Monday, April 25, 2011

Great Frustrations... and some very little ones

It decided to rain like it was time to float the ark and Sunday morning was awash with wind driven and pouring storms -- so much so that gutters and catch basins were completely overwhelmed. On one wall of the Nave the wind had driven the water between the gutter and the roof and we had an unplanned water feature on the wall that holds the Stations of the Cross.  Some quick thinking folks took down the stations... Now, one more building issue to deal with...

Coordinating with the acolytes all the special items for the Easter services (Gospel procession, continuous distribution, Paschal Candle placement, etc.) was and always is a chore.  But, given all the limitations of their experience, they did very well and in nearly every case served with pious humility.  Perhaps we need to have more Gospel processions and the like just to make sure everyone gets what is going on...

I could say the same for the ushers who are not always sure what is going on but, generally speaking, have moved with the flow and caught on in time.  Every year I think we need more rehearsal and every year the time of Holy Week becomes too short to fit one more thing in... Oh, well, something for NEXT YEAR...

Our Cantor worked himself into a zombie between all the services, choir (singing Widor and Handel), rehearsing the brass, working with soloists, and still managing to shape each Easter hymn with diverse accompaniments that encouraged our voices to sing even more the praise of Him who died and now is alive.  I always regret that he has to work this hard (but, like me, it goes with the job/vocation).  I am so privileged to have him as a partner in this endeavor.

Now for the big frustrations...

I had several calls from Lutherans not from our immediate community.  They asked about service times and then, nervously, asked if we did anything unusual or, well, different on Easter.  Now here is the frustration.  On the one hand some said that they have been to Lutheran services on Easter and if you had not looked at your calendar, you would never know it was Easter by what took place in the Divine Service.  This is a problem.  The whole nature of the Church Year and the liturgical options is to provide a platform where the Divine Service and the Services of Holy Week are both peculiar to their day while at the same time sharing in common the structure of every Sunday liturgy.  Often it is just plain laziness on the part of the Pastor that he fails to note these options and these changes in rubric and form.  That is inexcusable.

The others were wondering something very different.  They wanted a liturgical service that was consistent with our Lutheran confession and identity and what they often got was pure strangeness and novelty for the sake of novelty.  Examples.  One family asked if I used visual aids?  What?  Well, it turns out that their Pastor had used a cooler full of fruit and a smoothie machine/blender in his Easter sermon a few years ago and ever since they had abandoned their own parish to visit a more, well, traditional one on Easter.  Another mentioned that they had come into the Nave on Easter only to find helium balloons tied to every pew end, to the chancel furniture, and streamers such as you might find at a Junior High dance.  Another mentioned how they had a "warm up" band that led "songs" for about 30 minutes, then a drama, another 15 minutes of music for the spectators, a Bible study (their term for what was the sermon), and a role play of how you might speak of the resurrection to someone who did not believe, and then they went home.  Now these happened in LCMS congregations.

Okay, so if you must do something weird, just don't do it on Easter or Christmas.  I know that there are the crowds you don't have at other Sundays but give some respect to the day and the message and think about those whom God has entrusted to your care.  They deserve more than cute or novelty -- they deserve the best liturgical practice and homiletical prowess a Pastor and the parish can muster.  It does not have to mimic a cathedral but it does need to be real and authentic to who we are as Lutheran Christians.  I just don't get the fascination with the cutsie stuff that some seem to love.  The more I listen, the more I hear people in the pew say they don't get it either.  We have a family moving to Wisconsin (job transfer) and one of the things they said they will look for is a home congregation in which the liturgy is honored, the Sacrament is weekly, and the sermon is passionately preached and faithful in its content.  As hard as it is for me to say this, that should be the minimum of all Lutheran Pastors and every Lutheran parish... but it is more the rarity than the norm.


Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

Au contraire, if you MUST do something weird, do it ANYWHERE but in 'church' at ANY time! xx

Anonymous said...

