In 1958, during a trifaith “Religious Emphasis Week” at the University of Arkansas, I hung out at the Sigma Nu house. One morning some Baptist Sigma Nu brothers were walking with me as I went by the Lutheran campus chapel. I stopped. “You want to go in there?” they asked. Yes, I wanted to see a majestic figure of Christ on the cross sculpted by Harriet Youngman Reinhardt.
I am never quite sure what postmodernity is, but I was struck by Pamela Fickenscher’s delightful essay on postmodern ministry (Off-road ministry) and especially by her observations about preaching: “While many traditions have taught preachers to leave the ‘I’ out of their sermons, postmodern audiences are hungry for the messenger
One of the privileges of studying theology within the clerical formation programs of the Catholic Church is that you get to study philosophy first. For at least three years. In retrospect, the true extent of the privilege becomes clearer: when it comes time to study theology, the pupil has been primed to interpret, to be able to remove words and concepts from the meaning foisted on them by the gut, to separate them from inherited baggage, and to begin to detect where contemporary religious ideology and real thought might begin to diverge, and how to follow the latter.
Within a single week this past fall I received requests that the seminary I serve staff a youth retreat for a congregation, send a speaker about starvation in Darfur to a conference in Washington, D.C., provide leadership to Presbyterian congregational leaders in a distant city, send curriculum for a seventh-grade class, offer training for Spanish-speaking and Latino lay leaders, open a D.Min.
A quarter century ago, I dreamed of being a teaching pastor. I burst out of seminary like a wild mustang in the rodeo, an impatiently raring dean of a parish about to become a mini–divinity school. Congregations under my care would learn sound theology and be shaped as faithful disciples.
Pity the poor book. Its obituary has been written many times as prognosticators glance over the horizon and predict that the Internet and downloadable literature and e-books will soon replace pages-between-covers.
James and John McZebedee matriculated at my seminary again this fall. The “Sons of Entitlement,” I call them. They are usually—but not always—young and white in addition to being male. They have typically grown up in the church, attended Christian colleges and majored in religion. They like to refer to their mental index of Theologians Worth Reading and readily scoff at those theologians they have not read (and so are not worth reading).
I recently began consulting with three seminary faculties that have gone through significant changes and crises in the past three years. These crises involved retirements, staff sexual misconduct, building programs, faculty-administration conflicts, curriculum changes and financial strains.
One day we woke up and saw that they were everywhere. Looking back, we realized that they had been there all along, growing in the soil under our feet, watered by the same water we drank, preparing to pop up their heads and bask in the sun.
Seminary programs should be one part monastery, one part seminar and one part mission agency. As monastery, such a program would require emerging leaders to spend extended periods living in community and devoted to spiritual practices like contemplative prayer or lectio divina.