Archive for the ‘Growing Up United Methodist’ Category

Fourteen Years in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia   Leave a comment

Above:  Clayton Street at College Avenue, Athens, Georgia, May 17, 2008

Photographer = Richard Chambers

Image in the Public Domain


For a long period of time during my youth, I moved with my family an average of every two years.  My father was a minister in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.  Given my background, with its mobility, living in one place (Athens-Clarke County) as long as I have has astonished me.  I have put down roots.

I moved to Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, on Tuesday, August 9, 2005, shortly prior to the beginning of the Fall Semester at The University of Georgia (UGA).  My doctoral program in history died prematurely and ingloriously in December 2006.  That affiliation with UGA ended in bitterness and tears, but my affiliation with St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church has been constant since late 2005.  The number of my responsibilities in the parish has increased overall, and I have accepted these tasks gladly.

We do not know what the future holds or should have in store for us, but I do know the following:

  1. I like Athens-Clarke County very much.  It is one of the few places in which I do not feel like a marginal figure, an outcast.
  2. UGA creates the intellectual and cultural environment that makes me feel welcome.
  3. I want to continue to live here for a long time.
  4. I may leave it one day, to pursue an opportunity.
  5. I continue to hope for a professional, long-term relationship with UGA.  I realize that, although my previous applications have not been successful, I cannot succeed if I do not try.  I am persistent.
  6. UGA is a place where I should have a place to make my full-time professional contribution of society joyfully.   If that place is not UGA, it will probably be another college or university.




Happy to Be an Episcopalian   1 comment

Above:  The Flag of The Episcopal Church

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


I have belonged to three denominations and chosen one.  When my parents were Southern Baptists, so was I.  Likewise, in 1980, when my father left the ordained ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention for that of The United Methodist Church, I became a United Methodist at the age of seven years.  Thus, in June 1980, our family moved from Newington, Georgia, where he had been pastor of North Newington Baptist Church, and settled in the parsonage in Vidette, Georgia.  He served as the minister of the Vidette, Friendship, and Greens Cut congregations in Burke County.  In the ensuing years, I took the grand tour of rural southern Georgia.  My initial spiritual formation occurred within the context of rural Southern United Methodism, a different creature from United Methodism as it exists in much of the rest of the United States and the world.

Yet I have always had an inner Catholic.  The sacraments, central to my faith, were too infrequent in those rural United Methodist churches.  My attraction to the Deuterocanon (what many call the Apocrypha) asserted itself, also.  Furthermore, my interest in history, and therefore, in ecclesiastical history, made me an outlier in the congregations my father served.  Church history, as it existed in those places, started with Jesus, ran consistently through the Apostles, jumped to the Crusades, jumped again to Martin Luther, ran forward, and really started sprinting with John and Charles Wesley.  That version of church history left many gaps.

In the autumn of 1991, I started my studies at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia.  I started attending services at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, on the Sunday after All Saints’ Day.  On December 22, 1991, Bishop Harry Woolston Shipps confirmed me.  I remained in the Diocese of Georgia through 2005, belonging to the following congregations:

  1. Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia (1993-1996),
  2. St. Thomas Aquinas Episcopal Church, Baxley, Georgia (1996-1998),
  3. Christ Episcopal Church, Cordele, Georgia (1998-2001),
  4. Trinity Episcopal Church, Statesboro, Georgia (2001-2003), and
  5. Christ Episcopal Church, Dublin, Georgia (2003-2005).

I have worshiped as a member of St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, in the Diocese of Atlanta, since August 2005.

I have enjoyed the liberty of being a layman and the pleasure of belong to congregations that respect scholarship and encourage the asking of questions.  My father, as a pastor, censored himself; he made honest theological statements at home he dared not utter from a pulpit.  I did not feel free to ask certain questions in those churches.  In Episcopal churches, however, I have asked questions freely and heard priests utter statements (not all of whom I agreed with) that would have gotten my father into great trouble.  The threshold for offending people was low in his case; my father once offended people by supporting the Martin Luther King, Jr., federal holiday.  That position contributed to us moving.  On another occasion, he upset a parishioner by preaching that Jesus had a sense of humor.  He had allegedly insulted her Jesus.  The District Superintendent did not take the complaint seriously, fortunately.

Many of my statements on my weblogs, such as this one, would have cooked my goose in those churches.

So be it.  I refuse to back down from my Catholic tendencies and my acceptance of Single Predestination.  I refuse to back down from my support of civil rights (and not just based on skin color), of Biblical scholarship, and science.

I am where I belong–in The Episcopal Church.  Thanks be to God!





Feast of William Howard Bishop (December 19)   Leave a comment

Above:  Holy Family Catholic Church, Blakely, Georgia, June 2013

Image Via Google Earth



Founder of the Glenmary Home Missioners and the Glenmary Sisters

William Howard Bishop comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

William Howard Bishop, born in Washington, D.C., on December 19, 1886, was a domestic missionary.  He, a son of Eleanor Teresa Knowles and Dr. Francis Bessant Bishop (a physician), studied journalism at Harvard (1906-1908), but decided instead to study theology.  Our saint, ordained a Roman Catholic priest on March 27, 1915, served first in suburban Baltimore, Maryland.  In 1917, however, he transferred to a parish in rural Clarkesville, Maryland.  He remained there for two decades.  From 1937 to 1946 Bishop was a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, serving in St. Martin’s, Ohio.

