Friday, February 24, 2012

A Lutheran Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday: Vespers at Christ Lutheran Church.
Begins: 7:02 P.M. (two minutes late)
Attendance: about 45.
Lutheranism has a set of practices that don’t fit together like those of other Protestant denominations because it combines an insistence on the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith alone with a liturgical form of worship that includes elements that Protestants would associate with Catholicism. The priest celebrates facing the altar, back to the congregation. After the confession, no namby-pamby assurance of God’s forgiveness of our sins -- the priest forgives them himself, straight up. 
Christ Lutheran Church is associated with the Lutheran Church of Canada, the section of the church associated with the Missouri Synod in the United States, not the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the branch which is racing the Anglican Church of Canada into perdition.
I associate the Lutherans with Germans. I wonder how much fact there is to this association in this day and age.  The pastor preaching speaks to my question, mentioning in his sermon that people ask him how he became a Lutheran minister with an English last name like “Duke”-- shouldn’t he be an Anglican or Methodist or something?
The Lutherans combine their prayer book and hymnal into one book.  Smart move -- prevents congregations from wandering off the reservation and selecting a hymnbook according to their own preferences. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a Vespers service before. There is no Bible on the pews, nor are the texts of the lessons shown on the overhead, so you have to actually listen to the reader. Lutherans don’t seem to be big on lay participation -- priests read the lessons, no lay-led prayers for the people.
I would receive communion, but although I would consider myself enough in communion with the Lutherans,they don’t feel the same way about me.
I don’t approve of preachers giving personal stories from the pulpit, but Pastor David Duke (wonder if he’s thought of changing his name) has a long one that’s worth the time. It’s about his grandfather, who was sent to SMU to be trained to be a minister but discovered there that he wasn’t Christian, went to Europe in World war I, was shot in the back and told that he would never have children, developed an addiction to morphine, came home and found his wife taking up with another man. he refused to grant a divorce,and his wife attempted to poison him, to murder him. they divorced. He married an indian woman (not sure whether Creek or Cherokee) and fathered four children. His family disinherited him, not approving of his Indian wife. Now we’re into the Depression, and his humanities-type skills and interests are of no help finding a job. He becomes a dirt farmer. Granddad is a hard drinker and beats his children. The Methodist and Baptist preachers come by once in a while to tell him he’s going to Hell. He thoroughly prepares himself for these visits with substantial anointing with hard whiskey and enjoys inviting them and confuting everything they say, with Scriptural support as required.(remember, he was going to be a pastor himself).  The Lutheran preacher comes by...and unlike the others, when Granddad offers him to take something from the whiskey jug himself the Lutheran accepts, and their conversation is, if not exactly friendly, civil.  (This would also be a fine anti-temperance story.) The wife ends up coming to Church, converts, and is allowed to join the Church despite their officialwhites-onlypolicy. Their children are thus raised as Christians. At the very end of this life, after a stroke and in serious agony, Granddad eventually goes down on hsi knees, makes a confession and avowal of faith,and becomes a Christian.
The lesson from the story is that Granddad is just as much a Christian,  just as “good as”, other Christians, despite his late conversion; the foil is an unnamed woman leader within the congregation (presumably not this one) who looks down on Granddad, his being a drunkard and child-beater and all, and scoffs at his deathbed conversion. It’s a good lesson, but after the boffo opening, it’s a bit of an anticlimax.
At this Ash Wednesday service there is no Imposition of Ashes. I know from being here on Sundays that there is no coffee hour, so I don’t expect to find anything available after the service with which to end my (supposed) fast. Nor are they into the modern practice of training members to gravitate towards visitors and impress upon them how welcome they are. But I felt welcome anyway.