Thursday, April 12, 2007
White sandals, no coats not a good idea in Chicago
This Easter was as close to a “Chicago Easter” as I have ever experienced in Mississippi.
Easter in the upper Midwest is a winter holiday. That takes some getting used to for people reared in the sunny South. I had some friends come to visit one Easter while I lived in Chicago. The ladies brought open-toed white sandals and short-sleeve dresses, and no coats. Imagine how they looked (and felt) trudging to church in single-digit temperatures through several inches of snow!
One Sunday our minister, Dr. Davies, was preaching the Easter sermon as a great sheet of ice turned loose and slid off the church’s high slate roof. Everyone jumped! Dr. Davies waited for all eyes to return to the pulpit and said in his wonderful rolling R’s Welsh accent, “The stone is rolled away!”
As for me, spring and Easter go together, but I did like the “white Christmases” I spent in Chicago!
Easter is, of course, a high-attendance day for most preachers. Our church is a very consistent congregation, and we had a nice attendance, but almost all our members attend regularly. I prefer the consistency to great highs and lows.
Consistency does have its pitfalls, however. The late Dr. Murphey Wilds, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Oxford told of a visit to his in-laws in Sumner, many years ago. He asked Mr. Mitchener, his father-in-law, how the sermon had been at Sumner Church that morning. Old Mr. Mitchener said, “I am sorry to say that I let my mind wander, but I am sure that if Dr. Graves said it, it was all right!”
Dr. Fred R. Graves was the minister of Sumner Presbyterian Church from 1917 to 1943. He organized my home church in Cleveland, as well as several others, and was the historian of Presbyterianism in North Mississippi. I still consult his books. So, I am sure that if Dr. Graves said it, it was indeed all right!
Ecclesiastical pride is easily punctured. It takes a good deal of courage to stand up in front of people week after week, especially after they have detected you cannot walk on water. I once asked an Episcopal friend of mine here if she had gone to hear the bishop when he was in town for his annual visitation. No, she said. She’d played golf.
“You didn’t go to see the bishop,” I said in mock surprise. “No,” she replied coyly, “I’ve seen a bishop before!”
A book they made us read in seminary made me intensely angry. I remember the author and title, but I will not mention these, so as to protect the good reputation of the scholar who so insulted my aspirations of ministerial grandeur. Basically what he said was that the shared life of the congregation does far more to shape people’s faith than anything the minister says or does.
Well, of course, I was in seminary to change the world and was sure that once a congregation heard a few of my magnificent sermons it would be transformed like wildfire. But the expert disagreed. Not long ago I thought of my outrage that Easter break long ago as I read that book for our preaching class. Of course, every word of it is true. Now, I think I am wise enough not only to recognize that it is true, but to be glad that this is so. It takes a great burden off the minister!
Anyway, I will look forward to seeing my flock again this Sunday, and as always, I’ll be waiting to see what they have to teach me.
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