Baldwin Scripture, doctrine, school administration and personal issues were among the topics for "Pastor's Press Conference," part of a special service conducted earlier this week at Baker University.
Baker University's official minister became the focal point of questions about sin, romantic relationships and devotion during an unprecedented press conference earlier this week.
But don't get the wrong idea. The Rev. Ira DeSpain faced a gallery at McKibbin Recital Hall not to respond to accusations but to conduct "Pastor's Press Conference," an experiment he included in his weekly campus service.
"OK, the rules are real simple. You can ask anything about scripture, doctrine, Baker, yourself or anything personal -- within reason," he said. "And I get to decide what's reasonable."
After hymns, prayer and a scripture reading, DeSpain kicked off the conference, sort of an ecclesiastical "Meet the Press" that tackled issues such as:
- When he tasted the forbidden fruit, was Adam sacrificing himself in order to start populating the world? DeSpain said he doubted Adam was seeking high moral ground.
"I think that for whatever reason, humanity -- in the persons of Adam and Eve -- chose to be disobedient," he said.
- Does God discriminate against single people? Answer: The Supreme Being doesn't care about marital status.
"Singlefolk are single either by circumstance or choice," he said. "It has nothing to do with their relationship with God."
DeSpain said that most of the time, he said, he developed ideas for sermons by talking to churchgoers outside the chapel.
"But a lot of times I feel ... like I'm kind of shooting in the dark," he said. "The reason I wanted to do this today was to find out what you all are interested in."
After learning that inquiring minds wanted to know about him, DeSpain discussed his own religious background. He admitted that during the late 1960s, he turned his back on the church even though he was studying to be a minister at the time. But during a class one day, he said, "Suddenly it struck me for the first time ... that God loved me for who I was. I apologize -- that sounds like Mr. Rogers."
If that doesn't ring with the stereotypical somberness of a religious service, consider the source: DeSpain strolls around campus in a leather jacket and sunglasses and says he listens to Aretha Franklin for spiritual inspiration when preparing to conduct a sermon.
"I like to get in touch with somebody who's in touch with their soul," he explained.
His style works, said Kristy Thrasher, a Baker junior who attended the service.
"He's the best," she said. "He's a good role model, and yet he's not judgmental."
David Schoeni, another audience member, also gave DeSpain's service a good review.
"It's a really unusual approach to worship," said Schoeni, pastor of Ives Chapel United Methodist Church and Vinland United Methodist Church. "It takes good thinking-on-your-feet skills, and it has the advantage of access. For a lot of students, this is their only chance to get to talk to the university minister."