New discussion series at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian seeks answers to the ‘what ifs’ of religion

Photo: Rev. Doug Kendall of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church during a discussion about the meaning of agnosticism. Photo by Devyn Barrie.

Although fewer people consider themselves religious today compared to a few decades ago, that does not mean they aren’t searching for answers. Just in different places.

A new series at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, off Stittsville Main Street, seeks answers to some of the ‘what ifs’ of life and religion — for the not-so-religious.

Rev. Doug Kendall said the idea came out of an outreach program the church does with the nearby Sir Frederick Banting Secondary Alternate, where he said he often encounters students with smart questions he doesn’t always have an answer to.

“It came out of, what sort of questions are they asking,” he said. “There’s always interesting questions there.”

The series is running through the month of May at the church, located at 2 Mulkins St., on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. and is intended to run less than an hour. Because they’re aiming to attract an audience that isn’t necessarily religious, the discussions are kept informal and are held in the church’s new gathering hall, rather than in the pews. There’s coffee, juice and snacks — plus music is integrated into the discussions.

The St. Andrew’s band warms up with a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Photo by Devyn Barrie.

The first discussion was held on May 2 and asked: “What if God doesn’t like religion either?” Guided by Kendall, participants delved into the meaning of atheism, agnosticism and what makes religious objects such as the bible “sacred”, among other themes.

“When the world is in chaos, what do you hold onto?” asked Kendall. For some, it’s the bible. For others, something else.

At one insightful point in the evening, Kendall offered perspective on a verse from John Lennon’s Imagine, which the church band played to kick off the evening:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

Kendall said the song was controversial with clergy when released in 1971 because it asked people to imagine a world without religion. But he noted that the song was released at a time when horrific details on the Vietnam War were becoming public and that the song called on people to imagine a world where there is nothing to fight over.

“Not a bad thing to imagine, then and now,” Kendall said.

He noted at one point in the evening that Canada’s rate of non-religious affiliation has increased in recent decades, from 4 per cent in 1971 to about 24 per cent in 2011, according to census figures.But while people may not go to church as much anymore, they may still be seeking answers, Kendall said.

“The majority of people say they’re spiritual but not religious,” he said. “It is something that we see happening hugely in society.”

The mood was kept light with a bit of humour. During a discussion about different religious denominations, Kendall described a cartoon by a U.S.-based pastor poking fun at the multitude of different denominations.

Cartoon via Saji George

The next discussion will be held at 7 p.m. on May 9 and will grapple with the age-old question of dueling faiths: “What if my god isn’t better than your god?”


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