Saturday, June 26, 2021

Changing Lanes

Forty years ago I reluctantly attended the Commencement Ceremony at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. If it was not for the friends with whom I shared this event it would have been completely miserable. The attendance of rituals was not a part of my childhood nor adolescence. Sure, I was present at my High School graduation. Along with walking across the stage shaking hands with a few adults and receiving a folder with my signed diploma, I also played in the band for a couple of selections. Those are the images I remember. I did not attend the University graduation, The diploma was mailed to all students anyway. I do remember who spoke at the Seminary ceremony. I have no idea of the theme of the speaker's address. Probably something to do with the church needing to respond to a changing world.

Honestly, the rituals of the church or at least their formality have never peaked my interest. Early in my career I followed the printed, approved hymnal liturgy to its exact wording. This seemed to be what people expected or at least were conditioned to hear. It also was comfortable for me. Over the years my comfort level with veering from the printed text increased. It seemed strange if not silly to be sharing significant events with others while having my face looking into a hymnal. However, in those years many congregational members where more comfortable if eye contact was avoided.  Eye contact was associated with stern warnings or even belittlement.

Each of the last two Saturdays, I have been a part of celebrations of life. One occurred at a small cemetery while the other was at a county park. Both were free flowing with story-telling, music, interaction, and reflection. No one, including myself had their face in a book. An electronic device provided music in each setting. One had the benefit of a Bluetooth speaker. Written notes on a smartphone were glanced at by a couple of family members and friends. Scripture was shared and reflected upon. Prayers were voiced by those who chose to do so. Lunch was a time of continued conversation, connection, and laughter. 

Early in my career a worry revolved around having a church funeral for an adult who ended his life. Years of struggling with addiction had turned around day-by-day. However, a relapse created enough internal and external turmoil that he ended his life. His parents were longtime members of the congregation. I had no issues with holding the service in the church, as was the standard practice. Yet, some of his relatives expressed their displeasure for such a drastic change in tradition. These people did not make their concerns known to me, but to the parents of the deceased. This was the opening salvo of my strife between pastoral care and the rituals/customs of the organized church and/or local congregation. 

As my active time in pastoral care moves toward its conclusion I am grateful to be a part of these less than "traditional" rituals. Whether it be baptisms, affirmation of faith (confirmation), weddings, renewal of vows, or gatherings at the end of life those attending are no longer spectators. The gathered are looking into the eyes of others. Stories are speaking the realities of:  frustration and forgiveness, grit and grace, stubbornness and substance. These are components of the web which encompasses meaning and connection. Some people bemoan the decline of the church. I sense that the church (support group for sinners) is still strong and vibrant. It has moved out of a building into the fabric of daily life. This is where it should be practiced.

A diverse community yet 
enjoying a common connection.

In the month of July, both on my YouTube channel and on this blog I will share perspectives which have changed during my decades of pastoral ministry in multiple settings. If I ran for political office no doubt my opponent would blast me for "flip-flopping" on issues. For me the dissonance between policy and practice is ever present. The answers come through listening, interacting, studying, reading, and allowing faith to be interwoven with current existence.  I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the lives of so many people!

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