Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Changing Demands upon the Church by a Mobile World

As a child I hardly ever went to another congregation besides my own.  It was simply not done.  First of all my parents believed that being in Church on Sunday morning was a moral if not legal obligation.  My brother and I knew that unless they found a cold, dead body in our beds on Sunday morning, we would be in Church that day.  Second because the culture of my small town dictated that except for family events like weddings, funerals, or confirmations, you went to your OWN Church on Sunday morning.  Period.  Third, mixed marriages in my home town were marriages between people of differing Christian traditions.  They were frowned upon and one party always converted (yes that was the word) so that both shared the same church home.  Fourth, most of my family literally lived within an hour's drive of my house and people did not do a lot of moving around (still true for the most part in the little NE Nebraska community in which I grew up).

My own journey in life is the antithesis of this.  I went to college 450 miles away and then college and seminary 750 miles from home.  I married a girl from a few miles further away than this.  We lived on Long Island, NY, Upstate NY, and now TN.  My children, unlike me, have never lived near their extended family.  I have worshiped in a host of congregations in which I was not a member -- in many of them I regularly worshiped.  My children's Godparents do not and have not ever lived near them.  I am Godparent to children (now grown) who live far away from where I live.  It is a different world.

Close(d) communion was not a big issue in Wausa, NE.  You went to the Church you belonged to, that was where you communed, and that was that.  Besides, you had to announce a week ahead and for much of the time growing up Holy Communion was either quarterly or monthly (not a good practice but it was the reality).  It is a big issue for the Missouri Synod today.  It is big because, in part, our people travel.  Every Sunday we have Lutheran visitors passing through or here to see family.  We have one of the larger military installations in America down the road and some 30,000 service men and women and their dependents are located here but from all across the nation (and even the world).  They visit, some join, and some do not.  They are here from anywhere from 1 year to 10+ years and sometimes support personnel come to Ft. Campbell and worship at Grace for as long as they are here.  And we have a weekly Eucharist so it is an every Sunday question for me to deal with.

Sunday school was not a big issue in Wausa, NE.  Everyone went -- whether your parents went to Church or even belonged to a congregation.  It was in the culture and the blood.  Sunday school was like Friday night football games on the prairie -- it just was.  Many of the children in my congregation and the child of those regular visitors are not regular in Sunday school.  They did not grow up with the habit of worship and Sunday school, sometimes worshiped in places where there was none, and are not familiar with the great Bible stories that Sunday school communicates.  Even among those who are more regular and rooted, divorce and split custody, Sunday sports teams, family travel and leisure, and a host of other interferences mean that they are not as regular in Sunday school as I was.

Catechism was not a big issue in Wausa, NE.  Every Saturday morning from 9-11 am for two years you knew where you would be when you attained that certain age.  On Palm Sunday Jesus was an afterthought and the center of it all was the Confirmation.  Don't forget the examination -- in public, the whole catechism was game for questions and you were in the hot seat for the answers.  My family rented the downstairs of the community auditorium for my confirmation party -- it was huge.  It helped that my cousin was confirmed on that same day 12 miles away in another LCMS congregation.  But catechism is not so big here.  We confirm on Reformation Sunday because it is not so big either and together it makes for a big October splash.  But getting the youth to class, fighting with sports, music, dance, divorce, military moves, and distracted parents is a hair pulling endeavor.

The liturgy was not a big issue in Wausa, NE.  In the country we used TLH 1941 and in town SBH 1958 but the same words were in both books.  We followed the rules.  Read the black.  Do the red.  It was the same everywhere I went.  Lutherans did the liturgy from the book, by the book, pretty much with the same ceremonial every where.  Here the liturgy is a big issue.  We have new people moving in from congregations that long ago abandoned the book, turned the service into an electronic extravaganza of entertainment, or did something different every week (no tradition at all).  So when they come here with pipe organ, hymnal, sung liturgy, weekly Eucharist and full ceremonial -- well, it is like teaching people who they are (or at least supposed to be).  Nearly all of them stay but it is for many an introduction to a Lutheranism they did not know before (but was always there).

I could go on...   So, President Kieschnick was right.  It is not your grandfather's world.  But the Church is still your grandfather's as well as yours.  It is the place where past, present, and future come together around the Word and Table of the Lord.  It is where the preaching applies in modern language the timeless message of Law and Gospel to bring about the same effect -- faith, faithful living, and faithful serving.  The demands upon the Church have changed -- radically -- but it does no good to try and keep up with all these changes.  What people need and what people still largely want, is a rich and gracious diet of God's Word passionately proclaimed, with Law and Gospel rightly divided, AND the Sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Altar to deliver to them the sufficient grace that forgives them, restores them, renews them, equips them, sends them, comforts them, heals them, and transforms them....  And that is what the Church is here to give them... for the sake of Christ... for the life of the world....


Rich Kauzlarich said...

Amen...but what is to be done?

Anonymous said...

I thought "The Changing Demands upon the Church by a Mobile World" was excellent. Growing up in the South and growing up Baptist I did not even know what "confirmation" was or what it meant. Holy Communion was grape juice and crackers once a month and then I was told it was for adults only. Sunday School was 30 minutes of sitting around a table jumping from one passage to another and leaving very confused. I wish I could have had the opportunity to attend a two year Catechism class and I commend the Churches that offer them, the students that attend them and the parents who insure that their child attends.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

The mobility of Americans is something that we as a church have really never come to grips with. I was blessed to serve two rural congregations. There I saw the stereotypical 'village church' of my youth. The people we worshipped with were our neighbors, our family, our teachers, the Sheriff, and the man who owned the gas station. The people we went to church with were the people we sat beside at the ball game, who were volunteers with us in the RFD, and ran the polling booth on election day.
Today it is possible to go to church, school, work, recreation and never encounter a member of our congregation and I think many prefer it that way. Church is not an integral part of our lives, but one activity among many that is too easily pushed aside for another. The mobility of contemporary Americans also leads to a migration from church to church as people tend to act as church consumers.
There are a great many blessings and personal growth to experience when you stick with your church home rather than move on when the times get tough, when the church across town has a better youth program, when someone rubs you the wrong way, when you don't particularly like the pastor, or you're asked to serve and you'd rather not.
It is a difficult thing to convince people who already view marriage and family as a means of personal gratification to not consider their local congregation in the same way.

Pastor Kevin Jennings said...

Pastor Bergstrazer has hit the nail on the head, I think. Church is viewed as just another in a long list of activities demanding more time. I'm often at odds with "the schedule."

I wonder where the disconnect happened, making the Divine Service optional. I wonder further if those who miss because of scheduling conflicts, refusing to say no, would ever say they aren't Christians and church members. Yet, what do Christians and church members do when the triune God promises to be in a certain place through Word and Sacrament?

Anonymous said...

On target, as is your habit, Fr. Peters. I just posted over at ALPB something to similar effect, though I wish I'd have read your post here before I wrote there.

Regions and time have re prioritized our lives and customs.

Thankfully, God has not changed and we are blessed with an eternal Liturgy with life-giving Word and Sacraments.

May God grant us strength not to discard that which is essential

Tim said...

If I might ask, you said the church you went to growing up had a quarterly or monthly what did the church do on Sunday morning?

Pastor Peters said...

Page 5, TLH... service ended after the offering, with a hymn, collect, and benediction, just like it is printed out there... Nearly every congregation in Missouri was the same until the late 1960s and early 1970s when changes increased the frequency of the Eucharist... not a good tradition but the reality of the time...