Renewing Riverside Church and the Mainline

Dr. Randall Ballmer says the Mainline
denominations have failed to communicate.

As the famed Riverside Church seeks a new senior minister, questions arise about the lack of high profile clergy to fill the pulpit.

The story reported in the New York Times yesterday raises intriguing concerns. The first interesting note is sounded by Mark Silk, director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford. “Who are the big dogs today? It’s true in Catholicism, too, for that matter. Where’s the Spellman or the Cushing? The religious leaders worth listening to have to make the case for themselves — running their own organization, writing books, being in the media.”

It’s my impression that communicating to a broad audience through media is not viewed as part of the pastoral repertoire today. If some instances leaders seek to avoid media.

As Silk points out, the skill set isn’t limited to being a good preacher. It includes the ability to speak colloquially in public media so that people who aren’t familiar with religious language can understand.

Dr. Randall Ballmer, a professor of American religious history at Barnard College and an ordained Episcopal minister tells Times writer Samuel G. Freedman, “You need someone who has solid theological understanding and can articulate it speaking to a popular audience…The standard conservative criticism is that the mainline Protestants lost their theological moorings, that they got too far out ahead of the people in the pews. But I think the larger issue is that they were not communicating to the masses.”

I believe the recognition is growing that the ability to communicate in the highly competitive, dense communications environment today is both a necessary skill, and a theological requirement.

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