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Pastor's Corner

Member Spotlight

Hear from Maria as she reflects on her time as a member of Harbor. She also shares about her recently published book, Safer than the Known Way: A Post-Christian Journey.

It was May 2018. I had been back in the US for less than a year after spending a year and a half in the South of France. I had moved to Newport Beach in April and knew no one. I had been going back and forth between LA and Minneapolis every few weeks, as I was working full time for the region. They called me in August of 2017 as I was finishing up in Europe and asked if I would come and work for them when I returned stateside. I worked remotely going back and forth for several months before making the move to Southern California. Minneapolis was my home before France and my entire life and community had been there. I was scared to leave, but one day I packed a carry-on and got on a one way and knew that this was it.

The co-regional ministers at the time urged me to find a local church community. This wasn’t something I was particularly keen to do. While my job included working closely with pastors to help transform their church congregations and attempt to make them sustainable and viable for the future, I had very little interest in attending church myself. I hadn’t been part of a church community in quite a few years. It may have been 2013 since I was an active member somewhere. This wasn’t a conscious choice. My ex-husband and I separated and divorced in 2014 and, starting from the year before, it was hard to stay connected as things were crumbling. I also worked full-time at a seminary in the Twin Cities. I was constantly engaging theological community and I was away a lot of the weekends, traveling often for work.

After my divorce I never returned to the church I spent years helping build, as it was a church plant in 2005 of which I was a founding member. It was all too hard and too complicated. Who gets a church community in a divorce? I was busy anyway and just wanted to rest, especially on Sunday mornings. Then, of course, came France. Attending a church community was the last thing on my mind. And, more than that, it wasn’t an option as I was in a small village in the foothills of the Maritime Alps.

Returning back to the US I was again often traveling on the weekends in Southern California to different churches I was working with. Becoming a member somewhere hadn’t crossed my mind and didn’t seem practical. But, again, the co-regional ministers urged me to find a local congregation. At their behest, but to my hesitancy, I did. As I lived in Newport Beach, they suggested that I seek out Harbor Christian Church and told me all about their new pastor, Rev. Sadie Cullumber.

I got in touch with Sadie and we met on a bright, sunny Newport Beach morning at Lido Marina Village for an overpriced cup of hipster coffee. We were there for hours just talking about…everything! We had so much in common and just felt connected in our work and passions from the start. She invited me to Harbor that Sunday.

I remember walking into Harbor and hearing the Praise Band play as people were finding their seats. I was clearly a visitor and was greeted by more people than I can say! I will remember this moment of welcome as long as I live. The smiling faces, so many outreached hands, and how happy they were to have me. I was invited back by so many people, and I knew I would return, but had to inform everyone that I was about to be out of town for the next month. Yet as soon as I returned I found myself a regular member at Harbor and I never looked back.

Oftentimes when circumstances have changed in my life, whether it be a move across the country or around the world, a major life change like a divorce or a job, it simply became untenable to maintain the relationship I had with my church. This isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it is just time to move on. And that’s ok. Sometimes relationships, ministry, and even community are just for a season. We move on and remember with fondness if we can.

Maria with husband Simon and pup Randy

I was at Harbor for a little less than two years. There wasn’t a Sunday I was in town when I could not be found there. Events, meetings, holidays–if I could be apart or help in some way I was and did. Now that I find myself in the UK these past two years, I have not left my relationship with and to Harbor behind. The huge time difference can make it difficult to plug in weekly, but I sit on the board, preach when I can, and am involved in so much of all that Harbor is doing. Because Harbor is more than a church for me, it is a home. It is somewhere I have made my home. It feels like home. The friends I have made there, the life we have done together, the commitment we have made to looking out and caring for one another, it is all there and more. And I’m more grateful than I can say. I’m not sure what life will bring for Simon and I, where we might make our home in the future, and the role Newport Beach might play in all of that. But one thing’s for sure, my membership and role as a community member at Harbor isn’t a passing fling. It’s a life thing.

