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Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join Wesleyan Denomination

Denomination Church Logo

I found Timothy Hawk, or did Timothy Hawk find me—actually, I’m not sure. That’s a common problem Arminians have. We have a hard time sorting out who made the first step. Regardless, I met Timothy Hawk one way or another through his son who happened to be at the same university while my wife worked on her Master’s degree in English. Perhaps much to Tim’s surprise, I’ve heard nothing but good things from his son about him, and found common cause with his work in prison ministry since my in-laws got me hooked on prison ministry for a season of my life. I’m honored to have Tim share what he loves about the Wesleyan denomination in today’s denomination derby post.

 

In the beginning…

I am a third generation Wesleyan (former Pilgrim Holiness), following my parents and grandparents on both sides of my family. I was raised in the Wesleyan Church, with mandatory attendance at every offered worship service, Sunday School, summer VBS, and every revival series or special services. My Dad was almost always a trustee, so I would even go to the church with him some evenings and Saturdays to work. There were times that I think we were at the church more than at home. I am not complaining, because I loved church, and I loved the people at our church.

I was called to pastoral ministry when I was twelve. There was never a question as to what my course of preparation would be for this journey. I attended United Wesleyan College, a small Bible college in Allentown, PA, and began my ministry as a youth pastor in 1985. Right on schedule, I was ordained in 1987 in the Northwest District of the Wesleyan Church. I pastored my first congregation alone beginning in 1987, as well. I continued pastoring, leading three churches over 14 years until in 2001 I accepted a position as prison chaplain in New York, where I continue to serve. In 1999 I obtained a Master of Arts from Indiana Wesleyan University.

 

Who are the Wesleyans and why do I love them?

The Wesleyan Church is an evangelical denomination with just under 500,000 members worldwide, with a little less than half of those in North America. The denomination is the result of a merger between the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness Churches in 1968. Both of these former denominations were formed during the turbulent mid-1800 years of the Methodist Church, when people left over social issues.

I love the Wesleyan Church because of their history regarding social issues. Many ancestors to the current Wesleyan Church were Abolitionists, involved in speaking, writing, and even the Underground Railroad. This action spanned the movement from the highest leadership to the grass root attendees.

Women’s rights are another issue the Wesleyans fought for, blazing a trail leading to some of the first ordained women into the pastoral ministry. An early women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY at the Wesleyan Chapel in that town. The Wesleyan Church today maintains a strong support of the ordination of women, and is led by General Superintendent Dr. Joanne Lyon. I am proud to be part of a denomination that supports women.

 

I love Wesleyan theology!

Dr. Melvin Dieter stated in one of my graduate classes that John Wesley was an eclectic theologian whose theology was a lot like grandma’s cookies, a pinch of this and a dash of that, leading to the difficulty of really grasping his thinking completely. This eclecticism is quite attractive to me, as well as the many liberties allowed by the Wesleyan Church on many topics. The denomination reflects Wesley’s emphasis on holiness with the mission statement, “To spread scriptural holiness throughout every land.” This is the foundation for the Wesleyan-Arminian position of emphasizing the free will of man and an acceptance of the possibility of apostasy. While the denomination has a comprehensive statement of belief, there is a lot of flexibility within it for varying theological positions. I believe that this is a strength of the denomination, embracing diversity while maintaining unity among the essential core beliefs of the Christian faith.

 

I love the flexibility in worship.

If you traveled around the world visiting Wesleyan Churches, you would experience about every style of worship that you can imagine. Some follow a strict liturgy with much leader and congregational interaction while others practice a very enthusiastic and free worship. Observance of the Eucharist is mandated by the denomination once per month, but some churches partake in the sacrament weekly. Some churches sing only from a hymnal, others only sing contemporary choruses, while many present a mix of the two. The creeds of the church, the doxology, the Gloria Patri, and the Lord’s Prayer are used in some churches, while others might question your reference to them. Cultural influence is as prominent an influence on worship as is theology. All this variety is due to the Wesleyan denomination not prescribing a set style of worship. I love that about the Wesleyans.

 

Is the Wesleyan Church too good to be true?

Throughout my journey there have been times that I have questioned my loyalty to the Wesleyan Church. While there are some theological statements that I might challenge, the underpinnings of the denomination, rooted in the tradition of John Wesley, resonate with me more than others that I have explored. My greatest disagreements surround social issues and the membership guidelines of the church.

Since the Wesleyan Church has a history of standing for social justice, I hope and pray that they may change course on these issues, and that I might be a part of such a change. Being a small denomination and having spent my entire life within it, I find my roots deep and my connections broad within this body of believers. I married a girl who was also raised in the Wesleyan Church, her father being a Wesleyan pastor, broadening our connections to people around the world. Every time I contemplate pursuing transfer to another denomination I feel like a child preparing to run away from home. I wonder if I would simply find myself circling around the block, knocking on the door, and asking to come back home.

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

Timothy_4x6Timothy Hawk is an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church. He is currently a chaplain at Elmira Correctional Facility in Elmira, NY. He has been married to his wife, Susan, for almost 31 years, has three children, and three grandchildren. He has often said that everything he learned about God he learned from his children! You can follow him on Twitter @tim_hawk and visit his website at www.timothyhawk.com to find his blogs.

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Christian Reformed Church

Denomination Church Logo

 

You hear a lot of folks these days talk about “reformed theology.” Sometimes reformed theology is mentioned with a sneer or an eye roll. Sometimes reformed theology is given a thumbs up, as if it was the greatest thing since Calvin’s Geneva (minus the burning of “heretics” of course). For all of this confusion about what it means to be “reformed,” we have the humble little Christian Reformed Church that continues to surprise me with its vitality and life. Today Paul Vander Klay, who has the appropriate last name for this topic to say the least, shares what he loves about the Christian Reformed Church: 

 

If Ed’s “Denomination Derby” is conceived of as a competitive display of self-promotion the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) will certainly lose. The CRC is fabulously poor at self-promotion. Let me explain.

Unless you’re from Western Michigan or have visited Calvin College you may not have ever heard of the Christian Reformed Church. The CRC has about a quarter million quiet members scattered in around 1000 congregations three quarters of which are within a couple hundred miles of Grand Rapids Michigan. This is not a recipe for church market success in North America.

