Monday, August 29, 2011
But in the heart of hearts, what church do you want to be?
This Lutheran Pastor left not because of he is enamored of another church body but because he became convinced that in her heart of hearts, Lutheranism did not want to be the Church of her confession. He began his search for another church home only when he grew suspicious of the great talk but he saw that the congregations of Lutheranism had grown very comfortable with who they were and were not going to change -- despite all the talk of the Confessions. As long as he felt that in their heart of hearts Lutherans wanted to be the Lutherans of their Confession and were moving in that direction, he was able to live with the inconsistencies. But as time went on the inconsistencies became the norm and Lutheranism that looked, acted, and sounded like the Confessions became the exception. This left him with a nagging question met more by his doubts and fears than any confidence in the Pastors and parishes (much less regional and national jurisdictions).
He was raised in Missouri. It was his home. He looked at the other versions of Lutheranism out there and found that Missouri was his best hope for a Lutheranism today that looked like the Lutheranism of its confessions. The ELCA was already more comfortable with mainline Protestantism than Missouri -- sort of a dressed up form of American mainline Protestantism that honored the heritage but then departed from it whenever the culture or its own ecumenical designs suited it. WELS was its own culture and its Lutheranism was a strange mix of pietism and orthodoxy. It was too small to be Lutheran's guiding light. The even smaller splinter groups offered little more than a miniature Lutheranism and would not be home unless he could bring his congregation with him. So, he decided, it was Missouri or not Lutheran.
He had connected with some Pastors who shared the desire for a Lutheranism that was true to its Confessions. The internet allowed him a fellowship that he would not have locally. But in the end, this was not the fellowship he either wanted or desired. He felt less and less at home in the winkel and district gatherings and, even though he cheered the election of Pres. Harrison, his doubts and fears did not ease up. His own parish was small but open to his leading. They were not in a place where they might expect great growth but they were making it. It was a slow process and nearly all the folks were on board. They were loving and kind and patience to him and he was prepared to stay there forever if the Lord willed it. But a few circuits away a brother who had spent nearly 25 years building up an evangelical and catholic parish, rooted and shaped by the Confessions and parish practice consistent with that faith, was torn apart when the succeeding Pastor came in with another "agenda." They seemed quick to jettison the very things that had once been the mark of their worship and life together in favor of a Lutheranism Evangelical [capital E] and not at all catholic. It was not the music that bothered him but the way they shelved their Eucharistic piety in favor of one rooted in feelings, the way they forgot their Lutheran identity as the price to pay in order to grow and become a bigger fish in their small pond, and the ease at which they packed up the hymnals, took down the crucifix, and ditched the weekly Eucharist. It was as if this situation spoke to him saying, "we will go where you want us to go but that is not who we really are..." He began to fear that this was exactly what had happened in the parish he had served and it became impossible not to think of his own people saying "this is not who we really are..."
In the end, he became convinced that the parishes and Pastors who desired to be the Lutherans of their Confessions were the odd ducks and no matter how much their quacking, the rest of the flock was not going to head in that direction. Lutheranism would tolerate its confessional identity and the practice that flowed from that identity but was not going to change. "That is not who we really are... " As long as he believed that Lutherans wanted to be Lutheran and were heading in that direction, he could live with the inconsistencies. When he became convinced that Lutherans were not heading back to their Confessions and back to a liturgical life, piety, and parish practice shaped by that vision of evangelical catholicity, he began looking for another church home.
In the end he is content in Rome -- not happy but content. He would have preferred a Lutheranism thoroughly at ease with itself (at least as those Confessions identified it) but since he did not think that was to be, he accepted other inconsistencies in favor of the form of the mass and, with the new translation coming in Advent 2011, a church home moving in the direction he wanted Lutheranism to move. Right or wrong, it was this that led him to look elsewhere and finally to leave...
For me, this story resonates well with my experience. I cannot come to the same conclusion and I have no desire to leave Missouri but I sympathize with his point of view. As a Lutheran who has stuck out in every place where I have been, I know the lonely feelings expressed above. I feel the same tension. I write this only to prod and push us as Lutherans not to ditch our Confessional identity, not to shelve our liturgical tradition in favor of what "works" and not to grow content in the more Americanized and Protestant emulation of the church that has marked our Lutheran brand for a couple of centuries. In this I am a true believer hoping and praying that my church body is as well.
Lutheranism has lived within the tensions of its catholic expression and Protestant image, sometimes favoring one side more than the other, but the overall movement has definitely been toward the Protestant side (at times fundamentalist, often liberal, and usually evangelical). I only hope that we can find our way home as a church body or I fear that the number of those leaving will continue to grow. Each has made an individual decision but more, rather than less, have found the burning question "which Lutheran Church we want to be in our heart of hearts?"