I have been in public ministry for 57 years. What has been the current call to faith communities in those various decades?
People feel the fear today: global instability, gun violence, economic inequality, inhospitality to refugees. All these challenges amidst lowered church attendance.
People contrast that to the 1940’s and 50’s when churches were building, growing, and full! But the “current” then also included the millions killed in World War II, refugees, and the beginning of the nuclear arms race.
My first call to parish ministry was the fall of 1960, to a 2000-member suburban congregation in Missouri with 800 in education classes, including a parish school. We started classes for those with intellectual disabilities. However, inclusion of racial diversity was not so easily accepted. People thought Norma Cook was a great minister, but she had “one problem; she liked Negroes.”
Living in Detroit later in the 1960’s we were part of inner city churches leading in the Civil Rights movement. I had a seminary master’s degree; my theology was deepened on the streets through community organizing. The challenge was racial inequality. The “current” situation was revolution, called riots, in cities throughout the United States. The nation, and faith communities, were divided further over participation in the Viet Nam war.
In the 1970’s our “current” context moved to New Haven, Ct. where we lived simultaneously in two worlds: the inner city and Yale University Divinity school. I worked on the streets and taught in the classroom. In both places there was need for the Gospel in individual lives and for shaping community. The feminist movement brought new opportunities for women and men.
“Current” has changed since 1979 when we moved here. Dubuque decided purposely to become more diverse. I’m a native Iowan, but not a native Dubuquer. That term itself is now being revisited. ‘Inclusive Dubuque’ and the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque are two groups addressing the current challenges.
The call now to faith communities, whether struggling with attendance or not, is to work together to face continuing deep issues of global unrest, racism, refugees, nuclear arms escalation, inequality, and the need for stable, credible leadership. Always current is the unconditional love of a faithful God active in the midst of the world’s greatest needs.