Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lutheran service

We attended a Lutheran service this morning. We had planned on it for next week, but Julie decided to move it up. My first reaction was to notice several similarities with the Orthodox liturgy. For some reason, I had more of a feeling that it was a very stripped-down Orthodox liturgy (at least in its shape) than I had with the Episcopal services. It probably helped that one of the first things we experienced (we arrived a few minutes late) was the kyrie--basically, a shortened form of the litany of peace. It was almost identical through the first three petitions, then finished with "help us, save us," etc. We'd missed the confession, which doesn't seem to have a corresponding element in the Orthodox liturgy, perhaps because it is intended to replace individual confession before a priest. The framing of the Gospel reading was somewhat similar to that in an Orthodox service. They recited the Nicene Creed (with the filioque, of course) before the sermon instead of after. There was a section very similar to the Orthodox anaphora: "The Lord be with you . . . lift up your hearts . . . let us give thanks to the Lord our God . . . it is right . . . ," and finishing with the pastor's prayer and "Holy, holy, holy . . . ." There's a prayer of thanksgiving before the Lord's prayer, which I suppose is meant to substitute for the elaborate offering ritual in Orthodoxy. They practiced open communion, though not as open as in the Episcopal church. You're only supposed to commune if you believe in Christ and believe that his body and blood is present. A couple of people indicated that we could go forward just to receive a blessing, which I think I saw one of the clergy (a deacon, maybe?) give to some of the people, making a cross on their forehead. They had little cups, which I guess gave people the option to take their own or drink from a common cup.

The people were very friendly. We (mostly I) talked for a while afterward with the pastor, and then out in the vestibule with his wife and another woman. They have Sunday school between the traditional and contemporary services, so there wasn't much time for people to hang around. Ian was getting pretty active and usually doesn't do well anyway with a new Sunday school, so we were heading out. The pastor said that we'd probably find Missouri Synod Lutheran was the best compromise for our situation, but offered that Wisconsin Synod might be more conservative. He also recommended a church nearby that's a bit more traditionally liturgical than they are.

I guess I'd have to say I found it to be an OK service. There was nothing particularly offensive about it. It seemed to be lacking important elements (no surprise there), but as compromises go, it certainly has its strengths. I missed the beauty of the Orthodox liturgy. There were no icons, of course, most of the liturgy was spoken rather than sung, no incense, etc. There was also a lot of missing content, and the ascesis was weak. I think I've mentioned before that one struggle I have is that I don't care for organs, which are pretty much a required element of any Western liturgical service. (This issue complicates our search for "something in the middle," since stylistically I prefer contemporary worship with a praise band to Western traditional music accompanied by an organ.) But I think I would find it tolerable if given an otherwise even choice between that and Bethany.

The problem, though, is that it's not an otherwise even choice. Julie has no particular attraction to the Lutheran service--has many of the same objections she has to Orthodox services. I know I would be unhappy with the Western theology and disappointed with the thin liturgy. As I was talking to the pastor, and he was explaining why he found it to be a good option in his own search, I found myself disagreeing with his argument. He saw Orthodoxy (and Catholicism) as too extreme in its embrace of tradition, which skewed theology, and sola scriptura as the necessary corrective. Although it may be a more moderate form of sola scriptura than what I'm used to, it's still the kind of argument I was trying to get away from in the first place.

So, I think our search continues elsewhere. I think we owe it to ourselves at least to visit the Reformed church I mentioned earlier, especially since we both already respect the pastor there. But I must say, I'm not getting any more optimistic about finding something we'll both like.


Roland said...

Reciting the Creed before the sermon was the normal order of Western worship until quite recently. Anglican parishes that use the 1928 BCP still do it that way. (In the Byzantine Liturgy, there are three different places the homily can go - after the Gospel, after the Anaphora [favored by some Slavs], and after the Dismissal [favored by many Greeks].)

If you don't like organs and traditional hymns, that will certainly complicate your efforts to find a workable compromise. The more liturgical a Western parish is, the more obsessed it will be with its organ. My old parish spent a million dollars on its new pipe organ around the time I joined. Personally, I could have done without the organ. My favorite musical period in that parish was when we were between organs and were singing a capella. The choir was singing Renaissance polyphony every Sunday and you could hear how musically talented the congregation was. Even Western Rite Orthodox use organs!

Trevor said...

Thanks for the info about Western tradition. I've seen the various possible placements of the homily in the East, but in this service it seemed to line up most closely with the placement we use at HC, after the Gospel.