Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

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If you think you’re busy, you should talk to Emily Heitzman. She’s been serving as the youth pastor for… wait for it… THREE lutheran congregations in the Chicago area. Emily was one of the first people I thought of for this series because she did an amazing job of explaining what she appreciated about the ELCA to an outsider such as myself since she is originally from the UMC and then ordained in the PC USA. I hope you didn’t get too cozy with the Anglican Church from our last post…

 

I’m a Presbyterian (USA) pastor who serves three ELCA congregations. Though I’ve only been in the ELCA for three years, there is so much that I love about it!

 

The Work of the People

While ELCA congregations vary is worship musical style, most are highly liturgical. The definition of “liturgy” is “the work of the people,” and this is exactly what you will experience in worship at an ELCA congregation.

The ELCA motto is “God’s work, our hands.” We use our minds, hearts, mouths, ears, hands, and feet to experience God’s love and grace and share God’s love and grace to our neighbors. When God created us, we were made in God’s image and therefore our whole selves – including our bodies – were made good and are loved by God. For this reason, worship requires the full body and all the senses. We sit to prepare ourselves for what is to come. We stand (as we are able) when the Gospel is read as a sign of respect. We might kneel out of humility during confession and use ancient prayer gestures with our hands. We may bow toward the cross as a reminder of Jesus’ humble acts.

As Christ offers us peace, we pass that peace of Christ to one another through handshakes or hugs. We might process with the cross as a sign that Jesus is constantly journeying with us and leading us. We may walk toward the altar to receive the bread and wine in response to Jesus’ invitation to come to his Table. And we may trace the sign of the cross over our upper bodies as a reminder and sign of our baptism. As a reminder that Jesus died and rose from the dead for us so that we might live.

As a reminder of who we are and whose we are.

Worship is not a place for us to just observe and consume – like when we attend a concert. It is a place where we fully participate as members of the body of Christ so that we might be formed and nourished by our loving God. And every ancient practice we partake in connects us with the Church universal… with Christians throughout all times, traditions, and places.

If you worship with the ELCA, you will likely spend some time in silence. We live in a busy and noisy world. Yet, God calls out to us: “Be still and know that I am God.” God not only calls out to us through words and music, but God also calls out to us and meets us in the silence. We need to be still sometimes. And making space for silence on Sundays helps shape us for how we are to make space for God during the rest of the week.

Most ELCA congregations follow the liturgical calendar (church calendar) and use the Revised Common Lectionary (set readings for each Sunday that covers almost the entire Bible in three years), which connect us with the larger universal Church and enable us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and relive his life and ministry every year.

In ELCA congregations, the Word is proclaimed in numerous forms and is not just the work of the pastor. God calls each of us to use our gifts to proclaim the Word both in the Church and in the world. In most congregations, the Holy Communion is celebrated every Sunday. We believe that both the Word and Sacraments are a means of grace. Through them, God’s presence is made known and God touches us, forms us, and nourishes us so that we might have the strength to go out into the world to share God’s love with others.

Confessing the creeds (Nicene or Apostle’s) every week is an important means for connecting us to the universal Church and shaping us in our theology in ways we don’t always recognize. During youth group discussions, my youth continue to amaze me when they explain important parts of our Christian theology that they know because they confess the creeds every week. The repetition of communion liturgy – which is often chanted – also shapes us in important ways. Just a few months ago, I saw a facebook post from another Lutheran pastor. He wrote: “This week I got a note from a family who heard their young one (age 4) singing Frozen songs, and then breaking into our communion liturgy.” This is the wonderful thing about liturgy: it provides God’s children – both young and old – with words to express praise to God through the every day joys in life… like Disney songs!

 

Living Out Our Baptisms

In the ELCA, we talk a lot about being called to live out our baptismal covenant. We do this by proclaiming the good news of God who came into the flesh, died on the cross, and rose from the dead for each one of us. We proclaim this good news by learning about the story of God’s presence and work in and through us and by hearing about the story of God at work in the lives of others. We are in God’s story and we are called to recognize that others are in God’s story, as well.

We are called to live out that story daily in word and in deed. We live out that story when we worship together on Sunday, when we care for our children, when we visit someone who is ill. We live out that story when we sit with a grieving friend, when we bring a meal to our homeless neighbors, when we stand with others in our communities to call out injustice.

Through us, God is at work in the world: “God’s work, our hands.”

As someone who is new to the ELCA, the more I have been a part of it, the more I’ve grown to love it. There is a place for newbies, myself included. And there is a place for you, as well. So, if you are searching for a new church home, check it out! I think you might grow to love it!

