For most of her life, Rebecca Causey chafed at the trappings of the modern traditional church, finding herself detached from the liturgy and the hierarchal nature of the Protestant denomination in which she was raised.
Now, she says she has finally found a spiritual home in the Jubilee! Circle.
This decidedly relaxed and nontraditional congregation, which is rooted in Christianity but taps spiritual wisdom from other world religions and spiritual traditions, began in Columbia in January 2010. It is modeled after the Jubilee! Community founded by the Rev. Howard Hanger in Asheville, N.C.
“I feel our biggest draw is for those who have lost their faith and want it back but don’t want the tradition,” Causey, 54, a state Department of Health employee, said. “Laughingly, we call it the anti-church.”
The Jubilee! Circle was started by the Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge,emerging as a new church started out of another progressive Columbia congregation, Garden of Grace United Church of Christ. Garden of Grace has established itself as a welcoming church for the LGBT community.
Causey attended Garden of Grace and found herself drawn to the once-a-month sermons that Chellew-Hodge, then an associate pastor, delivered. “I preach a little bit and sing a little bit,” said Chellew-Hodge, who has pulled nuggets of wisdom out of the lyrics of Neil Young, the Beatles and other modern singers.
“She opened my mind and challenged me,” Causey said. “I found her style, her messages were so enriching and so powerful and I always looked forward to the once a month when she was presenting the sermon. “
Chellew-Hodge was also at a spiritual juncture. She had always found the services at Jubilee! Circle in Asheville to be uplifting and meaningful and she spoke often of the experience to those at Garden of Grace who were drawn to her.
“So we took a field trip,” Causey said. “We ran up (to Asheville) for the day, and I said, ‘Yep, now I get it. This is exactly what we need in Columbia.’
“It doesn’t feel like church,” she said. “I hate to be so clichéd, but it feels like home.” The congregation, which worships in a small gym at 2730 Millwood Ave., now has a loose affiliation with the larger Asheville Jubilee! Community, which had two services and draws 700-800 worshippers each week.
Jim Mounts, 51, said that feeling of church as family is real and sustaining. He underwent heart bypass procedures and surgery in recent months and found Chellew-Hodge at his hospital bedside and church members ready to help him and his wife.
“Candace is so amazing,” Mounts said. “The way she preaches, the way she loves and lives her life and stands up for what she believes, she just blows me away. And the way these people just flat out love me, I’m just a place in my life where I can start to perceive it.”
Causey, who was raised in the Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh and found herself surrounded by Southern Baptists when she moved, first to Myrtle Beach and then, after a divorce, to Columbia, said joining the Jubilee! Circle has been a godsend.
The congregation bills itself as a “progressive, inclusive community, influenced by Creation Spirituality, ecumenical, feminist, and traditional Christian theologies,”’ and is not above a little website humor to encourage potential worshippers to try them out.
“Curb your dogma! The holy is off the leash,” the homepage of www.jubileecircle.com, illustrated by a photo of a fetching golden retriever, declares.
“Folks who have dropped out of the tradition church and are now worshipping at the church of the New York Times every Sunday morning, might give us a shot again.”