A movement, not an institution…
I am a person who lives in the questions. No, really, I mean, I question everything. I question the use of the most simple words, words that we use every day and assume that everyone with whom we speak them understands. I question everything.
This state of being is partly the result of the work I did to put my life back together after my divorce, partly the result of a lifelong inquisitiveness that drove my parents to distraction and has caused me to spend more years of my life enrolled in some sort of educational program than, well, is at all natural by the standards of our society.
Right now I am sitting with a number of what are, for me, deeply fundamental questions. These questions and what I decide to believe about my answers to them will help decide the next steps in my life and probably define the remainder of my days. Maybe. Maybe not. We will have to see about that particular question.
For now, my deliberations and questioning keep focusing over and over again on the words of Mahan Siler from the closing worship at the Alliance of Baptists 28th Annual Festival Gathering last Sunday. I don’t often take notes during a sermon, but I took many while he spoke, and the words which will not leave meare the ones that Rev. Siler used to describe the 28 years of Alliance history. The
Alliance, he said, has existed as it began — as a movement, not as an institution, a leader-full movement in which the gifts of all are welcome. It was formed, and continues to live, as a covenant-based movement, a movement built on and nurtured through relationship and partnership, because, ultimately, all life and all faith-life is based in relationship.
Rev. Siler gave me a set of eloquent words to describe the very thing for which I crave. You see, some of the words I’m grappling with right now are words like “church” and “community”, because lately I have come to believe that even the most loving and progressive among us do not often grasp that, when we use those words, even with the best of intention, we have still created a situation in which there is an “us” and a “them”, some inside the circle and some outside. And, if we tie those words to a physical institution, we begin to think of them as a thing to be maintained and experienced rather than a way of life to be lived. I do not know where my current questions will lead me, but after last weekend, I have faith that I am not alone in my quest for answers.
And by his words I was reminded of this: how often we forget that the earliest name for the followers of the teachings of Jesus was not the building down the block on the corner but the Way. From the origins of our faith, we have been a movement, not an institution. Thank you, Rev. Siler, for helping me remember that. Thank you, Alliance of Baptists, for doing everything that you can to live into your identity as a movement devoted to growing in faith and living in justice through relationship and partnership, with individuals and with organizations.