I have been in local church ministry since 1985, and I have had privilege of call in the United Church of Christ for five years, and three years ago I was called as Director of Online Learning and Coaching for the Center for Progressive Renewal. On a recent Sunday, though, I was asked for the first time to fill the pulpit of a UCC congregation and bring the sermon.
I am part of a new trend within the UCC. I come to ministry through the multiple paths door. I was ordained in 1987 by the Free Methodist Church of North America, a denomination I served for 15 years as a local church pastor, a church planter, and a conference-level executive. Under their umbrella, I also served six more years as the executive pastor in a United Methodist Church that featured contemporary worship. I did not have a seminary degree when I was ordained in the Free Methodist Church. I do not have a Master of Divinity degree now. Only seven years ago, I graduated with a master’s degree in Christian ministry from Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. I came to the UCC in large part because I went through a divorce and saw the gyrations that my denomination and others like it make to try to justify divorce for their clergy and, at the same time, close doors to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters. The UCC’s extravagant welcome attracted and welcomed me.
I come to the UCC out of a “free church,” low liturgy, holiness, contemporary evangelical, emergent church background. In my theology, for most of my ministry past, you did not wear robes, vestments, or even stoles. So, when Michael and Cameron asked me to preach at Virginia-Highland Church, I had to ask, “What should I wear?”
A stole was the one piece of clerical garb that seemed appropriate for me. It symbolized taking the “yoke” of Christ’s teachings. I am still open to the idea of robe and vestments, but I remain convinced that, as the mainline church in North America emerges in this post-Christendom era, the differentiation between “clergy” and “lay” is narrowing. Perhaps it’s time to think further about the practices that reinforce separation, like “what to wear.”
by Gregg Carlson
Director of Online Learning
Center for Progressive Renewal