Faith exhibited in many diverse ways in region

2013-02-17T00:00:00Z Faith exhibited in many diverse ways in regionBy Mark Wilkins nwitimes.com
February 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

To be given the task of writing about the state of faith in Northwest Indiana is a daunting task at best. To sum up, in a few paragraphs and words, the diversity, scope and vitality of faith in our corner of God’s world is somewhat akin to essaying the majesty of Lake Michigan by viewing it from one of the sand dunes that dot our northern landscape.

The very diversity of the faith lives represented in Northwest Indiana has grown to a great degree within the last decades. Long gone are the days when faith in our area was represented primarily by the distinctions of Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations, with a smaller component of Jewish and Christian Orthodox representation.

Today, just as the very culture of the region has matured and become much more diversified, so too has our religious life. Today, easy distinctions between primarily Christian faiths have begun to fade, and we have begun to see a larger, and more vital representation of other faiths.

In the past decade Northwest Indiana has seen the rise of Muslim and Hindu congregations and an expansion of our Jewish community. Further, while the Christian segment of our area remains vital, we have continued to see denominational lines blur, with the rise of nondenominational congregations.

The portrait of faith life within our region is slowly being redrawn, and with it comes a redefinition of what it means to work together as people of faith. More than ever, we are challenged with the task of reaching across self-imposed boundaries of demonization and religion in ways that we might not have imagined 25 years ago, to work together for the betterment of our culture and community.

Local groups such as Children of Abraham, which ships needed medical supplies across the world, the Lake Area Regional Recovery Initiative and others have intentionally bridged the boundaries of creed and denomination to make a positive difference in our communities.

Such efforts at cooperation between faith communities are becoming increasingly common across Northwest Indiana. The need for such cooperation has only risen in the last several years as America has struggled economically.

Ironically, economic downturns tend to put churches in a double bind. Relying entirely on voluntary donations, churches often feel the squeeze of a recession first, while at the same time facing increased need to aid the disadvantaged both within our congregations and communities. Such conditions necessitate greater cooperation and shared goals to maximize our impact for those in need.

Battered at moments by the whim of culture or our own occasional reluctance to translate eternal truth in modern parlance, the churches of Northwest Indiana continue on. Though diverse in our beliefs and theology, we share a common need to better the lives of those within our faith communities and a desire to better our greater communities.

Within the walls of our churches, births are still celebrated, deaths mourned and human commitments consecrated. There is little in life that is not touched upon, and made holy by the faiths that we practice. Further, perhaps slowly, we are learning to respect our differences while embracing our commonality of goal. In short, God is still very much open for business in Northwest Indiana.

The Rev. Mark Wilkins is senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Crown Point. The opinion is the writer's.

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