Friday, April 22, 2011

Being Presbyterian...Or Not

Whenever I teach my way through a new members class, the questions about the various different flavors of Christianity always surface.  What makes Presbyterians Presbyterian?  What's the difference?  What about Baptists/ Methodists/ Pentecostals/ Catholics/ Non-Denominationals?

I tend to answer the questions pretty much in the same way.  For some folks, these divisions become something to fight over.  Human beings are great at that.  But viewed as I tend to view it, the richness and variety of traditions within the broad umbrella of Christian faith just means the message of the Gospel has reaches more people.  It's a remarkably robust and dynamic thing, this message Jesus bore into the world.  It can articulate itself in a hundred tongues and cultures and through all manner of communities.  Authentic Christian faith looks amazingly diverse, from contemplative and monastic to big stadium revival, from little country churches to Jesus Megaplexes, from service and justice work to all-neurons-firin'-floppin'-on-the-floor-for-Jesus-ecstasy.

So long as the Most Excellent Way is the rule for our walk, Christ walks with us.

So yesterday, on a gorgeous Maundy Thursday morning, I hopped on the bike and motored to downtown DC for a meeting. The meeting was with the Bishop of the local synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the pastor who assists him.

At the recommendation of a wise denominational official, I'd asked for a sit down with them to talk through whether there might be opportunities within the ELCA for a PCUSA pastor...'cause there just isn't anything available in the DC area within the Presbyterian church.  Things surface, sure.  But the glut of pastors in the PCUSA, the tendency of those pastors to seek calls in metropolitan areas, and my locational's the perfect vocational storm.  Ten years of religious education, ten years of secular experience in the nonprofit world, and seven years of experience as a pastor mean squat if you're just one of several hundred forms being trudged through by a committee. 

There are always possibilities, sure.  There are some wonderful churches out there that are looking...or will be soon.  God tends to work in ways you'd never expect.  One never knows.  But I am also deeply aware of the reality of things.  I may be a fool for Christ, but I am not an idiot.

So now I find myself contemplating the possibility of a shift.  The chat with the Lutherans was really quite pleasant.  But the question the bishop posed was honestly challenging.  They might be able to make me an interim, but I was up front about not being strongly called to that  form of ministry.  They also suggested that they could put me on the roster of candidates, but to do that, I'd have to go into the Lutheran call process.  Which I'm up for conceptually and totally open to theologically.  Luther is cool.  Whenever I teach the book of Romans, I reference that as the foundation of his faith.  Whenever I teach the Reformation, his story is front and center.  And the ELCA is sympatico.

As a "cradle Presbyterian," though, it's a bit daunting personally.  Not be Presbyterian?  It's not just the "baptized/confirmed/left the church/returned as an adult/been basically Presbyterian my whole life" thing.  It's not just all those years of preparation, all that process and committee work and testing and requirements and more testing and more committee work.  It's that for all the flaws and clumsiness and squabblyness of the church, I still like it.   The prospect of being elsewhere is disorienting.

But that it makes me uncomfortable may not be a bad thing.  New things are never comfortable.