We began attending UCC around August of 2010. Prior to attending UCC, we attended another Christian Church near our home in Anderson. We had been there about 8 years. It was in our last 3 years there that things began to change for us. So many things were going on, but I just will share some highlights.
- God was doing something in my heart. I had been asked to be a deacon at the church. I went to the meeting with the pastor, and got some information about the office. I later went to him in person to ask a question. I asked him, "What was the difference between me as a deacon and me as a member, besides that deacons serve communion on Sunday?" He answered, "Basically, nothing." Since I was already being asked to serve communion due to a shortage of servers, I decided to respectfully decline the offer. I didn't feel I needed a title that had no other meaning.
- A year later, I was asked to serve as an elder. This time, I accepted, believing that this was something I should do.
- I was also helping to teach one of the adult Sunday School classes during this time.
It was during this time that God had placed some things in my path that would begin to alter the way that I thought about religion. I had started a blog and was reading other blogs as well. I was introduced to a whole new way of thinking about church and what the Gospel truly is. Perhaps this would be a good time to point out that I have a 4 year seminary degree in Bible and Christian Education, and had served in full-time Youth Ministry and had been an interim preacher on a few occasions.
I was introduced to Reformed theology. I was introduced to theology for that matter. I had read the Bible, taken the Bible courses in college, attended seminars, heard countless sermons, but never had I gone much below the surface, and had never really been challenged to do so. As a result, my first marriage failed and I lost my position as a Youth Minister. I ended up working in the transportation industry for about 6 or 7 years, and am currently in education as an elementary teacher. I never let go of my faith in God, but I had some serious questions that my prior level of understanding never did answer. More on that later.
One of the issues that came to the surface at our past church during this time period was our theology and teaching. The church was working through one of the 40 days of purpose books. It was the S.H.A.P.E. manual by Eric Rees. I began to question a lot of the statements in this book. One example: on page 34, he has a fill in the blank that goes like this...
Remember: our strengths and abilities are there to show off his greatness and magnitude.
Doesn't that sound great? It's like God really needs me to pull this thing off, isn't it? And I want to feel needed. But then another way of filling in those blanks occurred to me. It goes like this...
Remember: our weaknesses and in inabilities are there to show off his greatness and magnitude.
Isn't that more in line with what the Bible says? (2 Cor. 12:9,10 comes to mind) and so I started asking questions. The responses I got were varied. Some at the church agreed, and wanted to give it some more thought. Others said I was misinterpreting the S.H.A.P.E. book. Some said they felt uncomfortable at times with the teaching in the S.H.A.P.E.book, but were not sure why. Our pastor said that while he saw no problem with the book, he did not feel it was something that he would use again. The chairman of the elders said his group had some questions about some of the things in the S.H.A.P.E. book, but they did not resolve them. One of the associate pastors told me that he did not have the time to debate theology with me.
Time went on and the issue went away, although it was never really resolved. The 40 days was over. It was also during this time that I had been asked to do an evaluation on the Youth Minister. Having been in a management position while working in the transportation industry, and having been in Youth Ministry, I agreed. My approach was simple. I came up with a questionnaire and had several people in various capacities respond. I then compiled the results and gave them to the eldership. Problem was, not all of the responses were complimentary, and a couple of elders felt that I had not handled the matter appropriately. Even though I had shared the responses with no one outside of the eldership, I was taken to task at our elder's retreat for the job I had done by one elder in particular. Later, at least two elders spoke to me independently sharing their support and even that they had similar concerns about the youth ministry. However, the fact that they were unwilling to speak up in the meeting was very disappointing to me.
It was at this retreat where the largest struggle of all came to surface. Prior to the retreat, our bookkeeper had resigned. One of our elders had suggested that instead of just hiring a new bookkeeper, we add the responsibilities of an Executive Administrator to the job to create a full time position. He also stated that he would be interested in such a position. (This soon came to fruition.) The bulk of the retreat was spent discussing this idea, and how it would make our job as elders much easier. No goal setting, no vision casting, and little prayer. But we did use the pool and had some good food. As we were preparing to leave, and having our monthly elder's, the pastor made note of the fact that we had not spent much time in prayer during the retreat, but then qualified that by saying it was okay, because we were doing God's work.
I went home stunned and disappointed. I decided to tender my resignation. I was deeply hurt and wondered how I could be an effective elder under such circumstances. We also stopped attending there and began a search for a new place to worship. We did get a couple of e-mails (one from the pastor and one from the new Executive Administrator), and a phone call or two from some friends, but that was it. Is this what church was supposed to be? There was much to be thought through, and I believed that we needed some time and space to do that.
When we came to UCC, we shared our story with the pastor and one of the elders. We stated that we were wounded, and would probably be slow about making any commitments to the church. We shared how we had been challenged in our thinking of what church should be. We were assured that we would be welcomed and cared for at this church. I want to share how we were welcomed and cared for in future posts