CC (DOC): A new(ish) Disciple’s understanding of a “new” normal

Jonathan and I just returned from our first ever General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It is a gathering of clergy and laypeople from throughout the denomination for five days of learning, reflection, reunion, worship, and – of course – business. There were fewer people at this Assembly than ever before, and that was not lost on anyone.

One of the unintentionally remarkable things I heard at the Assembly was Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, our General Minister and President, say about the lower attendance, “This is our new normal.”

GA2015-Logo-HiRes-BlueBG

But for me, it isn’t.

For me, this is just… “normal.”

Jonathan and I were both raised in other (much more conservative) denominations. For us, being members of the DOC was a decision we came to intentionally and with much thought, conversation, and prayer. We had gotten to a point at which we knew we could not faithfully stay in our previous traditions and found a home in the DOC that we had never felt anywhere else. We first began attending Disciples churches in 2008, became a member of a church in 2009, and Jon’s ordination was recognized by (transferred to) the DOC in 2010. I am a licensed minister in Kentucky while I complete my MDiv through Lexington Theological Seminary and work part-time at a local church.

I understand the grief and loss that long-time Disciples must be feeling, because I have felt it about other organizations and such in my own life. But for me, if I hadn’t been told – repeatedly – that we’re in decline, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have guessed that there were only 3000 people at the last assembly and we’re growing! I would have felt the energy in the room and sensed a moving of the Spirit that is indicative of a group ready to soar.

I had to read a book for an introductory seminary class about the “shifting” culture that impacts the church. The book presented these areas: lack of trust in authority, lack of trust in institutional church, etc. – as shifts that are currently taking place. But for people my age, they are history. I have never known a civil religion. I have never known a world in which church attendance was culturally expected. I have never known a time when “spiritual but not religious” was not accepted as valid.

I feel the same about the Disciples. As a new-ish Disciple, this IS normal. It’s not a NEW normal. This is what I signed up for. When Jonathan and I made that intentional, deliberate decision to join the DOC, we knew it was in decline as were all mainline denominations. We knew there had been disagreeing factions – and we knew that’s okay. Sure, there’s a lot we have learned, discovered – and critiqued – about the denomination in the last few years, but for us, the Disciples of today are all we have ever known.

So allow me, a newish Disciple, tell you what I saw at General Assembly:

I experienced a group of people who care about and love the church. They are not committed to traditionalism but genuinely want to help people encounter the Divine.

I experienced a group of people who are open to new ideas and ways of doing ministry.

I experienced a group of people who do not draw hard boundary lines around who’s in and who’s out. This makes discussions messier than in other denominations, but its inclusivity is its strength.

And because of that, I experienced a group who is better poised than any group of Christians I know to meet the challenges of this and future generations.

I experienced a group of people who is able to laugh (#CampbellCon, anyone?), is heartbroken at injustice, and whose lives have been transformed by their experiences with and understanding of God.

I experienced a group who cares so much about this denomination that nearly four thousand people came from far and wide to be together. FOUR THOUSAND. That is not a small number.

I experienced a group diverse in race, gender, ethnicity, orientation, and age. Let me focus on that last one a bit: age. When I looked around that room at all the under-40 clergy in attendance, I do not see a denomination that is going away! While it might look differently in the coming decades than it does now, I’m already making plans for General Assembly 2051.

I get grieving. I get naming the loss in order to move on. It is a sign of a healthy group when loss and grief can be named and integrated, and I’m glad to be in a denomination that allows that emotional language.

But for me? I’ve found my tribe, and I’m committed. I’m committed to joining the conversations, I’m committed to serving the people in the church so that those people can go be the church in the world. I left General Assembly feeling hopeful, inspired, empowered, and encouraged. I left confident that joining the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

It Happened to Them: Reflections on Charleston

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, it is probably fairly reflective of your own perspective. I do have far-right and far-left friends, but I know they come from a nearly-all-white point of view. We love to share blogs written about race… by our favorite white bloggers. There is room for this – especially when they are confessional – but if you have only read about race from white voices, you have not read enough.

