(As published in newsletter, The Messenger July, 2006)
Some years ago, Yale theologian H. Richard Niebuhr published The Purpose
of the Church and Its Ministry. In it, he contends that the purpose of the church is to
bring about the increase of love of God and love of neighbor. Of course, Jesus said
essentially the same, some years earlier, and since Neibuhr was a Christian ethicist,
there’s little surprise in his summary of our common purpose. But it is as helpful
reminder. Our mission is both simple and challenging: to love God and to love others.
At about the same time that Niebuhr published his book, I was in a
kindergarten class in a small church in a small town in South Carolina, taught by Miss Emily
Clarkson. I doubt that Miss Emily ever read Niebuhr. But she read her Bible, and she loved
children. Every Sunday morning Miss Emily taught us, by gracious example, to love God and
to love one another. Hers was a simple but profound lesson for me, and its impact lingers in
my life these decades later.
As I come to join Jennifer as a pastor to you, I have this occasion to
reflect on my own calling, and to ponder my own mission statement. Shaped by minds like
Richard Niebuhr’s and lives like Emily Clarkson’s, I come with a passion for thinking about
our call as Christians, and for living that call. Ours is a sacred task: loving God and
loving our neighbors.
I look forward to the opportunities of deepening both our understanding of
God and our commitment to God: in worship, in service to others, in study, in prayer, and
in our life together as the church. I cherish the opportunity to come to know you, and to
tell you something of my own life’s ebb and flow. Together, we will seek to embody the love
of Christ for our neighbors, whether in Westchester or the storm-damaged Mississippi coast,
West Africa or Nicaragua, or places in between.
My wife Lynne and I look forward to spending the next few months getting
acquainted. We hope to see you in church, on the street, in the park, in meetings and in
informal gatherings. We look forward to sharing time, sharing bread, sharing laughter.
Thanks for welcoming me as your pastor. I consider this work not only a job,
but sacred trust, and I conceive of our time together as a mutual ministry journey.
Together, we will seek fulfill a common Christian call: to love God and to love others.