Creating a new progressive ecumenical church

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The Rev. Chuck Currie calls for a new progressive ecumenical church relationship.

The divisions that we face within our denominations, the decline of the mainline church over the last generation, and the changing realities we face in a society more pluralistic than ever beg the question of whether or not we are — any of us, regardless of denomination — doing church in the right way. So today, I come with a proposal. Let’s throw out the rule book, break with tradition, look to the future with our eyes open and hearts centered on living out the Greatest Commandment, and perhaps even bring together some of our denominations under one new banner — a new united church — that reflects a belief that living out God’s mission for the world is more important than bureaucracy and polity, the laws that govern our churches.

What am I suggesting? Within the mainline tradition there is a growing consensus moving our churches in a progressive theological direction. We read the Hebrew Scripture and the stories of the Prophets, and their battles for economic justice resonate with our own times. As we reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus as shared with us in the Christian New Testament we hear God calling us further to be a people of justice concerned with the “least of these” and with those on the margins. Jesus’ own teachings have called many of us to embrace movements of liberation for Africans, Latin Americans, women, and gays and lesbians. We believe that those who use the Bible to justify discrimination or who wield Holy Scripture as a partisan political weapon to divide are the heirs of those who just a generation ago used the Bible to justify Jim Crow laws and worse. Those of us who still hear God speaking — a slogan of the United Church of Christ that can also be explained as feeling the Holy Spirit opening up our hearts in new and exciting ways just as Jesus did for his community and time — need to band together and live out the unity that we are called to live in Christ in new and more substantial ways. Hear it all below:

This sermon was delivered by The Rev. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister, at Portland, Ore.’s First United Methodist Church on April 29. The Scripture readings included 1 John 3:16-24 and John 10:11-18.

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Bill Dilworth
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Bill Dilworth

I've never found the merger idea very attractive, because it seems to denigrate diversity. There are real differences between denominations in belief, style of thought and action, and history. There's nothing wrong with maintaining those distinctions, nor do I think that Christ's prayer that we all be one necessitates some sort of Union Church.

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Josh Magda
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Josh Magda

"The numbers/financial realities tell a powerful (and saddening) story about mainline protestantism. We can continue to live in our silos and subsequently die in our silos and take our unique charisms and precious traditions down with us or we can creatively join together, sharing the best of ALL of our traditions, and do what we've been commanded to do - "To be one as I and the Father are one."'

I agree with this sentiment. The church is getting smaller and will be even more so in the future, unless something dramatic happens. This nation and the world need us, they just don't always know it.

The mainline/liberal churches have far more in common theologically and liturgically than they do not. Collectively, we are a paradigmatic, radically different alternative to the fundamentalist vision of the faith, which is ultimately an antiChrist and ecocidal vision. Nothing that truly moves our world into civilizations of love and justice, the part of God's dream the Spirit has especially planted in our hearts, will happen unless something happens in America, and nothing will happen in America spiritually unless something happens in Christianity. What about a healthy, civilizationally significant American Christianity, that could actually be at the forefront of Spirit's movement in the world rather than at the tail end, or not at all.

The fanatical obsession with small divergences in theology, and the individual egoistic preferences they entail which urge us to stay divided so as to preserve our pet perspectives, our killing us.

What about pooling our theological resources and letting people come to their own conclusions about specific matters, even as we engage in shared mission and liturgy? Or letting clergy make the decision about gay marriage? We all know where it is going to end anyways, its just a generation or so away. The whole point is to come together around shared mission- and to have space for new liturgy and church forms, which is DESPERATELY needed- while preserving liturgical forms that are valued in communities as appropriate.

As for governance-is it really important whether a particular parish is episcopal, presbyterian, or congregational? Might all be a legitimate part of God's future (or some fusion thereof?)

One thing is for sure, we cannot continue down the path we are on.

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IT
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Recently we visited a small desert town, where nearly all the churches are lined up along a single road called "Church Lane". Behind Church Lane is a hill, with a simple cross on it.

We found out that on Easter, pretty much everyone climbed up to the cross for an ecumenical sunrise service. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, and all the rest, joined together for a communal worship.

The only group that didn't join in, was a fundamentalist Christian evangelical church.

Take of that what you will. Maybe we still have things to learn from small towns.

Susan Forsburg

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Starkg
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Starkg

I love the idea of a merger, and I hope we can find ways to become closer. I have a couple concerns:

- what kind of an ecclesiology would this pan-Protestant church have? If I remember rightly, that was the issue last time around. Bishops or presbyteries? Dioceses or synods? Priests? Ordination?

- what theology of Eucharist will be adopted? I can't just have a memorialist position, I left that for a reason.

- lgbt issues? UCC, ELCA, and TEC are mostly together on this, as is the remnant of PCUSA, but UMC just shot it down, and the old Catholics and moravians? This issue becomes apparent when you are a gay man discerning leadership.

We also just have very different theologies. I hope we can find creative ways to be church together, to embrace one another, and even merge in many cases, but I am episcopalian for a reason. I could have joined a pro-gay Lutheran or Congregationalist church, but that would have been intellectually dishonest.

Gregory Stark

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Adam Spencer
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Adam Spencer

I suggested this very thing to a colleague a few weeks back. And I think people need to start calling a spade a spade and stop pulling their punches around this thing.

The numbers/financial realities tell a powerful (and saddening) story about mainline protestantism. We can continue to live in our silos and subsequently die in our silos and take our unique charisms and precious traditions down with us or we can creatively join together, sharing the best of ALL of our traditions, and do what we've been commanded to do - "To be one as I and the Father are one."'

Imagine a small rural community or hard-hit urban neighborhood where the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church, the UCC Church and the Methodist Church share a building. The other buildings are sold or re-purposed for ministry. There's no reason there can't still be a Liturgical Service and a Non-Liturgical Service on Sundays. Can we make those sacrifices? Can we make those compromises? Can we broaden our understanding of ourselves as Christian? And what if?

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