FAITH ALIVE: Rev. Wayne Burns, Director of missions Russell Baptist Association

What are you reading? I just finished “The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel. A lot of our young adults are reading it. It’s about a person who ends up on a boat after a shipwreck. He’s Muslim and Hindu and he wants to know why he can’t be a Christian at the same time. I’m also reading “The Tangible Kingdom” by Thomas Merton. I’m always reading something on Merton.

When did you first get interested in him? A long time ago. I first visited Gethsemani in 1967, when I was a student at Southern Seminary. Over the years I developed an interest in monasticism. (The Abbey of Gethsemani is in central Kentucky. Merton lived there until his death in 1968.) What does Merton’s work teach you? He had some of the best writings on prayer. He was also one of the first to reach out to people of other faiths, such as Thich Nhat Hanh and he also met with the Dali Lama. He believed we can learn something from everybody we meet. How often do you visit Gethsemani? I usually go every year, or every other year. I was there last August. You can go for a week or a weekend, on retreat. Do you catch flak from people here, because of your interest in monasticism? No. Some have even gone there from here. It’s a retreat center, but not everybody enjoys that kind of thing. Are they silent retreats?

A lot of people think so, but you can talk to the monks. I took my daughter once and she remarked how strange it was to eat around 25 people in silence. They have a sign that says “Silence is spoken here.”

How does silence help one spiritually? Silence is a challenge for a Baptist. But God speaks in silence. What are your Easter plans? I’m going out of town for Easter but will be in church. A Director of Missions is less needed on a day like Easter. Most ministers will be on. Who’s in your family?

My wife is Kay. We have a daughter, Gigi Hoppe, who lives in California with her husband. He’s now teaching spiritual formation at Biola University. We also have a son, David, who’s married and lives in Nashville. Gigi’s children are Burns, 5, and Grayton, 3. How long have you been in this job? 15 years. It’s gone by in a hurry. What concerns you these days? In church life, the struggle that so many are having because of the recession. In Baptist life, churches run by a weekly budget. I think everybody is afraid. They say, “What do you think’s going to happen?” The answer is, from a Christian standpoint, we have to put our faith and trust in God. A lot more people are calling for places to stay. ... How many churches are in the association? 37.