It is by living and dying that one becomes a theologian, Martin Luther said. With that comment in mind, we have resumed a Century series published at intervals since 1939 and asked theologians to reflect on their own struggles, disappointments, questions and hopes as people of faith and to consider how their work and life have been intertwined.
There is no state regulation for the profession of pastoral ministry. Although you need a license to practice medicine or law, or to open up shop as a massage therapist, you don’t need one to be a minister. There are expectations about what qualifies people for ordination, of course, but these expectations are changing.
The poverty in the immigrant Dutch Reformed community where I grew up was not grinding poverty, but almost all families were poor. It was egalitarian; people were treated alike. Had there been any wealth to be displayed, the community would have firmly disapproved of such a display. Much later I learned about Max Weber’s thesis that the origins of capitalism are to be found in the ethos of early Calvinism; the Calvinists, said Weber, regarded financial success as a sign of God’s favor. My father's attitude was the exact opposite. If someone in the community was beginning to accumulate substantial wealth, my father assumed that it was due, not to God’s favor, but to shady dealing.
In spite of my best intentions, somewhere around Halloween my ability to stay on top of things begins to unravel. It gets more and more difficult to wake up before the sun and harder to meet all the demands of each day, or even of the previous day. As things left undone accumulate and the hours of daylight diminish, a kind of lethargy sets in.
The purchase of a $3.6 million condo in Beacon Hill to house the rector of Boston’s Trinity Church has caused consternation among some members of this landmark Episcopal congregation. Some members claim that it reinforces the congregation’s reputation as a place for the elite. Others say it is a betrayal of the congregation’s commitment to the poor in the city. Congregational leaders say a place was needed for the rector within walking distance of the church and that nothing reasonable can be purchased in the neighborhood. The purchase of the condo, which used funds from Trinity’s $30 million endowment, didn’t affect the operating budget of the church or its substantial ministries to the poor and homeless (Boston Globe, February 14).