Last April (2013), I was invited to participate for a second time in The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Glad Alliance Easter Writing Project. Last Easter Season was a time of reflection on how being part of an affirming body has helped our faith to grow and brought us edification on our spiritual journeys. In reflecting how my own congregational experience has affected my faith, I wrote this article.
Now, I have grown even deeper into my love for the small congregation I am part of, and for our denomination as a whole – The United Church of Christ. It is out of that love and gratitude for our local congregation and for the UCC, that I write today.
I have recently become obsessed with a song on a commercial.
I love it. I can’t get enough of it. I even looked it up and tried to find more by the artist, hoping all her songs were like it. That means you get to watch it now via the magic of YouTube:
Groovy. (We own a ’78 VW bus. I am allowed to say that, so no judgement.)
Yesterday, our church, along with a little over a dozen others, participated in a ground breaking event in Chattanooga, TN. My new friend, Kat Cooper (who has been fighting for equality in Southeast Tennessee) helped organize an event which brought together churches in the area to stand up against discrimination for LGBT people. We had wonderful speakers including some local ministers, the leader of our local PFLAG chapter, and Kimberly Knight from the Patheos blog. Churches invited others to be welcomed into their congregations, and there was a time to mingle together and get to know each other.
I couldn’t help but think of that song as the days led up. “I think it’s wonderful…people are finally getting together.”
During the event, our pastor, a wonderful older gentleman who radiates Christ, spoke to the people gathered and used a word I had not heard him use: prophecy. He stated that he believed the Church would come to look like that group gathered – the Church at large, and not just congregations – that the Church would embrace all people, and that the battle would be won for equality, perhaps before many of us expect it to.
I cannot begin to tell you how much love and respect I have for Pastor Dave. He stands in stark contrast to the controlling, loud, harsh, and arrogant pastors I have been exposed to over and over again. Just before the event began, he talked with my wife and me, and he spoke blessings over us just before he walked away.
Our little congregation, Pilgrim Congregational Church, is turning 100 in 2014. It has been an active community in Chattanooga since 1914, and since then has fought for justice and equality for all people, being very active in the civil rights movements, in working for and with the poor, and being a church made up of old, young, racial diversity, and diversity in sexual orientation. Though our attendance, and therefore finances, have been down, we continue to offer food to the community, to offer a place for all to be welcome at the table, and continue to organize for justice. At Pilgrim, D & I have been embraced and allowed to fully participate, to lend our voices and thoughts, and even for me to sing as they simultaneously bless our marriage.
The same is true for The United Church of Christ denomination, which though a pillar for justice, has suffered in recent years as church attendance has gone down across the board, but especially in affirming denominations. I recently learned of the rich history of the UCC, in advocating for justice from its very beginnings. What a beautiful history it is. I encourage you to read through it on the UCC website which is linked above.
All of these things: The local gathering, thinking about our church and our denomination, and the Target commercial – has me doing a lot of thinking about what the Church is, and what it isn’t as well as the importance of us being part of a congregation.
Recently, my wife and I went to Seattle, Washington to make our marriage legal. A friend had offered to find a minister to solemnize our marriage (perform a short ceremony), but the plans fell through. What resulted highlights the beauty of being part of something larger, and being part of that rich history in the UCC of welcoming all people and advocating for what is good and right and holy.
I emailed Pastor Tim Devine in a bit of a panic. I found his congregation on the UCC website, and told him our situation – that we already had our Christian wedding a year ago, a wedding blessed by our current church and our friend, the Reverend Audrey Connor of The Christian Church. I offered to have our pastor email a reference. I crossed my fingers and hoped and prayed.
Pastor Tim emailed me right back, and let me know it wouldn’t be a problem. Pastor Dave sent a beautiful reference for us. And on Wednesday night, October 9th, we became legally married.
Though I had some hard feelings about having to go through an extra step and traveling to another state to do it, I found myself humbled and feeling incredibly blessed. Here we were, in the opposite corner of the USA, blessed by two congregations. I could literally feel covered by the grace, justice, and hope of the United Church of Christ.
I still do.
Just before we left for Seattle, I saw an article on yahoo! news that I wanted to write a response to, but time would not allow – an article about a church being angry over a burger joint which used a communion wafer and splash of red wine to garnish a new specialty burger.
What I wanted to say was that to me, the burger place inadvertently demonstrated a spiritual reality and beauty: that all are welcome at the table. That we take and eat of the bread and wine, and that we are one. One with Christ, one with each other. We are one body.
I do not know what the answer is for struggling congregations who are doing the right thing. I do know we must continue our good work. I do know that I want to do everything I can to help both our congregation and our denomination to better thrive.
I also know that D & I are incredibly blessed. Blessed to be part of Pilgrim Congregational Church, blessed to be United Church of Christ, blessed to be welcome at the table.
Will you join us?