zoom bar in the lower right corner to zoom in and out for more or less detail.
If you have never visited a church, here are some tips for doing so.

If your purpose is to learn - about cultures, about beliefs - then respect others beliefs, otherwise you will find the door shut in your face.

Sharing your own beliefs may be counterproductive. The people you're visiting don't have the goal of learning about you and they may even be hostile to others' ideas. Keep your own goals in mind.

A good position for observers is the back of a sanctuary, on the lower level if there's a balcony. Often, it's hard to get a full view of everything from a balcony.

Suspend disbelief. You're not seeking for truth, here. You should be a passive observer of others' beliefs.

If possible, don't take notes or record sounds (and, if you do be very open to the pastor about what you're doing and ask permission first). The congregation isn't going to be very happy about "being studied."

Absorb the experience. Don't be analytic until after you leave and then, as soon as you can, sit down somewhere and take notes. Memory isn't nearly as reliable as some folks think.

Study the situation before hand and look for information afterward to help you answer your questions. Don't just come up with your own explanation. The real facts may be quite different from the obvious "facts". Often a church will provide a visitor's guide that explains what the church does during a service. The church I attends provides a good play-by-play explanation of what a visitor will see and why they will see it.

Some practices are sacrosanct. In a Christian church, nonChristians are not welcome to take communion. Understanding what people believe and why they believe it will provide understanding about these "odd" practices. Don't take anything personally. In a small, country church, where the gospel group I was a member of was performing, we were breaking down our equipment when an elderly lady tottled up and said, "I sure enjoyed you boys' singin'. It's just too bad that you're going to hell because you're a Baptist." I just smiled and said, "Thank y', ma'am."

"Religion" doesn't just mean "church". I mentioned "metaphysical" shops above. You can often find out lesser held beliefs in such places. Religious schools and seminaries might also be productive places to visit.

Every adventure has it's own dangers. If you're a Christian, then you might believe in demonic influences and things like palm reading businesses and metaphysical shops may be dangerous for you. If you're a Buddhist, even the driving desire to get new knowledge might be seen as dangerous. If you belong to a church, you might meet some resistance from them toward you visiting other churches. If you're going to have adventures, then you are going to meet with dangerous situations. Educate yourself before each adventure and evaluate, not only the situation, but your own performance in it afterward.

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