Thoughts on a Richard Beck post

Richard Beck, who as a writer and theologian, is unparallelled among the Churches of Christ today, pens this defense of Rachel Held Evans’ recent article Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.

Later, Beck tackles a question he and Rachel (and those like them) often hear.

Rachel gets dinged a lot for not just moving over to the mainline. Why not just become an Episcopalian? That’s a good question, and I can’t answer it for Rachel. But growing up in a low-church, fundamentalist tradition I know what it’s like to be spiritually formed in a certain way. This isn’t a news flash, but it’s just different going to my church compared to going to a mainline church. To be clear, I love mainline churches and Catholic churches, especially during Advent and Lent. But the preaching is very different. So are the bible classes. And, if you are Church of Christ like me, where’s the four-part harmony and can someone shut off that damn organ? And finally, confession time, I can only take so much high-church liturgy. Sort of like how I can’t sit through five acts of Hamlet. Plus, Jana has strong allergic reactions to incense. So there’s that.

Though I am not home-sick for the denomination in which I was raised, I am still sympathetic with Beck’s thoughts here. Leaving the church I attended for over 20 years with my parents, siblings, grandparents (on both sides), aunts, uncles, cousins and many, many friends was, you might imagine, difficult. Fortunately, when a friend – knowing my situation and background – suggested that I might appreciate the historic liturgy of the Church and invited me to attend the Great Vigil of Easter at Christ Church Cathedral, there were a couple of strong connections (believe it or not) that I could latch onto as I navigated between my spiritual formation as a child and this new home God was making for me in the Anglican tradition. First and foremost of these connections was the central place of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. Though the theological understanding of what is actually happening at the Lord’s Table is very different, the two traditions agree that the Lord’s Supper is a very big deal and should be shared often. Likewise, Baptism holds a similar place – different understanding of what exactly is happening (though not as different as either side my believe) but agreement in the centrality and importance of this Sacrament.

There is one aspect of my childhood spiritual formation that, from time to time, I find myself missing – a capella congregational singing. Unlike Richard Beck, I do not wish for the damn organ to be shut off; I’ve become very fond of the vast musical tradition in which I participate now. But. Every now and then a wave of nostalgia or something like it washes over me and find myself trying to strip away the great singers and the rumbling of those great big organ pipes and hear the simple, rough and unpolished four-part harmony of my youth.

About a year ago, to satisfy this itch, I clandestinely tried to attend a large singing at my former church home. This visit would be the first time I had set foot through those doors in seven years. My experienced was mixed. I had forgotten how frankly bad some of the hymns were. I made list of hymns I would be glad to never hear again. (Maybe that’s a future blog post. Here’s a hint: if it was written after 1870, it is probably trash.) Still, that rough and earnest quality of regular people singing to their God touched me and I was glad to join in when I could. I didn’t stay long; I wanted to be sure to avoid any face to face time with those directly involved in my departure several years ago. Maybe there are others out there who have moved away from the CoC denomination but who’d still like to participate in this style of singing? We could start an ex-Church of Christ singing group! Who’s in?

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