We’re all congregationalists now

Andy Rowell interviews Stanley Hauerwas in Christianity Today. Hauerwas discusses his new memoir and explains why he thinks “We’re all congregationalists now.”

CT: You started out in a United Methodist Church that was as you say functionally Baptist because it was in Texas. Then you taught at a Lutheran school Augustana, a Roman Catholic institution Notre Dame, and then back to a United Methodist school Duke Divinity. At each stop, you found yourself worshipping with people of that tradition and learning from them appreciatively. Now you worship at an Episcopal church. How do you explain your eclectism or is it ecumenicalism?

SH: I call myself an ecclesial whore. I don’t know why God made some of us ecclesially homeless. I would like to think it has some ecumenical promise. Let me be clear: I am a Methodist. By that, I mean I think John Wesley was a recovery of Catholic Christianity through disciplined congregational life. Therefore, now that I am a communicant in the Church of the Holy Family [Episcopal Church], I understand myself still to be Methodist because I think the Episcopal Church is the embodiment of much that Wesley cared about. I think that’s true in much of Roman Catholicism. I don’t think any of us should look to Christian unity by thinking we can heal divisions of the past by some kind of artificial agreement. But by going forward, trying to live faithful to the charisms [gifts] within our ecclesial identifications, God hopefully will bring us into unity.

CT: When you just said, “The Episcopal church is the embodiment of much that Wesley cared about,” I think you are referring to a particular congregation and not the denomination as a whole.

SH: I say, “We’re all congregationalists now.” I don’t particularly like it, but we are. How to ensure given that reality that Eucharistic assemblies are not separate from each other is one of the great challenges before us. The role of the bishop is very important to make sure that Eucharistic assemblies are not isolated from one another. There are also other ways to do it. Certainly sending people from one congregation to another helps. But how we recover Christian unity in the world in which we find ourselves is a deep challenge. By “unity,” I don’t mean just agreement about ecclesial organization; I mean the refusal of Christians to kill one other. I think that the division of the church that has let nationalism define Christian identity is one of the great judgments against the Reformation in particular.

Do think Hauerwas is right?

Elizabeth Kaeton continues the conversation with great questions, ideas and cartoons at her blog

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