Many people secretly question God. Sometimes it’s a simple question of whether someone will see his or her loved ones in heaven. But in a culture plagued by doubt, it’s just as easy to find people who would ask God to prove his existence.
Pastor Mark Middlekauff, of the young Grace Presbyterian Church in Water Mill, is hoping that believers, skeptics, non-Christians and downright cynics will all lend their questions to his congregation’s new campaign, “It Pays To Question God.”
The church has started a new website, itpaystoquestiongod.com, where it is hoping to gather questions from members of the community. In return, the church will donate $5 to one of four local charities that the questioner chooses and will mail the questioner an eco-friendly shopping bag with the church’s logo on it.
The four charities are The Retreat Domestic Violence Services, Human Resources of the Hamptons, The Southampton Fresh Air Home, and The Wildlife Rescue Center.
“We want to know what our neighbors are thinking. We need to know each other’s thoughts and spiritual aspirations,” said Pastor Middlekauff, who, along with a group of devoted residents, many of whom recently moved to the South Fork from Manhattan, started the church in the spring of 2008. “Everybody’s got one question that’s just a hang-up for them.”
He added that many very religious people that he knows were concerned with the idea of questioning God, preferring to use a term like “ask God,” but he said that in the Bible “people of great faith question God.”
“Even Jesus on the cross said ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” he said. “It’s healthy to approach God.”
Though he doesn’t answer the questions on the website, Pastor Middlekauff is hoping to hold discussion forums on the most frequently asked questions over the next several months.
He said that one of the most common questions people ask is why a merciful God would allow suffering in the world. Many questioners also wonder about the afterlife.
“One was: Is uncle so-and-so mad that people are arguing about his estate?” he said. “As a pastor, it helps me understand the lives of people around me.”
The first discussion forum will be with Dr. Os Guinness, a scholar who will discuss the notion of why God allows evil and suffering in the world.
The lecture will be held at the Wolffer Estate Vineyards in Sagaponack on February 3 at 7 p.m. The vineyard’s founder, Christian Wolffer, died in a tragic accident last week, but Pastor Middlekauff said that the vineyard is still interested in hosting the event—which seems almost fitting given the circumstances. “It’s just a very sorrowful time over there,” he said. “They’re definitely in mourning.”
The discussion forum is one of several community activities sponsored by the church. Sharon Kerr, who runs the church’s mercy ministry, has helped the church become involved over the past year with the four charities that are the beneficiaries of the It Pays to Question God campaign, and she urges people who want to question God to also consider volunteering for the charities.
“We’re looking to tap into existing programs in the community,” she said. “It’s great to see a community that works so well together.”
Pastor Middlekauff said that it’s that sense of community that he’s striving for in all the church’s actions.
Though he describes the congregation as small, in the winter months between 50 and 60 people attend Sunday morning services at the church. The services are held in the sanctuary of the Hamptons Alliance Church on the corner of Scuttle Hole Road and Montauk Highway. The Hamptons Alliance Church meets Sunday evenings.
He said that part of the church’s success has been due to the difficulties that many people who were not raised on the South Fork have in creating community here.
“God’s stance toward humanity is grace. We want to be a church that loves people well,” he said. “We want to connect people to each other as well as to connect people to God.”
“We were made to know each other and be known, but we don’t want to be known too well,” he said. “That’s where grace comes in. We can walk together in this life. It’s not a church where you just come on Sunday and leave.”