25 January 2009

IF I Could Start A Mission Congregation...

...here's what it would look like:

A single Divine Service Sunday a.m., with Matins preceding it (no sermon). Additionally, I'd have Saturday Evening Vespers with opportunity following it for Confession and Absolution each week.

The people would be encouraged in a life of prayer - so we'd offer Matins and Vespers at regular set times during the week, employing material from Treasury of Daily Prayer.

Eucharist would be celebrated on every Sunday and every feast and festival in our LSB calendar.

Sunday afternoons from September through Easter would offer the Catechism Service.

We'd get together for the joy of sharing food and friendship no less than once a month.

No individual cups.

Bible Study/Sunday School would follow refreshments and visiting after the Sunday Divine Service.

It's name would, of course!, be St. Mary, Mother of God, Lutheran Church.

We'd make rich use of the artistic traditions of the Christian Church, but especially of our Lutheran forebears in adorning the nave and chancel.

We'd make clear from the get-go that the parish has but one mission: to BE the Church of God in this place, a colony from the future, a haven of rest for an exhausted world.

We'd implement a catechumenate from the start as our normal way of outreach and bringing folks into the parish's life.

We'd only form committees as needed on an ad hoc basis and evaluate each year if they should continue or if we can do the work better another way.

Above all else, we'd try to foster a community at prayer, in the Word, and feasting sumptuously on the Eucharist and so empowered to love and serve the unbelievers around us, bringing them into our joyful communion.

There's my dream. Mostly taken, I freely admit, from the old Church Orders of the Lutheran Church. What did I leave out? What would you do differently?

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly, even the name is right! I'm glad I think like a great mind, heart, and soul. Pot-lucks are a great thing!
Thank you!

Karl

Ryan said...

It looks good except I would start (like some monastic models) with a core worshipping community transplanted to the place you would want the mission.

I always felt when churches grow to a certain size they should split off into smaller local sections as opposed to giant mega churches.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm supposed to tell you that when I was reading it to Nancy, she thought I had written it. Things I've been saying for a while.

Karl

Ezekiel said...

Pastor Weedon,

I appreciate your thoughts. I'm currently working with a mission congregation as part of my vicarage assignment, so your thoughts are especially pertinent.

I discovered quickly that to simply plant, in your words, "the Church of God in this place, a colony from the future, a haven of rest for an exhausted world" one is actually swimming upstream the conventional church planting wisdom. To BE the Church is not enough; you need to be the Church, Inc., exhausting the exhausted world with your missional acumen. This exhausted me well enough until a fellow mission planter in the circuit reminded me that the Holy Spirit gathers the Church through the Gospel. Oh, yeah! But isn't that a wee too simple? How will they hear unless someone sends them glossy direct mail?

A couple things that bear mentioning.

1. The church will not be a commuting church (i.e. its members won't be spread out across the county and drive in Sunday morning). It is the church of a polis--a neighborhood, a town--where genuine community may be cultivated among folks who share a Christ-mediated life that extends beyond the four walls. Members will live near the church and one another (as the commenter above said). This vocational, lived, incarnational (if you will) witness embodies the mission of the church, as the congregation itself stands as a sign and foretaste of the Reign of God.

2.The church will most likely be short on financial resources: you'll be poor. That does not rule out what you say about "adorning the nave and chancel", but you may have to do so creatively. Our nascent congregation currently worships in a strip-mall, next to a bar...but the Spirit is there, and by God's grace it's even starting to look and feel like a church. Until the juke box starts next door.

3. It doesn't get bigger than when everyone knows one another's name and their kids' names, and then you plant another church.

"Above all else, we'd try to foster a community at prayer, in the Word, and feasting sumptuously on the Eucharist and so empowered to love and serve the unbelievers around us, bringing them into our joyful communion."

Yes! I'm finding this is hard work, especially with the limitations of being a mere vicar, but thank you for the encouragement. Any tips on how to ditch the individual cups? That's a demon I inherited but haven't yet exorcised.

William Gleason said...

Wonderful ideal. It parallels mine. I guess this precludes membership in the LCMS, no? And I'm curious, did something happen that prompted this post?

Bill +

William Weedon said...

Karl,

Tell Nancy, "great minds..." ;)

Ryan,

Amen!

Ezekiel,

Wish I had the magic formula for that - easiest seems to be not letting that particular camel get its nose in the tent door...

Bill,

Yes, what prompted it was trying to assign the feasts and festivals to the Wednesday Eucharists and getting frustrated over the whole endeavor! It was easier when we just observed them on their days!!! :) I've got it finally figured out, though. From right after Easter to November.

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

You left out planting it in Pataskala, OH. :)

Anonymous said...

Blessed Father,

It seems ideal, doesn't it, to plant a mission congregation in such a way. I would add that you forgot visitation of shut-ins, the sick and those who are in the hospital (or would a deaconess or vicar do that?)

