Although 50-year-old Rev. Kim Cran has always loved the West, it was one local church that ultimately drew her to Boise. It's a church she described as having a reputation for being diverse and providing an atmosphere of acceptance, inclusion and a strong commitment to social justice. Cran, who moved to Boise in January from western New York with her husband, now serves as senior pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ.
What's Boise First's reputation elsewhere?
This church has been blessed throughout its history of the last 40 or 50 years for having really visionary ministers and a congregation that has been willing to step up and speak on issues of social justice and concern. Probably the greatest example of this recently has been the involvement in helping with the Interfaith Alliance to found Sanctuary, the new homeless shelter. A strong commitment has always been present here to walk the talk. It's not enough to talk about faith and talk about love and talk about compassion. The church has always found a way to make a concrete contribution to the community, be it with the Anne Frank Human Rights display at the park and the Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor's contribution to that, or Interfaith Sanctuary. The church has also been at the forefront of being a welcoming and inclusive community for members of the LGBT community. They made their open and affirming statement that says we will not discriminate in any way on the basis of sexual orientation back in the '90s. This has been welcoming and inclusive to all people, including people of the LGBT community, and because of this, this is a very diverse congregation. It's also become a sanctuary for people who, for a variety of different reasons, felt that they couldn't stay in the faith community they grew up in or first became involved in as an adult as their own reality changed. Here at Boise First, they are welcomed.
Is it a Christian doctrine?
Definitely. Within the Christian faith, there is this huge continuum of beliefs that identify with Jesus and identify with Christian teachings, and it's incredibly vast and diverse. All the way from orthodox churches that still maintain original languages and worship in very strict liturgical ways and Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism and Protestantism. If we were to have a label--and I'm not fond of labels--but we would probably be labeled progressive or liberal. So we're within that strain of Christianity that takes the Bible seriously but not literally, and we take the traditions of the church seriously but believe that God is still speaking. So as our understanding of society and human beings and human nature and God changes and evolves, we believe our faith practices can change and evolve as well.
Members are encouraged to be politically and socially engaged as well as spiritually?
I think all churches and faith groups do this to a greater or lesser degree. We look, for example, to Buddhism. There's the whole realm of engaged Buddhism that started back in the Vietnam War that it's not enough just to focus on one's own spiritual growth when one's neighbors are hungry, we must reach out to those in need. Within the Christian tradition, most Christian churches focus to a greater or lesser degree on caring for a neighbor and loving your neighbor as yourself. Within the UCC, there is a strong activist streak in being involved in social justice issues. The denomination as a whole takes Jesus' teaching and examples that we're called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and reach out to all who are in need, and reach out to all who are marginalized and oppressed. We take that very seriously, and live that out in our faith. We're very much involved in ecological issues and trying to be better stewards of creation. Trying to do a better job in terms of advocating for those who do not have a voice in society and for whom injustice is a daily experience. This is all very much a part of the UCC's identity. So to a greater or lesser extent, all churches do this. At the UCC, it's very much to a greater extent.
Your congregation sounds very engaged.
They're an engaged and diverse group of people. We have folks here who grew up in evangelical traditions who would embrace what one would see as a more traditional faith. We have people here who are seeking and questioning and embrace a very nontraditional faith. We have Bible studies here. We have a Jesus seminar here that's trying to demythologize Jesus and look for the historical Jesus. Just this huge, vast group of people who approach things in very unique and different ways, but the core is respect for one another, and because of this, we can all gather around the same table.
Respect for one another is one of Christianity's basic tenets, but some Christians pick and choose who they want to respect. How do you explain your position?
I believe there is a vast continuum of belief in Christianity. I understand some of my colleagues take a very differing view and believe there is only one way to know and understand God and that there's only one acceptable way to be a Christian or be a person of faith or one very clear way that one can be a family. We certainly don't agree with that position. I feel great sadness for people who exclude so many other beautiful people who have been created in God's image because they can only see things one way. If that way is working for them and they find peace that way and they don't use their beliefs to abuse or diminish or disrespect other people, then great. Many of the members of my congregation are here because they've experienced pain and disrespect and judgment in other faith communities. They come here deeply wounded and have a long journey of healing, and it's so sad. I find great joy in working with and serving a God who loves and welcomes everyone. I couldn't imagine serving a God who says you have to have a particular skin color or says you have to be a particular gender or particular sexual orientation or work in a particular type of work and live in a particular kind of house in order to be acceptable to me. That would be terrible.
Is Boise First the only UCC church in Idaho?
We have another, and it's on the other side of Boise on Franklin Road. Lovely congregation with a wonderful minister. We have eight churches in Idaho. We have churches spread pretty much throughout the state in Challis, McCall, a great church in Mountain Home, a small church in Nampa, New Plymouth, Pocatello and Payette.
How many people is that?
Compared to other denominations here in Idaho, we'd be very small, but good things come in small packages.
For more info visit boisefirstucc.org.