A Communion of Disagreement
I am so excited to share the guest post below with you. It comes from Rev. Jeff Eddings, a colleague in ministry who I deeply admire. Jeff is the pastor of Hot Metal Bridge, a faith community that is diverse in so many ways and is inspiring young people to join at rates far beyond what we are seeing across the PCUSA. There is so much wisdom in the words Jeff shares below and so much we can learn from Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community.
Please read and share and let me know if you have a story from your own church that you’d like to share!
A Communion of Disagreement
By Reverend Jeff Eddings, Pastor of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community
At this time in the history of the church, our denominations reflect a tension of disagreement. Churches and individuals hold a wide variety of understandings over issues and this is dividing the church.
As we debate and even split over these questions, we need to ask ourselves whether there is another way – a way to be in a communion of disagreement.
Recently, the church that I serve – Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community – received an email with the following questions:
1. What is Hot Metal’s stance on the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture?
2. What is Hot Metal’s stance on gay and lesbian pastors?
3. Is the Bible the ultimate and final authority in our lives while here on earth?
I am sure there are pastors that would receive this email and be able to fire off a quick and sure response to each question. For my congregation however the answers are not so simple.
Let me share what I mean by this. Our church recently took The US Congregational Life Survey. One of the questions on the survey was “Which of the following terms best describes your current stand on theological issues?”
The result for Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community was:
2% Very Conservative.
27% Right in the middle.
10% Very Liberal.
Another question was, “which statement comes closest to your view of the Bible?”
The top answers for members of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community were:
37% The Bible is the word of God to be interpreted in light of its historical context and the Church’s teachings.
38% The Bible is the word of God to be interpreted in the light of its historical context.
12% The Bible is the word of God, to be taken literally word for word.
7% the Bible is not the word of God but contains God’s word to us.
Based on this, what is our answer to the questions of our concerned enquirer? What is our stance? The answer is that it will depend on whom you ask. Everyone from our ordained Elders to our Sunday morning visitors may give a wide range of answers on any number of questions. And this diversity of opinion isn’t just present in our community here in Pittsburgh, it reflects the larger Christian community around the world.
So then, why are all the questions we ask of each other based on how we read the Bible or what we believe instead of who we are, whose we are, who are we loving and how are we loving?
Twice a week our church has a community meal called the Table. Anybody can come and we get a huge variety of people – from homeless friends, to seniors in the neighborhood, to families from our congregation. Together, we all share a meal and significant communion. It is a meal for anyone and everyone – including those who don’t always fit in.
Jack, a 75-year-old member of the community, has been overseeing The Table for the last two years. Under his care, the meal has grown from one evening to two and serves between 150 and 200 people each week.
Jack has been with his partner, Larry, for 35 years. If you talk with Jack he will tell you that two things have saved his life at different times. He will tell you that Larry saved his life because before they met, Jack was headed on a course for destruction. Larry helped him avoid that. He will also tell you that Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community saved his life because three years ago, before he came, he felt simply ready to die. Purpose and meaning had left him. He felt adrift. When he came to our community, he immediately began to participate in service. He volunteered in the kitchen, gave rides to people in need, and even took people into his home who had no place to live.
Jack will tell you that he was saved by our church not because of any stance we have on gay and lesbian inclusion, social justice, or the Bible, but because of the love he experienced and the opportunity he had to use his gifts to serve and love others. He was saved because he experienced communion with God through his communion with others in our church.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision or uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” – Galatians 5:6
While the people in our church have varied understandings of faith, life, scripture, and theology and disagree about many things, we are liked-minded when it comes to what we value.
When asked what aspect of the congregation our members valued most, the top three answers were:
1. Sharing in Holy Communion.
2. Wider community care and social justice emphasis.
3. Practical care for one another in times of need.
In other words, we value how we see our community loving God and loving others. We value the communion of the saints over the agreement of the saints. I expect that these values also reflect the larger church and denomination.
So then, what matters more? Our stance? Or our faith worked out in love? Our position on an issue? Or the transformation that comes in communion with God?
So how did I respond to that original email? I invited that person to come and do life with us for a while, rather than just try to figure us out from afar. Come and meet the people of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community. Do communion with us, share in ministry with us, love others with us. I believe that if they follow this advice, they may find there are those who have similar views as theirs. They may find there are those who have very different views from theirs. They may be surprised to see Jesus in both and, if they allow, they may experience a communion with God that goes much deeper than just what we can agree upon.
For the larger church, I encourage us to reflect on this, too. Because, at the end of the day, is the Holy Spirit about giving us all the right answers? Or is the Holy Spirit about helping us experience communion with one another, even when we disagree?
This video is an introduction to Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community that was used to help raise funds to renovate a bar into a church space.