Saturday, June 30, 2012

Warming a Pastor's Heart

So we're all packed and almost ready to leave Higher Things, when a young lady who attended one of my breakout sessions on Private Absolution came up to me and told me that it was her favorite session of all that she went to, appreciated it greatly, and - here's the good part - that she went to Private Absolution for the first time that night! :-) Awesome.

Twelve, Day Four

The last day at our gathering was just as good as the previous three. Not as much going on. The breakout sessions are all done - just worship and the last plenary and the closing Divine Service. All in all, we are all glad we came. We had a great time and the kids learned a lot. We are looking forward to next year's gathering already, and hoping we can bring a few more. Our adventure yesterday was the drive home. All was going well until we were about one hour away - then we drove into an amazingly intense storm! At first, we saw the lightning in the distance, and then the wind and rains descended upon us. At one point I noticed a shadowy figure way up in the sky moving, so I slowed the car and then this enormous top of a tree that had broken off in the wind crashed down right in front of the lane I was driving in! We finally had to pull off and wait it all out. The weather men on the radio said there were 60+ mph winds. But we got home safely. No power when we arrived, but it came on early this morning. So all in all, a great week. It was great being with my two oldest kids for all that time, sitting together in church and at the plenary's, and all the time having fun in the car. If you read this and see them, ask them about bacon, paraphernalia, pit bulls, plenary texting, and "gambo!" :-)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Twelve, Day 3

Another busy day. In addition to the plenary speaker, there were three "breakout" sessions, or sectionals. Lots of good topics to choose from, and the kids went here, there, and everywhere, and heard good teaching on lots of things. My session went better than yesterday - also had a much larger group. It been good to teach about Private Absolution and hear from those who came to the sessions. For fun tonight there was a talent show. These kids got talent! Some really very good stuff. The winner was a young man who composed and performed his own piano piece which was simply amazing.

In case you are curious, our day today went like this:

Leaders meeting and choir rehearsal
Plenary Session
Breakaway Session
Breakaway Session
Evening Prayer
Time for Private Absolution
Breakaway Session
Free Time

If you're counting, that's a lot of worship and learning time! But also a lot of fun. The kids are already talking about next year. Me? I'm going to bed! :-)

Tomorrow we finish up and head home. Gonna get back kinda late. But it's been a good trip. Well worth it. If you haven't gone before, go. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Twelve, Day 2

The second day at Higher Things went well. I had my first breakout session on Private Absolution. It went okay. I thought it was a little rough, but others told me they heard good things about it, so that's encouraging. I am going to rearrange a couple of things for tomorrow's session - I had too much and didn't get to some stuff. So I'm going to fiddle with it and improve a little.

As to be expected, the worship has been a high point. Also making new friends and getting together with other groups and folks. That's good to see. My two children, Robbie and Sarah, are two of the three violinists here. They played some today and will play for the closing Divine Service. Not sure about tomorrow. Sounded good today as the accompanied the choir. Not sure what else to write except that everyone's glad they came, even if they are a bit tired!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I'm at the Higher Things Conference in North Carolina with two of my children and another young lady from the parish. Today was the first day. So far we've had the opening Divine Service, the first plenary session, and the first breakout session. I think all were impressed with the Divine Service - how many were here and the gusto of the singing of the liturgy and hymns. They were also please that they know all the liturgies we will be doing and most of the hymns. I have trained them well! Much more to come tomorrow. I do the first of my presentations on Private Absolution tomorrow afternoon, and then again on Thursday morning - then I'm done. I've never presented here before, so I'm not sure how much to prepare or how it will go. I probably have too much. I went to one of the breakout sessions tonight, which I would say was just alright. I've also seen lots of pastor friends here. I am looking forward to an opportunity to talk and catch up with them. I'll write more tomorrow, if there is time. But it's getting late and we'll have Compline soon, so I'll sign off for now.

