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Disheveled Theologian: An ecumenical epiphany

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I attended a community-wide Seder dinner at the local Episcopal Church. A Seder service is a celebration of the Jewish Passover, only in this context it was led by someone from Jews for Jesus, meaning that it was most definitely a Christian celebration of the Passover Seder as opposed to a typical Jewish celebration.

It was fascinating to me, learning the meaning behind the meal, but even more than the Seder itself, something else stayed with me all these years. Something I have thought of over and over in the past few weeks. Yes, the Seder service was special, but even more memorable was the “ecumenicalness,” if you will, of the event.

For one thing, I don’t think I’d ever been in the basement of the Episcopal Church before in my life, and I’d lived there since I was 8 months old. We just never did things together, our two churches, and, as they were the only two churches on the island with buildings, there weren’t any other churches to visit either. So that in and of itself was an event.

But even more notable than that was the simple act of introducing ourselves. At the end of the Seder, the person leading the service asked us to go around the U-shaped table, to introduce ourselves, and to say which church we attended. We dutifully obeyed.

“I’m so-and-so and I go to the Community Church” (there weren’t very many from my church there, as I recall). “I’m so-and-so and I go to the Episcopal Church … the Lutheran church … the Catholic Church” (both of which met in the Episcopal Church building at separate times).

My mother was the last one at the table, I was right beside her, and a lady who was new to the island was right beside me. When the introductions reached her, this lady — I don’t remember her name at all — said, “I’m so-and-so and I’m a Christian.”

The room was silent for a moment. Stunned. Then there was awkward laughter. Nodding heads. Some whispered words. Then it was my turn.

I had no idea what to say.

Do I say, “I’m Gretchen and I’m a Christian” and sound like a copycat? Do I say, “I’m Gretchen and I go to the Community Church” and sound like I’m censoring the lady beside me?

I don’t remember what I chose. What I do remember is the impact of her words upon my 12 year-old self.

For the first time in my life I realized that it wasn’t the church we went to that mattered nearly as much as whether or not we followed God. Whether or not we loved Jesus.

The Women Seeking God: CREATE conference this weekend felt like a culmination of that moment so many years ago. I loved having women from all different churches in our area worshipping God together. It was a memorable and wonderful time.

Yes, I love the church I attend on a weekly basis, but having attended many different denominations in my life, I choose to embrace my table-neighbor’s words from that evening so long ago:

I’m Gretchen and I’m a Christian.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy…Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers...”1 Peter 2:9,10, 17

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.

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