I was at a meeting last week and someone said, “Wow! You Disciples of Christ clergy are almost taking over!” The meeting was a gathering of Charlotte area pastors working on issues affecting our community, from poverty to racism to housing to the environment to education. Six of us were there from Disciples connections: Missiongathering Christian Church sent two (Steve Knight and Andrew Shipley), I was there from First, Bruce Baker-Rooks was there from SouthPark, Greg Jarrell was there from Queen City Family Tree, and Jason Williams was representing MeckMin. I’m used to there being six Presbyterians in the room, or six Baptists, or six Methodists. In Charlotte, I’m not used to there being six Disciples at gatherings like this. In years past, I have been the lone Disciple in the room more times than I could count. But today is a new day. The picture I’m posting here shows another gathering of us Disciples clergy at an ecumenical event at the beginning of LGBTQ Pride week last Sunday. Truth be told, if you also include local chaplains and pastors of non-English speaking congregations and pastoral counselors in the area that are also Disciples, you’d come to a number of 14 or 15! It is a welcome change, full of potential.
I am a fifth generation Disciple of Christ. My great-great grandfather was a circuit rider back in Tennessee (evangelist who rode a horse and preached at many churches in a “circuit” for the early Churches of Christ) and that part of the family was staunchly Disciple–even before we became a denomination. His granddaughter, my grandmother (Mabel Howell Wilks), married a preacher’s kid, my grandfather Delbert Wilks. His father was the pastor of First Christian Church in Dodge City, Kansas. That part of the family considered itself fiercely Independent Christian. When the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) became a denomination back in the 1960s, there was an argument in the family about it (so I’ve heard from an aunt). My grandparents eventually both became Disciples and were very involved in the Overland Park Christian Church in Overland Park, Kansas. When I asked my grandmother how it was that she was able to convince my very stubborn grandfather to become a Disciple, she replied with incredulity, “Well, if you just reason with the person and you’re logical enough, they’ll see the light and do what’s right.” There was no wink, no little wry smile. She had convinced him of the truth and he eventually came around. She never thought the Disciples would become a small voice in the larger Christian landscape. To her, it was just logical that intelligent people would come to see things our way!
Some of the ways Disciples are different really do fit what people are looking for in a faith tradition/faith community today. We are a society that is increasingly skeptical of what people tell us to believe and we struggle with authoritative methods of instruction. We look stuff up on Google and debunk myths and untruths. The tools for fact-checking and searching for knowledge are at our fingertips, as close as our phones. This kind of practical and personal quest for wisdom reminds me of our unique origins. Long ago, the movement that started Disciples churches became popular because it emphasized:
1) Simplicity and Unity–a new approach to religion that would free people from old traditions that didn’t meet the needs of Americans especially during those frontier days.
2) Freedom and Practicality–a desire among individuals to read and interpret the Bible for themselves and build faith on reason.
Adding to those desires of the early Disciples movement, we have adopted a vision for the church that includes: True Community, Deep Christian Spirituality, and a Passion for Justice. We are, as our General Minister and President Sharon Watkins has stated, “A movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” So to that Table come new people who never knew they were invited before, new ways of doing ministry–sometimes without even having a church building or traditional community of faith, and leaders who keep bumping into one another at gatherings searching for a better future for our city.
I love this trend! I pray that our “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” does its work even here in our corner of North Carolina.