Updated 10 November 2009

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Disclaimer: The following is my personal interpretation of my church and is not necessarily endorsed by the church itself or any other of its members.
WHAT I BELIEVE ABOUT OUR CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH

The First Congregational Church of Los Angeles is an independently run, member-owned and member-run Congregational Church. We are not and have never been affiliated with the United Church of Christ. We answer to no outside Councils, or authority. We do have affiliation with the National Association of Christian Congregational Churches and the Cal West Association, but they do not govern us nor do we govern them. Many people come to our church and join into membership without really understanding this concept. They bring with them the traditions and experiences of their prior church and expect things to be the same here, but they really are not. When they attempt to bring their understanding of how a church should be run, as was done in their prior church, they are much surprised to be told that we don't do things that way here. It is understood that old teachings and old habits are hard to set aside, but it should be understood that when someone implies that we are doing things the wrong way and are somehow "broken" because we are different, they become upset because it is not what they are used to and unfortunately, we do not believe we need to be "fixed" because we never felt we were broken in the first place. Our way of life and our form as a religious establishment is not going to fit everyone. It was never meant to in the first place.

It has been said that, "We are Congregationalists and we can do anything we want."....yes and no. We have the freedom to make choices that fulfill our own understanding of what our church can and should be. But with that freedom of choice also comes the responsibility of knowing that we must live with those choices. Also, because we are also a corporation, we are held to the laws of the governing bodies of our state and nation. The Bible is our final and ultimate authority. Something else that people do not understand is that each individual member has the right and responsibility to interpret the Bible according to their own conscience. No other member can tell us what to believe, how to interpret these texts, or how to live our lives with the full understanding that if we do not chose wisely, we must live with the results and ultimately explain ourselves to our maker.

We are not a fundamentalist congregation as fundamentalism implies someone else telling us what to believe nor are we Biblical Literalists since that also implies that others may control our right to free Biblical interpretation. We affirm the concept that God loves all believers without exception. The following is my understanding of some of our basic beliefs.

We believe that Christ is the head of the church. We recognize no King, no Pope, nor Archbishop as an agency to whom we must answer. We feel that no outside organization is to be ranked above the authority of the local congregation. This stems back to early Christian Church traditions that state, "Whenever two or three are gathered in His name", a church exists. We feel that the community of faith is complete, under God, in both spiritual authority and ecclesiastical power. It is our autonomy as a local church under the leadership of Christ that gives us the special dynamics of Congregationalism
In early Congregational History, we were a voluntary company of Christians, made up solely of believers, and united by a mutual covenant to walk in the ways of the Lord. Our polity is not simply a matter of organization, but incorporates a matter of spirit and life. We affirm the New Testament definition of the church as being complete; a gathered fellowship of Christ-followers. We seek to bring together persons of independent mind and like interests who, through profession and life, are attempting to translate the teachings of Scripture into action, as Disciples of the Master. We believe in equality, respect for diversity and individual responsibility as a part of becoming a "family in Christ."

Our published doctrine if very firm in this regard:

"Consonant with the Protestant principle of the priesthood of all believers, each member shall have the undisturbed right to follow the Word of God according to the dictates of his own conscience, under the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. The covenant of faith and purpose is to be regarded as a testimony to personal attitude and intent. It is not a statement of ecclesiastical creed.

"This church cherishes the tradition of the free pulpit and finds in the language of the Scriptures, a style that often sets forth meaning by use of metaphor rather than by declaration of literal fact."

In our tradition, we understand that the New Testament Churches entered into fellowship one with another out of mutual respect. We do not believe that churches must relate to each other out of dominance or submission. For us, the freedom of the local church links with other Christian Churches as a question of fellowship and mutual respect. It is this voluntary friendship as opposed to a master/servant relationship that creates our independence. We feel that local autonomy must always be combined with fellowship born out of love, and not out of law as the foundation for cooperative activity. This helps us to avoid the limitations of being lost in the ocean of a huge organization and allows us the ability to concentrate on the needs of our own people. We feel that to be involved in a wider fellowship of churches does not make us more of a Church, but we understand that lack of fellowship will indeed make us less than we should be.

