This weekend, I had the chance to read Karl Pruter’s memoirs, published as The Blue Jellybean, Hedy Lamarr, and We Don’t Eat Negroes: A Memoir (Borgo Press, 2007). Copies can be ordered from Shepherd’s Heart Ministries – http://www.shepherds-heart.net/ (I promise I am going to learn to embed links – I really am!) If you don’t know Bishop Karl, he is one of the elders of the independent movement, at 86 years young. He was once a Congregationalist minister, who left that career due to his sense that the merger which created the United Church of Christ was destroying traditional Congregationalism. By various turns, he wound up in the independent movement, carrying with him free church sensibilities, a deep interest in mysticism, and a commitment to Jesus’ message of peace.
His memoirs are a rambling collection of stories, but the reader does get a sense of his life and personality. This is my favorite:
When I went to see [a congregant in a new pastoral assignment] she said she was concerned about my sermon, which was directed at her. I told her I didn’t understand, because I didn’t know who she was. “Of course you knew who I was and that is why you preached a sermon about rich people. You said a rich person has as much chance of getting into the Kingdom of Heaven as a camel going through the eye of a needle. Furthermore, you mentioned divorce and you obviously know I am divorced.” I did point out to her that I wasn’t the one who made the statement regarding a rich person’s chances of getting into heaven, but Christ said it. “Yes, I know, but you repeated it.” I pled guilty, and in my defense I stated that it was my job to tell people what Christ said and taught. That is why I was called to this church. Before I was able to leave, she told me that she had given the organ to the church. I merely said, “We appreciate it,” and made my departure. (pp.86-87)
I was also interested in his account of writing one of his early books (as Hugo Pruter), Theology of Congregationalism. He reports that the received wisdom in 1957 was that Congregationalism did not really have a theology. However, Pruter found a theology in “how they lived, the discipline within the churches, and such acts as Holy Communion, Baptism, and Marriage, and how the various congregations related to one another.” (p.113) In other words, he observed what was actually happening in Congregationalist churches, and then looked for the theology implicit in the practice. I have often argued that this is exactly the way to find a genuine Independent Sacramental theological voice.
Bishop Brian Brown from Shepherd’s Heart reports that Bishop Karl, undeterred by age, plans to write at least 15 more books. Many years to him!