Monday, June 22, 2009

A week in the life of a part-time steward of the mysteries

"This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work." -- I Timothy 3:1

This past week was a very interesting week, speaking in terms of my role as a pastor.

It started this past Sunday, June 14, the Second Sunday after Pentecost. For the second straight week I preached at St. Paul Lutheran Church in New Orleans, Louisiana--not that St. Paul, the other one . . . on Annette St. (Yes, there are two LCMS congregations in New Orleans named St. Paul, which caused some confusion in speaking to the organist of the other St. Paul Lutheran Church when I was at a pastor's installation in Mandeville two weeks earlier.) Back in February, Pastor Ertl who serves St. Paul asked me to fill in for him this month, and I take pretty much every opportunity I'm offered to preach. What Pastor Ertl didn't mention was that this is predominantly an African American congregation. This was my first time in such a congregation. We used Divine Service Setting Two from Lutheran Service Book for the liturgy, and they used hymns from both LSB and an Augsburg Fortress hymnal called This Far by Faith: An African American Resource for Worship. They were far more comfortable with the hymns from TFBF. Now, I don't know if every congregation made up mostly of African Americans is this way, but I found it a little unnerving at first during my sermon to hear "Amen" and "That's right" and "Uh huh" in response to the highlights of the sermon. I found myself getting into a rhythm with the feedback, finding a cadence, my voice rising and falling in emphasis. By the second week I hardly noticed at all, except when I said, "Maybe God needs to find a better way of doing things," and received an "Amen" in response. Putting that aside, I was amused that a choir of six people sang louder that half the congregations I've preached in or visited as a pastor, including a congregation that boasted over three-hundred people in one of their Sunday morning services. They were focused during the sermon, their attention never wavering. All in all it was an interesting and lovely experience for me. They gave me warm welcome, and I hope they ask me back when they need someone to fill in for them.

I moved on to Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna, Louisiana, on Wednesday, the 17th. Father Larry Beane is the pastor of Salem, and if you'll look at his blog and this post at Gottesdienst Online where he is a regular contributor, you will see that, among other things, he is a staunch proponent of traditional liturgy and the ceremonies that have traditionally gone along with traditional liturgy. I am also a proponent of traditional liturgy--that's a blog post for another day--though I am not nearly as staunch as Father Beane. However, his liturgical practice at Salem allows me to be as ceremonial as I like. At most congregations I do not genuflect at all. I have no wish to distract the congregation by doing something they might consider "too Roman Catholic", so I refrain from the practice of my own piety so I do not disturb their piety. But since Pastor Beane does so at Salem, I felt no such restraint was necessary. I chanted the liturgy, including the Lord's Prayer and the Words of Institution. I made the sign of the cross over myself without compunction. We had a Gospel processional. And I genuflected during the consecration of the elements--and not just a quick tap-the-knee-on-the-floor, either, but a rest-the-knee-on-the-floor-for-a-good-five-seconds kind of genuflection. Again, as a guest pastor I would not do these things in every congregation I visit. I tend to try to match my practice to that of the congregation's own pastor so i do not disturb their practice of piety. But when the opportunity arises--when I'm preaching at Salem in Gretna or at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, Mississippi in particular--it's nice to be able to let it all hang out, so to speak. Thank you, Father Beane and the brothers and sisters in Christ at Salem, for giving me welcome.

Thanks be to God for these diverse opportunities to preach the Word! Though I greatly desire to be a parish pastor and be able to serve one parish, the congregations to whom I have brought the Word and Sacraments over the past three years have taught me a great deal about the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church . . . and about myself and my love for parish ministry. When I was considering the Call to serve in Ohio I had thought it a blessing and an advantage not to have to preach every Sunday. Never again. Never again, God willing, will I take the opportunity to preach the Word for granted.

Thursday was the nine-year anniversary of my Ordination into the Office of the Holy Ministry. This day went by mostly unremarked, except for the card I received from the Southern District office reminding me of the stole placed upon my shoulders on the day of my Ordination. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . . " Nine years, nearly four of which I have spent not yoked to a congregation. I'm ready, Lord, whenever you are. Thy will be done, of course, but you do know my thoughts on the matter, and I hope you don't mind if I remind you frequently.

On Friday I drove to Baton Rouge to attend part of the convention of the Southern Distirct of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. I missed the whole first day--having a full-time job, I didn't feel I should take two days off to attend the whole convention. Having missed so much of it, I can't comment much on what went on in terms of convention business, except to say that it seemed we didn't have a whole lot to get done. But while I was there, I got the chance to speak with President Schultz about my situation. I asked Pastor Rudnik, my pastor and now my circuit counselor, to join me, and we sat down with President Schultz for about twenty minutes. I am currently on candidate status, which means that I don't have a Call to a particular congregation at this time but am eligible to receive and accept Calls and to preach and teach as requested for congregations in need. That candidate status runs out in October, and I was worried that I would not be able to receive Calls once that happened. Oh, we're allowed to apply for reinstatement, of course, but I was worried that someone would try to Call me while I was on non-candidate status and that I would be unable to receive or accept a Call. President Schultz assured me this would not be the case, that non-candidate status does not preclude a pastor from receiving Calls, and should I not receive a Call in the next four months I would still be able to receive and accept Calls and in the meantime fill in for congregations upon request. I still would like to receive a Call, of course, as soon as possible--please, God!--but I don't have to worry that it has to happen immediately.

One last word. I must thank my wife for her patience and her willingness to watch me drive off to these various places, leaving the Terrible Toddler Twins in particular in her care. She has been a true helpmeet these past four-and-a-half years, and I look forward to the day when I can introduce her to the congregation I have been Called to serve and say, "This is my wife," and watch them welcome her as a sister in Christ.

"Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." -- I Corinthians 4:1

1 comment:

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Fr. Alan:

Thank you for preaching and celebrating the Holy Sacrament at Salem while I was away. It is a great blessing to have not only a faithful evangelical preacher to call upon, but also a pastor so dedicated to the liturgy and reverence for the mysteries of God at the altar.

That is not something one can take for granted.

The saints at Salem are grateful, and you are in my prayers that the Lord provide you with a call to a flock who need the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanks once again!