My church is known as a Covenanting Church. We do not bind ourselves to subscribe to a statement of faith as drafted by a national or international body. Our covenant is a promise, one to another, that we will prayerfully seek to do God's will. The wording of our "Official" covenant is very simply worded and is quoted below:

"Believing in the One God of the Holy Scriptures and in His will as set forth in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and as interpreted by Divine (the Holy) Spirit through reason, faith, conscience and intuition, we do now - individually - dedicate ourselves to walk in all His ways made known or to be made known to His followers, placing foremost, as did the Master, the two great commandments of love: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy strength," and "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Mark 12:30-31) "That ye love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). Invoking God's blessing, we do solemnly covenant one with each other to be a Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and do take this to be our Church.

"We individually promise to maintain this Church as an Independent Congregational Church, subject to the control of no other ecclesiastical body, and so far as able, to attend its services, observe its ordinances, support its parish expenses and benevolences with substance and prayer, and faithfully endeavor to make it a fruitful body of Christians."

In accordance with the Protestant tradition, our church follows two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

First Church does not require Baptism or church membership as a prerequisite of taking Holy Communion. We offer a small, informal, communion service at the end of each service for all who love the Lord regardless of denomination or membership. We do not do this as a part of our regular service, but as a separate rite. In "remembering" the love of Christ for us all, we share Christ's table and his love to all. We celebrate a quarterly communion service with other Churches throughout the nation in our regular service. No one is required to take communion. However, all are welcome to partake, who love the Lord.

Baptism is a deeply personal choice. Some believe that infants must be baptized or Christened. Some believe that only adults should be baptized as children lack understanding to know the importance of what they do. I personally believe that this is something each family must chose for themselves based upon their own traditions and beliefs. I believe that all who become members of this church should be first baptized and should first be given some understanding of our beliefs and traditions. I believe that it is important to know what it is that you are joining and what will be expected of you as a member and that we should join because it feels right, not just for the sake of being a joiner.

You may wonder, since we are not part of a formal outside organization, how we obtain our pulpit ministers.

Our church Moderator calls a search committee together and this committee goes through an interview and selection process to chose what they feel is the best fit for our Congregation. This committee does not hire the candidate nor do they offer the candidate a job. Once the committee has selected one or more viable candidates, the candidate is further interviewed by the Board of Deacons, who have oversight over the spiritual affairs of the church, and the Board of Trustees, who handle the business affairs of our church. No one Board can unilaterally make this decision. Both must agree that this is the proper candidate to present to our Congregation for final approval. Only the Congregation itself actually calls the minister to the pulpit. If, at any point in the process, one of the steps fails, then the committee is instructed to go back to the drawing board and search further.

Our ministers have not all been Congregational ministers either. We have obtained our pulpit fill from a number of different denominations. What matters is not the denomination from which they came, but how they present themselves to this particular congregation. We expect them to have a doctorate degree, to believe what they preach, and to present themselves well. I personally would not want a perfect minister. I am so far from perfect myself that I feel someone who is without flaw will not understand my imperfections nor will they find it easy to relate to my weaknesses and human frailty. I prefer a minister who has the capacity to forgive and to accept me for what I am. That way, it becomes easier to work on improving my Christian endeavors and to know that I can rise above my past.

An important aspect of being an Independent church that we hate to discuss, but hate even worse when things go awry and that is our financial status. Although First Church appears to be a church of wealth and riches, it actually is not, nor is any other church that has been around for any length of time. We do indeed have endowment funds, but these are locked down and not to be spent. It is these funds that are meant to sustain us in times of a bad economy or for potential catastrophic emergencies. It costs a great deal of money to keep the doors open in a facility this large. Without the economic support of our members and friends, those funds would be swiftly depleted. We give not because we must, but because we love our Church and want to present our best face always to the world and to our Lord. Not all donations are monetary. I believe it is just as important to give of our time as it is to give of our cash. I also believe it is important that no member should ever feel they have been forgotten, even after they are too frail to personally attend church or have moved far away.

I have always felt, from the first day I walked into this church, that I had come home. It is my cherished hope, that if there truly is an after life, that I will find myself as much at home there as I have always felt here. Many of our members retain their membership in First Church long after they have moved away from Los Angeles. I suspect that they, like me, find comfort in the fact that no matter how far we roam, this church will always be "home" to us and we all know, that in retrospect, there really is "no place like home."


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