by Barbara Chaapel
Gary Barckert sometimes feels that his life is like standing between a boat and a dock, with one foot on each, hoping that the gap doesnt widen! His boat is the church, his dock the world beyond the churchs walls.
I have my feet firmly planted in both worlds, the 1967 PTS graduate says, and I believe thats the way God wants me to live.
An ordained Presbyterian minister and member in good standing of Seattle Presbytery, Barckert decided in the late seventies to leave full-time pastorates he had held for ten years, first at the Presbyterian Church in Redmond, Washington, then at Calvin Presbyterian Church in Seattle, to take pastoring out into the world.
I left my position at Calvin to breathe deeply, is how he expresses the change. I had sensed another kind of ministry beckoning me.
There are so many people who are alienated from the church, he explains. Its like theyve shelved their faith until a crisis happens in their lives, and then suddenly they have a crisis of faith, too. I guess I discovered that my true calling was leaving the walls of the church to go out and listen to those people at an intense, personal level.
Barckert had inklings about his ministry without portfolio while in the pastorate. People he met on the street, in coffee shops, at bus stops, told him about their lives, and he listened. I was willing to listen to how people understood themselves, and to believe that they had a relationship with God that was valid, even though the institutional church might look down on that experience as somehow faulty.
As part of his ministry through Paracletos, Gary Barckert writes a monthly letter called Coming Alongside that he sends to interested friends.
Noah Ben Shea, in his book Jacob the Baker tells of a man who had a recurring dream about arriving at a great city, only to be confronted by a tall soldier who demanded an answer to two questions before allowing admittance to the city. The man asked Jacobs help in understanding the dream.
The first question was: What
supports the walls of the city? Jacob responded,
Thats easy; fear supports the walls of the city. The
second question: But what supports the fear? Jacob
replied: The walls. The fears we cannot climb become our
One man he remembers lovingly was Walt, a columnist for a Seattle newspaper whom Barckert calls a character. He explains: Committed Christians that I knew felt that Walt was living outside Gods will and needed to come to Christ. I had lunch with Walt one day and sensed that faith had deep roots in him, but that he had built up a facade to hide it, as many of us do because of the pain of life.
Later Walt had heart problems that hospitalized him. Barckert visited him, not as a minister, but as a friend. I wanted to find a way to affirm for Walt that the faith of Christ was in him, not
with him, but in him. I prayed to find a moment when it would be possible to affirm that for him, and one Sunday afternoon it came when we were alone in his room. I took him Communion, and he wanted to receive it. The time was right.
Through experiences like these, Barckert learned that the Spirits crafting of the life of Christ in people cannot be hurried. It takes intensive time and intensive energy, he says. It really takes finding where Christ is already present in people, maybe unrecognized, and helping it come to consciousness.
And most of all it takes listening. When you listen to peoples stories, says Barckert, you find the hunger for Christs presence, even though often they do not use the words the church uses.
So, to listen more fully, Gary Barckert began Paracletos a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1981 and based in his home to take pastoral ministry into the world. The director of the one-man company titled for the name given the Holy Spirit in Johns Gospel, Barckert is a minister without a church, a pastor of people who feel marginalized by the church. He does not charge fees, depending instead on contributions from individuals and, for the first three years of Paracletos, on a grant from the
Presbytery of Seattle.
Because he likes to preach and loves how God works in worship, he also helps out churches in the Seattle area as a supply preacher, and for four years was the designated pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Kent, Washington.
Recently Barckert was asked to be a member of the Presbyterian Church
(USA)s new Resource Team for Spiritual
Formation, part of the Congregational Ministries Division of the denominations national office. He makes clear that the teams goal is not to plan more programs, but to find out what is happening in the area of spiritual formation in congregations across the country and to provide them with resources and connections with other congregations. Last spring the team of sixteen from across the nation (Barckert represents the Synod of Alaska/Northwest and Cascades Presbytery) met at Princeton Seminarys Center of Continuing Education, sharing discussion on the theme of keeping sabbath.
Our goal is to assist in the spiritual development of the people in our churches, to focus on the life of Christ in congregations, he says. We think there is an honest hunger in clergy and laypeople to have the experience of connecting directly with the Triune God. The life of the intellect, which has been a strength for Presbyterians, is important, but the life of the spirit is core. Christ truly dwells in us, Paul says. Christ will be formed in the lives of the people of God.
Experiences of God through Christ are multifaceted for Barckert. They come in worship, through nature as creation, with people, who are the children of God, through social action, in music and the arts, in prayer, and in ordained ministry. Contemplation and action are part of the same reality, he explains. We Christians have to get beyond saying I prefer to live out my Christianity this way or I prefer to find Christ in this way. Spirituality is multifaceted for everyone, and as we as individuals and congregations allow the various facets of the Spirit to become true in our lives we will know more fully what Paul means by the indwelling of Christ.
Its a matter of theology for Barckert. Theology is God working in the world, he says. God has connected us in Christ. We must practice that we are connected, instead of believing that because of our diversity we are disconnected. Spiritual formation brings about the reality of human diversity resting in divine unity. We dont have to create the unity or the connection. We just yield to it.
Barckert looks to Christian mystics for guidance, people he believes have understood the dynamic nature of the life of Christ in us and in all the universe: Meister Eckehart, Thomas Merton, Madeleine LEngle, and Princeton Seminarys Diogenes Allen. He also drinks in the beauty of mountain and sea offered by living near Puget Sound.
Ultimately, for Gary Barckert, it comes down to listening and learning to be quiet before God. We must listen from the spirit of Christ in us, so that we can hear and resonate with the spirit of Christ in the rest of the world. Restoring the discipline of listening as an active, dynamic process is essential. And Christ will speak to us as Christ wishes to speak.
If you wish to learn more about Paracletos, contact Gary Barckert at P.O. Box 33663, Seattle, Washington 98133; phone: 206-542-5148; email:
history we have built walls around cities, along national
boundaries, around places of worship, around yards, and around
feelings, because fear is within us. Fear at its worst is our
passive and aggressive refusal to love one another. We build
walls to defend against enemies, to exclude others, to insist
on having life our way, to define what we see as ours. We even
use God to justify building these walls of separation.
In old Jerusalem, a wall was erected between the inner court
of the temple (where Jews were allowed) and the outer court
(where the Gentiles were forced to remain). There they would
read the inscription No man of another race is to proceed
within the partition and enclosing wall about the sanctuary;
anyone arrested there will have himself to blame for the
penalty of death that will be imposed as a consequence.
In the New Testament letter to the Ephesians, we read of the
radical shift in reality that occurred in Christ. He is our
peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the
dividing wall of hostility
that he might create in himself
one new person in place of the two
In Christ our differences are resources for richness, not
justifications for barriers of hostility. Robert Frost mused
in one of his poems, Something there is that doesnt love
a wall. Ultimately, walls have to come down because our
God-given destiny to be one in Christ in spite of our
differences compels it.