". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Perchance to Dream

Pastor Peters' post today strongly resonated with me. He writes of being told that his is a "special" congregation. Not understanding what was meant by that, he sought clarification and was provided with a list of features that he was told caused the other person to come to that conclusion. The list included things like the upholding of the liturgy, the placing of a high value on worship and music, the preaching of Law and Gospel, a functional and attractive facility, and a strong sense of mission. Pastor Peters concludes:

In the end, I find myself more and more mystified with his comment. He gets around to a lot of Lutheran (nearly all LCMS) parishes across the states and for him to suggest that our parish is "special" is less a compliment to us than, perhaps, a cause for concern about the others. For we are not extraordinary but rather ordinary. We use the hymnal, we preach the lectionary, we invest in worship as the primary activity of God's people in this place, we care about those outside our parish and our community, and we use the Confessions and Catechism as the documents that both inform and norm our parish teaching and practice. I would expect that every Lutheran parish would do so. In fact, I would hope that we are ordinary, normal, and fairly typical for Lutheran parishes out there.

I can relate to this post, not (obviously) as a pastor, but as someone who has also been told that I belong to a "special" or "exceptional" parish. It is a viewpoint I don't understand because I think if you were to ask my pastors they would say that our church is only doing what Lutherans have always done. Maybe some of the externals are different from those in some other parishes, but at the core, we are just being Lutheran. That is not to say that other solidly Lutheran churches will look exactly like ours. They won't. Each congregation has an identity that is the result of its unique gathering of souls at a particular spot on the space/time continuum. But to be Lutheran means to share certain essentials. Or it should. And being faithful to those essentials shouldn't make you "special."

More from Pastor Peters:

The more I think about it, the more this whole thing bothers me. I know that there are strange Lutheran incarnations out there but I have always believed that they were a distinct minority. My hope, prayer, and, maybe, my private illusion, is that the vast majority of Lutheran parishes were not so different from mine. I do not believe that I am more than your average Lutheran Pastor and I do not believe that we are special or unusual in all that many ways. If it is true, then it is not a compliment to me or to my parish but a cause for serious concern about the health of Lutheran congregations and their Pastors. So let me say it again. I am an ordinary Lutheran Pastor and Grace Lutheran Church is a typical Lutheran parish. Or it should be. I cannot wish for more Pastors to be like me (believe me, I know my faults and weaknesses more than most of you readers). But I do wish and pray that more Lutheran parishes would be like us in that their worship and teaching flowed seamlessly from their Confessional identity, that it was powerfully evangelical and faithfully catholic, that it was unashamedly and unabashedly Lutheran, and that it was deliberate and determined to be not only a Lutheran island where the parish is located but a Lutheran mission to shape, encourage, and live united with other Lutherans -- not as some minority splinter group but as the essential core and typical expression of our Lutheran identity within the congregation. If I am wrong, please do not tell me. Allow me this small waking dream of hope . . . .

Pastor, I don't think you're wrong. But if you are, I hope you hang on to the dream, because it's the right one, and you are not alone in praying for it to become a reality.

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