Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Person of the Pastor Fades Away in His Presiding

“Clad in his sacerdotal vestments, [the priest] sinks what is individual in himself altogether, and is but the representative of Him from whom he derives his commission. His words, his tones, his actions, his presence, lose their personality; one bishop, one priest, is like another; they all chant the same notes, and observe the same genuflections, as they give one peace and one blessing. . . The Mass must not be said without a Missal under the priest’s eye. . . But, when it is over, and the celebrant has resigned the vestments proper to it, then he resumes himself, and comes to us in the gifts and associations which attach to his person. . . "  John Henry Newman

If on arrival to a new parish, I have made changes, and I have made many, I have taught first and changed later, lest people get the idea that the chancel is the domain of the Pastor's personal preference.  Such is a dangerous and terrible thing for it places the personality and preferences of the Pastor center stage at a very time when that personality and preference must recede so that Christ may be heard and seen through the words and actions of the Pastor.  Such is, after all, the purpose of the Office of the Ministry as Lutherans confess in the Concordia.  The Office is inseparably tied to the means of grace.

There is great benefit to Pastors being much the same in the chancel.  Whether in manner, words, or actions, a high degree of uniformity in Pastors presiding and even preaching lends the people to the conclusion it is not about them as people but about the Word they speak and the Sacraments they administer.  I am not speaking here of a mechanical uniformity, the kind of German precision which erases the face of the Pastor completely, but rather a careful attention to the Word and Sacraments of Christ as pre-eminent in all that the Pastor says and does.

I do not see a great benefit to Pastor's winging it at the altar or pulpit -- their ministry and the consequences are too great to be cavalier with the mysteries of God.  Certainly it does no one good to read slavishly from missal, lectionary, or sermon text as if these words were unfamiliar and strange to him.  Nevertheless, by his attention to the missal or lectionary book and to the sermon as proclamation of Christ, it becomes clear to the folks in the pew that the words bear not the authority of one man but of the Office for which Christ has set him apart and carry the authority of Christ to do what the Word and Sacraments promise.

One of the great and troubling conclusions from those who worship without the Divine Service, in what has become called "contemporary," is that the gifts and abilities as well as personality and preference of the Pastor are central to all that goes on (as are the gifts and performance of the musicians and others in these services).  I fear that one of the unforeseen consequences of making the Pastor and musicians the "star performers" of the service is that the authority of their words and the confidence of the people in their actions moves from confidence in Christ's Word and in the promise inherent to the Sacraments to the ability, sincerity, accomplishment of the "star performers" -- much in the same way those who put on a good show are often held in higher regard than those who may have a better voice or ability but do not possess the "stage presence" to give their gift a platform.

When the Mass is ended and the people go in peace to serve the Lord in their baptismal vocations lived out in the world, the Pastor is also free then to resume his person and become himself.  For some it is undoubtedly a relief to take off the vestments and leave behind the role and calling and for others it is with great regret and sadness that they resume their person.  For me it is the latter.  The highest and holiest of moments is when I as Larry Peters disappear into the work of Christ He is doing among His people through my voice and hands.  Sometimes it is a great melancholy moment for me to walk back into the empty nave, make my way to the Vestry, and become "me" again.  It is easier for me to know who I am and what I am to do when I act in the person of Christ and it presents me with a whole other challenge when it left for me to simply be Larry.  I am not sure if this is a good thing or not, but I know that God does not want those who serve Him in the Office of Pastor to confuse their personal identity with their role and purpose as instruments of the means of grace by which He is present among and continues to bestow the gifts of grace and mercy to His people.


Anonymous said...

Clothes do not make the man and
vestments do not make the pastor.
Our ordination vow and divine call
to a parish make us a pastor. Hence,
the nomenclature of pastor is tied
to being Christ's ambassador in a
certain parish, not the alb or stole
which are merely outward signs of
this divine call. A pastor who
preaches at a funeral home in a
suit and tie is still a pastor.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...


Did you actually read the fine post by Fr. Peters, or did you just look at the picture? Based on your comment, I'm inclined to believe it was the latter, and I suggest you actually take the time to read what was written.

Anonymous said...

I know it, you know it, the people
of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
know it, the late Dr. Robert Preus
preached in a Geneva gown or his
academic robe. He prided himself
that he never wore a clerical collar
in his lifetime. Liturgical dresses
and costumes did not interest him.
He was a man of the people and the
laity loved him.

Pastor Peters said...

I guess I am not a great communicator since both "Anonymous" people (or perhaps, the same one) did not at all get it... it is not about vestments but about the Pastor's personality not be center state in who he is or what he does... honestly, either I need to write more clearly or somebody needs to read with more understanding... geesh.

As far as Bob Preus, whom I knew, priding himself on wearing an academic robe or Geneva gown, such should NOT be what we pride ourselves in at all but our boast should be in Christ alone... which, believe it or not, is kinda what my post was about...

Unknown said...

Pastor Peters, you are a great communicator and your point was perfectly clear.

Sometimes agendas clog our ears and distort the message that is heard, but that is not the fault of the message or the messenger.

Anonymous said...

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each
wrote a gospel concerning the good
news of Jesus Christ under the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Yet
their styles and personalities are
different. However the Word of God
remains the same. In our 6000 LCMS
parishes we have 6000 different
pastors preaching the same Word of God. Their styles and personalities
are different but the Holy Spirit
works through all of them.

Rev. David M. Juhl said...


Yes, yes, and yes.

Your point?

Unknown said...

