Category Archives: Featured Content

Bridgeport Church Reborn To Serve Community

By Tracy Simmons/

“Summerfield was the church on the hill that nobody knew about. Now, it’s the light on the hill that many, many people know about,” said Elsie Pratt as she reflected on her 25 years at Summerfield United Methodist Church in Bridgeport.

Pratt, 85, was watching her church slowly die. A fence wrapped around the church, locking it away from the East Ward neighborhood.  And except for a handful of retired, Caucasian adults who pulled into the parking lot on Sunday mornings, the church was eerily quiet.

“It was like a cemetery,” said the Rev. Marjorie E. Nunes.


Nunes didn’t plan helping Summerfield UMC come back to life. In fact, she didn’t plan on becoming a minister at all.

She was content working as an executive at a software firm in New York City, but God kept nagging at her, she said.

“When God is calling, you get an uncomfortable feeling. He has his hands on you, he’s made up his mind calling you to ministry, and you can’t get rid of it (the uncomfortable feeling) until you say yes,” Nunes said.

She already had her bachelor’s and master’s in economics, but decided to enroll at Union Theological Seminary to study religion, hoping it would ease the badgering feeling she had in the pit of her stomach.

It didn’t work.

After making an impression in a preaching class, a professor urged her to pursue a career in ministry. Now an academic and God were nagging her and she couldn’t ignore it anymore.

Nunes earned her Master of Divinity degree, went through the ordination process and began working as an associate pastor of a vibrant church in Brooklyn before being called to serve at Summerfield in 2002.

When she arrived at the church to lead her first worship service, she found the gate in the front of the sanctuary padlocked with a note instructing guests to drive around to the social hall for service. Inside were about a dozen people.

“The church had lost its identity. No one was going to stop and come into a church with a lock on the gate,” she said. “Nobody knew the church. They knew the building, but didn’t make a connection to the church because nothing was going on.”

Nunes, the church’s first African American pastor, knew she had a lot of work to do. With the help of enthusiastic parishioners she started new programs at the church to help members reconnect to the community, went door-to-door handing out fliers, added two new congregations — Spanish and Haitian, and slowly heard the church start to buzz again.

“It took three or four years to let people know we’re a church, and we’re open for business,” she said.

Pratt said Summerfield is a thriving congregation again, thanks to Nunes’ efforts.

“The church used to be open on Sundays and that was about it. Now, you can go in almost any time of day and something’s going on,” she said. “We’re a very busy church now.”

Photo courtesy of Rev. Nunes

It was in the midst of the Summerfield revival when Nunes got that “uncomfortable feeling” again. This time, it was the push to pursue a Doctorate of Ministry.

Nunes resisted.

“Not another degree, what am I a professional student?,” she thought to herself. “I had my church to worry about.”

But Nunes listened and enrolled at Harford Seminary’s doctor of ministry program.  This decision, she said, changed her life and her church.

She named her thesis, “To dream again: A new dream of a new community for new times.” The DMIN project, she said, is what kept her on track as she continued to  help the congregation transform.

“It (her project) fueled me. It kept me focused. God uses many tools to get us to where God wants us to be. You have to be open to all those tools and Hartford Seminary was one of the tools that God was going to use to revitalize this church,” Nunes said.

Through classes, academic readings, a supportive Hartford Seminary faculty and ministry colleagues Nunes got to see her project come to fruition, she said.

Summerfield now has a summer program for neighborhood children, a food pantry, a clothing closet, has a new music program, overhead projectors and is an ethnically diverse congregation. Between the English, Spanish and French services, Nunes said about 140 people worship at the church each weekend.

“We have projections to go over 200 on a weekend, which would be a big deal for us, because we were the church nobody knew,” she said.

Bishops’ point man on ‘religious liberty’ gets a promotion

By David Gibson
Religion News Service

Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., testifies on President Obama's proposed contraception mandate before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. RNS photo courtesy House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

BRIDGEPORT — If there is any Catholic bishop in the U.S. who probably didn’t need a bigger platform, it would be William E. Lori, who was named Tuesday (March 20) by Pope Benedict XVI as the next archbishop of Baltimore.

For the past decade, Lori has led the Diocese of Bridgeport in Connecticut’s Fairfield County, but in recent months he’s become the public face of the hierarchy’s new signature issue: the fight for “religious freedom.”

