Posted by secondchurch on July - 20 - 2017


“Part of the elasticity that you need, in order to continue to try to create, is the foregone conclusion that not all of it is going to be fabulously successful. But it’s all going to be part of a long lifetime body of experimentation.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

When I was at a family wedding in St. Louis last month, I tried to explain to a cousin the basics of Congregationalism – the way we are self-governed, the balance between covenant and autonomy as we relate to the national UCC and the ecumenical church, and the theology of “the city on a hill” which was and is the guiding image of the church going back to the Pilgrims who first landed on American soil. I told her that Congregationalism was and is an experiment. We have tried to take the best of the Protestant Reformation and democratic ideals and form a church around them.

I told her that the Reformation is still unfolding and projected that the church of 2037 will look nothing like the church of 2017. I talked about our congregation in West Newton, which dates back to 1654 and is struggling to know what to keep from our history’s worship, ways of doing business, and other traditions and how to reform for the modern day. I boasted that, today, we have more women in positions of leadership than men and that LGBT people hold positions of power and influence in the church. I proudly reported that some of the largest congregations of the UCC are primarily African American, Laotian, Albanian, and LGBT-oriented, and that many are radically conservative and others are as far left-leaning as any church.

I told her that our way of doing church is messy, that we often have meetings where we just talk without any resulting definitive action items or “deliverables”. I told her that the congregation could vote to sell the property, merge with another church, call a layperson as the next pastor, receive atheists into membership, and leave the denomination, all because of our polity. I told her about our recent 2-plus-year process that led to the vote to restructure the church’s endowment fund investments and I boasted about some of the progressive resolutions on the agenda of the UCC General Synod.

After I got worn out from talking about our beloved church, she asked me why I thought there weren’t more UCC congregations in the Midwest and Southern United States. I speculated that the conservatism of those areas didn’t trust this kind of experimentation, that the core of our way of doing church is a liberal mindset, in that the liberal mindset means we are open to new ideas. And then I laughed and said that our church is the most liberal church I could imagine and the most conservative. She asked what I meant by that. I told her we are still singing a tune (to the Doxology) each week that dates back to the1550s and that we’re afraid to get rid of the Pilgrim Hymnal, which was published 1931.

She then asked how we were going to attract younger people who think music from the 1990s is outdated. I told her that music isn’t my forte, but that we were trying to figure that out.

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