Thursday, December 30, 2010

books, bulletins, and faith

Something has happened in the Lutheran Church over the past 30 years. OK, a lot has happened in the past 30 years; right now, though, I'm thinking about books and bulletins.

I remember feeling a sense of pride and camaraderie with ELCA Lutherans when I first started breaking out of my insular church world. I remember being one of a few Lutheran students at the United Methodist seminary I attended, and early in my first year hearing one of the Lutheran students stand up and describe the Lutheran Book of Worship to the (non-Lutheran) students. He explained that, because any ELCA congregation and feel at home in worship.

Granted, the LBW takes some figuring out ~ the liturgies are in one section, the hymns in another. Plus, there are a lot of sections that usually get skipped over (since they're used once or twice a year, if at all). There's a lot of back and forth, trying to find your place. It helps to have a guide sitting nearby the first couple times you use that book for worship. But it's usable, and it's what I grew up with.

It wasn't too long after that seminary event that the Lutheran church started publishing hymnal supplements and other worship resources. Before long, instead of one hymnal in the stereotypical pew, there were two or three ~ and Lutherans started juggling ~ bulletin in one hand, liturgy book in the other, set one down to pick up the book with songs in it, and don't ask me to pick up a bible.

I don't mind book-juggling too much, if I know I'm in a group comprised entirely of people who are familiar with all the books we're using in worship. I've experienced, though, worshiping with a non-Lutheran community when I wasn't familiar with their worship books. I was lost and confused, and only stayed because I was there with a friend.

The congregation I'm part of doesn't use worship books. Instead, we print bulletins containing the entire liturgical order, hymns and everything ~ and we're not alone in that practice. Other congregations choose to use one or two books for worship. Times have changed since the days when a person could enter any Lutheran congregation on a Sunday morning and expect worship to be pretty similar to what they're used to. There's not a standard book any more.

I've heard people say that we need to teach young Lutherans how to use the worship books, since they're growing up not using it for worship. I understand the sentiment ~ that book was like a symbol of identity for me, and I think it is for many other people who have been Lutheran in this country for a long time.

But wouldn't it be better for us to teach young people to identify with the bible, or with the community, with their family, or with Lutheran theology?

Of course, this begs the question, 'for a young person, what does it mean to be Lutheran?', and more broadly, 'what does it mean to be a person of faith?' I believe that young people (and older people) are longing for a place where they can explore issues of faith among people whom they trust to not judge, and who take faith seriously.

How seriously does your congregation take faith? If we assume that a community spends more time and money are items that are more important, then we have a way to gauge what's important to a congregation; just look to see where the most time and money are spent, and you'll have an idea about what's important. How much time and money are spent on discipleship for young people? How much on the building? on feeding the hungry? on the stewardship campaign? on Sunday morning coffee? on outreach to the neighborhood? How much time and energy are spent of faith?

I still miss the sense of belonging that I felt by way of the LBW ~ maybe we can build that same sense of belonging around something that really matters.


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