13 July 2008

Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds

Over the past couple years, I've been impressed and encouraged by many of the younger pastors who have graduated from the seminaries since I did (fifteen years ago, remarkably). I've enjoyed their conversation and collegiality within my local circuit and in our Indiana District, and I've been especially blessed to have one of the best of the bunch as my assistant at Emmaus. At the synodical convention last summer, it was the beautiful confession of several of my younger colleagues that gave me cause for hope and renewed in me a far more optimistic perspective than I would otherwise have had. Most recently, at the Higher Things conference in St. Louis two weeks ago, I reveled in the opportunity to work and visit and drink together with a number of young pastors, several of whom I had not really known before.

It was in St. Louis, also, that I engaged in conversation with my good friend and brother in Christ, the Reverend Bill Foy, and voiced aloud a brainstorm: "We should start a blog together," I said, "a group of us, in order to interact with one another and share our thoughts and keep each other sharp." I was pleasantly surprised by his immediately positive response. In fact, he and a few other fellows had pondered the same possibility at the Fort Wayne symposia earlier this year. We tossed the idea around for a bit and then moved on to other topics, but I was invigorated by that notion of a cooperative blog.

In the days that followed, the more I thought about it, the more enthused I became. One of my very favorite blogs is "Concordian Sisters of Perpetual Parturition," jointly authored and administered by three pastors' wives. Their successful efforts inspired me to move my brainstorming with Pastor Foy into something tangible (as virtually tangible as a blog can be).

Initially, I figured on a group of twelve pastors, including myself. I wanted to enlist a number of those younger colleagues who had so impressed me in recent years, especially those who haven't had their own place in cyberspace to "think out loud." I know those brothers in office have worthwhile things to say and contribute, and I wanted to facilitate that opportunity: both for my own benefit, and for the benefit of the Church.

I also hoped I could recruit some of my elder brothers and fathers in Christ, men who have taught me so much over the years about what it means to be a pastor and a real theologian. Many of those dear men have not had the time or inclination to start blogging on their own; yet, that sort of forum would offer the potential for them to share their wisdom and experience with others. Since I don't have regular opportunities to be with those fathers in person, I was eager to bring them on board the cooperative blog I was envisioning. Not that a blog can take the place of personal conversation around a table; it cannot, nor would I want it to! But a blog can help to fill the gaps between gatherings with a salutary form of communication; and I believe it does provide another means for the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.

Along with my younger and older brothers in office, I deliberately sought the participation of a few key peers who have already established their savvy and proficiency at blogging. I figured their involvement would serve as a catalyst and help to kickstart the endeavor. I suspected that most of them would probably decline the invitation, not for lack of interest but for lack of time. Each of us can only stretch himself so thin. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained; so I asked a few of them to consider it.

All in all, I invited over forty different pastors to join me in starting a new blog together. That sounds like a lot of people, and I suppose it is, but I was selective in my invitations. No one should take that the wrong way, and no one should take it badly if I didn't ask him. There were at least half a dozen invitations that bounced back at me, because I evidently had the wrong e-mail address. But the truth is that I purposely did not invite many of my closest friends and colleagues, in spite of the fact that I love them dearly and respect their thoughts and opinions. For one thing, I wanted something broader than simply a circle of my cronies, something really more diverse and comprehensive. Also, I didn't want to put my friends in the position of having to say "no," far less to pressure them into saying "yes," when they really shouldn't be trying to stretch themselves any further than they already are. My hope and prayer is that no one feels slighted, but that anyone who may be so inclined will keep an eye on what we're doing and chime in with his comments.

Anyway, the responses to my invitations were more immediate and more positive than I would have guessed. Within a day I had already received more than a dozen affirmative replies, and it was clear that I would have to broaden the scope of the project. I settled on twenty-four, mainly because of the twenty-four elders gathered around the Lamb upon His Throne in the Book of the Revelation. Those apocalyptic elders signify the twelve Old Testament Patriarchs and the twelve New Testament Apostles, which fits nicely with my aim to bring together both younger and older colleagues in the Office of the Holy Ministry. No, I don't imagine that any of us are on par with the holy Apostles and Prophets, but we do share the same office of preaching and teaching the Word of God.

The consequence of all this is off the ground and flying, more quickly and smoothly than I dared hope. Perhaps the timing was right, or maybe I got lucky. I'd like to believe that what we're doing will be of mutual benefit to all of the participants, as well as to those who read our blog posts. One and all are welcome to check it out: "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" (link on the left).

Being a parish pastor can be one of the most rewarding vocations in the world, but it can also be a lonely undertaking. We pastors do have good friends among the laity, for whom we are profoundly grateful, but there are aspects of our lives that can't really be shared with anyone else but with those who share the burdens and joys of the pastoral office. Some of us are fortunate to have colleagues nearby, in some cases even within the same parish, but it has broken my heart to meet fellow pastors who feel themselves almost abandoned, alone in the wilderness, beleaguered and without an ear to bend or a shoulder to lean on. In certain parts of the country, a faithful pastor may find that he has not a single kindred spirit in his circuit, nor within a hundred miles of him. Some of these men hang on by their fingernails, counting the days until the next symposia or the next decent conference, longing for the fraternal fellowship and collegial companionship of like-minded brethren. Others gradually wither on the vine and become lost: to themselves, to their families, to the Church and Ministry, sometimes even to the faith. I don't imagine that a blog could ever be the remedy or solution to such systemic ailments, but I do pray that "Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds," flocking together in faith, may be a genuine means of aid and comfort to each other, to our near and distant colleagues, and to the Lamb's beloved Bride, His holy Church.


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

I would be horribly offended that I wasn't invited . . . that is, if only . . .
1. I wouldn't be absolutely dwarfed theologically by those on your list;
2. You had anything more than the slightest idea of who I might be and we had exchanged more than a phrase or two in passing; or
3. I didn't stand to benefit greatly from the pooled wisdom.

As it is . . .
1. I would;
2. You don't and we haven't; and
3. I do.

Therefore, I'm not at all offended, and I am already enjoying and reaping the benefits of the pie.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks, brother, for your good humor and encouraging words. I hope and pray that Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds will be encouraging, enjoyable, and otherwise beneficial to you and many more.