Rural ministry became the work of Bishop’s life.  He identified 2000 of the nearly 3000 counties in the United States as lacking a resident Roman Catholic priest.  In 1939, with the support of the Bishop of Cincinnati, he founded the Home Missioners of America (the Glenmary Home Missioners) for priests and brothers.  He founded the Home Mission Sisters of America (the Glenmary Sisters) in 1941.  The mission of the Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters was to serve in the vast territory Bishop called “No Priest Land, U.S.A.”  Our saint established the orders to found missions in small towns, build up those missions, and turn pastoral care over to the local diocese.   Our saint, the Superior General of the Glenmary Home Missioners, starting in 1951, died on June 11, 1953.  He was 66 years old.

Above:  St. Luke Catholic Church, Cuthbert, Georgia

Image Via Google Earth

Members of the orders continue to minister in the South and Appalachia.

As of today, there is a Glenmary presence in two counties in Georgia, my state.  A priest and a brother serve at Holy Family Church, Blakely, and at St. Luke Church, Cuthbert, in the southwestern part of the state.  I know this area well.  Most of southwestern Georgia is economically stagnant and culturally reactionary.  Poverty rates are high and high school graduation rates are low.  Without much effort I can name a current two-county high school (Randolph-Clay, opened in 1980) and some former multi-county high schools opened in the 1970s and 1980s (Stewart-Webster, Mitchell-Baker, and Tri-County) yet broken up during the last few years.  Some of the counties in southwestern Georgia lack sufficient tax bases.  Some of these counties lack a hospital.  I know of one county with just one physician.   A few counties in the region even lack a grocery store.  Southwestern Georgia, like most of the rest of rural Georgia, is depopulating, as it has been for nearly a century, starting with the Great Migration and the Boll Weevil.  Historians of the Civil Rights Movement note that there was not much a movement in southwestern Georgia during the 1950s and 1960s.  I recall, during some of my formative years, hearing some of the older members of the United Methodist congregations my father served use racial slurs without apologies.  Much of the region resides in a cultural time warp.

The Glenmary Missioners (male and female) have their work cut out for them.








Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant William Howard Bishop,

whom you called to preach the Gospel to “No Priest Land, U.S.A.”

Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom,

that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm 96 or 96:1-7

Acts 1:1-9

Luke 10:1-9

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 716


Abandoned Storefronts, Vidette, Georgia   1 comment

Image scanned from Angela Lee, Images of America:  Burke County, Georgia (1996)


My mother, father, sister, and I lived in Vidette, Georgia, from June 1980 to June 1982.  He was the minister of the Vidette, Greens Cut, and Friendship United Methodist Churches in rural Burke County, about the size of Rhode Island.

The buildings in the photograph above were still standing as late as February 1999, as Google Earth proves:

Now, however, only two of the five buildings remain.

Photographer Brian Brown posted an image of the two remaining buildings to one of his weblogs, Vanishing South Georgia, in 2014.

I remember the five buildings.  Look, O reader at the top photograph.  I recall that that building second from the right had been a bank.  I remember standing inside that structure as a child.

The decline of small towns such as Vidette is sad.  Although I have no desire to live in such a small, rural town again, I care deeply about disparities in society.  According to demographic predictions I have heard recently, 87% of Americans will live in cities and in eight states in 2040, thereby exasperating the rural-urban divide.  The truth of rural areas belies one of the many recent lies of the current, temporary occupant of the Oval Office; America is not full.  Rather, it has many empty spaces.  Many of them are in rural Georgia.

I want small, rural towns such as Vidette to be lively and economically vibrant.  We, as a society, cannot leave the rural areas behind and be the best we can be.




Berlin, Georgia   Leave a comment


Above:  Berlin United Methodist Church

Late 1980s on the left

February 1987 on the right

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


Recently I have been thinking about some places in which I grew up and in which I am glad to have ceased to live.  One such place is Vidette, Georgia, where my family and I lived from June 1980 to June 1982.  Berlin, Georgia, where my parents and I lived from June 1986 to June 1989, is another.

Colquitt County 1951

Above:  Colquitt County in Context, 1951

Scanned from Hammond’s Complete World Atlas (1951)

Berlin (with the stress on the first syllable) is a small town in southern Colquitt County, near the boundary with Brooks County.  I recall it as being a reactionary town of about 400 people.

In the late 1980s Berlin was an openly racist town stuck in a time warp in terms of mindsets.  My father’s letter to the Moultrie Observer, the local newspaper, in support of the then-new Martin Luther King, Jr., federal holiday contributed to our move in 1989.  Old white men and young white people used racial slurs openly, even in the presence of African Americans.  Berlin Baptist Church, with its openly racist, Communist-baiting pastor, was the major cultural institution in town.  (The minister was convinced that liberal columnist Mary McGrory  (1918-2004), who had been close politically to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and earned a spot on President Richard Nixon’s infamous enemies list, was a Communist, card-carrying or otherwise.)  And, when cable television came to town, opposition to it was vigorous, to the point of one man pointing a loaded gun at the workers laying cable when they came to his property.  The stated reason for opposition was some of the programming on the premium channels, but opposition weakened considerably when news that a country music channel was part of the basic package spread.

