After a year of organizing, a new group called Inclusion Community makes its debut this Sunday, Oct. 3, offering what it calls “a safe place to experience God” for those turned off by traditional churches.
The Rev. Susan Heafner-Heun leads the group, and said about 30 founding members have been meeting for months under the generic label of “a new faith community” in Davidson. They’ve picked a name, designed a meeting format, and are now open to the wider community.
Inclusion Community is a partner of Davidson United Methodist Church and an outgrowth of initiatives by the United Methodist Church. The Rev. Heafner-Heun was appointed a year ago, and began working with about a dozen other people to explore and shape the new community.
“What emerged was a group of people who have this interest in learning more about Jesus, but who were really turned off by church doctrine, church dogma and the do’s and don’ts of a traditional church,” the Rev. Heafner-Heun said. They’re people who are questioning, and share an admiration of other faiths, she said.
The group has since grown to more than 30. Their first public meeting Sunday will include voices from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (LBGT) communities. It begins at 10:30 a.m. at Our Town Cinemas, in Sadler Square at 227 Griffith St. in Davidson.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL CHURCH SERVICE
Inclusion Community’s unorthodox approach extends to its weekly meetings, which don’t look or feel like those at a traditional church, the Rev. Heafner-Heun said. “We start with ringing a Buddhist bell to call us for a moment of silence,” she said.
Readings come both from Christian scripture and a wide variety of other sources, both secular and from other faith traditions. There may be short reflections on readings by clergy, members or guests, but nothing like “a typical 20-minute sermon,” she said. This Sunday, guests will include Rabbi Michael Shields of Lake Norman Jewish Congregation and Muntazir Somji, a Muslim from Charlotte, as well as people from the area’s LGBT community.
“We want to make sure we are a place of welcome,” Rev. Heafner-Heun said.
Meetings also will have silence, discussions, writing exercises or other activities, movie clips and a variety of world and traditional musics. Theresa Woody of Davidson is the group’s music director. “The music is mostly global, with hand drums and other neat sounds,” she said this week. “Traditional hymns show up from time to time, too.” Eventually, Ms. Woody hopes to have a choir and a permanent percussion section that draws on sounds from Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean and other regions.
Questioning and discussion are an important part of the group’s approach. A traditional church service conducted from the pulpit is not a venue for people to raise questions or engage in a discussion about the meaning of scripture, the Rev. Heafner-Heun said. But that’s exactly the goal of Inclusion Community.
It’s a bit unusual to find a new religious group incubated and then spun off from an established congregation like Davidson United Methodist Church. The local Methodist church sees Inclusion as a “satellite” or a “mission.”
The Rev. Jody Seymour, the Church’s senior pastor, was at a conference a couple of years ago and heard discussion about ways of “energizing” the church. He came back with the idea of fostering a new faith community in and around Davidson United Methodist.
Last July, Methodist officials tapped the Rev. Heafner-Heun, who at the time was serving two congregations in Denver, in Lincoln County, as pastor for the new group. Inclusion now also has an assistant pastor, the Rev. Dutch Handlang.
The Rev. Heafner-Heun’s own background is somewhat non-traditional. A Charlotte native, she attended Duke University for a year before shifting to Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She later went on to earn a doctor of ministry in social justice from Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, which is affiliated the the historically African-American AME Zion Church.
Church officials see what they’re doing as an addition to the area’s faith communities, one that will bring in new members, not replace or take away from an existing congregation.
“We are still Christians, we are still United Methodists, but we are not the same every place you go,” the Rev. Heafner-Heun said. “We’re not creating this to split the Davidson church. This is a mission, an opportunity to reach out to those who are not comfortable in the traditional church.”
WANT TO GO
This Sunday’s and future Sunday meetings will be at 10:30 a.m. at Our Town Cinemas, at Sadler Square, 227 Griffith St. For more information go to www.inclusioncommunity.org