I have been eager to find a job as a pastor and frustrated at my lack of luck. It seems somewhat ironic that I currently find myself working for two different churches. I am an employee of a Church of the Brethren congregation and a Catholic Diocese. I was at a board meeting tonight representing the Brethren yet when they pointed out the Catholic representative was not around I felt responsible.
When I was in CPE I was challenged for speaking as an insider of the Catholic Church. Indeed, I was a Catholic from birth. Yet, by that time I had already been gone from the Catholic Church for several years. I found it frustrating to move from being perceived as an insider critiquing the Catholic Church to being perceived as an outsider throwing stones. I felt chastened by the stern talking to I got from my supervisor and the complaints from the young priest candidate in my CPE cohort.
More recently, someone pointed out to me that no one can take my history away from me. I may choose no longer to be a Catholic, but the years that I spent as a member of the Catholic Church are part of my experience. At the same time, I want to be taken seriously as a part of the Church of the Brethren and, no matter how much knowledge I accumulate, I will never be Church of the Brethren by blood. My identity as someone who stands between these worlds gives me a rare perspective. While there are some things I cannot see because of my position, there are other things that I see that others cannot.
Protestants claim to hold Scripture as their highest authority and yet Catholics almost always have more Scripture in their worship. Catholics are said to have more emphasis on hierarchy and indeed priests have more ceremonial authority than their Protestant counterparts, but homilies given by Catholic priests rarely last as long as sermons given by Protestant pastors. Protestants explicitly believe that the laity has spiritual power in a way that Catholics do not believe, but there are plenty of Protestant congregations where the laity are less involved than in a Catholic Parish. Catholics are highly unlikely to worry that liturgy is not what God wants or too much tradition, but even low church Protestants with supposedly great freedom in planning worship services rarely take advantage of all of the sorts of liturgy with which they could experiment.
More to the point, as a convert there are Brethren ideals I hold close to my heart and signs of hope I do not want to let go. Brethren explicitly stand for peace, so it should not be the case that Catholics who have not made peace such a central stance are more clearly on the side of peace. Brethren officially allow women to be ordained, but while it is a sign of hope in my mind the conviction among Brethren on this issue is just not there. Early on Brethren turned to scholarship to learn more about early Christians. Yet, where is our readiness today to invoke that history in favor of reading today’s best scholarship on who Jesus was?