Wednesday, November 4, 2015
The decline of the parish church. . .
In my own parish we have had and continue to have folks who drive by other Lutheran Church Missouri Synod congregations on their way to Clarksville. They do so for several reasons but one of the chief of them is the fact that they cannot count on finding the historic liturgy in Lutheran congregations. Contemporary worship, blended worship, and all the other derivations of worship invented for each particular Sunday have made it a crap shoot of what you will find when you show up to a Lutheran congregation on a given Sunday morning. Liturgical services (like those from LSB), if offered at all, tend to be offered early in the morning as the lowest priority of the various forms of worship many congregations offer. Blended services (typically with a fairly recognizable liturgy but mostly contemporary praise music and/or Gospel songs) tends to occupy the middle time slot. The full contemporary service (usually without liturgy, vestments, or the Sacrament of the Altar) tends to get the late slot and tends to soak up most of the financial resources designated for worship. No matter on what side of the worship wars you fight, you recognize how true this is.
Preference drives people to chose a parish which fits their style of worship (yes, I know that much more than style is at stake here). Of course it has always been true that people shopped for a Lutheran school or departed one parish after a dispute, or deliberately skipped a local congregation in their search for a home church. In the past these were the rarer exceptions. In the last 40 years or more it has become the norm. We shop for a church the way we shop for clothes or furniture or a car.
My point in this is simply to say that the loss of a parish church is not insignificant. In the end it would be easier if we all attended the Lutheran congregation geographically nearest our address but it would also be healthier. It is nearly impossible to have the same kind of relationship with a community of faith when you have to drive an hour one way to get there as you can have with a parish literally in your backyard.
Where this really shows up is in the area of pastoral care. It is highly unlikely that a pastor can know a family some distance away as well as he can know one that lives locally. It is much more difficult to provide regular and faithful pastoral care to folks who live significant distances from the congregation. It is also more difficult to deal with things like catechism class. Finally, it is also more difficult for that individual or family to be involved outside of Sunday morning when distance is significant.
Maybe there still are some parish churches in the LCMS but, lets face it, they are few and far between. The older I get, the more sad I am about the loss of this as the normal face of our church body. Yes, I understand why and I recognize how deeply personal preference rules the day but I cannot help lament the loss of a parish congregation in which the vast majority of our people came from the same area, saw each other regularly at the grocery story or school sports event and could connect outside the Sunday morning fellowship as easily as folks once did.