Monday, January 4, 2010

I continue to marvel at the intricacies of working in the Lutheran church while being an Episcopalian. Yesterday I led a service at a parish that is bringing together a Lutheran congregation and an Episcopal parish. They began their journey because of financial necessity. But that isn’t what can keep them together. They will have to make something new that is a compromise of their two equally strong traditions to make the ‘Together in Ministry’ work.
How we worship is central to both traditions so even small changes in the liturgy can be problematic. But compromises can be made when both sides understand that both are sacrificing for the betterment of the congregation. Those sacrifices need to be fairly equal, though. However, one group cannot be the bearer of all the sacrifice in the matter of liturgy and still maintain their sense of rootedness in their own tradition. It will take quite a bit of creativity on the part of that group to develop ways of celebrating Christ among them and spread the good news that is in them. So here are some things that I observe that are different that may need to be addressed:
• Bishops’ offices are not the place to work out difficulties. This is not casting aspersions against our judicatories, but the bishops’ job is to maintain the denomination. Those of us who are working across denominational lines need to tell our judicatories what it is like in ecumenical settings and help our bishops understand the exigencies of this new reality.
• Ethnicity IS an issue. The majority of Episcopalians is ethnically English or has been heavily influenced by English culture. Because American culture is heavily influenced by English culture, most Episcopalians do not even realize that ethnicity or culture is an issue in religion until we confront the Lutherans who constantly have to address the German-Scandinavian divides that are among them.
• Catholicism and Protestantism is STILL an issue. Many Episcopalian see their faith as heavily catholic with a small ‘c’. Lutherans can be almost phobic about catholic theology. They do not trust catholicism because they identify it with Romanism against which they are still leading the protest. It is deeply rooted in their protestant tradition. But the catholicism that Lutherans retain in the Deutche Messe is deeply treasured. They just don’t identify it with being catholic. Episcopalians on the other hand don’t hold with papism but they often ape romanistic ways in the liturgy. Episcopalians need to be aware of the reasons for their actions in the liturgy and Lutherans need to find ways of claiming their own rootedness in a catholic faith.
• There are some stereotypes of Lutheran and Episcopalians that need to be addressed: Episcopalians are often seen as the landed gentry, or the upper class in America. That was once true in American history, but is no longer the case. Since WWII for the most part, Episcopal churches serve in all kinds of ethic and economic worlds. But sometimes we Episcopalians still give off airs of being upper class. We have to address that. The really wealthy tend not to be in any church these days—more’s the pity. Most Episcopalians are just ordinary folks—usually a bit better educated than the average Christian according to the various surveys. Lutherans give off the air of being stodgy, dour hard-headed Germans or Scandinavians. And some of them are. But most of them are as far from the European experience as most Americans are. Our values are usually the same.
• The majority of Lutherans have been Lutheran since birth so family customs dwell deeply in their experience of faith. Eighty percent of Episcopalians, on the other hand, have been some other denomination before landing in the Episcopal Church. Change tends to be more difficult for Lutherans than Episcopalians, but that stereotype doesn’t necessarily hold. I have known Episcopalians who have had just a rough time with the changes of recent years. It is the reason that we have the schism presently.
• I have said before that humor is different among the two denominations. My snarky, sarcastic, sardonic, wordsmithed play with the English language is not appreciated among my Lutheran friends. It is not seen as seemly. This may come from having been an immigrant community for so long, but it pays those who are trying to bring two different ways of understanding together to be aware of it.
• In comparison to the Lutherans, Episcopalians do not understand church organization. The Lutherans do know how to organize and manage things! And don’t try to get in the way. At the diocesan or clergy level, Episcopalians think of the canons. We think of how things fit into the legal realm of things. Lutherans are more likely to try to manage things at the congregational level and the management goes up from there.
• The understanding of the role of the bishop is very distinct. Episcopalians tend to elect their bishops and then treat them like the far-away home office. They provide great pomp and circumstance when they visit, but mostly they ignore them. Lutheran bishops are elected for a length of time. They visit only if invited or if the congregation is without a pastor. Pastors do not have an obedience factor in their relationship with their bishop as a priest does.
• The role of pastor and the role of priest are a bit different too. When I went to seminary I understood the role of priest to be one priest who was prophet and who was teacher. Very little of the idea of “locum Cristi” was part of the theology that I was taught. There was some nod toward the role of pastor in the pastoral counseling skills we were taught. Today in the Episcopal Church I find more of my younger colleagues to have been taught more of that “locum Christi”—standing in the place of Christ—theology. That is too Romish for me but it works for them. Among Lutherans, the role of the clergy is to be PASTOR in large print. And I have seen that theology of ministry from the top (from the Presiding Bishop) down. There is less of a need for a herald, although the evangelical element is constantly emphasized. The leader of the church is to be one who shepherds, cares and brings peace into the community. I can see the benefits of both. I feel that I have become a better pastor through the influence of Lutheran friends. I hope through my emphasis on teaching and proclaiming, I have been able to stir folks to encounter Christ more readily.
• Lastly—at least for today. I see the differences in TEC and the ELCA is that we approach the Christ event from two different points of view. Our doctrine is the same. The prevailing theologies that under pin that doctrine are fairly interchangeable. But Lutherans always look at the Christ event through the lens of the Cross. All emphasis is put on Christ’s saving work of the Cross. All of Scripture is seen through that lens. I think that Episcopalians see the Christ event through the lens of the Incarnation—that God became human that we might know the call to divinity. This is my opinion and there will be some on both sides that will disagree. And that is fine. But it is a good way to begin thinking of how we approach the Christ event and that perhaps we have come to a time when we use more than one lens.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Muthah+, I am laughing, b/c you've pretty much described my own journey as a Lutheran turned Episcopalian. Should I offer my services as a consultant? LOL

