Sunday afternoon I preached in Winthrop, Minnesota, at Faith United Church. Faith is a union church, which means it consists of several historic congregations joined together by a union as one church. It is now affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC) but it remains an orthodox and evangelical church. The pastor, Eric Haugen, has faithfully served there for many years. Eric is a graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School and was ordained twenty-five years ago. The reason for my visit Sunday was to preach at his 25th year celebration of his ordination.
What makes Eric’s ordination unique, so far as I am concerned at least, is that he was ordained a Unitarian and after fifteen years as a Unitarian minister, he became a Trinitarian and entered the ministry of the Methodist Church in the process. Eric and I met through our 1999 Word and Spirit Conference in Dubuque, Iowa. He was still searching for solid Trinitarian, evangelical friends and in the process came to our event. I have since been to Winthrop three times to speak for Eric and to serve his congregation in some way.
When strongly opinionated conservatives tell me that people in liberal traditions never move toward orthodoxy I think of ministers I’ve known like Eric. Eric has been both decisive and courageous as he has faced major changes in his life. He gave up quite a promising career to follow the truth. When I asked him how the change came about he answered: "I just grew tired of not being able to embrace Jesus Christ openly and completely and to listen to the Scriptures as God’s Word. One day I pulled the car over to the side of the road and asked God to help me do the right thing." He did and the story is one that has been a great blessing to me and many others.
If I had listened to the extremely conservative voices in the 1990s, voices that told me to not associate with mainline Christians in these ecumenical ventures, I would never have gotten to know Eric Haugen. I would also have missed churches like the little flock in Winthrop I was with this past Sunday. My world is better and richer for having been to Winthrop and for sharing in the journey of one Eric Haugen. I have learned that reformation cannot be limited by your little box or mine when you serve a sovereign and gracious God. Here is a friend who once studied liberation theology because he believed it. He also opposed most of the things that he believes today about both social and cultural concerns. The power and force of truth, especially the truth of the gospel, can still change a person’s mind and life where God is at work. Pray for ministers like Eric and pray that thousands in the various denominations of America will seek the Lord and openly embrace the gospel regardless of the personal cost.