This is the second of four posts in which I look at some incidents in my early life and how they shaped my ministry. I'm writing about these incidents in an order that's the reverse of how they actually happened. The first incident happened when I was 30, and this one happened when I was 24.
It was late in 1977. I was a theological student at Princeton Theological Seminary, and I was doing an intern year at a church in Miles City, Montana, a small-town that prided itself on its "Wild West" culture. As a city boy from Bayonne, New Jersey, I was expecting some culture shock.
When I arrived for my intern year, my supervisor, Dave, told me that the church had signed up to participate in an evangelistic campaign organised by some of the other churches in town. What's more, Dave was treasurer for the campaign. (Evidently, some offering money had "disappeared" the last time there was a campaign, and they wanted a treasurer that wasn't involved in the last campaign, preferably from a church that wasn't involved in the last campaign.)
These sort of campaigns weren't our church's "thing". They weren't Dave's "thing". They definitely weren't my "thing". Anyway, Dave agreed to be treasurer and I was dragooned into ... I mean, I agreed to assist him. (Dave said something about a "learning experience".)
One of my tasks was to take the cash from each night's offering and take it (along with another man) to the night deposit window at the bank.
One night I showed up at the high school auditorium (where the services were held) and the pastor who was the chair of the campaign asked me if I'd do something called an "offering challenge".
"What's an offering challenge?" I asked'
"Just before the collection, you prepare the congregation to exercise their gift of generosity." (I remembered what Dave said about a "learning experience", and decided I was about to have one.)
These services were led by two evangelists who were brothers, twins perhaps. (I googled them, and they're both still preaching now.) Their wives sang. The wives looked like twins also, or else it was just their identical bouffant hairdos. (It was the 1970s, remember.)
During the service, I was seated on the stage of the auditorium. While the two bouffanted ladies sang, one of the two brothers approached and asked, "Are you the guy doing tonight's shakedown?"
"I'm doing the offering challenge," I said with what I hoped sounded like offended piety.
"Yes, well anyway, last night's take was horrible. Give 'em a little guilt!"
I'm proud to say that the take that night was the worst of the whole week.
What I learned from this incident was, whether you're talking about money or about anything else, it is a seriously bad thing for any person in ministry to "Give 'em a little guilt!"
My next incident goes back a few more years to 1971, to the campus of Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. I was an 18-year-old freshman at Lafayette, being set on the course of my life's work as an ecumenist.