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I have heard from many of our visitors that they wish they could worship with us all the time because there is such authentic belief, faith, prayer, praise... here at New Beginnings. I have spent, oh, probably, the last year, year and a half hearing this concept, this view, this feeling from our visitors in different words. I know this was what kept me coming back at first and what keeps me a part of inside counsel to New Beginnings. So, what is "it"? I had defined it to myself as the "Radical Acceptance."


Okay, let's look at that deeper. I sadly had not found acceptance, much less radical acceptance, in other churches, not even the church created specifically for the group of people who had committed a crime which causes them to be excluded from other churches. It literally served only that demographic and those who were family and friends. So very "exclusive." In fact, so exclusive as to almost be a church hidden away from the other churches, in order to not spread the contamination of these people, and then still be able to say they are being shepherded/ministered to in their faith. I actually know this church arose out of a desperate need for this group of people to nurture and grow in their faith and were shut out of almost every other church service due to all the rules and restrictions and stigma. Sadly, I feel it ended up becoming a part of the problem, as at least reinforcing one of the underlying problems which lead to the criminal behavior in the first place. 

  1. Secret keeping - staying/keeping hidden
  2. Set apart/outcast
  3. Not being accepted or only accepted by those of a like mind.

Here was a church where I was supposed to fit in, supposed to belong, and to some degree I did. I mean, here was a group of people who had made the same awful, hurtful, messed up choices I had made, so yes, they accepted me because I was one of them. I felt little judgement within the congregation, and I believe this was because there was so much judgement from everywhere else. This belief/feeling came from being shuffled around from site to site, sometimes other churches would allow us to borrow/use/rent space from them such as their meeting roomwe were not allowed in the actual church sanctuary, we didn't have a consistent pastor and ther was some interference from parole and probationreporting our attendance and dictating the content of sermons to include reminding us that God had appointed them over us. It ended up feeling secretive, dark, and one more way to be reminded that we were monsters.


There was a degree of acceptanceif we stayed with our own kind. Maybe, just maybe it is the "RADICAL" part of it then: Everyone is welcome at New Beginnings NO MATTER their background, their crime, their sins, their housingwhether within these walls or not. ALL INCLUSIVE. Yeah, that is a big part of it. Having dedicated pastors who truly believe and live that all-inclusive idea/principle is big as well. We, the inside council, are reading a Bible Study By HeartConversations with Martin Luther's Small Catechism; and on page 14 it quotes/states, "Luther responded to Philip with an odd word: the only way to get better at the Christian life was to first become a real sinner, rather than a sham sinner." And on page 15 it states, "Luther argued that one must utterly despair of oneself in order to be made fit to receive the grace of Christ." I believe this is still another part of that authenticity our visitors see. Most of us here have no delusions of being sin-free, or a "good enough" person to merit salvation. I went and lived Luther's words before I even knew about him. Our Pastors seem to really understand this and bring this attitude and theology to their sermons and to their service to this community.


Not sure I have answered the question I started out to answer, I do have to say the meandering path is illuminating and hopefully interesting. I find the more I learn about the Lutheran traditions and even the history and about the ELCA, the more I know this is where I belong. I found it funny that when I started telling my mom about New Beginnings and what I was learning about the inner workings, she piped up and said, "oh, I was raised Lutheran." Hmm, guess she passed more of that belief on than she thought. I find great comfort in hearing others express wanting to be here, be a part of our worship service, that the feeling "I belong" is shared. I would truly be interested to know how the visiting pastor Reverend Andrew Grookin from New York found the atmosphere of our worship service. 


By C.K. Benjamin