The Church Universal

church universal

My friend Traci is Catholic: Catholic by birth and by choice. She, her husband, and their third-grade daughter Audrey, live out their faith and participate fully in the life of their church. Because Traci and I are friends, and because faith is important to her, I was not surprised when her family accepted the invitation to attend my ordination as a Baptist minister held in the chapel of my home church.

Audrey, dressed in her Sunday best and seated between her parents, looked around at the growing crowd in the chapel. “Whoa. Ms. Aileen surely knows a lot of people.”

Traci is an introvert who somehow wound up friends with me, an unbounded extrovert. She shook her head sadly, as if acknowledging a personality defect folk generally try not to mention. “You have no idea,” she told Audrey, “You have no idea.”

“So,” Audrey asked, making conversation, “Is this about how many people you had at yours?”

“My what?” Traci looked at her daughter, wondering what in the world she could mean.

“When you became a pastor.” Audrey figured, I suppose, that ordination was a rite of passage all moms went through, not unlike her own first communion.

“Audrey, women can’t become pastors in the Catholic church.”

“What?” Audrey appeared astonished. Hear Audrey out though. Her shock had nothing to do with women in ministry. Nothing.

“This,” Wide-eyed Audrey went on, her hand sweeping in a gesture to encompass the whole building, “This isn’t a Catholic Church?”

Audrey, having spent all of her nine years in the same church, had assumed that worship happened in a Catholic community. Never mind the absence of images of the Holy Mother, the Crucifix, the Baptismal font. This was church, so it must be Catholic.

In a way, though, Audrey’s question was a good one, particularly if you replace the capital letters with lowercase ones. The adjective, “catholic,” does not mean “Christian but not Protestant.” It means “comprehensive,” or “universal.” (

“Isn’t this a catholic church?” That is, “Isn’t this a church for everyone?”

On the day of my ordination, the congregation included Baptists (of course), Audrey and other Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists, Seventh-Day Adventists and Presbyterians. There were members of the Church of Christ, the Church of God, the Disciples of Christ, and the United Christian Church.

There were people there who believe in infant baptism, believer’s baptism, baptism only in natural running water, baptism only by immersion, or only by sprinkling. There were people there who believe in speaking in tongues and those who would rather not speak at all; those who practice foot washing, and those who find the soaking of naked toes less than sacred. (These folks clearly have never had a pedicure, but I digress.)

Yep. This was definitely a comprehensive group. In fact, this was the the church universal, the holy catholic church, a veritable communion of saints.

“Yes, Audrey. This is the catholic church. And may it always be so.”

“. . . through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:10

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.