It’s a fight that has defined Lori’s career — and is likely to define the public face of the church in the months to come.

In political terms, Lori has been tasked with coordinating the bishops’ opposition to the White House’s birth control mandate as well as opposing gay marriage and a host of other hot-button controversies.

Last September, Lori was tapped to lead the bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty in order to sharpen the bishops’ message and raise their profile after years of playing defense in the clergy sexual abuse scandals.

In recent months, Lori has testified in Congress three times, and the bishops’ fight with the White House has dominated the headlines and even seeped into the 2012 presidential race.

“To tell you the truth, I feel a sense of urgency about it,” Lori said, with some understatement, in an interview a few days before his promotion. “But at the same time it’s a work that’s important and fulfilling and I enjoy it.”

Quiet and soft-spoken, Lori nonetheless brings a single-minded focus to defending sacred principles while also deploying the kind of double-edged humor that a religious leader needs to do battle in the public square. He can be sharp to the point of sarcastic but also self-effacing in regards to his own career.

“They say timing is everything,” Lori said with the quiet laugh of a man who tends to see the irony and absurdity of so many aspects of modern life.

Now, with the move to Baltimore — the oldest archdiocese in the U.S. — timing is again Lori’s ally. At just 60 years old, his new post will put him that much closer to the action, and now he’ll have a papal imprimatur to bring with him.

Unlike the gregarious Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Lori is slightly-built and almost shy. He likes nothing more than reading history, and loves books so much that he named his pair of sibling Golden Retrievers “Barnes” and “Noble.”

“I am dialed-down quite a bit from Cardinal Dolan, no doubt about that,” Lori said during an interview in the chapel at Sacred Heart University.

Lori learned the virtue of hard work from his immigrant family, especially his Sicilian grandfather, who arrived in America in the depths of the Great Depression and managed to launch a successful fruit and vegetable store. Born in Louisville, Ky., and raised in nearby Indiana, Lori watched his grandfather work in his garden until he was 87, and it was a lesson he never forgot.

“I’m happy, and I love working,” he said. “Happiness and hard work go hand in hand.”

It was also a lesson Lori took to the seminary, and it paid off. After studies in Kentucky, he earned a master’s degree from Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and was ordained in 1977. He earned his doctorate from Catholic University five years later, and after a brief stint as an associate pastor in suburban Washington, he went to work for the late Cardinal James Hickey of Washington.

Lori wound up working for Hickey for 18 years, serving in a variety of posts and learning even more about what it meant to work hard: “There are two words that I feared most at 10:00 at night from the cardinal: ‘Second wind.’ That would mean you were going until one in the morning.”

In 2001, Lori was appointed to Bridgeport. Knowing that he could be made a bishop, he says he checked to see which dioceses had vacancies, and saw two: Bridgeport and Fairbanks, Alaska. “I said a little prayer that it might be the former. I’m just not that good at ice fishing and flying a Cessna,” he said.

Within months, Lori was facing two huge crises: the 9/11 attacks that claimed many of his new flock, and the clergy abuse crisis that has continued to dog the hierarchy.

While Lori is known for his orthodoxy on doctrine and social issues, he was praised by many for taking a hard line in dealing with abusive priests, and in dealing with subsequent financial scandals that emerged. On the other hand, Lori also fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep documents on private settlements with victims — reached before he became bishop — sealed. He argued his case on religious freedom grounds, but eventually lost.

But two other episodes helped shape his outlook. One was a proposal by a pair of state senators to change the structure of Catholic parishes to have lay people, rather than priests and bishops, in charge. Critics suspected it was legislative mischief prompted by Lori’s vocal opposition to Connecticut’s gay marriage law.

Lori rallied the state’s bishops and thousands of Catholics in a public campaign against the bill, which died fairly quickly. But it provided a template for Lori’s current national approach.

“If it’s just bishops speaking, in a democracy, we understand that as charming and as reasonable and as innately delightful as we all are, we’ll have a better chance for a hearing when there’s a lot of people out there saying, wait, this is a problem.”

Another case, however, showed that Lori also knows the value of a strategic retreat. In 2007, Connecticut mandated that all hospitals provide emergency contraception to rape victims, a mandate that Lori and the other Connecticut bishops resisted much as they have the White House’s current contraception mandate.

Within months, Connecticut bishops said they had undergone “an evolution in thinking” and now believed that the Plan B pill would not necessarily cause an abortion and so could be used at Catholic medical facilities.

