At ordination Presbyterian ministers promise to give their “energy, intelligence, imagination and love” to ministry. Sometimes just managing the institution of the church exhausts such capacities. Sometimes attending to the committees, task forces, program evaluations, staff supervision and budgets is all-consuming.
One of my laments over the years has been over the dreadful image of clergy in popular media. With some notable exceptions, ministers are portrayed as inept, shallow, out of touch with the world and basically irrelevant—like Chaplain Mulcahy in the old M*A*S*H television series.
Those of us who work in the church know how trivial, vain and self-serving the “institutional” church (as we used to call it in seminary—as if there were any other kind) can be. But we also wonder what we would do without the church. How could you celebrate Christmas without the church? How could you wake up in the dark of Easter morning without the church?
"Easter is a terrific story,” says Tony Hendra, an actor, satirist and author of the wonderful book Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Life. So it is, and so we rediscover each year as we turn to the familiar narratives. The Gospels’ accounts are themselves modest, however. Curiously missing is any note of celebration.
Those of us who spend a major portion of life in church keep track of time by the sequence of the liturgical or church year as well as by the calendar year. The calendar year begins on January 1, the church year begins with Advent at the end of November or the beginning of December. One is stable, the other moves.
I loved reading in this issue about great teachers, teachers who have a way of changing lives. I found it impossible not to think about the teachers who changed me. My best college teacher was Sid Wise, professor of government at Franklin and Marshall College. He was short, funny, brilliant and engaging.
I like to think of the Christian Century as offering a lively conversation about faith and the issues of our time. This issue contains a four-part exchange, and each of the writers—Vernon Broyles, Barbara Wheeler and Ira Youdovin—is a respected friend of mine.
Perhaps it was John Wesley who observed that a preacher has only a few things to say, only a few sermons to preach, and that the task of preaching is a matter of addressing in newly creative and energetic ways the few essential themes. After four decades of preaching, I’m ready to agree.
Men my age are “bridge fathers.” We began being fathers in one era, and before the last child left the nest we realized that fatherly responsibilities and expectations had changed significantly. Now we find ourselves watching own sons practicing a new style of fatherhood based on assumptions which were simply not part of the culture when we started out.
The prophet Isaiah, whose words we read in Advent, gives us wonderful images of peace and of the restoration of Zion—images of the wolf living with the lamb, of waters breaking forth out of the wilderness, of a land where there shall be “no lion, nor any ravenous beast.”
Several years ago, early in Advent, I received an interesting note from the sixth-graders in the church school. “Dear Mr. Buchanan: We have some questions about Christmas. 1) Did the star stand still? 2) Were the shepherds and wise men real? 3) How was Jesus born if his parents didn’t have sexual intercourse? Please meet us next Sunday and tell us the answers.”
I recall that we used to sing “This Is My Father’s World” at the beginning of Sunday school sessions, and we would sing it every evening at church camp as we sat on the hard wooden benches. I haven’t chosen that hymn for worship for many years because I know how important it has been to move beyond masculine images in theology and liturgy.
This issue’s emphasis on books exemplifies one of the things I have most liked about the Christian Century over the years: it has helped me to decide what books to purchase and read. I’m still relying on it to do that. For example, I’d like to read all eight recommendations in the field of New Testament.
In the previous issue, Mark Noll, a distinguished church historian, indicated his intention to sit out the upcoming presidential election because no candidate or national party reflects his sense of the pressing issues of the day (None of the above, September 21).
How are we doing? The editors and staff of this magazine periodically ask themselves that question. Are we succeeding? Is the magazine meeting or at least approaching the goal we have set for ourselves of helping Christians think critically and live faithfully? Are we engaging people with lively articles, timely reports, thoughtful reflections?
In his compact book Before God, George Stroup observes that we live in a time when many people no longer understand that their lives are lived coram Deo, before God. Stroup is particularly good in talking about gratitude as the essence of Christian practice. On that topic he quotes Karl Barth: “Gratitude is the precise creaturely counterpart to the grace of God.
Protestants are about to become a minority in the U.S. after almost four centuries of numerical superiority and cultural dominance. A new study by the National Opinion Research Center reports that by the end of the year Protestants will probably make up less than 50 percent of the population.
A recent editorial in Christianity Today suggested that “it may be time for mainline churches to consider an amicable divorce.” The editorial cited a proposal floated informally at the United Methodist General Conference in May to “explore an amicable and just separation” that would free the church from its “cycle of pain and conflict.” Similar talk is heard regularly in Presbyterian circle