Friday, January 10, 2014

Newark Christian - Notes 1-10-14

Notes from my Knapsack (1-10-14) -- Preaching, pastoring, & politics


When I was in high school, I got a gift, and in a small way, a burden.


At my congregation, during my junior year, I was selected to serve as a deacon, ended up as a substitute board secretary when the elected one had surgery, and finally was put on a pulpit committee when our long-time pastor retired.


It was, first of all, a gift and a grace to be called by my fellow Christians to a leadership role. It was humbling then, it's still something meaningful to me today. And as for being asked to be, granted, the "youth representative" on the pulpit committee, well: most of us in ministry have sat in front of pulpit committees, but very few of us have been on them. That experience is a unique one for clergy, and I value what that time has meant to me over the years.


But it also is a bit of a burden, because this set of memories from the mid-70s when I was 15 years old can loom larger than perhaps it should as an exemplar of what people are thinking of in looking for pastoral leadership.


There are so many vivid stories from that time, but in particular, there was a member of our team who always asked one question, and the same question, of each candidate we interviewed (and we interviewed many, a story in itself).


"Do you think ministers should be politically active?"


It was only years later that I came to learn and understand all the baggage that question carried. The Sixties were barely past, and alive for many, including that particular person. Our retired pastor had been in the forefront of the civil rights movement in Northwest Indiana, and if you know the Chicagoland area in the late Sixties, they were…. vigorous times. The Democratic convention and the riots outside were just the tip of the iceberg. Black faces had preached in our pulpit, a city where the Klan just forty years earlier had held sway… a Klan whose memory still hung like woodsmoke in summer in the oddest corners.


The racial politics of that era were still tugging at the social fabric, and the question was a live wire in a pile of dry leaves: Do you think ministers should be politically active? And honestly, even now, I'm not sure what answer that person was hoping for.


I've been remembering those interviews in this past week, as the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Poverty has gone by, with LBJ's first "State of the Union" after JFK's death. Johnson was a born and bred Disciples of Christ product, and so was Ronald Reagan. Our tradition has given formation to political views on both sides of the legislative aisle.


Yet our history, as a church, as a communion, is that we care deeply about how faith and freedom and the forgotten all intersect. We don't believe in fatalism about poverty, and we don't have consensus about the role of government's role in helping the disadvantaged, either.


Nor are we sure what we want our clergy to be seen as doing, either.


So here I am, 37 years later, with a newspaper column along with a church newsletter, a civic role in housing and community development, still cautiously treading where angels fear to wear campaign buttons. How shall we, as a church, as community leaders, take a place in the discussions?


All I'm sure of, nearly two generations later, is that we have to take one, but I'm still figuring out what it is.


In grace & peace, Pastor Jeff

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