Lori says the decision was a prudent one, based on the facts, and that the current Obama mandate is different because it includes other pills that are closer to abortion, as well as sterilizations. Despite the White House’s assurances, he also doesn’t believe that compromise proposals will not force the church to pay for contraception.

In that view of President Obama, Lori is voicing skepticism shared by the bishops but not necessarily their flocks. That sort of disagreement is the kind of thing that really gets his “dander up,” as he said in explaining why he wrote a “nippy” response to an editorial in the Jesuit magazine America that had critiqued the bishops’ wisdom in the religious freedom battle.

“I felt that an ironic — some would say sarcastic — little piece was a knife to cut through the fog,” Lori said, relishing the memory of the exchange. “I enjoy a good piece of writing that has a bit of an edge to it, and other people do, too. We’re all big boys and girls.”

Lori believes that exuding joy as a bishop, not to mention displaying a sense of humor, is key to preaching the gospel. But if Lori’s approach and sense of humor isn’t to everyone’s liking, he insists that too much is at stake to let personal feelings get in the way.

“Once you have preached the principle that a government can define a church and tell a church what to do, well, it could tell us about contraception today, it could tell us about abortion tomorrow, and physician-assisted suicide the day after that. It is the principle of the thing,” he said.

“We certainly have to speak reasonably and civilly. But we also have to speak prophetically. And sometimes prophets are thought to be strident.”

Romney Tell Us The Story Of Wall Street’s 2008 Failure

By Tobin Hitt

We’re 300 hundred million souls in 2012 in search of a little political narrative now and then.

Moses told the people of the promised land (Exodus 13,4-5; 15,13). Jesus told Peter of feeding the sheep (John 21:15).

I’m thinking even Brigham Young told the flock why they should follow him to Salt Lake City.

But Governor Romney we haven’t heard you tell the story and of the Wall Street collapse of 2008, and the subsequent taxpayer-funded bailout. Wasn’t it greed and the pervasive “it’s all about the money” attitude that caused the whole mess?

Read full story here.

Bishop hopes to restart White House contraception talks

c. 2012 Religion News Service
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (RNS) The Catholic bishop leading the push against the White House’s contraception mandate says the bishops hope to restart contentious talks with the Obama administration, but cautioned that church leaders “have gotten mixed signals from the administration” and the situation “is very fluid.”
Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who chairs the religious liberty committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Religion News Service that Catholics have to stay united if the hierarchy is to have any chance of prevailing in negotiations with the White House.
Ever since President Obama bowed to growing pressure and shifted the mandate to provide contraception mandate to insurance companies and away from religious employers, the White House has been hosting talks with various religious groups about a plan to modify the regulation.
Catholic institutions like hospitals, universities and social service agencies are most directly affected by the regulation because they are the biggest faith-based employers. They have also been much more amenable to the Obama accommodation than have the bishops.
Many bishops are upset with Catholic groups that have dealt independently with the administration, and some have also accused the administration of trying to divide the church.
“I think the hardest thing is that the administration deals with us in a segmented way,” said Lori, who has testified before Congress three times in opposition to the mandate.
“If there is really going to be a solution to things, we ought to all be in the room,” he said.
Lori said the bishops “do not have a monopoly on the church” but are nonetheless “responsible for a large part of how this works and for the Catholicity of all the institutions. So there ought to be an attempt to have an inclusive conversation with the Catholic Church, and not a segmented one. And I think that is in part why we are in a fairly unhappy spot right now.”
Lori and some 40 other leading bishops will meet in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 13-14) for discussions expected to focus on relations with the White House and, in particular, the contraception mandate.
Lori said that the bishops “are not looking for a fight with the administration.” The bishops, he said, “are painfully aware that it is awfully difficult, in an election year and in the culture we have now, to have that conversation” about birth control.
“Are we doing it perfectly? No, of course not. But that’s certainly our intent.”
He reiterated earlier criticisms by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, who charged the administration with acting peremptorily in negotiations, and with wielding statements from Catholics that are critical of the bishops’ stance.
Administration officials have rejected those charges, and say the White House “has sought the views of bishops on resolving difficult policy problems, only to be rebuffed.”
Lori said that if there are “the conditions for the possibility of success,” then the talks can move ahead.
“All of us want to have a civil and productive conversation here,” he said. But he agreed with Dolan that “it isn’t looking good, and that’s too bad.”
Lori said that barring an advance in talks with the White House, the bishops see hope of modifying or overturning the contraception mandate through the courts. He added that rallying Catholics “and public opinion in general” around the theme of religious freedom remains the church’s best chance for changing the mandate through legislation or by giving the bishops political leverage.
One problem for the bishops, however, is the shifting and unsettled political terrain. Thanks in large part to the ugly comments about women and contraception by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh and others, public opinion seems to be swinging in favor of the administration’s policies.
Congressional Republicans seem less eager to push legislation against the mandate, and the White House is exploiting this shift by courting women voters by reiterating the president’s support for contraception coverage and abortion rights.
Lori noted that “there are points of agreement” between the administration and the bishops, such as on the need for health care reform.
“I think if we see the whole relationship only through the lens of the … mandate, we will probably get a skewed view of it.”

