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Working the Angles, Introduction notes
by Estee in ,

I've started re-reading Eugene Peterson's book "Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity" as my morning devotion. I'm struck by how appropriate Peterson's description of the current reality of pastoral work is to my own experience. He speaks of how easy it is to do the outward and visible work of a pastor without attending to the inward disciplines that form the basis of our calling. Peterson is almost angry as he begins his introduction:

"American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationery and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling" (page 1).

The "angles" in the title of this book are for Peterson the necessary acts of ministry that connect the triangular lines of pastoral work. He envisions the lines of the triangle as preaching, teaching and administration - important work that unfortunately can be accomplished disconnected from the angles - prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction. He writes "working the angles is what gives shape and integrity to the daily work of pastors and priests. But if we are careless with or dismiss the angles, no matter how long or straight we draw the lines we will not have a triangle, a pastoral ministry" (page 5).

"Three pastoral acts are so basic, so critical, that they determine the shape of everything else. The acts are praying, reading Scripture and giving spiritual direction. Besides being basic, these three acts are quiet. They do not call attention to themselves and so are often not attended to. In the clamorous world of pastoral work nobody yells at us to engage these acts. It is possible to do pastoral work to the satisfaction of the people who judge our competence and pay our salaries without being either diligent or skilled in them. Since almost never does anyone notice whether we do these things or not, and only occasionally does someone ask that we do them, these three acts of ministry suffer widespread neglect" (page 3).

Peterson distinguishes between a job and a calling, and he says that when we are given our first appointment as a pastor, we are suddenly asked to do a job, complete an assignment. Deal with the needs of the people in our church. And often, the job that we are asked to do conflicts with our fundamental calling:

"Am I keeping the line clear between what I am committed to and what people are asking of me? Is my primary orientation God's grace, his mercy, his action in creation and covenant?" (page 12).

"How do I keep the line sharp? How do I maintain a sense of pastoral vocation in the middle of a community of people who are hiring me to do religious jobs?" (page 13).


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