Above:  The Parsonage, next to Berlin United Methodist Church, 1986-1987

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

My father was the pastor of the Berlin-Wesley Chapel Charge.

Berlin Church Cornerstone

Above:  The Cornerstone of Berlin United Methodist Church

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Berlin United Methodist Church, rebuilt in 1953, was next door to the rundown parsonage, renovated after we moved out.  The Berlin congregation was nearly functionally dead.  It had an adult Sunday School class, but little else.  The congregation had once been so active that it had sponsored a Boy Scouts troop, but those days were long past by 1986.  One Sunday School room was vacant, as if waiting for a class that never gathered there.  The other had become a storage room for boxes my family and I had no room for in the parsonage.

Wesley Chapel Church August 21, 1988

Above:  Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, Berlin, Georgia, April 21, 1988

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

I belonged to Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, located a few miles outside of town.  My Sunday School class was there.

The two congregations functioned as one in most ways.  On the first and third Sundays one church hosted the morning and evening services; the other one did the same on the second and fourth Sundays.  The congregations also alternated hosting duties on fifth Sundays.  I have never seen that nice arrangement anywhere else.

Berlin United Methodist Church is no more; only Wesley Chapel remains.  The building of the former Berlin Church now hosts a Hispanic ministry within the denomination.

I was 13-16 years old at the time, so 1986-1989 were years replete with adolescent awkwardness.  Nevertheless, the schools in Moultrie were very good, and leaving for the inferior high school in Berrien County was a difficult transition for me.

I wonder if the town has become sufficiently progressive to move into the twentieth century in terms of its collective mindset.  I doubt it.

These memories remind me to thank God that I live in Athens-Clarke County.  I am a person born to live in a college or university town, where I am less likely to feel like an outcast and  am more likely to find people with whom to conduct an intelligent conversation.  In a college or university town I have more opportunities to grow intellectually and spiritually, given my temperament.

I know some of what I have, and thank God for it in the present tense, not in hindsight, with regret for having lost it.  I also thank God, with the benefit of hindsight, for a positive development at Berlin-Wesley Chapel.

There I began to choose how to participate in church activities; I began to say “no.”  For years parishioners at various congregations had been drafting me into church pageants and other activities.  At Wesley Chapel I had no choice but to accept a role in a terrible Christmas play.  The parishioner who had written the play seemed to like exposition and clunky dialogue.  Maybe she imagined herself to be a good playwright.  By the time of the creation of the youth choir, with its woeful musical selections, I had decided to refuse.  This created a diplomatic incident for my father, but, to his credit, he did not force me to participate in it.

Now I carry a strong aversion to people volunteering me for tasks.  Asking me if I will participate is not too difficult, is it?

I am active in my parish, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.  All the roles I fill are ones I want to perform, and enjoy doing.  One function (teacher of the lectionary class) is something I sought.  The others are roles I accepted when someone asked me.  Almost all of my functions (lectionary class teacher, lector scheduler, parish librarian, movie series coordinator) at St. Gregory the Great are those I could not taken on in the Berlin area, if I were to live there today, given the different ecclesiastical cultures.  Certainly I would not feel free, as I do in Athens, to speak my mind freely in Sunday School, lest I face an accusation of heresy, as I would in the Berlin area.

In 2018 I am where I belong.  Thank God for that.








Vidette, Georgia   1 comment

Above:  Burke County, Georgia, U.S.A., 1951

Scanned from Hammond’s Complete World Atlas (1951)

“37” indicates the Georgia and Florida Railway, which ran between Madison, Florida, and Greenwood, South Carolina.

“24” indicates the Central of Georgia Railway, now Railroad.


My father was a minister in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church from 1980 until 2014, when he died.  He served–and we lived–mostly in rural places, plentiful in southern Georgia.  The first of those, from June 1980 to June 1982, when I was 7-9 years old, in the Second and Third Grades, was Vidette, in Burke County.  The charge had three congregations:  Vidette, Greens Cut, and Friendship.  The parsonage, a run-down old house probably about the age of the town, was next to the Vidette Church.

Vidette was one of the small towns that developed at crossroads in western Burke County in the first decade of the twentieth century.  When the old Georgia and Florida Railway (built mostly from 1906 to 1911) built lines in that part of the county, new towns came into being.  The town existed by 1909, when a wedding, a record of which I found via Google, occurred there.  Vidette reached its peak population of about 600 in the 1920s.  Various factors led to the decline of population in that part of rural Burke County.  Many African Americans left the Jim Crow South as part of the Great Migration, starting in 1915.  In the South, where cotton was king, the boll weevil, an insect introduced into Georgia in 1915, devastated the cotton crop, reducing yields by half by 1923.  The decline in the population in many rural counties in Georgia was evident in the comparison of the results of the federal censuses of 1920 and 1930.

When my family and I lived in Vidette the population was close to 100.  Our mailing address contained the words “Louisville, Georgia.”  (Now the mailing addresses for residents of Vidette contain “Midville, Georgia.”)  The worship space of the Vidette United Methodist Church obviously dated to a time when the population was closer to 600.  The other congregation in town of which I have retained memories was the Bethel Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, which dissolved in 2015.  Its property has transferred to the new Bethel Mennonite Church.  Most Presbyterians in Vidette have been worshiping in either Louisville or Waynesboro, I suppose.

