I was somewhat hesitant to accept the invitation to participate in a clergy conference in Minneapolis last weekend. It was sponsored by the Plymouth Center for Progressive Christian Faith.
The gathering was called ‘Emerging Leaders Conference.’ It was a gathering of fifteen seminarians, or those in a start-up ministry, the ‘emerging progressive Christian leaders,’ and fifteen mentors – those of us who have been seasoned by experience.
Participants were asked to read a book titled, What Does a Progressive Christian Believe? and subtitled, ‘A Guide for Searching, the Open and the Curious,’ by Delwin Brown, who was one of my colleague mentors for the weekend.
After reading the first half of the book I called Jim Gertmenian, a dear friend, colleague and former minister of Norfield Congregational Church in Weston, who had invited me to participate, and told him I wasn’t sure I fit the description of ‘progressive Christian.’ He assured me that I am, so I got over my hesitation. I’m glad I did. I’ll tell you why:
I was asked to conduct a workshop titled ‘Healing Congregational Division,’ and encouraged to share as much poetry as I wished! I used it sparingly, but they expressed appreciation.
I won’t try to summarize ‘what a progressive Christian believes,’ but I’ll give you a flavor, with a few lines directly from Del’s book: “A progressive Christian movement, if it is to be more than a fad, must be resolutely theological as well as active in the pursuit of justice.’
“God is viewed as incarnate…belief in a God who is fully in and with the world. Love is the fundamental character of God…intimately connected to the world…an appropriate sense of mystery…who we are to be as human beings and what we are to do are inextricably connected..” He talked about the mythology and poetry of the Bible.
I reminded the group that 19th century Unitarian ministers, William Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker were ‘progressive Christians,’ saying things very similar to what Del wrote in his book.
At our closing session I expressed appreciation for the weekend, for feeling embraced by my Christian friends and allowing me to get back in touch with my Christian roots. I reminded them of the old saying: “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I experience and I understand.”
For me, the experience was very moving…valuable. I was relieved that I ‘fit in,’ that I was accepted, since I don’t think of myself as exclusively Christian, but I was also taken by surprise at the extent to which I felt nurtured and inspired.
I was reminded how much I appreciate you – the permission you give for me to be myself and to share that self honestly and openly. I hope the connection to Thanksgiving is clear.