FAMILIAR QUESTIONS MANY FACE GROWING UP
As adults we usually start out excited and enthusiastic about new spiritual life and work. In my case, going from cradle Methodist to Lutheran pastor was exciting. I was ordained in a town of about 560 with my small old church planted on main street. The town was surrounded for miles around by farm land. It appeared charming and bucolic. It was charming and bucolic.
Little happened here except the occasional funeral or baptism. This culture was apple pie. The locals seemed content with life this way. I discovered later on they had similar problems found elsewhere. My members were somewhat like me, too, and not very demanding. I could understand them, and like them. A few small triumphs pastorally, and I enjoyed pastoral visits and shut-in communions. It had been some years since a pastor had made such visits. It also became a little boring for me. I visioned myself destined to greater triumphs. Not quite three years and I was restless. Not much opportunity for me here. This place and church is not where God wants me. I am bored where I am. How can I be of more help in the Kingdom? Where does God wants me? (You will notice how often this question is better translated “where do I want me?”) God is often a wonderful justification for ego gratification .
A mission church is the place to be. The synod president suggested a Board of American Missions congregation near Gary, Indiana. There was a building, several hundred souls, and a plan. Many made their living in the steel mills. Most were a little different from me. I got along well though. My cultural vista had considerably widened. I now considered all these people as like me.
This was the sort of church at which things happened very rapidly. Baptisms, weddings, and growth was common. A number of times when I got to the office, there were letters of transfer from people I had never heard of. Creative ministry approaches were welcome. A Liturgical Arts Center was developed. We actually wrote our own Vacation Bible School materials. The church was gifted with a used Multilith press which managed to get one wall of the study rather inky. Things were really perking along.
Lay participation was strong including sacramentally. Eucharist was soon available at one of the two liturgies each Sunday. Prayer groups and spiritual life abounded. My in-laws moved to a church 40 miles away near Chicago. This was a good family time. His congregation of Slovaks was fun to hear about.
The only thing which was always a threat was the income stream, always way too low. The aid from the Board was not going to last forever. Discussion about this problem began to generate tensions among the church council. In the usual LCA church fashion, our church council had final say on local matters. At least I had a seat on the council. Some of my friends from other protestant denominations were not allowed that.
The Board of American Missions decided to “help” our finances. At their request I produced a very detailed and impressive set of goals and time tables. They loved it. Leadership at church knew it was totally unrealistic and unworkable. This proved incomprehensible to the administrative bureaucratic mind. They even used it as a model for a while. I never heard how well it worked elsewhere. After 6 years, money problems and tensions with the BAM were barely tolerable. Storm clouds loomed ahead.
The BAM thought I would do better in a new mission in the western mountains of Virginia. This was not something they legally could enforce. In the LCA the pastor’s call was a lifetime call unless ended by resignation, heresy, or malfeasance. Items two and three did not apply. Their pressure remained.
Finally I resigned and we moved to Michigan and The Word of God. This was an ecumenical charismatic Christian community of about 1000 members. Not a church, it later received status from Rome as a pious union. Divided into districts, we would come together in a weekly gathering. Both strictly controlled and at the same time quite spontaneous, these gatherings were a high point of the week. Households with singles living with a married couple as the household head were very common. We routinely had 5 singles living with us. This proved in the long run to have both positive and negative effects on the family. Our children have some negative insights about the experience.
It was about 60% Roman Catholic and 40% various Protestant. Shortly after we moved our second daughter was born and completed our family. In terms of socioeconomic and class makeup it was very familiar and nicely diverse ethnically and racially. No real challenges to my blinders except for the Catholic majority and leadership. The spiritual headship was a different concept for me. Observation of Catholic faith and practice changed the tints on my blinders.
In Lutheran seminary, all teaching was presented by describing the differences between Lutheran teachings versus Roman Catholic beliefs and practice. Close proximity to Catholics gave me a different slant, however. There was much to appreciate there. More blinder changes. I also partially earned a living in a niche in the travel business.
I traveled often and far. A carry-in dinner with Indian Christians in Bombay is a little different than a carry-in in Michigan. Meeting a wide variety of people definitely puts actual holes in one’s blinders. Singaporean, Australian, New Zealanders and European Christians were only some whom I met. Judy and I led a Catholic charismatic group to the 1975 Jubilee year in Rome, as well as a conference in Dublin.
I stayed with Egyptian Coptic Christians and Fr. Matta el Meskeen at the Monastery oF St. Macarius the Great at Wadi al-Natrun in the western desert. In a private time together he graciously described his vision and actions at the monastery. Time here deeply moved me. We also enjoyed at supper an absolutely superior desert grown watermelon from their gardens. The family sometimes traveled with me. I stayed with Christians in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). In Israel I was routinely mistaken as Russian in the souks. I also interacted with Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Hindu, animists, Muslims, and Jews. A real mixture of cultures and people of various faiths and religions. This was the greatest tempering and tinting of my cultural blinders I was to have. Thank God for it. Soon much would be very challenging.
NEXT: A WILDERNESS TIME