Above:  A Map of the Georgia and Florida Railway, 1918

Image Source =

By law images produced in the United States of America prior to 1923 are in the public domain.

By 1980 the railroad no longer came to Vidette.  One source I consulted indicated that the Hepzibah-Midville line of the Georgia and Florida Railroad closed in 1966.  Yet the Rand McNally World Atlas (1968) still showed the Georgia and Florida Railroad passing through western Burke County.  Perhaps someone forgot or neglected to update a map.  In 1980-1982 evidence of the railroad was visible on the eastern edge of town, near and parallel to Railroad Avenue and across from only store in town as well as the abandoned storefronts.  Two of the abandoned storefronts have survived; there used to be five of them.  By 1980 Vidette High School, on North College Avenue, next to Rose Dhu Cemetery, had closed.  Only the gymnasium has survived.

Above:  Vidette, Georgia, October 2016

From Google Earth

Last year the population of Vidette was 109.  A few moments ago, when last I checked the listing for Vidette United Methodist Church at the Find-a-Church feature of the denominational website, I read “Congregation:  12.”  Whether that was a reference to total membership, active membership, or average Sunday attendance, the implication for the continued existence of the congregation has not changed from destined to close sooner rather than later.

As of August 17, 2018, Vidette United Methodist Church, once a station church served by a retired minister, is half of a charge with Mount Moriah United Methodist Church, north of Matthews, in neighboring Jefferson County.  There is almost nothing left of Matthews either.  The minister lives in the Mount Moriah parsonage.  Friendship United Methodist Church, once on a charge with First United Methodist Church, Waynesboro, is on a charge with Greens Cut United Methodist Church, formerly a station church.  The current Friendship-Greens Cut arrangement makes much sense.

These rural areas are depopulating for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that most of those young people who can get away from them do.  Economic disadvantages of rural areas compound each other, so these vast territories spiral downward into deeper structural poverty.  Improvement is difficult, not impossible.  However, it will require a long time, for the entrenched problems are long-standing.

In the meantime, why would a young person with an education and professional prospects choose to live in Vidette?




Feast of Soren Kierkegaard (September 8)   2 comments

Above:  Portrait of Søren Kierkegaard, by Luplau Janssen

Image in the Public Domain



Danish Philosopher and Theologian, and Father of Existentialism

Søren Kierkegaard comes to A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and The Episcopal Church.  The Lutheran feast day (since 1978) is November 11.  The Episcopal feast day (since 2009) is September 8, also the Feast of Nikolai Grundtvig in The Episcopal Church.  I suspect that the decision to assign Kierkegaard the feast day of September 8, along with Grundtvig, is related to the rationale for group commemorations, but, in this case, without merging the feasts.

Not all those included in the Calendar need to be commemorated “in isolation.”  Where there are close and natural links between persons to be remembered, a joint commemoration would make excellent sense….

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 744; A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016), A74

My father was a United Methodist minister in southern Georgia, U.S.A.  One morning, in Sunday School in one of those congregations, the teacher of an adult class made an assertion (the details of which I cannot recall, and do not matter anyway) then said that he had faith and had proof.  I recognized the elements (faith and proof) of the last part of that statement as being mutually exclusive.  Kierkegaard would have done more than arch an eyebrow, had he heard that Sunday School teacher’s statement.

Kierkegaard:  A Brief Biography

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 5, 1813, became more influential after his lifetime than he was during it.  His father was Michael Pederson Kierkegaard (d. 1838), an erstwhile farmer who had moved to the capital city and became a prosperous wool merchant.  Michael was also a melancholy, puritanical who passed his disposition down to his guild-ridden son.  Søren, initially planning to become a minister in the state Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, studied theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1830 to 1840.  Although our saint never lost his faith in God, he became hostile to the state church, so he never pursued ordination.  He, living off inherited wealth, focused on writing books and articles (often under pseudonyms) in the fields of theology, psychology, ethics, and philosophy.  Our saint never married, for reasons biographers have interpreted in different ways.  He, engaged to Regine Olsen (1822-1904), in 1840-1841, broke off the engagement and never told her his reasons.

As I explained in the post about Bishop Grundtvig, the dominant strain in Danish Lutheranism at the time was Rationalism, which reduced ministers to teachers of morality and Christianity to an idea–a reasonable one, of course.  Grundtvig challenged Rationalism from within the state church, which he transformed.  Kierkegaard, however, condemned the state church as a mockery of Christianity.

In the thought of Kierkegaard proof negated faith.  If one could prove the Incarnation, the existence of God, and the truth of Christianity, one would negate faith and replace it with evidence.  A leap of faith was necessary.  Absolute knowledge was neither rational nor possible, our saint insisted, contradicting Georg Hegel.  Kierkegaard also contradicted a raft of Greek philosophers who taught that people have the truth inside them and need merely to become conscious of that fact.  No, our saint wrote, both the truth and the ability to understand it come from outside–from God, to be precise.

