“There is a husband and a wife. The husband committed adultery and came to me about it. It was possible for a confession to his wife to occur, and for there to be a true period of anger. But that was the beginning of a drama that ended with honest forgiveness and repair of a marriage. The preparation, the ministry in this place, laid the foundation for that man to come and talk, and for him and his wife to have the language of sin and forgiveness. And it was there for them when they most needed it. That is how I define success in the pastorate.”

The speaker is Walter Wangerin, Jr., for more than ten years the pastor of a small church in inner-city Evansville, Indiana. It is characteristic of Wangerin to view the reconciliation of a marriage in the terms of a drama. To him, all of life is dramatic and significant. Novelist Walker Percy has worried that people of the present are terminally nice: without conviction, void of passion.

Wangerin is a bones-and-blood antithesis of Percy’s terminally nice man. He is gracious, to be sure, but first and foremost charged with passion. Faith, story, ministry—all these things strike deep in Wangerin. Even as he speaks of them privately, behind the closed door of his office, he cannot help acting out the excitement straining at the well cap of his imagination. Any question, it seems, may promote a gusher. He leans back in his chair and hoists his feet onto the desk. He paces the room. He kneels. He puts a hand over dark eyes and clamps his temples. He modulates his voice with the intensity of Olivier at a command performance and uses rich, old, full-bodied words such as “mercy” and “unto.”

Wangerin has an easy and natural eloquence that has ripened with years of paying attention to words. ...

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