Proud to be a Spiritual Mutt

Jen Bradbury
Sep 19 · 5 min read

One of my vivid high school memories is from a conversation I had with the dad of the kids I babysat for.

Somehow, as Mr. Manson drove me home, we began talking about the three key components of my spiritual heritage:

1) I attended a Missouri Synod Lutheran grade school, where I was required to participate in daily religion classes & daily memory work (which was always religious in nature – a Bible verse, hymn, or creed).

2) I attended a Catholic high school, where one of our graduation requirements was four years of religion classes.

3) I was confirmed in my family's Methodist church, where I was also active in it's youth ministry.

Upon hearing this, Mr. Manson remarked, “Well, you're certainly ecumenical, aren't you?”

At the time, I'm not even entirely sure I understood what ecumenical meant. Nevertheless, the comment stuck with me.

In college, I became even more ecumenical.

Upon arriving on campus, I immediately checked out the Wesley Foundation, located only a block from my dorm. Though I can no longer tell you why, I hated the first church service I attended there. Even so, not wanting to abandon my Wesleyan roots, I decided to give the place another shot. So I attended a special welcome event for college students but still felt so out of place there that I never returned.

Fortunately, that fall I also got involved with the Christian Theater Music Club (CTMC), which was funded primarily by the Newman Center (read: Catholic campus ministry). Before long, friends from CTMC invited me to attend a weekend retreat with the Newman center. Since I was so lonely, I gladly accepted their invitation. Immediately, I found community there. After returning from that retreat, it felt natural for me to worship at the Catholic church on campus. Soon, in addition to attending mass there I was also singing in the choir (something that now strikes me as funny since I don't sing).

But then, my sophomore year in college, the guy I liked invited me to attend the campus ministry he was involved in, an organization associated with the reformed Christian church. It was there that for the first time, I heard the language of right and wrong associated with faith.

It didn't take me long to realize that according to the folks there, my faith was wrong.

How could I possibly call myself a Christian when I had been baptized as a baby and not as an adult?

How could I possibly call myself a Christian when I unashamedly said my favorite book was Gone with the Wind and not the Bible?

Despite that, I found myself intrigued by this group and more specifically, it's people.

The people who attended this campus ministry talked about Jesus a lot. And they talked about him as though he were their friend, rather than some unknowable entity. These folks engaged with their faith on both an intellectual and emotional level. It seemed to me that it was the undercurrent for who they were and all they did, even influencing choices like their vocations.

So I stayed.

Not only that, but as the year went on, I got more and more involved with this campus ministry.

Eventually, my involvement in my campus ministry caused me to stop singing in the choir at the Catholic church and instead begin teaching Sunday school and leading a junior high small group at the non-denominational church on campus. This church eventually became my church home – a place to worship, interact with people of all ages, and serve. It was also at this church that I met Tony, whose influence is a large part of why I'm in ministry today.

Upon responding to the call to ministry, my ecumenicalism continued.

As a female in ministry, I knew not all denominations would even consider hiring me. As a result, I paid little attention to denominations as I applied for youth ministry jobs.

The result?

I've worked in three different churches. Two have been congregations in the ELCA. The third was a multi-site, multi-ethnic congregation that felt very much like a non-denominational church though at the time it was loosely affiliated with the Presbyterian church. Since entering ministry, I've also received a Master's from Huntington University (which is United Brethren).

When it comes to my spiritual heritage, I am as Mr. Manson put it all those years ago, ecumenical.

And contrary to what you might expect, far from causing me to resent denominations, my unique spiritual heritage has actually caused me to value them.

My daily religion classes at my Catholic high school taught me to pray. They provided me with a firm foundation for my faith. What's more, the retreats that were a critical parts of my experience in Catholic ministries showed me the value of intentional community and in so doing, taught me that faith is both individual and communal.

The Methodists taught me to embrace my femininity. They showed me women can preach and teach long before it even occurred to me that others might think anything to the contrary.

The Methodists also taught me that faith is meant to be lived, that as James said, “faith without works is dead.” They taught me the value of social justice and in the process, developed my social conscience.

The Lutherans taught me about grace and more specifically, that it's through grace we are saved. More than anything else, this teaching is what's taught me to balance the law with the gospel. It's taught me that if I must error, to always do so on the side of grace

And the reformed, non-denominational, evangelicals taught me the value of knowing Scripture. More importantly, still, they taught me that Jesus is the center of our faith, the cornerstone and head of the church. They showed me that Jesus is what differentiates Christianity from any other world religion; That he is what makes Christianity radical, relational, & transformational. They showed me that faith is not just one small part of life, but the basis for all we are and do.

My faith is what it is today precisely because of my ecumenical upbringing. Far from confusing me, it's helped me figure out what I believe and why. Moreover, my broad exposure to the church has blessed me with a holistic picture of Jesus and his church. Take away any one lesson, though, and you'll find something important is missing and you're instead left with an incomplete, distorted picture of the body of Christ.

That's why I'm proud to say I'm a spiritual mutt. 

I'm proud to be LuthlicMethogelical.

This post was written as part of She Loves September Link-Up on the theme "Heritage".