Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The issue of service. . .

Inevitably the issue of whether or not to have girl acolytes comes up.  In the parish I serve, I am not sure there was ever a time in which acolytes were only boys.  In fact, nearly every office or role has been open to both sexes (excluding Elders and President/Vice-President).  Depending upon the year, without girls also serving as acolytes it might have been necessary for one or two boys to serve every service for 6 months or more and there would not have been enough for a reasonable complement of youth for a procession.  Some years, it would not have been a problem and some of those boys would have gladly served every service but most years there would have been a problem with the boys or their parents.  There are some issues more urgent than others and, in my mind, this has not been one of them.

I admit that I do love it when we process behind a male crucifer and torchbearers.  I do think that this is one way in which some are encouraged to consider the pastoral vocation.  But I will also admit that it is seldom seen in this light by parents of girls.  In fact, some of our most pious and devoted acolytes have been female.  So what is a person to do?  Having dealt with other issues much more urgent and significant, I have chosen to focus on other issues.  Perhaps my successor will choose to change this but there have been too many other areas that needed my attention for me to make this a high priority.  Undoubtedly some will read this with disappointment.  I know that there are some pastors who make this an urgent and important focus in their ministry.  I do think that this is one area in which we need to allow a bit more local and pastoral discretion.  When you come into a situation, every pastor has to pick and choose which things need attention and may have other issues thrust upon him apart from his desire.  I am not willing to paint this issue as a negative or positive.  It just is.  

In case you may not remember it, the Roman Catholic Church directed that females could not even sing in choirs.  Pope St. Pius X in 1903 declared that all the rest of the liturgical chant belongs to the choir of levites, and, therefore, singers in the church, even when they are laymen, are really taking the place of the ecclesiastical choir…. On the same principle it follows that singers in church have a real liturgical office, and that therefore women, being incapable of exercising such office, cannot be admitted to form part of the choir. Whenever, then, it is desired to employ the acute voices of sopranos and contraltos, these parts must be taken by boys, according to the most ancient usage of the Church.  In case you did not get it, all singing is done by those with the particular office for singing and this, by nature, excludes women.  Apparently the situation had changed by 1955.  Pius XIII changed this rule;  Where it is impossible to have schools of singers or where there are not enough choir boys, it is allowed that “a group of men and women or girls, located in a place outside the sanctuary set apart for the exclusive use of this group, can sing the liturgical texts at Solemn Mass.  Obviously this Pope did not see this as an improvement but a choice born of necessity. 

While Rome is not the rule maker for Lutherans, this development is not without instruction.  At some point over the 50 years between 1903 and 1955, boys were in short supply and the culture around the church was changing as well.  And that is the point of this post.  Many of the changes in the Church are due less to what we think ought to be but out of necessity.  Of course, there are those who made female singers and girl altar servers a big deal but in many cases it was the lack of men and boys that led to the change.  Sadly, we face this all the time.  In the Church so many decisions are made not because we truly believe that these are in the best interests of the Church or the faith but because we are left with no choice.

While it is true that there are those who have agitated against many of these things (male only choirs or acolytes or ushers or church officers or council members), it is so often the fact that men (and boys) have not stepped up to the plate that decisions were made to open up these roles to women (and girls).  So while this might have begun with survey of who could or should serve as an acolyte, it will end with a plea to men and fathers and their sons not to shrink from serving the Church where you are able.  Do not abandon these important roles and leave it to the wives, mothers, and daughters to fill in where you are unwilling to serve.  You have a responsibility to serve (and, by serving, to lead) in the Church.  No one's interests are being served when any group shrinks from service and leaves it to somebody else.  Now, more than ever, the Church needs faithful men to step and serve and lead precisely for the benefit of the boys and young men who are watching and wondering where their place is.  I know that most women in my parish would welcome their husbands, brothers, and fellow pew sitting males to step up and serve. 

There was a time when the Church had a robust core of men to teach in Sunday school, to sing in choirs, to serve as acolytes, ushers, officers, and councilmen.  Sadly, it has been a long time in many congregations since there were men willing to serve.  Our men and boys have become lazy or unwilling to step up to the plate.  It has left the burden to women and girls to serve while men complain that the Church is too feminine.  Well, men, step up and get involved and be a good example for your sons.  It is not a competition.  There are plenty of roles and responsibilities for all.  As far as it goes, voting may seem to be important but the most important avenues of service in nearly every congregation do not involve yeas and nays at all.  Doing the work behind the scenes, enlisting others for service, and fulfilling your baptismal vocation are all much more important than voting on anything.  And if these things are done well, voting will not be so important.  I wish it were more true in our congregations and across our Synod.


1 comment:

Steve said...

The Anglican tradition of boys choirs is a holdover from the catholic tradition of male only choirs. The difference in Lutheranism, which did have female choirs, is that the ecclesiastical office performed by choirs is not owned by a priestly caste, but the entire priestly congregation. Luther stated that any Christian may baptize, celebrate the Supper, etc. Walther agreed, saying that as the pastor speaks the liturgy, we say it along with him. This does not negate the one, divine pastoral office, but rather orients it in its proper place.

As for complaints about the feminization of the church, these are not rooted in a lack of male Sunday School teachers. Getty hymns with the theological and musical fortitude of Charmin bathroom tissue, rather than solid Lutheran hymns, are the problem. Fixating on liturgical minutiae, such as elaborate gestures, postures, hand positions, clergy costumes, etc. are a huge turn off. Neglecting straightforward biblical exegesis and law and gospel preaching from the pulpit in favor of generic, literary stories drawn from popular culture and psychology are also surefire ways to drive men away from church.