Sunday, August 26, 2007

Church Today

I didn't preach this morning. The Senior Pastor is back from vacation, so it was his turn. But I did have two baptisms, which I regard as visual sermons.

They were A five week old boy and a ten week old girl, both the first child in their family. One long-awaited after many years, the other to a fairly new young couple. The young wife is a child of this congregation. Her mother (new grandma) brought in a new, white baptismal gown, decorated with Hardanger embroidery. As she walked toward the front door of the church, carrying the prized gown on a small hanger, she was surrounded by a crowd of women, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the creation. Underneath the new gown, the baby girl wore another, this one 130 years old.

Part of the family drove up from Southeastern Minnesota. I asked how they were faring. "I am vaccuuming water out of my basement," said great-grandma, "but I'm not complaining. I have a house." They drove through Rushford on the way here, and "it's so sad."

The other family asked members of the congregation to serve as godparents, well-known and active members. Many friends and extended family were present for the celebrations.

After the service, the two moms commiserated about their experiences. Did he have jaundice? Did you have to go back to the hospital? I cried. Did you cry? They introduced their babies to each other, perhaps setting up a blind date for 15 years from now.

When I look at my congregation, I see a lot of white heads. We are an aging community. We have children and youth, but for some reason, in the summer season, many of our families are not as active. Some of them, at least, have cabins.

But sometimes I wonder about how well we are transmitting our faith, our living and life-giving faith, to the present and future generations. Some people think it is our liturgy that doesn't speak, or our organ music which is behind the times. Some people think it is the presence of puzzling symbols that don't speak to present generations. But I suspect it is Something Else, something I know deeply and yet can't quite put my finger on, that makes a life of faith seem optional and extra to so many, or even, at worst, deeply irrelevant.

But today I am clinging to my visual sermon: two babies at the font, dressed up as if this really were a special day. Two babies at the font, with the other children craning their necks to get a good view. Two babies, held by their parents, by our congregation, and by God.

If only they would let God hold them for their whole lives.


Serena said...

"two babies at the font, dressed up as if this really were a special day. Two babies at the font, with the other children craning their necks to get a good view. Two babies, held by their parents, by our congregation, and by God" ... Beautifully said!

As for people thinking life of faith is optional ... I'm not sure it's that as much as being part of organized religion is optional ...

I fear people see too much in-fighting and not enough loving each other

Diane said...

well, "organized religion" I think is part of it, but not all of it... because I really do think of it as "faith in community" whether the community is a house church or a cathedral....
I know about in-fighting etc. but for me there is something compelling about worship underneath it all. corporate worship. but not for others.

"PS" said...

I think the "Church" is going through a reformation. There is not a single leader (i.e. Martin Luther) but there is movement. Some of that movement is in a positive direction and some of it (in my opinion) is in an unhealthy direction. Listening deeply to people, to culture, to the world, and being honest and authentic is where I am hoping the Spirit is leading us.

Pastor Eric said...

Baptisms as a "visual sermon". I haven't used that language before but it is so true. Thank you for that story.

The profile of your congregation and your concerns about the future are very similar here in SW MN. Last week our worship attendance made some of our lenten services look large.

I think for a lot of people they don't know how to live out their faith and therefore it becomes an optional thing. I recently moved confirmation from Wednesday night to Wednesday after school. I am curious if parents will get excited about their kids missing sport practices one day a week. What's more important? Faith or "other stuff" I guess I will find out shortly.

Thanks for your thoughts, Diane.

P.S. an after-thought said...

I agree that there has been a breakdown of transmission of "faith" and spirituality to the younger parents and children, or at least the importance of corporate worship.

I think that we have tried to be relevant and cutesy, etc., for some years, resulting in watering down the Sunday School programs, which left them with much less "meat" hence, less value to the children.

There needs to be a way to talk about Bible stories and faith that can be both meaty and relevant to the generation being addresses.

One thing might be for pastors and leaders to visit other churches, both Lutheran and other groups, with open minds, open ears, and try to see what it would seem like to a church-novice. How does the form of worship strike the novice? Is there an incrown feel, excluding visitors? Is it dull? Do the words match the feeling? etc. etc.

I think of this when visiting a Lutheran church of a relative which, quite frankly, leaves me not only cold, but somewhat angry because of the faith platitudes that come from the mouth of the preacher.

mompriest said...

baptisms are my favorite church occasions. maybe it's because I only do a few of them a year and some years none? they always bring such hope!

Diane said...

yeah, like I said I want to think more about it, because I do believe we are not doing our best to communicate about what/how/why we believe. And of course, in some cases, and in some churches, there is downright toxicity.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Diane, I wonder, too about transmitting the faith to the young. In my church we are blessed with a number of families with children, but also many gray heads.

What gives me hope in my church is that teens and college students in the congregation are bringing their friends, and the friends are coming back, some to be confirmed, baptized, received next month when the bishop visits. They are excited about their faith. It's wonderful to see. It's the youth bringing in the youth, which is how it should be.

Diane said...

Mimi, that gives me great hope.

RevDrKate said...

That was a beautiful image of the baptism. And much food for thought. The MN Diocese is taking a great deal of time with this very thing right now...what it is we are "not" doing so well sometimes to draw people to lives of faith.... interesting and sometimes painful reflection.

Serena said...

it's always a complicated "and" ... nothing is simple ... I like what ps said ... and I'm happy that there are some faith communities experiencing what GM's is.

Grace thing said...

Thanks, Diane, for that post. I read Diana Butler Bass' book Christianity for the Rest of Us which I think did a great job asking and trying to answer those questions. I have hope, as someone who stumbled into a little church in college and was struck to the core by the ancient language and tradition. It spoke to me deeply, despite its lack of contemporary "relevancy" and music. Maybe even because of it.