While you may never have heard of the CRC or know anyone from it you’ve probably heard of a number of her famous sons (yes, sorry, they’re mostly boys). If you’re young and Reformed and you like to read old dead white guys you might recognize the names of Ned Stonehouse, Cornelius Van Til, Geerhardus Vos and Louis Berkhof. If you’re into newer philosophical books you’ll probably recognize Alvin Plantinga, his theologian brother Neal,  Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Mouw and Lewis Smedes.  Church growth lovers or haters of course will know Bill Hybels who grew up CRC.

One of our more famous rebellious sons is Paul Schrader who went on to explore his roots in his 1979 film Hardcore, not quite “safe for the whole family” but yet insightful. Many like him who leave the CRC have trouble fully leaving it behind. Ours is a thick culture.

You might notice that a bunch of your books come from Zondervans, Bakers and Eerdman’s publishers based in Grand Rapids, and if you’re really an evangelical Bible wonk you might know that the NIV translation project began in the Christian Reformed Church in one of her 4 colleges. All of this should indicate that books and education in the CRC is a very big deal. This is why its most famous conference with this crowd is the biannual Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, an institution founded to train preachers for our churches and teachers for our Christian schools.

Seeing this partial list of notables and accomplishments might lead you to believe that the CRC is a bookish clan and you’d be half right. The other thing the CRC majored in was farming, mostly dairy. The CRC’s parent/cousin, the Reformed Church of America was planted by Dutch city folk while the country folk of the Netherlands who left in the 19th and 20th centuries mostly joined the CRC.

“Reformed” has recently been tied to “young” and “restless” and too often “angry” or “cranky”. A lot of CRC folks have watched this new wave of mostly Presbyterians (more cousins) and it has brought up painful memories. The CRC used to be a lot more cranky about a lot of things but it brought a lot of pain. The most recent painful fight was over women in church leadership. It started in the 70s and lasted about 25 years. When CRC finally permitted it, about 70,000 people left. For a denomination where many folks are related to you, where you play “Dutch Bingo” trying to find mutual relatives, or who were your school mates (CRC folks start lots of Christian schools), these splits are personal and the wounds heal slowly. This is making the CRC fairly avoidant when it comes to what looks like the next big fight over same sex marriage.

If you visit a CRC you’ll probably find a rather shy but friendly group. The pastor will likely be well educated but cautious and not flashy or loud. CRC people have been called the “Jewish Hobbits” of American Christianity. Many like myself actually have Jewish roots back to the Netherlands. We’ve also been compared to Jews because of our comfort with the Old Testament. We’re kind of like Hobbits because we mostly keep to ourselves and can tend to be stubborn. The real difference between CRC folk and Hobbits is that we’re abnormally tall.

What I’m most proud of in the CRC, and why I stay, is that we as a denomination work really hard at trying to be faithful to God while also trying to engage our world. It takes a stubbornness about the Bible and the church, practical wisdom learned in a real zip code and a courage to doubt yourself to try to hold it all together. We read, think, and write a lot but aren’t usually too quick to grab onto something new. We’d rather wait, ponder and pray for a while before making a big change. This usually bothers both sides of a fight. We’re never as conservative as some want, and never as liberals as others demand. Again, think of Hobbits.

I won’t be so bold as to try to sell our church to you. That’s usually just not our way. We love having new folks come and join us. Jamie Smith is one of our more famous recent joiners. He seems to be carrying on in our bookish, philosophical tradition. So visit Calvin College for the Festival or a CRC in some non-conspicuous corner someplace. We’re proud about our institutions and accomplishments, but don’t be surprised if we’re a bit shy and slow about some things. Be patient with us and you might find you’ve made a thoughtful friend.
About Today’s Guest Blogger:

head shot w2Paul Vander Klay: I’m a third generation CRC minister. I grew up in my father’s racial reconciliation church in Paterson NJ. I was a missionary in the Dominican Republic and currently pastor a small, multi-everything congregation in Sacramento CA. I love to read, write, and enjoy the interesting people God has made. I blog at http://leadingchurch.com.

 

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join a Calvary Chapel

Denomination Church Logo

 

OK ecclesiastical purists, I know that Calvary Chapel isn’t a denomination, but it’s sort of like a denomination in America, and it has played a pretty big role in the evangelical movement as a whole. Speaking personally, a Calvary Chapel played a huge role in my early days as a Christian, so when minister, writer, and jack of all trades Trip Kimball offered to share what he loves about Calvary Chapel, I couldn’t say no on a technicality. Here’s what Trip loves about his “denomination”:

 

Calvary Chapel—Past and Present

A charismatic young man, with long hair and a full beard, exhorted us to believe in Jesus and become His followers. He resembled the iconic picture of Jesus during the seventies—a quasi-hippie revolutionary.

After prayer, those who believed would follow this young persuasive leader to a back room for more prayer and instruction. I didn’t follow that night. I had questions, lots of questions.

This is my earliest memory of Calvary Chapel and the Jesus Movement of the late sixties. It crystallizes that era and the birth of what became the Calvary Chapel Association. Even my refusal to follow because of questions epitomizes the Jesus Movement and my own faith journey.

A little history

We’re not a denomination, at least that’s what we’ve claimed for more than 45 years. Many of us joke that we are a non-denominational denomination. Our official belief for years stated—

We are not a denominational church, nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only their overemphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the Body of Christ.

It’s hard to understand Calvary Chapel without knowing its origins.

The era was the mid-sixties and early seventies. Anti-war demonstrations, love-ins, psychedelic drugs, eastern religion and philosophy, the Beatles and Bob Dylan provided a back drop for what became a national movement. Calvary Chapel played a big part in the west coast phase of the Jesus Movement.

What set Calvary Chapel apart was an emphasis on teaching the Bible and what became known as contemporary praise and worship. Hour long Bible studies were common, as young people with beards, beads, and bell bottoms sat on the floor. The music was a blend of folk and rock, but always about Jesus.

The one-way sign—pointing a finger towards heaven—symbolized our focus. It was always about Jesus.

An eclectic mix

The founding pastor, Chuck Smith, was a Four Square pastor for many years before starting with a group of twenty-five people in a borrowed church building. It went from a small group to thousands—a small church on the edge of town, to a circus tent, to its present facility in Santa Ana, CA.

