Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Theology, Ministry, and Praxis: A Forty-Year Retrospective

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Theology, Ministry, and Praxis: A Forty-Year Retrospective

Article excerpt

It is hard to believe that four decades have elapsed since I knelt before the bishop of Long Island in his cathedral church and was made a deacon. Reflecting on that distant past in an ordination sermon preached five years ago in St. John's Cathedral, Denver, I described myself as a Neanderthal - a priest so old that his ordination predates die revision of the Prayer Book, the ordination of women, and, blessedly, the creation of both the commission on ministry and the GOEs! A child of the sixties who was present at the March on Washington to hear Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, I became a member of a generation of clergy who believed that a minister of the gospel is an agent of social change - and that with a collar around our necks and a little help from the Almighty, we could indeed change the world! And change was sorely needed. Civil rights legislation had not yet changed peoples hearts. Racism was still alive and well, and the Episcopal Church, in the words of historiographer John Booty, "jolted out of its complacency," was waking up to that fact. Presiding Bishop John Hiñes had dropped a bombshell at the Seattle General Convention in 1967, challenging a church known as "God's frozen chosen" to reach out to the least, the lost, and the last of society. At the special South Bend Convention two years later, angry and long disenfranchised protesters seized microphones and demanded reparations! In those heady days in the history of the Episcopal Church, black clergy were deployed strictly along racial lines; most women were still relegated to something called an "auxiliary," and gays and lesbians were in the deepest recesses of the closet.

How has theology shaped the practice of my ministry? I would like to posit four theological themes that have loomed large as I have sought to serve our Lord and his church: justice, mission, scholarship, and worship. I offer them, however, with the caveat that they are not to be understood as discrete categories, but overlapping ones which have influenced and cross-fertilized each other.


One of my first lessons in social justice took place when I was a teenager. Although a faithful altar boy at St. Philip's Church, I frequently "defected" to hear the illustrious Gardner Taylor hold forth from his pulpit at Cornerstone Baptist Church, a few blocks away in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Not on Sunday mornings, as a rule, but on those weekday evenings when civil rights rallies took place. Although trained to respond "Aiid with thy spirit" when the priest intoned 'The Lord be with you," I quickly learned to shout "Freedom!" when asked "What do we want?" and "Now!" when the question was "When do we want it?"

It was with the said Gardner Taylor and other clerics that on a sweltering day in August 1963 I found myself behind bars. The churches had organized a sit-in at the Downstate Medical Center construction site, protesting the fact that Negroes were barred from the unions which would have accorded them access to jobs in the construction industry. We protesters blocked the progress of cement trucks by boldly sitting in front of them, with arms linked, lustily singing "We shall not be moved." Then we were nevertheless hauled off into paddy wagons. In jail, we sang the sixties theme song, "We shall overcome," in four-part harmony.

Justice (in Hebrew mispat), as I point out in Christian Social Witness^ is a concept inextricably woven into the rich tapestry of Holy Scripture. Mispat suggests doing what is right, just, and pleasing in God's sight. But it also conveys, as the prophets remind us, a sense of advocacy - of taking up the cause of groups who have been abused and mistreated by those in power. Believing that such an understanding of justice is central to ministry, I have tried to be a champion of the oppressed. Such a commitment to advocacy helped shape my work in the missionary diocese of Honduras and as a priest at St. …

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