It’s not uncommon for Christian denominations to look at each other and focus on their differences. The Rev. Jeff Huber, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Durango, is spending eight weeks with his congregation focusing on the similarities.
“What are some of the things in these traditions we can use to understand and improve our spiritual connections?” he asks in his current sermon series. “Eighty percent of what Christian faiths believe is the same. Let’s not sweat the 20 percent or use it to call names or judge.”
Huber is calling on many sources as part of his series, which looks at Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican/Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal churches and his own denomination as well as the media-based churches of the technological era.
He has revisited books his professors used when he was in seminary, such as New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F.F. Bruce and Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages by R.W. Southern. He has attended worship services at other churches. And he has discussed beliefs and practices with his colleagues who lead congregations in other denominations.
“I have close personal connections with some of the traditions,” he said. “My children, who are Ukrainian, were raised in the Orthodox Church. And my father and grandmother were Roman Catholic. When I visited St. Columba, where my grandmother was baptized, I took a moment to pray ‘God, help me to honor my grandmother’s faith.’”
On Wednesday, he met with the Rev. Rich Ajer, the interim pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church.
“This is an interesting series he’s doing,” Ajer said. “After our conversation, I told a member of our church that I hoped I hadn’t said anything too heretical about Lutheranism for the video.”
Each worship service during the series also draws from the liturgy of the tradition being studied, including the Great Liturgy from the Orthodox faith and the Kyrie eleison from the Roman Catholic Mass. Some are held in common between traditions.
The Nicene Creed, written in 325 A.D. by bishops working to pull together a concrete set of beliefs for “Followers of the Way,” as Christians were called at the time, is used in both the Orthodox and Methodist worship services. And one of the liturgies for Holy Communion in the Methodist hymnal is very similar to that of the Catholic Church, Huber said in his sermon Sunday.
His congregation hails from diverse backgrounds, with about one-third from Methodist roots, one-third who were never “churched” before they started attending the Methodist church and the final third coming from other traditions, about half of whom are Roman Catholic.
“One of our members asked me if I was worried about the competition, if some of our members might decide to go to another church after this,” Huber said. “I said the competition isn’t other churches. It’s golf, soccer games, skiing and all the other distractions in Durango. I want every person to have a place to worship; there’s plenty of room in our churches.”
In the end, Huber sees a fundamental truth all traditions share.
“Remember who you are and whose you are,” he said. “All of us call upon the name of Jesus Christ, all follow him and the one true God, and we can all learn a lot from our brothers and sisters in Christ.”