Friday, October 15, 2010

Volunteerism in the Church


Recruiting volunteers remains as one of the predominant ongoing challenges in most churches. Some years back I heard that one trend involved shifting from the traditional elected boards to "task forces." The rationale was that the younger generations showed a greater willingness to volunteer for short-term projects over long-term commitments. This may indeed be the trend of our time. However, is volunteerism in the church overall suffering a decline regardless of its time commitment? As a parish pastor I watch nomination committees and organizational committees for dinners struggle valiantly more and more each year to secure sufficient numbers to fill the election slate and duty roster. We all realize the change in the times from a half century prior, acknowledging that the church was long ago displaced from its central place in many people's daily lives. Myriads of commitments now compete for attention from sports and clubs to other volunteer appointments. Out here in the country the impact of that reality has come a bit later than for others. We still hang on to time-honored customs passed from one generation to the other, even as we watch a gradual weakening in the ownership of those traditions. Times change as do people, which we must simply accept as a fact of history. Nevertheless, a parallel challenge in the church offers more disturbing realities: the lessening of commitment to regular Sunday attendance. Over the years I have watched as the generations following the WWII/Depression era folks take their place in the pews, yet in many cases with far less regularity. Where their parents and grandparents felt that being in church every Sunday was important, their children and grandchildren are more than willing to settle for once or twice a month, or less. This trend, undoubtedly affects the other challenges mentioned earlier, and may explain why volunteerism in general suffers as it does. Church simply isn't as important for many as it once was.

Of course, these remain but observations from the sideline of one location, and certainly others could offer more encouraging and hopeful conclusions taking a wider and broader view. Still, am I viewing more than just a local trend? Has a generational shift indeed occurred and I am seeing simply a local ripple within the greater pond? Just wondering....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Schism

The ELCA's magazine The Lutheran formally acknowledged the formation of the North America Lutheran Church (NALC) in its most recent October issue. The article announcing it was brief - merely 203 words - and rather dispassionate, given the emotions which initially surrounded the ELCA's action on the legitimacy of active gay clergy. Actually the announcement was somewhat 'after the fact' and anticlimactic anyway, in that the editor spent even more ink talking about it several pages prior in his piece entitled "Just one more Lutheran body." Mr. Lehmann's point was to treat the whole affair rather 'mater of factly' by declaring the new church body as simply another Lutheran denomination, nothing more, nothing less.

However, his editorial does not quite rest at that point. Unlike the news piece on page 8, the editorial on page 4 intends to make a point, and that point invokes the ancient Christian indictment of schism. "What we have here is a classic case of schism - a formal division or separation in the Christian church. That cleaving causes pain as your editor know, having left the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod decades ago in another schism." Now the editor stops short of labeling this division as a "sin," yet by simply invoking the word one can tell that he wishes to place a greater weight on the negative aspect of their actions than a positive one. After all, schism is ranked up there, historically speaking, with heresy, both being condemned clearly as sinful actions. In Canon law schism is a sin that can bring excommunication.

Ironically, the Lutheran church itself, as seen through the lens of Catholic history, is the result of schismatic actions, and as we all know Luther was indeed excommunicated. Our unwillingness to dissolve our Lutheran denominations and reunite with Rome leaves us in this schismatic separation outside the unity of what Rome views as the only true Christian church. If Lehmann wishes to accuse the NALC of "schism," should he not honestly take a second look at the schismatic nature of his own denomination, if not all of Lutheranism? The editor also remarks on the separation of Seminex and the AELC from Missouri as a "schism," but one wonders if he saw this division as necessary rather than harmful. He simply says it was "painful."

Perhaps it seems I am placing undo stress on one word. Nevertheless, he had a choice. "Division" would have worked just as well. Choosing "schism" said much more, perhaps more than he intended?

Half Way Through

On the last day of September I emailed my final paper for this summer's term at Nashotah House. The total number of pages of writing between the two classes came to around 80 pages. 56 of those were finished and then edited by my dear wife in that last week of September. I knew that pursuing this degree would present a needed and welcomed academic challenge, yet the sheer volume of writing still surprised me. Nevertheless, with the one transfer course from Ft. Wayne, and assuming I scored sufficient grades on these two classes, I am now officially half-way through the course work for my STM. The final two papers, by the way, were: "Romans 7: Personal Struggle, Defense of the Law, or Israel's Struggle," which was an exegetical paper for a course on the New Perspective of Paul (where I defended Luther's interpretation of Romans 7 against the New Perspective interpretation), and "Anglican and Lutheran Worship: Contributions, Contrasts, and Comparisons." The last of these was written for a course taught by the precentor and vice-dean of Norwich Cathedral, the Rev. Canon Jeremy Haselock. The longest of the two, it ended on page 41 with over a hundred footnotes. The research for this paper revealed a fascinating liturgical exchange between these two traditions dating back to the very beginning of the Church of England. The final third section of the project offered a point-by-point comparison between Common Worship, the Church of England's most recent worship book (2000-2008), and our Lutheran Service Book (2007). The comparison was limited to the Eucharistic liturgy, using Divine Service, Setting One for the Lutheran contribution. All in all, despite the labor involved, I must admit that I enjoyed the challenge and learned a great deal.

This January I am tentatively planning on taking another course from Dr. Garwood Anderson on Romans. My selections for exegetical courses is rather limited this summer, and with the time already invested in a great deal of work on Romans, it seems like a logical choice. Anyway, my chosen concentration for the degree is Biblical Exposition. In turn, I am looking at another liturgics class in the summer, this one taught by the well known Lutheran liturgical scholar Dr. Philip H. Pfatteicher. The course will examine the Church's calendar and sounds quite interesting.

For now, however, I am relaxing and enjoying a brief reprieve. I picked up Matt Harrison's book At Home in the House of My Fathers at a pastor's conference this past week and am looking forward to some non-assigned reading. After spending so much time with the Anglicans I now need to spend some quality time in the house of my own fathers!