Who cares about history? I think about this question a lot because of my job as director of the Congregational Library in Boston. My association with this venerable Yankee institution, a large collection of things both important and inexplicable, means I’m often invited to churches that are celebrating anniversaries.
I began the visit with “Hello, I’m the new pastor at the Presbyterian church.” An innocent enough introduction, I thought. “Wow. But you’re so young!” came the reply.“Well, I just started. And sure, I’m on the young side,” I said, hoping to move on quickly.“No, I mean, you’re really young!”At this point it was difficult to know what to say. To be honest, I was frustrated. I hadn't gone to college plus seminary plus spent an extra year as intern only to have my lack of wrinkles and my intact hairline greeted with shock.
Tom walked into my office looking glum. He tossed his backpack on the floor, fell into a chair by my desk, sighed, and then rummaged through his bag for the registrar’s form. Tom is a first-year seminary student, and I’m his counselor. We walked through the courses he would be taking, most of them part of our core curriculum. Tom’s lack of enthusiasm was screaming at me. Finally I took the bait: “So, Tom, what’s the matter?” His hands went up in the air as he shot back, “What’s the deal with all of these required courses? When do we get to study things that are relevant?” Ah, I thought, the old “Let’s make thousands of years of inherited tradition relevant to me” argument. I’d just had a similar conversation with a woman in the congregation where I serve, who wondered why we repeat the “same old creed” each Sunday.
After having worked for several years as a youth pastor, I recently
accepted a call to be an interim solo pastor. One weekend, Sara, a
beloved saint of the church, died after a long battle with Alzheimer's.
On Sunday morning I was standing in the choir room discussing plans for
the funeral when Jonathan—a high school sophomore—walked in.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a French Catholic, says that if you don’t show up early for mass at his parish in Paris, you might have to sit on folding chairs in a spillover space or even sit on the floor. There’s nothing unusual about his parish priest, although he does have Pope Francis’s spirit of generosity. Gobry’s parish is like other urban areas in France. Despite the country’s reputation for secularism, Gobry thinks the French church may be on the verge of a time of renewal (The Week, January 15).