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...