Reinhold Niebuhr was 23 years old when he began this journal of his experience as the pastor of a blue-collar church in Detroit. Pastors will be reassured to read how even the great Niebuhr struggles with the pastoral role.
In 2006, New Testament scholar Robert Wall and pastor Anthony Robinson coauthored Called to Be Church, a study of the book of Acts. Each chapter of that volume has two sections: Wall provides an interpretation of the biblical text, then Robinson reflects on how the text bears on the life of the church. The format is not unique.
In this wonderfully titled memoir, Mark Vonnegut writes of his college years in the late 1960s: "At Swarthmore I majored in religion with the idea of going to divinity school and then maybe the Unitarian ministry, where I would be a comforter of the sick and disadvantaged but mostly a really good professional arguer who argued against the war and materialism."
Among the thoughts that course through my brain when I'm supposed to be
focusing on my breathing are thoughts about worship. Being a newcomer to
yoga has prompted me to reflect on what it is like to be new to
one of our services.
One of the things I most appreciate about the call stories in the Bible
is that there is no single template. When Peter, Andrew, James and John
are summoned by Jesus to leave their nets to follow him, “immediately”
they do just that (Luke 4:18-22).
My grandmother was 14 years old and living on a farm in Michigan when she made an appointment with her Presbyterian minister to tell him that she felt called to the ministry. “I’m sorry, Emma,” he said. “You must be mistaken. God doesn’t call women into the ministry.” A day or two later her father went to see the minister.
Soon after I was called as senior minister of First Congregational Church in Burlington, Vermont, a church member gave me a tour of the building. When we got to the formal church parlor, I paused to take in the portraits of my predecessors hanging on the walls. I was awestruck. “There they are,” I said.
Reading Barbara Ehrenreich is a bit like listening to a friend of mine whose mind is never more incisive, his wit never more crackling, than when he is on something of a rant. For such people, it seems, anger creates both heat and light.
When I began in ministry, I'd enter a hospital room with a bit of trepidation, as if entering a strange and alien land. I wasn't sure what I'd encounter there and how I might respond. I wasn’t used to the sights and sounds and smells—the sight of someone hooked up to a tube, the occasional snoring or groaning of a roommate, the antiseptic smell that sometimes barely conceals the various human smells that infuse the air. I didn’t know the customs of this land either—for instance, whether I should stop praying when a doctor entered the room, or introduce myself to the doctor, or leave the room when the doctor begins the consultation. But now, after 25 years as a pastor, I've been in hundreds of hospital rooms, and they all look familiar.
Early on in our marriage, Karen began to decide that even if she believed in some kind of God, she could not accept basic Christian teachings. The faith claims that Christians make about Jesus—about him being the Son of God—seemed unbelievable to her. The Bible is just another book, she began to conclude, and so we cannot grant it any particular authority. She wondered whether she could continue to attend church. This stirred a bit of panic in me. She was not just my wife. She was the minister’s wife.
As boy I had a sunny disposition. For the most part, people around me reflected back to me warm affirmation. Our home was largely free from conflict; I cannot remember a single instance when someone in my family raised a voice in anger. I always had a close circle of friends, and although we would often tease each other, we all knew that it was done with affection. I approached the world with an openness as wide and trusting as the outstretched arms of someone anticipating an embrace. In other words, I was completely unprepared to deal with the criticism that comes with being a pastor.