I have a fine daughter of whom I am very proud. Her name is Lucy. But, through no fault of her own, she has grown up as the product of an interdenominational clergy couple. She has always known and been a part of two neighbor congregations simultaneously.
Lucy is at the age and inclination to go through confirmation classes. In fact, she’s been so inclined that she elected to go through confirmation at both churches. This is no large theological stretch to bridge Presbyterian and United Methodist theologies, at least not in the ways one might expect. The most objectionable part of these traditions turns out to be a matter of understanding the nature of membership.
My own tradition asks every prospective member, “Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church?” We have this idea that the best way to be a Christian is to make a modified vow of location. I was taught in seminary that the Christian life is an embodied life, lived out with specific people in a community of faith. Practically what that means is that one should only be a member of one congregation at a time. There are, of course, provisions for temporarily being away from home for college, work, military service and other circumstances. But, holding simultaneous full membership in more than one congregation is seen as somewhere between flaky and promiscuous.
My daughter simply wants to continue to be a part of both congregations. The rebel. Holding membership as an associate or provisional member goes against the spirit of the temporary residency requirement of these membership categories. The other church in question, the Presbyterian one, has already run this question up their hierarchy and had their suspicion confirmed (pun intended) that Lucy needs to be in or out, no provisional status is allowed. I think my hierarchy would say the same thing.
General statistics and articles tell me that my daughter’s generation is not as fond of joining institutions as previous generations have been. They like mission, ministry, and Jesus, but don’t get church. Paradoxically this generation remains my denomination’s most prized demographic. If I could get 100 people under the age of 25 to join my congregation, I could go on the public speaking circuit. But forces of nature (read God) seem to be conspiring against this happening.
Recently I had a fascinating conversation with a gentleman who is a member of both a country club and an older generation. He told me that when he started his working career in the 60’s, country clubs were a vital part of socialization and the average person in his field counted himself lucky to be admitted to any club that would not black ball him. Membership at the club was growing, and people thought themselves fortunate to play golf at the same course time and time again.
Alas, like many previous business plans, this model is falling apart for the country club. It seems that the younger golfer has this seditious idea that they should be able to play golf wherever they like. They say variety contributes to the enjoyment of the game. Today’s youngsters are thus loath to join one location. This generational reluctance means declining membership for the country club. Declining attendance means more financial pressure on existing club members. Raising assessments on members does nothing but result in a further decline in membership. So the country club is left hacking its way out of this conundrum with the wrong instrument, all the while increasing the club’s handicap. After hearing this man’s story, as the leader of a similar institution myself, for the first time in my life I had sympathy for the country club.
I believe that Lucy is showing the Church the path, but I don’t have the right club to hit that shot. She loves both congregations. God finds her in both. Both congregations love her. I can only imagine that in the future more young people will find joy in multiple locations. Go to one church for worship, another for the Bible study, and another for the justice. The variety will increase their understanding of and participation in the faith.
The Presbyterian process has come first. Lucy stood before them and was confirmed in her faith. In a few weeks, she is scheduled to stand before the congregation I serve and do the same. What I’ll probably end up doing is overlook her other church membership. I’ll sign her membership into a second congregation, not even bothering to run it up my hierarchy. I’ll then wait for the membership police to come knock on my door. I’ll sign my name to a year-end statistic that I know to be technically incorrect and await church trial. That’s what I get for having yet another in a long line of rebel PK’s.