In my About section, I mention being a life-long Christian who comes from a long list of traditions. This is something I am very thankful for and proud of.
I went to an Evangelical Christian college with roots in the Evangelical Friends tradition (also known as Quakers). When I arrived at college I met people from many different traditions and denominations. Some were Friends and others were not, some came from a hodgepodge of traditions and others were a 4th generation (fill in the blank).
Many of the Friends had not necessarily grown up together, as in the same town, same home church, and same schools. But they had grown up together by being Friends. There is a Friends camp on the Oregon Coast where all of them spent at least one week every summer from second grade through high school and many of them spent at least one summer of their teens working there. Because of this, they had, in fact, grown up together.
I became friends with many who grew up Friends and became jealous of their interactions with other Friends on campus. They had a bond that I have rarely had with others because of my lack of denominational tradition.
A Bible Girl and a Catholic Boy
My dad is the fifth child of an Irish Catholic mother. The way the story goes, her parents were both full Irish, as were theirs, all born in America to Irish Catholic immigrants who came to America prior to 1850. Then in 1940 my Irish Catholic grandmother married a low-church, nominally Protestant boy from Idaho. He later converted and they raised all five of their children Catholic.
This grandfather, although he became Catholic, his three brothers raised their children in the Disciples of Christ/Christian Church. His younger brother, who my father was named for, became a great preacher and pastor in the Disciples of Christ in the 50s, 60s, and 70s before a stroke in the 80s made it too difficult for him to speak.
My mom, on the other hand, came from two parents who would consider themselves “Christian” but never really had a faith of their own. My mom’s mom had abusive parents, and their parents had been abusive to them. They probably considered themselves some sort of low-church Presbyterian. At some point, my grandma found her way to the Methodist church and occasionally attended there with my mom and her brother’s.
My mom’s dad was raised nominally Christian, although his relatives had been a part of the Friends church and were involved in the founding of the college I attended. From what we can tell from birth and immigration records is that his ancestors came to America with some of the early Friends in the late 1600s.
In middle school and high school my mom, through her best friend, ended up at a Bible church where she came to faith. In college she took a term and attended a Bible school in England where her faith was even more solidified. And while my mom never dreamed of marrying a “Catholic boy,” and regardless of what my dad’s mom or sisters thought (i.e. my mom converted him), through two college youth programs – one Catholic, one Protestant – my dad was drawn to low-church Protestantism, and found his faith home in a Bible church.
Finding the Christian Church
Through the first ten years of my parents marriage, they bounced around different Bible churches rooted in conservative, free-will Baptist theology. They were even missionaries to Japan with North American Baptist Missions for a year.
Once my brother and I were born, after living in ten places in ten years, they established themselves in one place for a decade, and although it was three houses, it was one church they called home. There was multiple reasons they chose this church as home, but two reasons stand out: one, before they had even sat down, more than three people who were not ushers greeted them and two, my dad’s uncle who he is named after.
As I mentioned, on my paternal grandfather’s side of the family, all of his brothers ended up in the Disciples of Christ/Christian Church. Many are unaware that there is a Christian Church denomination. (When my husband and I started dating, I told him multiple times I was Christian and he kept saying, “Yes, so am I, but what kind.” Seven years later he still struggles when I mention a Christian church). The Christian Church is a break off from the Disciples of Christ which is one half of a split from what is called the Restoration Movement (the other half is the Church of Christ).
When my parents began attending the Christian Church which I was raised in, whenever my dad would introduce himself to people at least twenty years his senior they would look at him and say, “no, you can’t be him!” It turns out, that many of these men, who were now leaders and elders in the congregation, had been children and teens in the 50s and 60s when my great-uncle was a Christian Church preacher. During the summer, he would do the Christian camp circuit as the evening fire-side speaker. Many of these men attributed their faith to my great-uncle’s talks.
For these reasons, as well as feeling content in the theology and atmosphere of the Christian Church, my family has found this to be their home. Even after we moved cities and states we ended up back in the Christian Church. I owe a lot of my faith journey to the Christian Church, but there was also a lot I knew i lacked because of the Christian Church.
The Christian Church began in the early 1800s by two men: Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell (along with his father, Thomas). The goal of the Christian Church was to restore the church – and therefore all Christians – back to the ways and ideas of the first century church. An outcome of this, particularly for those raised in the later portion of the 20th century and early part of the 21st century, was a complete removal of history and tradition. I have joked many times that the way I was raised made it seem like there was an early church which ended at the book of Revelation and then there was Billy Graham and now us today. All of the tradition and history my dad would have had in his Catholic upbringing did not exist in the Christian Church.
And since the Christian Church is “non-denominational” and independent, there is often little to no connection to other congregations. Both churches I grew up in, each for a decade, were fairly large churches. When we would attend camp each summer, it was our own children’s ministry pastor and volunteers who directed and lead the camp. Over 70% of the campers and counselors were from our church. Because of this, it made it difficult to form relationships with other Christian Church kids.
As I entered the later years of my high school church experience, I yearned for tradition and community that could be found outside of my congregation’s four-walls. I would often go home from my seeker friendly, 150+ student youth group of lights, games, and a Jesus loves you message devastated and crushed, crying to my dad, “Is this all the church has to offer?”
Finding Tradition and Community
My dad’s answer was always “no, this isn’t all the church has to offer.” He would lovingly attempt to explain that I was much farther in my faith than many of my peers and youth group was not created for students like me. Fortunately they found other places for me to learn as well as encouraged me take leadership roles in the youth group so I would strive to push forward with my faith.
Finally I entered college, and, as I mentioned above, I found people who were able to demonstrate what community in a denomination looked like. I also began my theology and Church history courses. Instead of crying and asking “is this all there is?” I was finally crying and rejoicing over what the Church does have to offer.
I knew what Saints were because of my Catholic family but I finally explored the Saints (and saints). I met Saints Perpetua and Felicitas and was in awe of their martyrdom, giving up not only their physical lives but their family as well for Christ. I spent time with Saints Francis and Claire (both in books and in front of their coffins in Assisi) to understand their abandonment of possessions and intentionally taking on poverty. And I got to know the Protestant saints – Luther, Arminius, Wesley, Bonhoeffer – and the ones in between – Huss and the Waldensians. I met the women and men, Ammas and Abbas of the faith who made the Stone-Campbell movement and my independent-non-denominational upbringing possible. I spent time at a nearby Trappist Abbey in prayer and meditation, debating if I should be a nun and how – as a Protestant – that could ever be possible. For me, college was a time of learning, learning our traditions and history, learning where we came from and how we got to where we are. It was an opportunity to be a part of the broader, big “C” Church.
After college, I was a youth and children’s pastor for two years in the Evangelical Covenant Church. I got to experience what it looks like when a congregation actually embraces their denomination, spending time with others within their tradition, seeing the church as bigger than their four-walls.
Currently, I work at a Catholic church as an administrative assistant while studying at a conservative Baptist seminary. My church home is a house church connected to a larger house church network in our city. We come from half a dozen Protestant traditions (mostly low-church Protestant) with a variety of backgrounds and education. My world is one ecumenical hodgepodge and I love it. I love daily going to work and hearing people pray the rosary or light a candle for a family member and then turn on my lecture videos and hear my professor speak about TULIP or sanctification. I get to go to church and break bread with my sisters and brothers and open the Bible, reading Scripture and hearing how their life experiences and theological tradition has brought them to where they are today.
What is your faith story? Are you like me, coming from half the Church? Or do you have one tradition to thank for your story?