The Great Awakening
I preached my first sermon when I was 14. I was in confirmation class, and one requirement was that we had to memorize various books from the bible. I chose 1 John Chapter 1 because it is the shortest chapter in the new testament- ten verses. I deeply questioned church doctrines, but confirmation was important to me so I slogged through the requirements in order to complete the class.I remember our class was discussing how we have to confess our sins so that we can be saved by Jesus, and I thought, that sounds so distorted from this intensive study I had just done. I didn’t say anything at the time, but later I gathered up some friends and started preaching to them about what I thought the texts meant, and how God’s forgiveness and love was given to us. It wasn’t so much that confession was the key, but acknowledgement- a very different judgment in my view. Confession spoke of cleansing the soul, something that I thought that God did rather than us. Our part was simply to see that which was given to us.
It started a trend of analyzing and perhaps overanalyzing the creed and other doctrinal studies we had begun. When I was confirmed, I knew I didn’t believe the doctrines, but I had developed a very deep appreciation for God and the church. My confirmation was a commitment to God and to church, not to the doctrines we were taught. I think of it as making a pact with God.
My Universalism started there in the basement of that Lutheran church. It was a “Great Awakening” to realize that I had left behind the church of the angry God, and had discovered a faith of love and forgiveness that transcended the worst thing I had ever done and was better than the best thing that I could imagine. It was years later until I discovered that there were Universalists who thought the same way. And my prayer is that our church stays strong and our faith is secure for all the legs of our faith journey, so that all who need us, may find companionship in our communities. May we keep our eyes open to that possibility.In faith,
Rev. Chris Neilson