Exploring Church with Catapult – Journeying through the American Ecclesial Landscape

Most of the articles in Catpult Magazine Church isssue, VOL. 10, NUM. 21 :: 2011.11.25 — 2011.12.08, looked at church from the perspective of those who have journeyed and wandered through the American Protestant world.  With the exception of Kirstin’s Editorial and Eric Kuiper’s article, each article came at church from perspective journeyed through various congregations, denominations and church groups that make up the American Christian landscape. On some level these articles are marked by finding God, and “Church” in a variety of settings and theological and denominational identities.

On the surface my spiritual journey is in stark contrast to these author’s experience.  I was born and baptized in the Evangelical Covenant Church.  On my mother’s side of the family my connection to the Covenant and the movement out of which it emerged goes back to my  great great grandparents.  I am an ordained minister within the Evangelical Covenant Church.   I have attended an Evangelical Church for most of my life, the exceptions being when my family lived in France there was no Evangelical Covenant Church to seek out, and late college and just after college I tried different church for a while, and when I began seminary I was a member of  a Presbyterian church and then after I met my wife spent 8 months in an Episcopal church where we married.  still that means out of my 42 years of life, only about 4 of those were as a member of a church that wasn’t my current denominational affiliation.

That’s the surface.  When we begin to look  a little deeper, my entire pastoral career as a Covenant pastor has been spent a congregation I helped start, Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler, with an Episcopal priest and American Baptist pastor, thus not a Covenant Church.  We started it as an ecumenical congregation intending to affiliate with all three denominations.  But Reconciler never became a congregation of any of those denominations.  And if we’d look deeper we’d find that since high school my closest friends haven’t been in my denomination and not even necessarily Christian.  Through out college I was as likely to attend a Roman Catholic  church, Orthodox Church, or Episcopal Church as I was to attend the Covenant Church where I held my membership.   Also in seminary I did my internship in a Japanese Presbyterian Church. My father went to a Mennonite seminary when I was between the ages of three and six, his internships in Christian Education were in two Methodist Churches. My Grandmother was raised in the Swedish Methodist church and Assemblies of God, and my Great Uncle was an Assemblies of God, pastor.  While I haven’t really identified with any other denomination my overall experience of  American Christianity is much broader than my denomination.  I have journeyed through the american Christian landscape while retaining a loyalty.

I have only been a member of one congregation that wasn’t Covenant and that was the Presbyterian church I joined  when I began seminary.  I did not join with my wife the Episcopal church she joined just be fore we got married.  I have been committed to the Covenant Church been a member of it my entire life but I have spent not insignificant time in worship and participating in church communities other than my denomination.

When I read or hear stories of going from one church to another I have to admit those journeys seem rootless.  I don’t understand them because I can’t quite grasp why one would do so.  Except that I do understand, I explored other denominations and ecclesial communities.  In college my main group of friends consisted of a Roman Catholic an Armenian Orthodox who was hanging out with various Evangelical congregations, a Methodist quickly loosing his faith, a Lutheran by upbringing, and someone brought up in various generic non-denominational charismatic groups.  Only the Roman Catholic was all that committed to the church they were attending when I first met them, and two became atheists after we met.  These and a number of others in that same group were my chosen community for 10 years, it was separate from my church during that time.  for most of that period I remained a member of one congregation.

I suspect that some of my disagreement with these authors and our differences in what we are looking for when we say “church”, has its roots in the different approach to American Christianities.  I was able to use my denominational identity and association as the place from which engage and interact with other forms of Christianity and other communities.  It maybe that the Evangelical Covenant Church is as a denomination suited for such a journey. I considered converting to Roman Catholicism, but was convinced that the differences between  The pietist Lutheranism of my upbringing and Roman Catholicism could be overcome and that we were seeking the same things.  But after that even when I spent an extended period in a congregation of a differing denomination I only joined the congregation when it was required for the type of involvement I wished to have with the congregation.  And when I did join a congregation of a differing denomination it always felt odd like I was on some level lying, as I really wasn’t interested in being say Presbyterian.  I think my sense of place that longed for connection beyond that sense of place influenced my sense of Ecumenism and thus also my sense of what church is and should be.  Church wasn’t community, Church wasn’t a place where I felt comfortable and accepted.  I have as often as not found community outside of  any particular congregation I have been part of as an adult. Rather I should say I found community in addition to and outside any congregation I have been part of as an adult.  Theology also hasn’t really played part of my denomination affiliation.  My experience has not led me to judge local congregations according to a set of standards looking for the markers of  “church” in every congregation, though I do believe that every local church (not necessarily every local congregation, that’s another post) has the fullness of the catholic Church.

What I want to tease out in the next two posts is what is it that I’m seeking when I talk about “church” that is different and or that is lacking in these articles on church in this issue of Catapult.  This was my experience of reading these articles that what we meant by “church” was different and that there was this difference because in “church” we were looking for something radically different.