Rev. David Wolber graduated from Trinity Seminary in Columbus, Ohio back in 1952. He served Zion Lutheran Church in Sandusky, Ohio for ten years, and was then a mission pastor (what we now call a mission developer) at Nativity Lutheran Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, for fifteen years. He then served as assistant to the Bishop of the Southeastern District of the American Lutheran Church before being Called as Bishop of the ALC's new Southeastern District, a position that he held for eight years. At the formation of the new ELCA in 1988 he served in two part-time positions, in the Mission Partners program and as a representative of the ELCA Foundation. In 1991 he retired from ministry in the ELCA and worked full-time for "Food for the Poor" (an interdenominational charitable organization which provides assistance for missionaries of all denominations who are serving the poor in the island nations of the Caribbean) for three-and-a-half years. He still serves part-time with this organization. Dave has been active in the Cursillo Movement for eighteen years. Last, but not least, he has a wife Shirley (also a Cursillista), three children and four grandchildren. Dave comes to us today as someone who has served as a pastor, mission developer, Bishop of the Church, and as one who has many years of Cursillo experience.
Bishop David Wolber
When you're in retirement, you don't often get such flowery introductions. It's nice to have one again -- and I thank you for it. My name is Dave Wolber. I live in Key Largo, Florida with my wife, Shirley, in our retirement home. We're members of Grace Lutheran in Miami Springs but worship more frequently at Immanuel Lutheran, a little Missouri Synod church much closer to us on Plantation Key. I made Lutheran Men's Cursillo #8 in Miami way back in 1976.
It sure is great to be here as a part of this community this weekend - if only to hear Carroll reminisce earlier this afternoon about those earliest beginnings of this Secretariat there in Atlanta years ago. I remember that time, and what a joy it was for me to be involved in those nebulous beginnings during those few days. And now to be back with this group, for the very first time since then, and to see how you have grown, and how you have assumed more and more responsibility, with more and more things to do and more yet to be done, and to see what a great job you've been doing over these years -- it's just a big thrill for me to be here and to be a part of it all once again. It's great, too, to see so many of you whom I have known over the years from one place or another -- old friends whom I had not expected to see here, and new ones I'm just meeting and becoming acquainted with -- I thank God for both!
I've always tried to be supportive of the Cursillo Movement, or Via de Cristo, no matter where I was, or in what office or station. I have done so NOT because Cusillo is some perfect thing, NOT because it's (as you West Virginia folks like to call it) "Almost Heaven" -- sometimes I'm afraid it's almost the opposite of that. It is a human invention. It is not God's greatest gift to the Church or to the world. Because it is human, it has a lot of things that can go wrong with it. In spite of all that, I have always found it to be an instrument - a tool which God is able to use like he uses all of our other human things which we bring into being with all of their faults and failings. A tool, an instrument which God is able to use in His church for its edification, for its growth, for its renewal and for a better fulfillment of its mission in the world, and because of that I have said good words about Cursillo all through the years and have participated in it whenever possible. However, I don't really feel very well qualified for this particular task - this particular presentation - because my participation in Cursillo and Via de Cristo has not been typical. It has not been like that of most other spiritual directors or pastors. I have tried to remember how many teams I have served on. I think it's something like sixteen or seventeen over these eighteen years of being a part of it, but in only about two or three of those has it been kind of normal because the particular jobs that I've had - the calls I've had in the church of serving in district offices and as bishop and that kind of thing. I've not been a part of the ongoing community - the Cursillo community where I have participated in a weekend. My participation has really been in and out. I'm there and then I'm gone and have not had a lot of contact with the continuing Via de Cristo community in that place. I'm really not speaking then from the perspective of what I have done as spiritual director in the Fourth Day experience, because I haven't done a heck of a lot. I'm rather speaking from the perspective of what I have not done and may be what I wish that I could have done or what I think I would do if I had the opportunity and that gives me a lot more leeway than if I had to speak on just what I've done. I have a wide open agenda here, I'm at another disadvantage also with you (I have to confess this) when I left my home this morning for this 350 mile drive up here. After I was sixty-five or seventy miles up the highway, I realized that the nice, neat little briefcase that I carry everything in for a weekend like this was still lying on the floor beside the big chair in our living room and I didn't have any of the materials for this weekend. I didn't have the map of how to get here. It's been a long time since I've been here, I didn't know if I could find it again. As soon as I saw the ABC Store down on the corner, I knew I was on the right road. All of the beautiful notes that I had with all of the laborious effort that I had put in for a masterpiece of a presentation for you this afternoon. All of that is still lying there on the floor. What I have here are some things that I scribbled down on the seat beside me as I was driving along in the car up the turnpike; sometimes holding it right up against the back end of that trailer truck that was right in front of me. But, in spite of that, maybe we can offer something that could be of value.
