Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Something About the Midwest
I served on Long Island and then upstate NY (along the Hudson River) and in both places, Lutherans seemed like immigrants or pioneers in an alien place. The culture of the congregation and the seriousness of the faith were not givens but were part of what was needed to be taught, infused, and instilled in the people. In both places these congregations suffered from a bit of conflict prior to my arrival and that certainly colored things. But it was part of the mission to establish a positive identity of the faith, a deep and abiding commitment to their life together in the congregation, and a seriousness (even urgency) about the mission before them.
When I came to Tennessee I found a congregation with a history of seeing themselves as foreigners (or better furiners) and the congregation was a refuge for those who did not belong to the community. There were some who spoke of new people as transients (as if any of us were anything but transients in this world). That certainly contributed to the distance and defeated attitudes of some. Again, there had been some conflict prior to my coming and this was something to overcome as well. Over the years I have seen my job as helping them become a community, a community of Lutherans, a welcoming community open to new folks, and a rooted community with ties and service to the community around us. In all of that I have worked to instill a sense of mission, seriousness about the faith and that mission, and a high commitment to our Lutheran confessional and liturgical identity and to this congregation. But it has not been as successful as I would like -- especially on the latter points.
I noted it again right after we arrived here. I watched in the church where we were picking up a pipe organ and saw the commitment, the community, the urgency, the seriousness of these folks. Part of it was identified by the number and work of those from this congregation who came out to help us take the pipe organ a part and load it all up. Part of it was clear in the way they treated even the facility as well as each other. Part of it was the way this group gathered for lunch over pizza and lemonade... I don't know what to call it except that exceptional culture of the Midwest... perhaps that is one of the things I am trying to replicate where I have been and where I am at... for better or worse...
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Sorry for the wordy reply.
As a fairly new Lutheran in the South (aka Bible Belt), you have succeeded in having the people welcome strangers. Having visited Baptist, Presbyterian, even Nazarene (NOT considering membership!) churches that were not as friendly as ours.
As far as having a congregation like the one you experienced in Des Moines, there are probably two main factors at work here that thwart the sense of mission and respect(?) for the Confessions and even the physical building.
One, this IS a "transient" community. People who know they are only here for 3-4 years maintain a commitment to "home" churches, or dispense with commitment to the local church knowing they'll be gone, and likely never missed. This is not a problem with only the Lutheran congregation here; many local pastors/deacons lament this same problem over the years spent here.
Two, commitment to the Confessions comes not wholly by being caught, but taught. For former non-Lutherans, most spent time listening and reading doctrine and the Confessions. They had to be convinced. Since catechesis is all-over-the-board, so to speak, there is no consistency with which the born-and-raised Lutheran has been exposed even to the Small Catechism, much less Concordia.
The Midwest isn't so different as far as people go. The cultures are different, but people are all the same. When you have a congregation that is truly concerned with community, that rubs off on the children, hence the Midwest phenomena. Family survives much more intact out there (so far).
When you have teachers (in family or church) that really believe in the importance of their subject matter and are excited/passionate about it, that rubs off on the pupils (adult or child). It doesn't matter what the subject. Think about the teachers you loved best in school, who taught you the most about the subject and life. Were they not the most passionate about learning? That grows into more than pupils being just a sponge; they become interested in knowing and learning for themselves.
Now, how to begin anew with many apathetic pupils?
I appreciate your admiration for the Midwest, but it has been hard for me to share it, sometimes. Being a third generation Arizonan an a complete desert rat, I really went through mountain withdrawal when we moved to the state-line area of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. It has really been hard for me to connect with the land and climate in any way.
Also, when my wife and I first moved here for her first call, her welcome was several anonymous telephone calls calling her Pastor XXXX (insert your favorite vulgarity here). Obviously, some did think a female pastor was an issue for them even though they told the bishop's office and her, to her face, that it wasn't an issue in that congregation. Also, the small town we were in didn't seem to think anything about using racial slurs concerning African Americans or Hispanics, and made it very clear (just between us white folks) that they belonged in the bigger cities. That was a hard couple of years.
The town in the congregation I now serve is much different. It reflects much more of what you highlighted and I am grateful for them.
The parish records have been in a bit of a mess for a few decades now, and I have been spending these past few weeks reconciling them and catching them up, so that when I do someday leave they are in much better shape than I found them. It has been humbling to see the list of names from this congregation's 166+ years.
Just pondering. Thanks for the post.
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