Speak up, stand up

By Tobin Hitt

Archie Bunker (does anyone remember “All in the Family”?) used to tell Edith, whenever she piped up “Go stifle yourself!”

It wasn’t that Edith’s occasional word in edgewise was off base, it was that Archie wanted to keep her quiet.

Well churches are a bit more subtle, especially in today’s politically correct world, but it’s hard to avoid thinking that sometimes they would still prefer that the unordained just “pray, pay and obey.”

Read full post here.

Ashes to Go

The Rev. Ann Ritonia from Church of the Good Shepherd participates in Ashes to Go/Contributed

The Rev. Ann Ritonia from Church of the Good Shepherd (680 Racebrook
Road in Orange) stands along the Post Road in Orange on Ash Wednesday,
offering ashes to anyone as a part of the national “Ashes to Go”
( movement. Ash Wednesday services will be held at
the church at 12:30p.m. and 7 p.m. today. In addition, Rev. Ritonia will be
offering Ashes to Go until noon, and again from  4 p.m to 6 p.m at the CT Post
Mall Food Court.

Lori’s Kosher Deli

By Mark Sillk
Religion News Service

Mark Silk

As noted in this space, some Catholic thinkers have been favoring us with some serious theologizing as they make their respective cases for how to respond to the Obama Administration’s contraception coverage mandate. And then there’s the Most Rev. William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, CT. Yesterday, His Excellency showed up at Rep. Darrell Issa’s religious-opponents-only hearing on the mandate to deliver himself of the Parable of the Kosher Deli, an exercise of the analogical imaginationfit to make David Tracy wish he was a Protestant.

The parable imagines a new government order requiring kosher delicatessens to sell pork. The Orthodox Jews are up in arms, and the thing limps along in rough parallel to the current tale of the mandate. Yes, the government adjusts the policy a bit, but this now affects the kosher meat suppliers, and they’re not happy. You get the idea. What’s interesting about Lori’s little jeu d’esprit is not how inept the analogy is, however, but how a proper Parable of the Kosher Deli would prove the opposite of what he’s seeking to demonstrate.

In fact, the rules of kashrut forbid Jews from eating pork, not selling it or otherwise being involved in its provision. No doubt, a mandate to sell pork would be resisted by the deli owners, but the point here–and it’s not a trivial one–is that Orthodox Jews have no objection to non-Jews eating pork, or to doing anything to help them to do so.

 Read full post here.

The Freedom and Authority of Loving First

By Tobin Hitt

In every relationship God has he makes the first move, a move of love.

It’s no,t “I’ll love you if you do this, or if you have that.” He so loved us first, and past Calvary, no ifs at all.

When we love people first, it’s a sign our hearts are still alive. If we love second, well the love is still a blessing, but it has a pulling teeth quality, a condition or two, and is not nearly as godly as the overflow of loving first. You could say it’s easier to resist the pull of love, than resist the outpouring of it, because godly love wants to makes itself known now, and first.

Loving first is also patient and kind and looks outward beyond the operative principle of me.

If Christians have God’s spirit living in us, then we have the ability to love first, and open our church doors, and not miss the people sent to us. In other words, there’s some godly freedom in our love, a freedom to say Alleluia more, and bark less.

Read full post here.

Pagans celebrate ancient holiday with quiet reflection

By Rev. Amanda Morris

The energy of this time of year is hard to describe. Winter holiday festivities are long past, and it seems like there is nothing to look forward to for the next few months. It’s the end of winter and beginning of spring, but that doesn’t always make sense. Some cities haven’t even gotten cold yet and the bulbs are already popping up, while other places are still buried under many feet of snow with no hope for blooms or sunlight.

