Thursday, February 28, 2008

Are You Denominationally Promiscuous? (Dialogue Column 2.26.08)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Oftentimes, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.


If you were in worship this past Sunday, you would have witnessed an unusual sight—at least as far as our worship goes. The elders of the church laid hands on me and prayed for my ministry. They did so, because Donna Rose-Heim, one of our Northwest Missouri Area Ministers for the Disciples of Christ, presented me with the official certificate which certifies that I have been granted standing in our denomination. When ministers are ordained or welcomed from another denomination, the tradition holds that the elders will lay hands and pray for them just as was done this past Sunday.

I am sure that some of you were a bit confused about why this was happening. After all, wasn’t I already your minister? The answer is yes, of course, but since I came to this church as a minister from another denomination, The United Church of Christ, I still had to be recognized by the denomination of which our church is a part. It’s one of the tricky things about our denomination and ones like it that come from a “free church” tradition. For Disciples, Baptists, the UCC and others, local churches can hire whomever they please, no matter their denominational background, but if that minister wishes to take part in the larger life of the denomination and represent her or his church in that work, she or he needs to be recognized by the denomination. I not only wanted to represent First Christian in our denomination, but I also wanted to be faithful to First Christian’s long and significant relationship with the Disciples. So, I took the necessary steps to receive standing as a Disciples minister.

So, this hopefully concludes my denominational wandering. I now have what is called “Partner Standing” as a minister in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ. My journey of vocational ministry began when I was licensed and later ordained as a Baptist. Eventually, I was granted standing as a minister in the United Church of Christ. And now, here I am as a Disciple. I fear that I have become what a good friend of mine calls “denominationally promiscuous.”

The good news for me is that I am not alone. This week the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published the results of their research on the religious affiliations of Americans. According to Pew, 28% of Americans have changed from the religion they were born into. If the people who have switched between Protestant denominations are included, then the number jumps to 44%. That means almost half of all Americans have made a significant change in their religious identification some time in their lives. There is a lot of denominational promiscuity out there!

This research confirms what I and many of you have known from our own experience. A poll of our own church members would likely reveal that the number of members who are life-long Disciples is pretty close to the number of members who came to our church from a different religious background. The vast majority of people in our church who became Disciples changed from another Protestant denomination, although we do have a good number of former Catholics.

This loosening of denominational bonds is largely a good thing in my mind. First of all, I believe it benefits churches like ours that make room for a diversity of beliefs and appeal to people looking for an open-minded and welcoming community of faith. Second of all, as I learned in my Disciples history and polity course, the whole reason our denomination began was to overcome the divisions of dogma and creed. I believe what people and congregations believe matters, but I also believe that the boundaries that divide us must remain flexible and permeable enough to allow our living God to guide us wherever God needs us to be on our faith journeys. I for one am glad that my faith journey has brought me here to First Christian Church.

Grace and Peace,

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