On being a Congregationalist

My mother, like most mothers, and most people for that matter, is one of those people who listens to about half of what I say, then makes up the rest and believes whatever she thinks must be true.  For example, for the last 5 years my husband’s family has had a home on Martha’s Vineyard.  We visit there about 5 times a year, and every time I return from a trip there my mother asks me “How was your trip to Nantucket?”  For the first few years it drove me absolutely mental, and I would vehemently remind her that I had never been to Nantucket and had no plans to go there, ever.  But after a while I just got used to it, and would respond to her questions with “Great Mom, we had a really nice time.”

Last spring, when my mother’s husband passed away, I went down to Florida to help her with the plans for his funeral, which happened to be at a catholic church.  We had a meeting with the director from the church, who asked me if I was a Catholic.  I was about to respond when my mother said to her “Oh no, she’s a Methodist” !  I looked at my mom incredulously.  “Mom” I said, “I’m a Congregationalist.  Big difference”  “Oh, it’s all the same” she replied “All you Christians believe the same thing.” I let it go.  It was my Mom, after all.

But I couldn’t really let it go.  It kept coming back to me that I didn’t like being referred to as a Methodist, but I couldn’t say why.  I mean, we are all Christians, after all.   So I spent some time thinking about it.  What was it about being a Congregationalist that I felt was so important?  I looked up the definition of Congregational in a few dictionaries, and here are some of the definitions I came up with…

“A system of Christian doctrines and ecclesiastical government in which each congregation is self-governing and maintains bonds of faith with other similar local congregations”

“A type of Protestant church organization in which each congregation, or local church, has free control of its own affairs. The underlying principle is that each local congregation has as its head Jesus alone and that the relations of the various congregants are those of fellow members in one common family of God.”

“A form of church governance that is based on the local congregation. Each local congregation is independent and self-supporting, governed by its own members.
With that freedom comes the responsibility upon each member to govern himself or herself under Christ. This requires lay people to exercise great charity and patience in debating issues with one another and to seek the glory and service of God as the foremost consideration in all of their decisions.”

I”n congregationalism, rather uniquely, the church is understood to be a truly voluntary association”.

And finally…

“To a Congregationalist, no abuse of authority is worse than the concentration of all decisive power in the hands of one ruling body.”

Self governing.  Free control over our own affairs.  Independent and self-supporting.  A group united for the purpose of worship.  That means a lot to me.

I’ve recently started studying Mycology.  For those of you that don’t know what that is, like me two weeks ago, it is the study of fungi.  I know I’m being a little divergent here, but bear with me.  Fungi are truly incredible, and I’ve come to realize that the study of fungi is akin to the study of life.  While I won’t bore you with all of the fungal facts I’ve turned up of late, I will tell you that fungi live on every surface, in every organism, and can theoretically live forever.  They are incredibly complex, and function as a shadow immune system, a shadow digestive system and are the source of some of the worst plagues and the best medicine we have.  They are uniquely symbiotic with every living thing on the planet, and are a perfect example of the inter-connectedness of our species to our world.  Everything on earth functions as an ecosystem; in fact, an ecosystem within an ecosystem within an ecosystem.  And each ecosystem, each plant and animal and fungus, is comprised of a complex system of interrelated and coordinated organisms.  In fact, if you think about it, the concept of “Me” is almost obsolete because in reality “Me” is a community.

To some, this may be creepy, but to me, it’s an example of God’s wondrous, unimaginable and endless creativity.  And just as I am a microbiotic community of functioning organisms, we the Church are a macrobiotic community of functioning organisms.  God meant us to be interrelated.  God meant us to be symbiotic.

I read a quote once that I remember.  “Whatever image you are holding in your mind is the reality you will invite into your future”.  This is so true. Furthermore we can create an image of our most desired future to focus on.   We can come together to collaborate and participate in determining our best future.

To sum up, our doctrine is self determination.  We choose our own path.  God meant us to work together.  Only by working together, not just some of us, but all of us collectively, can we determine our path forward.  We are at a time in our Church where we want to, and need to, affirm our best selves, create positive images and determine our future path.  Together we can make a brighter community, and a better world.Image

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