Saturday, October 27, 2012

Apparently I'm not a Lutheran

Last week, I decided to branch out of my comfort zone and attend a church of a denomination that I not only haven't heard much about, but that I have also never visited before in my life.  I have a few friends who are Lutherans, or who grew up attending those churches, and so I thought if nothing else, I'd feel comforted thinking of them in a similar church while I was there.

I knew that the Lutheran church is made up of two synods, or councils, with varying doctrines or beliefs. Until this trip, I had no idea what the base differences were between the two, nor what separated them. There is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which states on their website that their "church body has been unable to reach agreement with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) regarding fellowship, church and ministry, and gender roles." The church I decided to attend says that they are members of the LCMS.  Reading both websites briefly, I think I might have a difficult time joining either church because I haven't been brought up in that faith. Certainly, it would be a process such as if I were to join the Catholic church.  Perhaps that isn't a bad thing-- certainly, I think I should learn more about a denomination or a particular church's beliefs before I join.  They would want the body of their church to hold the same beliefs and follow their doctrines before serving in ministry.

Both of the synods appear to have active, caring ministries. Everything from military assistance to emergency aid to help for the poorest-- this is a denomination that seeks to help. The particular church I attended, Grace Lutheran, was certainly friendly and welcoming. At the door, I was not only handed an order of service, but it was the most complete packet of information about that service that I've ever seen. Announcements, Prayer Concerns, Welcome pages-- it was all there. They even helpfully and tactfully told visitors how and when to take Communion. I, being a visitor and not of a Lutheran background whatsoever, understood very clearly that I should not partake of the Lord's Supper at this church. I am okay with that, although it stood out in stark contrast to my experience at First United Methodist, Killeen, where all were invited to partake according to their comfort level and beliefs.

The church building itself needs a special mention. Entering the sanctuary of Grace Lutheran, one is immediately held captive by the light shining through one of the largest and brightest stained-glass windows I've ever seen.

Obviously, they weren't set up for Christmas during my visit.

Every song was listed within the order of service, words and music and all.  The choir stood to the back of the room, so I didn't even realize they were there until it was time for us to sing the first song.  One song, "Come, My Soul, With Every Care," had a verse that rang true with me during this church journey as well as just in my life.

"While I am a pilgrim here/Let Thy love my spirit cheer;/As my guide, my guard, my friend,/Lead me to my journey's end."

Each prayer that we prayed was also listed in the order of service, and it also explained in the "Prayers of the Church" section which part of the Lord's prayer each petition was meant to emulate. "Christ our Lord taught His disciples to pray, saying 'Our Father who art in Heaven...' As the Lord would have us to pray this way, the petitions of our prayers are offered in the spirit of our Lord's Prayer. I have heard of children (and others) being taught to pray according to the Lord's Prayer, but this broke it down into 7 separate petitions, an introduction and a conclusion. After each petition, the congregation was supposed to say "Hear our prayer."

Even though I was definitely a visitor, the completeness of the order of service was extremely helpful. When to stand, when to sit, what to say-- it was all included. There were also passages listed for church members to do their readings for the week, both in the Bible and in Lutheran texts.

I suppose the part of the service that specifically addressed a particular verse or story would be called a homily in a Catholic church. The rest of the service was similar to a Catholic service, too, with the exception of kneeling (although those who partook of the Supper did kneel). This week's homily was about Mark 10:23-31, pertaining to it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven. The pastor read the actual passage, while we stood, and then he talked about how the Bible never defines wealth nor who is wealthy. Is it $100? Is it millions? Is it the one who has food on the table that night? The important part, he said, was that we cannot save ourselves. It is impossible, but through Christ all things are possible. At the time Jesus spoke these words, it was shocking! The rich, the healthy, the well-fed of the time were those who everyone believed God loved and protected. If you were sick or poor, it was punishment for something. So to say that the rich were nothing special, that "many who are first will be last, and the last, first" was absolutely against everything that was common at that time.

Thinking on these words, I think we should thank God for our blessings-- but we shouldn't think we are anything special because of them. We are not different. We are not unique. We are unique because of our relationship with God and the way we go through life-- the way we use our blessings and give back is more important than what we have.

I titled this post "Apparently I'm Not a Lutheran" because I learned something else about myself and my needs for a church home, during this visit. I loved that they made me feel welcome, and that the Pastor pointed out some flyers about Grace as I left. He introduced himself to me, told me he was available if I had any questions, and was overall really welcoming and warm. I just got the feeling that this was the kind of church where they always knew what was going to happen, and in what order, every week. This could be comforting to most. Perhaps part of my issue with finding a church home is that I get restless once I learn how a church operates. That's certainly worth some thought. I found myself wondering, though, if they always prayed the same prayers...if they always gave the confessions and absolutions the same way...  I think this is something a lot of people would enjoy, but I'm not sure it's what I'm seeking. If it were, I could imagine being part of, as the Pastor called it on multiple occasions, the Grace Family.  (After, of course, going through the classes.)

1 comment:

  1. Words to note: Liturgy, liturgical. Because this isn't the kind of church I am familiar with, I hadn't understood what these words meant.

    Thank you,

    lit·ur·gy [lit-er-jee] Show IPA
    noun, plural lit·ur·gies.

    1.a form of public worship; ritual.

    2.a collection of formularies for public worship.

    3.a particular arrangement of services.

    4.a particular form or type of the Eucharistic service.

    5.the service of the Eucharist, especially this service (Divine Liturgy) in the Eastern Church.

    What does this mean, really? I think the second definition, including the word "formularies" fits this type of worship very well. Much thanks to two of my friends for using these words in describing the services and the comforts they offer, which in turn led me to a better understanding of their purpose and design.