Yesterday was the installation service at our church. In the United Church of Christ, installation is a celebration. It is a rite that celebrates the covenant between the pastor, the local church, the Association (regional church), and the wider church (Conference and Denomination). Usually the ecumenical community is invited, and there are often many clergy from the denomination who attend.

In my case, this included my brothers and sisters from the Order of Corpus Christi. One of the members of our church asked, “who were those people all dressed alike?” The Order ‘dresses’ in similar albs and instead of a stole, wears the ‘scapular’ of the order. A friend’s wife asked, “who are those ‘monk’ people?”

So I thought that the questions deserved an answer, a longer answer than I could provide over punch and cookies at the reception.

The Order of Corpus Christi is a religious order open to both lay and clergy, and to both men and women. The OCC was founded in 1987 as an order within the United Church of Christ. It is open to any who are members of the United Church of Christ, the member churches of Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC), or other churches in full communion with the United Church of Christ.
The Order of Corpus Christi calls us to live balanced lives through daily common prayer, silence, and contemplation which produce concrete action in the life of the Church and the world, lives that “witness to our oneness in Christ” and a “sign of our communion with others in Christ through one Baptism, one Bread, and the call to discipleship.”

This simple statement captures the nature of this group. Many of the members are also members of another group, the Mercersburg Society,

The Mercersburg Society was founded in 1983 to uphold the concept of the Church as the Body of Christ, Evangelical, Reformed, Catholic, Apostolic, organic, developmental, and connectional. The Society works to provide opportunities for fellowship and study for persons interested in Mercersburg Theology, to sponsor convocations, to engage in publication of articles and books, and to stimulate research and correspondence among scholars on topics of theology, liturgy, the sacraments, and ecumenism.

In my ‘simple’ view, the Mercersburg Society is the intellectual expression of this particular theological interest. The Order of Corpus Christi is the spiritual expression of this same interest.

I participate in both organizations.

Most of the time my participation is invisible. Sure, the theological stimulation makes an appearance in ‘praxis,’ as it informs my work as a pastor. The spiritual activity also shapes and informs my work as a pastor, but also shapes my Christian life.

I’ve known about both of these organizations for years. I’ve attended various Mercersburg Society events here and there. I joined the Order of Corpus Christi for a fairly specific reason.

Throughout my ministry I have been involved with a Spiritual Director. Lately though I have not sought out that guidance. I suppose that part of that is because those directors helped me find my niche, a pattern of prayer and work and leisure, that suits my personality. This routine involved praying the Daily Office. And, when I am at my best I, take an hour a day, a day a month, and a week a year apart in the relative silence of my prayers. I have been fairly disciplined in this ‘prayer work’ daily. But I struggled to remain committed to the day a month and a week a year.

The Order of Corpus Christi resolved part of this issue for me in several ways. For one, I participate in the yearly retreat where the Order gathers for worship and prayer for the better part of a week. The first time I attended this week long event, I realized why my director was encouraging me to do so for all those years. The Daily Office became more important, as I have made a commitment to my Brothers and Sisters to do so, and it strengthens my resolve when I realize they, too, are praying with me. Previously, I wrote here about the day a monthly issue, but I am working on that.

I participate in the Order to make a commitment, vows to keep, that reinforces my spiritual discipline.

What is not immediately apparent is that participation in the Order is participation in a community of prayer. The community aspect became abundantly clear yesterday when those ‘monk’ people nearly outnumbered the local clergy who attended. They came from as far away as West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia. They are also busy pastors, whose Sunday afternoon is as busy as mine. Still, the Order does not replace my church family. It is different.

I am the tall guy in the middle

The United Church of Christ, praise God, is a widely diverse denomination. Some folk get nervous about the attention to regiment, and ritual. I for one do not see this participation as part of a ‘militia’ that seeks to ‘convert’ the whole. Rather, I see these organization(s) as places where one ecumenical expression of the church can be celebrated and practiced. We welcome others who might be seeking and would benefit from our particular way of ‘ceaseless prayer.’

By it’s own admission, the Order only seeks to be ‘leaven in the loaf.’ We are not the liturgical police, or a bunch of folks who gather together to dress up and ‘play’ church. We are dedicated United Church of Christ members, and Lutherans, and Reformed Church in England, and one Benedictine, who share the benefits of a spiritual community even though we live and serve (as it were) as ‘solitaries.’

I do this, because I believe that faith is best learned through the support of a tradition.  I believe our faith is strengthened to the extent we learn it well, practice it the best we can, and leave the rest up to God.  The problem arises (in every tradition) when it becomes the object of our devotion rather than the means.  The Emergent Church has much to teach us on this matter.  Still, for me, I find no severe problems as I embrace this tradition and keep my eyes and ears open to the movement of the Spirit elsewhere.  As it strenthens my faith, these practices simply helps me sort things out.  It isn’t as sedicious as it might seem