Weird things sometimes happen in life. We start out on one path and then realize that the things that make us tick are in a different direction. One of the many blessings of living in America is that our futures aren’t decided for us by the time we reach sixth grade. We can change course, reinvent ourselves, strike out on a different path.
When I was in sixth grade, I had gotten very excited by architecture. I thought I wanted to study architecture and design houses. Probably a very good thing that I didn’t pursue that. In sixth grade, I was wowed by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, but by the time I was a little older what got me excited was Victorian exuberance – towers, turrets, front & back stairways, wrap-around porches, tons of bedrooms, formal entrance ways, formal dining rooms. One of my favorite seminary professors lived in just such a house – decked out in ways that were very lively, and certainly not Victorian.
I entered college as a pre-law student, thinking that I wanted to follow in my father’s, older brother’s, and grandfather’s footsteps. That notion didn’t last long. I realized very early that studying the law was not a dream of mine. So, I spent some time reading and thinking and studying English Literature, and decided I wanted to become a Lutheran Pastor. Like my other grandfather, favorite uncle, and youngest brother.
I reached out to my Bishop to find out what the Synod’s requirements might be prior to applying to seminary. One of their requirements was to go to a Career Counseling Service and go through a battery of testing to see whether ministry was a good direction for my skill sets and interests. The answer was surprising.
When all the testing was done, the Career Counselor said that my testing showed that I was best suited to be a Priest. Did you get that? A Roman Catholic Priest! I thought that was a bit rich since I was female. Soooo, I asked the guy why the testing would tell me that I should be a Priest when I was a female and, even if I had been a Catholic, obviously couldn’t be a Priest. The answer was surprising.
He told me that the questions about the Priesthood were weighted toward caring about the liturgy of the church and about the way the services were conducted. I countered by saying that surely Lutherans and Episcopalians and many other liturgical churches had pastors who cared about the liturgy and the way the Eucharist was celebrated and the holiness of the services. He agreed. At that point, I pushed a little harder asking why the testing didn’t say that I was best suited to be a pastor?
He looked a little sheepish when he answered. He said that the questions regarding (non-Catholic) liturgical churches were weighted higher in wanting to hang out with the parishioners, over coffee, spaghetti suppers, and the like. Suddenly a light came on for me. While I can certainly do those things and enjoy them, they weren’t the priority items on my list. Good preaching and faithful liturgy weighed in much higher for me. If those things aren’t right, no spaghetti supper is going to hold the church together.
All too often when I was a young person in church, the classes, and youth group events were clumsily trying to be relevant and real and talked about stupid things like “will God still love me if I come to church wearing jeans?”
What I have always craved is worship that is thoughtful and follows the liturgy, which done right, is continually pointing us to scripture and through scripture and the Ecumenical Creeds to the Triune God. I don’t go to church because I want someone to tell me how to think, how to vote, what to care about. I go to church to be fed. I go to church to hear the word of scripture. I go to church to eat the body and drink the blood of my Lord and Savior, who died for my sins – which are many.
I decided, along the way, that I belonged in the pew, not in the pulpit. I was approved for ordination, but I decided that there were better ways for me to serve the Lord. But one issue that has never abated for me is my impatience with people who want to waste time touting the current issue du jour. Quit trying to be relevant for today! Instead of trying to be relevant – work on being faithful! Wrestle with the appointed lessons of the day and assist your congregation with seeing them more clearly. That will do more to create disciples who have stopped, and are turning around to look at their Lord, than anything else you can do.
My husband and I are constantly thankful that we have just such a pastor – a pastor whose preaching provides nurturing food for our lives, to take to heart, think and talk about during the week. The liturgy does that as well as it is packed with prayers, admonitions and songs that come directly from scripture.
I have some friends who go to big, non-liturgical Christian churches, who think that liturgy is all made up stuff. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is a retelling, from many parts of the old and new testaments, of words that point us in the direction of our God. I still find myself singing the haunting words from the Psalmody of an Evening Prayer liturgy:
Let my prayer rise before you as incense; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. O Lord, I call to you; come to me quickly; hear my voice, when I cry to you. . .
We need Pastors and Priests who are faithful to their calling. We need them to wrestle with the words of scripture and use them to preach, teach, and, just like all the saints of the church, point us to the Lord of Life.
I’ve talked about some surprising answers that I have found in my life. What are some of the questions and issues in your life?
Right now the Christian church is knee deep in the season of Lent. This is the season from Ash Wednesday to Easter, when we take stock of our lives, look to the Lord, and walk with Him on his way to the cross for our sake.
If you haven’t come to church, please stop, turn around and come. If you don’t have a church to go to, this is the perfect time to start – so go on your own or tag along with a friend. If you are a church member, invite your neighbor. If you don’t know who you could go with – ask around. Ask your friends on Facebook. Ask God. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened.
No matter what your life looks like, no matter how many times you’ve fallen or screwed up, know that you are in good company. So has every single person on the planet. Instead, remember who and whose you are. Take a deep breath. Stop what you are doing. Turn around. Look to the Lord of Life – He is right there. He is walking before you
This is a beautiful posting, Ann. I agree about the importance of good liturgy–it nourishes us. And if the preaching is dull, trite, or political, it’s a bad sign for a church. My feeling is that if one is faithful, one’s words and actions will be relevant to what’s happenin’ now, because that’s where God’s love is, here and now.
Thank you, Ellen. What a thoughtful response. I very much appreciate your comments.
Another nice blog, may I take a minute and share my experiences with the Catholic Church? My wife is catholic and so we had to go through all the classes to get married in the Catholic Church. Ok, we did so and each premarital class had an assignment and we would have a discussion with the priest. You can only imagine what happened at the final session when he started filling out the paperwork. Especially when I had been married before! Then he asked very personal questions about sex . I said to him “wait a minute, the Church pushes celibacy how would we know “. I then got into a point/ counterpoint with him and he didn’t like it. Got our papers anyway. I’ll tell you more about my next tangle with the Church in another story!
John. . . Yikes! Perhaps rather than writing further here, would you please write to me on my blog email address: firstname.lastname@example.org Many thanks!
Thank you Ann! You write: “work on being faithful! Wrestle with the appointed lessons of the day and assist your congregation with seeing them more clearly. That will do more to create disciples who have stopped, and are turning around to look at their Lord”
The same advice is good for all of us, not just clergy. Edited it might read: . . .”work on being faithful! Wrestle with the appointed lessons of the day and assist your neighbor/friends/family etc. with seeing them more clearly. That will do more to create disciples who have stopped, and are turning around to look at their Lord . . ..
This also might be a good place for encouragement to use the daily lectionary found on pp 1121 – 1153 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, throughout the Liturgy of the Hours and other church’s parallels. This daily attention to the Word of God lays a far larger feast of the Word before us. When possible this practice can be with the community of the Faithful rather than as isolated individuals. Luther writes: “The Lord’s Supper (including Word and Sacrament) is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh and strengthen itself and not weaken in the struggle but grow continually stronger.” (Large Catechism Part V: The Sacrament of the Altar, paragraph 24. Quoted from The Book of Concord, Fortress Press, 1959). Again, thank you for pointing us to the Word of God, Christ, who comes to us in both Word and Sacraments.
Thank you, Joe. Your sister is trying to get back into the writing routine when I stumbled on this post from some years ago. It resonated with me. I really appreciate your comments! Love you.
Thank you, Ann, for your post. I wish more people understood what church is about the way that you do! Lovely piece!
Thank you, Carol — that means a lot to me.