As Dan and I have visited one another, we have attended one another’s churches. He belongs to a church affiliated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I belong to one affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Dan is writing about his impressions of WELS churches and suggested I write about my impression of the LCMS church I went to. I think it’s a fine suggestion. I visited his church twice, so this post is written from that limited experience.
My first impression of the LCMS church was that it was very “Catholic.” I think people say that all the time - sometimes it can be a good thing, sometimes it can be a bad thing. For me it was neither. I come from a Roman Catholic background and I have a serious distaste for things Catholic because of what that background tried to rob of (namely salvation by grace alone). My challenge is to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Despite the baggage, I’ve actually come to appreciate the value of some of the traditions, which, while I was growing up were nothing more to me than burdensome law.
The first service I attended was in the tradition of the Deutche Masse. This was difficult for a visitor to follow along with because it wasn’t really written down anywhere. There were bits and parts in the service folder, but to me it seemed like everyone else knew exactly what to say and when. I think it’s great that they rotate through four different liturgies each month. It would have made my first visit more enjoyable if I were able to follow along.
Another thing I noticed about the Deutche Masse is that there was no confession and absolution before communion. That was weird and, oddly enough, reminded me of the Methobapticostal church my brother and sister-in-law used to go to. I asked about this and the explanation given was that a long time ago, people would go to private confession with the pastor before communion. That’s fine, but what about now? This pastor even offers a set aside time for private confession once a month. I think that is fantastic. I inquired about whether or not the monthly private confession had occurred before this communion service. The answer was that it hadn’t. I can see the value in not abandoning a liturgy that is good and rich with a history left to us by our forefathers, but it is clear that the difference in today’s tradition results in that form of the liturgy lacking the important element of confession and absolution. Isn’t it more important to include that element than to retain the historical liturgy in tact?
Erica led the singing of a psalm, which was absolutely beautiful. She has a wonderful voice and I was relieved to finally not be completely lost in the worship service.
I thought it was curious that the announcements were done before the service. The pastor mentioned that Dan brought me. I was surprised and a little embarrassed at the attention but it allowed for the very friendly congregation to feel comfortable greeting me after the service. It can be difficult for any church member to approach a visitor, even in their church, so anything either the visitor or the church can do to make that ice-breaking easier is helpful. The members were warm and welcoming. Dan, Swede, Erica and I visited with a couple from their church for an evening of games. They were so much fun to talk to that even after Swede and Erica took off, Dan and I talked with them until 2am.
The second service I attended was somewhat easier to follow along. It was out of the hymnal, but it seemed half of it was also printed in the service folder - and I was never sure which half we were in. I got lost several times just bouncing back and forth. I can’t imagine the difficulty a member, let alone a visitor, would have who is juggling a service folder, a two year old, an infant, Cheerios and children’s books while flipping through the hymnal (Seriously, my dear confessional Lutheran brothers and sisters, please consider the possibility that PowerPoint in and of itself isn’t evil - but I digress). When I mentioned this to Dan, he asked me why I didn’t just share his hymnal and service folder. I think it’s that I’ve been going to church alone for so long that it just didn’t occur to me. It really is a lovely solution, but not available to all visitors.
The sermons for both services were top notch. The pastor was friendly, humorous, approachable and welcoming, but most importantly he preached the law and the gospel. The music, minus the reference to mother earth, was very good. The people were welcoming and friendly. And as you are leaving the parking lot, you are reminded by a sign that you are entering a mission field.
We did visit a WELS church along with Erica and her Terrible Swede. Like the LCMS church, it was very friendly. I was especially surprised because one member greeted us right away and went about asking us questions and introducing us to people. She has more guts than I have. We stayed after the service for a little bit to chat and by the time we left, we had shared email addresses (which I have since lost), blog URLs and I had been encouraged to apply for a job opening the member had in her department. It was really something.
It occurred to me that a shared liturgy makes all of the churches that use it a bit like McDonald’s. Wherever you go, you get the same stuff. The building might look different, it might have a Playland or not, the uniforms might look a little different, but you know you’ll still get the same food. After two weeks of not being able to follow along, I have to say it was nice to come home to the hymnal I’m more familiar with.
Overall, I found my visits more than enjoyable and look forward to visiting again.