June 1st I will celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of my ordination to the Christian ministry. It was the twenty-fifth anniversary of my father's ordination. He was already serving student parishes when I was born. For all of my almost sixty-two years I have been a part of this institution, so I am hardly an objective observer. But I am an experienced one. I have been a preacher's kid, a lay person in the pews and a pastor in the pulpit. I've seen the local church from most all angles, and while it is far from perfect, indeed at times very flawed, it is also an institution which has the capability of being an enormous force for the good in our world today, even as it has been in the past.
My PhD studies focused on church history, in particular, American Church History. I asked my seminary president what he thought I should major in for my doctorate, New testament Studies, Church History or Theology. He asked me how I was with languages. I said, "It's not my favorite part of being a student." "Well," he said, "if you go into any of those fields you'll need at least two languages, but except for American Church History, you'll need three or four languages." I opted for American Church History!
In my course work and writing my dissertation, I was reminded over and over again of the many ways we have failed as an institution, how all too often we have been on the wrong side of history. While the church led the charge in the abolition movement, much of the church vigorously defended slavery for decades. While some in the church were part of the women's movement, patriarchy was often the rule rather than the exception. It still is in parts of the church. While there were and are compassionate folks in the church who have helped address the AIDS pandemic, some in the church have seen it as a punishment for persons living in ways of which they did not approve. You get my point.
But all that said--and there is much more that could be said--I remain firmly committed to the church, for I believe that it is an institution that has the capacity to being open to the stirring of God's Spirit. I believe that it can be (and often is) a source of healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and grace in a world sorely in need of all the healing it can get.
But, as I said, I am far from objective !