I was raised in a theologically and socially conservative family in southern Texas. I am told that I was taken to church on a pillow a few days after I was born, which began a lifetime of connection with the church. When I was in high school, my family moved to Seattle, Washington, where I became a member of University Christian Church and graduated from the University of Washington. When I felt the call to the ministry and planned to attend a regional Bible college, my pastor encouraged me to go to Yale Divinity School. This encouragement was one of God’s great gifts to me.

Eldon and Gloria Irving

At YDS, I was challenged intellectually, theologically, and socially. However, while some of my classmates took part in the freedom rides of the civil rights movement, I was so involved academically that I did not even think about such things. After graduation and called as an associate minister in Warren, Ohio, my thought and actions changed. I responded to an invitation from the National Council of Churches to be part of a group of ministers called to go to Mississippi to work in voter registration. In the process, I was arrested and spent some time in a Mississippi jail—not a pleasant experience. When I returned home, there were mixed responses from members of the church. Some wanted to fire me, which probably would have happened had not the senior minister announced, if you fire him you also fire me.

My concern for social issues showed itself again during the Vietnam War when I was serving a church in Dayton, Ohio. I was preaching a sermon series on the beatitudes, and when I got to Blessed are the peacemakers. I was convinced that the meaning was addressed not just to those who want peace, but also to those who work to make peace. I became a part of Lay and Clergy Concerned for Vietnam and went to Washington DC to demonstrate against the war. This also brought mixed reactions from church members. However, I had put a great deal of emphasis on pastoral care, and no one suggested that I be fired.

My emphasis on pastoral care continued in each church I served. Although there have always been those church members who responded negatively to my concerns for social issues, I have discovered many wonderful positive Christian people in the church, and I have shared some of these fascinating personalities in my book Personalities in the Pews (Stories of Inspiration and Humor). My wife, Gloria, who has a degree in art, illustrated the book.

The last church I served was in Duncanville, Texas, a suburb close to Dallas and Fort Worth. While in Duncanville, I entered the Doctor of Ministry Program at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. Since I was serving a church in Texas, when I received my D.Min, I had the best of two worlds—a Yale education and a Texas degree. I served as senior minister of First Christian Church in Duncanville for twenty-eight years before retiring in 2004. In 2011, Brite Divinity School presented me with The Distinguished Ministers Award for Pastoral Ministry, an award given to only one person each year.

As I stated in the first sentence of this blog, I was raised in a theologically conservative family. Beginning at YDS, and throughout my ministry, I have struggled with faith questions, and I have continually moved further liberal in my thinking. Marcus Borg, whose experience of growing up with a conservative theology, almost moving away completely, but returning with a metaphorical interpretation, has spoken meaningfully to me. I continue to evolve as I continue to struggle with faith question, but I have found a home at University Christian Church next door to TCU and Brite Divinity School. There I have been invited to teach one of the largest Church School Classes, which was taught by one of the Brite faculty before he retired. In addition, at University Church, I continue with my concern for social issues as my wife and I work with a church program for the homeless.

Advertisements