"In our 6000 LCMS
parishes we have 6000 different
pastors preaching the same Word of God. Their styles and personalities
are different but the Holy Spirit
works through all of them."

Or, I suspect, in spite of them (them includes me and all of us at times). I don't know about LCMS, but in the ELCA the work of the Holy Spirit is often invoked to justify a great deal of dysfunction and personal agendas.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

All that's left is the ubiquitous anti-vestments comment...

Geneva gowns were fairly common 60 years ago or so among Lutherans, but are more associated with Congregational, Reformed and Presbyterian traditions today. One could wear a Geneva gown or a Doctoral robe as a measure of your piety but that would set you apart and draw attention far more than an alb, or cassock and surplice would. Just a thought here, but perhaps Dr. Preus did not wear a clerical shirt and the usual vestments because he did not have a regular call to a congregation?

Pastor Peters, you were quite clear in your post. I'm not much of a fan of Newman, but I rather like the comment 'the mass must not be said without a Missal under one's eye." Ever the reminder that these are not my words, but Christ's words.

Pastor Peters said...

I am not such a reader of Newman either but I did rather like the one quote I used in the post...

Janis Williams said...

As a laywoman let me say I've seen all sorts of pastors in everything from blue jeans to vestments. Vestments are better. A pastor in blue jeans is certainly making a statement. They generally say (and it is supposed by many) he is saying God doesn't care about clothes, but the persons/personalities. Not.

6000 different personalities may be in the LCMS pulpits, but the personalities are NOT the focus! Our great Lord, His blood, cross, and the gifts of His Word and Sacraments are.

In vestments, the OFFICE of the pastor covers the pastor, so he can point us to Christ.

Fr. Peters, you are very clear. I might add that vestments also hide the frailties of the man who represents Christ and speaks His Word. All these "rock star" pastors in the seeker friendly churches will age, and look merely foolish in their trendy clothes. A pastor is UNtrendy, and more-or-less ageless in vestments. Thank you for your poat.

Janis Williams said...


Dr.D said...

At somewhat of another extreme, this morning I was in our local RC bookstore, visiting with the proprietor. I was sitting in a chair right by the front door and facing the rear of the shop when the door opened. I was looking down and saw a floor length black skirt passing by me. I looked up just in time to see a man in a Roman collar. I quickly murmured "Good morning, Father," and he went on to speak to the owner of the shop. When he turned around and saw me sitting there in clerics he was quite amazed.

He introduced himself as the RC priest from a nearby town across the river, and I explained that I am an Anglican priest. His eyes lit up, and he said, "Are you a high church Anglican? Do you celebrate facing to the east?" When I said yes to both questions he was quite visibly excited and we had a very nice discussion.

I asked him if he wears his cassock all the time and he replied that he in fact does. He sees it as an important part of his identity as a priest in the community. He is a young man (30-ish), and definitely on fire. He is going to have a big impact, and I can find no fault at all with his wearing the cassock if he thinks it is useful in his ministry.

Jerry Roseleip said...

Thank you for this post and I agree completely. On the same note I think the pulpit serves the Word and the person in the same way that you describe the vestments.

Anonymous said...

The melancholy that Pastor Peters
feels when he disrobes in the vestry
sounds like an identity crisis. He
is still a pastor when his vestments
are off. To preside over divine
worship is just one aspect of
pastoral ministry. Many times when
I left the sanctuary someone would
be waiting outside my church office
and want counseling on Sunday morning
after the late worship service. If
our calling is truly 24 hours/7 days a week, then we are always
a pastor on call.

John said...

I grew up in the 40's and 50's, during which time the pastor of the congregation which we attended was the only person to occupy the chancel during services. He was sometimes clothed in a simple black robe, and at other times wore a cassock, surplice and stole. The point is that he, at all times appeared during services displaying his authority to be serving the flock as shepherd in the very stead of Christ.
He was, at the same time showing his respect for the very God that he had the awesome duty to proclaim to his flock. He, and he alone served the Lord's Supper. There is, in many congregations today a veritable parade of men and women on the chancel, each seeming to perform duties reserved for the called shepherd. Why? I, personally don't care if my pastor visits me in the hospital with a three day growth of beard and dressed in the rattiest of jeans. When that same pastor, though is serving on the chancel, he'd best be dressed in order to show both his authority to be there, AND his personal respect for God, whom he both serves and represents to the flock. Wear a simple black or white robe, or full vestments, but cover yourself. I don't want to be distracted by either your $1,000.00 suit or your old, ratty jeans. I prefer that you not wear an academic gown because that seems to proclaim your accomplishments. I want nothing more or less than to receive the Means of Grace from you. Pastors, display both the authority that you hold and the respect that you have for the office of Pastor. You will then be teaching the young in age and the young in faith among your flock the proper respect when in God's house.

Anonymous said...

Your manner of dress reflects your attitude...

If your doctor visited your bedside with three days' growth of beard and ratty clothes, you'd be shocked. If you went to see your lawyer and he/she were dressed in smelly old clothes, you'd leave.

Clothes DO make the man and vestments, etc. DO make the pastor.

Anonymous said...

That is what we call a strawman.
Name one pastor you have seen
in smelly or ratty clothes officiate
in a Divine Service in an LCMS
church. Vestments don't make a
pastor. His divine call does.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe the person was saying the call or ordination was not what made the person a pastor but that the manner of dress makes the pastor less credible; if you do not understand this, you need to get out in the world and take a gander. Ask any nurse about the way some pastors come calling in hospitals. Wake up and smell the roses.