A couple weekends ago, Selma sent The Rev. Seth Pankratz off on his next mission in life.
The send-off luncheon, sponsored by Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life, honored Pankratz and his family for his five years of ministry at Selma First Baptist Church. It was a low-key, roast-and-toast affair, attended by friends and other members of Selma’s local clergy.
And it made me ponder the God business. Not the faith, not the scripture, not the Church traditions. The business.
As all of us who worship on Sunday know, a church is a business. Our pastors and our boards preside over entities that take in and spend thousands of dollars. Most churches are associated with a larger denominational entity that deals in the millions of dollars.
Doing God’s business isn’t always pretty. Schisms in churches. Televangelists with their appeals for money. Charlatans and outright crooks. Ministers caught in compromising positions.
And that thought led me to another. The people who do God’s work here in our community.
Because most pastors, at least the most committed ones, don’t go into the ministry to get rich. They do it because it is their calling. They have a passion for the faith, for their flock, for their community and for society at large.
My own observation and opinion is that Christianity today often gets a bad rap for its public image. When I watch the news and see so-called Christians spewing hatred, it beats up my soul because I know that for every person who hates in the name of Jesus, there are thousands of compassionate, loving, caring Christians who give willingly of their hearts, souls and finances to help those in our communities who are hurting or hungry.
Through such vehicles as the Christian Cafe, BBNBTL and other generous dispensations of food, clothing and social services, our faith community shows its compassion.
And that caring extends not just to a person’s hunger or need for clothing. It also means edifying a person’s soul and spirit. And with all that is happening in the world today, we huge spiritual boost.
As I sat and watched the Selma faith community honor Rev. Pankratz the other day, I thought of my friend David White.
What a tale of faithfulness, selflessness and sacrifice is Pastor David.
He grew up in Selma, wrote for the Selma High Clarion, then took an entry-level sports-writing job at the Fresno Bee. He turned that into a solid sports-writing career and was recruited by the San Francisco Chronicle.
For several years, David White worked at the pinnacle of sports writing, covering a major beat (NFL, Raiders, 49ers) for a major newspaper. Then he gave it all up to follow God.
Today, White is senior pastor at Porterville Church of God and youth and discipleship director for the California/Nevada Church of God state office. No more hanging around NFL press boxes. No more bylines in the Chronicle.
All because God called.
Seth Pankratz, meanwhile, is moving with his family back to Pennsylvania, near their relatives. Pankratz will seek a ministerial position while he finishes his PhD that he began in 2015.
As his family readjusts to the Eastern U.S., he said, they’ll miss the fresh produce, taco trucks and mountain views that make small-town San Joaquin Valley the place we love.
But most of all they will miss the people — in his church and beyond. Because God’s power, he explained, is demonstrated when people of faith are united in love.
“So many churches are marked by competition and isolation,” Pankratz told me last week. “Selma bucked this trend, and my co-laborers and I were determined to get together, pray together and work together. When hearts are changed, lives are changed; and in working together the churches of Selma accomplished far more than any one church could do alone.”
So my sermon today, to those of you who wonder about the state of Christianity, is to pay less attention to those folks who come onto your TV set or computer screen in the name of Jesus. Instead, look locally — at Selma’s faith community that is trying to make a difference in our city — and by doing so, helping to grow love and peace in our state, our nation and our world.
People such as Seth Pankratz and David White. And Nelson Schwamb, Marty Lynch, Maria Tafoya, Josue Guevara, Joe Alvarez, Jim Elder, Aura-Lila Ochoa and many others I do not know.
They are the people on the front lines of God’s team. Not a team David White writes about but one he plays for.