Concerning BIG Frustrations.....
It all points to inept and lazy
pastors who do not have the passion
to serve the Lord with their best
effort. District Presidents and
Circuit Counselors are the weak link
in demanding pastoral accountability.
Why is there such disparity in
pastoral competence from parish to
parish in the same circuit? Are the
Seminaries guilty of failing to weed
out the misfits? Lord have mercy.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Yes, I had a few visitors for Easter who were looking to avoid the typical dummheit that you described. I’ve experienced the prom decorations as well, said which became a nuisance and a distraction and actually blocked sight of the altar. Pastor Peters, I’m glad that some of the people who were looking for some sanity in their Easter Sunday worship were doing so for good reasons, i.e., sound doctrine and therefore sound practice. I've seen and heard the same sort of issues with Christmas Eve/Day services and funerals.
However on Easter even the C & E's want a 'traditional' Easter service as well because it is their traditional day of worship. By traditional I refer to the Norman Rockwell image that people have in their minds as to what Easter or Christmas Eve ought to be. I had a conversation with a member of my congregation a while back who had mentioned that what he liked about the Lutherans is we weren't as hidebound to tradition as the Catholics were. I asked him which did he think would get his pastor in more trouble, not serving Holy Communion on Christmas Eve, or not singing "Silent Night" with the lights out and individual candles lighted? Which would get more complaints, no Easter egg hunt or no Communion on Easter? There’s that sort of thing going on as well.
Anyone who has been in the ministry for a few years (especially if you started out young) can point to a really silly idea you had and unfortunately no one had the love wisdom or courage to tell you ‘Pastor don’t do that.’ By the time I was certified I could read and write Greek and Hebrew, I’d studied Latin, German and a smattering of Spanish. Yet no one taught me how to translate what my congregation was saying. I learned the hard way that ‘whatever you want Pastor’ mean ‘you’re wrong but I won’t tell you so.’
I’m not sure if some of these complaints are caused by poor Seminary instruction or unsuitability for the ministry per se-I rather doubt it. I think it’s often simply ignorance; that is not having a sense of what is appropriate which comes with experience. That is where the vicarage/internship is critical in the Pastor’s formation in my opinion. Sometimes I think it’s working from a contemporary playbook, catalog, etc. that promises an Easter like no other and we believe it. Mostly we have to keep in mind that it is nothing more than hubris to think that we will adorn the Resurrection of our Lord in a way that will somehow make it better or more relevant. To be sure, there are times when the reason why the Pastor has ‘got nothin’ on Easter is because that is exactly what he has to give you, that is when it is appropriate for Christians to go elsewhere.
I thank God for the liturgy, the lection, and an approved hymnal, because they often protect the congregation from the Pastor’s folly.

Anonymous said...

This is a story book my pastor read during the Easter message. He had the pages on the book on the screens in the sancuary.
This is a youtube of the story.The pastor's reading was not animated like this. Then he showed a couple minute video clip of John 20:1-8 to tell the story. Then this book, to speak about living forever and ever in eternity because Jesus rose from the dead. He also stated "Will Live "Forever" is what Easter is all about."
This whole Easter message was very upsetting and frustrating to me. story.
Below is the link to the youtube.
This link below is a link to the words because it is too long to post.
Love You Forever
by Robert Munsch

Sue said...

My church has contemporary worship at the late service on the 2nd and 4th Sundays. Since Easter fell on the 4th Sunday this year, they decided to go with contemporary. We've had members leave for this exact reason. Why are we trying to pull in the unchurched if it drives our own members away? I was unable to attend the early service as my grandson was being baptized in the Methodist church in a nearby town. I really missed my tradition Easter worship! But was happy to see my little guy be baptized (and my DIL too!!). That was worth missing my own worship.

Anonymous said...


You give Circuit Counselors you waaayy too much credit/blame.

We (yes I am one) have zero authority of our own. We can do little to nothing without the DP.

PlainsState CC

Lee said...

"I asked him which did he think would get his pastor in more trouble, not serving Holy Communion on Christmas Eve, or not singing "Silent Night" with the lights out and individual candles lighted? Which would get more complaints, no Easter egg hunt or no Communion on Easter?"

Rev. Bergstrazer is right on in identifying this problem! We get so focused on all the things we are doing and not on what God is doing.