By Teena Myers
I saw a Lutheran church near my home, but abandoned plans to visit when I could not find a website. I prefer a church with a website, so I have an idea what I am walking into. I found another Lutheran church, with a website, in a familiar neighborhood.
The church’s website was a little sparse. I clicked on Church Bulletin. No luck, I needed a password. Prayer Request had an empty box and a submit button. Newsletter. One newsletter dated February 2013 that read like the pastor’s teaching more than a newsletter. Next tab, Calendar. Bingo. Useful information: Worship service at 8 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday school at 9:15 a.m. I called the church to verify the information on the website. The friendly woman who answered confirmed the information and hoped I would visit.
I am familiar with Martin Luther and his “95 Theses” based on two central beliefs. The Bible alone is the authority in religious matters and people are saved by faith not deeds. His beliefs sparked a schism when he nailed them to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. I was not familiar with the Lutheran Church beyond a few Lutheran friends.
I circled the church several times, looking for a place to park. A large parking lot with plenty of open spaces appealed to me, but did not appear to belong to the church. Having no place else to park I drove into an empty space and walked to the church hoping I would not be towed. Mostly elderly people were walking into a school attached to the church. I assumed for Sunday school, but decided to start my experience in the sanctuary.
A group of men chatted in the foyer. Three ladies were having a discussion in the sanctuary. I asked the ladies where Sunday school classes were located. Flo took me under her wing. She escorted me around the facility. A few boys were passing the time between services shooting baskets. At the opposite end of the gym, adults were eating donuts and drinking coffee. I declined the coffee and donuts. We went to the Sunday school room where Bibles held the places of students at two long tables. The only open seating were chairs lining the wall.
“Sunday school starts at 9:30,” said Flo. That’s not what their website and church secretary said, but it gave us time to talk. Flo and her husband were in their eighties. Her husband was pursuing membership in a Lutheran church when she married him, so she became one too.
A man wearing black pants and shirt with the backward collar I associate with Catholic priest walked in, dropped some papers at the head of the table, and walked out the back door.
“I need to get you a Bible,” said Flo. My IPad holds fifteen different translations of the Bible. The twenty people sitting at the tables all had paper Bibles, so I did not object. She handed me a King James Bible from a nearby bookcase.
The man whose attire looked like a Catholic priest returned. “I’m Pastor D.” He pointed to Flo. “Do you know this lady?”
“I do now,” I said.
He smiled, and took his place at the head table.
A woman at the table pointed to an empty chair and said to Flo, “She’s not coming today. Do you and your friend want to sit at the table?” I nodded. The ladies shifted seats so Flo and I could sit together. Peggy, Mary Ann and Donna introduced themselves. They were happy to see me and hoped I would return.
At 9:45 a.m. Sunday school finally started. It was worth the wait. The pastor moved quickly from scripture to scripture allowing the scripture to interpret itself. He easily explained the faith it took me twenty years to discover. If I had accepted Christ in a Lutheran Church, I could have saved myself from a lot of foolishness.
I found a seat in the sanctuary to await the morning worship service. Suddenly organ music filled the air. According to the bulletin, Nancy was playing the organ. The bulletin also contained financial information, which explained why one needed a password to view it online. Like many churches I’ve attended, they were operating with a deficit.
As I perused the bulletin the congregation began to sing. No one was on the platform leading worship. The pastor was seated with the congregation singing as well. Not what I am accustomed to, but I liked it.
The service that followed reminded me of a Catholic Mass. The bulletin contained the order of service, and followed without variation. After the song, the pastor led us in a prayer confessing our sin and then he absolved us of sin. I could think of a scripture justifying the pastor forgiving our sin, so I did not find it troubling. Then the pastor led a chant with the congregation answering. Our part was in bold letters, making it easy to follow. The pastor read a selection from the Old Testament and the epistles. A Halleluiah chorus preceded a reading from the Gospels.
I had been inundated with scripture. A verse by verse study of Luke Chapter 1 in Sunday school with numerous references to other scriptures. If I had not been familiar with the Bible, I would have found it overwhelming. Then three more readings from various parts of the Bible. We jumped from the days of creation to putting on the armor of God to Jesus rebuking people who needed signs and wonders to believe. The last three readings would have been easier to retain if they had the same theme.
We repeated the Nicene Creed. We sang another hymn. Finally, the sermon began. I did not enjoy the sermon as much as I did the teaching in Sunday school. A list of needed groceries formed in my mind as the pastor spoke. My effort to focus on the sermon failed. I can’t tell you what the sermon was about aside from it being as short as those delivered in the Catholic Church.
Without instructions, the ushers came forward to receive the offering while we sang another hymn. More ushers walked forward with the implements for communion. In the bulletin and on the green visitor card, visitors were asked to refrain from communing. The reason was based on scripture that taught “those communing together be unified in their confession of Faith. In this Sacrament we are not only joined to Christ our Head Who is present in His body and blood, but are also knit together with one another as His Body, in which body there should be no division of belief.” Those with questions or concerns were encouraged to speak with the pastor.
I wondered what would happen if I tested their resolve in this matter. Would they simply turn a blind eye and allowed me to receive with them? Would they skip me without explanation when serving the communion? Would they ask me to return to my seat, creating an awkward moment? I will never know. I respected their request.
We prayed the Lord’s Prayer, sang another hymn, and the pastor concluded the service with the blessing God gave to Moses:
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24).
We exited through a narrow door enabling the Pastor to shake every one’s hand. He hoped I would visit them again. I might.