Do What You Mean, Mean What You Do

There are a couple of “buzz words” surrounding worship these days: intentionality and authenticity.

Intentionality is a word created from the word intentional, meaning “done in a way that is planned or intended” (Merriam-Webster).  Authenticity is from authentic: “real or genuine: not copied or false” (Merriam-Webster).

Applied to worship, these words are in many ways complementary.  This week, I’d like to look at intentionality.

It might seem that worship has ALWAYS been intentional, and to a degree that’s true.  We intend to do what we’re doing, right?

Or do we?

Growing up in the Lutheran church, I never got a sense of relationship between the various elements of the service.  To me, it felt more like liturgical Pac-Man – the worship service consisted of dots labeled “Greeting”, “Confession”, “Opening Hymn”, and so on, and the objective was to eat the dots.  Did the Opening Hymn relate to anything else in the service?  Sometimes, but it was rare.  In many Lutheran churches, I’m told, the Opening Hymn was always “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  The only days that this was not the case were Palm Sunday, when “All Glory, Laud and Honor” was the opening hymn, and Easter Sunday, when “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” was used.  That resulted in worship that was safe, reliable –  and boring.

I am one who deeply appreciates the rich tapestry that Lutheran hymnody weaves throughout our faith.  As Lutherans, we have a musical heritage that is really unparalleled – but that is something to be explored, not tightly controlled.  Granted, limited resources in a parish can make this difficult.  More on that next week when we look at authenticity.

Intentionality occurs when those responsible for preparing worship make a commitment to make worship a very high priority – not just something for which four hymns are picked and you move on.

If a worship group has made such a decision, they’ll look at a number of things: the season of the church year, the particular Sunday, the time and season of the secular year, the lessons, and the overall pattern in the lessons for the season of the church year.  For example, in Year B during the summer we read the “Bread of Life” narrative from John’s gospel.  This year, in Epiphany Year A, we have a long Epiphany season and so have worked through nearly all of the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew.

All of these elements bring a certain feel to a season and to each Sunday.  Intentionality happens when those preparing worship dwell in those elements for a time before making choices for worship.

This past Sunday, I was installed as the “teaching parish student” at St. Peter’s by the Sea Lutheran Church in San Diego.  This parish has a long history of participating in theological education in this way.  Pastor Karen Marohn is my supervisor, and I have been privileged to work with her in the past.

The service on Sunday was a great example of intentionality.  The lessons all focused on right relationship, whether between people or between people and God.  The words of the confession and forgiveness, the prayers, and the hymns selected all wove through, in, and out of that theme.  Each element supported and commented on the lessons.  Instead of several “little themes” running parallel and taxing the attention of even the most dedicated person, it was more like a beautiful Venn diagram, with everything circling back to the center.  As the last verse of the hymn of the day went:

Great God, in Christ you set us free/your life to live, your joy to share.

Give us your Spirit’s liberty/to turn from guilt and dull despair

and offer all that faith can do/while love is making all things new.

There were no bells or whistles, no projection screens, no praise bands.  Those things are fine in some settings.  But at St. Peter’s, the people are keenly in touch with who they are and whose they are, and it shows.  Deliberate, intentional choices made for the community resulted in worship that reached beyond and welcomed the stranger.

And that leads us to authenticity.  But we’ll save that for next week.

I’m baaaack….

Hard to believe we’re already in Week 2 of the month of February!

I’ve been out of town for a while.  The first 2-plus weeks of January, I was in Gettysburg, PA. at the seminary there for what is called the Diaconal Ministry Formation Event.

In plain English: two weeks of intensive instruction, discussion, discernment, and collegiality, all designed to help those of us considering diaconal ministry to get a better idea of where we’re going.  I met people from all walks of life, from all over the country, all on the same path towards ministry, either diaconal or ordained.  It’s a required class in my process.  (Then I came home, repacked, and headed to Utah for 11 days of skiing bliss.)

I’m going to depart from the usual worship & liturgy subjects to explain a little bit more about diaconal ministry and what it can be in today’s ELCA.

