Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho and blogs here. When she’s not drinking pina coladas or being caught in the rain, she’s likely to be driving a soccer carpool while drinking lots of espresso.
Participating in the Grace
I’ve been thinking about pluralism a little differently ever since I moved to Idaho and became the pastor of a congregation. We moved to Boise from Atlanta, GA where pluralism is visible. You see it in the different skin colors walking down the street, in the different houses of worship that dot the city, and when you walk through the Farmer’s Market and hear the many languages spoken.
Pluralism hides in Idaho. Most people are white. Most people are conservative, which I mean not only in the political sense, but also in the lifestyle sense. People conform to traditional ways.
But I’ve been confronted with pluralism in two different ways. The first is watching the congregation I serve address the idea of evangelism. We want to be a welcoming place. We have a neighborhood surrounding our church and we want the neighbors to feel invited to join us. But the reality is that not everyone in town will feel comfortable in our congregation. To get the obvious out of the way, I am a woman. There are other female clergy in town, but many people still can’t quite imagine having a female pastor. Also, we are fairly progressive, relatively speaking, and seek to be inclusive and affirming. For many people in Boise, that is incompatible with Christianity.
So, while we want to reach out to the neighborhood and we want to be a welcoming community, I am thankful for pluralism in a new way. I am thankful that our church does not have to be all things for all people. I have found great comfort in knowing that God has made us all differently.
It is also freeing to realize that we are not in competition with other churches. A conversation I had with one man, who visited our church a few months back, is illustrative of this.
Visitor: Why should I leave my church and come to yours?
Me: If you feel at home in your church, then I don’t think you should leave your church to come to this one.
Visitor: Don’t you want to recruit me to join your church?
Me: Not if you have been called to be a part of another congregation.
Visitor: I thought churches wanted to grow?
Me: We do, but not by taking people from other congregations.
And if this visitor were happy in our sister congregation, where they preach literal interpretation of scripture and a version of the “prosperity” gospel, I suspect he would not likely be happy with us.
So, as the pastor of a progressive Presbyterian congregation in Boise, pluralism allows me to “bloom where I have been planted”, to minister in the midst of these particular people, trusting that God has called other people to minister to other people.
The second way I’ve experienced pluralism in Idaho is by my interaction with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). About one third of Idaho is Mormon. That percentage is slightly smaller in Boise, but our church is just a few blocks from the Boise Temple. There are members of our congregation who used to be LDS. There are members of our church whose spouses and/or children are LDS. Sometimes the families worship together in one faith community or the other. But most often, they worship separately. And there are some LDS people who sing in our choir each week and regularly worship with us. Recently, an LDS man has arranged “Ave Maria” for me to play on the cello (Catholic music arranged by a Mormon for a Presbyterian cellist—how’s that for plurality?).
But pluralism with the LDS is multivalent. For some people, it is ecumenism. They are just another flavor of Christianity. For most people, however, including the PCUSA, it is interfaith dialogue (See this article for more information).
I’ve presided over memorial services where the deceased was Presbyterian, but the majority of the surviving family was LDS. I conduct a Presbyterian service that seeks to be welcoming for the family members, remembering that pastoral care trumps (and informs) theological principles. But since women are excluded from leadership in the LDS, it must be a challenge for the family as well, to have a woman leading their family member’s service, disconnected from their own traditions.
As I think about plurality, I am reminded of Marilynne Robinson’s brilliant line from my favorite book, Gilead:
“When you encounter another person… it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, ‘What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?’… But if you think, as it were, ‘This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, … the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me,’ you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights” (pg 124).
I hope and pray that ‘participating in the grace that has saved me’ will inform and guide my encounters in pluralism, allowing me to trust that God has called me to be who I am and may have called someone else to encounter God differently.