Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Theory and Practice of Ministry: It Gets Real.

Set 4: The Practice of Ministry
Open Resources

A mass shooting has just occurred in your town. None of the members of your congregation was directly affected, but they are deeply shaken by it and other murders that have become prevalent in the United States and elsewhere. You are the only parish priest in a congregation of about 90 worshippers on a Sunday.

The answer should be approximately 1,000 words.
First, briefly identify appropriate theological considerations that have a bearing upon your response to such events.
Second, write an overview of your pastoral response that displays the interrelationship of theology and the practice of ministry. Your overview should:
Note the unique role of the Church, as an organization grounded in Christian faith, in responding to such tragedies.
Identify the groups or constituencies in your congregation with whom you will speak and what you will say to them, e.g., lay leaders who work with children.
Show awareness of the congregation’s relationship to the surrounding community. Include the wider social context or situation associated with such an event and its aftermath.
Note: A mass murder can occur in a variety of settings such as a post office, school, nightclub, work place, church, or many others. You are free to fictionalize the scenario if it will help you, but remember that the unique role of the Church in society is not dependent on the specific setting of this tragedy. Be sure to keep the focus on what the question asks.

There are few constants in American life.  One is death, DPC supposes.  Another is taxes.  Yet another, in this 21st century world, is gun violence. 

When DPC was in seminary, a mass shooting at a large college occurred on a dour, rainy day in April.  That afternoon, DPC walked into Liturgics, and the professor said, 

“I’m sorry to do this to you, but I am going to ask you to pretend that you are the rector of a church in that town.  For the rest of class, we are going to talk about what you would do today. Because this is what actual ministry is.  Even on the days when you’re grieving and shocked yourself, you have to have a response.  So, I am sorry.  But today, we need to talk about what yours would be.”  

Though there is a 1,000 word limit on the question.
In the years following, DPC has been grateful, again and again, for that class, as the specter of gun violence continues to loom large over the American landscape.  And so, DPC is pretty impressed that this question emerges from GBEC.  It is a very real situation; it is well-nigh inescapable, and it catches too many clergy flat footed when it happens.  This question asks you to formulate a broad-based response, incorporating solid Christian theology, and all the necessary stakeholders in the
church.  It’s a good question.

That’ll do, GBEC. That’ll do.

However, DPC must quibble with a few points here.  (Quibbling is both a blessing and a curse; it is the superpower of the Dread Pirate Crusty!)
Spidey and DPC totes talk about this when we hang out.

First off, DPC calls BS on the idea that no one in your church was affected by the shooting.  DPC has some side-eye for that notion.  Communities are intertwined in the most random of ways, and even in large cities, the reach of Episcopalians is broad and deep.  Someone always knows someone's brother’s friend’s cousin, or went to school with that one guy, or just “hey, I drove past that movie theater all the time.”  Part of what makes these acts of violence so terrifying is that they strike at the normal fabric of our lives, and affect all of us.  Even if no one in the church died in the violence, that does not mean no one was affected.  

Secondly, this is another instance where context matters a great deal. Is this church in a conservative area, where hunting culture and gun culture is prevalent?  Is it in deep blue suburbia, where everyone has the notion that ‘violence doesn’t happen here’?  Is it an inner-city church, where violence is expected, and thus ignored, by the wider world?  This matters, because the way you would go about addressing a massacre in small-town Montana is very different from how you would address it in Southside Chicago. The framework is different, the language is different. 

This is especially true given a situation like gun violence.  The danger in addressing this situation is twofold--on the one hand, you could spiritualize the crap out of it.  You could spend a lot of time talking about the need for more prayer, and for peace in our hearts, and send thoughts and prayers to everyone until Jesus comes back. 

On the other hand, you could dive headlong into a purely political response--advocating an immediate repeal of the Second Amendment, decrying the easy availability of weapons, and blaming decades of inaction at the federal level and an overfunded gun lobby.  (Also, actually, you could advocate for more weapons in more places.  It’d be harder, but hey.  DPC has seen people do it.)

Neither response, on their own, is a good one.  The purely spiritual response avoids the elephant in the room named “This Keeps Happening” and the purely political response avoids the gorilla in the room named “What About Jesus?”.  (The room is crowded, is the point.) As a responsible pastor, you have to balance the two; and context determines how much of each you use.  What language will you use to talk about gun culture in your very conservative town?  What language will you use to argue for Christ’s sovereignty with your liberal parish that is about to march on City Hall? 

Context is everything. 

So while DPC applauds GBEC for this question, there is a piece missing.  Thus, this question is awarded a Meh Plus. 

1 comment:

  1. Having lived for almost 40 years in Wyoming though a native of the PNW and now living on the left coast -- I love your examination of this question. Of course my style is not to pontificate on what people should be thinking or doing - but having people share their reactions using respectful communication guidelines - and trying to bring together our communal response as a Christian community.


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