Thursday, February 17, 2011
The Peril (& Myth) of Pastoral Prerogative
In the long conversation that ensued, I had to cool my temper a bit and keep telling myself to respond thoughtfully and gently. This was not my building and it was not built to please me. The architect and his committee met for hours with every leader and individual church member and the whole voters assembly -- on several occasions -- to ascertain what the people were looking for. The architect took the budget, the many diverse desires of the people, and a sense of Lutheran identity in worship and practice and came up with the plan we now have as a building. It is wider than it is long but still reverberant. It is filled with light from clerestory, rose, and Trinity stained glass windows. It is warm in color and tones. It is a very nice building. But it is not MY building.
Sadly, it is a common belief in the pews that what Pastor's do is shaped by their personal desires and wants, that the Office they hold gives them the prerogative to shape the congregation by their own personality and tastes, and that this is one of the perks of the Office that makes up for some of the, well, non-perks. Sadly, it is a common belief because most of these folks have been in parishes where the clergy did just that -- shape things not by theological identity, confession or faithfulness but by personal desire and taste. Sadly, it is true that parishes often become mirrors of the personality of their Pastors (not always in a positive way because there is something laudable in the Pastor worth emulating but in the negative way of displaying all his own weaknesses).
Sadly, it is the way we figure things work in the world, so that is also the way they must work when it comes to the parish. We think this about worship "style," hymn and musical preferences, and a host of other issues that have become battlefields within the life of the modern church. So it is assumed by folks in the pew that Pastors who chant, like it and this is why they do it. That Pastors who move them to weekly Eucharist, like it and this is why they do it. That Pastors who wear more vestments, like it, and this is why they wear them. Etc... So it is equally true that when Pastors change, folks expect that everything else changes with him (liturgy, hymns and music, vestments, Eucharist, chanting, etc.). It has become a common and damningly true fact that Pastors work to shape a congregation to fit what they want, then leave to turn another parish into a mirror of themselves and the guys who follow them are there to undo what has been done as they work to stamp the image of themselves upon the congregation. And the people in the pew are caught in the crossfire.
Let me first say that I abhor this whole idea. I have worked and taught so that none of the changes I have made are reflections of my personal preference or desire or personality. I chant because chanting is presumed and expected in the liturgical tradition and hymnals of our church body. Speaking is the odd option -- not singing. Personally, I prefer a service where I am completely passive and absorb it all (priest, preacher, choir, etc.). But it is not about me. So the worship service of this parish is about who we are as Lutheran Christians. I love the daily offices (sans sermon, by the way) but our confessions insist that we celebrate the mass every Lord's Day and whenever our people desire it. The weekly Eucharist is not because of me but because of our confessional Lutheran identity. I would prefer a monastic habit of simple black cassock or so but our confessions insist that we respect the church usages of the past and have not abandoned them and our theology insists that vestments identify the Pastor with the Christ he represents and not himself as an individual. So I wear the traditional vestments of the Church, which Lutherans have always worn (though not necessarily as a majority in most places). It is not about me. It is about the Office of Pastor, the liturgical and practical identity consistent with our Confessions, and about, ultimately, Christ and His means of grace that are behind it all.
It is also not about people in the pew. That is why we do not offer a smorgasbord of different worship "styles" to fit everyone's personality and taste. We are here because God says we belong -- we belong to Him in Christ and He has declared us His own in baptism and declared us worthy to stand before Him and serve Him, receiving His gifts and then responding by the power of the Spirit. We are not here because it fits us or we feel at home here. This is our home because Christ was incarnate, live obediently, died sacrificially, and rose victoriously that the scattered and exiled might be brought back to God's House to be and live as His family, His body, the Church, and witness this miracle of grace and mercy to the world.
I get tired of explaining this but in the end I wonder if this is not one of the most important things that needs to be explained over and over again. Congregations are not the mirrors of their Pastors and worship is not the mirror of our personal taste or preference and music is not primarily an expression of our feelings. It is all about Christ -- the Christ whom the Pastors represent to their people so that they might represent Him to the world.... the Christ who bids us come and feeds us upon His Word and Sacraments and imparts the Spirit who teaches us to respond with the Amen of faith... the Christ whose story is our song and whose Word are the words of our liturgy... and the Christ who is the center of the building, erected not as a memorial to Him but as a working temple in which He dwells through Word and Sacrament and equips us to become the people we were declared to be in our baptism....