It was an interesting moment last week to have headlines involving Christian creeds and statements of faith. When’s the last time that happened? And, to witness various media outlets and late night talk show hosts struggle with what exactly a creed is—a prayer, perhaps? A strange, Christian ritual?
The occasion was the funeral for George H. W. Bush. There they all were in the front pew: all of the living former Presidents of the United States, along with their spouses, and the current President and his spouse. At some point in the proceedings, the service included the reciting (or reading, since it was printed in the program) of the Apostles’ Creed, the most ancient of Christian statements of faith.
One could clearly see that all of the former Presidents, and their spouses, read/declared that statement of faith and belief, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . . “
The current President, and his wife, stood silent, the program for the service closed, held down by the President’s lap.
Critics were quick to point this out. The President is clearly popular with evangelical Christians. Shouldn’t this be a big deal for them? How can a President who claims such a kinship with the Christian Right not even make the smallest effort to recite one of Christianity’s oldest and most well known creeds?
Evangelicals were quick to push back, somehow likening the reciting of the creed to singing a hymn—maybe the President doesn’t have a good singing voice? Maybe he’s uncomfortable singing in public? Even though the Creed is not sung. And other evangelical leaders defended the President in other ways, like pointing out that he likely has a lot on his mind.
I cannot, in good conscience, defend the current President, but I don’t recite creeds either and I don’t include them any longer in worship services at Old South. Given the scowl on the President’s face during that moment at the funeral, I don’t think the President shares my creedal concerns. It’s also clear that, though he remains popular with the Christian Right, he seems to have little to no appreciation for the teachings Jesus offered on caring for the widow and orphaned, welcoming the stranger and loving one’s neighbor. I cannot defend him.
Still, at Old South, we no longer include creeds and statements of faith in worship, or in any other church gathering.
When I began serving at Old South in 2005, there was a tradition of reciting a creed or statement of faith on the first Sunday of each month, when we celebrate the sacrament of communion. For a while, I continued this tradition—until I just couldn’t do it any longer.
Old South is made up of a wide range of people, of varying attachments to Christian faith and practice. Creeds are simply no longer the true communal statement they once were. Now, they seem like a sort of test, where we figure out who’s really in, and who’s out.
And, that just doesn’t fit in—in any way, shape or form—to how I feel called to practice church in these times. We are not about tests. We are about invitation and welcome, about gathering together amid our questions and doubts, our occasional assurances, and our sense that we are mysteriously drawn together to be God’s people, whatever that might mean.
This fall, I offered opportunities for the people of Old South to share a brief glimpse into their story, their life of faith, during our weekly Sunday worship. A few weeks ago, a woman got up to tell us a bit about her story. Her parents are both UCC pastors. As a child and youth, she attended church regularly. Yet, it just didn’t speak to her in a meaningful way. She drifted away from church involvement.
When she moved to Hallowell, there was something that inspired her to try church again. She’s been an active member of Old South ever since.
In the story she shared in worship, she declared that she’s not sure what she believes or why she felt motivated to come back to church. But, the welcoming statement of the United Church of Christ, “No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here,” spoke to her in a deep way. She may not be able to articulate a set of beliefs, but she feels it’s important to be in the midst of a community of faith. She feels drawn in to the mystery of God’s presence and the gathering of God’s people.
And, this is part of what brings powerful meaning to our community. We are not about firm declaration of faith statements, but instead, we gather around something that we can hardly articulate: a sense of finding God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, strangely, yet fervently, compelling. No test for admittance. No prescribed answers to life’s and faith’s most complicated and difficult questions. Instead, we offer welcome and invitation, to walk this journey of life and faith together, and to seek to share the love of God.