Faith Works 6-18-16
You are not alone
In this column, I want to speak personally, sort of.
I am a pastor, a preacher of the Christian gospel, a minister with standing in a particular religious tradition, and I serve a congregation in Newark.
My own faith community, both the larger body of which we're a part, and the local church of which I'm a member, is not doctrinal. Outside of a personal confession of faith in Jesus Christ, you don't have to subscribe to a list of specific beliefs or practices in order to join. There are traditions of how we are Christian together, such as weekly communion, and in baptism by immersion of those who are of an age or condition where they can make that confession of faith for themselves (often called "believer's baptism"), and there are more uniquely local traditions we have in our church (shredded chicken sandwiches at many events, hamloaf when we're more formal, letting the minister swipe the first deviled egg at potlucks), but in general, we are free to discuss and debate what we mean by "the Trinity" or how the action of the Holy Spirit informs a believer's understanding of the Scriptures or many other subjects that divide various religious communities.
Some of those points of distinction have to do with people like me, clergy if you will, or ministers or evangelists or what have you. The longer history of my Restoration Movement forbears tends to avoid the term "Rev." for ourselves, although my branch of the movement came to terms with it a couple of generations ago. The question around it has to do with the belief affirmed in some churches that once ordained to Christian ministry you are, yourself, sacramentally set-apart, and so those churches rightly state that by referring to "The Reverend So-and-so." But the prefix "Rev." has become a professional recognition that you did your advanced seminary training as part of ordination to ministry, just as "Dr." is used for medical professionals or "Esq." as a suffix can be applied to lawyers. I don't ask for the title, but if it's used I don't fuss.
But I'm not, in my own eyes or in those of my church, someone who is intrinsically to be revered. I am the preaching and teaching elder in our congregation, an elder among the elders of the local church, with my role set-apart and supported so that I can put the time in to study and teach and communicate the faith. Not as a sacramental and authoritative voice, but as the baseline teacher for the community.
That teaching represents the congregation, and since I'm a public teacher in many roles, not the least of which is this column, I try to make it clear when I'm speaking as and for "Jeff" and when I'm representing Newark Central Christian. They put up with a great deal from me, and I appreciate the forbearance!
We also have the usual round of communications that I am de facto the "editor" of. Twice a week devotionals online by email and to a Facebook page, which often include prayer notes and short-term announcements, a monthly newsletter in electronic and print form, and Sunday's print bulletin serves many forms.
And we have a sign out front on the road. Truth be told, that's the "publication" seen by more people than all the others put together. 90 characters (including spaces) and just enough limits on what letters we have in quantity to make it tricky at times. What I choose to put out there speaks for us, and often I think, and pray over what I'm saying there as much as I do in the entire monthly "Newark Christian" newsletter.
This past week, our sign said "We pray with Orlando – We stand with our LGBT brothers & sisters."
I think that statement, in its brevity and simplicity, speaks for us. I hope I speak truly for our whole congregation. There are many views in our fellowship about the right use of the gift of sexuality; I've spoken before and will again about my concerns over the state of the family and the changes our culture is going through in relationships and child-rearing and responsibility. But there can be no doubt, no question, no hesitation, I would say clearly, that we as a Christian community – and I pray that we all as a wider community – stand with any group threatened and made to feel fearful simply because of who they are.
No one should feel alone at such a time as this.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what your community of faith is saying and doing this summer at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.