08 August 2003

A pastor's journey

At the weekend I picked up a wonderful book, Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery, by Richard Lischer. It is a beautifully written (though not always well edited) account of the author's growing up in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, his call to the pastorate, and his first parish in rural southern Illinois. He details the (presumably heavily fictionalized) lives of his parishioners and his attempts to lead them and communicate to them something of God's grace in the midst of their all too human troubles. In the process he becomes aware of how his own pride is hindering his ministry and how God's grace cuts even through that.

His denomination has long operated schools in which boys are educated for the pastorate from an early age. Lischer tells of his experience at one of these in Milwaukee:

The spirituality imparted to us was the safe spirituality of structure but not of passion or abandonment. The theological categories we memorized would either stifle true spirituality for the rest of our lives or provide the skeleton for a growing and adapting organism....

Likewise, the enforced chapel services into which we dutifully filed morning and evening could either kill you or make you well. If you paid too much attention to the sermons... you might die in the spirit. But we also sang Matins every morning, and four hundred male voices chanting the Te Deum couldn't be wrong:

To You all angels cry aloud,
The heavens and all the powers therein.
To you cherubim and seraphim continually do cry,
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!

Take that prescription five mornings a week for eight years, and it just might save your life.

Open Secrets is definitely worth reading.

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