I've been away from this stream for a while--too many interruptions of all kinds. But it has not been far from my mind. So, picking up the process again, I turn to one of the most fruitful associations of my entire life—my journey with the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA:
At first glance this may seem an odd entry—an organization rather than a person? Chronologically, it connects with Sherrill’s role in my life and so, I think, now is a good time to write about it. My first connection with NCCC was with the venerable Committee on the Uniform Series (CUS). When we moved to Anderson, IN, in 1996, I was employed by Warner Press as the adult curriculum editor for BRIDGES, following in the able editorial footsteps of John Little. BRIDGES is the Sunday school curriculum for the Church of God, Anderson, and it takes its basic lectionary from the International Sunday School Outlines of CUS/NCCUSA. (Enough acronyms?) CUS, and its umbrella commission, is where an ongoing truly interdenominational (and lovely/loving) dialogue about scripture, learning, and discipleship takes place—“Probably the oldest ecumenical committee in existence, the Committee on the Uniform Series celebrated its 140th anniversary in 2012.” An annual gathering of writers, editors, Christian educators, and church publishers produces a lectionary that is used by over 35 denominations and communions and is the basis for the Christian education of around 45 million people in more than 100,000 congregations. It is a significant ministry of the Council. Well, really, it is simply a significant ministry. Period.
Sometime after leaving Warner Press and joining the National Board of Christian Education (scuttled by the reorganization of the national offices into Church of God Ministries—a mistake, I might add, that I wonder if we will ever survive), Sherrill took me to an annual meeting of the Administrative Board of the [then] Ministries in Christian Education, a commission of the National Council; this board and CUS became liminal spaces on my journey, holy places for me—places of great growth in as many ways as I might imagine. It became home.
As the one reader of my blog knows, I grew up in the Church of God, Anderson, IN. This church taught me a great deal that it seldom practiced. So, I could never hope to count the number of time I heard “we reach our hands in fellowship to every blood washed one.” The congregation I grew up in had “Where salvation makes you a member” posted on its marquee. I grew up learning about the unity of God’s church. I know this may sound ironic (except to anyone who has experienced it), but my work with CUS and NCCC is where I actually experienced what we taught. CUS was my first experience of a truly ecumenical effort in the church and my first experience with healthy and significant diversity. In paradigm shifting ways, it was my first experience with what the New Testament describes as the church. The irony, of course, is that I grew up in a movement one of the central faith declarations of which is, “I saw the church,” and in a movement that essentially forbade involvement with such organizations because they were worldly and denominational.
How can I help anyone else understand this?
The difference, I suppose, has something to do with what I think we really meant when we described ourselves as “come outers.” We actually meant “come to ‘ers.” We really believed we were the “evening light church” and that through us God would save the church in the latter days. Were we really interested in conversations with any one else? I don’t think so; at best, only a handful. We knew they were so wrong in all the important ways (we called everyone else “Babylon,” for goodness sake) and about all the really important issues that, rather than opening us outward, we were really focused inward—“come in ’ers.” Our collective back turned toward the larger church. For the most part, no one, except maybe Billy Graham, really had anything to say to us that we thought worth hearing.
One exception to that was the Committee on the Uniform Series, a connection that was still largely a fairly well kept secret when I joined the curriculum work of the church at Warner Press in 1995. (Perhaps it still is.) So, the irony was pretty heavy for me. Eventually I came to understand the ideal behind the call to separate--even prior to my involvement with the CUS and, then, the Council; but as a result of my work and friendships in CUS/NCCUSA, my sense of church was enlivened, emboldened, and enlarged—oh amazingly enlarged!
I’m not really sure I can do justice to this. I’ve had three adventurous journeys in my life that have radically changed how I think about organizations. One journey comprises my years at WPC, especially the latter years of my journey there when I experienced true collaboration. One day, I’ll try to write about this place, but it is so integrated into my being that I struggle to know how to begin. A second journey encompasses my years at Church of God Ministries in the Congregational Ministries Team, specifically in the development and implementation of SHAPE; the third journey is my work with CUS/NCCUSA. Each of these taught me more than I can put into words. Like most OJT experiences, what I learned is so caught up in working and friendships with distinctive and wonderful and gifted persons. Such good friendships emerged in this common effort; friendships that transcend time and space and denomination. To list only a few names: Dot Savage, Patrice Rosner, Thom Chu, Mike Fink, Barbara Tulley, Marvin Cropsey, Kaye Edwards, Garland Pierce, Ken Ostermiller—actually, too many to name.
What did I learn from my work with the Council?
•Diversity is powerful and enriching and essential.
•Differences are contributive when there is shared vision.
•Discernment is central to any enterprise. (My discovery of discernment is directly connected to the work of the administrative board in our annual meetings. This is another irony, since I grew up in a holiness church where we always invoked the Spirit but never practiced discernment.)
•Dialogue around tables may be the single greatest method available to the church (clearly connected to the practice of discernment).
•[inter]Dependence, that is, trust, grows out of spending time together in common cause and in the warm, intimacy of conversation and laughter.
•Hospitality. (I’ve tried to find a good “D” synonym to fit here—no luck.) At CUS/NCCUSA is where I learned and experienced the wide welcoming of Christ’s Table.