This past Tuesday I pulled into a parking spot on the north side of the square, got out of my truck and walked into Almost Home. As I walked in, a woman at the register said to me, “They are already back there.” I smiled, headed back to the bar area, and walked through the double doors of the Swizzle Stick. There were three men sitting around tables, but as I sat down to enjoy a cup of coffee several more began to appear. One by one they came in out of the rain to sit down in a local bar, and by half-past ten there were a dozen of us.
Who were we? What was this gathering?
We were one dozen clergy gathered in a bar, thus bringing to life the start of a good many jokes: “So, a Methodist, a Baptist, a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian walk into a bar …”
To be sure, those of us gathered over coffee saw the humor in it too, and we were quick to pass a few obligatory jokes around the table. Like the jab about how the Baptists don’t like it when the rain is light because they don’t believe in sprinkling. I could go on …
But, this gathering of ministerial colleagues is more than good material for jokes. This is a good thing for our city and for our community. It is a good thing for God’s Kingdom.
Allow me to elaborate on one part of our conversation to explain why this gathering of area ministers is a good thing.
We got to talking about how some of us enjoy exercising over at DePauw’s Lilly Center. During this conversation, Mark Miller – minister at Greencastle Christian – made an interesting observation. He noted that nowadays he sees more and more people walk into the gym and nonchalantly put on headphones as they step onto the treadmill or get on a stationary bike. He talked about how this is unusual to him; how he remembers that people were much more willing to strike up a conversation with him, to catch up on what was going on at home or at work.
It was a small observation, and Mark did not say much beyond that, but his observation struck many of us. We knew this was more than an observation. Pastors, you see, are charged to gather people together, to bring a group of people under the care and guidance of God. And, one of the things I hear pastors say over and over again is that it is becoming more and more difficult to gather a people together. Because we – as pastors – are charged with serving communities, we are aware of how community has been eroded by hyper-individualism.
And, unfortunately, some of the blame rests on us as ministers. We are frequently some of the loudest champions of community … and some of the worst examples of the “do-it-yourself” mentality.
But, if a group of hard-headed ministers with differing views on the Bible and what this community needs most can get together and share a cup of coffee … there is hope, right? There is the possibility that we might begin to realize that we are truly better off when we see ourselves working with each other rather than in competition with one another.
We are better off because I can pass on to you what Bill Wieland told me: there are men and women who are getting out of jail who have no clothing and who need someone to make good on Jesus’ promise that anyone who clothes the outcast and poor clothes Christ himself.
We are better off because I can tell you about Randy McNeely who has been called to pastor First Baptist Church and how his coming strengthens another part of the body of Christ in our community.
We are better off because Paul Champion can relay to us how he has seen the Holy Spirit at work with his elders, thus planting a possible seed for us.
We are better off because we are trying to do it together. Live together or die alone, right?
So, don’t laugh. Twelve ministers walked into a bar … and God was deeply pleased to see His people being the Church together.