"The role of the spiritual director in the Fourth Day." The very implication of that might come as a surprise to some spiritual directors of weekends that there is anything of a responsibility or a role in the Fourth Day, because I know that of many spiritual directors like myself as I have done many times are simply there for a couple of days - three days, maybe - give a couple of rollos and are gone again and that's about it. There is, indeed, the way I see it, a very profound responsibility and role for the spiritual director in that Fourth Day experience of the Cursillo community. But, I think it begins before the first day of the Fourth Day begins. It begins on the first day and carries through those three days that the Cursillo ......... the weekend. I believe that there is responsibility and role of the spiritual director first of all, right there on that weekend to get to know as personally as possible all of those candidates who are in attendance that weekend - not just to be there to give two or three good rollos and make sure that everyone like them. But to really be an ongoing kind of spiritual director for that part of the community. And that takes knowing those people. It's hard to minister to strangers. Some pastors think that they can do that. I knew a pastor when I served as bishop who wanted to call every three years. He wanted to move on to another church and I asked him why. He said because that at the end of two years, I know everyone too well. I get too involved with them personally. I know too much about them to minister to their spiritual needs. I told him I thought he was full of baloney. That's not the way it works. The better that you know people the more effectively you can minister to them in their needs with the grace and the promises of God. I think that's true as well of the spiritual director of a weekend. I had the privilege of serving on a team at Rayford #2. Rayford prison here in Florida - the second ecumenical Cursillo that we held there along with Roman Catholics and Episcopalians. And there all of us who were spiritual directors - and there were six of us - two Lutheran pastors and two Episcopal priests and two Catholic priests and we all sat at the tables with the candidates. We didn't sit at some special all saints table at the back of the room, but sat with the candidates. And I tell you that I never knew so well the candidates at a Cursillo weekend as I knew those men who sat around that table, and of whom I was a part. Some of those spiritual director relationships formed there that weekend have lasted longer - much longer that others where the association with the candidates was much more remote. And so I think there is value in that - of getting to know the people that you are being spiritual director for, and I would encourage all of you in whatever kind of influence you have in your local secretariats to try to impress that upon your spiritual directors, not to spend as little time as possible with the candidates but to spend as much time as possible with them. At meals and on the walks that are taken - whatever free time there may be - not being aloof from, but getting close to, because it's in that kind of an establishment of a close, pastoral relationship that the potential for serving as an ongoing kind of spiritual director can develop. Now we know that each candidate of course is supposed to select their own spiritual director after the weekend is over. Probably in most cases, their own pastor. Sometimes it's necessary for them to turn to someone else besides that spiritual director that they have chosen and its good to have someone that they remember from their weekend experience - to whom they would feel free to go. I think that it's important for that role that the spiritual director plays in the Fourth Day to realize that it begins during the weekend itself. Another part of that weekend experience where I believe the spiritual director can again prepare the way for the fourth Day experience is especially in that last of the Grace rollos - the Life in Grace rollo on Sunday where I believe there's's a real opportunity to emphasize what the bottom line of the Via de Cristo really is. That is that when they leave there as a changed person they nevertheless go back into that same congregational setting that they came out of to be there a better servant than they were when they left. Sometimes I think we miss that. To realize that the basic purpose and intention of the Cursillo movement from its very beginnings in the Catholic Church was to prepare people to be better church people - better churchmen and churchwomen, and I don't care when a person goes out of that weekend how much of a growth they have had in their faith in their personal relationship with God. I don't care what a better husband or father they may be or a better wife or mother they may be or how much of a better schoolteacher or nurse or doctor or lawyer or plumber or whatever it may be or how much of a better neighbor they may be. If they are not a better servant in their church, somebody has missed the mark. I think that is an ongoing part of the spiritual director's responsibility and role to keeping calling candidates and community leaders back to that fundamental basic of the whole movement is to be better leaders and servants in the church. It begin there in those three days. I think, as I said maybe that Life in Grace rollo is a place to lay the ground work for that - to make sure that everyone knows what the bottom line is. Then immediately after that I think it is the spiritual director's role in the Fourth Day to be involved, obviously. If the