Organ Dedication, May 21st @ 3PM, You are Invited

Biography of Guest Organist …

Chase Loomer is a junior at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, where he studies organ performance with David Higgs. A native of Charlotte, NC, Chase was awarded first prize in the AGO/Quimby Southeast Regional Competition for Young Organists and has been a prizewinner at several other competitions throughout the southeast, including the Columbia and Winston-Salem AGO competitions. Chase was also the winner of the Sarasota-Manatee AGO Chapter Competition. In high school, he was a five time Stigall Scholarship recipient. Chase has served as the interim organist at Centre Presbyterian Church in Mooresville, NC and as a VanDelinder Fellow at Christ Church in Rochester, NY, where he was awarded the inaugural Casparini Prize for excellence in organ performance. Currently, he is the Assistant Organist at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Greece, NY. His previous organ teachers include Dr. Patrick Scott and Dr. Katie Ann McCarty, and he studied piano with Dr. Dylan Savage and the late Dr. Ruskin Cooper. Chase also has an interest in jazz piano and was a member of one of the Eastman jazz ensembles. As a singer, Chase was selected for NC Governor’s School in 2012 and currently sings in the Eastman Repertory Singers and Christ Church Schola Cantorum. He was recently featured in the Rising Star series at the 2016 AGO National Convention in Houston and attended the 2016 OHS Convention as an E. Power Biggs Fellow.

Vanity of Vanities (A Reply to a Note about the LCMS)

Have you ever read or heard a comment and been split between: “better late than never” and “years late and dollars short”? That was my reaction reading this. I am struggling, will struggle and will probably fail as I write to keep my cynicism out of this. So, let me just state my most cynical thought up front. After years of disregarding and exiling anyone who said “you might have a problem”, now that the seminary is having an enrollment problem, we get lines from senior seminary leaders like “maybe we should listen to 20-30 year olds” and “we might need to think about structure”.

Ok, now that I’ve got that out of my system, I do want to write a few vain things in response. I’m going to put on my MBA hat and mix in a certain low cunning. Nothing that I write here is something that I haven’t shared before with others in private conversations. The universal response is bi-polar. In power and over 60 think I’m insane while powerless and under 45 think I’m preaching the gospel.

The first question that must be asked is simply if the LCMS as an institution is one that you would choose for the moonshot Dr. Raabe writes about, or if the better strategy for this institution would be simply to focus on current strengths and realize that size will be smaller in the immediate future. It would be the simple but boring answer to say “years late and dollars short”, focus on strengthening what remains, hold fast what you have. The church of Philadelphia is a real church. Any MBA working through the Harvard case study would say this, but those in power after squandering the last 30 years are going to feel a twitch of guilt, so let’s talk about the moonshot.

First, moonshots are methodical and expensive. Remember the scene from Apollo 13 as they figured out the sequence to get the power below the threshold? The first hard truth that must be digested is that institutions like the LCMS primarily spread along with population migration. That is not going to change. How the LCMS started new congregation, outside of elder fights, was when enough loyal LCMS members moved far enough away and banded together to start a new congregation. That was always reactionary in regards to place. In 1964, peak church, people were loyal enough to denominations to start one of their brand. In the past 30 years that has not been the case. If the LCMS is going to stage a moonshot the first thing it will have to do is learn to forecast population movements and open congregations “on spec”. The SBC and the non-denoms could do this because in that tradition an enterprising young person felt the call, went to where the grass looked green and opened the door. That is not possible in a denomination that requires 8 years of education for ministers. Other groups, like Presbyterians, could do this because they had a middle judiciary (i.e. the Presbytery) that had real access to funds. They didn’t always use it, but some did, and they used it to start churches. You are either trusting freelancers or trusting some form of Bishops with real authority. Our mixed congregational structure is the worst of both worlds for the change we have experienced.

The LINC model (reference Houston) leans toward the non-denom freelancers. The LCMS has fenced it off through ethnic boundaries and then through the SMP. The opposite, a strong bishopric, really hasn’t been attempted. This gets us to the second hard truth. Either of these forms will still take lots of money not currently in evidence. Personally I spent five years working on a LINC model. At the end, the attempt folded for lack of consistent funding. Lutheran congregations are a slow burn or thick environment. In the city it is doubtful that one would ever reach self-sustaining absent a vow of poverty from a missionary pastor probably along with a vow of celibacy. Even in areas where self-sustaining could be reached, it will take time to disciple. It is probably better to think of these new sites in a monastic way. We send people with significant support to start a new place away from the mother-house. We were never good at thin attractional ministries to begin with and the days of gathering “nominal Christians” with attractional gimmicks are over. The new congregation is going to be a place of new evangelization. Whether you choose freelancing or centralized, these new cites are going to have to be supported monetarily as missions for extended time periods. Or we need to be very open about the hardships of the calls.

