Shekinah Glory

The Occupy Movement and the Church
October 22, 2011, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have been now been participating in the Occupy DC movement for 19 days. I thought that it was time to put onto a blog a few of my reflections over that time. It has perhaps been the most important and seminal part of my ministry thus far. I’ve participated in conversations with people of no faith and with those of a variety of views of God during my tenure here in McPherson Square. We have had the Jewish, Muslim, Franciscan, Unitarian, Quaker, AME, Wesley Seminary, Presbyterian, evangelical prayer groups, seekers, TM and occult support. In each and every spiritual conversation I have attempted to humble myself and listen to not only their economic, but spiritual concerns during this time.

We have had conversations comparing the sharing of resources to the feeding of the five thousand, about those who have been kicked out of their church for asking too many questions, to those who feel that God is in nothing, a great lesson on Sodom’s sin of “What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours”, a prayer vigil for those killed in Rome, a conversation over my head of God being in quantum physics, to an individual concern about cancer. In between I have shared in this community’s concerns, fears and joy. There has been an unspeakable amount of joy and acceptance of difference under non-violent guidelines of respect. This has been striking and transformative. I have no doubt that whatever happens to these Occupiers they will be changed by their experiences here in the park.

It is not all idealism and utopia. This community has had many struggles to keep its consensus form of community intact. There have been many debates at General Assembly and online about the future and actions of this community. It is my prayer that their community guidelines always keep them practically and relationally grounded.

So, what is the church’s role in this national and international movement? I have not been surprised that the cruise ship called the church is finding it difficult to steer in a direction that is helpful in this time of crisis for our nation. We are still fighting factional and to a large extent geographical fights over process and social issues that have sociologically passed us by. The questions of representation in the church are questions of if and in these movements they are questions of how. How do we include Tea party people, how do we show concern for our GLBTQ friends, how do we let the people south of Anacostia know that they are welcome, how do we make sure our language is not sexist and how do we get the church to be a part?

There were a couple of startling lessons that I learned very quickly about the change sociologically amongst the generations. Whereas many of the people who came from an older generation wanted leaders, clearly defined declarations, largely planned events and centralized fundraising this was not the ethos for a new generation of leaders. They are patient, methodically listening, carefully incorporating and technologically savvy. To say that the next generation strives for more egalitarianism is an understatement. Sometimes to its own detriment there is a wonderful democratic notion of every voice mattering. It occurs to me that if in the church we count on hierarchical committees and structuralism to transform the church for this generation we will already be irrelevant. This will take some tough soul searching to understand that our “democratic” structures are corrupted by nepotism, insider groupings and a lack of equality. All of us inside the church have seen how a lack of transparency and gaming the system has worked through the years. Even amongst people who are of good will inside our systems there is a malaise against seeing it dominated by certain ethnicities and generations. If we are to have a hope of representation to a waiting generation we will have to reform our structures far more radically than we had imagined.

The next thing that I have noticed is that they are absolutely receptive to people of faith who are not trying to convert them. There has been an openness to discuss spiritual feelings and ideology as long as they don’t feel they are being manipulated. This is why I am understandably pessimistic about church’s paternalistically hiring experts to brand and market a church to a new generation. Younger generations have been inundated by marketing for their entire lives and it will be met with cynicism. This means that theologically the church will of necessity reach beyond limestone walls. I believe this is God’s witness to us of divine freedom and that God will institute the church where ever God intends it to be located. This will mean that intergenerationally people will have to reach out relationally beyond the structures that are increasingly becoming chapels. Do not be afraid. There is a receptive church waiting for you outside of comfort and safety. Remember that if your faith is transforming your life there is always someone worthy of sharing transformation with as well.

Finally, pray for this occupy movement individually and corporately. The lack of religious voices here has left that essential voice absent from this democratic movement. The least we can do is hold up these people in our prayers. The winter is coming and that will be a test. Many of us are very concerned. There has been sickness and a lack of hygienic conditions. Sometimes it has been a shortage of supplies. Yet, every time there is a shortage someone has been willing to step up. Keep those of us in the faith community in your prayers. Many of us are feeling the pressures of work and service. Pray for me. My prayers have been to increase in humility and not to answer my ego over my service to others.


9 Comments so far
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Brian, very insightful and thought provoking. As I read the struggles of this group through your witness, I very clearly see how it translates in my own church community. I wonder if we have become stalemated by those same generational structures. In fact, I believe it is killing our church. If we are to strengthen our numbers and our mission, it appears we must investigate openly and honestly the question of restructuring. “Nepotism, insider groupings, and a lack of equality,” indeed! I plan to forward your thoughts to others within my church.

I must admit that I have personally struggled with the inferred requirement of God’s community structured only inside limestone walls. Bonhoeffer has tried to help me with this. I’m comforted hearing another voice resonate my uncertainties there. Your battle for humility strikes deep within me, as well.

Finally, as I read your final paragraph, (odd as this may sound) I was transported to another battlefield, this one full of ragtag soldiers shivering under threadbare blankets and huddled around fires for warmth. Their military leaders perhaps also solicited prayers from those the homefront but very definitely solicited supplies as well. One of those commanders was George Washington, and the soldiers were occupying Valley Forge. They, too, struggled with hypotheticals, power and class structures, sickness, shortage, desertion, et al. Perhaps identifying with them during the onslaught of winter may bolster spirits, seeing their victory on this side of history!

God bless you, the other spiritual comforters, and all of the occupiers. Your request for prayers will not go unanswered.

Comment by Liz Thompson Williams

Thank you Liz. Your support has not been unnoticed. I have been very grateful for it.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Lifting you in prayer.

Comment by Meg Rosenberg

Thank you. You will never know how much that means to me.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Thanks again, Brian. I appreciate your thoughtful reflection on your experience with the Occupy movement.

Comment by Mary Beth Hancock McCandless

[…] By Presbyterian pastor Brian Merrit View Original Post […]

Pingback by » The Occupy Movement and the Church » #Occupy Church DC #Occupy Church DC

Very helpful, Brian, thank you. For reasons of my own — different encounters & conflicts, different issues — I came to pretty much the same conclusions re: the hopeless unyielding titanium-like structures of the church (in my case, also Presbyterian) … which is *among* the reasons I ended up leaving. Many many years ago found myself *bitterly* calling the church “the Love Boat on a luxury cruise to nowhere” (c.f. your “cruise ship called the church”). You may not know about the TV series “The Love Boat” — it was insipid “comedy” about on the same level as most church life; and when that phrase started rolling around in my head and then in my mouth, I knew I had passed some kind of major turning point. Anyhow, all of that is just to say, I benefited greatly from reading your post. Thank you. grace & peace, steve (AKA “bro_jeremiah”).

Comment by Bro_Jeremiah

BTW … is there room here for a blogger who is a *former* Presbyterian? My own blog, “Red Dirt Mysteries,” has morphed into the lefty musings of an “Orthodox Misfit.” I fit in the E. Orthodox system — other than Liturgy and some core mystical theology, which I love — not a whole lot better than I did Presbyterian. Just asking.

Comment by Bro_Jeremiah

You should send me your posts for our Occupy Church DC site.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

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