Pastor Chuck was a Bible teacher first and foremost, with a love for biblical prophecy. It was a mix of old school Christianity that merged with the hippie culture of the time. His wife Kay encouraged him to welcome and reach out to these hippies who were lost and wandering. His background was traditional Pentecostal, and most of the young people had little to no church background.

Chuck presided over the movement with his genuine, gracious, fatherly smile. His emphasis was always on God’s Word and the grace of God, which characterized the Calvary Chapel movement.

Chuck’s simple form of personal discipleship transferred easily to those who remained committed beyond the early days of revival. It was natural and grounded in biblical truth. This is an important reason why I found a home in Calvary Chapel.

A developing theology

Calvary Chapel is still too young, as church movements go, to have a well-developed theology. It’s still in the development stage. This is especially true following Pastor Chuck’s death last year. His son-in-law, Brian Broderson, has a vision to reach the present young generation, so changes will come, as he settles into the role of pastoring Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa.

But Brian is one of several other pastors who form a Leadership Council. Each church is autonomous, which has its pluses and minuses. Growth pains will come, just as there have been bumps along the way. Now it must survive the passing of its founder.

One of those bumps was the breaking off of the Vineyard fellowships during the 1980’s. An over-compensation to the Vineyard movement resulted in more restrictive and conservative attitudes towards worship, prayer, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In recent years, I recall Chuck appealing to pastors during conferences to return to a more Spirit-led form of ministry, as he taught out of Galatians 3:1-3. There are other difficulties over the years, but the core elements of the early years continue to hold firm.

What do I love about Calvary Chapel?

My wife and I were baptized in the Pacific Ocean at Pirates Cove (in So Cal). We fellowshipped and served at a young age during the little chapel and tent days (1971-73). Things were simple then. We loved and worshiped Jesus, and our life reflected this simplicity.

These are the things we embraced then and now—

  • A personal relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior
  • Teaching through all of God’s Word, the Bible
  • Worship focused on Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit
  • Relational evangelism, discipleship, and service

Is this a little too simple? Perhaps, but it’s how we came to faith more than forty years ago, and how we follow Jesus today.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

TK1-3.09-smTrip has cleaned toilets and painted houses for a living, and planted a church in 1978. He and his wife moved to in the Philippines in 1990, and established a ministry for abandoned babies and children, and abused girls. He also developed a Bible school and training center for leaders in the Philippines.

In 2012, Trip published, The Mystery of the Gospel, born out of his ministry time in the Philippines. He’s also developed discussion-based Bible studies connected to his workbook on an inductive approach to Bible study.

He is currently involved in mentoring a few men and leading several small group studies, while working a couple part-time jobs and posting online at– word-strong.com.

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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One more thing from Ed…

The eBook version of A Christian Survival Guide will be on sale for $.99 on most major eBook sites until January 18th, 2015. 

3 Terrible, Stupid Things I Used to Do on My Blog

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I’ve been blogging since 2005, and that means I’m sort of an expert… at least an expert on what not to do. As I’ve tried to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, I’ve seen that I tended to make some really big, terrible, stupid mistakes because I fancied myself a pure, idealistic writer who does not bow to the conventions of the blogging world.

After changing a few things in my approach to blogging, I thought I should confess my mistakes so that you can avoid making them too.

 

Titles Don’t Matter for Blog Posts

I used to think that writing was all about writing amazing stories and sharing super-helpful ideas. If you spelled out the basic ideas clearly, the discerning reader would SURELY recognize my genius, brilliance, and value. These savvy readers don’t demand click bait. In fact, they’re most likely sitting by their computers right now just waiting for me to post something amazing.

But oh gosh, if Buzzfeed has taught us anything, which I highly doubt, it’s that people LURVE click-bait headlines. I should have totally titled this post: “You won’t believe what I used to do on my blog!” or “I teared up after reading the second sentence” or “This is better than tap dancing kittens on YouTube.” You get the idea. You were probably clicking all over those fake headlines just now even though you knew I was making them up and they didn’t have any hyperlinks. Admit it.

While we don’t have to give in to the Buzzfeed headline writing buffoonery that is ruining the Internet for the sake of advertising clicks, titles still matter a great deal. Every serious blogger I know spends a lot of time on their titles. These days I begin my blog posts with a title that plainly states the focus of my post for the sake of personal clarity, but then hack it to pieces and work through a bunch of different options before picking one.

Here’s the thing, there’s a ton of stuff out there on the Internet, and you really, really can’t afford to put up a bland headline that’s something like: “Musings on Stuff I Like.” First off, never, ever use the word “musings” ever again on your blog. In fact, WordPress developers, we need to add a mandatory plugin to the next build that automatically deletes blogs that use the word “musings” in contexts other than Greek mythology. But back to my point, please, for the love, spend some time writing a good blog post title. If you love your little blog posts as much as you say you do, then you need to give them good titles. Otherwise, very few people will be tempted to read your precious little posts.

 

I Don’t Have to Be Vulnerable on My Blog

Blogging used to be about ideas for me. In fact, it was all about ideas for about the first six years or so. I’d rant and rave about things from time to time, but I spent so much time believing that people just wanted to read my little nuggets of wisdom that I rarely inserted myself or my “feelings” into my posts.

I don’t know how I could have missed this for so long. I mean, yeah, people want to read smart ideas, but it would have helped if I wrote with the voice of a real person and share a little bit from my life.

Having said that, I also feared being one of those bloggers that shares all the things from his/her personal life online. I’m not quite in the Ron Swanson school of personal privacy where I’m tossing my cell phone in the sewer and burying gold bricks in undisclosed locations, but I find it really hard to determine when I’ve crossed the line from being authentic and real (in the sense of, “Keepin’ it real… yo”) into overdramatic over-sharing that violates the privacy of my family.

I can see now that vulnerability is essential for writers. Writers really do have to face our demons and set down at least part of that battle on the page.

Writers have to take risks. We don’t have to over-share or compromise the privacy of ourselves or loved ones, but we have to take big, vulnerable risks if we want people to care about our work. We have to work on stepping up to that line that divides authentic vulnerability from over-sharing, wherever it is, and give it a firm poke—just like old school Facebook.

And even if you aren’t particularly vulnerable, you have to at least care a lot about your topic. I’ve labored for hours over posts that I thought had tons of great ideas, only to see a passionate post I’ve dashed off in 20 minutes become the most popular post on my blog for all time. I’ve you aren’t personally invested in your writing, then your readers probably won’t be either.

