Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The Changing Demands upon the Church by a Mobile World
My own journey in life is the antithesis of this. I went to college 450 miles away and then college and seminary 750 miles from home. I married a girl from a few miles further away than this. We lived on Long Island, NY, Upstate NY, and now TN. My children, unlike me, have never lived near their extended family. I have worshiped in a host of congregations in which I was not a member -- in many of them I regularly worshiped. My children's Godparents do not and have not ever lived near them. I am Godparent to children (now grown) who live far away from where I live. It is a different world.
Close(d) communion was not a big issue in Wausa, NE. You went to the Church you belonged to, that was where you communed, and that was that. Besides, you had to announce a week ahead and for much of the time growing up Holy Communion was either quarterly or monthly (not a good practice but it was the reality). It is a big issue for the Missouri Synod today. It is big because, in part, our people travel. Every Sunday we have Lutheran visitors passing through or here to see family. We have one of the larger military installations in America down the road and some 30,000 service men and women and their dependents are located here but from all across the nation (and even the world). They visit, some join, and some do not. They are here from anywhere from 1 year to 10+ years and sometimes support personnel come to Ft. Campbell and worship at Grace for as long as they are here. And we have a weekly Eucharist so it is an every Sunday question for me to deal with.
Sunday school was not a big issue in Wausa, NE. Everyone went -- whether your parents went to Church or even belonged to a congregation. It was in the culture and the blood. Sunday school was like Friday night football games on the prairie -- it just was. Many of the children in my congregation and the child of those regular visitors are not regular in Sunday school. They did not grow up with the habit of worship and Sunday school, sometimes worshiped in places where there was none, and are not familiar with the great Bible stories that Sunday school communicates. Even among those who are more regular and rooted, divorce and split custody, Sunday sports teams, family travel and leisure, and a host of other interferences mean that they are not as regular in Sunday school as I was.
Catechism was not a big issue in Wausa, NE. Every Saturday morning from 9-11 am for two years you knew where you would be when you attained that certain age. On Palm Sunday Jesus was an afterthought and the center of it all was the Confirmation. Don't forget the examination -- in public, the whole catechism was game for questions and you were in the hot seat for the answers. My family rented the downstairs of the community auditorium for my confirmation party -- it was huge. It helped that my cousin was confirmed on that same day 12 miles away in another LCMS congregation. But catechism is not so big here. We confirm on Reformation Sunday because it is not so big either and together it makes for a big October splash. But getting the youth to class, fighting with sports, music, dance, divorce, military moves, and distracted parents is a hair pulling endeavor.
The liturgy was not a big issue in Wausa, NE. In the country we used TLH 1941 and in town SBH 1958 but the same words were in both books. We followed the rules. Read the black. Do the red. It was the same everywhere I went. Lutherans did the liturgy from the book, by the book, pretty much with the same ceremonial every where. Here the liturgy is a big issue. We have new people moving in from congregations that long ago abandoned the book, turned the service into an electronic extravaganza of entertainment, or did something different every week (no tradition at all). So when they come here with pipe organ, hymnal, sung liturgy, weekly Eucharist and full ceremonial -- well, it is like teaching people who they are (or at least supposed to be). Nearly all of them stay but it is for many an introduction to a Lutheranism they did not know before (but was always there).
I could go on... So, President Kieschnick was right. It is not your grandfather's world. But the Church is still your grandfather's as well as yours. It is the place where past, present, and future come together around the Word and Table of the Lord. It is where the preaching applies in modern language the timeless message of Law and Gospel to bring about the same effect -- faith, faithful living, and faithful serving. The demands upon the Church have changed -- radically -- but it does no good to try and keep up with all these changes. What people need and what people still largely want, is a rich and gracious diet of God's Word passionately proclaimed, with Law and Gospel rightly divided, AND the Sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Altar to deliver to them the sufficient grace that forgives them, restores them, renews them, equips them, sends them, comforts them, heals them, and transforms them.... And that is what the Church is here to give them... for the sake of Christ... for the life of the world....