Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Luther-alian for a season
We were told at the beginning of our covenant, Call to Common Mission with the Lutherans that there were so many things that we held in common that there was no reason why we shouldn't be able to share in each other's churches. And I am sure that theologically that is quite true. But there are many things that are different--and with a difference that is quite marked.
Theologically, we are close enough that there IS not much difference. But when it comes to Faith and Order and customary the broadness with which we began our Lutheran/Episcopal dialog begins to narrow. Just like when I preached on Reformation Sunday, I realized how I am not really reformed. Much of my thinking still shows in my Roman Catholic roots. I don't have there deep rooted aversion to papism that my Lutheran coreligionists have. I find papal stuff tiring but not a threat to my faith.
Bishop Jerge made a quiet observance between the understanding of priest and pastor that I had never caught. The pastor is never an intermediary and always concerned for the sheep. It readjusted my POV. Pastors seem less ready to be prophets but that is ok. I think it might be healthier for the congregations in the long run.
I preached my first sermon on Justification last Sunday and felt really in deep water. Once I got going, I found we were on the same page, I am just not that comfortable preaching on theological or confessional issues. I am by far ready to discuss how the Scripture addresses what is going on in our lives than Paul's theological principles.
I do find differences in what congregations consider important. Lutherans tend to be much more organized than Episcopalians. This may be because I am less organized than my parishes seem, but I don't think that it is only an individual thing. People in my bible study READ their materials before the class! Amazing! They have studied their passages and have something to say about them. I really have to be prepared for them and it holds me to a higher standard of teaching.
Music is important to them, as much as for Episcopalian. Of course their traditions are somewhat different. Though I am surprised by the commonality of the hymns, the performance practice is quite different with much emphasis on hymns sung in a style that can only be classified as lustig.
I am warming to the Lutheran understanding of bishop, too. They recognize that bishops are administrators. They don't expect them "Father in God" or pastoral gurus. There is no understanding that somehow the Church revolves around them. The church begins truly at the bottom and is filled with laity who accept the responsibility for their congregation. There is not a matter of "turf". It is a matter of ministry and everyone is a part of it. This may be due to the fact that I am serving in family-style congregations who know what it means to run their own church. But I think that it also means layfolk accept that they are part of how things work. Episcopal churches tend to make much more of the delineation between clergy and lay, I believe, to the detriment of the Church.
This season in the Lutheran church is one that I greet with some anxiety and some real excitment. I want to be able to serve the Lutheran people in my charge with a quiet care that is not caught up with church fights that are foreign to them. I want however to make a difference in calling our two denominations to Common Mission in a way that is healthy and accepting of our differences. That is the point of our covenant. But also don't want to trip over some important piece of what it means to be Lutheran in the process. I am on the edge of my church as it is. And yet it is on the edge that God has me in relationship to the ELCA. It will be interesting to see if we can find the commonality that will make us whole as Christians.