weekend has a weekend has a reunion after a month to be there for that to be at Ultreyas and send-offs to be closings. I know the pastor's busy schedule is not possible to do that all the time in every case but nevertheless to make it a priority and to try as best one can. The reason for that is to give some credibility to something else that I would do now if I had that opportunity of being involved as I've not had before. I would be there to give some credibility to something else that I think it might be well for spiritual directors to consider doing because I think what I would do the next time that I serve as spiritual director is that I would keep in contact at least with a letter or two to every candidate who was there that weekend - maybe after a month or six months or a year - just to offer some encouragement, to remind them of what is expected of them - to counsel them to avoid a show of any kind of elitism which is one of the things that we suffer from as you well know. Remind them again to be better servants in the church. Just to remind them that that one who was spiritual director for them on those three days still cares about their life in the church and their life with God. I think involvement in the Cursillo community lends credibility to any kind of counsel like that might be given. Another thing I think I would do - I would make sure that even though I might be in a reunion group with some members of my congregation some men I think I would also be in a reunion group with some pastors. I think that with their permission I would invite some other pastor who has not had the Cursillo experience to come and meet with us from time to time as a way of recruiting which I think is one of the responsibilities of the spiritual director in the Fourth Day is to recruit other spiritual directors. That might be a way of doing it. I would like to try that, at least - to invite a non-Cursillista pastor to attend a reunion group periodically just to have the experience of knowing what we do when we get together like that.
All of this says to support and be an advocate for the Cursillo movement. I think the spiritual director ought to answer every question that anybody asks about Cursillo. One of the pastors that I work very closely with, and was very active in the Cursillo movement says that he has done that on a number of occasions. Pastors will come to him and say "I want to find out about this Via de Cristo thing. All the people who go there won't tell me anything. He always says, "Ask anything. I'll tell you anything you want to know." And he does. I think it is very productive. He's recruited some very fine pastors for the movement because of that. I think spiritual directors need to do that among their fellow pastors. Answer every question that is asked. Give counsel give guidance to the lay leadership as it is necessary. Involvement and support and advocacy. If it could be summed up in three words, it would be that. To be a part of what's going on - to share for their own benefit as I have experienced it many times myself, the uplifting the growth the new commitment, the new ability to do whatever it is the Lord is calling me to do at the time, and then to share that kind of potential with other pastors and to be whatever needs to be for the community. Thank you.
Nate Lundgren: ... a native of California - born in the city of Sacramento, the oldest of three. A person who has lived most of her life in the southeast, twenty-five years of it in Atlanta. Her degree as she left college was in criminal justice - what better preparation for Christian ministry can you found? Jenny attended Columbia Theological Seminary which is a Presbyterian school after growing up a Baptist, I think she told me. We're ecumenical, folks. She received her theological degree from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in 1990 as one of those second career pastoral types. She's been a pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Paxton, Nebraska for the last three and a half years, is involved in Cursillo/Via de Cristo and has been since 1980. She comes to us as a pastoral speaker who has been involved as a lay person in Cursillo, so we look forward to hearing from Jenny today about the joys and the disappointments and the ways in which she sees herself involved as one of the people in the Fourth Day.
Rev. Jenny Venable
To those of you who would tell me to stand up, I am standing. I'd like to give you a big welcome from Nebraska, which I had to look up on the map when I was assigned there, because I wasn't exactly sure where it was. It's the land of the high plains and the sandhills, of Buffalo Bill Cody and other cowboys, cattle and corn, wheat prairie dogs, and coyotes, and, of course, Big Red - the Cornhuskers.
I was asked to speak, as Pastor Lundgren said, as a pastor from a couple of perspectives. One, because I am a female and because there aren't that many female pastors involved in the Via de Cristo movement; and also as a person who is living, working, and serving in a rural community.
Nebraska, I would like to tell you, is a very rural community - a very big rural community. We do have a few towns - Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Kearney, Scottsbluff, maybe - that could lay claim to being cities, but the rest of our communities are small towns, villages, and wide places in the road. Of two hundred sixty congregations, only about 25-30% are in those large, urban areas. The rest of them are out on the plains or in the sandhills - small churches in small communities. Some are even out in the middle of corn and wheat fields and aren't in any town.
