Since it is Stewardship Season and the time of year most churches realize they have to increase their budget and that they desperately need to increase membership I offer a quote from Letters from the Notebooks of a Tamed Cynic
Of course we make "acceptance of Jesus as your savior" the real door into fellowship of the church. But the trouble is that this may mean everything and nothing. I see no way of making Christian fellowship unique by any series of tests which precede admission. The only possibility lies in a winnowing process through the instrumentality of the preaching and teaching function of the church. Let them come in without great difficulty, but make it difficult for them to stay in. The trouble with this plan is that it is always easy to load up your membership with very immature Christians who will finally set the standard and make it impossible to preach and teach the gospel in its full implications. (p.39)
His cynicism here doesn't sound too tamed. Pastors would love to have perfect congregations and I'm sure congregations would love to have perfect pastors - but they do not exist. You take what you have and go from there. I'm not proposing folk settle or dumb down but go from where you are and see where G-d leads.
Fosdick and Preaching
Yesterday I was reading my way through The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism and Modernity 1900-1950 by Gary Dorrien. I am in the section talking about Harry Emerson Fosdick. I have always liked Fosdick from afar. But he seemed a bit too chummy with some of the social elite. Dorrien makes this point throughout this section. I have always wondered what it was like to be H.E.F. to have that kind of reputation as a preacher and to be taken that serious. I especially liked his idea of holing oneself up for a few hours a day to devote to sermon preparation, but four hours a day seems a bit excessive.
Anyway here is a quote about Fosdick:
"He (Fosdick) could be whimsical on occasion and freely admitted to various changes of mind, but Fosdick was almost never ironic; his earnest liberal moralism was allergic to irony, and he indulged paradox only as much as necessary." (p. 384-385)
Other than the obvious differences I would say this statement places my theology of ministry on a distinctly different track than Fosdick's. I love irony and reveling in paradox.
Adventures in Colorful Language part iii
The other day NPR ran an interview with Stephen Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard, talking about his new book and his latest article in the The New Republic on swearing. (Be forewarned, if you read the article it contains just about every swear word you can imagine - and then some.) I found it to be a fascinating article. It gave a very comprehensive view of how cursing affects other people, why folk find it so offensive, etc.
Ever since I became a pastor I have had a dickens of the time trying to figure out what the board of deacons are supposed to do. I have gone over the passages in Paul letters, read church bylaws, recalled memories from church experience, asked the deacons themselves and so on. But nothing worked. Then yesterday the lightbulb went off while having coffee with a colleague. Here is the proposal I presented to the diaconate board last night.
Underlying principle: striving for a standard of excellence.
Three concentric circles of
They seemed to be all for it. It was a fun meeting.
Several years ago this church purchased the New Century Hymnal (the hymnal of the UCC) I was all excited to tear into to, liberal hymns, no masculine language, etc. But the more I tore into it the more I disliked it. Luckily, lots of others didn't care too much for it either. So we searched and found the Worship and Rejoice hymnal by Hope Publishing. It is definitely a hymnal, 749 of them. (No psalter, which is a bummer.) Good mix of classic and new hymns, including my magic three: Iona, Taize and Spirituals. Those three make up the main mix of hymns I like. Folk are excited to see all of the original tunes and words back. I desired a hymnal that encouraged congregational singing, joyful singing, soulful singing and even some blues. I think we found it. Is it perfect? No way. But it is the best choice for this congregation and for the future.