On a completely worldly, practical matter, our church purchased a public school building 11 miles away from our church so that the school would have a gym. It has been my desire to start a satellite service with the ultimate goal to plant such a mission congregation using said facility.
My congregation's response in the Voter's Meeting was: "Why do we need to start a mission eleven miles away? Can't they drive over to our town and come to church here?"
I fear that the "megachurch" mentality has crept into a church that has planted three of its own daughter congregations in its 150 year history. I pray that I can use this as a teachable moment with my members and that the Holy Spirit would turn their hearts to be mission minded once again...

A former vicar

Stoleman said...

Pastor Weedon,

You commented... trying to assign the feasts and festivals to the Wednesday Eucharists and getting frustrated over the whole endeavor! It was easier when we just observed them on their days!!!

It seems that we (the church, district and synod) are stuck in this mentality that we need to 'move God', instead of move US to come to worship daily!! The early church had it correct I believe that our goal is worship of God daily and 'not when it suits our calendar'!! I know these comments may generate 'flak', but if our focus is to have participation and not worship, are we not worshiping a false god??

A further comment is our need to return to smaller churches as was indicated in others comments. Should we not return to 'house churches'? Does Jesus not say, 'where two or three are gathered in my Name'?

One other thought and/or question is that the main purpose in worship is to celebrate and venerate God, why are we worried about numbers? I have seen to many churches concentrate on the fullness of the pews and neglected the fullness on the Altar side of the rail. Is worship and Holy Communion not an opportunity for connecting with the Saints of the church and hearing the Word and receiving His Body and Blood? Even if only one or two people are in attendance, the number of 'Saints' in attendance I would venture is more than the 'stars in the sky' if we could number them.

May God refocus our worship on Him and have mercy on me a sinner!!!

YIC,
Darian L. Hybl

Chris Jones said...

Fr Weedon,

Where do I sign up? You've described the parish we'd love to belong to.

Except it would be under the patronage of St Maximos Confessor (no disrespect intended towards our Lady, but perhaps she has enough parishes under her patronage?).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I tend to swing back and forth between "Mary, Mother of God" and "Incarnate Word" for Church names. . . but yeah, other than that it sounds good.

And what would be nice if there was actual support from neighboring congregations. . . you know, having all things in common. If one dreams, might as well dream big.

dakotapastor said...

Taking notes....

Dixie said...

There is much here that mimics our parish (apart from the name and the Lutheran exclusives)...even to the point of committees. We are working from a new operational model that was started by St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC, and is focused on the work the parish chooses to do...but always in alignment with the mission of the Church. And each year the organization can change depending upon the needs of the parish and community and the talents of the membership.

One thing I have had to learn to do having come from a Wednesday/Sunday congregation is to go through the Church Calendar at the first of the Eccelsiastical year and mark all the Feast Days in my Outlook Calendar. I will block out time in advance if I know there will be services during the work day and schedule my vacation accordingly.

Granted, it is easier to start from scratch than to change the habits of parish history.

Rev. Benjamin Mayes said...

This is what we're trying to do at Emmaus St. Louis. We won't be renaming the congregation, though. (www.emmaus-stl.org)

I concur with Ezekiel--mission congregations suffer from lack of $ and lack of responsible team leadership / manpower. It's easy for depression to take hold on people.

Paul McCain said...

You forgot to add:

Use only published resources from Concordia Publishing House.

That's in the Church Orders too, you know.

Christopher D. Hall said...

I hate it when people do this, but...
I'm thinking about this and discussing it over at my blog, as I don't want to fill your combox with my puny thoughts.

http://christopherdhall.blogspot.com

-C said...

What Dixie said (so what's new?).

Much in common between this list and my parish, too.

orrologion said...

...a colony from the future...

That's a great line. Makes very accessible the idea of lived eschatology - and gets away from simple utilitarianism.

We'd implement a catechumenate from the start as our normal way of outreach and bringing folks into the parish's life.

What does this mean, exactly? How is a catechumenate an outreach? Doesn't outreach result in catechumens, not vice versa?

We'd only form committees as needed on an ad hoc basis and evaluate each year if they should continue or if we can do the work better another way.

This is much in line with the way my OCA parish is organized - little congregationalism since it was the Metropolitan bishop's see for many years - but the GOA parish I also belongs to is overly bureaucratized with standing committees that do little real work requiring separate status. I'm curious about Dixie's reference to St. Nektarios in NC - if it's from NC it can't be all bad... well, not good, exactly, but not all bad. :)

William Weedon said...

