At the annual meeting a few weeks ago, we heard a statistic about declining demographics in the ELCA nationally that identified the date 2046 as the day the ELCA “turns out the lights” unless major change and renewal take place. During that same meeting we adopted a resolution “that we at Bethlehem Lutheran Church commit to become the “leading edge” of what the ELCA church of 2046 might be should it survive, and we will experiment with what that future might be as part of our continuing ministry together, thus becoming an exciting example right here in the heart of our own Synod.”
One of the questions our worship team has been has been asking for quite a while is “What will Lutheran liturgical worship look like a generation from now?” Lutheran scholars and teachers of worship and liturgy teach that worship is more than simply repeating a particular ancient pattern, but all that we do and say (in worship particularly) is meant to proclaim Christ. Worship is meant not only for us to passively receive Good News for ourselves, but to engage a community of faith in our calling to proclaiming Christ in word and deed in the world. Our worship team believes that Lutheran liturgy in the future will emphasize creativity, flexibility, and interactivity—while staying connected to the liturgical patterns that have helped the people of God encounter Christ in worship for nearly 2000 years. As part of this new commitment to becoming the “leading edge” of the Lutheran church, we will be beginning to experiment with some new ways of proclaiming Christ in worship.
During the season of Lent (which begins with Ash Wednesday on Feburary 17) we will be on a wilderness journey in our worship gatherings. Like God’s people who left behind the difficult (yet reassuringly stable) life slavery in Egypt, we will be leaving behind some things as well. Our comfortable way of encountering God on Sunday mornings will be disrupted a bit symbolized by the moving of furniture—the altar, the pulpit, the font, the pews—but we will center ourselves around the presence of God at the heart of our lives even as we journey into the unknown. In their wilderness wanderings, God’s people were reminded that God journeys with them, and in the wilderness God brings us together to support one another. During Lent we will encounter God in different ways, through movement, through conversation, through the worship space itself. And yet, at the core will be the ancient pattern of the liturgy, and some “touchstones” that remind us that we are not cut off from God’s action with us and with God’s people in the past. Here’s some of what you can expect:
Our worship gatherings in Lent will continue to follow the basic four part pattern of ancient liturgy: Gathering, Word, Meal, Sending. Within each section will be something to ground us, to keep us centered, to bear the wisdom of tradition into our lives today. In the Gathering we will gather as Christians have for nearly 2000 years “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and we will sing a hymn from our list of “Old Favorites” to remind us that we carry with us the faith that has brought us this far on our journey. During the Word we will hear the ancient texts of the Scripture proclaimed and we will confess our faith as Christians have for nearly 2000 years with the Apostles Creed. During the Meal as Christians have done for nearly 2000 years we will proclaim Christ in, with, and under the bread and the wine with the words of institution Jesus spoke at the last supper (“In the night in which he was betrayed…”) and will pray together the prayer he taught his disciples, which we call the Lord’s Prayer. And during the sending we will receive the blessing that God’s people have received since the wanderings in the dessert (“The Lord bless you and keep you…”) and will be sent forth as Christians have for nearly 2000 years, to embody the Good News of Jesus in the world.
In and among this framework we will be experimenting with some different and creative ways to embody and proclaim the message God has for us through these 5 weeks. The first several sections of pews will be removed and the altar table brought into the middle of the sanctuary as a symbol of the disruption and discomfort that comes as we may a new journey into the unknown of the wilderness. And yet, on this table now at the center of our gathering, the Bible, the baptismal font, and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper will remind us of God’s presence in the midst of our wanderings. Around the altar table we will gather in chairs facing one another, to remind us that we are not on this journey alone. During the Gathering section we will speak together about the journey we are on through a responsive litany. During the Word we will encounter God through our neighbor as we interact in various ways with one another. During the Meal we will participate in the proclamation in various ways with symbolic actions and movements. During the Sending we will be sent forth in a number of creative ways with the charge to not let the encounter with God end as we leave our gathering place, but to carry it with us into the rest of the world and into the rest of our lives.
This season of Lent will be a time of stretching as we lean into the future God has in store for us. It will challenge us, disrupt us, and perhaps disturb us. But we will again and again be reminded that God has promised to journey with us even into the most frightening of wilderness experiences. Like the ancient people wandering in the desert dreaming of the Promised Land, we will continue to confess “God shows the way!”
Because we know this journey will be a challenging one for many of us, we will be also starting a monthly afternoon service called “Rock of Ages,” that will follow the form of Lutheran liturgy this community has been more used to. We will sing only our “Old Favorite” hymns, won’t be using the more creative and interactive elements, and will commune with wafers and individual cups. The first of these services will be February 28th at 1pm.