Imbolc, celebrated on the second of February, is the ancient Irish holiday that commemorates this in-between time. Originally a festival celebrating ewes’ milk, this was the time of year that pregnant sheep started lactating, which meant it was a good time to make cheese. Most people, though, have never even seen a ewe, let alone any other type of lactating livestock. Although ancient Ireland is worlds away from the contemporary United States, Imbolc still holds important lessons for everyone.

It’s still cold outside, or if it’s not cold, it’s still grey and brown and dreary. Because of the blustery weather, this is a good festival to spend with the family, focusing on hearth and home. It is a good time of year to start working on spring cleaning and to start thinking of the tasks and projects that need to be done once spring is fully here.

While Yule is a fire festival that is bright and dynamic and exciting, Imbolc, while still a festival of flames, is more quiet and reflective. It’s a good time to sit in front of the fireplace, or in front of a flickering candle, and focus on arts, crafts and other creative projects that you enjoy doing.

Many of us have no idea how our food gets from the farm to our homes, but Imbolc might be a good time to honor livestock and crops even if we don’t have any of our own. Traditional holiday foods are milk and cheese, so treat your family to something local, organic, free range and delicious.

Some Catholics may know this holiday as Candlemass, or perhaps St. Brigid’s Day. Brigid is a clear example of an ancient Pagan goddess who was reinterpreted by Christians and given a whole new life and story. Flames and creativity are sacred to Brigid, who may be related to a northern goddess who predicted winter by the length of the shadows. Bright, sunny weather on Candlemass meant she could gather lots of extra firewood for a prolonged winter.

February for many is still the winter, but the tradition of Groundhog’s Day has its roots in the ancient Pagan world when people would look to nature for omens to see just how long winter would last. Maybe the groundhog isn’t afraid of his shadow on February second, but rather the cold weather the winter goddess promises to bring in February!

Rev. Amanda Morris is an ordained minister of the Universal Gnostic
Communion (, as well as an initiated Wiccan
priestess. She busies herself with coffee, reading groups, open
circles, covens and other community activities in the Triangle area of
North Carolina.

What do people say to ministers?

by Eric Anderson

Not long ago, a video appeared in my Facebook News Feed. I watched it. I recognized one of the actors. I chortled. I laughed out loud. And, being somewhat cautious in the language I use in public, I hesitated to re-Share it on my own Wall. It was, after all titled “[Stuff] people say to ministers.”

The video, with its unbowdlerized title and content, is below.

I’ve been an ordained minister for twenty-three years. And I’ve heard most of the questions asked in the video below over that time (I’m particularly fond of the sequence of blank stares). OK, I haven’t heard the question about being a nun, and I haven’t heard many of the Mayan calendar questions. I suspect that’s just chance. But I’ve certainly been asked what I do when it’s not Sunday, and people clearly stop before telling me certain jokes.

I watched it. I recognized the people being played by the actors. I chortled. I laughed out loud.

And I hesitated before sharing it on my own Wall, because I knew that this light, playful, slightly wistful mirror on the life of an ordained minister, which had been created by four people still in the early days of that life, could so easily be seen and heard as a dismissal of those earnest, honest people who dare to lay aside their ignorance and ask a question.

It isn’t, and I know it isn’t, and so I commend the filmmakers, my colleagues and friends (alums and soon-to-be alums of my own seminary), for their gentle humor, their earnest wrestling with the new shape of their lives, and their courageous honesty. I offer them my sympathy for the misunderstandings that I fear will come their way.

There are so many ways in which members of the clergy share the experience of other professionals, other “experts” in a field of study. We are sought out for what we know and what we know how to do – for exposition of texts treasured by communities for thousands of years, for comforting the bereaved in the midst of shock and loss, for expressing the needs and longings of a community to powers beyond us – and we are also subject to being dismissed for filling those expectations. The therapist frustrated by the client who rejects the advice “that sounds like something a psychologist would say” and the safety consultant dismissed for being “over-cautious” will recognize the experience of the preacher whose warnings about selfishness go unheeded because that, after all, is “what ministers always say.”