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

unnamedRev. Emily Heitzman is a graduate from a United Methodist seminary and an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor who serves as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households for three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago. Prior to her current call, she has served in Evangelical Covenant, Congregational, and American Baptist churches… Her colleagues call her an ecumenical bricolage. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often been seen with coffee or a Guinness. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at http://musingsfromabricolage.wordpress.com.

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Anglican Church

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Whenever I have a question about liturgy, the sacraments, or the Anglican church, I always tweet at Preston Yancy, author of Tables in the Wilderness. Preston is one of those guys who has studied a ton of theology but has never lost his grounding in the church, and that commitment to serve the church shows in his moving blog posts, instructive tweets, and eerily spot on use of animated GIFs. A former Baptist who migrated to the liturgy of the Anglican church, Preston and his book are excellent guides into the depth and beauty of the sacraments. Where many dabble in liturgy, he helps us take the plunge. He writes today about the Anglican church in America:

Anglicans can be the most neurotic Christians. I say that upfront so as to not surprise you with it later. Known for our tendency to gravitate toward the middle of theological extremes, it can feel frustrating to try and grasp exactly what we are all about, what it is we believe. You’ll meet Anglicans who lean hard into our Roman Catholic roots of practice and Anglicans who run fast into the charismatic freedom of nondenominational-like belief. You’ll meet a few like me, too, who tend to feel most comfortable between those poles: happy-clappy Jesus-lovers who believe in sitting with the writings of the saints and the reverence of worship with common prayer. There are some essential beliefs that define us broadly, however, and if I were to ever try to convince someone of why they may find Anglicanism a good fit, it would be focused on these: we are a people of the Book, we are a people of the Sacrament, we are a people of the Community.

People of the Book

Anglicans are deeply devoted to the Scripture. Our prayerbook is mostly a weaving together of various psalms, Gospel readings, epistles. Half of our traditional worship service is devoted specifically to the hearing and reading of the Bible. A cycle of readings—one from the Old Testament, a psalm, the New Testament, and finally the Gospel—are read or read communally, are pronounced over us and by us, and then the preaching that follows ideally seeks to make clear the ways in which the readings for a cohesive whole, how God reveals Godself to us when we put the texts of Scripture in conversation with each other. There are more ways than this that Anglicans take the Bible seriously, but this is the one that most often comes to my own mind. We don’t believe in exclusively personal reading of Scripture. We need the community, we need to hear the Gospel literally spoken aloud, the Word, Jesus, literally proclaimed by words. We believe the Spirit makes itself known to us in the reading of Scripture, which pivots into my next point.

People of the Sacrament

Anglicans have a complicated understanding of God’s presence, but it could be said it distills into essentially this: we believe that God is everywhere (a classically Christian perspective) and that the Spirit of God makes itself known in the lives of individual believers (a classically Evangelical perspective). So between the way God is present outside of us and how God is present within us, we have a deep belief in the power of God to guide and direct us corporately and individually into becoming more and more like Jesus. Moreover, we believe that there are certain ways in which God has said that God makes Godself known to us particularly. One such way is Communion. In the Gospel of Luke, we read of the disciples walking with the unknown Jesus on the road to Emmaus that it was in the breaking of the bread that Jesus was made known to them. First they hear Jesus speak of the Scriptures—this serves my first point—and then Jesus breaks bread in a Eucharistic feast. In the breaking the disciples move from having their hearts stirred to recognizing Jesus fully as He is. Anglicans say that in Communion, Jesus makes Himself known to us, that we are filled with the power of the Spirit to continue in that good work that God has called us to personally and together. We are fed from the Table so as to go out into the world to feed it, to tell it where it too can be fed, where it can come and known this Jesus, which leads to this:

People of the Community

Because of our belief in God’s presence and work in this world, Anglicans are naturally inclined to social and political concerns. Our belief about the end times and the afterlife aligns less with a hope in a disembodied heaven where we have harps and sing forever and more about the beautiful and redemptive kingdom that God will bring into fullness with the return of Jesus but has already begun in shadows and imperfection now. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” the Gospels remind us, and so we are committed to realizing that kingdom at present. The ways in which this is expressed is as varied as preferences of worship, but it would be fair to say that Anglican theology is essentially practical. We believe in an incarnate Jesus who hallowed bodies in His birth and that such a mystery leads us to make certain conclusions about life, about what we believe about bodies, of what we think God cares most about. We are a people of the community, because our faith obligates us to recognize the ways in which God is making Godself known outside of the walls of the church and, at the same time, how the Church is to be in service of the world in leading it back to the abundant Table of the risen Lord.

