Thursday, November 8, 2012

As one…

This Sunday marks the first of several experiments over the next few months. Specifically, we’re welcoming Rev. Dr. Ewen Holmes- Senior Pastor of nearby Plymouth Presbyterian Church- into our pulpit, while I’ll be at his church laying down the good Word. Pastor Ewen and I arrived in Plymouth within a month of each other. We’ve connected through IOCP, along with other similar minded pastors. Enjoying those relationships, we grab lunch or breakfast regularly. And a few months back, someone said, “Let’s do a pulpit exchange.”

Thus it is a (gasp!) Presbyterian will brave a Disciples church!

Honestly, I love the symbolism of this preaching swap the Sunday after national elections. For, if you recall, Disciples began as rebel Presbyterians. Many of our founders trained for ministry in the Presbyterian fold. Two heavyweights- Thomas and Alexander Campbell- were even from Scotland. In the early 1800s, in fact, Alexander attended seminary at the University of Edinburgh, while his father Thomas looked for work in the US. Soon, though, Thomas was fighting with local ministers and church authorities, and around 1809, declared himself a “free agent”. You ask Disciples, it’s because he’d awoken to the need for churches to forget denominational allegiance, and work for unity among the ever-more fragmenting faithful. You ask Presbyterians of that time, Thomas Campbell was an arrogant, stubborn glory-hound!

Honestly, Disciples partisan though I may be, neither story’s fully accurate. What’s most revealing, rather, is that this splinter occurred on the so-called frontier around twenty years after America’s War of Independence. In other words, freedom, autonomy and individual initiative were in the air. Especially in rural farms and small towns up and down Ohio and Kentucky- i.e. exactly where the break occurred. At the time, tempers were high: “You’re heretics!” “You’re demonic!” For all his talk of unity, Thomas Campbell likely wouldn’t have invited Presbyterian ministers into his pulpit, nor ascended one of theirs.

Two centuries later, though, it’s not only a non-issue, I even think our denominations should just merge. Probably won’t happen for a while, but we’ve really got lots in common. They could be probably teach us about organization and thoughtful planning. We could offer insights into freedom of expression and doctrinal creativity. Whatever the case, we aren’t the same church, but it’s easy enough to act as one. To swap pulpit, merge youth groups, perhaps work together in mission and service…?!

As I said, it’s a potent symbol days after the country votes. Our denomination began as an off-shot of the Presbyterian Church. Our founders railed and harangued, gave and got much abuse. Yet their heirs in faith, now, are working together and enjoying it. Not only in Plymouth, but around the country and world. I know a Disciples minister on staff of a Presbyterian church in Lexington, KY. We’ve partnered for disaster relief and missionary efforts across the globe. In other words, unity- not division nor animosity- have become our long-term trajectory. Our country, I suspect, could learn from that.

I suspect on Sunday the 11th, all sides of the political spectrum will still be elated or downtrodden. Exuberant at their sides’ prospects or anxious over their preferred partisans’ losses. We might even feel something of both within our spirits, if, say, we pick with the majority on one question but ‘lose’ on another. It could be easy, therefore, to devolve into a game of boasting and blaming, of vilifying your victorious opponents or gloating over the ‘losers.’ But the ultimate hope is that in country- as much, I pray, as in church- the long-term trajectory ought be unity, not division.

Even if that seems tough, given the current cultural atmosphere, oneness is neither naïve nor undesirable. Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and other Disciples of Christ founders, may’ve wanted unity, but didn’t achieve it in their lifetimes. Yet here we are- 2012- in Plymouth, Minnesota, receiving blessings from a blessed neighbor, a wise preacher, a...Presbyterian!

I pray you find Pastor Ewen as profound and engaging as I’ve come to regard him. After all, when we put unity before division, togetherness before denigration, it turns out we’ve all got many great gifts to receive and share.

Grace and Peace,

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