Sunday, July 10, 2011
Sunday morning during General Assembly is a Who's Who among Preachers. Unfortunately, Dr. Fred Craddock is so well respected, that whichever congregation is fortunate enough to have him will have an unusually difficult day. This year, Dr. Craddock was the guest preacher at the 11 am service at Woodmont Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville. Woodmont is a grand church among Disciples of Christ. It too, like FCC-Ashland, is a Top 100 Church that is most likely near the top of that count. The Rev. Clay Stauffer is the Senior Minister as he has the distinction of being the youngest Senior Minister ever called to such a congregation at the age of 27. Clay, now in his 30's, is one of our finest in the Disciples of Christ as he is both a preacher of great talent and Christian humility.
During breakfast, I ran into Dr. Michael Mooty, Senior Minister at Central Christian Church in Lexington. After the usual pleasantries he asked why we were dressed up. I told him that we planned to attend Woodmont to hear Dr. Craddock. He chuckled and lifted Dr. Craddock's most recent book saying, "I have learned after year's of Assemblies that the best way to get some Craddock on Sunday morning is to read one of his books over morning breakfast." I didn't realize how prophetic Dr. Mooty was.
Dr. Richard Hamm, former General Minister of the Christian Church, was the guest preacher at the 9:30 am service with the Kentucky Men's Chorus singing. As I suspected, many people came to the 9:30 service just to make sure they had a seat at the 11 am service. We arrived at 10 am, hoping that we would be able to get a seat. The parking lot was full with cars parking on the grass and frankly, wherever they could find a space. We parked in the parking lot next door at the Methodist Church. I was concerned that they might tow us as the chalice on the back window would surely give us away as non-Methodists.
When we went to the front door of Woodmont we were directed to the Fellowship Hall. The congregation is a grand building with a southern style mansion as the offices and a country club style fellowship area. The Hall was packed with expectant worshipers. What we did not know was that there was also a Fellowship area downstairs in an extended area where the "Contemporary" Service is held. Standing outside, we could see through the windows the large screens with the Kentucky Men's Chorus finishing the service with one of their renowned pieces. They sounded quite good.
Still standing in a line with more then 100 people in front of us we could clearly see one, then two and finally three large tour buses pull up out in front of the church with people streaming out to make their way through the main doors. The ushers at Woodmont strained to maintain order until the 9:30 service was over. Finally, a hand full of people began to make their way out of the sanctuary with looks of shock and surprise as they forced their way through the crowds to get to their cars. Finally a voice could be heard that we could make our way into the main sanctuary. With about 40 people in front of us, the ushers yelled that the sanctuary was full and the rest would need to make their way down to the lower level in the room where the "contemporary" service was to be held while the sermon would be televised via closed circuit television. By the time the herd of worshipers made their way to the lower level, ushers told us that that room was full to capacity as well and we would need to find somewhere else to go. The problem? There was no where else to go. Hundreds of worshipers were still trying to figure out where they would need to go and ushers looked at each other with panic as all options had been exhausted. Standing in the fellowship area, one of the ushers announced that we would not be allowed to stay and that we would need to go. So....we left.
Since we had parked at the Methodist Church, we decided to attend worship there, only to find out that the service had started at 10:30 am and enjoyed the final 15 minutes of the sermon, which incidentally, was very good. The Methodists were very kind and thanked us for attending and invited us back again the following week.
I can't say I was upset. Honestly, I expected that our chances of getting to see Dr. Craddock were slim at best. Even with Woodmont as one of our larger congregations with a reputation of fine organization, the crowds were probably even a shock to them.
My after lunch thoughts drifted to why this situation seemed to be so common place. I knew that the other congregations in Nashville were featuring some of our finest preachers, but frankly, their names were not readily known to me. If they weren't known to someone who is regularly familiar with the names of our denomination's best, they probably weren't well known to other Assembly attendees. Is the reason due to a loss of a national publication that would inform our congregations of the new names of some of our finest preachers? I can't believe that Dr. Craddock is our only great preacher. Regardless, we Disciples of Christ are blessed with the evangelistic voice of Dr. Craddock. Noted as one of the nation's finest preachers, Dr. Craddock is even well known and respected in other countries too. I remember receiving a publication from St. Andrew's University in Scotland several years ago featuring Dr. Craddock as a "well known American preacher." Personally, I have watched several of our preachers rise to prominence. Unfortunately, many of them either backed away from the public attention to focus on their local churches or other areas of their life or they began to believe what others said about them losing the sense and power of the humility necessary to continue to be effectively used by God. Dr. Craddock is a legend, but he has never forgotten that he is at his core, a simple preacher of the simple Gospel. He has remembered that it is God who gives him the wisdom to effectively articulate the Good News of Jesus Christ. Today's learning for the Church is multi layered. Let us celebrate the gift of great preachers. Let us remember that ultimately, it is a sign of God's gift, and that humility is the only fuel that allows the preacher to continue to be effective. People recognize what is of God and what is driven by human pride. Thank God for the power of Dr. Craddock's humility and God bless Dr. Craddock as he continues to be an effective voice for the proclamation of the Gospel.