Pastor Brendan Curran inherited a unique situation when he came to the United Church of Christ in Forest Grove last March. But he's managed to make the most out of what could only be described as a very difficult year.
"Initially, I felt very limited because I came in with a lot of enthusiasm to dive-in and really get involved with the community, and when the pandemic first hit, I thought, 'How am I going to be able to do anything?'" Curran said. "Now, a year later, I've been amazed how much has been possible."
Curran came to United Church of Christ, 2032 College Way, from Rhode Island and by way of Massachusetts, where he grew up.
"I believe that faith should open our minds and open our hearts," he said, "(It should) expand our hearts and minds, rather than close or limit them."
Much of that belief was fostered from a childhood that exposed Curran to varying religions. The son of a Catholic immigrant father and mother who attended a United Church of Christ, he would regularly go to Sunday services, while at the same time attending Catholic school and going to mass at the request of his grandmother. He studied meditation, worked at a Quaker school, lived in a Zen Buddhist temple, and further cultivated his belief in constant growth, both intellectually and spiritually.
This contrast left an impression on Curran and helped nurture a growing interest in both faith and intellectual discovery.
"Our household really encouraged faith exploration and that really helped me become very passionate about interfaith dialogue," Curran said. "I think that works well with our message here in Forest Grove, which is that, 'No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."
That message of inclusion has never been more important than over the past year, he said. With the pandemic, growing racial tension and calls for police reform, along with last September's wildfires and one of the most contentious elections in U.S. history, stress and strife have never been more prevalent, he said.
Curran desperately wanted to help, but due to restrictions as a result of the pandemic, he was concerned he'd ultimately be limited with what he could do for his congregation when he first arrived in Forest Grove. But online worship services and individual meetings, book readings, and socially-distanced activities, Curran said he and his congregation have grown immensely.
"My initial thought going into (the pandemic) was dread," he said. "But now, I feel like we are all stronger, more adaptable and resilient. Rather than avoiding the conversations which the challenges have presented, I'm proud that we've leaned into those conversations in an effort to learn through all of this."
Curran refers to himself as a "progressive Christian," and as a member of the LGBTQ community understands the negativity that can come with feeling excluded.
"God is love," Curran said, "Love your neighbor as yourself, and even try to love your enemies. That's what we're trying to do here, because the potential to love is within all of us."
Curran believes strongly in the importance of community, he said. Communities need to be built on a root of acceptance, he said, not built on control and exclusion, which can be commonplace in today's world.
"Theology and interpretation matter, and often times there are Christians who will say they're Bible-believing Christians, while progressive Christians — like us — are just picking and choosing," he said. "But the fact of the matter is that they are choosing to interpret the Bible in a way that excludes. That's why I value the denomination and became ordained as part of the United Church of Christ; because we value the journey of meaning-making, exploration and critical analysis of the biblical text."
Curran is very thankful for the Forest Grove community's welcoming attitude towards him over the past year, and cited — amongst others — Brian Schimmel and Shawn Cardwell who work with the Forest Grove Foundation, along with people from both Centro Cultural and Pacific University as organizations that have accepted him and his work with the church. He said he is anxious to get back to a more personal approach to practicing his faith, once COVID-19 restrictions lift.
"I've enjoyed connecting with the broader community online," the pastor said, "but I just can't wait to have community potlucks, open-mic nights, and other things that actually allow me to see all the wonderful people I've been coming to know, face-to-face."
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