My writing group friend ,who is also a pastor, asserted this morning that people don’t come to church because of doctrine. “If you stood outside the doors of the church on Sunday morning and asked people if they believed what they had just heard, if they were honest they, would say, “No.”
I found that astounding. She went on the say that most people aren’t interested in doctrine. They come because it is a place of welcome, a place they belong, where they have a sense of family. My daughter responded that she doesn’t go to a church because of doctrine but there are churches she won’t go to because of doctrine.
One would think then that being a non-doctrinal church would be easier to establish among the young, but the truth is it takes a certain amount of spiritual maturity, a certain amount of personal history that challenges everything you thought were certainties.
When Circle of Grace started I insisted that we be non-doctrinal. It’s easier said than done because one of the first things someone asks of a church is, “What do you believe?”. Our covenant is one not based on belief but on relationship. We wrestle with the questions, “How do we relate to Godde?” and “How do we relate to one another and to the created world.” In 1993 we wrote our covenant:
We, the Circle of Grace Community Church, as Christians, covenant with Godde and with one another to:
– Live with compassion and seek justice
– Continually discern that to which Godde calls us
– Build spiritual community that is inclusive of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, culture, age, and religious backgrounds.
– Provide safe haven
– Worship together using language about Godde and humanity that is inclusive.
– Live in right relationship with Godde and one another
– Speak truth to power
Our covenant is a pointer and directional marker, challenging us to a different kind of faithfulness and a beacon in the wilderness times. And, yes, it was hard making space for passionately pro-life and pro-choice people, for those who needed substitutionary atonement and those who found the crucifixion to be a judgment on humanity. We even discussed whether or not to put “as Christians” in our covenant because of what people assume it means when you say that. But we ended up saying we were reclaiming the word in the same way lesbians reclaimed the word “dyke”. We would define what it means to be a Christian and, for us, we could agree it meant to follow in the Way of Jesus.
The beauty and the challenge of herding non-doctrinal cats is how much we can learn from one another. I confess that, as a pastor, I was often filled with anxiety. The question uppermost in my mind was, “How can we make room for one another?” – though, truthfully, sometime it was, “Will everyone be able to tolerate this?’. It’s different when you say out loud that a church is non-doctrinal than it is silently living with the reality of it.
I like to think it is some of the important work we do, re-imagining what spiritual community can be in all its unsettled and unsettling differences, making expansive statements that call us to live into a way of being, every gathering and worship service an exercise in herding non-doctrinal cats. Circle of Grace’s commitment and experience is a necessary beacon of a different possibility, a different way of being in the world while still being authentic.
As the world churns with uncertainty and fear for the future, it is seductive to reach for doctrines that give us absolute sureties . But doing that only perpetuates the current miasma. We need a different vision of how to live in the world with all our differences.
Our world desperately needs to become a herd of non-doctrinal cats who choose to make home together.