I didn’t really know what I was getting into… it all started as an act of participation in the church body. Little did I know, “participating” would lead me to many tears, sleepless nights, frustration that I still carry around, and even considering leaving a church body that I loved so deeply.
I must forewarn whoever is reading this that the story about to unfold on this piece of paper contains a lot of personal and raw emotions, and I’m sure there are many different/opposing perspectives on the whole process of discerning our church denomination. Exactly 6 years later, I am still processing it all, while others may have simply moved on with satisfaction, and even others have joined our body with the gift of ignorance regarding this whole process.
As Mountainside became more and more aware of the necessity of obtaining our own 501C3, instead of continuing to function under that of the other Nazarene church in Monrovia, we started the process of determining what denomination we would affiliate with, if any. It was pretty much a decision between becoming a Nazarene church, and one that was either non-denominational or inter-denominational.
Josh Smith, our pastor, and many others that were the initial founders of the church had come from a Nazarene background. The relationship I sensed that they held with their denomination wasn’t one that I would describe as happy, rather it was more like family, held with a mix of emotions… born into, personal, frustrating, historical, hurtful, hopeful, tolerant, etc. Mountainside Communion had been a safe haven for many of them as they searched to follow God amidst all the baggage that they carried with them (including that brought by participating in the Nazarene denomination).
Of course, there was more to the discussion as others of us didn’t grow up Nazarene, and had many issues with the way that the Nazarene churches, in general, lived out their faith traditions… these included the way they treated women (and others marginalized by society), the way they viewed salvation, the way they perceived children and original sin, the hierarchy often present within the way things were run, and more. There was even a push back at the thought of joining any formal denomination, fitting into a set of regulations and even endorsing them by simply taking on a name and “belonging”. Personally, something that I loved about Mountainside when we first started participating was its openness to a variety of opinions, denominations, and ways of following Christ. I certainly didn’t want this to get lost. I feared that by choosing a denomination, in this case Nazarene, we would become more exclusive (perhaps even unintentionally), and those of us that didn’t already have affiliations with the Nazarene denomination would be alienated. The reality is that this became truth for me even throughout this process. I felt alienated as a minority that didn’t agree with the direction that the majority was taking.
You see, though many engaged in the discussion may have been initially against the whole idea of becoming a Nazarene church, as the process went on most were increasingly feeling like we needed to stick with the Nazarene denomination and belong to something bigger than ourselves. After many discussions of the Nazarene theology, talks about how we were feeling, visiting other Nazarene churches, more talks about how we were feeling, personal meetings to discuss any discomforts we had, and even more talks about how we were feeling, we were all asked to choose a number. You were a 1 if you fully supported the decision to become Nazarene, a 2 if you supported with a few reservations, a 3 if you were hesitant but would step aside and let the rest of the group decide, and a 4 if you disagreed. Rob and I were 4s from the very beginning. We were joined by just two others that didn’t agree amidst several dozen people that were involved in the discussions. Talks were heated, deep, difficult, and frustrating for many of us. Because the process was one of consensus and we couldn’t move on if there were number 4s, it felt like it was the job of the majority to convince those of us that disagreed to either agree or step aside. I felt like there was a sense that not only was I letting the group down by disagreeing with the decision being made, but that others thought that I was disregarding our leader, being difficult to “deal with”, and disrupting what could have been a much easier process had I not chosen to engage.
In an effort to lighten the mood one evening, Rob and I even busted out his basketball jerseys from high school that carried a big 4 on the back (see the mountainside picture book from the 5th anniversary J). I loved the people in that room so deeply, and yet I felt so alienated by my opinions, my choices, and my beliefs. How was a majority feeling “called” to join the Nazarene denomination and I certainly wasn’t feeling that call. Was I deaf to what God was saying? Was I meant to push back? It was a lonely journey. In an effort for our church to belong to something bigger, I was already feeling like I didn’t belong, like I couldn’t belong unless I became someone different.
As I started to feel more and more overwhelmed, Ben (self-labeled as a #4), Sam (the other #4), and Craig (a #1 or 2) spent hours drafting a document that would help those of us that didn’t fit in, somehow make it work. At that point, I just wanted the process to be over with. I read the thoughtful document over before it was presented to the group, but I felt no more energy to engage. I had sat down with Rob multiple times to talk about whether or not we should just leave Mountainside. Had we left, it wouldn’t have been so much about becoming Nazarene, as it would have been about not feeling like I could be myself and remain a 4 in this body.
It still is very difficult to explain, and it still carries a lot of emotion when I think about this specific process, especially given the fact that we agreed to revisit the document and evaluate how things were going after a year or two, but to my knowledge we have not formally done so yet (although I must acknowledge that this discussion may have happened in leadership since I have not been attending over the past couple years). Either way, the decision was made, and Mountainside Communion is being shaped and is shaping the Nazarene denomination. God is still moving in and among us regardless, and we are still all figuring it out. Do not mistake this as a happy ending, rather please continue to journey with me in my uncomfortability, as a #4, willing to still engage and participate in my church body, what is formally a Nazarene church, Mountainside Communion.