Impressions of an LCMS church

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.

10 Responses to “Impressions of an LCMS church”

  1. Dan at Necessary Roughness Says:

    PowerPoint is NOT evil. Maybe Micro$oft is, but that’s a different issue. :)

    There are proper uses and improper uses of any media. A paper Satanic Bible in the pew or a PA system that broadcasts the local radio station can be just as evil a worship aid as anything that can be done with PowerPoint.

    I dislike PowerPoint when it is used for hymn lyrics, especially for hymns where the tune is unfamiliar. If there’s a praise band singing some new song with PowerPoint, then it becomes a concert, and I’m not participating.

    PowerPoint can be great for sermon outlines, and it puzzles me why people do not use it for this purpose. Seeing the Word as well as hearing the Word can only be a good thing.

    If one is going to use PowerPoint, take a class, not on PowerPoint, but on Effective Presentations. I wouldn’t put yellow text on top of a sunset picture to convey a message to the boss and his minions in a board room, so I surely would not do the same for an electronic worship insert.

    (steps off soap box) :)

    Dan

  2. Kurt Nordstrom Says:

    Haha, “methobapticostal”, I love it. Is it just a new way to say “not Lutheran”? ;)

  3. Elle Says:

    Hey Kurt- Yeh, it’s an all-inclusive reference to non-Lutheran protestants. I think I first read it from Josh S at Here We Stand back when he was a fearsome pirate with a different blog.

  4. Kurt Nordstrom Says:

    Haha, gotta know the lingo. Another Lutheranism that I’ve observed is “_____ seems to be more Lutheran than a lot of people realize.” This, of course, translates to “I find myself in agreement with _____”. :-D

  5. Ron Olson, the Terrible Swede Says:

    The Deutche Masse doesn’t have the confession and absolution because the forgiveness of sins is at the Lord’s Supper.

    I don’t know why we don’t have private confession every week like we do communion. Why don’t you ask Pr. Hoger? For now only two families show up for private confession: The Petersens and the Olsons. No one else - not even your boyfriend.

  6. Ron Olson, the Terrible Swede Says:

    …That was weird and, oddly enough, reminded me of the Methobapticostal church my brother and sister-in-law used to go to…

    The same could be said of the WELS church that we attended with you and Dan: no precession of the cross (or crucifix), no kneeling during the confession and absolution, no bowing or kneeling at the Lord’s Supper, and the pastor there didn’t wear his collar but a business suit.

    From my past of methobapticostal there was no reverance and sometimes I think even our (my very own!) Lutheran church is not reverant enough. And that’s the impression I got from WELS.

  7. Ron Olson, the Terrible Swede Says:

    The PPT is an invasion on a church tradition that is not necessary. Oratory tradition depends on listening and speaking and not how “visually exciting” the sermon is.

    Remember: “Mary (the mother of Jesus) got pregnant through the ears by the Holy Spirit.(Luther)” Not by effective presentation of PPT.

    Practice makes perfect in any liturgical practice, Elle. It’s tough for any visitor.

  8. Elle Says:

    At the WELS church I went to in Milwaukee, we kneeled during confession and absolution. I liked that. It was a good reminder that groveling on the floor is where we belong but because of Christ, we can stand before God.

    I can appreciate the reverence shown at your church and agree that those actions aren’t as common in WELS churches. In fact, my guess would be that it is rare. I don’t think it’s a matter of active disrespect so much as just being unfamiliar with the displays of reverence because of the Catholophobia many of us have.

    Ron, would you say that the confession and absolution is an unecessary element of the liturgy, then? Sure we ought to examine ourselves beforehand in a serious way and not require the pastor to lead us through it before approaching the table, but being such a dirty rotten sinner, I know I can see my need for it. Also, what about those who are not going to the table? Wouldn’t it be important for them?

  9. Elle Says:

    I do want to note that my aside regarding PowerPoint isn’t about visual stimulation, or being hip and exciting, but about plain old practicality. After helping a friend of mine with her kids in church, I really can’t understand how parents can get much out of or put much into a worship service when they are juggling so many things and trying to follow along. Even just printing it all in one place would have made it easier. After that experience I think it is something worth looking into if just to help others follow along.

    You say a worship service is tough for any visitor. A worship service should not be tough for anyone unless it’s because the law is gnawing at their conscience. We should be eager to help visitors and members who, for any reason, find liturgical worship challenging and for some churches PowerPoint could be helpful.

  10. Bob Waters Says:

    Actually, the term “Methobapticostal” has been around for quite a while. And there are Protestant churches which don’t qualify; strict Calvinists, for example, lack the shallow anthropology, the Arminianism, and me-centeredness in worship the term implies.

    As for confession and absolution, I sort of agree with Elle: it ought to be there. Though an argument could be made that the Sacrament itself is an absolution.

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