Our Pastors seemed to have had little marks on the flood of the chancel since they all seemed to move alike and stand in the same places at the same points in the liturgy. Women were not allowed in the chancel and the elders set up for Holy Communion (so it was only 4x a year at first a later 12x).
We were not allowed to leave our pew after the benediction -- not until we were given the go ahead by an usher. The very slight nod of the head let us know it was time to leave and the line was moving orderly through the door. The cry room was not so much a place to take a crying child as it was the place to take an unruly child to make him or her cry. I know this from personal experience.
Families did not sit willy nilly but seemed to own or claim specific pews and they did not venture far from their routine seating order. Visitors seemed to know this instinctively and they generally saw in the front pews where no self-respecting member would sit.
Until my senior year in high school, hymnals were brought from home. A memorial for a great aunt left us not only with red (a little flashy compared to the blue but not necessarily gaudy, either) hymnals but pew racks fashioned especially to fit the curved wooden pew backs.
I admit to being an abject failure as an usher. A couple of times at bat proved that I had not sufficiently studied and memorized the movements of the experienced ushers or was not observant enough to have noticed the routine. There was no apprenticeship and so I washed up and out. But, I did not really see myself as an usher, anyway.
Now, you might be wondering, what is the point of all this rambling, meandering excursus. My point is this. How did such a church with an intuitive sense for and love of order degenerate into a conglomeration of Pastors and parishes each doing their own thing and jealously guarding their freedom and independence to do what is right in their own eyes? I just do not get it.
Order was the first of Missouri's crises upon making it to the American shore. I understand the desire for church order that would create a churchly kaiser like Stephan to carry them from their fatherland across the ocean to their new home. I understand how some thought absent the bishop that they were not a church but anarchists who maybe should just get back on that boat and head home again. What I cannot understand is how these German Lutherans crafted a democratic structure for a church body which they left only advisory and which cannot make or enforce any rules. But that seems to be where it all ended. And so we argue at each other through blogs and and online forums over issues that will not be resolved because neither side can legislate an answer.
History shows us the order behind the Lutherans. Their regional jurisdictions involved little democracy but plenty of supervision and oversight. In Germany the bishop was replaced by the superintendent -- hardly a term of endearment to folks who like to make up their own rules and go their own way. Luther sided with the nobles in the peasant revolt (mostly out of the need for order and authority) and it was the excess of his most zealous followers that cause him to don the dress of the knight and ride in on a horse to end the looting, destruction, and vandalism of statue, stained glass, and sacred vessels. But not today.
Today if you suggest to the Lutheran preacher that he use the lectionary you are called a communist. If you suggest that one of the liturgical forms approved for the Divine Service be used, you care called a fascist. It is as if we have turned the page and discovered that the Spirit no longer inhabits the old orders.
Now don't get me wrong. I am not the liturgical police and I do not advocate a liturgical gestapo to inform on, judge, and convict offenders. I am not in favor of abandoning pastoral discretion. I do not believe in cloning. All I really want is for Lutherans to talk like Lutherans, to sing like Lutherans, to act like Lutherans, and to look like Lutherans -- at least on Sunday morning. We have had enough diversity in our past to satisfy us for a long time to come. We do not need to push the boundaries out any further or we risk having no liturgical identity at all.
Why, even Franz Pieper sported a bow tie and a stray hat when 801 DeMun was dedicated in 1926. Yet at the same time you cannot tell me that Pieper did not value a little order. We do not all have to wear the same black suit and collar but we can surely limit ourselves to those liturgical forms and hymnals which our church body has commended -- at least a base or starting point.
I grow weary of those who insist upon recapturing some golden age of Lutheran theology and practice. They give us liturgical folk a bad name. But I am also weary of "the Pointes" and "the Alleys" who flaunt their freedom by trashing their Lutheran heritage and the moniker into merely a vague principle instead of a specific confession and practice.*
Like the solid Midwesterner I am, I look at my church body like I look at Washington, DC, and wonder -- what ever happened to common sense? To our identity as a community, Synod, or nation? To the common courtesy and politeness and respect for good order?
I suspect that our lack of order is as much a reason for our troubles as a Synod as anything. All those jokes about rigid, staid, and stuffy Lutherans were funny when there might have been a semblance of truth to them. We have long since buried that stereotype under a mountain of change. We have Lutherans all over the theological and liturgical spectrum and it is getting harder and harder to know what it means to be Lutheran.
We act as if some degree of uniformity would kill us and kill the Church. But then we love Wal-Mart because wherever you go, the stuff on the shelves is the same and the shelves are in the same places in the different stores. We lament the chain mentality that has become American retail and food marketing yet we expect a Big Mac to be the same at every McDonalds and the pasta at Olive Garden to be predictable. So then, why do our folks have to wonder when they see the sign "Lutheran" and the familiar maroon cross logo -- "I wonder what I am going to find inside?" You should be able to predict something of what you might find there and what the Divine Service might look like.
Okay. End of rant. My apologies to those I have offended. A little Lutheran medication and I just might make it through the night and things may be better tomorrow. The good thing about tomorrow, it never comes! Stay tuned for more....