Magazine article The Christian Century

Talking in the Huddle

Magazine article The Christian Century

Talking in the Huddle

Article excerpt

Herb McCracken died recently. The ex-college football player and coach left a mark on athletics. His contribution to ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, has been underrecognized. To check I turned to American Congregations, two new volumes edited by James P. Wind and James W. Lewis (University of Chicago Press) which are full of insights into the nature of the local church. The index includes terms like "accommodation," "identity formation," "mediating structure" and "voluntarism." I turned to H in the index to see if McCracken's parish-shaping invention had been noted. No luck: there were references to Hinduism; Hispanic Protestant congregations; Holifield, E. Brooks; holy, the; Hopewell, James; but nothing to indicate an awareness of McCracken's influence. Had the contributors fully represented the nature of congregational ecclesiology, they would not have neglected McCracken's contribution.

In its obituary the New York Times describes how in 1924 "Coach McCracken earned his spot in football lore."

Aware that Penn had scouted his Lafayette team's previous five games and had memorized its offensive signals, he ordered his players not to start each down at the line of scrimmage. Instead, he told them to gather behind the line to learn the next play in secret, and the huddle was invented.

Now why should "huddle" be a term in ecclesiology? Here I adduce a comment of Yale professor Jaroslav Pelikan, author of the five-volume The Christian Tradition. At least I believe it was Pelikan who remarked that "many a congregation looks and acts like a football huddle: you know that a very important conversation is going on, but all you ever see are the behinds. …

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