 

Announcing “Here’s My New Blog Post” on Twitter

No one cares that I’ve just posted a blog post. No one. Probably not even my mother most days, especially if my titles are terrible. And yet, I used to complement my vanilla blog post titles with tweets that I plunked down like dry, crumbly, bland wafers.

One day I saw someone quoting from my blog post on Twitter, and I was like, “That’s awesome! I should try that!”

Now, some bloggers go a bit overboard with the Twitter quotes. They highlight the tweetable parts of their posts in bold, set up “Tweet this” links on their posts, or create little lists of tweetable quotes.

OK, I’m not here to judge anyone. This is personal confession time, and I’m confessing that I’m terrible at tweeting from my blog. Do whatever you like. I’ll just say that I saw some folks doing that, and I was like, “Oh come on! Just write something good!”

What can I say? I was born in the wrong age. I’m all “Get off my lawn!” with these new fangled marketing tactics. Even using a typewriter feels a little edgy some days. But back to my main point about the Twitters…

***

TWEET THIS –> “Even using a typewriter feels a little edgy some days.” @edcyzewski

***

I’ve still seen that people want to share helpful little quotes. Even if I tend to think in 1,000 to 2,000 word chunks, it won’t kill me to share a quote or two from my latest blog post if folks could find it helpful. Mind you, I don’t write for Twitter and may God banish me from all NHL arenas for life if I ever do. I’ve just realized that my resistance to posting a blog post quote on Twitter wasn’t all that smart of me

***

TWEET THIS TOO!!!  –> “I don’t write for Twitter and may God banish me from all NHL arenas for life if I ever do.” @edcyzewski

***

 

In conclusion, I’ve made some really huge, terrible, stupid mistakes as a blogger. These are all pretty basic, simple, run of the mill blogging tips that you can find all over the Internet. And still, there are tons of bloggers like myself who have resisted them. It’s time to get with the program. Adopting a few best blogging practices won’t hurt… too much. We may even get a few new readers along the way.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a blogger?

 

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the American Baptist Church

Denomination Church Logo

We’re welcoming Elizabeth Hagan to Denomination Derby. She’s a prolific blogger, pastor, and a deeply committed member of the Feed the Children team, especially since her husband is the CEO! Today she answers the question: What do you love about the American Baptist Church? 

 

When I was 14 years old, I knew that God called me to ministry. One Sunday morning in the mountains of Tennessee, heard a compelling talk from a missionary preparing to leave America. She wanted to help people know the love of Jesus. Something tugged at my heart too saying, “This life is for you.”

When I told my Southern Baptist Church of about this spiritual prompting, they had one question: “Do you want to be a home or a foreign missionary?”

Honestly I had no idea.

What kind of question was this for a young girl who hadn’t even picked a college?

But, for women called to vocational ministry in Southern Baptist life “mission work” is the only option and preferably with a husband.

Fast-forward almost 10 years. I sat in a worship service at my college with a female preacher (gasp) in the pulpit. My upbringing full of rules said, “This is wrong. Leave!” But heart said: stay. Listen to her.

Two years later I began seminary on the preaching track. I would become a pastor too.

It should have been a joyous time. It wasn’t. I realized that the church that raised me would not engage with my interpretation of scripture and my experience of God. Neither would my local association. My new seminary friends found themselves on the “ordination track” with their denominations, but I was lost.

I would need a new church if I remained in seminary. Maybe another flavor of Baptists would accept me? And at this point, enter the American Baptist Church into my story.

I first met the American Baptists 10 years ago through a seminary internship at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, DC.

Right away I learned this: the American Baptists’ history began in taking a stand for social justice. At the wake of the US Civil War, Baptists in the South wanted to keep segregation a part of their church life, and Northern Baptist (they would later be called American) said it was not God’s way. Groups that once had joined for missions soon separated at this moment in time.

 

In 1907 at a meeting at Calvary Baptist in Washington, DC, the Northern Baptist Convention formed. This meeting officially separated the Baptists into the Southern and Northern. The Northern Baptists elected Charles Evans Hughes, a New York governor who later became a Chief Justice, as their first leader. He championed a family of Baptists that valued the contributions of all, no matter the color their skin or their gender.

 

Over the next half century, American Baptists became known as a voice questioning the status quo on race relations during moments like the Civil Rights Movement.

Wow, now this is was something I could get behind!

 

When I took Baptist history and polity at Duke Divinity school I loved getting to know American Baptist pioneer, Helen Barrett Montgomery. A tireless crusader, fundraiser and champion of women’s rights was elected as the first female President of the Northern Baptists in 1921! (No home or foreign mission box for her! A woman in charge!) I admired her courage to answer the call of God even if she had little support too.

 

It kept getting better!

 

In 1950, the Northern Baptist officially changed their name to American Baptists—to align themselves to a larger geographic area and this name remains today.

 

Theologically, American Baptists closely align with Mainline Protestantism—the Presbyterians, the United Methodists, Disciples of Christ, etc. Though American Baptist seminaries exist, you will often find ABCUSA students studying at schools affiliated with mainline Protestantism.

 

Today the American Baptist Churches USA is a body of 1. 5 million members and 5,000 churches still based primarily in the Northern part of the United States.

 

More specifically, the ABCUSA clings the historic Baptist principles such as:

 

  1. Separation of church and state
  2. Priesthood of all believers
  3. Believers baptism
  4. Autonomy of the local church

 

Nationally American Baptist meet bi-annually at a convention to make resolutions as a collective body, gather for fellowship and training. While there are state association leaders and national officers, each of these positions seeks to support churches. The local churches are kept in the center.

 

Today, women’s voices as well as minority leaders continue to be championed. Pastors who start American Baptist missions are encouraged to respect the traditions of the cultures in which they serve. For example, the only American Baptist church I found when my husband’s job recently took us to Oklahoma was within the Native American community. I learned that the American Baptist missionaries who started the congregation did not ask the new church members to stop attending to their tribal activities like pow wows and sweat lodges, as other evangelical groups had. I liked that.

 

I love that when I tell someone I’m an ordained American Baptist minister, I feel respected. American Baptists are not theological or social isolationists. They want to be a part of the larger community of faith.

 

Being an ordained American Baptist minister affords me the opportunity to pastor in an ecumenical context. For example, it is not frowned upon that I’m currently serving a United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ and Presbyterian USA merge congregation, as the interim pastor. My American Baptist friends bless me to be where I am till an opportunity presents itself to return.

 

Such freedom, I know comes because I stand on the shoulders of those who have walked this path before me with great courage. American Baptists who knew the gospel called them to action, unconditional love and soul liberty.

 

As I continue to discern how my vocational calling is lived out, I’m glad to have found a home with the American Baptists!

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

Elizabeth HaganElizabeth Hagan became a Rev within the American Baptist tradition after graduating from Duke Divinity School in 2006. She spent six years serving churches in a full-time capacity in the Washington, DC area, most recently as the senior pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist Church in Reston, VA.

However, in 2013, she and her husband Kevin came to be a part of a large international non-profit called Feed the Children headquartered in Oklahoma City. She recently started a new position as Interim Pastor at the Federated Church (a UCC/ Disciples/ Presbyterian USA merge) in Weatherford, OK.

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

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This One Thing Hasn’t Changed Since I Published Coffeehouse Theology in 2008

Coffeehouse-angled

In preparation for the release of my first book in 2008, I decided that it was time to check out this new fangled internet site called “Facebook.” I didn’t really want to join, but the publishing magazines I’d been reading said, “Authors have to join Facebook and then everyone will buy all of the books and you’ll be an amazeballs bestseller overnight!!!”

So now I’m on Facebook for better or worse. I didn’t become an overnight amazeballs bestseller. In fact, very few authors became bestsellers thanks to Facebook. However, I at least managed to follow through on publishing that book, which remains my best-selling and most popular book with readers and reviewers.

I started the book with this simple question: How do Christians determine what they believe?

It wasn’t all that easy to answer.

After reading a good deal of scripture, philosophy, and theology, I wrote a readable little book called Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life that remains popular with college students and Sunday School classes.

Beginning with the relationship of cultural context and theology, Coffeehouse Theology roots the study of scripture in the church’s mission to advance God’s Kingdom. Far from dividing the church, theology unites the church in a dynamic dialogue about the presence of God, his revelation in scripture, and the wisdom of the historic and global churches.

We all want to read the Bible faithfully and responsibly, taking into account the ways its original context collides our contemporary context today and the traditions we’ve inherited. Coffeehouse Theology can help you do that—at least Scot McKnight said so in the Forward, so take it up with him if you disagree (and yes, I just named-dropped but it was terrifying to ask him to write the Forward as a new author, so there).

I was terrified that Coffeehouse Theology would immediately become a relic of its time and that readers who picked it up in, say, six or seven years would struggle to relate. I worried that I was writing a book that fit purely into the moment, a fad that I would never mention in the years to come.

I’ll admit, there’s a chapter or two that feel a little dated when I peek at them lately, but overall, I’m still really proud of this book. The central ideas still resonate with me:

  • If we aren’t aware of our context or the original context of the Bible, we will be at their mercy.
  • Theology should bring us together in order to learn and grow rather than to engage in battles over who is “right.” (This was the “coffeehouse” part of the book.)
  • Good theology should lead us to action and deeper spiritual formation.
  • We overlook the wisdom of the global and historic churches to our detriment.

 

Of course this book may not be your cup of tea. I admit, for as many readers who have enjoyed its accessibility, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s a theology book that deals with lots of ideas. If you’re new to theology, it will be a stretch. If you’re a veteran of theology, it will leave you wanting more.

However, for many of us who want to be aware of how we shape our beliefs without reading a mountain of books with tiny fonts and enormous words, Coffeehouse Theology is a good first step that I’m still proud to have written. For all that has changed (and failed!) since I entered Christian publishing, it’s nice to know that my first book wasn’t a complete waste of time!

 

Best yet, Coffeehouse Theology is $2.99 on Kindle for the first time ever this week.

Download it on Amazon now!

 

Can you help spread the word?

Here’s a sample tweet for the Twitters:

Download Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life by @edcyzewski for $2.99 http://ow.ly/GTlZb

 

And while we’re at it…

My second-most-popular book A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth, is on sale this week as well for $.99 on Kindle.

Download A Christian Survival Guide here.

 

Do you have another theology book that has been meaningful or accessible for you? If I had to list a favorite contemporary theology book, I think it would be Renewing the Center by Stanley Grenz.

How to Visioneer the Most Optimized and Synergized New Year

happy new year

In order to strategize for the penultimate visioneering plan in the new year that will optimize your influence, capitalize on your goals, and lead you to ultimate career, life, and family satisfaction, there’s nothing more important than opting to organize your priorities around a generalized but internalized missionally rooted strategic plan.

Put simply: PLAN.

Do not proclaim your strategic plan from the street corners in your fine suits.

But go into your office, close the door, open your planner or Evernote app, and then ideate in private where the great organizational strategic mastermind of the universe will see your bullet points and transform them into clear, actionable, measurable goals. (May you fulfill them with purpose, passion, and excellence. Amen.)

With a clear plan for the new year and your actionable, measurable, boast-able goals in hand, you’ll be prepared to lead a meaningful and fully synergized life. You’ll have more energy, more focus, more clarity, more insight, and more free, unsolicited advice to offer. And if you’re lucky, people will start to pay you in order to offer unsolicited advice based on the massively incredible, life-altering success, wealth, influence, and power that you have amassed because of your fully synergized plan for life that comes with executed, actionable, measurable goals.

Your life simply won’t be the same without a solid, crystal clear, ready-to-execute planned out life strategy.

Unless your planned out life IS exactly the same as any other year… THAT is where the upsell comes in to bump your self-indulgence, I mean life planning, to the next level.

Yes, you should probably see that up-sell coming.

You see, if you life plan strategy fails to synergize to its full potentiality and your best ideation can’t get you optimized or capitalized, then it’s time for a big change.

And by big change, I mean that it’s time to spend some big change on some overpriced eBooks and online courses. Don’t worry, you won’t think they’re overpriced. You’ll get all kinds of amazing website badges, new jargon to use, and exclusive video content that promises more synergizing and strategizing (which are really just upsells for more exclusive, premier, secret, members-only content, but don’t worry, YOU’LL LOVE IT). The actual “value” of these planning, visioneering, and ideation courses and eBooks are far beyond anything you can comprehend in your deficient, un-synergized, poorly strategized brain.

Believe me, if you’re frustrated and unfulfilled, the LAST thing you should do is sit alone in a quiet room and pray. Do you think the prophets in the Bible knew how to create an actionable vision statement for one’s personal goals? Did Jeremiah accomplish any “actionable,” “measurable,” and let alone “fulfilling” goals?

Jeremiah couldn’t strategize his way out of a well.

And sure you could pray about big life decisions and even ask God to bless your plans, but we all know that it’s action and synergizing that gets things done. Just look at the most successful business leaders and stop there. God and family are important, but when it comes to systematically prioritizing your life for maximum fulfillment, accomplishment, and self-actualization, you need to focus on visioneering a strategic plan.

If you talk to someone about your goals and strategic plans, look for people who are successful, powerful, influential, and barely have a moment to spare for you. In fact, don’t talk to them. Just tweet your questions at them. Wait for their replies, which are rarely longer than five words. Then thank them profusely for being kind, authentic, and “personable” despite being media titans who could destroy you on Twitter if they deemed you a nuisance—which you most likely are by the way.

Don’t seek out people who lead quiet, prayerful, un-synergized lives that have fallen together because of divine happenstance rather than human-directed strategic plans. These people who wander at the seeming leadership of the wind speak of an unquantifiable, unmeasurable influence from the Holy Spirit who would most assuredly never provide enough measurable goals for even a child’s 5-year strategic plan (You are helping your children set and meet goals by the way? No? Stay tuned for the “Visioneering for Toddlerhood and Beyond” eCourse that I’ll be offering at an EXCLUSIVE discount just for YOU).

As a final exhortation for your strategization, let me ask you two simple, provocative questions that will no doubt spark your ideating immediately:

 

Question 1

Are you happy with your life today precisely as it is? (If you answered “Yes,” then take some more time to imagine the best possible future imaginable. There must be something else you want.)

 

Question 2

If you aren’t happy with your life as it is, and of course you aren’t, then have you ever tried strategically visioneering a fully ideated life plan to chart your future with clear actionable goals? (Don’t bother asking if you’ve ever tried praying, fasting, practicing the Examen, receiving spiritual direction, centering prayer, or having someone lay hands on you. Everything about the Holy Spirit and prayer in the book of Acts was just a lucky break).

 

I hope that’s super duper crystal clear for you. Your only hope of having a meaningful, fulfilling, happy, and completely capitalized new year is to do the hard work of strategic planning for your day-to-day life.

Stop delaying your potential synergizing and ideate the ultimate vision and plan for your life TODAY. Get down on your knees, open your smart phone or iPad, and start planning.

Why You Should Join the United Methodist Church

Denomination Church Logo

If you know anything about the United Methodist Church lately, it’s that conservative and liberal factions have been hotly debating several topics and may be on the brink of dividing. However, Morgan Guyton, a campus minister, has consistently shown me the best of the UMC by both asking hard questions and reaching out to humble reconcile with those who disagree with him. He is firm in his convictions without painting others as enemies. While this is a rough time for the UMC, I asked Morgan what he loves about it and why he would suggest others should join him:

 

United Methodism: A Messy House Filled with God’s Love

We live in a world in which ideological tribes are increasingly siloing themselves in isolation from each other. We like mouthing off on social media about the hot-button issues of our idea, but it feels oppressive to see somebody from the opposite side mouth off so we unfollow and defriend them. There are very few spaces in our society anymore where people of differing ideologies congregate and build community together voluntarily. One such space is my denomination, the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodists may be the only major big-tent Protestant denomination left. Every other Protestant denomination has split into a conservative faction and a liberal faction usually along the fault-line of either female ordination or homosexuality. It hasn’t been easy, but United Methodists have stuck together. I actually did not realize there were conservative United Methodists for the first half-decade that I was a United Methodist. I had grown up in a moderately conservative Southern Baptist home. I always thought the fundamentalists were probably right and I was just an immature rebel.

 

But over time, after drifting through Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Unitarian phases, I found myself in a mostly LGBT United Methodist congregation in Toledo, Ohio.

It was in this congregation where I discovered the gospel that I believe today. I had never really believed in the gospel that told me that Jesus’ purpose was to save me from his angry father who was eager to torture me in hell forever. But I’d never discovered a viable alternative to that awful caricature of the Christian story. It was in a church book club that I attended with mostly lesbians where I discovered Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved in which Nouwen argues that our greatest challenge is to actually live as though God loves us infinitely. Nouwen contends that the reason we sin and hurt other people is because we haven’t accepted God’s unconditional love. The process of accepting God’s love is a lifelong journey toward salvation.

To me, Nouwen’s account of the gospel was a much more compelling piece of good news than the angry God gospel I’d received from my evangelical upbringing. I learned years later that Nouwen was touching upon a core definitive doctrine within United Methodism: prevenient grace. Whereas some Christians believe that God has decided who to send to heaven and who to send to hell before the beginning of time, the doctrine of prevenient grace describes the premise that God offers his grace to everybody and is constantly pursuing us and seeking to win us with his love long before we are even aware of God’s presence in our lives.

I’ve discovered that there are many United Methodists out there who haven’t had their most formative spiritual experiences in book clubs they attended with mostly lesbians. Particularly in the Deep South, there are many United Methodists who disapprove of the very people who gave me the gospel that saved me from the ugly caricatures of God that had kept me from fully trusting in him. This has been a very difficult thing for me to discover. If queer Christians are an abomination, then I am an abomination even though I’m straight because they have been such a decisive influence in my journey.

It’s painful being part of a big-tent denomination. And yet, the pain is absolutely worth it. I totally understand and respect the need for LGBT people to find Christian communities where they are accepted and their gifts are appreciated and utilized completely, even if that means leaving the contested battleground of United Methodism. As for me personally, I have been richly blessed by being in a community with people who have very different ideological perspectives from me. It’s obvious to me that they genuinely love Jesus and they genuinely want for people to know how much Jesus loves them. Though our disagreements are real and painful, our shared belief in prevenient grace does give us a powerful common theological foundation.

Though at times I would much prefer to be surrounded by people who agree with me, my experience in United Methodism loving and working side by side with people who have different beliefs has given me a lot of hope. If you try finding your place in an ideologically diverse denomination like United Methodism, you will definitely find people who are completely on the same wavelength with you. You will also find people who aren’t but are willing to accept you and build community with you anyway. Our denomination may be a messy house, but it’s a messy house filled with God’s love.

