I just returned from a denominational conference in Chicago.
That in itself is nothing particularly unique or special. But it has provided ample opportunity for observing, listening, and to a lesser extent participating, in the strange soup that is contemporary evangelicalism.
I love my newly adopted denomination of the Evangelical Covenant Church.
Among Protestant, evangelical denominations it’s at the top of the list for what I expect and/or prefer in a faith family with whom I sojourn. A big front door, a big living room, a big heart, big ideas, and a small theology ledger.
A non-creedal body by history and by choice, there is no dotted line awaiting my subservient signature to enter and serve. As such, the ECC provides a place in which to actually practice the work of theology on the ground – you know, where Jesus did before leaving to get his doctorate.
Typically, our post-Enlightenment milieu seeks to train up preachers like God scientists. Sideline the complexities of self and soul and stuff young heads like Christmas turkeys with doughy abstractions and crunchy data, then send them out as over-confident, naked children to fight lions with noodles.
I’ve written much about my twenty-year journey out of evangelicalism into a much broader ocean tinged in the light of a more mystical, pre-Reformation, eastern Christianity. For me to even consider climbing back aboard this ship required a pretty convincing package.
So far, the ECC seems to be that package.
In brief, the ECC is comprised of a complicated mix of Swedish Lutheranism distilled through North American Pietism. It has found its way forward, stumbling together through all manner of daunting issues, learning itself by means of diverse community, water-cooler (pub, more likely) conversation, congregational government, word and sacrament, occasional passive-aggression, all over micro-brew and cigars.
It’s enough to make C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton downright giggly.
An old world Lutheranism offers the richness of liturgical worship and sacramentalism while its new world Pietism places it in the hinterland where the ‘other’ lives. On the backroads, the rank and file are too busy surviving to worry whether or not all the right words are in all the right places.
It prefers connectivity over credibility, presence over power, and communal acquiescence over conversant apologetics. It may be the last bastion of evangelicalism where any hint of spiritual orthopraxy is wed, albeit tangentially, to theological orthodoxy. It’s tea cozies for some, bad whiskey in dirty cups for others. My kinda place.
This blog from the beginning has existed to give voice to the centrality of spiritual formation in all I do, think, say, believe, adore….How gratifying to know that this denomination has an entire wing dedicated to the promotion of the same. There is more than lip service paid to the idea of souls being satiated in the numinous realities of the ineffable God.
As one tasked with drawing a local congregation into the worship of God, this has given me a good place to explore. I can continue my journey into post-modern, eclectic liturgy rooted in a more robust sacramentalism.
But I can also do so with a view to reimagining the church’s ancient past for a very complex present. In this endeavor I am finding friends, co-laborers in the liturgical arts game with whom I can toss around the stuff of our trade. They are beautiful souls and have almost as many questions as I when it comes to how best to ply our trade in the murky complexities of local church ministry.
The ECC is not perfect. We still succumb to the temptation of hipster idolatry and the cult of relevance. We are still a bit too easily enamored of evangelicalism’s how-to mentality where every conceivable question has an airtight answer. The subtle presence of American pragmatism can be seen sniffing around the corners and we’re a bit too close to Christian industry-speak for my taste. Finally, we find ourselves mired in a safety-zone mentality on matters of human sexuality.
But in spite of this, it is a very healthy alternative to almost anything else I’ve seen within the vast dysfunction of the growing-by-division evangelical family. It’s been a good place to be found of God.
It is the garden in which I am presently planted.
And I am glad to be here.
Photos by Jessica Perez and someone else with a very daunting selfie stick