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What Denomination You Are

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Thank you all so much, those of you who participated in the denomination poll. Nearly six hundred of you shared the denomination you identified most with.

The results, in round numbers, were:
Anglican; Episcopalian; Old Catholic 65%
Roman Catholic 12%
Methodist; Presbyterian 8%
Other: 12% of which the biggest group was Lutheran 5%
Pentecostal; Evangelical: 2%
Eastern Orthodox: 1%
Non-sacramental; Quaker; Salvation Army: 1%

Fair comment, more than once, was that there are people who see themselves as identifying with more than one denomination.

colour circleI think the significance of denominations is shifting; for many. The picture at the top of this post: think of denominational differences as signified by horizontal lines. Many of the real divisions, and real unity, is found across denominations in the vertical bands. Those who identify across denominations in focusing on justice, or contemplation, or are more biblically literal, or for or against full gay inclusion, etc… In fact, in the Cafeteria-Christianity we find ourselves, people will pick and mix – eg. a bit of contemplative focus, a strong dose of justice, and traditional hymns… So it’s becoming much more like the colour circle, or sphere, etc…

More than once, people noted that I had put together theological opposites: eg. Arminian Methodists and Calvinist Presbyterians. Here in NZ, those, in fact, are the most commonly working together in “Co-operating Parishes”. Young people who grow up in a “Co-operating Parish” – what do they identify as and with? People put “Uniting Church in Australia” under “other” – rather than clicking “Methodist; Presbyterian”. I wonder if they have ceased to identify “Uniting Church in Australia” as essentially a union of Methodist and Presbyterians.

Just as denominational borders are becoming less relevant, old divisions into “evangelical”, “conservative”, “liberal”, etc. mean less and less in the make-a-case-by-case-decision culture that no longer expects to just receive a complete fixed-menu box of beliefs.

Furthermore, people will (more and more) choose not the subtle, obscure theological differences, but a church near them, or with people the same age, or child-friendly, or with lively music, or with strong community outreach, or…

What do you think?

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6 Responses to What Denomination You Are

  1. Bosco,

    Thank you for this article and reflection. I “switched denominations” in the fall of 2001, at the age of 53, leaving the Roman Catholic Church, and attending an Episcopal Church. I formalized that by being received as a Episcopalian in 2002. The process, for me, was agonizing as I came to the realization that my relationship with the church of my childhood and adulthood was deeply broken. The adjustment, particularly in terms of self-identity took a very long time, measured in years rather than weeks or months.

    I wonder if the weight of conscious decision and action is peculiar to people of my generation and older. And, I wonder if the significance of denominational affiliation affects younger people in nearly the same way. I suspect not.

  2. When I was a kid at the baptist church we went to on Sunday mornings, there was a poster from the Uniting Church advertising themselves as a uniquely Australian denomination, and that was twenty years ago.

    (We went to a Catholic church on Saturday or Sunday evenings. Nowadays I go to an Anglican church even though I’m pretty sure I don’t believe in God most of the time. I just read the bible and sing hymns and say prayers because I have a warped sense of fun. It’s a little bit lonely though, when you’re “younger” like me.)

    But I didn’t answer your poll.

  3. As a cradle Anglican, I have spent the last 5 years in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The reason to change was to start geographic, but happy to say I feel right at home now. ( though I do miss the prayer book liturgy of my upbringing). This isn’t saying much however as these to churches are in full communion here in Canada, and last year had a joint National Synod together. I have to say I enjoy the separate but together model we have.

  4. To echo too that “denomination shift”, here’s my testimony. My grandparents were so-called Greek Catholic, who used to see the “Swabian Catholics” (RC) as unperfect Catholics, and who believed the pope was also a Greek Catholic. In other words, they had no clear “denomination” factor.

    I used to be a seminarian in the Orthodox Church. Then I belonged to a CofE parish for three years. I am an Old Catholic of the Union of Utrecht.

    My siblings still can’t figure out what the full communion of some Churches means. «If you are an Old Catholic, you shouldn’t go to the American (TEC) or Swedish (Luth.) Churches! Everyone should be coherent!» In countries where there is one “major” denomination, the small ones try to see why they are different.

    Ethno-phyletism, ritualism, denominationalism… there are lots of frontiers. Fortunately, the Chuch of tomorrow will have less of those.

  5. I guess that this sort of conversation decades ago would have put much more emphasis on theological differences between denominations. Maybe people move around more now? Maybe we are driven by tastes in music, etc… but I suspect the answer somebody gives to “what denominatiuon are you?” often will be interpreted as “which particular church are you most comfortable in at the moment?”. I used to go to the Salvation Army and I still feel “part” Salvationist, and there are several other church services I feel “at home” in, some of which seem very close to the Anglican service I’m now used to. Closer, in fact, than some other Anglican services. The question I have (for myself as much as anything else) is: what aspects of differences between churches really matter to me? Are those differences adequately covered by the “denomination” label?

    I wonder if it is possible to have a short set of well-chosen questions that objectively, scientifically identify a person’s denomination (or some other word if that isn’t good enough), rather than rely on increasingly-inaccurate labels we pick when asked??

  6. Yeah, I dunno. I’m an peripatetic park ranger in the United States, who in these post-denominational times was an Episcopalian in Alaska, Arizona and rural Virginia, United Church of Christ in Virginia and Philadelphia, and Unitarian Universalist in DC. I selected UCC only because it was most recent, not because it’s the theoretical merger of two Calvinist church bodies in 1957– seriously, they stopped being Calvinists in the late 1800’s regardless of what their bylaws say. That leaves liturgical differences between the church bodies, but recollecting that there are UU congregations in the United States that use the Book of Common Prayer … I’m just not sure how to work all of that out for you.




About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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