The church with the word “international” in its name

swiss church

For the first time in my life I’m serving a church with the word “international” in its name.  “First” has shown up a lot in church names where I’ve been pastor, and that fits with my competitive nature. (I would never want to serve a “Second” or – God forbid – a “Third.”) But I’ve never served a church that claimed to be “international.”

I wonder why it’s taken so long.

I’ve served churches along the way that aspired to what the word suggests. Those churches wanted to be something other than what they were, but somehow couldn’t quite get there. Those churches, as many of my readers know, were mainly white – northern Europeans, English speakers, all very homogeneous, all very safe and reassuring, if you happen to be white, northern European, and English speaking.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  But those churches – often in settings like leadership retreats – would express regret that they were not more multi-cultural. They would hear Martin Luther King’s words about Sunday morning at 11:00 being the most segregated hour of the week in America, and they would nod as though guilty as charged.

I was at one leadership gathering where the desire to be less white was expressed, and the facilitator – surprisingly – pushed back. We expected that she would agree, I suppose, and join in our collective guilt, but instead she said, “Is that really what you want? Because if that’s really what you want, then you’ll have to change just about everything you do and the way you do it.”

We quickly erased “multi-cultural” from our list of goals. We didn’t come to a leadership retreat to make changes in our church, after all.

The church I serve now uses the word “international” in its name – and seems proud of it. Started by American expatriates a few decades ago, those American founders are now a minority, and today the membership seems to come from every continent on the face of the earth. (Well, not Antarctica, but you get the idea.)

A couple of weeks ago I watched as members came forward for communion, and I was astonished about the diversity to the point of tears. This is the “kingdom of heaven,” I thought. And in a way it is. This church gets as close to what the Nicene Creed expresses – one, holy, catholic, and apostolic – as any church I’ve ever served.

But, not to get all misty-eyed about it, that diversity carries with it some disturbing challenges. When you come from so many different points on the globe, you inevitably bring some strong opinions about what the church should be and how it should be run and what worship should look like and how the Bible should be interpreted and so on.

Really, the kingdom of heaven can be very messy.

So, I’m curious to see what the next few years will bring. I love that word “international” right now. It seems charged with everything that the church should aspire to. And I love that Nicene Creed thing about it too.  But will I feel the same way a year from now? Two years from now? We’ll see.

And as for that other word in my church’s name – “Protestant” – I’ll need another blog post (or two) to sort that one out.

In the meantime, as we say in this part of the world … ciao.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


6 Responses to The church with the word “international” in its name

  1. Jeff Edwards February 4, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    And the first shall be last, etc,,,,, sounds like you finally got I Doug. Enjoy !

    • Doug February 4, 2014 at 6:51 am #

      Just when I think I might finally “have it,” I realize that there might be another spiritual lesson for me to learn. But thanks for the encouragement, Jeff.

  2. Jeff Efwards February 4, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    take it from an old guy professor; we never get it, untill God’s final chapter. You have a wonderful opportunity, as do I having been asked to teach doc students at Loyola..I have had to rethink my views of teaching…drated Jesuits always upping the bar. Perhaps I shuld start a blog, I will be following your words carefully to see the parallell’s of our lives. God has Transformational instructios for us both. Peace, brother.

  3. Theda Williams February 4, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    Amazing–the stuff that’s still out there for us to learn. I thought that by now, we’d all have our spiritual act together, only to find out that I know less than I did 30 years ago. What a great opportunity and experience for you!

    • Doug February 4, 2014 at 11:01 am #

      Hi from Switzerland, Theda. (Can’t find my exclamation point on this brand-new keyboard, so I’m going to look less enthusiastic for a while, but it is good to hear from you.

      • Georgia Hamilton February 5, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

        Doug, a very interesting and thoughtful blog. I just returned from the Calvin Symposium,
        (only 2 days, but what I withnessed and experienced blew me away!.) Anyway, one of the plenary’s dealt with the global church. If you wanted to go to the Calvin Institute of Worship there are links to several of the services. The last worship service using EX 2o was excellent–watch it if you can.


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