-- Al Bernstein
There will be men who stand before others this morning facing a daunting challenge.
They will take their usual place before old friends and many strangers, expected to rise to the occasion that their profession demands.
It has happened in Aprils before and will happen in Aprils again on a Masters Sunday morning.
We can only hope they will succeed, for they are pastors, and across the region this morning they will face a flock diminished or distracted -- probably by a certain golf tournament on Washington Road.
"The challenge," said the Rev. Greg DeLoach, of Augusta's First Baptist Church, "is simply that many locals are out of town. Remember, it is also spring break. But we always have a few visitors.
"In other words, the community of faith is in flux and so we try to accommodate accordingly."
Ah, yes. Many pew regulars are out of town this week for one reason or another. It seems to be a common pastoral concern.
"The greatest challenge ... is the sparseness of the crowd," said the Rev. Randy Monk, of Covenant United Methodist in Evans. "Many of our folks rent their home and take off for the long break, often taking both weekends to optimize the time. Part of the worship experience is the sense of community you feel, and that suffers a little when you're missing a lot of people."
The Rev. Dave Hunter, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, said he has a strategy -- keep things short.
"The first guideline for Masters Sunday is brevity!" he said. "Many of your members and all of your visitors are heading to the tournament after church. That's also self-serving in that it is my experience that someone will offer me tickets just before or just after church, and I, too, enjoy the tournament."
The Rev. James Adams at Grace United Methodist in North Augusta has also accepted the inevitable and tries to use golf to inspire the message.
"The Gospel lesson for Masters Sunday is John 10:1-10, which is the passage on The Good Shepherd," he wrote in an e-mail. "Remembering the biblical reflections of a shepherd's habitat being filled with green grass and the abundance of nature, the Masters setting almost fits right in ... The challenge will be sharing the shepherd who keeps the door open all the time."
Good messages all, and one bit of final advice from the Rev. Hunter.
"Resist the urge to tell a golf story unless it's very good, as you will have a rather discerning golf audience," he said.
"The 'need tickets' analogy works best on the Sunday before the Masters. The last time I used it, six people offered me tickets."
He said he got a good bit of kidding from his colleagues for such a request from the pulpit, but it was worth putting up with.
"I also got to go to the Masters," he said.