In Blood Done Sign My Name, Tim Tyson considers the ministry of his father, Vernon, a white, Methodist pastor who served in the South during the Civil Rights movement. The immediate historical background centers upon a young black man who was beaten to death in a small, Southern town. I was initially attracted to the story because I have ancestors in the same town: Oxford, North Carolina. But what has stuck with me is an understanding of ministry as putting down roots.
When asked how he could take the unpopular stand for integration, Rev. Tyson talked about the times he would share apple pie with his parishioners, visit their parents in the hospital, baptize their babies, and laugh at himself. Before Southerners would hear his call to equality in Christ, they had to know that he cared about them. They wanted to know he was “one of them,” even as he tried his best to expand their worldview to include others. Rev. Tyson said that, because he believed in racial equality and integration, he had to be a better pastor. He had to work hard at building relationships that could stand the test of challenging words and prophetic actions. This took time and reflected his daily commitment to his calling.
I’ve been reflecting on this as some of my colleagues are moving into the second, even third calls to ordained ministry. Sure, it is sometimes necessary to move. Who am I to question God’s leading in someone else’s life? I do think, however, that Vernon Tyson offers an excellent model for ministry.
Another great writer, Wallace Stegner, draws a distinction between “boomers” and “stickers.” Boomers, he said, are “those who pillage and run,” who want “to make a killing and end up on Easy Street,” whereas stickers are “those who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.” Boomer names a kind of person whose major theme is life is ambition, while stickers are motivated by what Stegner’s pupil, Wendell Berry, defines as “affection.” Affection in a deep sense, as a love for a place and its life, which so influences a sticker that they want to preserve it and remain in it.
Again, I do not wish to offer blanket criticism of others who move on; however, it bothers me when ministry is viewed as a matter of working up the ladder. It is tragic that small, rural churches are viewed as stepping stones to someplace better. As today’s church struggles with new ideas of inclusion, we need stickers – those who are willing to cultivate an affection for people that runs so deep it can be an agent of God’s transformation.