Paxton, the little bitty town that I serve in, has 525 souls. That's within the village limits. It has a grocery, two gas stations, a bank, a post office, two beauty salons, a small industry making PVC pipe, a commodities broker, a cafe and, of course, two bars - very big in Nebraska ("There's not much to do. ").
It also has many of the wonderful qualities of small-town life, some generalities that do apply. And when I was thinking about how I was going to do this presentation, a printed sheet of paper someone had shown me came to mind. It was a list of "You know you're in a small town when ...." Some of you have seen that list, I can tell.
At the risk of repeating a little bit for those of you who have,
"You know you're in a small town when you dial the wrong phone number and you talk for twenty minutes anyway."
"You know you're in a small town when you forget to sign the check at the grocery store and the bank puts it through anyway."
"You know you're in a small town when you're out taking a walk for fitness and before you can get a block, six pickup trucks have stopped and their drivers have asked, 'Can I give you a lift?'"
"You know you're in a small town when you don't bother to lock your house, except at night perhaps, or don't bother to take the keys out of your car when you run into the post office or the grocery store - especially when it's really cold, snowy weather - you just keep it running."
"You know you're in a small town when your neighbors know you're pregnant before you do."
"You know you're in a small town when the mail is addressed to 'Pastor Jenny, Paxton, NE 69155,' and it gets to you just fine, thank you."
It's where the status symbol is a pickup truck. It doesn't matter what condition - new, old, beat up.
And the entire school - kindergarten through twelfth grade - gets let out for all the games.
The most important thing about small towns, I would like to point out - and this is in reference to Via de Cristo as a community and the small towns of Nebraska as communities - is the relationships among the people. I think that is what impacts on the success - or limited success, perhaps - of the Via de Cristo movement in that state. This is it:
"You know you're in a small town when you don't dare say anything about anybody, because everybody is related to everybody else."
That's very, very true. In a small community such as this, the relationships are already there. There are a lot of very old connections in terms of being there for generations of families. They and the land that they own have been there for a long, long time. There's an insider/outsider mentality here. One of my parishioners who married into one of the old families has been married for twenty years, and is still considered an outsider, because she came from Colorado.
There are also ethnic considerations in our small community; and those of you who are stubborn Germans (much as I am) will know that resistance to change is one of the hallmarks of that kind of ethnicity. Randy's wearing a T-shirt that says, "We've never done it that way before." I think that must be the national motto of those who have German ancestry. I include myself in that, too.
We also have a community where the kids have to move away to Lincoln or Omaha to get jobs. If you live on a farm or on a ranch, and there's only so much land, you can't keep subdividing and subdividing and subdividing and leaving it to the children You leave it to one offspring to manage the farm and the rest have to move away. They generally only move back to come home to die or for retirement. We belong "to the cemetery back home." I feel that most small Nebraska communities also could claim this kind of mindset and these kind of dynamics.
Well, you might be asking by about this time, "What would all this have to do with Via de Cristo?" I wouldn't blame you. Well, it's all tied up in that word "community." As we here all well know, if there's one main characteristic p one identifying characteristic of Via de Cristo - it is the close community we have. We strive so hard to develop community on the weekends with the candidates and then to involve them as new Cursillistas - Via de Cristo "graduates," if you will - back in to be included in the larger Via de Cristo community.
I believe that the Nebraska movement is struggling for a variety of reasons, and I think that is the main one right there. To Nebraskans, who are largely rural, and have communities already established, Via de Cristo may be just another community. We have the Lions. We have the Jaycees. We have the Legion. We have the church. We have this and that. Why do we need another organization to belong to?
Rural Nebraska has what the latest issue of The Lutheran calls a largely static population, and its members already have enduring relationships with people and institutions. Those are relationships which are more difficult for people who live in a more mobile urban or suburban setting, where moving in and moving out is a way of life. City people might want to establish community with people of like mind, while rural people already have these established communities. I believe some of them don't see a need for another one. So why develop a relationship with a community that might be much more different than anything they've ever experienced before? My gosh, these people hug each other, for heaven's sake!
