Finding a Lutheran Home
It’s somewhat surprising that I’ve gone to Catholic and Greek Orthodox services in Chicago, but until two Sundays ago, hadn’t gone to a Lutheran church.
The particular Lutheran Church I attended is in the North Center neighborhood, my neighborhood. North Center, for the uninitiated is a neighborhood in transition from predominantly blue-collar (if still middle class), to an expensive yupster enclave of older, first time parents of children with fashionable names. We’re in it for the long haul (the schools are too good to move), and I love the neighborhood, if not always the people.
Anyways, I had walked by it perhaps 100 times before on my way to the train in the morning, but hadn’t thought too much about stopping inside. Pastor Johnson (a perfect Lutheran name) presided over a church that was perhaps 30% full. My parent’s church is fairly dressy (i.e. the majority wearing at least dress shirts and slacks, with a few older folks wearing suits). Here, the couple behind me was dressed in matching Indianapolis Colts jerseys. Being from Wisconsin, I was used to the occasional football jersey, however with my recent attendance to Greek Orthodox services; it was a definite change of pace. Decidedly casual, I felt comfortable wearing a sweater and khakis.
I found the service unpretentious, and welcoming in the sturdy Lutheran way I knew and loved. The congregation was an eclectic mix of young families (with unruly children who intermittently ran through the pews) and grey haired (presumably) long-time members. Unlike some of the people in my parent’s church (much as I love it), everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there. There was a warm welcome for an Ethiopian family the church was hosting as he attended Seminary. The Children’s Sermon was an entertaining science experiment using treated water, iodine, and sodium benzoate. With a little bit of iodine (sin) the water turned black. With a little bit of sodium benzoate (forgiveness through Jesus), the water once again turned clear. I smiled at the oohs and ahhs of the kids, who looked on with wide-eyed wonderment.
The warm hymns of the organ filtered through, lifted up with the cheery voices of the parishioners. I took a few minutes to admire the massive organ wrapping around the back of the church. The beautiful wooden organ showed off the church’s Teutonic heritage, etched with Bavarian looking designs and colors.
The sermon that day was an analysis of the Vineyard, one of the more interesting parables in the Gospel. In the parable, the owner of vineyard recruited day laborers at the local market at different times of the day. At the end of the work day, he paid all of them the same, even those who had just shown up. In its historical context, it was a way to bridge the gap between the early Jewish Christians and the gentiles who only recently entered the faith. In a modern context, it seems to say that any time is the right time to come (back) to the church. Pastor Johnson had spent his whole life within the church and hadn’t strayed. Others, he said, come to the church later in life, or stray for a period before returning. Others (re)enter at the very end of their life. All are welcome and valued.
During the sermon, I couldn’t help but think of my own connection to the parable. It honestly felt good just to sing the hymns I grew up with. I was amazed at the way both the words and melodies flooded my memory. When sharing the peace, I met everyone there. I’ve never been to a church that expends as much time greeting and shaking hands. For a denomination that some friends have called “stodgy”, this group was certainly not reserved. There was even a homeless looking gentlemen who was accorded the same warmth as everyone else. To me, true Christianity is not about judging or creating division, but embracing everyone through the grace of shared faith. I saw that here in spades.
I thought long and hard about taking Communion. Ultimately, I decided to get in line when summoned from the pews. After the ritual of dipping the bread in wine (or tincture), and then consuming, I felt relieved. I don’t know if forgiveness can actually come from a piece of bread (or a stale wafer) and cheap wine, but if it makes people feel better and do better, it can’t hurt. I’ve always thought the biggest part of communion is forgiving yourself first, knowing you’ll continue to make mistakes, but striving to be the best version regardless. A huge part of this experiment (writing the blog) is not only to push myself outside my comfort zone, but do a better job of honoring my commitments. One of those commitments is to go every single week, and to stop making excuses and allowances for failing to follow through. Only a month in, I’ve already noticed a change, and it’s exciting.
For a re-entry to the Lutheran Church, it was a wonderful starting point. On my way out, the pastor asked me if I was looking for a new church. “In a manner of speaking, yes,” I said. I told him of my idea with the blog, and said he’d love to meet. I am looking forward to that conversation and hearing about the led him to become and Pastor, and how (and if) his own faith has evolved.
This upcoming Sunday, I’ll be attending the Syriac Church of the East. I am not sure what to expect, but am extremely interested to hear services in the language of Jesus, Aramaic. As always, thanks for reading and for all your questions and comments.
– Have you left the church and returned later? What was that experience like?
– If you haven’t personally rediscovered faith, do you know someone else who has? How did they change, and did you view that as positive or negative?
– What does a truly inclusive faith community look like?