743 Prospect Street, San Diego
Membership: 1200 individuals.
Pastor: Randal Gardner (Rector)
Born: Denver, Colorado
Formation: Seattle Pacific University; Church Divinity School of the Pacific-Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley.
Years Ordained: 25
San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?
Randal Gardner: It varies from 6 to 10 hours, to 30 to 40 years. There are occasions on which I speak out of a lifelong reflection of something, and the crafting of that kind of sermon can be very easy or very difficult. Sometimes there’s too much to fit into a single Sunday, but sometimes it’s as if the idea has been fermenting for a long time when I pull that together. On most occasions I start ruminating on the sermon the Sunday afternoon after I preach the one before.
SDR: Can you think of a time when you gave a homily that completely flopped?
RG: I have preached sermons where it was clear I was wrong, and I recognized that later on. I remember offering a rebuttal at the end of the service to the sermon I preached. We said prayers together, and in the prayer it was brought to mind that I was working on something that wasn’t accurate, and so before the final blessing, I stepped into the congregation and said I have to tell you what I preached before just wasn’t right. I don’t remember what it was — it was so many years ago. I recall, though, that I told everyone the relationship or identity of God was more my own business than what ought to have been preached…. So to correct myself I tried to reframe a little bit of an idea based on what came to me during the prayers.
SDR: What is your main worry as a member of the clergy?
RG: The big thing — and I think it’s on the radar across the board for an awful lot of people — is how can I be a faithful guide and leader at a time when it seems God might be moving the body of the faithful out of institutional church organizations into something that isn’t quite designed yet. You are aware of and tracked the demographics of the mainline denominations, and you’ve seen how dramatically the numbers have fallen off since the ’60s. What’s the leadership role in this?
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
RG: Something endures, I believe, whether it endures in a physical form as scripture suggests, or as a contribution of some little intelligence to the universe or whether there’s memory, I’m not really sure. I’m pretty faithful to preach what scripture teaches, but as far as how that is actually going to be manifest for us, I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t really care. Whatever it is, I’m confident that God is good, and if it’s to be nothing, so be it…. One of the best metaphors for articulating what I think is from C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Hell is a state of continuing refusal toward God, which one can leave at any time. In his telling of the story, the torment is more from the consequence of continuing disconnection from the brightness and reality and graciousness of God. One gets stuck in one’s own narcissism or selfishness or fear or dread or some kind of addictive pattern of refusal, and that is the hell.