Saturday, October 1, 2016

What is wrong with this picture?

The photo was taken at a Valpo Liturgical Conference.  Once these liturgical institutes commanded great attention.  I fear that they are mostly forgettable, having become the domain exclusively of the ELCA and their social agenda.  The majority of clergy presiding were women (even though other photos show the majority of attenders were men).  We can lament this.  But there is more to this and the leftward drift of a liturgical conference that once boasted folks like Kenneth Korby speaking on such Lutheran topics as private confession.  Look at the photo.  The Valpo Chapel of the Resurrection was built to seat something like 3500 -- for the daily chapel and festival services of a university in northwestern Indiana intent upon being Lutheran.  Apparently the attendance has fallen off to the point where there is no need to use most of the chapel or its fine organ resources.  Instead, a small chapel has been created in the midst of the great assembly.

The altar is in the center with folks facing each other in order to face it.  It is a small altar and small pulpit in the shadow of the grand cross, mighty altar, and elevated pulpit where giants once spoke to the assembled college community (thinking here of O. P. Kretzmann).  What is left is a modern chapel adorned with the faces of the people as the primary liturgical art.  I know that there are some who will laud the decision to make a chapel within the nave of this large and imposing structure and it is certainly more intimate.  But what it does do is testify to just how small the Lutheran presence in chapel and worship has become to a large and diverse Lutheran university and its student population.  That is my point.  The artistic design of the chapel is secondary to the fact that this chapel lives in the shadows of a history and identity that once was an imposing identity upon the whole campus but it is certainly not one today.  This is a picture of the problems most Lutheran colleges and universities face.  What does it mean to be a Lutheran collegiate institution?

Chapel is not alone in answer to this question of identity but it was once a place where the unmistakable locus of the university's soul rested.  It is easy to pick at Valpo since it has formally distanced itself from its past and its once unofficially close association with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  It is easy to raise questions when ELCA colleges and universities claim a Lutheran legacy more than a Lutheran identity.  It is not so easy when it is a question facing the wholly owned Lutheran schools that make up the Concordia University System.  But it is no less urgent.  We are good at words.  We need to be better at the reality of what life on an LCMS campus is like.  Faith is not to be merely tolerated or even given a nod on these campuses but permeated throughout the classroom, dorm, and chapel.  This is a work in progress and I am thankfully for those administrations which face this question head on every day.  It is not enough to survive but if we are to survive, it ought to be as Lutheran institutions of higher education -- without apology.  Much less and we are little different than our secular counterparts except we charge more and have a small chapel available for those who want it.  Pray for our schools, folks!


Ted Badje said...

Recruit more church workers. Make them feel appreciated, and empower their thoughts and decisions. Do a better job of edifying Christ's Church.

Recovering Lutheran said...

I know that sniping at ELCA is not the main focus of Pastor Peter's post. Yet the irony is nevertheless exquisite. Getting rid of the Bible and dumping that pest Jesus was supposed to increase membership, or that's what the ELCA promised, anyway. I was a member of an ELCA congregation at the time it decided to wholeheartedly embrace the sin of homosexuality, and repeatedly the denomination's leadership claimed that being "inclusive" would bring in previously unchurched persons.

Instead the ELCA is morphing into a fringe political party with a undeniable totalitarian streak. Faithful Christians have been leaving in droves, yet the ELCA has spectacularly failed to bring in the unchurched who were allegedly just chomping at the bit to join an "inclusive" church. Perhaps even unbelievers can sense the phoniness and dishonesty of the ELCA's sales pitch, since political hucksterism is no substitute for the One True God.

Carl Vehse said...

"The majority of clergy presiding were women"

That is a self-contradictory statement. In the Christian Church there is no female clergy.

If the XXXA leaders at Valpo want to increase attendance, maybe they can include Korans and prayer rugs. The Valpo building ceased to be a recognized place of Christian worship long ago.