Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Wise Shepherd's Tales

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Wise Shepherd's Tales

Article excerpt

Sundays Down South: A Pastor's Stories By James Chatham University Press of Mississippi 224 pp., $25

A pastor's life can be a perilous thing, a tightrope walk over dangerous waters.

The idealism of seminary sets the stage. You have two jobs to do as a minister: bring comfort to the distressed, and bring distress to the comfortable. Bind up the brokenhearted. Reach out with tender compassion to those in need. By all means, console those in pain with words of kindness and peace. But, at the same time, be ever vigilant and ready to assail injustice with every fiber of your being. Aggressively challenge those who are content with their self- centered and self-serving ways.

It is this tension between what is known as the "priestly" and "prophetic" roles of the ministry that makes the pastor's life so difficult. In a high-contrast world where villains and victims are clearly defined, ministers may assert themselves with confidence.

In the parish of the real world, however, one rarely, if ever, encounters a situation of black-and-white clarity. The idealism of the classroom shatters quickly against the reality of lives colored only in shades of gray. The forcefulness with which one defends or promotes a principle must often be tempered by compassion for the people involved.

The Rev. James Chatham, together with his wife, Nancy, arrived to serve the Presbyterian congregations in Fayette and Union Church, Miss., on June 28, 1964. This was a world of black and white, but of another kind altogether.

Racial tensions, particularly in the deep South, had reached unparalleled levels. Only seven days earlier, the same day as the Chathams were being married, three young civil rights workers had been murdered on a rural Mississippi road. Several Ku Klux Klansmen, including a sheriff's deputy, would later be charged. It was only the latest violent manifestation of the bigotry and hatred that Chatham knew, as a matter of faith and professional integrity, he must oppose.

Chatham's new book, "Sundays Down South: A Pastor's Stories," is a compilation of tales through which he describes four decades of struggling with the tension between principle and people. …

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