Winter 2000

Volume 4 Number 3

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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 doesn’t widen! His boat is the church, his dock the world beyond the church’s walls.

“I have my feet firmly planted in both worlds,” the 1967 PTS graduate says, “and I believe that’s 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. “It’s like they’ve 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 Jacob’s help in understanding the dream.
     The first question was: “What supports the walls of the city?” Jacob responded, “That’s 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 walls.”

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 God’s 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 Spirit’s 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 people’s stories,” says Barckert, “you find the hunger for Christ’s 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 John’s 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 denomination’s national office. He makes clear that the team’s 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 Seminary’s 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.”

It’s 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 don’t 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 L’Engle, and Princeton Seminary’s 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: [email protected]


Throughout 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 doesn’t 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.


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