Attending an interdenominational seminary means answering the “denomination question” several times per week. I have always hesitated slightly when answering it, not because I am a denominational nomad, but because my arrival at my Southern Baptist conviction was somewhat accidental. And my accidental Baptist-ery stems in part from the accidental nondenominationalism of my hometown.
I grew up in a proudly nondenom subculture of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Three major factors in the cultural development of my hometown made it a Mecca for evangelical nondenoms in the latter half of the 20th century. First, Colorado Springs was settled in the late decades of the 19th century, as thousands of people came to the Colorado territory for precious metals. These early settlers were, like many in the days during which the United States expanded across the continent, unconnected from historic denominational roots. If they were of the old colonial stock, their grandfathers had been Congregationalist, or Presbyterian or Episcopalian; and their fathers may have been Methodists and Baptists after the tides of the Second Great Awakening, but they had little strong connection to either tradition. If they were new immigrants, they were far from the national churches of their European home and, for the most part, cut off from clergy. There was certainly a core of established denominations--the old mainline churches of the downtown area demonstrate as much--but they were never as influential as they were back east.
Second, another wave of settlement of Colorado Springs and its surrounding area came during and after WWII. The US Military established bases all around the city, and eventually constructed the United States Air Force Academy north of town. In the following decades, many military families lived in the city, and still more returned to the city to live after their military service was done. This produced a population that was largely conservative and even religious, but a city that was without a central religious identity.
Finally, economic challenges of the 70s and 80s led the city to offer substantial incentives to nonprofit organizations to settle in the city. This attracted a wave of zealous, influential, and well-resourced evangelicals. I grew up in the subculture they created, in the midst of a city of successive waves of settlers, that became a city with a nondenominational identity almost by accident.
When I went to college, I was nondenominational (though more because I knew what I was not than because I knew what I was). I moved to Louisiana for school, and I joined a nondenominational church that was renting space from a small Southern Baptist congregation. I saw this at first as proof that denominations were on the way out, and that Christians of the future would all happily be nondenominational. However, after a year there, the two congregations merged and we formed a new church: a Southern Baptist church in a southern town without “baptist” in the title. Scandalous, to be sure. But so I became, by accident, a Southern Baptist. Over time I have come to love it. It is a joy to cooperate with other churches for the expansion of the gospel, while retaining autonomy in parish life. It is a pastoral duty to guard the membership of the church and withhold baptism from those who do not believe. It is a privilege to stand on the shoulders of giants in confessing the Baptist Faith and Message, the 1689 Confession, and the ancient creeds of the church, all while sharing casseroles and fried chicken and (frankly) bad coffee.
I am, then, an accidental baptist, but a joyful and committed one.