Kierkegaard had another objection to the Danish state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark:  It made being a Christian too easy.  Challenges were inherent in the Christian pilgrimage of faith, our saint understood.  Did not Jesus command each person to take up his or her cross and follow Him?  The union of church and state in Denmark robbed the Danish state church of its authenticity and power, Kierkegaard argued.

Kierkegaard, aged 42 years, died in Copenhagen on November 11, 1855.  He had been paralyzed since he had collapsed in a street on October 2.  To the end our saint refused offers of ministrations by ministers of the state church.  He said,

Royal functionaries are not related to Christianity.

An Influential Legacy

Kierkegaard, although a prolific and widely read author during his lifetime, was also a frequently ignored one, especially by bishops of the state church.  Yet his influence spread posthumously, due in large part to translations of many of his works.  Oft-cited thinkers who owed much to Kierkegaard’s writings included the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and the Neo-Orthodox theologians Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) and Karl Barth (1886-1968).

To that list I add another one none of my sources mentioned:  Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998).  He taught that to argue for the truth of the Gospel based on an outside standard of reliability is to make the outside standard more important than the Gospel.  Nothing, Newbigin insisted, was more important than the Gospel, and the sole ground for a Christian’s proper confidence in the truth of the Gospel was Jesus.  Newbigin, like Kierkegaard, opposed efforts to make Christianity”reasonable.”  And Newbigin used gentler rhetoric than Kierkegaard did.

God continues to speak through the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, fortunately.








Heavenly Father, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ felt sorrow and dread in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Help us to remember that though we walk through the valley of the shadow, you are always with us,

that with your philosopher Søren Kierkegaard,

we may believe what we have not seen and trust where we cannot test,

and so come at length to the eternal joy which you have prepared for those who love you;

through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Exodus 33:14-23

Psalm 22:1-11

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Matthew 9:20-22

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 569


Feast of Nikolai Grundtvig (September 8)   3 comments

Above:  Portrait of Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1862), by Constantin Hansen

Image in the Public Domain



Danish Lutheran Minister, Bishop, Historian, Philosopher, Poet, Educator, and Hymn Writer

“The Father of the Public School in Scandinavia”

Nikolai Grundtvig comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and The Episcopal Church.  His Lutheran feast day (since 1978) is September 2.  His Episcopal feast day (since 2009) is September 8, shared, appropriately, with Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), his contemporary.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, or the Danish State Church

The Enlightenment had much to recommend it–freedom of the press, liberty of conscience, constitutional government, et cetera.  The founding of my country, the United States of America, owed much to the Enlightenment.  However, the Enlightenment had limits to its virtues.  It overestimated the powers of human reason, for example.  The intellectual movement also rejected the “supernatural,” a category I consider spurious (although I accept that many of the contents of that category are real, just as natural as birds and sunsets).  Rationalism dominated Danish Lutheranism during much of Grundtvig’s lifetime.  The influence of Rationalism reduced pastors to moral instructors, truncated and rewrote the liturgy, and rejected human sinfulness.  Rationalism was what Archdeacon Claus Harms (1778-1855) of Kiel condemned in 1877 as the

papacy of reason

–strong language, coming from a Lutheran.

A competing strand of Lutheranism was Pietism, usually dated to 1675 and either credited to or blamed on, depending on one’s opinion of it, Philip Jacob Spener (1635-1705), author of Pia Desideria (Heartfelt Desire).  Pietism began as a reaction against dry, abstract orthodoxy divorced from daily life.  On the positive side, Pietism encouraged personal prayers and devotions, the study of the Bible, and much charitable work.  On the other hand, Pietism devalued grace (via a fixation on works) and the sacraments, was subjective to the point of undermining orthodoxy, frowned upon “worldly amusements” to the point of sourness, and redefined the Church as the assembly of the regenerated and reborn, not as the community of those bound together by word and sacraments.

There were also orthodox Lutherans, of course.

Young Nikolai Grundtvig

Nikolai Grundtvig, born in Udby, near Vordinborg, Denmark, on September 8, 1783, eventually offended all the above parties.  He, the youngest of five children, came from a long line of ministers.  His father sent the nine-year-old Nikolai to Jylland, to study under the Reverend L. Feld.  Two years later our saint passed his examen actium.  By the time Grundtvig graduated from the University of Copenhagen with a degree in theology in 1803, he had no faith left.

For a few years Grundtvig wandered in the spiritual wilderness.  For three years he worked as a tutor to a wealthy family in Langeland.  He, a fine poet, studied Icelandic epics and the Eddas.  In 1807 our saint wrote his first theological treatise, about religion and liturgy.  From 1808 to 1811 our saint taught history in Copenhagen.  During this time he returned to a state of faith.

Grundtvig was orthodox.  In his trial sermon, delivered in 1810, our saint asked,

Why has the Word of God disappeared from His house?

This condemnation of the dominant Rationalism delayed Grundtvig’s ordination for a year.  From 1811 to 1813 our saint served as assistant minister at Udby, under his ailing father, who died in 1813.  At Udby Grundtvig wrote Kort Begred af Verdens Kronike i Sammerhaeng (Short Concept of the World Chronicle, 1812), his first work of history from a Christian perspective.

