Yr A ~ off lectionary ~ Acts 15:2-16:5 (selected)
If you weren’t United Church, what would you be? I posted that question in an online discussion group comprised of United Church ministers and the number and range of responses it got was remarkable. Some took the easy way out by saying they’d move to another country and join their version of the United Church – like the United Church of Christ in the States or the United and Uniting Church in Australia. Some said they’d simply move to another mainline denomination like Presbyterian or Methodist. Several named the attractiveness and simplicity of the Mennonite way. Others, like me, said we could be Quakers. Nobody said they’d go Pentecostal, but a few dreamed of being independent.
Three types of responses really shocked and disappointed me though. Several people said they’d go to the Unitarians, a few said they’d go Muslim, and many said they would go nowhere at all. Don’t get me wrong – the vast majority said they’d remain in Christian churches, but a significant number, a surprising number, said they’d leave the fold entirely. And these are ministers! Friends, we have a problem here!
I lightheartedly introduced this 3-part sermon series as a communal confirmation class. I told you that my colleagues and I were chatting about youth confirmation and I jokingly said that more than just the teenagers need this – my whole congregation needs it! Well, apparently, so do us ministers!
We can probably all understand why a minister might be ready to abandon the denomination. I mean, after all, it’s our workplace – and we all know that workplace bureaucracies and politics and strained relationships can leave a really bad taste in your mouth. But my little ad hoc survey revealed something much more troubling. Of course, there could be dozens of really important and valid reasons why some responded the way they did – and for all I know some were joking to get a rise out us – but for those looking to leave Christianity entirely I’d suggest that they need to spend a good deal of time looking at our first two sets of questions from this sermon series and have a refresher course in “Why am I a Christian?” and “Why do I need a church?” These are questions we ought to be continually asking ourselves and wrestling with.
The “why Christian” question dives into the idea that the reason we are Christians and not something else, or nothing, is that we have experiential knowledge of a sacred spiritual mystery that we acquire and express through the language and imagery and metaphors and persons of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. How do you describe God? You’ll never get to the denomination question if you haven’t first wrestled mightily with how to describe the God/Christ/Spirit you know.
And once you’ve discerned that it really is the Holy Mystery we call God that you are experiencing, and that you resonate with the spirituality and teachings of Jesus, and can articulate some sort of description of what Spirit means for you, then you start to ask ‘what should I do with these nudgings, these intuitions, these knowings?’
And that leads you directly to the Why Church question. And hopefully, as we explored last week, you’ll come to realize that a place like this is essential for a person to grow their faith because places like this are designed to help you with the 4 foundational pillars of growing faith: learning, supporting, sacraments, and worship.
And now – with all that wrestling going on about why we’re Christian and why we do church, we start to ask the last question: why this denomination? Why are we United Church and not one of the other flavours?
Or maybe you think that question assumes too much? Maybe you think the why Christian question and the why church question are valid, but the why United question is just an organizational, bureaucratic add-on? It won’t surprise you that I think the denomination is essential. Let’s see why.
Why do we need denominations? read on