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Monday, October 15, 2018

HINGE BOOKS- PROFESSION: MINISTER by James Glasse [M, 10-15-18]

Christ In Winter: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter…

[Repeated intro]I have been thinking about the “hinge” books in my life, those books that open a door in a unique way. There are hinge occasions that are not books, of course—people, events, places, movies. Books have a special niche of hinge importance, though--especially to people of my generation, who did not have access to more modern forms of input when we were in our hinge years--because they take time. If a book has hinge importance, you don’t just glimpse it, you ingest it. And you may go back to it time and again. The whole list of my hinge books is at the bottom. That is too long a list to explore at one time, so I’m going to do only one book per column.

Today’s hinge book is… PROFESSION: MINISTER by James Glasse

I returned to parish ministry after ten years in campus ministry and graduate study. Fortunately, Glasse’s book had appeared only a few years before. It was a hinge book not just for me, but for the whole calling/profession of clergy work.

When Glasse, the Dean of Lancaster Theological Seminary, asked his father, a distinguished pastor in their denomination, what he thought of his new book, he learned that his father had not read it.
 “They tell me it’s a pretty good book, if you like that kind of book, but Son, I don’t like that kind of book.”

Those of us who are old enough can sympathize with Glasse’s father. For him, the ministry was not a profession. You didn’t choose it just for the high status and big bucks and low hours. The ministry was a vocation, a calling, not a profession. You didn’t choose it, it chose you. You were called--by God, no less.

I wasn’t sure that I had been called. I had told God I would be a preacher if “He” would save my sister’s life. She lived. Was that a call? But how could I not live up to a deal like that?  [1]

So I tried it out. After ten years, I still was not sure my deal with God was a “call,” but I knew that I had the “gifts and graces” to be a good minister. I wanted to make a positive contribution to the church and to the world. Glasse assured me, and all the others in the clergy ranks, that in this modern world, the combination of gifts and intentions was a call. You didn’t need to see GPC in the sky. [2]

Ministers were not amateur freelancers, entrepreneurs, operating on emotion or religious fervor. We had to be educated and continue that education, abide by ethical and social standards, react with reason and justice rather than personal emotion and defense when problems arose. We were professionals.

Through the years I have learned that being a professional clergy person is not exactly the same as being a professional in medicine or law, etc, but by emphasizing the professional view of my vocation, Glasse helped me see the ministry in a fuller way, in a productive and satisfying way.

So I suggest that we see our pastors as both called and professional. Led by God, and equipped by the church and the world for a difficult job in a confusing time. Folks we can count on for spiritual leadership, both because they work themselves at being in touch with what William James called “the more,” and also can count on for earthly leadership as those who know the way because they have been trained to see it. We’ll get good help from our clergy if we see them as spiritual professionals.


1] I tell about this more fully in The Strange Calling.

2] Old preacher joke. At the end of his career, a preacher tells of his call. He was a farmer, out working in the field, when he saw GPC spelled out by clouds in the sky, and knew it meant Go Preach Christ. Considering the absence of his gifts and graces for ministry, someone said that obviously it meant Go Plow Corn.

My “hinge” books and the dates of the columns when I wrote about them:
TRAMP, THE SHEEP DOG by Don Lang, pictures by Kurt Wiese. 9-10-18
JESUS OF NAZARETH by Gunther Bornkamm. 9-12-18
MAN’S NEED AND GOD’S ACTION by Reuel Howe 9-13-18
IDENTITY & THE LIFE CYCLE by Erik H. Erikson 9-14-18
THE IMMENSE JOURNEY by Loren Eiseley 9-24-18
GUILT, ANGER, AND GOD by C. Fitzsimmons Allison
PROFESSION: MINISTER by James Glasse 10-15-18
JESUS, A NEW VISION by Marcus Borg

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