Pastors have long known that there is more going on with food and eating than the mere filling of the stomach. We know that the Eucharist is more than bread, wine and people gathering around the Lord's table.
is concerned with encouraging a struggling congregation to stand firm, endure
and persevere. Wendell Berry refers to the "art
of the commonplace," a phrase that for pastors brings to mind the art,
craft and skills by which we cultivate the common everyday life our people are
called to live and share--and which will enable them to stand firm. It is about
the mundane and about community.
It was the spring of 1963 in Birmingham, and it looked as if the civil
rights movement would suffer yet another defeat. The powers that be had
more jail space than the civil rights workers had people. But then one
Sunday, reports historian Taylor Branch, 2,000 young people came out of
worship at the New Pilgrim Baptist Church and prepared to march.
Years ago, the brilliant but cantankerous Baptist preacher Carlyle Marney was speaking to some students at a Christian college. When a student asked, "Dr. Marney, would you say a word or two about the resurrection of the dead?" Marney replied, "I will not discuss the resurrection with people like you: I don't discuss such things with anyone under 30. Look at you all: in the prime of life.
They were visitors in our worship service and, like all visitors in a small church, they were not hard to spot. I could see from the looks on their faces that whatever they were looking for in a church, we didn’t have it. When we all stood to sing the hymns, they just looked straight ahead, never making an effort to sing and not even picking up a hymnbook.
One day in the early 1990s when the news was filled with the story of the Menendez brothers, my wife, Jane, was driving with our three-year-old daughter, Callie. A reporter said something about the Menendez brothers killing their parents and Callie asked, “Did they say ‘kill their parents’?” to which Jane quickly replied, “Yes, they were bad boys, weren’t they? We don’t kill our parents.”
Dear Ed: Thank you for your book addressed to a “Southern Baptist pastor.” As a Baptist pastor on the western edge of the South (and a Southern Baptist until a few years ago), let me say that it was good to hear from you. I appreciate your southern civility and good manners, as you put it.
Last fall a friend of mine attended a lecture at the University of Mississippi delivered by Stanley Hauerwas. His talk was followed by an invigorating, hour-long question-and-answer dialogue. My friend reported that afterward he and some students, another minister and several laypeople went to someone’s house and talked about God for another hour or so.How novel.
In Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow, the main character works to come to terms with who he is. At midlife, after going through a crisis, he says, “Now, finally, I really had lost all desire for change, every last twinge of the notion that I ought to get somewhere or make something of myself. I was what I was.
When I run across texts like these from Jeremiah and Luke, I’m always asking, “What kind of community does it take to raise prophets like Jeremiah and even Jesus?” Being a Baptist, I have few doubts about God calling prophets, preachers, missionaries and everyday Christians. The call of God tends to be very personal, but it is not private and does not come in a vacuum.
Recently I celebrated 15 years as pastor of a congregation in East Texas of under 200 members with about half of them present for Sunday worship. At denominational meetings and around town I’m asked, “When are you going to a bigger church? Why do you stay?” Sometimes I give a long, rambling explanation, but often I respond with, “Because I read too much Wendell Berry.”
Ray was tired, worn down to the nub. It was the year he was turning 60, celebrating the 40th anniversary of his ordination and marking 15 years as pastor of his congregation. Ray knew that every pastor goes through dry periods. What shook his foundations was suddenly coming face-to-face with his mortality, or at least the mortality of his ministry.
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