Sunday, June 11, 2006

Some Follow-Up



I was thinking about that dentist chair, and the comments made. Here is what Proclaiming Softly said:

How often does any of us go to a meeting or club unless we are personally invited, unless we have a prior association with that group? Many of us would be uncomfortable walking into a "new" space without a friend. There are a couple of places close to my home that I've never gone to even though they are popular with my acquaintances, yet I've never had a friend say, "hey, lets go to ____." So if we did go and we thought the place had strange, unfamiliar music, how would we feel? What about seeing a guy leading the group wearing a "dress" and chanting? Does that seem somehow uncomfortable because we might not have it in our background?

P.Softly is a Lutheran, and I'm a Pentecostal, so you might say we are from "different sides of the church aisle" so to speak. :-) What is familiar to a Lutheran is not familiar to my folks and vice versa. But the principle is exactly the same. For example...

Last week I attended the funeral of a Roman Catholic, the father of one of our church members. Since I only knew the deceased man slightly, I was free to watch and think during the funeral. The sanctuary is rather small and quite lovely and I have been to a few Catholic services before. Nonetheless there were a couple of objects that were unfamiliar to me. I wondered what their purpose might be. The priest in that particular parish is quite elderly, and the service was very formal. Which meant I was a bit lost. A large part of the congregation knew the proper responses but I (for the most part) did not. My familiarity with Catholic liturgy pretty much ends with knowing that when the priest says "Peace be with you" the appropriate response is "And also with you." (Okay, slight exaggeration, but not much.)

I found myself wishing I could ask questions. I like to learn. I would have been happy to join in the service to a greater degree if I understood it, or knew what to say when. As it was I know I stood out as an uninformed Protestant. And yes, I felt just a bit powerless and a bit relieved when the service was completed. And I'm a pastor, not someone who is trying to find my way to God.

On the other hand, I know very well how unfamiliar our "free church" Pentecostal style must sound, look and feel to our Catholic and Lutheran neighbors who come for the first time. And we are a pretty quiet congregation as Pentecostals and charismatic congregations go. After all, this is Wisconsin, not Georgia or Mississippi, and the culture is quite different.

I think P.Softly has the only solution I can think of. Some people are uncomfortable because they do not want to submit their lives to God, or they simply have been hurt and are struggling with faith. That are perhaps different issues--other than that, the only way to get past the discomfort (other than the work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God) is to befriend people, talk to people beforehand about what to expect, explain what may be different, and so on.

There must be good ways to do that whether we are Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist or Assemblies of God.

We could all start by inviting our friends to church. And then having some good conversation.

14 comments:

JWD said...

The other day I heard about about a Quaker meeting (in New Haven, CT, I think) where they have folks who keep an eye out for first-time visitors. Then they "partner" with the visitor, if the person desires it, to help guide her/him through what might be an unfamiliar worship service. This sounds like a beautiful ministry of hospitality to me.

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

Although the Lutheran service and Catholic Mass have practically the same form, I also experienced some of the same questions and confusions when I've visited a RC church. Mayabe it should be "required" all pastors to visit other churches on their Sundays off so that they can see what it is like to be a visitor or an outsider.

While the people in the pews can help a visitor feel welcome, the leader or pastor is the one who says or doesn't say what page we are on in the book for some parts of the service, for example. Sometimes pastors might make statements during a sermon that have an "in crowd" slant to them, for example, about what "we believe" in a way that might overtly assume that all there are already in that denomination, but perhaps there is a true seeker in a pew who feels left out.

My daughter, who attends a Lutheran college, had a requirement in on of her religion classes to attend a worship service of a denomination very different from that of her background, and then learn more about this. She was assigned to go to the Assembly of God church. She was very interested in the differences and also in the way the same Gospel may be proclaimed with different language.

SingingOwl said...
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SingingOwl said...

JWD, I think those Quakers are on to something. It takes greeting to another level, doesn't it?

P.Softly, interesting thoughts about the pastor's responsibility. I think that is a common mistake, though probably quite unintentional. I have to watch myself for that one.

I'm glad your daughter enjoyed her visit. There can be a great deal of variation from one AG church to another, and much depends on the pstor and the worship style. Some of our churches have a piano and organ and sing mostly hymns, and others have a worship band and hymns are rare. And the differences don't stop there!
;-)

We have had several visitors to our church from a not-too-far-away college whose religion class has the same requirement as your daughter's. Being in Lutheran-Catholic, German-Scandinavian land up here, we are one of the few churches that are sufficiently "different." They come to a service, and then they interview me afterwards. Very interesting.

I like your idea of visiting a different church when on vacation. We once visited an Episcopalian congregation on vacation, just because we could. It turned out that the minister's wife was a former Assemblies of God pastor;s kid, and the juxtaposition of their traditions made for an interesting blend. We had a delightful visit with the priest. I think I'll do that again with a different denomination.

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

Are you willing to say where you are near in WI? I grew up in SE WI, and, yes, it was quite RC and Lutheran. And some of those Lutherans are more conservative than are the RCs.

I didn't know any other groups when I was growing up

SingingOwl said...

I am north of Milwaukee, South of Green Bay and west of Sheboygan. :-)

SingingOwl said...

