Father Harold Stanhope removed the stole from around his neck—green, since September is Ordinary Time in the liturgical year—and laid it back on the shelf. Then he unfastened the rope cinch around his waist, took off his alb, and hung it on the rack next to the stole. After pouring himself a glass of cranberry juice over ice, he kicked off his shoes and settled into his favorite chair. It had been a good morning.
He had spent most of the past two hours standing—while preaching, celebrating Holy Communion, and greeting the people as they left the chapel following the service—and at age eighty-one, that was not as easy to do as it once was. Father Harry, as everybody called him, was tired, but he was also very happy. His ministry filled him with satisfaction and a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of serving God in this place. Continue reading →
Well, it didn’t take long for me to break my self-imposed fast from Facebook and this blog, but I need to say something in response to some personal messages I have received lately (based on the assumption that if some people are voicing thoughts like this, at least a few more are probably thinking them without saying anything).
My daughter is a single mother with an active, healthy eight-year-old son who is in the third grade and doing very well in a challenging academic and social environment. She is employed full-time in a helping profession that requires her to travel extensively in the local area and to be on-call and available for emergencies even when she is off-duty. Continue reading →
I had never heard of the term “epic fail” when I went through one in 1986.
At age 36, I was in my second year as pastor of a large Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, VA. I had joined the church’s staff as an associate pastor in 1982 and was called, by unanimous vote of the congregation, to succeed my popular predecessor, who had served in that role for nearly twenty years, when he moved on to a church in Pennsylvania in 1984. Two years into my term, things were not going well. I was exhausted—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—and discouraged. In early January, I resigned, fairly sure that I lacked the gifts necessary for effective pastoral ministry and maybe for vocational ministry of any sort. Continue reading →
On two or three occasions in my life, I’ve had a strong inclination to pursue a particular course of action, but, at the time, I could not honestly say whether I was being led by God or driven by my personal desires and inner impulses. On those occasions, I followed a consistent pattern.
Take a different road.
I told God (in a reverent and respectful way, of course) that I intended to forge ahead with my plans, since I felt so strongly about doing that, and if the course I had chosen was inconsistent with his sovereign plan, he could close the door or block the road. I wasn’t being obstinate or impertinent. I felt the time for movement had come, I was not clear about the will of God in the matter, and if, when it became clear, I needed to change course, I would readily admit my error and make the necessary change. I believe, over the years, God has honored that honest approach to knowing and doing his will. Continue reading →
The subject of this post is a new idea for me. I usually don’t write about something until I have thought about it for much longer than I have thought about this. I mention this in order to say that I reserve the right to retract everything I say here after I have had time to consider it more carefully. In the meantime, I want to test the idea while it is still fresh in my mind.
Even though I don’t attend church services very often these days, I still consider myself a churchman. I recognize the importance of the community of believers for the cultivation and development of faithful Christian discipleship, and I look forward to the day when I will once again be part of a local body of believers, experiencing and benefiting from corporate worship, accountability, and mutual care. (I have written elsewhere about why this is not happening right now, but if you’d like to know more, look me up, buy me a cup of coffee or some other beverage, and I’ll be happy to be more specific in a face-to-face chat.) Continue reading →
I’ve known for years that most people who have heard me preach think that I do a pretty good job. I hope that doesn’t sound like bragging. Truth is I’ve always assumed that if God calls you to do a particular work, he will also supply sufficient gifts so that, if you work hard, you can achieve at least a moderate level of proficiency in the task. I would hate to think that God called me to do something at which I would never be any good. Continue reading →
When I first pitched him the proposal that I should write a book encompassing the story of his life, Arthur Lough thought the whole idea was absurd. I know he felt this way because of something he said.
I believe his exact words were, “I think the whole idea is absurd. Who in his right mind would want to read the story of my life, unless possibly as a cure for insomnia?”
Leaving aside his implication that my writing style might put readers to sleep, I tried to counter his larger objection. “A lot of people care about you, Arthur. I think many of them would love to read the story of how you moved from Northern Ireland to the States and from fundamentalism to Anglicanism. Besides, our primary purpose would not be to write a bestseller.” Continue reading →
Just over a year ago, I created a blog, in addition to this one, which I called That’s A Good Question. The new blog’s subtitle summarized its purpose: A frank conversation about Christian faith and contemporary culture. Here’s what I said about it when I introduced it, on April 24, 2012, in a post on this blog.
I was a Bible college professor for fourteen years. I never set out to pursue a career in academics, but when God led me into that ministry, I found that I loved it. My students kept me honest by forcing me to think critically, write carefully, and speak cogently. I miss the classroom, and I am grateful that many of my former students stay in touch.
Before I die, I hope to be part of a church which identifies itself, deliberately and forthrightly, as an agent of the Kingdom of God. More particularly, I hope that church will embrace the three-fold relationship of the church to the Kingdom which Lesslie Newbigin described when he wrote,
“The church is only true to its calling when it is a sign, an instrument, and a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.”
On March 22, I posted the following status update on my Facebook wall:
I have progress to report on the possibility of a new church in W or NW Columbus. You will be able to read it in my blog next week, but it is encouraging. I’ve always said that it might be that God was not saying “No” to that vision, but rather “Not yet.” I still believe that is what He is saying. The vision has not died!
I have begun posting announcements of future commitments as a way of holding myself accountable—lest I rationalize my way out of following through on them—and of forestalling my natural tendency to procrastinate. The problem with this pattern, I am finding, is that I post the announcement in a moment of enthusiasm and jubilant potentiality. Later, when the ardor has cooled and the chill of reality has settled in, it is difficult to recapture that original enthusiasm, or even to recall why I felt so optimistic in the first place.
I feel that way, at least somewhat, with regard to the announcement above. I posted it last Friday afternoon, just hours after a conversation which had left me fairly bursting with excitement. Nearly a week later, that enthusiasm has done daily battle with my innate cynicism, and if I had not made the public commitment, I could easily convince myself that any “progress” on this front is so incremental that to discuss it here, and especially to extrapolate future possibilities from it, would be premature in the extreme.