Worship is over and I am standing in the doorway shaking hands. In front of me is a couple I do not recall seeing before. I say, “Good morning! I’m Martin Copenhaver.” By my manner and my tone of voice you might think that I am greeting long-lost friends, rather than introducing myself to these people for the first time.
Martin Copenhaver’s insightful “Handshake ritual” catches the preacher’s attention. The more I am in this business the more ambivalent I feel about the traditional ritual of greeting worshipers after the service.
There is no end in sight to the mainline denominations’ debates over whether gays and lesbians will be fully integrated into the life and leadership of their churches. While that debate is important, so too is the need for congregations to meet the immediate pastoral needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as people who are questioning their sexual orientation.
Recent surveys have indicated that clergy are generally quite satisfied with their profession. But what about the men and women who are in seminary or who are fresh from seminary and face the demands of congregational service or the challenges of other ministries? How do they feel about ministry?
The reason I am still in the ministry is because of the night I decided to leave the ministry. It was my day off. The phone rang, and it was the chaplain at a nearby hospital. Usually we would exchange pleasantries, but all she said was, “Come to the hospital—now.” I trusted the urgency in her voice and arrived in about ten minutes.
Pastor Maria Edmonds is doing gang ministry in the mountains of North Carolina. As she puts it, "They’re not accepted anywhere else. So I figure Jesus would have me spend time with them.”Millions of dollars are spent each year at the federal level to combat gang activity and reduce gang-related violence in our big cities. And, as Edmonds has discovered, gangs are also a feature of life in many small towns.
According to many Christian groups, pornography is a disturbing and increasing problem. A Promise Keepers survey found that 53 percent of its members consume pornography. A 2000 Christianity Today survey found that 37 percent of pastors said pornography is a “current struggle” of theirs.
For the past few years the religion department at the Chautauqua Institution near Buffalo has sponsored a program for new clergy and their families. This summer I was invited to meet with the group, especially to talk with them about prophetic and pastoral preaching.
For five years I was pastor of a congregation of mostly 20- and 30-somethings, a group some would call postmodern or “emergent.” Spirit Garage was born in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, an area populated by thousands of young people. In those days people would ask me about our model or formula for this ministry. I always found it hard to describe. But after taking up a new sport, I found an apt comparison: ministry in the postmodern era is like racing mountain bikes.
When I tell other pastors that I hate weddings and love funerals, they smile knowingly. Of course, the dark humor rings true with them—every pastor I know can tell a “wedding from hell” story, and all pastors can think of a few funerals at which they’d love to preside.