A retired minister looks at the world around him from a different perspective -- the back pew. From this viewpoint his restless mind is free to wander out the door to topics secular as well as religious.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Mainline and Emergent
The view of the Church-with-a-Capital-C is not always encouraging as I see it from the distance of my back pew. I see it from a better vantage point in our local Spanish Fort Presbyterian Church, where pastors Julian Walthall and Monnie Anderson labor creatively and successfully to lift our eyes to the world around us and to bring many helping hands to the church’s outreach ministries to our community. But in my retirement I am mostly a spectator, except for my cheering them on and the prayers I raise up from the distance of my back pew. Though I see evidence of creative ministry across my denomination, it is a reality of this age that the mainline churches, which seemed so vital in the heady days of growth in the 1950’s and 1960’s, are shedding membership with every annual report. These seem to be the glory days for fundamentalists and Pentecostals, to the extent that we who are still called “mainline” appear to be on the sidelines. Which brings to mind what George Buttrick, New York pastor and author, said fifty years or so ago, after our more conservative southern Presbyterians succeeded in banning him from the podium of a major engagement at the Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina. During a speaking engagement at Union Seminary in Virginia a student asked him how he felt about such shunning. He said, “What the fundamentalists don’t understand is that I, too, am a fundamentalist, for I know what is fundamental. From my back pew I am beginning to notice the emergent church movement in our mainline denominations, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Lutheran among others. Let’s cheer them on as they try to uncover what is truly fundamental to the mission and ministry of the Church in this century. If they succeed, they will bestow new meaning to the word “mainline,” and since it's about obedience more than status, they may not even pause from their labors to notice.