Monday, June 25, 2012


For Father's Day, my older daughter and I went into DC for "artomatic." Every year (I believe) this organization takes over an office building that is about to be torn down and let artists display their work. They can do whatever they want to the building because they don't have to clean up afterwards - it's just being torn down. So we spent the day looking at 11 floors of various kinds of art and stuff that was called "art" but whose fitting of that definition is dubious at best. Some was really cool, some was pretty disturbing, but a good Father's Day outing nonetheless. (It was actually the day before Father's Day). Oh, and we had lunch at a really good burger joint, too!

More On the Convention . . .

Saturday: Had to finish up elections, which took longer than usual because of run-offs. Not contentious, just had to do more ballots. I did wind up getting elected to the Board of Trustees of the Lutheran Haven, our District's Senior Community in Florida. That means I'll have to make four trips a year down there for meetings. I don't think I'll mind serving, but it's just no fun traveling anymore - the airlines have seen to that.

We went over to the Lutheran Haven for lunch, and then received their reports on all their work. That was followed by the financial reports of the district, the usual lashing that we have to give more, and the proposed work program for the next triennium. Still having various mission efforts report - some good, some not so much. On Saturday evening after dinner, had a special presentation by Dr. Paul Maier on the book of Acts. He is a good and engaging speaker, but I have read his stuff and heard him before, so at the end of a long day, it was hard for me to really concentrate after a while (i.e., zzzzz).

The prayer offices have been, for the most part, well done. Nothing funny.

Sunday: The official convention service was the 11 am service. Went to Bible Study before at 9:30 - a deeper look at Jesus Stilling the Storm. Pastor Roberts did a good job. Had one more session after lunch. Finally got to present some resolutions, but not nearly as many as we had prepared. I felt bad for my committee - they took the time to work before getting to the convention, worked most of the day Thursday, and part of Friday and Friday night, and really (in the end) did much of that work for nothing. The resolutions that passed were to approve the by-law changes, support the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (and give our convention offering to this), petition the Synod to reestablish the Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support, thanks to the Executive Director of the Lutheran Haven who is stepping down at the end of the year, to encourage congregations to educate and support the SELC Foundation, and to thank our hosts. The one resolution that came to the floor but was rejected was the one I blogged about earlier - about "healthy" and "dying" congregations. The committee changed it a little, with a light hand, but the convention sent it to the Board of Directors for more study.

We never did get to see the DVD of President Harrison - that was disappointing. I'll have to see if I can get a copy somewhere or if they'll post it online. One of my fellow delegates was disappointed that President Harrison did not stop by. Why? Well, he was at the Florida-Georgia convention which was meeting at the same time as us only 15 minutes away. It would not have been difficult for him to drive over briefly and stick his head in the door. But he did not.

The convention ended around 3:30. We got to the airport around 5:00 for my 6:15 flight. Security went fast, so no problems. Got home around 9:30. All in all a rather uneventful convention. Now to get a few things done and rest a little to leave tomorrow morning for the Higher Things Gathering in North Carolina . . .

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Convention Update

Well, I haven't had much chance to update on the convention, but there really hasn't been much to report yet.

Thursday was the meeting of the Resolutions Committee most of the day ('til we got brain dead looking at all this!). Thursday night was the Opening Service. It was a good service, nothing weird. The sermon was a bit disappointing. The preacher was one of the VP's of the Synod, and the sermon was very engaging, interesting, and informative, but there was no Law and Gospel - so it really was more of a lecture than a sermon. It has been good to make contact with folks again and to see old friends.

Friday morning were our Circuit Forums. I couldn't stay for the whole thing as I had to drive to the airport and pick up our lay delegate. The part I was there went . . . very . . . sloooowly . . . yawn. I did not get elected as a delegate to the national convention, so no worries about that!

