Historic church embraces diversity

The Morgan Hill United Methodist Church, an inclusive Christian community in an historic facility, is active in interfaith relations in South Valley.

The Morgan Hill United Methodist Church has a long history of serving the community ever since its earliest beginnings. Built in 1893, the following year it housed the town’s public school until Machado School was constructed.
Early on, its commitment to ecumenical ministries was demonstrated through a unique arrangement with the town’s Baptists. Both congregations shared the building, and the two pastors alternated on Sundays: one preached at the church while the other preached in Coyote.
This tradition of cooperation has continued through the decades. For several years the Morgan Hill UMC hosted an ethnic Korean congregation, but it recently moved to San Jose to combine with another Korean church.
Currently the Methodist congregation hosts an ethnic Chinese congregation, Home of Christ Church, which worships there weekly. The two congregations socialize with each other at combined dinners, and Pastor Valey of Home of Christ Church has been a guest preacher at Methodist services.
According to the Rev. Patrick Davis, pastor of the Morgan Hill UMC, his congregation is attempting to go beyond these formal arrangements and engage the South Valley community in a series of dialogues to foster a deeper understanding among all residents.  
There are five interrelated dialogues:
– Everyday life: Sharing the lives of neighbors, learning about and caring about them.
– Meeting the needs of the community: Working together toward common goals, finding unity among the diversity around us and engaging in joint political action.
– Theological dialogue: Opportunities to learn about the rich religious traditions around us, to establish interfaith relationships. Several times a year they invite Father Tom Bonacci, a priest from the Interfaith Peace Project located in the East Bay.
– Engagement and sharing religious traditions: For example, the congregation has been remembering in their corporate prayers the local Muslim community as they fast during their holy month of Ramadan.
– Interfaith dialogue as spiritual practice: As people of differing religious traditions and philosophies learn more about each other’s beliefs and practices, they are able to appreciate the unique contributions of each and embrace one another as companions on the journey of life. Fears and stereotypes give way to friendship and respect.
Pastor Patrick insists this is not a short-term program, but an “organic movement to transform peoples’ consciousness, to move beyond mere tolerance to a real love and acceptance for all those in the community.”  There have been several steps taken already in support of this goal.
– Support and participate in the 911 Peace Picnic that is being planned by the Interfaith Council of Morgan Hill in September.
– Acknowledge important dates and observances of other faith traditions in our community through announcements at worship services.
– The Morgan Hill UMC will host a community dinner each Wednesday starting Aug. 29 at 5:30 p.m. in the church fellowship hall, inviting anyone in need of a nutritious free meal to attend.
– The Sunday bulletin includes acknowledgement of dates important to other faith traditions.
– The Armchair Theologians small discussion group meets Tuesday evenings with Pastor Patrick at 7 p.m. studying theological concepts as well as interfaith issues and concerns.
– The church has been sending representatives to Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate’s Interfaith Council meetings.
To find out more about this “inclusive Christian Community in an historic facility” visit it at 17175 Monterey St. in Morgan Hill, call 408-779-4044 or visit www.mhumc.com.

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