Unlike many people I’ve met in the Disciples of Church (DOC) family I’m Different; I’m good with that and the cool part is, so is the DOC. You see, I wasn’t raised in the DOC; in fact I have very little “church” upbringing at all. I attended church like most people, when the mood hit my family; we went on the occasional Christmas and Easter (but not every year). I never attended a church camp, never attended Sunday school, was never a lay leader, was never a Sunday School Teacher, never was involved in church at all growing up – or into my young adult years. I did not attend a DOC college or Seminary – in fact, I never really heard of the DOC until about 7 years ago.
I started my faith journey in a nondenominational church in Las Vegas. I attended a State University for my undergrad degree (UNLV – Yes, at the same time as Guy Fieri. In fact, Guy was in the school of Hotel Management while I was at the School of Business and Economics – and at that time we met in the same building. Granted, he doesn’t look like he did at UNLV and I don’t look like I did). I attended a United Methodist (UMC) Seminary, Drew, and served a few UMC churches while attending Seminary. When I graduated from Drew, I returned to the West Coast and started pastoring an American Baptist Church (ABC).
Since Seminary I’ve struggled to find a home, a place where I could be me and walk the faith journey the Divine set before me. In the course of my search I have had conversations with the AoG, the ABC, the UMC, the ELCA, the Episcopal, the PCUSA and other denominations. It never worked out. There was always something about those groups that caused me concern. It got to the point where I was thinking it was me – I was the misfit, the outcast, the one with the issues. I tried, I did, I truly tried. Over time, and gripping about how dishearten I was dealing with each of those denominations, many of my friends, Steve Knight, Phil and Stephanie Shepherd, Richard McCullen and Spencer Burke (to name few) kept telling me to check into the DOC – so, after getting my butt kicked with the ECLA I decided I would give the DOC a call.
When I contacted the DOC in Northern California, I was connected to two amazing people, Ben Bohren and Sandhya Jha – both who I hold in deep regards. It was through my conversation with Ben and Sandhya that I decided to seek standing with the DOC – and I have never regretted it since.
One thing that surprises people on a regular basis is that I am connected with a denomination. I speak out against the institutional church on a regular basis – so to be connected to what they see as one seems surprising to many. Let me just say this, the DOC is the most “uninstutitional” gathering you would want to know – yea, they have their gates and gatekeepers – but they are always willing to change. Because of this seeming dichotomy people ask me on a regular basis why I joined the DOC. That got me thinking, so here are some (not all) of the reasons I find comfort in calling the DOC my home.
I’m Drawn To The Conversation of Love: To me, love is very important, very important. As a Disciple, I find myself part of a community with a deep love for Christ, an abiding love for Social Justice, and an embracing love for each other. I can honestly say that I have never experienced a time in the DOC where I have been forced to put my faith in the institutional church, the denomination, Regional Minister, a Pastor, a Board, or a Creed – I have always been encouraged to look to Christ and walk a path of love I felt the Divine moving me towards. In every single DOC community of faith I have ever attended, I have never – not once – heard a Pastor speak ill of another denomination, or other Pastor. I have only heard Pastors speak a message of love, grace, forgiveness, and acceptance.
I’m Heard: To some this may sound like a small thing, but for me it’s huge. It’s not that I am agreed with all the time, but it’s that they are willing to hear, and sometimes even seek out, my voice. They hear me, and that means a great deal. When every I said something that did not make sense with the other denominations, I was always made to feel the problem was with me – it was my fault because I wasn’t willing to play the game, I was not right with the Divine, or I just wanted to argue with the chosen Leadership, I refused to follow authority. With the DOC I’ve found a place where, if I see a problem or have an opinion they’re willing to talk about it and see if things could be changed. Never underestimate the importance of knowing you are heard.
I’m Encouraged: More than my voice not being silenced, it’s not shoved to the back of the room because I cannot trace my theological lineage back 500 years with them, or because I question something a Leader has said. At every point I have found my voice encouraged, even by those who disagree with me.
I’m Encouraged to Question: I am a big believer in asking questions; to question the status quo and find new ways. As a DOC, I have been encouraged to question, discuss and wrestle with what the collective narrative and how I see the Divine working on my life and in the life of a community of faith. I’m encouraged to hear other voices, to listen to other traditions, to see what I can hold in my heart, and to hear the questions of others.
I See People Committed to Christ: People with a deep love and compassion for others, people who take a social consciousness and bring to life the teachings of Christ from the collective narrative. A people who raise their voice for many issues facing the church and out culture, women’s health issues, racial equality, marriage equality, refugee resettlement, religious freedom, and more. A people who strive to apply the truth found in the collective narrative and bring light to the world.
I See a Rainbow of Humanity: I have found that with the DOC I am part of a faith tradition that’s openly willing to welcome all into a community of faith. In the DOC I see the most diverse communities of faith I have ever seen. I see our diversity spans racial, gender, sexual orientation and identity, social, economic, political, theological stances – we truly encompass the world we live in. I’m not talking about diversity on a “grand denominational” level; I am talking about individual communities of faith expressing a wonderful diversity each and every Sunday. Many denomination speak about how diverse they are, based on larger gatherings – with the DOC, our diversity is found in the Micro – which is also expressed in the Macro. I remember one of the first DOC communities of faith I attended and was amazed at the expression of the community as a whole.
I See a Passion for God: As a DOC I see myself as part of a community determined to follow Christ. We are not governed by doctrines, dogma, or creeds. We live by the reality that “There is no creed but Christ” and I find comfort in that reality. Because we see Christ as the head of the church, we are not moved by power games or hierarchical structures designed to weight us down. In that passion, I see different communities of faith expressing their faith in different way – and that excites me.
I will never say that other faith traditions are not faithful to how they see the teachings of Christ, and that is echoed in all the DOC communities of faith I have been involved with. I will also never say that the DOC is perfect and without issues, because we’re not – we have our issues. But what I will say is that we know our imperfections and we seek to talk about our issues. What I will say is that the DOC has invited me to be part of a faith journey that has given me the freedom I need to express my walk. In the DOC I have found a home, and warm place to ask questions, dialog with others, disagree with love, argue with passion and walk with Christ.
So, why am I part of the DOC? Because of love.