After that, at 11 am, the convention officially opened. The Synodical President's report was not given as the DVD we were supposed to see either never arrived, go misplaced, or lost. We might get to see it again later. Conspiracy theorists would, of course, have a field day with this, but I don't think so. But I do hope we get to see it later. In its place, the VP representing the Synod fielded questions - that wasn't bad.

In the afternoon, we had to adopt by-law changes to bring our District by-laws into conformity with all the changes the Synod has made. And then elections. Our DP was running unopposed, and the 1st VP was re-elected, but the rest of the Board of Directors (or at least most of the rest) were replaced. This wasn't a coup - a lot of them stepped down and declined to run again. Was this at the request of the DP? Some think so. In any case, I think it's good we got some new people in - I've been advocating that for years.

We've heard most of the same old mission reports - nothing new under the sun, even though it's all supposedly new. The food has been very good, and I had the chance to sit down with a fellow pastor last night and talk for a good two hours about all kinds of things, which was very enjoyable. It'd be nice to have more opportunities like that.

I finally slept better last night. My first two nights in this hotel were bad - something about the bed and pillows. But I guess I was tired enough last night to finally zonk out. Now we'll see what today brings . . .

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

And so it begins . . .

Leaving today for my District Convention. Committee Meetings tomorrow, the convention opens on Friday. I'll try to post updates on what happens, but I don't expect anything earth-shattering. It will be good to sit down and talk with some guys I haven't seen in a while - that'll be the best part of the whole time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Churches on Hospice Care?

There is an overture to my District Convention this week which starts out good but ends up badly.

The overture begins by criticizing how we determine how church are deemed "successful" or not - usually it is by attendance figures, and that a lot of time and effort goes into training pastors for "success" in this way. But is that the only way to measure a church's "health?" Are there not other factors and indicators? It then resolves to ask that such criteria be identified and used and considered when looking at our churches. I think that part of the resolution is helpful.

However, it then goes on to look at the other end of the spectrum, and assert that there also needs to be criteria to identify "dying" churches and resolves that resources be developed to train pastors to serve on "hospice care" for such churches. That just as great resources have been dedicated to train pastors for "successful" churches, so resources should be dedicated to train pastors for "dying" churches.

I am quite disturbed by this. Do churches "die?" Well, they close for various reasons, sometimes merge, and sometimes move. But do they "die?" Is this the right way to look at the church of our Saviour Jesus Christ? The Gospel for this past Sunday talked about the seed that is sown and grows we know not how. God produces growth in His church through His Word and Spirit, and who is to say He cannot and will not in churches we think are or have identified as "dying" and to be put on "hospice care?" Such thinking seems to make worldly sense, but seems completely against the Word of God.

I know the pastor whose congregation submitted this overture, and I think I know why they submitted it - there are many small, rural congregations in his circuit which used to be in thriving areas, but which are now in small towns where the industry has closed and many people have moved away. What can we do for these churches? How can we help them? What do they need? I think his heart is in the right place, but I do not think putting churches on "hospice care" is the right and faithful answer. It fact, it is quite troubling to me indeed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Comings and Goings, Part III

Continuing from my last post . . .

So what is it that anchors our churches in who they are and tells their story when pastors and people come and go in this ever so transient age?

The Liturgy.

The liturgy remains when pastors come and when pastors go. The liturgy joins us with Christians of all times and places. The liturgy doesn't change with every passing fad and whim but keeps us anchored in the truth of God's Word. The liturgy joins us with the story of God's people from age to age. We hear and sing the song of the angels at Jesus' birth. We pray "Lord have mercy!" with the beggars in Jesus' day. We speak the same creeds that our brothers and sisters in Christ have spoken for centuries. We pray with David his psalm of repentance: "Create in me a clean heart, O God!" We join in the "Holy, holy, holy" of the angels around the throne of God, and the "Hosannas!" of the crowd as Jesus entered into Jerusalem to die. We join with John the Baptist in his "Behold, the Lamb of God!" and sing Simeon's song after receiving our Lord in His Supper. And that's just in the Divine Service. In the prayer offices we have Mary's song, Zechariah's song, and the creed-like TeDeum. And most importantly, each Sunday we gather with Christians of all times and places, in the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, around the same Lord and receive His gifts.