What I’ve listed here is a list of posts and pieces written about race by people of color. Because of the current events, they are primarily African-American. The title of this post is a play on the popular “It Happened to Me” posts, in which bloggers write about their personal experience with a given topic. But now? It’s not about me.

You might not agree with every word, and that’s fine. I can’t say I agree with every word of all these – but that isn’t the point. It isn’t our job to disagree right now; it’s our job to LISTEN. LISTEN. LISTEN. There is a wealth of helpful writing online – sometimes we just have to look for it.

Bree Newsome Speaks Out: Bree Newsome is the activist who scaled a flagpole to remove the flag of the Confederacy. “It is important to remember that our struggle doesn’t end when the flag comes down. The Confederacy is a southern thing, but white supremacy is not. Our generation has taken up the banner to fight battles many thought were won long ago. We must fight with all vigor now so that our grandchildren aren’t still fighting these battles in another 50 years. Black Lives Matter. This is non-negotiable.”

Essay Series on What it Means To Be Black: They are adding a new piece every day for the next 10 days. I’ve looked through some of their past pieces as well and plan to start following this outlet. Also, spoiler: “What It Means To Be Black” is NOT contained to “the color of a person’s skin.” Blackness is much more than skin color, which is why being “colorblind” is not only impossible; the attempt is inherently dismissive of an entire culture and experience.

Last Battles: The Confederacy’s Final Retreat: Jelani Cobb is a writer for the New Yorker who writes on matters of race frequently. “We have for decades willfully coexisted with a translucent lie about the bloodiest conflict in American history and the moral questions at its center. Amid the calls last week to lower the Confederate battle flag at the state capitol, the defenders of the flag averred that it represents ‘heritage, not hate.’ The great sleight of hand is the notion that these things were mutually exclusive.”

Why Young Black Men Can’t Work“But a growing mound of research gives the lie to the notion that black men who fail in the modern economy have brought it upon themselves. Rather, it’s increasingly clear that they have instead been locked out of the male-tracked, skilled labor jobs that, for better or worse, still make the difference between poverty and working-class for many families. Even when accounting for failed personal responsibility, more and more research suggests that white men with similar backgrounds–without a college degree, and even with a criminal record–find far more opportunity than their black peers. One pre-recession study in 2003 even found that white job applicants with criminal records are more likely to get called back than black applicants with identical resumes and no record.”

What I Need You To Say Right Now: This is a uniquely Christian perspective, written by an African-American woman married to a white man. If a title like “Why Young Black Man Can’t Work” seems a bit much for you right now, I recommend starting here. I’m listening because we’re called to be reconcilers.  Like Jesus reconciled us to the Father- it’s a painful process.  A denying process.  A humiliating process.  But a Kingdom process, nonetheless.  “I’m listening” says, “yes, I have an opinion and yes I have strong feelings, and yes this makes me feel more than a little helpless, but I’m going to press into this specific pain and listen.”

The Only Logical Conclusion: “[When] the driving force of such a massacre is the very thing embedded in the roots of America, thriving on the branches of generation after generation, sitting in the pews unchallenged every Sunday morning in white churches- there is no reason why black Americans should feel safe.” This is also written from a Christian perspective, to the white church.

The Salt Project’s Strange Fruit: This 11-minute video just won an Emmy! Two ministers tell the story that inspired the song “Strange Fruit” made famous by Billie Holiday.

Let’s Not Forget Northern Racism: “That kind of white supremacy is furtive, not fiery. It happens behind desks, not under hoods. It is maintained by bureaucracy, not violent threat. The story of our two Americas, that is to say, is bigger than bigots. It’s also about African-Americans being denied opportunities even when there are no so-called bad guys. Racial inequality is often reinforced by organizational practices and government policies, such as exclusionary zoning, that lack discriminatory intent or at least provide plausible deniability for it…. It’s also effective.”

I started this post by mentioning Facebook, so I’ll add that there are ways to change this. For starters. like and follow Colorlines and Michelle Alexander (the author of The New Jim Crow) – read the stories they post, follow those they recommend.

If you have other suggestions, leave them in the comments!