The idea of catechumenate and outreach means that instead of sending out folks to "convert" people, we'd send out folks to invite people to "come to the waters!" The confidence we have is that in the Divine Service, the Word of God itself does the converting and it's not a single event but a life-long transformation. The catechumenate is organized in such a way as to foster the interaction with Divine Word's activity as folks hear it, ponder it, and are changed by it. With a catechumenate solidly in place, we actually TRUST the Word of God to do the converting and we are freed up then to do the joyful inviting, cajoling, nagging and whatever it takes to bring others into the sphere of its activity.

William Weedon said...

No one has (that I recall) commented upon the single Eucharist for each Sunday and Holy Day, but I am more and more convinced that we've done a disservice to our people and invented multiple congregations within our congregations with the multiple celebrations within a given weekend. And I'm not even thinking about the dispersion of effort that takes place when we've got to sustain energy across three identical celebrations - especially for musicians. I'm thinking more about the manifesting of the Church as ONE body in this place.

orrologion said...

Very good. So, the catechumenate is viewed as being an organized part of the inquiry process for people considering your church rather than a procession of incorporation and education after someone has decided to become Lutheran. That's what I was confused about.

William Weedon said...

Yes, both inquiry and then as the Spirit leads incorporation into the Church. But above all, allowing the Word of God to do the work of transforming. Not, "I've decided; where do I sign on?" but "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!"

George said...

How about Father Abraham Lutheran Church? Why do all of our names have to come from the last 2100 years?

Past Elder said...

Interesting to read, the Monday after a week-end when I got a call (phone, not divine) that the parish to which I belong will now go back to three services on Sunday, but with the formats traditional/blended/contemporary at 8, 9.15 and 10.30 respectively.

When did it become part of the universal tradition of the church that only early risers "prefer" "traditional" services?

Throw in the real lectionary and calendar only -- or just use TLH -- and I'm in.

revalkorn said...

So what's stopping you?

Anonymous said...

Yes, "great minds..." it helps to hang around you guys for a few years! It appears that I picked up a thought or two.
Also, I think "St. Polycarp" would be a great namesake.

Karl

Anonymous said...

Ezekiel,

When I was a Vicar at SPH, I conducted a short survey for a class project. That survey revealed a sizeable number of the congregation travelled over 20 miles, and passed up to 3 LCMS congregations on the way to Hamel.

Those who travelled that far did so because of the uniquely Orthodox Lutheran teaching, preaching and practice.

The lesson? There are people who are hungry for the truth, forgiveness of sins, comfort, relief, and encouragement, an oasis of love in this fallen sinfilled creation.

Karl
Another former Vicar

Anonymous said...

The single Eucharist would allow for the singing of more wonderful Lutheran Hymns! AND, you don't have to cut out things because you've got another service scheduled to start in 15 minutes.

Karl

Past Elder said...

I thought it was the solemn duty of every Lutheran pastor to get the 8am service over in time for people to get to 915 Sunday School or Adult Bible Class, and get the 1030am second service over in time for people to get to the Village Inn before the Methodists do.

Anonymous said...

The pastor (and bishop) would be the stewards of the mysteries of God (and NOT the Voter's Assembly).

Only ordained clergy would preach and distribute the sacraments.

Children would receive the gift of the Holy Eucharist and not have to EARN it by "graduating" from confirmation class.

The altar would be constructed against the "east" wall.

A baptistry would be built that would accomodate the practice of immersion.

Wouldn't mind a little Latin in the ordinaries of the Service (chanted, of course).

Use of traditional propers for Sundays... where Sunday takes precedence over most of the sanctoral calendar.

Use of traditional liturgical colors (such as Violet for Advent and Pre-Lent).

A community of love that would put a plan in place to help those who are less fortunate among them.

Dennis said...

This would be great. But how would you grow, no one would understand us. (Can't you hear it already!)

Rev. Richard A. Heinz said...

Sign me up too.

Re: a single service...Amen! Yes, any time we offer multiple Masses, we end up with multiple congregations.

Re: name...my own idea has been "Our Lady of the Reformation." Instead of the "immaculate heart," our images of the BVM could have the Luther rose! :-)

Put me on St. Mary's call list. LOL

Anonymous said...

And the charter or constitution of this group would have an irrevokable clause prohibiting praise bands, drums, electric guitars, liturgical dancing, interpretive dance, childrens sermons, Shine Jesus Shine, Awesome God, and anything found on a "WOW" CD

Jim Huffman said...

I find the increasing discussion among some Lutherans of immersion as a baptismal practice interesting. Lex orandi, lex credendi ... something is changing here.

Anonymous said...

Would it be too bold to name the parish:

St. Mary, Mother of God, Evangelical-Catholic Church?

Jeff

William Weedon said...

Jimbo,

How so? Lutherans have always maintained that it can be so done, and Luther's Larger Catechism seems to indicate a preference for it.

Jeff,

Certainly, though MY choice would be:

St. Mary, Mother of God - Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession

Jim Huffman said...

