Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


This past Friday my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of Erica Grass and Rev. Stephen Rosebrock at St. John's Lutheran Church in Wheaton, IL. It was a beautiful wedding, and a fine example of how a wedding can truly be a Christ-centered, cross-focused service of worship. Of course, given who got married and where, I'm sure none of our regular readers are surprised to read this!

But in the performance of the liturgy itself there was a fine example of liturgy-as-pastoral-care I would like to share. We were blessed with the Lord's Supper at this particular wedding, and so I had a chance to experience how one of the the local pastors, Rev. Joshua Genig, presides over the Eucharist. His pacing was exquisite: unhurried but never stodgy, with clear diction and reverent tone. It was literally a musical experience to hear him offer the Eucharistic Prayer (a.k.a. "Prayer of Thanksgiving"). Then, after the Lord's Prayer, he chanted the Words of Institution beautifully, pausing to reverence each kind and then holding up the host and the chalice to present our Lord's body and blood to the congregation as he shared the Peace.

In so many Lutheran parishes - even confessional ones! - pastors hurry through the communion liturgy. Perhaps they are worried about time. Perhaps the familiarity of it makes them less careful. Or perhaps they just think it is long. And yet what message do pastors send when they preside in a hurried way? Is it really worth the extra 30-40 seconds they might pick up by taking a faster 'clip' through this part of the service? I think not.

And, ironically, people are more likely to feel like things are going long when the pastor speeds up - whether in the Prayer of the Church or in the communion liturgy. When pastors act like they are running out of time, the assembly gets the message and grows impatient. Far better to keep cool, and keep focused on what is really going on.

May all pastors savor the moment and allow the church's liturgy to serve the people well. And thank you, Pastor Genig, for letting the living voice of the Gospel in the liturgy have its way with us.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Isn't It Great When They Sing?

A different "they" this time. This time I'm thinking about the people in our parishes who don't get very involved and may not even come every Sunday. If we the British Parliament, we'd call them "the back benchers". Generally they don't sing much.

But I must say one of the things that give me the greatest satisfaction as a Cantor is when I see and hear these folks singing the liturgy and the hymns. I just love it! Every parish has her singers, but a parish that has lots of 'ordinary folk' singing the Lord's song is one that cherishes music as integral to our life together in the Gospel. Sure, a percentage of stereotypical 'back benchers' would do so without a cantor's service in the Lord's ministry, but the percentage has gotten higher at Bethany and, observing many of these same folks over the years, I can see how the Lord has used the cantoral office to help the Word dwell richly in many people who'd never even think of joining a choir.

Do you know what I'm talking about? Here are a few examples:

1 - The 8th grade boy who'd been coming more often to church with his family because he was headed to confirmation. Hymnal was open for every hymn, including the communion hymns. He was sitting up straight and singing right along on all the stanzas.

2 - Pastor noting several times this year how much he enjoys the acolyte's singing. That's right: most of our acolytes sing out, even though they are not seated next to parishioners who might give them "the security of numbers". Last Sunday he mentioned how much he enjoyed a couple of them singing harmony with him.

3 - Visiting Pacific Hills in Omaha many years ago (1994) and hearing a visibly blue collar mother & two teenage daughters sing the liturgy robustly behind me with untrained, yet sincere voices. They clearly had a Lutheran piety. My chat with them afterwards confirmed that they considered themselves in no way to be candidates for any involvement in church choir or anything. They just sing the Lord's song because of the faith the Lord has given them. (Ably nurtured in this by the organist there at the time, Charles Ore).

Yes, faith sings. Isn't it great to hear it?!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Bulletins They Drop Off

For our friends who are cantors and pastors, I'm sure you find in your office mailbox periodically a 'gift' that I receive every few weeks myself: the bulletin from another church. Now, sometimes it is dropped off by people who know your intellectual interest in worship planning. And, as Bethany has become more confessional that is pretty much what I get these days. But often in my first years here and during my years in Peoria, you'd get the "bulletin with an agenda": the bulletin intended to show you about that 'perfectly good LCMS church' that does things in a way that is "so much more" (insert word of choice here). And, cantor, you are such a fine musician so can't you see how we could be doing these (insert word) things here at our church if we didn't insist on doing the same things week after week?!

I won't go into the details on the latest one, from a large LCMS church in the Minneapolis area. Suffice to say it is the same old thing the Ablaze! synod-within-synod gets week after week: confessions of sin that focus on one little sin that may or may not apply to everyone; absolutions that include penance (now go and do...); lay readers reading the Gospel; one or two readings; 75% CCLI music; Choir singing Gaither music; "Children's Ministry Video Montage", little communion liturgy; a 'worshippers exchange greetings' rather than the sharing of the Peace.
And no such homespun liturgy would be complete without a clunky innovation meant to show how 'relevant' they are in their creativity: the second Gospel acclamation was changed to "Praise to You, O resurrected Christ!" (Just to make sure people are paying attention, I guess. Had to make sure they knew it was still Eastertide. How special!)

At least this service preserved the four-fold shape of Preperation, Word, Sacrament, Blessing. And they actually said the Apostles' Creed (no time for the Nicene, evidently) instead of some newfangled "Affirmation of Faith". And the service conluded with an Aaronic Benediction. So, in the world of LCMS Ablaze!, these are the liturgical conservatives.

The LCMS is in desperate need of ecclesiastical supervision.