The Wilderness Years

For much of 1813-1839 Grundtvig was unemployable as a minister.  He did not work as a pastor from 1813 to 1821 and from 1826 to 1839.  Literary work occupied much of our saint’s time.  He published a collection of poems in 1814, a volume of sermons in 1816, and an edition of Beowulf in 1820.  Grundtvig’s rejection of Romanticism foreshadowed that of Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).

Grundtvig worked again as a pastor in 1821-1826.  King Frederick VI appointed our saint the pastor at Presto in 1821.  The following year Grundtvig became the assistant pastor of Our Savior’s Church, Kristianshavn.  He resigned that post amid a libel lawsuit five years later.  In 1825, in Kirkens Gienmaele (The Church’s Reply), Grundtvig had accused the theologian H. N. Clausen of treating Christianity as a merely philosophical idea.  Our saint argued that Christianity is actually a historical revelation handed down from generation to generation via Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  Authorities censored Grundtvig’s writings.

Grundtvig was out of the pulpit again.  He traveled to England several times in 1829-1831 to study old Anglo-Saxon documents.  In so doing he pioneered a field of research.  Sang-Värk til den Danske Kirke (Songs for the Danish Church), his hymnal published in 1837, was popular.  Grundtvig, a lecturer at Borsch’s College in 1838, returned to parish work, at Vartov, Copenhagen, in 1839.  There he remained for the rest of his life.


During the 1820s Grundtvig developed Grundtvigianism, the movement that reshaped Danish Lutheranism and, to a lesser degree, influenced Norwegian Lutheranism.  Grundtvig rooted his orthodoxy in the liturgy and the sacraments.  He emphasized

the living word,

the locus of which he identified as the Apostles’ Creed, used in baptisms.  Only “the living word,” Grundtvig argued, could fulfill the need for

the great natural law of the spiritual life,

that is,

the necessity of the spoken word for the awakening of life and the transmission of the spirit.

Grundtvig rejected the position of orthodox Danish Lutherans at the time that the Bible was the sole source and standard of faith.  According to our saint, the Bible was

the dead word.

It was vital, but the word of God, broadly speaking, was the message of God, not the contents of a book.   As Luther wrote,

Printed words are dead, spoken words are living.  On the printed page they are not so forcible as when uttered by the sound of man through his mouth.

In context Grundtvig was not far afield from Martin Luther and John Calvin.  Luther, who understood Sola Scriptura narrowly, to mean that nothing outside the Bible is necessary for salvation, emphasized the power of the spoken word in the liturgy.  Grundtvig, therefore, stood in line with Luther.  Furthermore, Reformed theology has long recognized the created order as a second “book,” alongside the Bible, in which to encounter God.  Another portion of Reformation theology has been the distinction between the “word of God” (the Bible) and the “Word of God” (Jesus), a reference that reaches back to the Gospel of John.  As far as I have been able to discern, Grundtvig’s primary innovation was identifying the locus of the spoken word of God in the Apostles’ Creed.

Grundtvigianism was, according to its orthodox and Pietistic critics, heretical and lax.  The Grundtvigian openness to the possibility of postmortem conversion did more than arch eyebrows.  It allegedly encouraged, for lack of a more precise term, “loose living.”  Furthermore, Grundtvig’s Christian humanism and love of Danish culture led him to value many “worldly amusements,” thereby alarming and offending Pietists.  He, for example, enjoyed the theater and encouraged folk dancing.  Danish Pietists, or “Sad Danes,” avoided such alleged sins, which Grundtvigians, or “Happy Danes” accepted.

Many of Grundtvig’s critics within Lutheranism would have accused Luther of heresy, for Grundtvig channeled Luther well.

The Public Citizen

Grundtvig became “the Father of the Public School in Scandinavia” via his folk school movement.  He opened the first folk school in Rödding, Denmark, in 1844.  The movement spread across Denmark and to Norway, Sweden, and Finland.  In residential high schools young people came together across social class lines and educated each other.

Grundtvig, from 1839 to 1872, was pastor in Vartov, Copenhagen, and, courtesy of King Frederick VII, a bishop from 1861 to 1872, was a major figure in Denmark.  In 1848, for example, Denmark was turning into a constitutional monarchy.  Our saint was a member of the constitutional assembly.

The Great Hymn Writer

Grundtvig was the greatest Scandinavian hymn writer of the nineteenth century.  He wrote more than 1000 hymns, mostly from 1837 to 1860.  (I have added a few of these texts, in English, of course, to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.)  Grundtvig’s peers in the elite club of greatest Scandinavian hymn writers included Hans Adolf Brorson (1694-1764) and Thomas Hansen Kingo (1634-1703).  Grundtvig composed hymns for the entire church year, but his favorite theme was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Death and Legacy

Grundtvig died in Copenhagen on September 2, 1872, six days prior to what would have been his eighty-ninth birthday.  He had preached his last sermon on September 1.

Grundtvig’s influence extended beyond Scandinavia.  When Danish immigration to Canada and the United States of America began in earnest in the late 1800s, the immigrants were not of one mind regarding religion.  Many of them, indifferent to religion in Denmark, remained indifferent to it in the New World.  Grundtvigians and Pietists also immigrated.  The Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (DELCA), initially a “big tent,” became a smaller tent via the Pietistic schism of 1894.  No such schism disrupted the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, however.