I see a couple of reasons why this should impact on why Via de Cristo may be struggling in Nebraska, and it is. For one thing, there is the distance from one end of the state to the other, which can be as much, I am told, as twelve hours or more. We're not one of the New England states that you can get across in twenty minutes. For west of Scottsbluff to Omaha or Sioux City, because you can't take the expressway the whole way, it would take you at least twelve hours.
There is also the cultural mindset that ties right into the issue of distance - that the state ends at Grand Island. Now, if you can imagine a map of Nebraska, over in the northeast corner is Omaha, and then a little to its southwest, Lincoln. Grand Island is about in the middle, and then west of that doesn't exist for people who live in Omaha and Lincoln - it's half the state.
This is the kind of mindset we have to come up against. People don't want to drive very far, not even to serve or go to a Via de Cristo weekend. In fact, we have had in the past year or so a movement by some people in the Omaha Ultreya that wanted to pull out - to secede and form their own Secretariat, so that they could have their weekends right there in Omaha and not have to drive.
There are also agricultural considerations when you're trying to plan weekends. We have a lot of farmers and ranchers, and just to survive as farmers, a lot of them have to diversify. They don't grow just one crop. Most of them don't even just grow crops. They have to have cattle, too, or some other way of having income in case of rain or snow or hail or any of the other things that can destroy the crops. So between calving time, wheat planting, corn planting, wheat harvest, and corn harvest, when do you plan a weekend - especially since we have to send the men first? When can you get a farmer off the land, except in the dead of winter, when it's difficult to drive anywhere?
We also have the "cowboy" mentality - rugged individualism. It mitigates against the concept and the practice of Christian community upon which Cursillo/Via de Cristo, especially in the Fourth Day, is built. That idea of the great American mythic hero - the cowboy - is pervasive: Just me and my horse; I don't need anybody else; I don't need a wife and kids; I don't need to be tied down; Don't fence me in. I think there is a lot of that mindset also in the high plains of Nebraska.
In the past twenty years (and this is again from The Lutheran) much pop psychology has drawn heavily from the myth of the rugged individualist. It reinforced the idea that freedom and self-fulfillment involved leaving spouses, families, and neighborhoods, and abandoning commitment to social institutions like churches and schools. "Just me. Just me and my horse. Just me and my pickup."
When you have this kind of thing going on, what do you do? The best you can. I am in an unusual situation, as Pastor Nate said. I've been a pastor for three-and-a-half, which means the "glommed onto" me really quickly. I haven't learned to say "no" yet.
There have been different dynamics we have been trying in the past year and a half to get participation in Via de Cristo, and enthusiasm in Via de Cristo, built back up again. We had gotten to the point where we didn't have enough candidates to really have a weekend. I think the last weekend we had, we had seven female candidates. I'm not sure how many there were on the men's. The Secretariat decided that as a struggling Secretariat with limited funds, it would be poor stewardship to have a Via de Cristo weekend without sixteen candidates. Do you know how hard it is to find sixteen candidates in the state of Nebraska? Pretty difficult, right now, for the reasons I mentioned above. So, we tried a couple of things.
First of all, Pastor Dick Hardell, whom many of you know because he was in Florida, was an assistant to the bishop of Nebraska, and he composed a letter to pastors. It encouraged them to try to get involved in Via de Cristo. Along with this I, as Spiritual Director of the Nebraska Secretariat, sent a letter to every pastor in Nebraska along with the little clergy Via de Cristo brochure encouraging them not only to attend, but to encourage their members to attend.
I published just within my own little congregation an article in the church newsletter. I made a presentation in a W-ELCA unit meeting. I cornered people one-on-one and said, "I know about this wonderful weekend retreat." I wrote encouraging articles for the Secretariat newsletter trying to motivate some of the lay folk I don't know in Nebraska to actively recruit candidates.
I also came up with the idea to take that article I wrote for my own church's newsletter, expand on it, and give it to the Ultreyas to have it published in their county newspapers, and include the Walk to Emmaus and Episcopal Cursillo, etc., to get them involved somehow. Community newspapers will publish religious articles as long as there's nothing too controversial in them.
Family involvement is very important. Of the three people from my congregation who now have gone on a Via de Cristo weekend, there's a mother and a daughter, and a third lady who has gone is the closest friend of the mother; so I think if we can get one in a family going, perhaps we can get the others in the family going as well. That would be very important in a small community where it's all family, anyway.
