Note to Readers: This is the fourth post inspired by my current experience of denominational transition. Other entries can be found under:
A Time of Transition
Transition: The Inside Story
God is not afraid of new things!
That is why he is continually surprising us,
opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.
He renews us: he constantly makes us “new.”
A Christian who lives the Gospel
is “God’s newness” in the Church and in the world.
How much God loves this “newness!”
(Pope Francis, homily, October 19, 2014)
Just like those who shook their heads at the biblical Ruth as she made her uncommon choices, members of the abandoned faith community may well shake their heads also. Except for some personal confidantes, very few people may be aware initially of the deep intra-psychic process which can take place in the person contemplating a denominational move. There is a time delay between the shifting of tectonic plates at the bottom of the ocean and the waves appearing on the surface of the water. By the time external signs of the move become apparent, an extensive inner process of letting go and redefinition has already been well underway in the person making the move. Reactions of surprise and shock in those left behind are not uncommon.
Those who have no personal experience of a crisis of meaning, and who have always been comfortable in their denominational affiliation, may find it nigh impossible to understand another’s need to make a denominational switch. Disbelief, judgment, denial and rejection may be heaped upon the one breaking denominational ranks. These feelings will be particularly strong if the self-understanding of the abandoned denomination encourages convictions of denominational superiority, exclusive and absolute in faith and doctrine.
Then there are the people who show support and understanding because they live their own struggles of faith vicariously through the departing person. Connected to this group are those who feel threatened in their own belonging by the departing person. They may have doubted their own denominational affiliations, but have been afraid or are simply incapable of contemplating being anywhere else. A friend who left the Roman Catholic Church once told me of a person whom she had considered a friend who reduced contact to a minimum once she discovered my friend was considering changing denominations. Asking her the reason why, this woman had replied, “Your denominational exploration is too close for comfort; you are raising all the questions which I am trying hard to keep at bay so I can stay. I get very nervous every time I talk to you.”
Finally, there will be those – and God-willing they will be numerous – who will genuinely understand, respect and support the departing person’s decision to transfer denominational homes. These are the women and men who most likely are well-grounded and secure in their faith and denominational identity, who may have experienced similar transitions, and whose heart can appreciate a diversity of expressions with joy and peace. Some of these individuals may even show up on the Sunday of formal reception into the new denominational home to celebrate this significant passage. Such individuals become a vital source of affirmation and support, embodying the continuity between one’s past-present-future. For the past is not gone and life has only changed, not ended. If the denominational transfer can be done in a healthy fashion, and can be expressed in meaningful ritual with elements from both faith traditions, the past goes with us into the future as a valuable resource and a treasured legacy.
Jesus himself said, “In my Father’s House there are many rooms.” (John 14:2) Denominational transition is a move from one room in the Father’s house to another. It does not mean leaving God’s house! If this remains hard to grasp, then I wonder if all our ecumenical dialogues and agreements of the past 50 years has been for naught. My transition is not caused by a weakening of faith, but rather its opposite: my transition is driven by a deepening and an expanding of faith.
I decided to make my transition public in the wild hope that it could serve the greater good of the church catholic. My commitment to ecumenism and Christian Unity will go with me and will continue to find creative expression. It is, as I see it, part of our call as Christians to heal and restore our churches into one Body. I hope and pray that we will continue to grow together to see our unity in God through Jesus Christ before stumbling over our divisions: Look not on our sins but on the faith of your people, O God. Let us never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. Each in our own way, we are all seeking the radiant peace of God’s face.
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said,
“for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:50)
When I was a child, I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child;
when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly;
but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
(1 Cor. 13:11)
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