For the Front Line
by the Rev. Steven L. McKinley (November / December 2004 — Volume 20, Number 6)
I picked up the phone when it rang and heard the voice of my old pal, Pastor T. Albert “Tacky” Carlson of St. Susan’s By The Swamp Lutheran Church down in the Sunbelt.
“This is long distance, Stanley, and it’s on my dime, so forget the chit-chat. I have a question for you. I’m thinking retirement in the next couple of years, Stanley, so I’ve started getting rid of stuff. Last night I was going through some boxes of old stewardship sermons, and tucked in there between “Give or Else” and “Your Money or Your Life” was a copy of that Partners rag you write for from way back in 1979. I looked through it and saw your name in there for the Consulting Committee. Has it really been around that long?”
“That it has, Tacky. Lutheran Partners was born when Jimmy Carter was president, the green hymnal was known as ‘the new hymnal,’ only kooks thought churches would ever have a use for a computer, and we were still three branches on the Lutheran tree. At least.”
“Twenty-five years. In some ways that’s not too long. I mean, it’s nothing compared to the age of a redwood or some of the really old congregations or the tenor section in my church choir. But it is a while. I mean, folks were falling all over each other last spring when Friends and Frazier went off the air, and they had just been around 10 or 12 years. That little magazine has been around longer than Friends and Frazier put together. But I don’t suppose Katie Couric is going to have the crew from Lutheran Partners in for a chat, is she?”
“Not in this lifetime, Tacky. We’re not all that photogenic.”
“You said a mouthful there, Stanley. I’ve always said you had a great face for radio, and a great voice for the printed word. But seriously. How do you figure that little magazine has managed to hang around for so long?”
Trying to Make Sense
“Well,Tacky, I look at it like this. We have got a lot of good, hard-working pastors and rostered lay ministers out there. They’re trying to make sense out of what it is they’re doing. For some of them, it’s a lonely and tough go. Partners has tried to be a journal for them ... the front line soldiers. People like Dick Koenig and Carl Linder and Bill Decker have tried to keep the magazine geared to them. Good people have written for the magazine. John Vannorsdall. Carl Uehling. Chuck Austin. Carol Worthing. Terry Mullins. A whole gang of others, too. Even yours truly.
Partners has always known pastors and rostered lay ministers to be the target audience. Rostered leaders out there doing good ministry. They are ready for a little serious theology, and Partners gives it to them. They’re ready for some reflection on how they do ministry, and they can find that in Partners too. They’re looking for good books to read, good videos to watch, and Partners tries to give them suggestions along those lines. Now I’m not saying that Partners always does a perfect job of that. Some issues are better than others. But Partners is a steadfast friend in the process.”
“Spoken like a true preacher, Stanley, and a good company man, too. You’re boring when you talk like that.”
“Maybe, Tacky. But sometimes boring can be accurate just the same. Besides, Partners has always given its readers a chance to respond. There are some interesting letters in every issue. As a matter of fact, there are people who write letters to Partners who have their names in the magazine as often as I do. I like the letters. I like the dialogue. I even like the ones that come in roasting me. They keep me on my toes.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. But tell me this: how much longer do you think Partners is going to hang around? I might be an old guy, but I am still more interested in the future than I am in the past. Really now, do you think something like Partners has a place in the church of tomorrow?”
“Absolutely, Tacky. Partners has a history of pushing out onto the edge. If your aging memory stretches back that far, you might remember that it was a publication of the three churches that eventually became the ELCA back when the ELCA itself was just a gleam in a few eyes. Not only that, but ministry isn’t going to get any easier. It isn’t going to get any less lonely or less confusing. Pastors and rostered lay ministers are going to need as much help and encouragement tomorrow as they needed yesterday, and Partners can help them get some of that. Besides, I’ve got some hopes and dreams for Partners that could make it even more important.”
|“Lutheran Partners was born when Jimmy Carter was president, the green hymnal was known as ‘the new hymnal,’ only kooks thought churches would ever have a use for a computer, and we were still three branches on the Lutheran tree.”|
Hopes and Dreams
“Well,even saying this will probably get me in hot water, but I’ve always wished our head honcho, the presiding bishop, would pen a little message to the troops in each issue. Not the kind of thing the bish' might write in The Lutheran or something like that, but something down and dirty, from the bishop to the ordinary folks. Letting one’s hair down, insofar as a bishop ever gets to do that. Come to think of it, after a little time in that job, bishops (especially males) don’t usually have much hair left to let down. Some words from one pastor to another.”
“Presiding bishops are busy people, Stanley. Probably don’t have time to do something like that.”
“Probably not, but I wish they could find the time. But that’s not all. I figure the church is going to be dealing with all kinds of exciting stuff in the next 25 years. Frankly, we’ll probably be fussing about sexuality for at least that long. I want Partners to be a place where we can talk to each other, directly yet civilly, about the things we disagree about.”
“So, lots of fighting. That’s what keeps you interested.”
“You’ve got to admit it’s educational, Tacky. But not just fighting. I’d like to read some first-hand reports about people who are out there doing various kinds of ministry. I know what my life is like. But what’s it like to be the pastor of a congregation in rural Montana? What’s it like to do Sunday school in a church that just has 25 kids in Sunday school? Or in a church that has 1,000 kids? What’s it like to start a new mission church, or, for that matter, to close down a dying church? What’s it like to be a chaplain in a nursing home, or a staff pastor in one of our mega-churches? I like theory stories, Tacky, but I like people stories even more.”
“That’s what it finally comes down to, isn’t it, Stanley? People.”
“You bet, Tacky. Partners isn’t People magazine. Never has been and never will be. It’s not going to have articles on clergy fashion or the 100 Hottest Pastors. But it is about the people who lead our churches. And it’s for them, too. That’s what it’s been and what it’s going to be. I know some people think it’s just a company thing, that it just tells you what the home office is thinking. I disagree. If people are going to read it, it has to have a diversity of opinion in it and not just the official party line.”
“Stanley, you’re getting boring again. I can’t afford to spend the day just listening to you jabber. There’s work to be done!”
“Darn right, Tacky. Go do the work. Maybe Partners can help you a bit with some of it, or just brighten your day a bit.”
“BORING, Stanley, BORING. See ya.”
And with a click, Tacky was gone.
Steven L. McKinley is senior pastor of House of Prayer Lutheran Church, Richfield, MN.