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 eventually realized that leaders are not made by books or workshops," says Lisa Yebuah of Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Leaders are people who marry their knowledge to action."
"I've been given an opportunity to color outside the lines," says Nanette Sawyer of Grace Commons and St James Presbyterian Church in Chicago, "the permission and charge to be creative and experimental."
"Progressive Christians do a good job with issues like LGBT rights," says Dennis Sanders of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis. "But we're less good at helping people become disciples of Jesus."
"Religious commitments are no longer taken for
granted as part of North American people's lives," says Scott Kershner of Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in Washington State. "So space opens up to
ask very basic and interesting questions."
Nov 30, 2011
| An interview with Carol Howard Merritt
"What would happen," asks Carol Howard Merritt of Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., "if we coupled baby boomers' prophetic focus with the pragmatism of my generation? What if the church unleashed us to plant churches?"
Jul 28, 2011
| An interview with Katherine Willis Pershey
"People need to hear the good news," says Katherine Willis Pershey of First Congregational Church in Western Springs, Illinois. "If the church doesn't take on this
mission, I'm afraid—well, that's where that sentence can end. I'm afraid."
"We have rejected much of our immediate [evangelical] past," says Josh Carney of his church, University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Looking to older traditions, "we found that some of our objections had already been
Conducting funerals is one of the most important acts a pastor does. Inevitably, pastors have some tough funerals—after tragic accidents or premature deaths, or involving people with no faith or connection to the church. Michael Rogness, who has taught about funerals for over 20 years, makes these recommendations: carefully choose a fitting text for the sermon; try to articulate what the survivors are feeling, including their deep grief; don’t make judgments about what God was or wasn’t doing in the death of this person or about the deceased’s eternal state. Most important, “Proclaim the gospel to the survivors. The heart of our faith is that because Jesus was raised, death is not the last word” (Word & World, Winter).