But Lutherans have not done it -- despite any assertions in the LC. And when there's a ritual change, there's something underlying it. I'm guessing it's either an influence of the Eastern churches or the influence of Baptist churches. Or perhaps both, from different sides of the equation. The idea that seems to underlie many arguments in favor of it are that it's somehow more authentic, more realistic to New Testament times, and therefore a better option. There's not room here, but the idea that -- given the paucity of water in first century Palestine -- ANYONE in the New Testament was immersed is implausible.

I don't know why, but again, things don't happen in a vacuum. When such a significant change occurs, it happens for a reason. Especially given that the vast majority of Americans who immerse will explicitly say that the act has no bearing on their salvation.

Chris Jones said...

Mr Huffman,

the idea that -- given the paucity of water in first century Palestine -- ANYONE in the New Testament was immersed is implausible.

I believe you are mistaken. At least one person in the New Testament was immersed:

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him ...

The fact that our Lord came "up out of the water" clearly implies that he was immersed in the water.

Add to that the fact that the simple meaning of the Greek word Βαπτιζω is "to immerse," and it is clear that your reasoning from the "paucity of water" is not persuasive.

Any sound liturgical historian will tell you that triple immersion was the normative means of baptism through most of the history of the Church. The fact that other methods have become common in more recent centuries does not change that.

William Weedon said...

Jimbo,

"Lutherans have not done it." What? I wasn't a Lutheran when I baptized the Menges children? The Menges family asked for immersion, not because it HAD to be done that way, but because they desired the fullness of the signification which the Larger Catechism described.

revalkorn said...

"Add to that the fact that the simple meaning of the Greek word Βαπτιζω is 'to immerse . . ."

I must have learned Greek from a different scholar. I was taught that it meant "apply water".

William Weedon said...

The Weedon classic (TM) definition of baptizw:

To apply water to the thing to which one is applying it in the normal way that water is applied to that thing.

It covers the bases, honestly it does.

Jim Huffman said...

The Savior "went up out of the water." This sentence confirms neither mode of baptism; the simple meaning in English is that he walked up from the river.

As to the geography of the Jordan, this is an enlightening set of photos:

http://www.bibleplaces.com/bethanybeyondjordan.htm

As to baptizing meaning immersion, I leave that to those more learned in Greek than myself; my only question is as to the possibility of immersion of tables in Mark 7.14, which would admittedly be quite a chore.

Given that millions of Lutherans are otherwise baptized, I wouldn't seek to prove much by an isolated exception.

I also have to point out the most current example of immersion in Lutheran circles: Immanuel, Valporaiso, IN. Immanuel's pastor from 1969-1992 (Paul G. Bretscher) is a self-admitted unitarian who denied the deity of Christ, denied the Holy Trinity, taught works salvation, and taught that the Bible erred. I don't know if there's a connection, but I'd be wary of allowing a congregation which -- to my knowledge -- has never repudiated their former pastor's error (he's described in their website as "pastor emeritus"). St. Paul is not giving advice to bakers in I Cor. 5.8 -- he's pointing out that error has consequences, and I wonder if some of that error is leading to the current change in ritual there at Immanuel.

Again, changes in ritual both reflect and precede changes in doctrine. Count on it.

Chris Jones said...

changes in ritual both reflect and precede changes in doctrine. Count on it.

I certainly have no quarrel with that principle. But a change in ritual which is in fact a return to the original practice of the Church would be associated with a strengthening of orthodoxy, not with its weakening.

I can understand that one might be nervous about this because of its assocation with Baptists. But in this case the Baptists got the ceremonial right, no matter how confused they are about its meaning.

Joshua said...

PW,

What would be wrong, or strange to Lutheran culture and customs, with doing daily services, even as Catholics have daily Mass - I believe the New Testament records this (Acts 2:46)...

...and I think even a married Pastor could achieve this!

Even with a tiny attendance, I'm sure that good Lutherans could sing the roof off...

Elspeth said...

Sounds like my church, St. Mary Orthodox Church.
Elspeth

Scott Diekmann said...

If you wanted to start a mission congregation in the NOW District, here's what you'd have to have, according to our District President. Five laymen, each with one of the following "spiritual gifts": 1) Apostle, 2) Prophet, 3) Pastor, 4) Teacher, 5) Evangelist. Notice anything odd about the list? Or maybe even multiple things!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Nicely said, Pastor Weedon. I missed this when you posted it originally, but am glad to have had it called to my attention now.

What a way to BE the Church ;-)

Kudos to you, my dear brother and friend in Christ.

Anonymous said...

I'd check out this place...might drive a ways to come to. Just as long as the great Lutheran and other hymns were singable. Just be careful though some people might take you at your word and call you as pastor to put "your body where your mouth is"