Saturday, July 29, 2017
What shall we say?
I repeat. Grace Lutheran Church is NOT an exceptional parish in terms of overall Lutheran identity, doctrine, and practice. We have the weekly Divine Service, sung liturgy, a very good choir, a very good parish musician, and a solidly entrenched tradition of faithful teaching and preaching. That should not be exceptional. It should be normal. Every congregation who claims to be Lutheran should have the Divine Service (not with Holy Communion since the Divine Service implies Holy Communion), sung liturgy, a decent cantor or choir, capable organist, and solid Lutheran preaching and teaching. It is not out of reach. It is not easy but it is not impossible in nearly every location. And one ought to be able to expect that this is reflective of solid programs of education (Sunday school for lack of a better name), catechesis for young and old, and Bible study (that deals with the meat of the Word and not simply how you feel about it). This is NOT exceptional but normal for those who claim the Augsburg Confession and who claim the legacy of Lutheranism born from that faithful witness.
Yet. . . I continue to get complaints that when folks move they cannot find a Lutheran congregation that mirrors these values. Either worship is a smorgasbord of tastes, styles, and preferences (of which the Divine Service may or may not be one) or it can be painful experience in which canned music or incapable parish musicians lead from one bench or another. Either the doctrine is light and the Lutheran identity is tenuous or it may be reflected in anger and resentment against one or the other Synods (lacking a salutary and healthful spirit of truth that encourages, equips, and ennobles). Either the congregation is so small there is no real Sunday school or catechesis going on or it is large enough to offer choices not worthy of a congregation who claims the Augsburg Confession (having turned Bible study into self-help groups).
My point is not to complain about the aberrations (okay, maybe it is) but to remind us that congregational expressions of Lutheran identity should be more the same than different. I served a far smaller parish in upstate NY and we had a very faithful and gifted parish musician, a decent choir, sung Divine Service, weekly Eucharist, and a faithful and Lutheran catechetical and Biblical educational program. These ought not to be the exceptions but the norm (no matter how small or how large the parish). This is our Lutheran problem. We have inconsistency that goes to the core of our identity. How would it be if you visited an outlet of a restaurant chain and found that this logicality had changed the menu, the recipes, or theme to the point where you did not recognize it as an Olive Garden or Cheddars or Logans? Yet this is what our people report to me (whether on vacation or if forced to find a new parish home due to move). Brothers, it should not be so.
Our people are our parishes are suffering not because our creativity has failed but because our consistency has failed. We do not know who we are. Lutherans cannot survive if they are only one parish deep and wide. I plead not for myself but for those who are in your neighborhoods and communities and who wonder where they will find a Lutheran congregation.