From a visitor this summer: “I want to talk with you. As a once and maybe future UCC member, church has been an important part of my life. The UCC has always been home. I don’t have the most conventional Christian viewpoint, but then again, neither did my Dad or Grandmother….”
He wrote on the Sunday afternoon of his first visit, before I had even gotten him a note to thank him for joining us!
I love actually finding a newcomer with UCC roots– who might possibly bring to us an appreciation of our wider UCC traditions. But this guest made me laugh over his concern that in terms of orthodox beliefs, he might be some odd duck. He’s UCC, and he worries he’s not “conventional” enough?
The genius of our UCC tradition is that it is “non-creedal,” meaning we never ask folks to ascribe to a list of “right beliefs.” Instead, our tradition acknowledges… assumes we see, understand, believe and live, at least slightly, differently. But not so differently that the love of God can’t hold us together.
God’s grace, creativity and love… God’s greatness– allows our diversity, even diversity of beliefs– to be a source of richness, rather than a problem. Our commitment to stick and serve together, with varying motivations, is enough glue (as much as we are held together!)
Still waiting to hear the peculiarity of our visitor’s beliefs! (and his dad’s and grandma’s…), in the meantime, I’m left to enjoy the uniqueness of others’ beliefs around here.
We are offering a new members class again (Saturday, Sept. 18, beginning at 9 am). Rather than some arcane testing of candidates’ worthiness to join our community, we understand the burden is ours– to provide the support, relationships, information and openness with which new folks can truly find their church home in an Old First that can be different things to different people. (I am reminded of the saying where in blind-folded people various describe an elephant as the part they have touched– wrinkled skin, a tree trunk like leg, a serpentine trunk, a whispy little tail.)
The process of going from visiting to belonging is much longer and more involved than a class or even the relationship between a new member and his or her sponsor. Assimilating new people is work for the whole community and works best when every member makes it his or her responsibility to the new faces among us and the church.
Often, the new members’ class needs to introduce new folks to the United Church of Christ. They’ve gotten this far; they’ve heard of our denominational affiliation; some have even done a bit of their own research. But mostly, people are sort of curious– “what is this church I am joining?” We want to foster their interest in the broader church. And help them to see that our broader tradition doesn’t expect them to agree “what everyone believes” so much as to share, to add to the mix what they believe.
It’s not unusual for UCC members not to know or even recognize the wider church– beyond the four walls of their home congregation. There’s a basic independent spirit in many local UCC churches, “congregationalism” the UCC inherited from the side of its history with the same name. But our short history as a denomination (just over 50 years) and the relatively unrecognizability of our denominational name add to the challenge of belonging to the larger whole. (Most American can’t say what makes a Methodist or what distinguishes a Presbyterian, but they recognize those monikers as having the venerability and familiarity of being long-lived.)
What’s the UCC for you? I’d love for you to share your answers with me.
Faithfully yours, Michael