I've talked to the Catholics in town who are active in Cursillo and seen about the possibility of holding joint Ultreyas. If we can't get something started just among the Lutherans, we'll try going ecumenical.
The major solution is education, education, education - which is most of what I have been delineating as points here. Doing what we can do - not possibly can't do. We need not to despise small beginnings.
We do have a success story going, and that is the prison weekend. We just had the Women's #4 at the correctional institute in York, Nebraska. It seems to be catching on. Eight of those who have been trough before (some of whom have gone through on the very first weekend, I am told) are beginning to build a Via de Cristo community within the prison. There again, in a place where there is no community, there is community building. Where there already is community, it's difficult to get them involved in another one.
We also have a contact still in the Bishop's office - one of the other two assistants to the Bishop is also a Cursillista. In addition, we have what is called a PMA program - Parish Ministry Associate program - a pilot program by the Nebraska and Central States Synods. It trains lay people to do some of the things that pastors do in places where pastors can't go, because the congregations can't afford them, and because in western Nebraska specifically, it's very costly to bring in a retired Interim Pastor - mileage and so forth. We "wheedled" our way into making sure that going to a Via de Cristo would give them credit toward graduating from that program. The more people we can get to go, the more people we can get to be p.r. people.
I think, overall, Via de Cristo needs to be seen as something folks both need and want - and that's the secret. Its vitality depends upon the value Cursillistas place upon the community life offered by Via de Cristo. Education and communication and prayer are important for a Via de Cristo to reach all those for whom the Holy Spirit wants a fuller and more dynamic life in Christ.
"You know you're in a Via de Cristo community" when there is a group of
people working together, learning together, laughing, crying, singing, praying,
and communing together, lifting up the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking to
make others see how wonderful, how exciting, and how truly heavenly Christian
discipleship and service can be. So pray for us in Nebraska that we can help
some of these cowboys and these Germans get off their horses and join in the
hoedown. Thank you very much.
Rev. Peter Setzer
What a JOY to listen to the previous two speakers - their SPIRIT, their EXPERIENCE is a gift to us, and to the entire movement.
They refer to the zeal for Evangelism found in the Via de Cristo movement. This may be the most valuable fruit of all. God knows, the Lutheran Church needs a strong dose of Evangelistic Zeal. For centuries, Germans and Scandinavians have distinguished themselves among the world's cultures for their reluctance to share emotions or dare usurp the Pastor's professional prerogative to be the MOUTHPIECE for God in the local parish. We are like a FURNACE with no ductwork, holding all the heat inside. Lutherans may have the fire of the Spirit deep within, but we're so well insulated, you'd never know it.
We're thinkers, not feelers. We boast the world's finest theology, but lay folk are terrified to talk about it. Decades ago, enterprising church leaders, after trying workshops on Evangelism, and courses on Evangelism, and Rallys on Evangelism, all to no avail, decided to try the genetic solution. Since Jehovah's Witnesses are so zealous in their outreach, they would dip into their gene pool, and crossing Lutheran thinkers with Jehovah's Witness zealots breed a master race of lay evangelists, eager to witness. So they found ten willing Lutherans to marry Jehovah's Witness mates. Finally the experiment is showing measurable results, the progeny of that hybrid now aging to their early 20's.
What they have produced is ten Lutherans who will show up faithfully at your front door every Saturday morning, and say not one word! A total bust! So much for the genetic approach. We've got a better answer. It's not the ONLY good answer, but a very good one, and it's called VIA DE CRISTO/CURSILLO! When a sizable segment of a congregation is meeting every week with several Christian friends, planning Apostolic Action -- Evangelism -- and sharing their closest moment with Christ, developing the ability to TALK about Jesus Christ and his loving action in their lives, and praying in support of one another's outreach, EVANGELISM is going to happen! The heat of the furnace will radiate outward. The Word will get out, the tongue-tied Teresa's and Silent Sams will find their voice, and that parish will sprout dozens of mighty mouthpieces for God! Talking about Christ can be as simple as flying PAPER airplanes. Any Christian can do it!
Nate Lundgren, the NLS Spiritual Director has asked me to respond to three questions. The first one: "How do I participate as a pastor in the Fourth Day?"
This must be an important question, because it has been addressed every year for the past four years at the Annual Meeting. Why? This is a movement, and we keep reminding each other of that, celebrating the fact, guarding the custom to make sure it stays that way.