 

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

morgan-guyton-methodist-umcMorgan Guyton is the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA. His wife Cheryl is a certified candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church as well. Both Cheryl and Morgan attended Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC, where they met. Cheryl has served as a hospital chaplain in the past, but is currently taking some time off to stay home with their two boys Matthew (8) and Isaiah (5).

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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5 Fun and Irreverent Religious Books that Some Christians Will Hate

NYRMSHD-Cover

Let’s assume that you’re a Christian or you’re interested in religion. Let’s also assume that you like reading books about religious stuff that are a bit fun and even irreverent at times since you aren’t living in a perpetual siege mentality fed by conservative fear-mongering, political divisiveness, and end times madness.

Does that sound anything like you? If yes, then I have five fun and irreverent religious books to recommend for you. Some veer more toward entertainment, while others bring up weighty ideas while making readers laugh along the way. All of them have an angle or tone that our more uptight/under-siege Christian friends will most certainly hate.

Whether you’re looking for yourself or someone else, here are five books to pick today for a fun read:

 

  1. Flunking Sainthood by Jana Reiss

Mormon writer Jana Reiss digs into the Christian traditions and spiritual disciplines in an ill-fated attempt to learn a new spiritual practice every month. She reads biographies of saints and books that are supposed to provide practical guidance. Instead, Reiss grows annoyed by the anxious striving of some saints and frustrated by the vagueness of others. Along the way Reiss introduces us to important spiritual practices throughout church history—many of which she fails to do.

It’s not that Reiss wanted to fail. She started out this project with sincerity and good intentions, and that’s what makes this book so good. Sticking with a ridiculous spiritual project doomed to failure feels quite familiar to me, even if I’ve never attempted anything on the same scale.

Whether you cringe at her irreverence or you nod your head in agreement, she provides a welcome outlet for evangelicals such as myself who grew up with a great deal of anxiety and pressure to reach particular spiritual goals. For the rest of us who struggle at spiritual disciplines or have our own histories of failures with these practices, this book will provide a welcome perspective shift that just may inspire you to give them another shot.

 

  1. Do I Have to Be Good All the Time? By Vicky Walker

British writer Walker writes with a blend of self-deprecation and sarcasm that especially appeals to my East coast heritage. For all of our talk in America about the ways British Christians aren’t as crazy as us, Walker uncovers a world of conservative churchianity that should feel quite familiar to American evangelicals where singles struggle to be valued alongside married couples, receive terrible life advice, and end up in unbearably awkward conversations during dates that sometimes end with, for instance, a man confessing he loves to rub cats on his bare chest.

Yes, that is a real conversation in Walker’s book. No, that’s not the only one that prompted me to drop the book in horror/laughter.

While my single friends will no doubt find Walker’s recounting and skewering of the British Christian single culture cathartic, her scope is far wider and will certainly appeal to many. One senses that Walker has ingested a non-stop barrage of dodgy life advice from conservative Christian peers and is using this book to tell them what’s what.

What?

Pop in your monocle and give this book a shot. It’s especially delightful with a proper cup of tea and a scone.

 

  1. The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

I’m going to assume that most of my readers have at least heard of Evans’ book. Perhaps most of you are sick of hearing about it. However, if you haven’t read it yet, I assure you that you’re missing out.

After being accused by the critics of her first book, Faith Unraveled, that she was picking and choosing which verses of the Bible to obey when it came to faith and gender, Evans’ took up their challenge by obeying everything in the Bible as literally as possible. It’s not just an experiment in interpretation and application, it’s a work of performance art that asks big questions about what it means to be a “biblical” woman. Evans braves conservative books on biblical homemaking, weeps over frustrating crafts, and sits on her roof after growing contentious toward her husband.

Some reviewers didn’t get this project—or perhaps skipped reading it altogether. One conservative Bible professor lamented that Evans would fail his exegesis class. We may well respond that he would fail an MFA course. This isn’t a book about the “right” way to read the Bible. This is fun and thought-provoking exploration of what happens when we follow one theological system to its logical conclusions. If anything, this book is a humbling and humorous reminder that interpreting the Bible isn’t as easy as we think.

If you approach the Bible with greater humility and awe at the stakes of the interpretive task, the laughs provided by Evan’s journey will be well worth your time.

 

  1. Our Great Big American God by Matthew Paul Turner

Superbly researched and written with a heavy dose of self-deprecating love for our Christian forebears in America, Matthew Paul Turner delivers a surprisingly readable spin through American church history. Written in a style that brings to mind Sarah Vowell (a well-known contributor to This American Life), Turner traces the high points (what some would call “low points”) of America’s church history as he makes the case that we’re just as capable of creating God in our own image.

In fact, the staggering number of images Americans have for God makes this book both delightful and hilarious. While Turner isn’t providing a substitute for the work of scholars such as Mark Knoll and David Beggington, he has more than succeeded in providing a thoughtful and funny commentary on the history of God in America that proved to be one of my favorite books from the past year.

In my endorsement for this book, I noted that Calvinists will really, really hate this book. So that will either warn my Reformed friends to keep far away from this book, or I’ve just issued a dare to give it shot!

 

  1. The New York Regional Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

I’m probably most picky about memoirs. And of the kinds of memoirs I read, I’m most critical of religious memoirs. Let’s face it: the narrative arc is typically either:

I had a crazy religious childhood and now I’m done with that.

Or

I had a crazy religious childhood but now I’ve found a way to redeem it.

There are very few books that can succeed in such predictable narrative frameworks. Books such as Traveling Mercies or Girl Meets God provide refreshing alternatives to that script since Lamott and Winner trace their journeys from outsiders to insiders in the church. My friend Addie Zierman’s memoir When We Were on Fire is among the few faith memoirs that has succeeded in providing a truly riveting read, however, Elna Baker’s journey from the Mormon fold into the uncertain terrain of New York City is not only captivating but brimming over with wit.

While mentions of special underwear for married women and specific Mormon beliefs sometimes remind evangelical readers that Baker comes from a different tradition, a great deal of her story will look and feel familiar. Evangelicals will especially relate to her struggles to adopt her childhood faith as her own, the moral struggles of living in a city fully of temptations, and possible ramifications with her family should she leave her faith and/or HAVE SEX.

