A New York Times article explores balancing activism and pastoral ministry – or as the article suggests – a prophetic ministry vs a pastoral ministry. Here is a full reprint of the article.
BABY BOOMERS supposedly are divisive people, still locked in the political and cultural wars of the 1960s and ’70s. This, we’re told, is why Barack Obama, though technically a boomer (b. 1961), isn’t actually a boomer. He is alleged to be the next generation, a master of consensus who refuses to be bogged down in the old quagmires.
This view of boomers is outdated. It is true we’re a generation with strong opinions. Coming of age in the era of Vietnam, civil rights, feminism and gay rights, we would have had to be dead not to have strong opinions.
But to say boomers continue to promote societal division ignores a change that people go through as they age. It’s not so much that one’s politics change, it’s the need to broadcast them that does. It’s a realization that we can’t change others — not even our own children — as much as we’d hoped.
The Rev. Tim Ives, 54, a Presbyterian minister from Westchester County, has made this transition, which he describes as going from a prophetic minister to a pastoral one.
For 16 years, until 2004, he served the First Congregational Church in Chappaqua, N.Y. (One Christmas Eve, the Clintons attended his service.) Mr. Ives, who describes himself as politically liberal, loved his sermons. “This was always central to my ministry,” he said. “Telling stories gives the greatest joy.”
HE is a pacifist, and often spoke of the mistakes of Vietnam and the folly of war. “I’m very easygoing, but there are just things I believe are wrong, I believe are clearly stated in the Bible,” he said. “We must have nothing to do with violence. It was very important for me to be clear on that, to be right and not worry about people’s reactions.”
Most of his sermons weren’t political. But when they were, they had that prophetic fire. In March 2000, he used Mark 9:1-13 and the idea of righteous power and the kingdom of God to deliver an impassioned plea for gun control as the first anniversary of Columbine approached. “We have allowed, encouraged, looked the other way as we have become the most violent of societies,” he said that Sunday, adding: “If I am being too political, so be it. I cannot see an argument that can stand up to the moral responsibility we have to our children to get rid of these guns.”
“I want everyone to go home, write, e-mail, phone, snail mail your senators and Congress people,” he concluded. “Do it. Guns are about the wrong kind of power and they are killing us all. In Christ Jesus, amen.”
Occasionally, someone questioned a sermon. “I’d listen, I’d nod, I’d smile, but I’d still think they were wrong,” Mr. Ives said.
He assumed he would always be at that church, but after 9/11 things changed. He continued preaching against violence — making clear his opposition to the Afghan and Iraq wars — but now he could see his views were dividing the congregation.
“After 9/11,” said Bob Buzak, a member of First Congregational for 44 years, “people were saying: ‘We can’t just take this. We have to strike back at our enemies.’ Tim was frustrated he couldn’t get his point across. He could see he was losing contact with some of his congregation.”
Mr. Buzak, a retired music teacher, saw the strain. “To me he was quieter, more withdrawn from his usual outgoing self.”
Mr. Ives’s sermons grew shrill. One condemned the violence of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.” “I am so sickened by what I saw on the movie screen,” he told the congregation. “I am so sickened by what I read in the paper daily. I am so sickened by what passes for sanity these days, that I find myself very often near despair.”
He was certain he’d failed.
“I’d come to the point in my life I was no good for the church,” he recalled. “I was mad with God. Here I was taking up the fight for what I thought was a very important issue for God, and it wasn’t working out. I couldn’t understand my failure. I was so right.”
In 2004, after a run-in with a few of the trustees, he took the church by surprise and resigned. He cited the divisions he’d caused and a desire to spend more time with family — he has two children, now 10 and 13, and is married to Ann Guerra, an orthodontist. “I thought I’d never lead a church again,” he said. “I was spent.”
He began studying to become a psychotherapist.
For six months, he did not attend church. But he loves Christmas, and on a whim, during the third Sunday of Advent in 2004, he ducked into one near his home, the Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco. “I was late,” he said. “I opened the door. Services had started. The first open pew, I sat down quickly as possible.”
And there, sitting beside him, of all people, was a trustee from his old Chappaqua church, a man he’d once exchanged bitter words with. “It could be a coincidence,” Mr. Ives said. “But I didn’t think so.” James Joyce would have called it a moment of epiphany, but to the minister it felt like God’s hand.
He believes he was being reminded that a righteous life is about more than being right. “God sat me down right next to the person he wanted me to reconcile with,” Mr. Ives said. “Life should be about trying to make room for your enemies, loving your enemies. I had missed this. I’d appreciated it academically, but I hadn’t got it spiritually.”
In the years that followed, Mr. Ives finished his studies to become a therapist and served as a fill-in pastor at several churches, before taking over as minister at the Scarborough Presbyterian Church in Scarborough, N.Y., a year ago.
When he interviewed for the position, he described in great detail the changes he’d gone through, and was selected from 75 candidates. Edwin Payne, a retired bond dealer who was a chairman of the search committee and describes himself as a conservative, said he was not concerned about Mr. Ives’s liberalism. “He’s more focused on a love for Christ,” Mr. Payne said.
While most parishioners are aware of Mr. Ives’s general views — he has mentioned he is a pacifist and has an Obama sticker on one of his cars — politics are no longer at the heart of his sermons.
“He seems to get such joy in just giving communion,” Mr. Payne said. “The way he celebrates the sacrament — it comes across to the worshipers, here’s a man who loves what he’s doing.”
Under Mr. Ives, the church has expanded the Passing of the Peace, with every member walking around the church and greeting everyone else. He has expanded the time spent praying for those in need.
“He has us pray for our troops, pray for our enemies, pray for Democrats, pray for Republicans,” Mr. Payne said.
MR. IVES said his politics haven’t changed a lick.
“I still feel the same about guns and I know I’m right,” he said. “If I thought giving that sermon would be the end of guns in this society, I’d give it again in a second. But it won’t. That sermon was more about placating my need to be right than about preaching the Gospel. It does more to defeat my case than help it.
“I’m standing up on a pulpit, no one can say a thing for those 20 minutes, what I say goes. It’s the wrong kind of power. It undermines the love. You can tell people to do the right thing or you can do the loving thing and get the same result.”
His most recent sermon was about Mary Magdalene somehow finding hope at the lowest moment in the darkest tomb.