That is who we are. And the liturgy teaches us who we are. That story is our story.

Which is why keeping and preserving the liturgy is such a priority in our day and age. That doesn't mean that everything always has to be done the same; that we have to have the same liturgy they used in Luther's day and before. No, there is room for every generation to make the liturgy their own - but that is quite a different thing than gutting it or throwing it out altogether. When the liturgy is adapted, it is still the same liturgy and recognizable as such. In our Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service settings 1-5 are different from one another, and yet at the same time have a unity about them. And as said above, these should be generational - not daily or weekly changes. That the life of the church be well-grounded, stable, and consistent.

So even as people come and go so much in our churches, the liturgy remains. As pastors come and go, the liturgy remains. As catechesis is not done as strongly as it should be, the liturgy remains. But when all of the above happens and the liturgy does NOT remain, but is sacrificed on the altars of relevance, popularity, newness, or change, what is left? The story is gone, the catechesis is gone, the anchor is gone, and the church is set adrift and often becomes a cult of personality - the personality of the pastor or programs, flashy building or coffee bars.

Is that not what we see in so many churches and places today? Yes, our true unity is in Christ - one Lord, one faith, one baptism - but we should not spiritualize this unity. For just as the Son of God became incarnate for us and for our salvation, so too our unity in Christ is "incarnated" in the liturgy. In words and water and bread and wine our Lord comes to us today for us and for our salvation, bringing His gifts of forgiveness and life. And so our unity is not purely "spiritual" (as Luther fought against with the enthusiasts) but neither is it merely physical (as Luther fought against with Rome) - it is both. The spiritual come in the physical, God using the physical things of this world to give us His spiritual gifts. And it is the liturgy that serves this end and serves us to this end.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Comings and Goings, Part II

More thoughts from my last post . . .

If more and more people are transient and not staying in one place or one place for a long time, what does that do to our churches and their identity? When you'd have generations at one church, a pastor would come and hear the story of the church from these members - what the church had been through, how the neighborhood changed, the past challenges. But without such folks to tell the story, that church is different. I know in my own congregation, which is only about ten years old, I have only a handful of people who were here at the beginning. The rest have come since and don't know about the beginning challenges and struggles. Who will tell the story?

Now, I think there is a pro to this as well. For it means that the story of the congregation would not be about the congregation at all, but more focused on Christ and His work among them. For He is the constant - not any of the members, the building, the neighborhood, or those things. That also means that good, sound - and ongoing - catechesis is more important than ever. A core of good, solid members cannot be assumed when people come and go so much. Sadly, though, I know many folks who tell me they haven't been catechized well.

That means that if our churches are losing their story because of the transience of our society these days, and our churches are losing their story because of minimal or inadequate catechesis, then the very real danger is that we will have churches who do not know who they are and are therefore open to the whims and winds of every kind of teaching and fad. And I think this can be seen in some churches today.

What is the answer? Check back tomorrow . . .  :-)

And what do you think of all this? Is my analysis correct? Off base?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Comings and Goings

In church yesterday we bid Farewell and Godspeed to another family. We are always so happy when folks come to our church, and so sad when they leave. We'll do it again in two weeks, as a young man in our congregation moves to Chicago. I know this is just a part of congregational life, that people come and go, but it still is never easy.

But I got to thinking about that - how transient our churches seem to be these days. I know it's not just mine. Folks seem to be much more mobile than in days gone by. Gone, it seems, are the days when generations of families would live in the same community. Folks now move a lot . . . and that has made it tougher on churches.

But at the same time, it seems to me that pastors are staying longer. It used to be the other way around. The pastors would move and change while the people stayed the same. Now, clergy movement has declined and the sheep move about more. Interesting.