Saturday, April 6, 2013

The United Church of Mayberry

One of my daughters will be entering the Church on Pentecost Sunday.

First item on the "to do" list? Present the local parish with proof of her baptism.

Kari was baptized in 1987, just two months after her birth. My father was the pastor of the parish in rural Iowa where she was baptized. The United Church of Crawfordsville.

When I handed the RCIA instructor the necessary documentation of Kari's baptism, he read the name of the church and looked at me with confusion. It was obvious that he had never heard of that denomination.

I explained to him that Crawfordsville had once had two churches: a Methodist and a Presbyterian. The churches decided to merge at a time when both of them were losing members. Many people were leaving the state of Iowa at that time. Farmers were losing their farms. Young adults were finding jobs in other states. The overall population of Iowa was declining, and the two churches were left with one choice.

Merge or die out completely.

They merged.

The two denominations agreed to toggle back and forth between pastoral candidates. They would have one Methodist pastor. When he left, they would have a Presbyterian pastor.

The merge worked. The laity wasn't concerned about the differences in their denominations. The pastors didn't highlight the theological differences. They didn't even set up worship in either one of the old churches.

They had a new building.

The RCIA instructor didn't need to hear more. All he had really needed to know was whether or not Kari had a valid baptism. He didn't know anything about the United Church of Crawfordsville or how they celebrated the Sacrament of Baptism, but he did know about Methodists and Presbyterians. Both of those baptisms would be valid.

But he was intrigued by the small scale show of unity. He also found a little humor in it.

I had never thought about the name - or how silly it sounded. United Church of Crawfordsville. It
was something like United Church of Mayberry. There was a kind of unity, to be sure, but hardly the universal unity that Jesus desired when He prayed on the night of the Last Supper (John 17).

These two little churches agreed to avoid their differences. They agreed that the theological differences didn't matter, although their respective denominations obviously disagreed since the larger denominations had never merged.

On a small scale, these two congregations were attempting what the larger denominations couldn't seem to pull off.

By the time my father became the pastor, most people couldn't even remember if their families had been United Methodist or Presbyterian prior to the merge.

Even so, if unity is important... If unity has merit... If unity is preferred... Why settle for a unity of two small parishes in one tiny Iowa town?

The name United Church of Crawfordsville, Iowa points to the greater need for Christian unity even as it reveals a degree of absurdity.

Toggling back and forth between pastors of two denominations...

Well, that's an interesting way to institute unity--but it is not enough.

That little parish may be an icon of unity in that little town, but to those who do not live there - to those who live anywhere else - it has no meaning. Like the RCIA instructor who looked at the documents and read the parish name... nobody else can appreciate their small step toward unity.

And then there is the Catholic Church.

The name Catholic means universal.

Now we're talking unity.

She has one deposit of faith, and She is global.

True unity.

Her priests are all on the same page... studying the same theology... receiving the same Sacrament of Holy Orders...reading the same Divine Office...upholding the same Faith.

No toggles required.

And the laity is united. There are no topics we refuse to talk about fearing they will reveal that we are not really as united as we like to think we are.

This unity is real.

My father loved the little church in Crawfordsville, Iowa. It was making progress in unity in ways that the denominations at large couldn't seem to pull off.

But I have discovered something even better.

We are Catholic.

We are John 17 in living color.

1 comment:

  1. We also have a United Church in a nearby town . . . a merging of Methodist and United Church of Christ.
    The Catholic unity is why I LOVE this Church. Why I love that my children can watch the Pope from Rome and feel unity with the people right there in St. Peter's Square, or simply feel unity with those eating their Filet O' Fish on Fridays during Lent. Love it. :)