This is the last 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 post was about an incident which happened when I was 30. The second post was about an incident which happened when I was 24. The third post was about an incident which happened when I was 18. This fourth and final post in the series is about an incident which happened when I was 13.
It was Easter Day in the year 1967. I was 13, almost 14. I was living in Bayonne, New Jersey. I had been confirmed in my local United Methodist congregation the previous June. This Easter, for the first time in my life, I was going to attend the local ecumenical sunrise service on Easter morning,
A number of local churches co-operated on the sunrise service. As it turned out, it wasn't all that good a year for me to go to the sunrise service for the first time, because it was the turn of the Assemblies of God to provide the guest preacher.
Even though it was Easter, this fellow didn't preach about Easter. He decided he'd preach on the Second Coming. Now, being a good, recently-confirmed United Methodist, I had never heard all that much about this Second Coming. The preacher went on for a long time about how various people he didn't approve of were going to have a hard time of it when the Second Coming happened ... which he thought would be some time in the very near future. He seemed to actually ... enjoy ... describing the torments that would happen to all these sorts of people he didn't like.
I had nightmares for weeks.
The nightmares only stopped after I went to youth group one night. It was a co-operative youth group that the Methodist and Reformed churches in our area did together. During the break, I overheard the ministers of the two churches joking about this guy who preached at the sunrise service. I went up and asked them about what they thought of the guest speaker and what he said. They left me in no uncertainty at all that they disagreed with this bloke, with his beliefs about the Second Coming, and with his whole fire-and-brimstone mentality. (To the two ministers involved: Thanks, George, Thanks, Ken.)
What I got out of this incident for my future ministry was this: Whenever anyone is subjected to any unhealthy teaching from any religious leader which threatens the person's wholeness and well-being, it is the duty of good religious leaders to challenge the unhealthy teaching, and to do so clearly, definitely, and firmly.
Since my ordination, this is something I've tried to do in my ministry.