Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Order in Chaos

I have said repeatedly in this forum that I am in favor of a liturgical diaconate, something akin to the permanent deacons of the Roman Catholic Church.  I won't repeat myself here except to say that what we have now around the Synod is chaos -- some Lutheran teachers, some Lutheran DCEs and DCOs (and the other DCs), some elders, some volunteers, etc... all assisting in the Divine Service, either fulfilling the role of Assisting Minister (Divine Service Settings 1 & 2) or just filling in reading the lessons or helping to distribute the Sacrament within the service.  Instead of the chaos, ordered deacons would restore some level of training and give to the churches something of discernment more than who wants to do it.  Using a standardized  curriculum and having uniform standards that must be met would bring some order to the chaos and make sure that those assisting know a bit more about what and why they are doing it.  I am NOT, repeat that NOT, referring to this as a fill in for the Pastor or a substitute when the ordained are not available, deemed too costly, or whatever.  This would have no responsibilities alone but only in conjunction with the Pastor of that congregation.

That said, my focus here is on the use of lay readers or lectors.  IF you have them, and although I find nothing to forbid the practice even if it is not essential or even necessarily beneficial, then we ought to have a curriculum for and some basic standards required of those who read the lessons (not the Gospel) on Sunday morning.  This sort of sub-diaconal role has long standing and history within the catholic tradition.  To be sure this was part of the development of the myriad of minor orders and offices that became a ladder to the priesthood. I certainly do not envision restoring the idea of minor orders and its progression to ordination.  But it can also stand alone.  IF we will have people reading the lessons, then let us at least have some sort of expectation of training and some sort of standards of competence since this is not something casual.  It would be much more salutary than a blurb in the Sunday bulletin or monthly newsletter asking folks if this is something they want to do.

Some of the training would be eminently practical -- pronunciation helps and training for public reading.  But some of it needs to be theological -- what is this Word, what about the lectionary, not only how do we read it but why, and what does God do through His Word read and heard... among other things.  We already have people doing it (every parish I have served or served in has had lay readers well established before I got there) and not everyone is a good reader and the task is too important to simply be farmed out to any willing volunteer.  So why not have an order of lectors, uniform training, and standards of competence?

Note here that I am NOT suggesting that each District of the Synod do its own thing.  Districts are not independent representative groups of congregations to the Synod but simply the Synod in that place (something we often forget).  So lets not make the same mistake we did with lay deacons (isn't that an oxymoron) and have every District do what seems pleasing in its own neck of the Synodical woods.  No, let us proceed with a view toward bring some order out of the chaos of Sunday morning ministers.  It may just assist the Pastor in helping the people have a higher view of Scripture and it may just encourage more young men to consider seminary and the pastoral vocation. . . never a bad thing.

Just a few thoughts here. . .


Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of lay readers. In my experience, most don't do it well. Since I like to listen to the Word, it really helps if the reader can speak in a loud and clear voice. My pastor can. He has been trained to do it. Are we on a path to making pastors obsolete?

Carl Vehse said...

"Order in Chaos"
"what we have now around the Synod is chaos"
"Instead of the chaos"
"bring some order to the chaos"
"let us proceed with a view toward bring some order out of the chaos of Sunday morning ministers."

What we have is a 1989 Resolution 3-14, as discussed in this LCMS FAQ - Worship/Congregational Life (p. 15 of 23), which states:

"In 1989 Res. 3-14, the Synod resolved 'That the congregations of the Synod proceed with care and sensitivity in making decisions permitting the lay reading of the Scriptures, recognizing decisions in this regard lie in the area of Christian judgment.' The Synod's official position, therefore, is that there is no Scriptural 'thus says the Lord' regarding who may or may not read the lessons in worship, but that congregations themselves are responsible for making decisions in this regard which take into account various factors and sensitivities relevant to their own situation. In taking this position, the Synod has not distinguished between various 'parts' of the Scriptures (Old Testament, Epistle, Gospel, etc.). For more
information, you may wish to read the report of the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations on Women in the Church."

Thus it would appear that the first step of action "toward bring some order out of the chaos" would be an overture presented to the 2016 Synodical Convention in which it is resolved to overturn the 1989 Resolution 3-14 and the FAQ, and resolved to establish a "liturgical diaconate, something akin to the permanent deacons of the Roman Catholic Church."

There also should be some clarification as to whether, akin to the Romanist dioconate, a married deacon, if his wife should die, may not marry again without permission from his superiors.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

A n Ordered Diaconate of Word and Service has long been a passion of mine. What we in the LCMS Districts now call "Deacons" are unordained pastors serving Word and Sacrament ministry. I was one of them for 10 years before qualifying for Colloquy into the Office of Pastor by Ordination (by Bishop Roger Pittelko, no less). Having a sense of catholic order, I requested that my Pastoral Supervisor ordain me as a Deacon, which he did. That Ordination was valid but not licit in the LCMS, but it gave me the catholic comfort that I was not operating free-lance. I even did my Doctor of Ministry project on a Lutheran Diaconate curriculum for formation of Deacons, in the catholic sense.

In my judgement, the SMP has addressed the issue of the "Witchita" Deacons in theory, but not in practice because the process is very expensive and time consuming, thereby preventing the vast majority of those men out there functioning as "diaconal pastors".

Pastor Peters (and I) are addressinng a different model of the Deacon.

I concur with Larry's writings and practice on lay readers. Every congregation I have served has already had lay readers in place when I was Called, so I left them in place and worked hard to upgrade them to the level desicribed here by Larry. I have mixed results as of late our Council President is doing the recruiting and scheduling while i Have been dealing with some medical issues (now just about resolved, praise God!

If memory serves, every attempt to establish a Synod wide Diaconate has gotten bogged down on the issue of who does the formation and where. While the desire to model it on the excellent Deaconess formation in the LCMS is valiant, the prospect of a man called to Word and Service ministry moving to the seminary to complete a Master's degree then to face the reality of trying to be Called to a congregation in the Synod with $30K in debt with the prospect of making <$20K/year in a parish makes a Synodical model highly unworkable.

As messy as it can get, a District model will continue to be most practical because most Deacons will serve as volunteers or a few lucky ones in a worker/priest situation. The downside is the DP who will want the well formed Deacon to do pulpit fill, and then end up as "pastor" of a small congregation, returning us to where we are right now. Sigh