Growing up in New York in an Italian-American-Catholic community, making all the sacraments, and then moving on to a large Evangelical community as a teenager, then moving to Minneapolis where my full fledged membership in Pentecostal and Evangelical communities solidified, and then moving on to Progressive Evangelical then post-Evangelical thinking, and now as I find myself living and working in post-Christian spaces, home, both theologically and geographically, has always been a moving target. While I now find my home in the UK with my husband, I know my home is also in Newport Beach and at Harbor. And I long for the day all of this converges once more.

To learn more about Maria and what she is up to, head to her website for more


Safer Than the Known Way:

A Post-Christian Journey

Continue reading below to hear from Pastor Sadie and Maria about Maria's recently work, Safer than the Known Way: A Post Christian Journey.

If you are asking new questions of god, if you are starting to move past some of what you think you know, if you find yourself being haunted by ghosts and want to pay attention to those whispers and echoes, if you have a hunch there is more, then my book has been written for you.

--Maria Francesca French


Sadie's Review

Safer than the Known Way is a book needed by so many people who feel lost as they begin to walk away from old models of faith. Maria’s book offers a lesser known path, one that is rarely talked about—a path for those who still believe in mystery and connection and the spirit of life—but who feel trapped by old ideas and old constructs.

She brilliantly offers new ways to engage the parts of Christianity that remain essential—things like community, and imagining a new way, a wide open future. Maria also weaves in relevant parts of her own journey so the heady concepts she delivers read easily and naturally, like a memoir. It was a delight to read and walk alongside Maria’s theological imagination that is calling us onto a new path that might really end up being safer than the known way. I have recommended this book to many already and I will continue to encourage my congregation to read this book as well. Thank you Maria!!! This book has been needed by so many for a very long time. I’m looking forward to your next publications!

--Rev. Sadie Cullumber


Maria's Thoughts

Everyone knows that Christianity is in crisis. All the data shown by years of various studies by the likes of Pew Research, Gallup, and others paint a picture of the current state of affairs of Christianity in the West. The prognosis isn’t good. An entire generation of believers are starting to ask questions that Christianity, as it stands, simply cannot answer. The pop culture conversation that has been rising to the fore over the last few years calls this process ‘deconstruction.’ Their process of dismantling and disentangling from certain toxic forms of god and religion has been going by this term in order to have a sense of community around quite a traumatic and shared experience. But before there was rampant social media, where ideas and community around ideas could travel at the speed of light, there wasn’t many places one could go with doubts and questions of belief, the emptiness religion can bring when certain constructs of god can no longer hold, and it all starts to fade into the background. This is particularly problematic for those who were raised in fundamental, conservative, and Evangelical traditions in which one’s relationship to their god and church was their identity–it was their life.

After years in these traditions myself, and then years of work, travel, research, and a whole lot of risk taking, I have written a book to address some of what we see happening and how we might want to engage it all differently and better.

Conservative Christian circles always get the bad rap. And for good reason. But I find liberal churches aren’t much better. Same construct of god, but a nicer one. Same methods of liturgies, just more progressive ones.

How do we move off the sliding scale of traditional Christianity vs. militant atheism, or the continuum of conservative vs. liberal Christianity and ask new questions of god all together?

What if we took concepts like the existence of god off the table? Is it still possible to engage Christianity well and continue to be transformed by it well after we have left the big god in the sky behind?

My new book, Safer than the Known Way: A Post-Christian Journey, addresses all these questions and a whole lot more.

If you are asking new questions of god, if you are starting to move past some of what you think you know, if you find yourself being haunted by ghosts and want to pay attention to those whispers and echoes, if you have a hunch there is more, then my book has been written for you.

Likewise, if you are interested in what is happening with Christianity in its current state and wonder if god may have a future, if you are wondering what might be next after doctrinal wars and battling ideologies, if you are thinking there may be more to engaging Christianity than just belief, then my book has also been written for you.

I hope you will pick it up and give it a read. I know there will be things that both resonate with you and challenge you. There will be moments when you say yes! and moments where you feel like you have fallen down the rabbit hole and are now a guest at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

But this is faith. Resonant and challenging, exciting and subversive.

Happy reading, my friends. I have written this for you.

--Rev. Dr. Maria Francesca French

Click the button below to purchase Maria's book, Safer than the Known Way: A Post-Christian Journey.

Thank you for reading!

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