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Faith in a science town

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By Katy Korkos

“You can’t talk about culture without talking about faith,” the Rev. Chuck McCollough said Friday.On a weekend where the faithful take to the streets, with hundreds of local people making a pilgrimage to Chimayó, and thousands involved in church services, McCollough took the time to speak the Leadership Los Alamos class of 2008 when the class gathered Friday in Bandelier to learn about culture. Talks on the history and the arts were the order of the day, which ended with a hike through Bandelier, combined with the experience of cultural awareness.“When people pass their beliefs and ethical values on to their children, they are participating in the warp and woof of culture,” said McCollough, who serves as pastor of White Rock Baptist Church.“Faith in a science town” was the title of his talk, delivered in the historic setting of a stone building built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in Frijoles Canyon.From the earliest days of the Manhattan Project, the people who were living in Los Alamos wanted a place to worship, and petitioned the Army to have a Sunday school on the secret Army base. When their wish was granted, more than 100 people of varying religious backgrounds attended the first gathering in 1943. The first chaplain came to Los Alamos in 1944, and the first Jewish services were held in Los Alamos in 1946.He described the first chapel as being a place that would accommodate all three of the major religious groups in Los Alamos during World War II, the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths. That cooperation and collaboration has continued throughout the years, including the interfaith effort that brought 23 religious groups together after the Cerro Grande fire to help locals cope with the disaster, and the non-denominational gatherings held in Los Alamos throughout the Lenten and Passover season.“The inclination to faith is innately human,” McCollough said. He described the process of church formation in Los Alamos as “people of faith finding each other.”He said that the wide variety of denominations in the county has to do with the fact that people here are uprooted from other places, and want to reproduce the faith experience they had in their formative years. In addition to bringing their religious practices from home, McCollough said that people often shop for a faith experience that fits, as denominational loyalties are fading.“The religious community has an identity crisis here, that parallels the identity crisis of the community,” McCollough said. “There is a certain measure of tentativeness, even defensiveness built into the psyche of the religious community about the place of the church.” “We have variety if nothing else,” McCollough said, naming “40-some” religious meeting places, including places for the Buddhist and pagan forms of worship in addition to more than 30 other distinct religions and Christian denominations. Quaker, Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness, Baha’i, Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Christian Church, Assembly of God and many more organized religions have established churches in the county.“The most common religious practice is a personal spirituality,” McCollough said, which is typical for a highly educated community. He said that surveys have shown that about 3,000 local residents, or about 20 percent of the population, attend a religious gathering on any given weekend. The national average is about 40 percent, he said. He added that, unlike in Bible-belt towns such as Oak Ridge, social respectability is not based on being seen attending church.“Religious communities are a vital thread in our cultural fabric,” McCollough said. “One of the great contributions of America to the world is religious liberty.”Leadership Los Alamos is an eight-month program, held annually in Los Alamos, to educate and inspire potential leaders from all walks of life to play vital roles in the community. Previous sessions have educated students on topics of youth, education, government and the environment. The class of 2008 will be the fifth in the local program, with its graduation April 18. Many graduates of previous classes have gone on to run for public office, volunteer for boards and commissions and get involved with the schools and with youth organizations.