(At Michael’s installation on Sunday, June 23, the Rev. John D. Vertigan, the Conference Minister of the Indiana Kentucky Conference, gave Michael this charge. By implication, it extends to Old First as a whole…)
I like that we are sitting here in historic Philadephia right next door to the US Mint. My sources tell me that in that building across the way, the master die is cast for every coin made in America, and that amounts to some 7 billion coins.
Michael, you told me how much you enjoyed your tour there. “You walk along a galley and watch machines punch pennies out of big sheets of metal.” Your description is pure poetry, but you didn’t mention the sense of perfection, the conformity to standards, the alike-ness — the sameness of every product, the consistency of form that allows for consistency of function in parking meters and pepsi machines across the country. You didn’t point out to me, relative to your tour, that right next door to Old First is a national home of what we might choose to call numismatic orthodoxy.
It seems, Michael, that pastors all around the United Church of Christ are looking for the programmatic equivalent of such orthodoxy, the template for church that they can punch out and become the same as the other successful churches they’ve read about or seen in other places. Many pastors are seeking, in other words, for the ideal form that will allow them to function in ‘just the right way’.
So, with that as a background, let me offer you this charge:
Let the mint be the mint. Let the mint do perfect. Let the mint do conformity. Let the mint do same-ness and make everything seem alike according to their master die.
As for you, lean toward the unorthodox. Better yet, be a leader in the United Church of Christ who helps create a new ecclesiology based not in dogma but in the relational and misssional direction we see Old First moving in ministry to the region.
Be a pastor who sees the flaws in yourself and in each of god’s broken children and struggles to create a community of the beloved.
Be a pastor who leads this church, this association and this conference into prophetic ministries of justice and peacemaking when the rest of the culture is leaning toward conformity and the status quo.
Be a pastor who facilitates finding a meaningful function for every form you encounter, calling out the gifts of each one and loosing them on a spiritually hungry world.
In short, work with everyone god sends to this place and to your wider community to make Old First and Philadelphia a national model of a new way of being a faithful church in the 21st century.
It won’t be perfect, but it could just become the new orthodoxy and that, too, woud be pure poetry. Thanks for the opportunity to encourage your ministry. Be at peace, and be in touch, won’t you?
(To which Michael, and many others in the congregation that day, responded, “Amen.”)