Personal/Political ~ Josette Brose-Eichar

Josette Brose-Eichar


A Tale of Two Churches

Posted on April 1, 2024 by Josette Brose-Eichar

On November 19, 2023 I attended a church service held by the Sonoma Collective Church in the theater at Sonoma Valley High School.  I am not a religious person, though I had a Catholic upbringing.  My mother was a devout Catholic and never missed mass.  Yet, she believed in equality for all people, used birth control for family planning, and once told me my gay high school friends were much nicer than all my other friends, as they were polite and intelligent.

Jason Mayer is the pastor at the Sonoma Collective Church.  It seems he and his family were brought here as a church plant from a San Diego area mega-church by a group of families that included Ken Mattson, and are renting one of his residential properties.

The church’s web site states, “What do we believe? We hold to the historic teachings of Christian Orthodoxy as articulated in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. We also subscribe to recent summaries of Christian Doctrine as formulated in the Lausanne Covenant & Cape Town Commitment.”

There is no mention on their web site of being anti LGBTQ, nor is there any reference at all to equity or inclusion of all people, but further research reveals the Sonoma Collective believes “in the historically Christian view of marriage and sexual expression; namely, that marriage is a lifelong one-flesh covenant union between two sexually different persons (male and female) from different families, and that all sexual relationships and expressions outside of marriage are a sin.”

I can only report my experience attending this service.  The congregation was young, by my standards, with most people being teens through young families, and only a few older folks.  There was a welcoming feeling, with a young couple singing, playing guitar and a soft percussion box.

Here is what I experienced.  Pastor Mayer had a hip delivery, polished but casual.  Half of the service was devoted to a presentation on the history of Sonoma and its demographics.  I felt like I was listening to a power point presentation for some unknown project.  One of the slides demonstrated that about 70% of Sonomans had no strong religious beliefs.  The sermon then focused on “What good can come out of Sonoma”.  The jumping off point for this sermon was John 1:46, “What good can come out of Nazareth”.   In reading this part of John 1:46, it refers to Jesus being from Nazareth.  But, in this sermon it was interpreted in the context that the Collective will make something good come out of Sonoma, perhaps referring to the large number of non-believers here.

The next topic was generosity.  It was stated that God wants us to be generous.  To do so we were urged to give money to the church with the goal of raising $9,000. We were told that The Stratum Foundation, and Transforming the Bay Though Christ would be matching these donations for a limited amount of time.  There was no mention of what would be done with this money.  No mention of donating it to the homeless, food banks or any other local non-profits.

Other statements that stood out were: “Jesus wrote the bible, reading the word of God from the Bible is not optional.  Freedom is submitting.  Divorce leaves a trail.  We are not the God of our lives, Jesus is.  We are all broken.  Man and women are one unit.”

I came away with the feeling, if you join this congregation, you will be loved, valuable, and redeemed as long as you believe as they do.  The gathering lasted about two hours.

On January 28, 2024, I attended a church service at the First Congregational Church of Sonoma, United Church of Christ.

The church’s web site proclaims, “Protect the environment, embrace diversity, love God, reject racism, care for the poor, forgive often, fight for the powerless, enjoy this life, and share earthly and spiritual resources.”  It is led by Rev. Dr. Curran Reichert and is part of a mainline protestant denomination that stands for justice, equity and inclusion.

I arrived a bit late, and wanted to just sit in the back, but was invited to an open chair in the middle of the newly renovated sanctuary.  The congregation was mostly older, with a few younger people.  Sunlight poured in the windows, there were no bibles around, and everyone including the Pastor was singing.  As the service progressed quotes of poets and prize winning writers were interspersed throughout the service.  As an introduction to scripture, the liturgist read: “Whether you take what is written in the Bible as fact, metaphor, myth or story, listen to these words now, for the meaning they might hold for us this day.”

The sermon was about how to pray, and no, it was not specific, it was about more about, as the program stated holding the heart of prayer and emerging with gladness.  Then people from the congregation spoke about what they were dealing with personally and globally, with both positive and negative observations.  The ladies next to me introduced themselves, told me a bit about themselves and asked me questions about my life.  Several people spoke about giving to others.  One woman told of how she donated funds for a tiny home at Homeless Action Sonoma to be earmarked for a homeless veteran.

A collection was taken to support the various ministries of the church, but otherwise there was very little talk of money or giving to the church.  After the service, which lasted an hour, people were invited to the annual potluck, where those active in the church would talk budget and other practical issues.

I came away feeling that there was genuine concern for community, peace in the world, the environment, and equal rights.  These lines from the program, “may the call to justice, break your heart, bee-sting your conscience, open your mouth” stuck with me.

People often ask, “What would Jesus do?”  I ask, where would you worship if you want to find out?

I have read the United Church of Christ is shrinking and that churches “planted” by Transforming the Bay though Christ and the Stratum Foundation are growing in numbers.

While I am not going to join organized religion anytime soon, I found my experience telling as it shows the power of well plotted marketing and sales.  Is religion a product?

I will disclose that I am an agnostic and why.  I do not buy any of the explanations of why the universe exists.  To me it seems endless, infinite and for all I know it may have always been here.  It is also ever changing.  We know our little planet in microscopic detail, but we have never figured out how to live with peace and respect for it or each other.  A religion that could solve that, and a God whose word was just that, then maybe.

One thought on “A Tale of Two Churches

  1. “Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!

    But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money!”
    ― George Carlin

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