National Catholic Reporter

The Independent News Source

A small c catholic

Staring the immensity of death in the face


ODESSA, Mo. -- It was sunny and in the mid-60s on a late February day in western Missouri -- in fact, it was Ash Wednesday -- as we stood at the gravesite here in McKendree Cemetery.

At the request of the family of a retired Presbyterian pastor, I conducted the graveside service, and we buried my friend Cecilia's ashes next to the grave of her mother, long ago a Cumberland Presbyterian missionary in Colombia.

Churches must remember context or else risk irrelevancy


When one of my daughters was in grade school, she participated in a summer program at a wonderful place called Missouri Town 1855.

In this living history museum, she spent part of each day for a week living in a 19th-century farming community. Her context there was radically different from the context of where she slept and ate at home. Sometimes it took a bit of time to reorient her at day's end.

The best way to describe our prison system? 'It's nuts'


Several weeks ago, I saw an exhibit of photos featured in the compelling new book Grace Before Dying, by Lori Waselchuk and Lawrence N. Powell, and I wrote about it on my daily blog, "Faith Matters."

The book is about the hospice care program at the Angola State Prison in Louisiana -- a program in which prisoners help other prisoners who are dying.

A church is more than a building, but the building matters, too


Just a few days after Christmas, a historic Presbyterian church in midtown Kansas City, Mo., burned to the ground.

Westport Presbyterian Church had only a few dozen members, but my friend Scott Myers, the pastor, and some members of his aging congregation had figured out how to continue serving the kicky neighborhood that has been the church's home for 176 years.

Bold predictions for the religious world in 2012


One reason I've cherished my long and extinguished career as a columnist is that, as you well know, columnists have the gift of prophecy.

In fact, we have a double gift of it. First, we speak resolutely with our prophetic voice, calling on the world's many wayward people to do the right thing, which always means urging them to do what we columnists want them to do. Or at least what we think will amuse us if they really do it.

Honor others, even in times of interreligious unrest


At a clergy seminar on Catholic-Jewish relations I attended recently, Catholic scholar Philip A. Cunningham reminded us that Jews and Christians haven't been in serious, respectful dialogue for very long.

Indeed, this important effort has lasted but a tick of the clock compared with the century after century of anti-Judaism preached from the church almost from the beginning of the Jesus Movement within Judaism in the first century.

Sexual misconduct in church won't disappear


Probably when anyone thinks about clergy sexual misconduct, what first (and maybe only) comes to mind is the priest abuse scandal in the Catholic church.

And, for sure, it has deserved the attention it has received, given the appalling behavior of some members of the clergy and given that most victims have been children, the most vulnerable members of the family of faith.

But the result of this misguided myopia is that faith communities have not paid nearly enough attention to the wider issue of clergy sexual abuse happening with disgusting regularity in Protestant churches and other traditions.

A new book has helped me understand the widespread nature of the problem. And it has offered some ideas for how to deal with it when it happens and, beyond that, how to prevent it.

A bottom-up approach to Bishop Finn's indictment


The recent charges against Kansas City's bishop and his diocese for failing to report suspected child abuse have been analyzed six ways from Sunday, including by me on my "Faith Matters" blog.

And they have deserved all the commentary, given the shocking nature of the failure alleged in the indictments.

But I want to look at this distressing case from the perspective of a Protestant whose form of church governance is not hierarchical but, rather, republican, in the lower-case-r sense. And I want to suggest that the two approaches to polity yield different results, though each has its strengths and weaknesses.

It may be too simplistic to put it this way, but the system of governance used by the Presbyterian Church (USA), to which my congregation belongs, is essentially bottom-up. The congregation elects its ruling elders. In turn, some elders, based on the size of the congregation, become voting commissioners at meetings of the presbytery, which is our regional governing body. Clergy also are voting commissioners of the presbytery.


Subscribe to A small c catholic


NCR Email Alerts