Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Like Coffee Talk After Chapel

One of the great things about Chapel on Synodical Colleges and Seminary (at least as I experienced it) was the extended conversation following Chapel, over a cup of a coffee.  This was great discourse in which classroom discussions or Chapel homilies or liturgy would become the topic of discussion and friendly debate.  At the Senior College some of these turned into very extended debates that passed from coffee table to bulletin board.  They were lively and often pointed but drove us to think, to read, and to speak within the framework of theology and practice.

Recently a Gottesdienst post spent some time talking about, among other things, Circuit Meetings of clergy in the LCMS (also known among the old men of the Church as winkels).  The author made the point that he had expected the monthly Circuit Meeting with the brethren to be like or even an extension of the coffee talk that followed chapel at the Seminary.  Sadly, he lamented, it was not so.  Theology was not the only and not even the primary topic of conversation.

I have experienced Circuits on Long Island, around Albany/Schenectady, NY, and here in Tennessee.  Sometimes they have lived up to the memory of those coffee talks from formative days.  Often they did not.  Some were without an agenda or plan whatsoever.  It is not that the guys were bad or not motivated, but that too often the lastest information or request from District and Synod took over the discussion and even the political turmoil of our church body became the one and only topic for discussion.  That is not entirely bad -- we do after all live and work within the boundaries of the Synod and within the framework of a District.  But what is bad is when great theological discourse is foreign to the life and experience of the local Pastor.  We need this exercise of the mind to keep us sharp and to remind us that all in ministry is not practical.

Unfortunately, my first experience in the twice annually District Pastoral Conferences has degraded over time.  My first experience had Richard Jungkuntz and Howard Tepker going at it in a full blown argument (gentlemanly) over the gifts of the Spirit and the charismatic movement within the LCMS.  Good stuff!  I remember having the likes of Richard John Neuhaus, William Lazareth, and other "big" names speak to us and challenge us.  I remember having the Synod President come and speak to us pastorally (Ralph Bohlmann was particularly pointed to us about the Gospel after a devotion that was hardly Law and mostly nothing -- memorable but still very pastoral!).

More recently, we have labored through conferences in which both presenters were talking stewardship - ugh - or some other necessary but altogether unexciting topic.  Why?  Because the guys will not come if the topics are not "practical" or applicable to their daily ministry needs and challenges.  Ack!  Must everything be practical?  Read my former post on pragmaticism.  Hardly anything about theology is practical in the way that these guys define it and yet almost everything in theology IS practical in that it does have a practice or place in our life and work as Pastors in congregations.  I move to go back to the theological topics (whether or not they seem practical at first glance).  The best conferences I have gone to are those in which the presenter forced me to think theologically and then forced me to see the consequences of those theological thoughts in the practice of the faith and the life and ministry of the parish.

Too many Pastors skip these monthly meetings and District conferences (truth to be told I was out of state for one monthly winkel and was otherwise occupied by a sudden death in the parish for the last District conference).  But if I have skipped them, it was not because I did not like the topics -- it was because the agenda had become an extension of one or more Synodical programs and our time together as theologians had been hijacked by the need to be up to speed on the latest and greatest thing from St. Louis or Memphis.  I long for the impassioned theological debate of other times -- when tempers might flare over the conference table only to disappear over cocktails and nibbles later in the day.... when we might sound like mortal enemies because we spoke so heatedly over what Scripture says or the Confessions teach only to kneel together at the rail in the Sacrament of the Altar later that evening.  These were not the worst of times in Missouri but the best... at least that is how I remember them and why I wish we could return to them again...


Janis Williams said...

Sad when what ought to involve theological discussion has become nothing more than a board of directors' meeting.

Today "Theology" is a four-letter word. Members of congregations don't want doctrine taught (it's boring). This is a time when pastors must "man up" and give to congregations what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess. It won't be popular, won't gain them any cult following, but will give the sheep pasture.

As a member of a church council, at least part of the onus lies on us. What are church councils for, if not to take the "pragmatic" load off the pastor so he can rightly administer Word and Sacrament?

Anonymous said...

As a Circuit Counselor for 13 years
(not consecutive terms) I was
responsible for the monthly agenda
of our circuit meetings. The most
popular presentation I had was a
exegetical/devotional on the book
of l Timothy. I got feedback and
discussion of a theological nature
that I never anticipated. It was a
demonstration that pastors can be
stimulated to think and share if done
properly and with no axe to grind.

Anonymous said...

P.S. This study on 1 Timothy took
one year of circuit meetings.
Chapter One was entitled:
and become the catalyst for the
whole year. We had almost perfect
attendance by the pastors.

Jerry Roseleip said...

I am not a pastor, but it is apparent that those who do not regularly attend the conferences or Winkles also seem to have their own agendas and really don't want to hear anything that may be said to call them back to true theological teaching and preaching ( which, incidentally, they vowed to do at their ordination).

Pastor Jim Wagner said...

An amusing story --

Several years ago at one of our ELCA synod convocations a new young pastor was sitting next to our bishop at lunch. He said, "In the synod where I interned (vicared) we had an annual theological convocation. Have you ever had one here?" To which the bishop replied, "This is it."

Anonymous said...

One way the LCMS pastor can keep up
with theology is to attend a
summer continuing education class
taught by one of the professors
from Ft. Wayne or St. Louis.

This will guarantee the pastor an
opportunity to re-charge his battery
and learn to think theologically
as he soaks in the mini-course away
from his parish.