A few weeks back, I invited folks to submit some ideas about why they are choosing to live out their faith through in a denominational context [Original WWCDL Post]. Today's is the first repsponse to the question and it comes from Episcopalian, Gideon Addington.  You can also check out some twitter about this or add your own with the hashtag, #wwcdl.  If you would like to submit an entry and/or know someone that would be great feel free to pass their names along to me.

GideonGideon Addington – Episcopal Church
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I’ve been thinking about the question of denomination for some time now. 
This became a bit more acute when I attended an Emergent Church
function in Albuquerque recently as we had such lived examples of
‘non-denominational’ life and such vibrant sense of Church that
extended beyond all of our affiliations.  This led me to seriously
question these ideas of identity that seem to so often reach out and
overwhelm those involved with an oppressive rather than liberating
experience.

But the question of denomination, that is, should it exist, is largely a moot one.  The fact is it does exist and more importantly, will almost certainly always
exist.  Our very nature as humans means we will gather together around
common ideas of theology, opinion, aesthetic and anything else while at
the same time creating an ‘other’ to explain ourselves via negativa
It is unfortunate, but the wide breath of human history would seem to
indicate this is simply how it works.  There are exceptions, but I know
of no human institution that has not calcified to some extent after any
significant lifespan.  This is problematic, to be sure, as these
institutions that are created to protect and foster our communities end
up becoming an idol sitting between us and God.

When witnessing some of these small communities and house churches it is
clear that there is something fundamentally right about this way of
being together.  That these small, dearly intimate, communities are
probably a great deal more what Jesus had in mind than your average
sprawling church with its gift shop, committees, vestry, political
entanglements, and occasional institutional abuses.  In fact, I’m not
sure it is even in question what is probably best for our individual
‘souls’ – these small communities or our bigger churches.  With the
right people it is clear that these little communities can be
beautiful, nurturing environments where we can find the spirit of God
and open our eyes to the Kingdom.

The wrong people can quickly make such communities as bad or worse than the
most egregious abuse of denominational authority.  We must keep this in
mind, always, in these discussions – the institution is only as good as
its people and as a whole we’re a bit of a wreck.  The excesses and
evil of denomination are the excesses and evil of people.  Denomination
is simply what we call a group of people that differentiates itself
enough from other groups of people to be identified uniquely.  There is
no special magic that suddenly makes a denomination something different
than that aside from, perhaps, their own claims!

As to my own denomination, the Episcopal Church, we certainly have our
issues.  We are an exceptionally diverse church in terms of opinion and
doctrine, and even style of worship (‘High’ and ‘Low’).  We are not,
regrettably, particularly diverse racially (though the Anglican
Communion as a whole is) though we have a number of traditionally black
churches in our denomination we are still, largely, a bunch of middle
class white people and with all the baggage that entails.  We are
diverse politically – having the most strident conservatives and
passionate liberals.  It was not too long ago that we were referred to
as “the Republican party at prayer” and that has changed a great deal –
now we’re often perceived as that crazy liberal church with a gay
bishop that seems suspiciously Catholic!

Part of the reason this is the case is that as a church we do not focus much
on doctrine or having the ‘right’ beliefs.  This is, quite frequently,
something that is used against us.   What brings us together is not
shared doctrine, but shared worship.  We are diverse, but we
come together to pray and sing and worship the Lord, we break bread and
share wine and we become a community in Him.  This is something I love
about being an Episcopalian – there is not going to be someone checking
your doctrinal pedigree (most of the time.)  It is becoming more common
to see Episcopal churches with ‘open table’ communion meals – there
being no prerequisite to share communion, the thinking being that this
is the Lord’s Supper, not ours.  I have to admit, I quite like this
line of thinking.  The ‘other’ is quite the hobgoblin amidst the issue
of denomination, and this seems to me a good way of pushing it a bit
further back.

We are often said to be obsessed with beauty.  Our churches are frequently
ornate and look like they have been dropped out of Europe, and we love
that.  Our ‘High’ churches often have all the ‘bells and smells’ and a
service sung or chanted with choirs that sing such songs as to break
your heart.  You will not find any ‘praise and worship’ music in our
churches, and if you did we would all likely leave – we’re terrible
snobs.  And while some of us are simply aesthetes, there is a purpose
to all of this attention to these ornaments – it helps create a sacred
space, a sacred time.  In this beauty, in this alien environment of
beautiful sights and strange smells, we experience the Spirit of God
and find a way to leave the ordinary world behind and come into
communion.  Certainly we should all strive for such mindfulness all the
time, but most of us fall short – in our services we aim for the
sublime and sometimes we reach it.

These are simply two reasons I stay an Episcopalian.  The sublime is
something that is glossed over in so many churches, and doctrine turned
into an idol in so many more but against us we often turn the
achievement of the sublime into an idol and doctrine is almost totally
glossed over.

I don’t agree with how the church has gone about everything.  I get
frustrated when I feel the church is not being fast enough to address
certain issues or callow when it does and at times I am all too aware
of how human the institution is and how far removed we seem from the
itinerant preacher of Galilee we talk about so much.  There are times I
want to run off and join or start a house-church and leave all of this
nonsense behind but I know the music wouldn’t be as good, and more
importantly…

Our denominations, in all their sprawling, terrible excess are able to
reach more people than these house-churches ever could.  And I do not
mean reach in terms of evangelizing (though that, too) but rather these
organizations allow for enormous works of good in the world – charities
whose scope would be far more than a small, independent community could
ever accomplish.  It may feel good to join a small community away from
all the nonsense of denomination, and indeed, the world!  But we are in
the world, and our responsibility lies with our brother and sister.  It
is faulty, and it is fallen, but it is still where we find the presence
of God.

Denominations will never go away, though they may look different or spend a great
deal of time talking about how they are not denominations.  It is true
that we are living in a time of great transition and perhaps we need to
all spend some time and hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

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