Written by David J. Holden
January - February 2001
"My pastor has a saying: ‘The quickest way to Hell is through the denominations. The quickest way to heaven is though the local church.'" I heard these words, shared between two of my potential "brothers," not 15 minutes after touching down, as we rode the shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel where we would attend the National Coalition of Men's Ministries [NCMM's] Conference in Atlanta last fall.
As I am the UCC's newly appointed Minister for Men's and Adult's Ministries, you might imagine how that comment felt to me. Yet it is exactly because of such misconceptions, theirs and mine, that it seemed important that I attend this gathering.
In the midst of Promise Keepers and other [broadly speaking] fundamentalist and evangelical men, I went to listen and to learn. But I also went to testify and teach that within the Body of Christ there exist many kinds of men—seeking, speaking of, and living out their Christian faith in many ways. Some of us are grounded in Biblical literalism and social conservatism. Others are based in more progressive interpretations of scripture and society.
Whatever our differences, one notion bound us together: that it is, indeed, good and pleasant when brothers dwell together in unity. Granted that diversity tests such unity, nonetheless many attendees voiced the hope that our Faith was bigger than our faiths. Nowhere did this seem more powerfully possible than during worship, when men from across the spectrum of race, class, denomination and tradition stood arm-in-arm, singing, praying and praising God.
Which brings me to my return shuttle trip to the airport. Feeling exhausted and, paradoxically, energized, I sat across from Dan Erickson, Executive Director of the NCMM. Knowing that I might have been challenged, even unsettled, by the weekend, he asked me how I felt. I indicated that I had heard some preaching and doctrine with which I could never agree. But I also conceded that I had made some good connections with individuals, and had found some resources and methods that I could adapt and use in my work.
Having heard me out, he left me with an encouraging word and an invitation. "Brother," he said, "I'm glad you came. Let's talk some more. We're going to be friends."
In contrast with how things began, can you imagine how that felt?
The Rev. David J. Holden is Minister for Adults and Men's Ministries in the UCC's Local Church Ministries.