But, apparently, pastors do have a KEY ROLE in the movement. I think they do, for better or for worse, and when we ignore that fact the movement suffers. I've been in the movement for eleven years now, and have served as pastor in two parishes that have produced over one hundred pilgrims each. I've served on the Secretariat three years, and have taken upon myself to communicate with over 100 Lutheran pastors about Via de Cristo. I've seen the movement develop differently in many churches. Jesus' parable of the Sower sowing seed in different kinds of soil could serve as a description.
In some churches the pastor comes back from his first weekend, and with a nucleus of inspired lay leaders, introduces the movement in his parish. It flourishes quickly, and soon dies.
In another parish the pastor attends, but all his efforts back at the parish meet with solid resistance. Nothing happens. The movement doesn't take root. It's over before it got started.
In another parish the movement thrives for many years, but then something happens, a crisis in the parish, the pastor moves to another congregation, conflicting forces rise up and choke out the movement, and no secretariat members have heard anything of the pilgrims in that parish since. Upon inquiry someone explains, "Burn out. We just burned out."
In yet another parish, everything seems to work right from the beginning. Year after year that congregation sends men and women to the weekends, leadership emerges that serves the whole movement. Reunion groups are active; the congregation is dynamic, the Word is received with JOY.
Why is it this way? Why does it go so well in one parish and not another? That is a question I've been asking for a long time. Why does the Fourth Day flourish in some parishes and WILT in others?
I venture to say that one of the key figures in determining the outcome is the local parish pastor. He can make it or break it. I think we've spent considerable worthwhile time talking about how the pastor can make it, we also need to devote some time to considering how the pastor can BREAK it. In other words, how do pastors typically screw up the fourth day? Including me. I've got eleven years of mistakes to share!
Last Sunday, while visiting in the home of my Associate Pastor, Joseph Kovitch, after the baptism of his little boy, Jesse, we took in a television show entitled "BASEBALL BLOOPERS!" Surely you've all seen it, or something similar, "BASKETBALL BLOOPERS." "FOOTBALL BLOOPERS!" They're all hilarious fun.
We could come up with a video, "VIA DE CRISTO BLOOPERS!" "A LIST OF DUMB AND STUPID THING PASTORS HAVE DONE WITH THE FOURTH DAY." No made up stuff necessary, all painfully real bloopers, and not very funny.
This should be enough to get us started. I'm making a list of PASTORS' FOURTH DAY BLOOPERS, so if any of you have one to share from your pastor, or some other pastor you've heard about, write it down and hand it to me. I hope to find a good use for them.
Of course, LAY PEOPLE aren't entirely innocent.
We could make a video on the dumb, stupid things LAY PEOPLE have done on the Fourth Day.
While these bloopers are not typical of the average pilgrim, they are familiar to many of us, and each one damages the movement in the parish. It makes some folks hard as a rock in resisting the movement. It discourages good faithful Christians, and distorts the image of the movement in the eyes of others.
Surprisingly, thank God, the movement may survive in a parish in spite of many of these bloopers occurring, but those of us who feel responsible for the movement want to minimize such negative 4th day occurrences, so the Holy Spirit can use the movement to renew the parish.
Now the original question was, "How do I participate as a pastor in the Fourth Day?"
Answer: With encouraging and firm pastoral guidance. That, I believe is a vital KEY to the movement's success. The Pastor must provide encouraging and firm pastoral guidance. So that the movement doesn't become a destructive force in the parish, to minimize the BLOOPERS, the clergy kind and the laity kind.
My encouragement is LOW KEY and BEHIND THE SCENES, so as not to alienate the rest of the congregation. Pastors who come back from the weekend all fired up for Via de Cristo, who jump into the movement with all four feet, and give a hard sell to the congregation are asking for trouble.
The members begin to wonder, "Our pastor is more excited about Via de Cristo than he is about the congregation. (They feel threatened. They feel discounted. They feel cheated. After all, we're paying his salary. He's been too busy to spend much time with us as is, now he's with us even less!")
They may feel jealous. "He's closer to those in the movement than he is to the rest of us. He thinks our faith is inferior: we've got to go to a weekend to please him. These are feelings that average members can have, and one of my jobs as the pastor of the WHOLE CONGREGATION is to minimize these feelings by LOW KEY PROMOTION, publicly offering Via de Cristo as one good ministry among many, open to anyone in the congregation, and the pastor thinks it's okay not to go.
