Monday, September 21, 2009

Guiding Light

We have no “Guiding Light.”

The soap opera that began on radio in 1936 and then continued on television recently broadcast its last episode.

I would not have known this if I had not seen the various news stories. As far as I know, I never saw a single episode, although I can’t be absolutely certain that I didn’t watch an episode some afternoon when I was sick and home from school in the fifth grade. But I doubt it.

Still, I like the idea of a Guiding Light.

In the original radio series, it was called “The Guiding Light,” and it involved a minister who left a light on in the window so that people could see that he was at home and ready to listen to their problems.

That’s not how people think of ministers today.

A lot has changed, of course. Years ago pastors more often did their reading and studying in the parsonage. The pastor was a man, and his wife frequently functioned as the unpaid church secretary. People brought their troubles to the pastor in his study, in the parsonage. Now we keep office hours.

But it’s more than that.

In her Saturday column in the New York Times, Gail Collins wrote about Soap Operas in general and “Guiding Light” in particular. It would be hard to imagine a series like that today, she said, and if you could sell such a series today, “the minister in question would probably have to be a vampire.”

That’s partly just pop-culture gone crazy. And I’m sure the statement was intended to be outrageous. But there are probably more than a few people who would find it easier to imagine bringing their troubles to a wise and kindly vampire.

In the middle of the last century, the church was less concerned with doctrine and more concerned with people. Mainstream Christianity was often fuzzy on matters of theology, but clear on practical help. This shouldn’t be romanticized, the church of the 1950’s was segregated (in fact, if not by law), and the people being helped were typically the people who were “like us.” But still, it was more about a guiding light and less about a dividing line.

I would like to think of us as “The Church of the Guiding Light.” Not as a formal name. Not even as a mission statement. But as an informal description. Helping folks find their way ought to be somewhere near the center of our work.

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