Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Keepin the audience but losing the church

I was speaking with an acquaintance who is a Roman Catholic priest serving a large (aren't they all) parish.  He was gone for a few weeks and I asked him who filled in for him.  He said no one but other priests came  to say Mass.  It was a very different feeling than you get when a Lutheran is gone from the parish and has someone fill in for him.  This priest was unconcerned about things.  The mass would be said, confessions would be heard, life would go on. . .

It is not quite this simple for a Lutheran pastor -- no matter how large or small the parish.  We literally have to find someone to "fill in."  What this means is to find someone whose liturgical leadership of Sunday morning will not stand at odds with the ordinary custom of the pastor and parish.  Since Lutheran pastors are literally all over the page when it comes to high church, low church, broad church, no church, anti-church, etc., you only create problems by failing to act with discernment and scheduling someone to fill in your place who is at odds with your own confessional identity and liturgical practice. 

Because a Lutheran parish and one should expect Lutheran pastors to hold the sermon in higher place than a typical Roman Catholic and his or her parish, it matters who you get to "fill in" for you.  Almost any Lutheran pastor can tell you war stories of someone who came in and either announced his doubts from the pulpit or preached a gospel so narrow it would seem no one can squeak through to be saved or to preach only Law (or only Gospel) or, worse, to preach nothing but stories, anecdotes, and experiences spiced with typical pious moralisms.

Because Lutherans are divided by more than jurisdiction, it means that often the best Lutheran pastor to fill in for you also happens to belong to a Lutheran Synod or Lutheran church body not in formal fellowship with you.  In other words, Lutherans often find themselves closer in theology and practice to people outside their formal boundaries of altar and pulpit fellowship than some of those supposedly within the boundaries of fellowship.  This is also a complication.

Finally, the idiosyncrasies of local Lutheran Eucharistic practice also complicate things.  How many of us have heard:  That is not how we do things here.  In other words, we do not observe rubric or missal and we do our own thing completely (not simply the addition of ceremonies but rearranging the order to highlight the sermon or shorten the service, etc...).

I won't even mention that fact that until we receive our new Associate Pastor, I have had to get pastors from between  1 3/4 and 3 hours away to make sure that someone is here for both services and a Bible study in between.  Most of the retired guys I have asked told me that they retired, i. e., they retired so that they did not have to work that hard (two services and a Bible study).

Just thought I would through in a few surprising factors any Lutheran pastor must consider when looking for someone to "fill in" for him while he is away.  Summer is coming and you who are on the other side of the pulpit might not realize that this is not simply a slam dunk.

1 comment:

Padre Dave Poedel said...

I am blessed to have a retired LCMS Pastor in my congregation who, though not as adept in presiding as I am, preaches a good Law/Gospel Lutheran sermon each time he preaches.

As I am now within a few years of the normal retirement age, I have decided that unless the Lord leads otherwise via a Divine Call I plan to retire and make myself available as a supply Pastor. Being certified as an Intentional Interim Pastor also provides possibilities.

That said, I doubt I will ever get to pray a Eucharistic Prayer again after retirement, unless I am serving a long-term vacancy where I can plan the service, bring my own chasuble and preside the way I do weekly in my own congregation.

Just typing this makes me want to rethink this retirement thing....in spite of all of the stresses and problems in the congregation I serve, I am able to provide a solemn and reverent Holy Eucharist each week and there is much to be said for that (having visited a cross-Valley church's Traditional Service with a simple alb and stole and no gestures, no Eucharistic Prayer, and rather perfunctory manner of presiding, like it wasn't very important at all. Nah, my issues are nothing com[pared to not having a Lutheran church to go to when I retire.....Larry, whre are you serving again?