Dr. Richard Lischer is Duke Divinity School’s homiletics professor and a pastor in the ELCA. Several years back, he wrote an autobiographical account of his first pastorate and parishioners in a small, conservative Illinois town. He was fresh out of school with seminary training, a PhD, and a progressive liberal outlook which didn’t mesh with this old-school church and town. Here are a few examples.
One episode find Lischer (who has been at his new pastorate for only a few days) in the house of some older parishioners. A lull came in the conversation that he and the older men were having.
“Bertie fixed me with his cagey blue eyes and asked offhandedly, ‘Pastor, will you have a beer?’ Everyone looked at me, and with only an extra second’s hesitation – just enough to make it an unnatural response – I said, ‘Sure.'”
“Bertie went to the refrigerator filled with Budweisers. He selected exactly one bottle, opened it, and brought it to me. The seven old men watched me intently as I drank it. ‘You’re not having one?’ I asked.
“‘Naw,’ Bertie replied in a tone that seemed to ask, ‘What kind of man would drink a beer at two in the afternoon?’ His eyes almost smiled as he said it. The point of the exercise? The new pastor is either one of the boys or a moral slacker. I left knowing I had been tested, but unsure of my grade” (p. 56).
I can relate! Here’s another when he reflects back on seminary.
“Some of my classmates didn’t like Greek and refused to learn it. When called to translate in class, they kept and English Bible open at their feet and read off their translations as if producing them on the spot. One boy translated with great, stammering concentration, “The wind bloweth where it,’ hmm, let me see, ‘where it listeth,’ I believe it is, sir, ‘and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth….’““How dumb is it to use the King James Version as a pony? Professor Henrichs just laughed with the rest of the class atthe boys who cheated, as if he felt sorry for them. He probably did” (p. 29).
I can relate again – though I enjoy(ed) Greek, I didn’t always come to class 100% prepared, nor did my seminary classmates (some of whom are reading this chuckling because of deja vu! Though we were at least smart enough to use the Good News Bible or some paraphrase like that, filled with our ummms.).
If you’re interested in a more liberal side of Lutheran pastoral life in a rural Midwestern town, you’ll want to read this book. It is a fun read.