Diaconal ministry is also called the diaconate, and those in this ministry are sometimes called deacons – which sounds a little confusing.  “Diaconal ministers” are one of three layperson rosters in the ELCA – the other two are Associates in Ministry and Lutheran Deaconesses.

Lutheran Deaconesses have a long history that goes back to the mid-19th century in Kaiserswerth in Germany.  This is the nursing training hospital at which Florence Nightingale received her early nursing training prior to her groundbreaking work in the Crimean War.  Deaconesses generally work in health care, but also in other areas.

Associates in Ministry are lay professionals working in almost any area of ministry, usually in a congregation but sometimes in synod offices or specialized ministry areas.

Diaconal ministers, by comparison, specifically seek to work at the intersection of the church and the world.  This can manifest in as many ways as there are people!  They might be in a congregation, in a social service agency, on Churchwide staff – the possibilities really are endless.

As far as requirements for these rosters, the diaconate requires a master’s degree in an area of ministry.  Associates in ministry have to complete a specific set of courses, but a master’s degree is not required.  Deaconesses have specific requirements unique to their call.  All three rosters are considered Word and Service rosters, in contrast to the ordained roster or Word and Sacrament (ordained pastors).

There is a discussion in the ELCA going on about these three rosters, in hopes of providing some clarity for people.  We talked at the Event about what those changes might mean, and what our feelings were about the diaconate.

One day was spent “in context” – out in a ministry setting to see how a diaconal minister integrated into that setting.  The setting we visited was an in-town congregation with a full-time pastor (Word and Sacrament) and a full-time diaconal minister (Word and Service).  They had other staff members, some of whom were full time, but we were really struck by the way the pastor and the diaconal minister (DM) were modeling how these two rosters could be highly complementary.

It’s a bit of a change from what many of us grew up with: if there was “too much work” for one pastor, then the church had to think about calling a second one.  It’s only been in recent years that the ELCA has urged parishes to re-think this model.  As far as rostered leadership goes, the ELCA is in a tricky position.  We’ve been hearing for some time about the “retirement tsunami” that is imminent, with so many folks ordained in the 60s and 70s nearing retirement.  The numbers haven’t been there in seminaries – meaning graduating seminarians – to replace these retiring pastors.

But at the same time, the “way we are church” is changing too.  The model from the 50s of a programmatic ministry situation, with a building, a mortgage, expenses, and all the rest is not one that new ministry starts automatically default to any more.  And that’s a good thing!  You see, that old model is heavily reliant on what in the theatre we called “butts in seats” to keep things going.  You need a constant influx of people to the church – people who are contributing – for that programmatic model to work.

Don’t get me wrong; this model can and does work very well in many places.  But the questions are increasingly being asked, both in established parishes and in new ministry starts: are we meeting OUR needs or the needs of the community around us?  What are we called to do here and now, in response to God’s lavish gift of grace in Jesus?  How might our ministry look different five, ten, twenty years down the line as we continue to live into that response?

The parish we visited in Pennsylvania was established the same year as the town itself – 1752.  Its graveyard is the resting place for the town founder.  There’s a considerable history there – but they are not resting on those laurels.  Instead, they seek ways to meet the needs of the community around them, as well as the parish community itself.

One of the “markers” of the diaconate is to empower the people of God to do ministry in the world.  This was where the DM at this parish was particularly skilled, and she helped congregation members find their place to serve in a wide variety of ministries.  She and the pastor are in constant contact about the ongoing ministries of the parish, the possible future ministries, their ecumenical partnerships, liaisons with the town itself and its agencies – and they work out which of the two of them is best suited to respond to or work within a particular context.

I was mesmerized.  I saw before me what could be an amazing partnership model throughout the ELCA.  Of course, it would look different in each setting.  But the idea of those complementary rosters, in service to the body of Christ as well as the world, and enabling the body of Christ to likewise be in service to the world – THIS is what I want to do.

It’s incredibly exciting, and will require quite a bit of discernment and careful thought.  But the potential just blows me away.

As for now, though, it’s back to classes and study.  Preparation is a good thing.