You didn't know any other groups when you were growing up...hmmm..reminds me of a story. A true story.

My husband and I were pastoring a church in a very small town on the western edge of Wisconsin. We had many kids in our youth group that did not attend church on Sunday mornings.

One day a kid about 14 who had been coming about two months said, "What kind of church is this?"

Me: Assemblies of God
Kid: What kind of Lutheran I mean?
Me: It is an Assembly of God church.
Kid: Is that like the Missouri synod Lutherans?
Me: Nope. Not Lutheran
Kid: Or like WELLS?
Me: No, neither one. This is an Assemblies of God Church.
Kid: (Looking very puzzled)
Assemblies of God Lutheran?

I told the ELCA pastor that story at the next ministerial meeting, and my husband and I chuckled over that one for a long time.

In Texas, where my mom is from, the Baptist church is very large. The Methodist church is reasonable in size. The Catholic church is mostly Hispanic and has a tiny congregation in a tiny church. The Lutheran church is in a beautiful little jewell of a building. She was a bit confused when she came up here and I told her there was no Baptist church anywhere to be found.

Funny how that works in different areas of the country.

And in my area, the women clergy far outnumber the men. There are 12 ministers in the local clergy association. Three are males: the Catholic priest, a Methodist and a MO Synod Lutheran. The remaining 9 are women. I was shocked when I first attended a meeting!

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

Wow, that is not in balance, so to speak. I'm always surprised when a pastor from a group I think of as "conservative" is a woman. We have a woman pastor at our church. I think there may be more women than men in the Sem these days. My daughter just graduated from a Sem.

I'm actually surprised that the LCMS pastor is part of your association. They often will not mix with other groups at all. They even tried to kick out a pastor who took part in the 9-1-1 gatherings in NYC. I've gone on some LCMS blogs before I realized that they have pretty strict rules and beliefs, and when I mentioned some things I have done, such as help with the communion, I've been scolded. I'm glad to hear that some of that branch do see that we are one in the Spirit.

I can't guess your town, but I can just about guess your county. My husband's family was part of the first Lutheran Church in that county, although we don't know any of the very distant relatives that are there now. My mother lives just north of the county line. These families have been there since the mid 1800's. But I grew up in the big city to your south.

Small world.

SingingOwl said...

:-) Do you still live in Wisconsin?

The LCMS pastor is relatively new, and a very grace-filled guy, all in all. He is the first from that church to join the group.

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

No, I'm in N Mn. My mom lives in the county that starts with a male word, near the shore of the very biggest lake there, just north of the county that starts with a female word. My sister-in-law lives in the county of the male word, but it is sort of coincidence that she moved there. Makes it nice for us when we visit.

Just noodling around on the internet......It looks like the AoG does outreach work with the immigrant groups. God Bless those efforts. In my mom's town, one old church was sold by its denomination, but now is Hispanic.

BTW, we saw a big owl in the tree on Sunday.

SingingOwl said...

LOL at p.softly! :-D I'm very near both counties with the male and female names! You have doubtless been very very close to my house. Sometime if you are near, let me know and you can visit my AoG church if you like. Funny...

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

LOL, I think my mom would have a fit if I didn't attend her church! I'm not sure just why, but I've never felt really comfortable at her church, or maybe by now, I've built up a chip on my shoulder. Her church is the same denomination as mine, and at the SE almost-corner of Male-Town.

We actually don't go inland all that much, since the relatives live near the shore in that little old town. They've been there forever, and I was baptized there, but we don't attend the old church because it is one of those sub-denominations that doesn't allow "others" to take communion. So Mom and her relatives are now not considered in the fold, even though they grew up there in that church.

While I certainly can understand holding to the Bible for doctrine, I don't understand painting with a broad brush, in the sense of "you go to a church that allows such and such, so therefore you aren't Christian, or you aren't in the true church," so some such. For example, we have open communion and women pastors.

I believe that we are saved by what was done on the cross, not by how I or a denomination, reads the Bible. Just as all sin, any sin, separates us from God, Jesus saves us who believe, by what He did, not because we get 95% of the beliefs right, ie the workers in the vineyard all got the same wages.

Well, I don't need to explain that all to you, but I wrote that because of my surprise and joy that that certain pastor is joining with the other servants of God to serve the community of all the faithful.

SingingOwl said...

I'm with you--well said! Women pastors and open communion...even non-Lutherans? Is this ELCA or something else?

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

Yes, to both questions, which makes us heretics or some such in the eyes of the "pure." Our pastors have always said something like, "The Lord invites you to the table." I've heard stories of people who felt genuinely invited for the first time and came with tears in their eyes.

My husband's home church, another type of Lutheran, makes the statement on the back of the bulletin that "it would be unloving of us to invite you to join us in taking communion."

And it is God who will be our judge.

I am always humbled when I read about the Pharasees. They knew the scriptures, they knew the prophesies, yet they missed the Christ. There is a lot to be learned from that. I know what I believe, but I know God's grace is wider than what I might get wrong.

I've been reading some of the pages on the AoG main site. Obviously I have some differences because of my background , but I was very surprised at the stance taken by AoG about the women pastors. I would guess it is very similar to that our denomination takes.

Did I mention that my daughter just graduated from Seminary? She is currently Out East and will do an internship starting in the fall.