For the record, I LOVE the Episcopal church, but the little Martin Luther on my shoulder can't stand how all the Piskies trot into church 5 minutes before instead of 15-20 minutes early. I am still pretty Teutonic about that!

Anonymous said...

Something you didn't touch on is property ownership. Who owns the buildings when it all falls apart and the Episcopalians want to go their way, and the Lutherans want to go their way? And who pays the Bishop's salary?

PseudoPiskie said...

My former Lutheran colleagues always bludgeon me with the lack of Anglican or Episcopal theology. What do Episcopalians believe? I can fend that off but I also understand where they are coming from.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

As a Swedish Lutheran Priest I liked this a lot! Loved it, in fact ;=)

Mary Beth said...

Fascinating. Cultural differences are so very important to recognize and appreciate.

Erika Baker said...

Muthah, you say:
"Lutherans give off the air of being stodgy, dour hard-headed Germans or Scandinavians. And some of them are. But most of them are as far from the European experience as most Americans are."

And in Germany, everyone belongs to a church by birth unless they opt out as adults or their parents have opted out (which is an active administrative process), and you’re born either Lutheran or Roman Catholic. Unless you believe that all Germans and Scandinavians are by definition dour and hard-headed, this characterisation is a little too close to stereotyping.

The place of humour (NOT the sense of humour!! That is different too, but it’s still humour) is indeed different. When I first came to England I was struck how the solemn Christmas I knew was turned into a party over here, how sermons, like business presentations, would often start with a joke. There’s almost a sense of God being offended if we laugh, as though God isn’t really part of daily life but only present in the Depth of Existence and therefore to be approached with reverence and awe only. I wonder whether this has more to do with a different theological emphasis than with national characteristics? It may well have a lot to do with your comment that Lutherans see their faith largely through the cross, not through the Incarnation.

Muthah+ said...

Erika, I realize I have stepped into the realm of stereotyping--And I apologize for that. But there is some truth in the stereotype and we must be willing to recognize that when working cross-culturaly as we do in this country. We need to find the humor in the differences between them so we can celebrate our differences. I am not saying that the Germans and Scandinavians of my congregation are humorless, I am saying that their humor is different. I have died on the vine more than once using my Celtic/Anglican snarky, sardonic wit. It is just not seen as funny as it would be from an Episcopal pulpit. But those of us who work cross denominationally need to be aware of the post holes. If we take our own expectations into this new ministry, we will have a hard time.
I do believe that Luther because of his own time--following the middle Ages, saw all theology as originating through the Cross. That is still how my good Lutherans look at things.

I can understand how you might have found Anglicanism a bit irreverant after having grown up with the Evangeliche Kirke. Here in the States, there are only vestiges of the Germanic heritages among the 2nd and 3rd generation Germans and Scandinavians. But it is in humor that our heritage comes out.

Muthah+ said...

I really don't know what happens when the churches separate? The congregations I visited on Sunday are still separate congregations meeting in the same building and sharing the same pastor/rector. I do know that the two bishops are working together fairly closely which is a good support to the congregation.

Erika Baker said...

Muthah, oh no, I haven't found Anglicanism a little irreverent, I've found it a revelation! Full of life, laughter and theatre as well as deep spirituality. I've never looked back!
But I WAS used to the British way of life and humour by then. Both at the same time might have been a bit much:-)

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.