Today's stories refer to another use of the adjective clerical. Not only office workers are clerical staff; so are pastors and preachers. At one time the only literate citizens of Europe were the clergy, so the word clerk continues to cover both functions.
All humans are prone to errors, so church leaders are no exception. However, their actions and their failings have a significant impact on many people. Since they serve uniquely as representatives of deity, their errors can easily damage the faith of those they are serving. The reverend who sprinkled the water of baptism on my head when I was an infant was deposed from his position a few years later due to alcoholism and marital infidelity. I was unaware of these happenings as a young child, but I do know that the congregation continues to bear the scars of these errors. Did this pastor's faults render my baptism null and void? No, because God is the true actor in baptism. He is the one who reaches down to claim his children, young and old. He never fails, though his human servants mess up again and again. My father, in particular, never spoke ill of that pastor. While acknowledging that this man's mistakes harmed himself as well as a church full of people, my dad also remembered his gift of pastoral care during times of hospitalization.
During my husband's growing up years a particular pastor's brinkmanship rocked a congregation and resulted in a church split. [He proposed a vote whether to leave or stay with a particular denomination and promised to abide by the results. However, when the majority favoured the status quo, he essentially said, "I'm leaving. Who will join me?"] Half of my husband's relatives began to attend the more conservative church that split off, while my husband's parents and some aunts and uncles remained with the original church. The crazy part was that these family members each believed fundamentally the same thing, yet some of them refused to speak to each other for months. About ten years later, the preaching of a new pastor led to another wave of dissent such that the more conservative church gained new members.
It dawned on me after my husband and I were married that these two waves of church dissent, aided and abetted by pastors on different ends of the spectrum, were one of the reasons we ever met in the first place. You see, my first teaching job was at a brand new school started by the more conservative church. This church was not interested in starting a school until the second wave of members joined because, in part, it gave them the critical mass to do so. If this school had not been established in 1994, I probably would have taken a job in the Niagara Region and never set foot in the town where my husband was firmly rooted.
There are so many complex factors in the background of whatever we experience. When we peel it back, we can be amazed at how God's plans move forward despite errors among the clergy.
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