Evaluating Grundtvigianism

I find much to admire and little to question in Grundtvigianism.

Grundtvig’s encouragement of a positive form of Christianity that embraces the positive elements of society and culture, thereby eschewing serial contrariness and rejecting sourness in religion, in the name of God, was wonderful.  Pietistic and Puritanical hostility to “worldly amusements” has never been a spiritually or physically healthy attitude.  Much of what these Christians weaned on dill pickles have condemned–from tea, with its antioxidants, to chess, with its therapeutic uses, especially for patients suffering from cognitive decline–science has proven to be beneficial.  Art, especially those forms of it involving acting, has enriched the lives of many people.  And has there every been anything wrong with folk dancing?

Grundtvig’s liturgical and sacramental focus, in the context of Christian community, was laudable.  He stood well within Christian tradition in that and other matters.  His liturgical and sacramental focus has long had the ring of truth with me, even before I knew he had lived.  I grew up a United Methodist in rural southern Georgia, U.S.A.  We usually took Holy Communion every three months.  I wanted it more often, however, for I felt closest God in that sacrament.  That reality contributed greatly to my decision to convert to The Episcopal Church, which I did at St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, Georgia, on December 22, 1991.

My only reservation regarding Grundtvigianism relates to the unusually high status of the Apostles’ Creed.  That is a fine creed, but the identification of it as the locus of “the living word” is too narrow and specific.  The “word of God,” in my thought, is the message of God.  I can encounter in the Bible, in nature, in fine literature, in fine music, in the spoken words of another person, in the silence, in prayer, in contemplation, in the sacraments, in the liturgy, et cetera.  The canon is fixed at 73 books, per the Council of Trent, but the word of God is available from many sources.

My disagreement with Grundtvig is quite minor.








Almighty God, you built your Church upon a rock:

Help us remember with your hymn writer Nikolai Grundtvig,

that though steeples may fall and buildings made by hands may crumble,

Jesus made our bodies his temple through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Help us to recognize Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life,

that we may join our voices to the eternal alleluia;

through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:1-2, 5-8

Psalm 86:1-12

Romans 5:1-5

Matthew 8:5-10

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 567


Proper Levels of Sensitivity   3 comments

Above:  A Scene from Blazing Saddles (1974)

A Screen Capture


Or, Neither Be a Snowflake Nor Excuse and Facilitate Snowflakism in Others

Maintaining the proper level of sensitivity is crucial; hypersensitivity is at least as negative a force as insensitivity.

Certain statements are always beyond the pale.  These statements are those intended to degrade other human beings.  Reasons for degrading others include race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation.  Anyone who crosses that line deserves strong condemnation.  Nobody should ever tolerate such statements.  One might, on occasion, quote them (as in academic work; try writing a biography of a segregationist politician without quoting racial slurs, for example) or mock them (as in Blazing Saddles).

Above:  Men Reluctant to Give Land to the Irish; from Blazing Saddles (1974)

A Screen Capture

Some works of art age better than others based on this standard.  For example, Blazing Saddles (1974) depicts unapologetic racists as fools and idiots.  The movie stands the test of time as a masterpiece that argues against bigotry.  We who watch the movie laugh at those ensnared by their own learned racism.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) is also a classic, but Mickey Rooney’s performance as an Asian man makes me cringe.  On the other hand, the movie does boast Audrey Hepburn and a cat.  How can I dislike a movie with Audrey Hepburn and a cat in it?

Above:  Holly Golightly and Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

A Screen Capture

I am sensitive, but not hypersensitive.  Life is too short (however long it might feel in real time) for me to spend it being hypersensitive, either about what others do and say or what I do or say.  No, I aim for a proper level of sensitivity on both sides of the equation.  I find Birth of a Nation (1915) offensive, for the seminal movie does glorify the first Ku Klux Klan.  The work is inherently racist, but it is also a landmark of cinema and a document of sorts of racial attitudes in much of the United States half a century after the end of the Civil War.  I have no regrets about having watched it from beginning to end once, for historical interest, or in having shown clips in classes, for educational purposes, with context.

The guiding principle for me in these matters is respecting the dignity of every human being, a value built into the Baptismal Covenant in The Book of Common Prayer (1979).  This principle explains why, for example, I oppose abortion except in extenuating cases (while I argue that changing minds and making alternatives to abortion easier is a more effective, and therefore, better strategy than outlawing the procedure) as well as homophobia and discrimination against homosexuals.  Whether one places the label “left” or the label “right” on a position regarding respecting the dignity of all people does not matter to me.  Respecting the dignity of every human being is a principle that leads me to refrain from dehumanizing those who are different from me in one or more ways.

That does not mean, however, that I can ever get through day without doing something to offend someone, given that some people take offense more easily than others, and often at matters certain others consider inoffensive.

I am, for example, sufficiently pedantic to insist on always using the words “they,” “them,” “their,” and “themselves” in the plural.  One can be inclusive in the present tense, often by writing or speaking in language that makes one sound educated.  “One” and “one’s” are gender-neutral pronouns, after all.  One might also remain in the singular and substitute the definite article (“the”) for a gendered pronoun.  One can, when one sets one’s mind to the task, identify several strategies for being inclusive in the singular without wrecking the English language.  Alternatively, one might use “they,” “them,” “their,” and “themselves” correctly by switching to the plural forms of words.  Or one might accept the tradition of using masculine pronouns as the inclusive default position and go about enjoying one’s day.  All of the above are feasible options.  I refuse to distort the English language, of which I am quite fond, because of the hypersensitivity of others.

