Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hesitancy #1: Denomination

As I previously mentioned, when I sat down with Ryan to discuss my calling, I had (I thought) a solid list of reasons why I could not be a youth minister. He pretty much shot them down easily, but I haven’t been able to let go of them quite so flawlessly. Oh, and these are in no particular order. So here goes, with one of the big ones: my denomination.

I was brought up Catholic (a story for another day), but this didn’t really have a big role in the origins of my faith. Quite the opposite, I would say. It was more of an obligatory attendance, with my parents dragging me along each Sunday. What eight-year-old wants to wake up early to get dressed mice to sit and listen to something that is way over her head? Not I.

But in seventh grade, right after I started believing on God for real and having a relationship with Him, a friend invited me to her Protestant church. I kept going back and there was a fading in/fading out process where I went to the Mass less and less and went to United Memorial Christian Church (UMCC) more and more.

UMCC was the place where I first started to realize the importance of community and accountability in a gathering of believers. It was a Disciples of Christ (DOC) Church, a small denomination that tends to be pretty middle of the road, not too liberal but not too conservative, with elements of both in the services and in the way it approaches outreach and ministry. I enjoyed the DOC denomination and it definitely led me to better understand my faith. It also ushered me entirely into Protestantism by the 10th grade.

During my senior year, I also went to a nondenominational church on a weekly basis for their Wednesday night youth group. They had a worship band and a really passionate and dynamic youth minister, and it was a really refreshing experience to see students from a lot of different social groups on fire for Christ.

When I drove ten and a half hours and began going to college in St. Louis, the church searching began again. Freshman year I did not have a car and most of my friends were Catholic, so I ended up going to the church on campus for their weekly Mass, since it felt wrong and out of place not to go to anything on Sundays. But though I felt God more there than I had at Mass as a child, I knew that the Catholic Church wasn’t the place for me.

I spent some time at the beginning of sophomore year (when I had a car again) visiting a few churches. I started with DOC ones, since I had a background there. I spent a few months at one place, but it didn’t really fit my needs, so I hopped around again. At the end of the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I decided to really seek out the right church for me. I visited nondenominational, DOC, Presbyterian, and Methodist before I stumbled upon The Gathering United Methodist Church (UMC).

I have been going to The Gathering for a little over a year now, and I have found the small groups, worship, and community very fulfilling. I really love this church. The pastor is passionate, dynamic, and relevant. The people are kind and involved. The service does a great job integrating the old with the new, particularly in the music and in communion.

The problem with this whole situation is that I don’t really associate myself with any particular denomination. I know some of what I’m not: I’m not Catholic, I’m not Southern Baptist, I’m not Episcopalian, I’m not Lutheran. But know what I’m not doesn’t mean I know what I am. I could be happy at a DOC church, a UMC church, a nondenominational church, or maybe something I haven’t tried yet.

In some ways, not being a particular denomination opens the door to a lot of possibilities. But it also makes it difficult to choose what the next step will be. If eventually I decide to go to seminary, I will need to commit to some sort of denomination for this training. What seminary I go to will likely be determined by where I end up working. So my first job could decide my denomination for the rest of my life. Which is a LOT of pressure.

Not being a denomination also gets in the way of being a youth pastor to begin with, because the average Christian-related job application has a little blank for denomination. If a church wanted to know what church I grew up in, the answer isn’t really cut and dry. I’ve heard that most churches would just want me to commit to attending their services each Sunday to hire me, that they would ask if I agreed with their basic theological doctrines. That is all good and well, but I feel uncomfortable saying that I am ___blank___ when I’m not really sure. You know?

I know that this might seem like a small hesitancy, but I really feel unprepared when it comes to denomination. This was an obstacle to me deciding to be a youth pastor, and now it continues to be a block I have to get over as I spend time reflecting on my future. It’s just something I will have to work with as it comes, but I would like to be a little more prepared. Thoughts? What am I?

Today I turn around
Stop running away from Him.

Today I listen
And run toward.

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