Finding Community: By Armando Madrid

Armando Madrid

It’s been approximately three years to the day since my husband Alex and I found ourselves entering the doors of this very sanctuary, spiritually lost.  This was a time when we had a new president, and if we’re being honest, we were all very visibly scared. Racism and homophobia were blatantly accepted, hate overpowered love, and across the country, it seemed like we were all scared to leave our homes, a sentiment that hasn’t changed in the past three years.

This hit true especially to me.  As someone who was an immigrant to this country, I led myself to believe that the people around me, the very people I interacted with on a daily basis, didn’t care for who I was. I felt disposable.

That’s when Alex and I knew we needed to find some sort of community. Now, of course, we were skeptical about the possibility of finding this community in a church.  We were both raised Catholic, so we were raised to feel guilt. Add that with growing up in a Mexican household and let me tell you, that guilt felt doubled.

Being gay wasn’t accepted, and I was reminded by my Sunday school teacher every Sunday that it was considered a sin. My coming out caused my relationship with God to be tested for many years until it eventually faded away. I had lost trust that a church can truly be welcoming to someone like me. But with Alex now by my side, we both felt ready to find a church that was welcoming of us.  

I remember being at work one morning.  Alex sent me a text with a link to a church website.  I browsed the site and immediately came across Pastor Chris’ welcome message.  It was very heartfelt. I felt this was a place I could attend. I felt welcomed.  Not as a sinner, but as a human.

We made a plan to visit our first Sunday and immediately found ourselves being welcomed and greeted by a number of church members.  You all genuinely seemed happy to see us and invited us to worship together. It was honestly a surreal experience to be able to feel this in a church. I felt acknowledged, but most importantly, I felt accepted. 

So, while it’s obvious to say that the hate out there still exists, knowing I’m not alone in the fight against it truly means the world. And now I ask you to consider giving what you can for this church. The work this church has done for me can only be sustained by your contribution. Alex and I give on a monthly basis and also volunteer to serve on occasion; these are some of the many ways you can be encouraged to serve as well, and today I invite you to join me.

Finding Community: By Rod Zook

Rod Zook

When we [Julia and I] came back to Fresno three years ago, one of the big questions was where and if we would find a church home. We had lived here before, but that was more than 25 years ago and in the meantime Fresno had changed, and we certainly had as well.

I mean at that time the 41 Freeway was just getting started, to say nothing of 180 and 168. And by the time we got back, we were also driving in very different lanes than before.

I had some major adjustments to make after 25 years in Munich. For example, I usually wore suits or sportcoats and sometimes even a tie as I cycled from client to client. I soon realized that men in Fresno wore T-shirts much of the time. That was going to go take some getting used to.

But then I thought, maybe I could combine “going local” with finding a church home. I toyed with the idea of creating a T-shirt like this. [SLIDE showing names of several authors and theologians.] These writers and theologians had been and have been instrumental in my life, and I thought that perhaps wearing a T-shirt like this at River Park or Fashion Fair or downtown would clue people in to what was important to me and either ask what it meant, or recognize a name and strike up a conversation with me.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to go that far, because no T-shirt looks like that on me. But more importantly, it wasn’t necessary because we ended up here. How we got here is another story, but I don’t want to steal Giulia‘s thunder and she can perhaps tell you sometime.

Suffice it to say, we ended up here and all of a sudden I heard some of these writers and theologians mentioned in conversations and sermons and smaller groups. You all seemed to be asking some of the same questions I had been asking in trying to live faithfully at this time in history both in Europe and now back in California.

That felt good, plus you welcomed us so warmly and it became clear that we could ease into things, get our bearings and then when we were able to give back there would be opportunities.

I hope you frequently take time to read the banners on either side of the Sanctuary. The “confession of faith” expressed there is part of the reason I kept coming back.

Thank you.

Finding Community: By Chad Hayden

In 2011, a book was published that would change my life. It was called “Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”

Written by former evangelical pastor Rob Bell, the book questioned the traditional foundations about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. The book created quite the buzz.

On April 14, 2011, Time magazine put the issue front and center for national discussion when its front cover asked the question: “What if there is no hell?”

This was no discussion for the faint of heart – battle lines were drawn.  Within the Christian community, it was a scene out of Exodus when Moses saw the golden calf and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!”

Indeed, as an evangelical you had a choice, believe the word of God, or believe a heretic who authored a blasphemous diatribe that would most certainly lead naïve believers down a path to perdition.

As a member of a conservative, evangelical home church, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I didn’t want to be led astray. After all, I knew what 2 Timothy said, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine… but will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

But that didn’t give me any peace. Once you have seen, you can’t unsee. Once you have heard, you can’t unhear.

Once you have seen, you can’t unsee. Once you have heard, you can’t unhear. For six years, I continued to attend my little home church, but wrestled with the big questions of life and yearned to hear answers that resonated with my soul.

For six years, I continued to attend my little home church, but wrestled with the big questions of life and yearned to hear answers that resonated with my soul.

On Easter of 2017, the thought of attending my parents’ church or my in-laws’ church sounded nauseating. After a little online research, the Community UCC website offered an alternative that intrigued me.

The first thing that I heard that Easter Sunday was that, “No matter who you are or where you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcome here.”  THAT was I needed to hear.

I needed the freedom to explore the questions that I had without feeling like I was some naïve heathen susceptible to the evil schemes of the devil. I needed a church that still believes in Jesus but is comfortable wrestling with just who he is and how my faith tradition fits into a larger global community.

Here at Community UCC, I have found that church.  A church that believes that Love Wins. That’s why I attend Community UCC and that’s why I give to Community UCC.