These are not features exclusive to Anglicans, of course. As I mentioned above, our middling position often means we share territory of belief and boarders with many in the larger Christian community. What tends to be unique, what keeps me confirmed an Anglican, confirmed in its ways of teaching me to pray, is the sense of great freedom the tradition offers within a context of accountability that is not only to a local community or a larger denomination but also to the Church in and across time. Within this vast territory, there’s room to express faith in a variety of ways that keep both a hold on a sense of orthodoxy and a lose grip on preference of tradition.

Some people find it chaotic, I find it oddly reassuring—we’re family here, struggling through and fighting and laughing and eating and celebrating. There’s a chair at this table for you, too.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

PrestonYancey.Headshot-23 copy Yancey is an Anglican priest-in-training, an author, sometimes-painter, sometimes-baker, sometimes-scholar interested in Christian theology and the arts.

He’s a happy-clappy, Jesus-loving, liturgy-liking evangelical Anglican confirmed in the Anglican Church in North America. He wrote a book about that and is also in the process of becoming a priest, with a likely ordination in November 2015.

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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My New Guest Post Series: Denomination Derby

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At the age of fifteen I’d been living a double life. Every other weekend I’d visit my father and attend Catholic mass on Saturday evening by myself and then join him for his independent Baptist Church on Sunday morning. The two worlds couldn’t have been more different.

When I left the liturgy, muted songs, and a clear chain of command of the Catholic Church for a Baptist congregation at the age of 15, I needed the freedom the Baptists offered to approach God without a priest peering over my shoulder each time I read the Bible. That encouragement to take responsibility for pursuing God is the thing I’m most grateful for when I look back at that season of my life.

However, there were plenty of negative moments among the Baptists along the way. In fact, I met some friends who couldn’t wait to escape the Baptists, even if I’ve met some who have been content all along. A few friends even left their freewheeling Protestant denominations in order to join the order and structure of the Catholic Church.

It’s almost a guarantee that most Christians will switch from one denomination to another at some point or another. Whether moving to a new town prompts a church switch, doctrinal issues prompt a change, or relationships with leaders or members fall apart, it can only benefit us if we know what makes each denomination great. Even if we never join a particular denomination, understanding the best of a denomination will help us become gracious conversation partners who can celebrate what God is doing throughout the church.

I’m grateful that we have all of these different expressions of the faith, and perhaps we spend so much time comparing and contrasting them that we sometimes forget how useful our denominations can be.

These days I worship in a Vineyard Church. I call it Liturgy Lite. There’s a blend of contemporary music and liturgical prayers, communion, a lengthy sermon, and prayer ministry time every week. The theology hits me where I’m at, even if some of the papers at the last Society of Vineyard Scholars Conference soared over my head.

I try to always tell visitors that it’s not a church for everyone, even if I believe my little church is a great church for myself and for many others. I’ve belonged to enough churches that I have a pretty good idea of what’s out there, having attended a fundamentalist Baptist church, a conservative Baptist church (that was quite reformed at times), a Church of God congregation, another fundamentalist Baptist Church, an Anglican Church, an Episcopal Church, a range of other charismatic churches as a visitor, and a progressive independent evangelical church. This is the first time I’ve been in a church that is part a larger movement that I felt I could support.

As I’ve become more established in my Vineyard Church, I thought it would be really awesome if I could invite folks to guest post each Friday about what they love about their own denominations.

We can all find a reason to not join a denomination, but there are plenty of great reasons to either stick with your denomination or to consider checking out a new denomination. I’m launching the series with posts by a few friends, some of whom have been great dialogue partners and representatives of their denominations for me.

Starting next Friday I’m hosting a guest post each Friday by someone with a bit of theology training and ministry experience (staff or volunteer). I have a few denominations slotted with writers, but if you’d like to nominate someone to write for a denomination not listed, please drop me a note in the comments.

Once we’ve got enough denominations listed, I’ll open the series to ministry leaders/volunteers or theologians who want to write about what they love about their denomination.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

 

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Tentative Posting Schedule

Next Week: Vineyard
(I know, it’s not a “denomination,” but… close enough!)

November 7: Anglican

November 14: Presbyterian Church USA

November 21: Church of Christ

Stay tuned for more posts! We have a lot of denominations to cover!