One could come away from this memoir with the impression that Baker’s story hinges on whether or not she will kiss a boy, but if you come from a conservative religious background, you’ll know that the story is about a great deal more than that. Baker takes us into the nitty gritty struggles that young adults face when their faith runs counter to the majority of people around them.

From cringe-worthy scenes at the New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, which is a real thing, to the unbelievable “home meetings” with fellow Mormon singles where an unmarried couple plays the parts of husband and wife hosts, Baker provides a perspective that is simultaneously familiar and foreign. I simply couldn’t put this book down. It’s that good.

If you don’t enjoy it, I’m afraid we can’t be friends.

 

Disclaimers

Before you rush off to buy all five of these books (why haven’t you already???), you should know that each of the links here are affiliate links on Amazon. It just means I get a small percentage of the sale if you click through and buy a book. I don’t make a lot of money through these links, but every little bit helps. Having said that, buy these books wherever you like. From the perspective of an author, I’m always just happy people buy my book anywhere at all, but if you can support a local bookstore, go for it!

I know a few of these authors personally. We’re not best friends who swap childcare during the week or go out for drinks on the weekend. I’m picky enough about what I read that I honestly wouldn’t read and recommend something that I didn’t enjoy. However, I want to make sure everything I’ve written here is on the up and up.

Do you have a favorite religious book that is funny and irreverent?

Drop in the title and author in the comments below!

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Episcopal Church

Denomination Church Logo

I’m welcoming my friend Holly Rankin Zaher to Denomination Derby this week to write about her love for the Episcopal Church. Holly is a theologian and youth minister whose perspective I’ve long respected. If you’ve never thought of yourself as the “high church” type, she’ll open your eyes to whole other way to approach worship on Sunday morning. 

 

Last Sunday I was distracted. My to-do list begged me to be at home, chipping away at the items left. Frankly, I didn’t want to be at church. Sit in a pew, no thanks.

But I walked in, dipping my fingers in the font of holy water right inside. Crossing myself, I recalled this deep part of my identity – as Christ’s own or one who walks with God. I looked up – I always look up. Was it the architecture? A sense of something spiritual? I paused, remembering the ways in the past the liturgy provided language for my life – the joys and frustrations – in the past.

Even on days when the sermon is lackluster or I obviously was not consulted about the music, I can count on the rhythm of the structure of the liturgy. Liturgy, literally the work of the people. The liturgy invites me into the work, to do the work of reflection, of sifting my life through the ancient scriptures, of recognizing my need, of listening for the call to live an intentional life with God in the world.

The Liturgy of the Word allows me to see the big story, repeating the majority of the scriptures over the course of three years with the psalms and the gospels repeated even more. These stories of God’s activity in the world, the retelling of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the interactions of the early church and their struggles are part of my own story as a follower of Jesus. The Liturgy of the Sacrament calls on some of the oldest written communion liturgies that are known and invites us into this practice of sharing a meal. Regardless of social status, racial privilege, or views on politics, we all come to the same place for the bread we need for today. Every gathered Christian community has a liturgy – we Episcopalians just happen to be very explicit about ours.

The Episcopal Church, despite our less than auspicious beginnings with King Henry VIII, has these beautiful moments of reform. One of our founding documents, the thirty-nine articles, called for liturgy to be said in the language of the people, a revolutionary departure from the then current practice of the Catholic mass in Latin. The 34th article still has implications today as we continue to translate, rewrite and rework liturgy. We have a history of working for social justice in response to the gospel: the Episcopal Church ordained Absalom Jones, an African-American, in 1801 – before the Civil War and the Anglican Church ordained Florence Li Tim-Oi way before women’s ordination was approved.

People often ask me what the Episcopal Church believes. This is like a trick question for Episcopalians. While we have a written catechism that illustrates some aspects of doctrine, different Episcopalians give our historical documents varying amounts of weight. How can that be? Well, we don’t base our relationships or community on a checklist of beliefs. Rather we base our commonality on common worship and relationship.

In our age of partisan politics and entrenched positions, hope and life break in with an invitation to break bread and work toward bringing about the goodness of God around me with people who are different from me, believe different things than me and look different than me.

While that worship looks different in various Episcopal settings, it follows a basic form. Sometimes this form is couched in high church organ and choir complete with incense and more pomp than comes with hosting the president of the United States while other times it is a small group gathered around a table, offering each other bread and wine, food for the journey of life.

The liturgies for both baptism and marriage include vows for the congregation to take, illustrating the communal nature of faith. We commit to each other, to support, love and care for each other. Life is not easy and we need each other.

In fact, the Episcopal Church makes up the American portion of the Anglican Communion – we are part of an international community. To be Anglican basically means to be in relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC), to have the ABC in your friend list or in your feed.

This dual focus of worship and relationship frame our life as Episcopalians.

These are the beautiful parts of my church. They give me hope when I come across them. But, as much as I love my church, there are downsides. We can be too hung up on liturgy. We have factions within the church on just how liturgy should be done. Change comes slowing for an Episcopalian. We have a reputation for being the church of the establishment – ever looked up how many presidents and members of the establishment have been Episcopalians? For every move we make to advance social challenges in response to the good news of the gospel, we take steps back like stripping Florence Li Tim-Oi of her ordination (her story: http://www.ittakesonewoman.org/public/litimoi.php). And being held together by common worship can seem quite tenuous in today’s climate.

In those moments like last Sunday I remembered my Christian identity. I dipped my fingers into the font of holy water, listened to the scriptures, prayed prayers for the world, received the bread I needed for my journey, and was reminded of my call to live an intentional life with God in the world. And that I’m not alone. For me, being an Episcopalian, following the Anglican Way, makes the most sense to me to live out my faith in Jesus.

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

imageHolly Rankin Zaher, MDiv

Holly Rankin Zaher lives in Nashville with her fun family, inspiring people to think and reflect, whether it is about faith, education, cultural studies, or how fiber crafting grounds thinking and reflection. She has spent twenty years in professional ministry in the Episcopal Church, doing youth ministry, church planting and teaching on the seminary level. These days she teaches at a public high school. A champion for young people and women, she spends way too much time on social media, reads too much dystopian literature, and loves the conversations that happen alongside beverages.

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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