FROM REASONING TO GETTING OUT THERE
“The great end of life is not knowledge but action.”
Thomas Henry Huxley, “Technical Education,” 1877
It was a normal pastoral day in my second church on the job when I decided to open a cupboard full of church archives from half a century ago. When I read a few bulletins and newsletters I was surprised, more than that, I was stunned. My bulletins and announcements were no different than what I had been putting out fifty years ago. There was little to no‘action’ beyond the Sundays in the pews.
A year or so later we provided a room with part-time nurses for the elderly in the community and supported a family from Cambodia. At my last church we were able to provide nightly accommodations for families in need. Our Parish Nurse invited doctors for a five-week series on health to deal with depression, dementia and hope. Very few church members attended but a number of neighbors were present.
After I retired I figured I didn’t have to be responsible for helping getting charged up in churches on community needs. Why should an 80-plus preacher even try to help? Ah, but Huxley claimed ‘The great end of life…is action.” So, does that mean we retirees have work to do beyond what we strived for in our active pastoral years? Could be.
But, but, there is very little of any deep bonding with those whom we have cared for outside of our temples. I waited for a year at one of my churches before I told about my street chaplain stint on Skid Row. I received numerous angry notes in the collection plates. One of them stated “Stop it damn it, we don’t need those people in our sanctuary.” Another read “We get enough of it in the news nightly!” It may have been more fear than hate but we need to risk to allow for those outsiders who may be frightened to even step into a sanctuary.
There was not much instructions on how to run deep with outsiders in my seminary courses. My only recall was when Professor Allan Moore risked having our class meet with gays in San Francisco for three nights in 1965 and urged us to open up with our deep feelings about the issue. It was more difficult for us than our counterparts. That class helped me realize I can engage deeply with those who may scare me. I don’t think we got enough of that in my seminary, known as the “Harvard of the West.” The courses were primarily steeped in cerebral content. It was an awesome academy and at the time I felt like I was ready for ministry after five years of academic bombardments but I should have come across Huxley’s ‘Technical Education’ courses before I graduated.
Just one more second thought. When I attended a fifty-year reunion at my seminary recently I was surprised that only six classmates attended out of thirty in our class. One of those present became an attorney and another taught at a seminary. I learned that most all of our grads chose other careers.
Why? Well, I believe there was much more outside ministries during those years. Pastors were overworked having to be in their neighborhoods and be present to their church demands and overflowing worship services.
No wonder my seminary grads chose to find a more calm and collective forty-hour work weeks. I worked in the aircraft industry for four years and enjoyed clocking out by 5 pm on those jobs.
Ah, but what if we were able to find those smart Claremont classmates who are probably retired and ask if they might want to learn that ‘The great end of life is not knowledge but action.’