Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The "not quite dead" church, or new names for "mainline"

Thanks to my Twitter feed today I got directed to a conversation on the subject of the "mainline" church, or more precisely what to call said informal branch of American Protestantism.  The discussion was touched off by a blog post by Carol Howard Merritt, on the outdatedness of the term (apparently derived from a railroad line in Philadelphia backintheday) and its general inaccuracy at describing those denominations and their influences historically and currently.  The tweet that lured me into the subject was an article on Religion News Service by Cathy Lynn Grossman, taking up the question of renaming, if such a thing was even possible, and offering up suggested names from others (some serious, some humorous, some hostile).

What follows is thoroughly tongue in cheek.  After the junk I sat through today, even bailing after an hour, I need some humor even if it is of the self-generated variety.  And yet, there might be grains of truth in the humor, hopefully.  Forthwith, my own jesteresque nominations for new names for the "mainline" church.

*Progressive Church -- Yeah, that's a loaded term, implying that other churches are backward and regressive.  Still, there's something to be said for declaring yourself as forward-looking and not trapped in the past that wasn't nearly as glorious as we sometimes think it was.

*Clerical-Collar Church -- In honor of the tendency of (some, not all) ministers in these denominations to be identifiable by what they're wearing, whether the telltale collar (admittedly, not all do this, or not consistently) or by the vestments of various varieties found in pulpits here and there.  It seems fair: it's a kind of early-warning system for those who otherwise might get ambushed by the cool-kid megachurch types who strut around in jeans and cool t-shirts only to ambush you with God-talk.  You approach the person with the collar, you know what you're getting into.

*Liberated Church -- A spin on one of Merritt's preferences, Liberationist Church, but (to my taste) placing the credit not on the church but on the One who sets us free.  Maybe this isn't so tongue-in-cheek as others unless some hoary old "women's lib" punchlines get dragged out of the attic.

*The Faithful Remnant Church -- While other branches of the faith go off on wild goose chases and popularity-seeking experiments (and while some churches in those denominations can't wait to bail out), The Faithful Remnant remains, well, faithful or something like that.  Own your smallness!

*The "Not Quite Dead" Church -- My personal favorite.  Devotees of Monty Python and the Holy Grail will get the reference possibly.  No, not the "bring out your dead" sequence, but later, when Launcelot believes his trusty squire Concord mortally wounded.  Certainly the mainline denominations have been pronounced mortally wounded a time or two (sometimes with sorrow, sometimes with glee to be honest -- and often by our own as much as those of other persuasions).  Yet, like Eric Idle's character in the first 1:20 or so of this clip, even an arrow smack in the chest/gut doesn't seem to have finished us off just yet.  Hey, miracles do happen, right?  Eventually, Concord's going to have to get up and walk, though.  The "sitting around with an arrow in its chest church" doesn't really work.

*The Refuge Church -- Not very funny, but it is largely what the tradition has been for me.

*The Humbled Church -- Yeah, we had the power and influence, and to a large degree squandered it on Sunday blue laws and tall pointy steeples.  We tiptoed into the civil rights movement, sometimes kicking and screaming, and paid for it to some degree.  Our pride has been taken down more than a peg or two.  Own it.

*The "Friend Zone" Church -- When you've had your flings with the cool kids, the ones with the fancy buildings and snappy dressers and all that, and it has left you high and dry, the one who really cared for you most of all will still be there waiting.  Maybe not all that handsome/beautiful, but we'll be faithful and love you.  (This of course puts a major burden on mainline churches to live up to such a claim, but then we should be doing that anyway, right?)

OK, enough flailing attempts at humor.  I wonder if the discussion is only partly about rebranding, and much more about vision.  What do such churches, in their beat-up and kicked-around state, have to offer?  What is our hope?  These are not bad questions to ask, even if Eric Idle as Concord never becomes the mainline church's role model.

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