One of the pastor's most essential tasks is to keep the congregation UNIFIED. Avoiding divisions into "PILGRIMS" and "NON-PILGRIMS;" "SUPER-CHRISTIANS" AND "COMMON CHRISTIANS"; "The IN GROUP" and the "OUT Group".
A certain amount of this is impossible to avoid and have a movement strong enough to REVITALIZE the parish. Any movement that makes a difference, that calls for change, growth, regular worship, regular study, regular witness will draw some critics. Yes, Jesus and his reunion group of 12 disciples had their detractors as well as their admirers.
The point is to minimize unnecessary criticism, avoid unnecessary backlash, avoid unnecessary conflicts that cause burnout, so the movement will FLOURISH FOR MANY YEARS and the congregation is RENEWED, and in turn the community and the world.
"What do I do, behind the scenes to encourage the movement in the Fourth Day?"
(1) How to deal with an overbearing person in a reunion group, who is so much so that the others stop attending
(2) The person who talks on and on, extending the reunion so long that others are impatient and irritated
(3) The overly needy individual who dominates the attention of the group, week after week, so that the needs of others do not get met
(4) When members are alienated - no
longer on speaking terms
These are spiritual matters and need attention. Sometimes their pastor needs to intervene.
This time I spend, is "behind the scenes." I don't advertise the fact that I do it. I keep reminding pilgrims, over and over, that the purpose of the movement is not to put on weekends, but to renew the entire congregation. They may have been to the mountain of transfiguration, but what people in the parish will be observing is how it makes a difference in their leadership in the congregation, their devotion to the congregation.
Back last fall, during the Presidential elections, the point was made over and over to a President who just "didn't get it", "It's the ECONOMY, STUPID!" Sometimes I feel like saying something similar about Via de Cristo. "It's the congregation, stupid!" When they get too wrapped up in the wrong things, I want to help them avoid another boneheaded blooper. "It's the CONGREGATION ,stupid!" That's the Christian community that Via de Cristo is called by the Holy Spirit to serve. Don't neglect it, or withdraw from it. Love its people, all of them, and energize its ministries. God will be glorified, and Via de Cristo will have served its purpose.
Do we need to develop a piece entitled "PITFALLS OF PASTORAL LEADERSHIP OF VIA DE CRISTO?"
St. Paul said, "Now a bishop must be above
reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, ......He must not
be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the
condemnation of the devil." (I Tim. 3:2ff)
The most dangerous time for Pastors is the
first 6 months after making their first Cursillo. Some come off a weekend
bearing characteristics of a "recent convert", experiencing unprecedented
euphoria and suddenly having a bright new vision of what the congregation is
called to be, imposes it on an unwilling flock. Naive enthusiasm, blind to the
pitfalls, may lead a congregation into trouble!
A PITFALL, by definition, is covered. Not seen. The trail ahead looks clear. Then the unsuspecting hiker experiences a sudden surprise, and he's in well over his head and can't get out!
The Result: He may suffer crippling disillusionment from which he never fully recovers, or so damages the trust of his congregation that his ministry is severely and permanently handicapped.
Such pastors represent a low percentage of
the pastors - less than 5%, but these pastors and congregations hinder the
movement for the other 95%. Bishops hear about them - and, as they should be
they are concerned.
RECRUITMENT OF PASTORS
Regarding the recruitment of pastors, it would be helpful to consider in advance the reservations non-participating pastors have to getting involved in Via de Cristo. Then we can consider an effective reply.
1. Fear that the movement will require too much time when already hard-pressed to catch up.
Answer: Your time investment will reap compensating benefits in producing motivated church leaders. You'll have more help than before!
2. Fear that the movement will become divisive in the parish. (Cliques,opposition)
Answer: Encouraging and firm Pastoral Guidance will suffice to produce significant renewal in the parish.
3. Fear that the pastor will be expected to give leadership in an area of spirituality with which he/she is inadequately trained or equipped.
Answer: "Spiritual Direction" = "Pastoral Care". The whole ELCA is hungering for growth in this area and training opportunities abound
4. Fear that the movement will bring "mindless emotionalism" to the parish.
Answer: It more likely will bring a spreading zeal for regular worship, Bible study, prayer and Evangelism, the staples of Lutheran Life.
Recruitment strategies for pastors must address