Like these other professionals, ministers may be discounted if they seem to step outside their field. The auto mechanic is unlikely to be taken seriously when giving stock advice, and the securities trader may be ignored when suggesting a remedy for car trouble. The minister faces this problem in the week-to-week exercise of the profession, however, attending to the management of a physical plant and to the oversight of financial resources. Not all ministers are good at these things. I, for example, am far better at recognizing plumbing problems than fixing them. Those who are highly skilled, however, may find it difficult to have their skills recognized by other leaders around them.

The video touches upon a basic characteristic of ordained ministry: it comes with a huge load of cultural expectations, some of which (listen to the questions) have been confused amidst the shifts of culture, some of which have combined expectations from disparate traditions, and some of which have been muddled by imperfect transmission of the traditions. In a society increasingly disconnected from a common religious heritage, this puzzling welter of expectations is likely to only get more scattered.

As I said, I’ve been asked what I do when it’s not Sunday. It’s not really a bad question. Very few people prepare a new public presentation every week, so it’s difficult to appreciate the planning time required for a sermon (and indeed, the entire worship service). One hundred years ago, the pastor’s house-to-house visits which kept the community aware of its members’ needs were easily visible down the street or across the fields. Today, the pastor’s car blends in with the rest, and in cities and suburbs the pastoral visit is a rare event since families are only briefly together at the close of day. Planning meetings, hospital visits, and convalescent home calls are mostly invisible. It’s Sunday morning that can be seen.

But some of the questions reveal the power – and the constraints – placed upon clergy by others’ expectations. “Oh, so you’re a minister? I used to sleep around a lot in college.” It’s funny; it’s also a statement of profound honesty that I can’t imagine being addressed to a member of very many other professions. The mere mention of the vocation’s name invited a memory and a moral reflection. It’s an invitation (potentially, anyway) to a deeper conversation. The same is true of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Can you lead us in grace?”

How many people, walking into a room, communicate the compassion of a community, and of a Power greater than any community, simply by their presence? It’s an extraordinary privilege.

Likewise the constraints: the questions about musical tastes, and sexuality, and drinking, and swearing. “It’s so great that the church lets you out.” Oh, yes, and my favorite, the puzzled stares. Those are real. There’s a line in the ordination service which is so true it’s nearly universally ignored: “Set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands.” The cultural expectation, however muddled and confused, follows right along. These people are, in some way we may not entirely understand, different. Set apart. Subject to a different set of expectations. Accountable in entirely different ways.

The best example I can come up with is the expectation about, well, dumb questions. Every professional, every worker in a trade, gets them. Few will be surprised at the occasional annoyed outburst. Hurt, perhaps, but not surprised.

From clergy, it’s surprising. It’s more than surprising: it’s not acceptable.

That’s not unique – many of the other helping professions come with a similar expectation – but I recall the degree of shock and even some outrage which greeted my friend Lillain Daniel’s exasperated (though considered) response to one-too-many casual “I’m spiritual, but not religious” conversations with strangers. She should have listened to the person, I read. He may have possessed wisdom she hadn’t heard.

Perhaps she should. Perhaps he did.

But if she was a therapist with years of study in her field and 20 years of counseling practice, would we so easily endorse a questioner’s statement, “I don’t need therapy for my failings. I’ve got my own resources.”

Perhaps we should. Perhaps he has.

But perhaps he doesn’t.

What do people say to ministers? They accept the invitation of the calling and the office to go places they might not go with anyone else in the world, powerful places of self-examination and spiritual exploration. They project upon the minister, the rabbi, the nun, the priest, the monk, all the power of spiritual community and spiritual Power, and reaching through that projection, they sometimes find the real thing.

And what do people say to ministers? They may also project their mistaken understandings of the office and the calling, and stumble into conversations that will take huge effort to end up somewhere good. Sometimes they’re innocuous and humorous – for Protestants, at least, that describes the questions about sex – but sometimes they’re not.

“Well, I don’t believe that the world was created in seven days, so I don’t believe in God.” That’s a place it’s hard to move on from. It places definitions of faith and ministry on the table that may, but probably don’t, apply. The very statement announces a closed door. Opening it is not impossible, but it’s very, very hard.

Full credit to these, my now-and-future colleagues in this puzzling, precious calling. They’ve dared to ask the questions. They’ll need to find the answers, and some of them must be rediscovered every single time they hear the question.

They’ll face these questions and more because they will live set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands.

Here’s the link to the video: