Category Archives: Laity

Prayer Can Surprise You

An old friend of mine, Scott Stienkirchner, surprised me with a visit last week (we hadn’t seen each other in 10 years). Scott is a member of the Dominican Order and was passing through Burlington on his way to Madison. We sat in the church office at Zion catching up on news about mutual friends, life in the Church, and most interestingly, discussing our fairly diverse theology. Scott and I went back and forth comparing the UCC with Catholicism, especially the Dominicans. Then he asked me a question that caught me off guard. He said, “Do you pray for the dead?” I felt a little incredulous and said something like “Of course not–why would I? They’re dead, after all.” Not the most sensitive response, I’ll admit. Scott, being Catholic, explained that maybe being in community with God in heaven isn’t instantaneous (my word, not his). Perhaps it happens later and prayers would be helpful.

Father Scott pondering the UCC

A new thought to my UCC mind. As a progressive-to-the-left Protestant, I don’t feel that my prayers are needed to help anyone enter heaven. The after life is entirely left up to God and I trust that a loving God is in relationship with each of us into eternity. So the answer is “no. I don’t pray for the dead.”

But today, thinking about the conversation with Scott, I thought I’d give it a try. I prayed for the dead. And I was surprised at the result. The result wasn’t a transformation of their relationship with God (at least as far as I know) but rather a transformation of mine.

First, I prayed for my Great-Aunt Veda who died nearly twenty years ago. I thanked God for all she had given me–from clothes to bags of food when our family needed it to a weekly letter through my years as an undergraduate. I felt myself remembering things about Veda that I had forgotten: her laugh, the safe feeling I had sitting at her kitchen table, the camping trips she took my sister and I on. I felt a rare connection to Veda as I asked God to be with her. For the first time in all these years, I felt her presence as I brought her name into the presence of God.

My plan had been to pray for several other people but the experience of praying for Veda was a bit overwhelming; I hadn’t expected to be so moved by a prayer.

I think I will pray for the dead everyday; not because they need my help getting into heaven, but because I need God’s help in reconnecting with them. Thank you, Veda. And thank you, God.


Posted by on June 20, 2012 in Blogging With Jane, Laity, Theology



When Clergy and Laity Disagree

What does it mean when the beliefs and practices of the clergy are entirely opposite from the beliefs and practices of the laity. In the recent debate over contraception (hard for me to believe we would even debate contraception), 98% of American Catholics said they use contraception. Yet, the official church doctrine says contraception is “intrinsically evil” (Vademecum for Confessors 2:4, Feb. 12, 1997).

Catholic hierarchy acts and speaks as though Catholic laity follow this. As if all Catholics are all using the rhythm method and hold the fertility beliefs of Mrs. Duggar.

I think it comes down to the fact that no doctrine is difficult to uphold, if it doesn’t effect you. The cardinals in Rome are not in need of contraception or marriage rights or better healthcare. The laity are. Martin Luther thought priests should marry because there was “nothing in scripture requiring celibacy”. Or maybe it was because he had fallen in love with Katherine von Bora. Celibacy had finally effected him–theologically and personally.

In the UCC, the hierarchy (loosely understood as the National Office, and the Conference) cannot impose any beliefs on the laity or the local clergy. That is why even though the denomination has been encouraging “open and affirming” since the 1985 synod, only a small percentage of churches have officially become ONA. The laity always have the power to decide over the clergy or the hierarchy.

And therefore, the UCC clergy and laity have the privilege of existing in a state of mutual respect, if not mutual agreement. We may not always share the same views–socially or theologically, but we never forget what it means to be Church.


Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Laity, Uncategorized


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