Some people take offense at even the most respectful and polite disagreements.  I have experience with this, usually in the context of teaching.

In late 1991, in southern Georgia, U.S.A., I was at a transitional point in my life.  I was a freshman in college.  I was also turning into an Episcopalian.  I was, for the time being, still a United Methodist, though.  My father was the newly-appointed pastor of the Sumner United Methodist Church, Sumner, Georgia.  One Sunday morning I was teaching the adult class.  There were two visitors, a married couple, Independent Baptists from Savannah, Georgia.  One half of that couple was a child of a member at Sumner.  During the course of that Sunday School lesson the visitors decided that my position on a particular theological point was lax.  Courteously I said,

I disagree.

I learned later in the week that I had offended–upset, really–them.  If these individuals were not prepared to take a polite, respectful “I disagree” well, how did they cope with daily life?  Did they associate most days only with people who agreed with them completely?

I have also offended students with the Joe Friday strategy–

Just the facts.

(Watch Dragnet, if you dare.  The acting was consistently and purposefully bad, but the two series were popular culture touchstones.)  In World Civilization I courses, for example, I have recited facts of ancient comparative religion.  This information has disturbed some students, who have mistaken me for one hostile to Judaism and Christianity, and who have taken grave offense at me.  To quote an old saying many of a younger generation might not understand,

Their tapes were running.

Those who took offense at me were not listening to what I was saying.  No, they were listening to what they thought I was saying.  They were reacting not to me, but to others who had criticized Christianity on false grounds.  In contrast, years ago, when I wrote an article I submitted for publication at an online theological journal with a conservative Presbyterian orientation, I recited many of the same facts about ancient comparative religion, but with no negative response or reaction.  The editors checked my facts and published my article.  They read what I wrote.  They also understood I was not hostile to the faith.

At one of the universities I attended there was a professor who specialized in Latin American history.  One day years ago he taught about human rights violations centuries ago that were matters of policy in the Roman Catholic Church.  An offended parent of an offended student called the department chair to complain.  The professor’s material was factually accurate; he cited examples Holy Mother Church has acknowledged frankly and for which it has formally apologized.  The two offended Roman Catholics (student and parent) took offense more easily and quickly than the institution they defended.

No ideological, political, or religious camp has a monopoly on snowflakism.  If one is to criticize snowflakism while remaining intellectually honest, one must criticize it consistently, without regard for left-right distinctions.

I have a strategy for dealing with that which would ruin my day needlessly:  I ignore it.  If I do not want to hear a speaker on the campus where I work, I do not attend the event.  If I do not want to watch a program or a movie, I avoid it.  Life is too short not to enjoy it properly.

I affirm all I have written in this post thus far as I add to it the following statement:  I understand why many people are hypersensitive.  I understand that many people’s formative experiences have included unapologetic, intentional insults, degradation, and contempt from others.  I understand that many people have felt oppressed because they have experienced a degree of oppression.  I understand that experiences have conditioned them.  I accept that one should acknowledge the unjust realities of many people’s lives and make no excuses for the inexcusable.

I also return to my original thought in this post:  Maintaining the proper level of sensitivity is crucial; hypersensitivity is at least as negative a force as insensitivity.  Something I do (or have done) today is offensive to somebody, somewhere.  The same statement applies to you, O reader.  Our duty is to do our best to love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.  That kind of love seeks to build people up, not to tear them down.  It respects in words and deeds the dignity inherent in them.  So may we act accordingly.  May we neither cause legitimate offense not take offense wrongly.




Thirteen Years in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia   Leave a comment

Above:  The Double-Barreled Cannon, Downtown Athens, Georgia

Image in the Public Domain


In early August 2005 I moved to Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, to commence a doctoral program in history.  That degree program became a victim of an academic abortion–not the kind of last resort, to save the life of the mother, so to speak.  Or perhaps it was a case of academic euthanasia.  Either way, that was then, not that I have ever excused the nefarious actions of one professor in particular who accidentally did me a favor.  (At least there was grace in the accidental favor.)  My degree program died, but I remained in town and integrated into St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church.  The professor has destroyed himself, not that I have ever felt the desire to gloat.

I am responsible for the kind of person I am, after all.

As I approach the end of my thirteenth year and the beginning of my fourteenth year in Athens-Clarke County, I stand amazed at my longevity in one place.  I recall my formative years, a portion of which I moved every two years on average.  I can date events from that time in my life according to the house (usually a United Methodist parsonage) in which I lived.  Now I find myself having resided in one town for nearly thirteen years and at one address for nearly eleven years–a substantial proportion of my life so far.  I enjoy having roots.

One day the time to leave Athens-Clarke County might come.  If so, departure will be the correct decision; I will move toward opportunity and not flee from unpleasant memories.  I am in no hurry to depart from Athens-Clarke County, though.  This is home, after all.  It makes me a better person, and I seek to make it a better place.