This is getting long, but I’ve got a couple other hard truths I want to look at quickly. Third hard truth, the LCMS elects leaders defensively and because it is their turn, not because the person has a vision that they would like to lead toward. The result of that institutional bias is stasis, lack of funds and maybe most importantly lack of any real authority to experiment. The LCMS somewhere would need to elect a young-ish person with the mandate to experiment and the vigor and desire to be on the road raising funds one small parish at a time. Fourth hard truth is that many of the congregations that would need to be relied upon need help themselves. I’ll use my place as an example. We have four LCMS congregations within a 10 mile radius. All four are open and living through various special graces of God. We could have two solid places. We could even have one exemplar. Instead we have four Philadelphia’s (Rev 3:7). Fifth hard truth, the LCMS would need to stop eating its young. What do I mean by that? Well, the seminaries spent 2000-2013 taking $60,000 per student and sending them to churches that were often barely operational. Or they didn’t get a call, but the loans were due immediately, along with the reminder that calls are not guaranteed. Or you end up on CRM (some fairly others quite unfairly) and you might as well get a job at selling cars. The entire institution sustained itself by churning through the idealistic offerings of young people. We like to think of the ministry with rose glasses and romanticize the call, but the MBA’s supply and demand has more to do with it than we might like. Right now, those curves meet lower than we like. It will take an external shock (i.e. money or money in the form of time) to move that.

The MBA recommendation in such a case would be a skunkworks. You would need to establish a well-funded wide open experiment zone. The purpose is two-fold. First to protect the experiments from the main system’s immunological reaction to kill it. The second is to fail fast and pivot fast so that you have developed something that works by the time the main institution breaches the walls. The seed is in the stump. As I said at the start I doubt that the LCMS is the institution that one would pick to for this moonshot. My guess is that it needs to be burned again. But that very reference (Isa 6:11-13) would be my hope. God works through death and resurrection. A church full of Philadelphia’s has doors that no one can shut.

Pastor’s Corner – Epiphany Stars – January Newsletter Article

Christmas is a short season, just twelve days. Many years not even two Sundays. Epiphany is a longer season. It starts usually in the middle of the Week on Epiphany proper with the Star and the Magi. (This year locally we will hold an Epiphany Vespers service, so if you find yourself with some extra-time Monday early evening, come on over and sing vespers with us. We’ll have cake afterward.) Epiphany starts with a bang and ends with a bang as well. The last Sunday of Epiphany is the Transfiguration a bright shining and leading star of a different sort. In between are eight Sundays, two months, where the altar cloths return to green. The stars fade, the surprising miracles and celebrations recede, and everyday life re-emerges. What that doesn’t mean is that God is not present or stops revealing himself. That is the core meaning of Epiphany, a revealing or a sighting of God. What the season captures is that we limited humans can’t take it all in at once. We also can’t live on the mountaintop, at least not yet. But we are called to follow.

One of my favorite bible verses is Genesis 28:16 which has Jacob blurting out “surely God is in this place and I did not know it.” It is a favorite because I think it captures our living experience in our modern world. It also captures the Spirit of Epiphany. I could say that we are taught a naked universe, and it would be true, but that is not the true source of our ignorance. Our ignorance of God starts out in ourselves and our sinful nature. We start out lost and estranged from God. We start out desiring our own way. It takes an Epiphany, a revelation of God, for us to see the larger reality of our world and our existence. For most that Epiphany is Baptism, but there are more dramatic ones. But just because we have such an Epiphany doesn’t mean that we like it, or follow it, or even know fully what it means. Jacob’s stated desire after his Epiphany was “so that I come again to my father’s house in peace.” Yet he didn’t turn around and go patch things up with Esau and the Father he and his mother had just conned. Jacob spends 14 years with Laban getting conned with Leah and then receiving Rachel. Only when that family situation becomes untenable does Jacob return and still in stark terror of Esau. Following the Epiphany was not Jacob’s strong suit.

Having an Epiphany is great, but the real task of an Epiphany is following. The Magi rejoiced and they followed the star. The disciples left the mount and returned to the plain and continued to follow Jesus. The Christian life is one of receiving the Epiphany and following. God is surely here. The Father’s providence continues over the seasons and the years. Christ is present with us in Word and Sacrament. He is present when we gather and goes with us when we go through the indwelling of His Spirit. God is surely in this place – our churches and our lives. The challenge of the Christian life is to see and receive and follow. Herod heard the report of the Magi along with the scribes. None of them followed. The Galilean and Judean crowds saw the miracles, but would each refuse to follow in their own way. The light continues to shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5), yet many yawn at the Christmas message and still more receive it and quickly turn away. The task of Epiphany is to learn to follow.

The stars of Epiphany are leading stars. Are you willing to follow where Epiphany shines?

Advent, Christmas Carols and Church Discomfort

Advent IconIn Bible class this past week we were looking at Romans 3. One of the observations was that when Paul really wants to ground something for his audience he quotes the Psalms. Romans 3:10-18 is one long mashing together of lines from the Psalms. The point behind that observation is that it was the hymnbook that anchored most people recognition of the theology. Everybody remembers the songs, or at least the good ones. Each branch of the Christian tree always had there own hymnbook. Within that book were the shared songs of all (Joy to the World, Amazing Grace) and those that were more special to a specific tradition (the 15 verse hymns of Martin Luther like From Heaven Above to Earth I Come). As beautiful I I find “From Heaven Above”, I would not expect a Baptist to know it. I would have expected Baptist and Lutheran to know O Little Town of Bethlehem or Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. And even the committed atheist knows Silent Night.

I slipped into the subjunctive past there, I would have expected, because while I would have, I’m not sure if that expectation was realistic even in the past. And it is no longer operative today. First because the outlet for these songs is no longer as wide as it once were. As a small boy, the secular radio station in during Christmas would play Carols as specific as O Little Town of Bethlehem or It Came upon a Midnight Clear. Also, it was fading already, but that was a time when non-professionals sang regularly. Whether it was community choirs or Caroling or before any church function or just in the home, people sang. I don’t think that is true anymore, other than getting caught singing along to Katy Perry in the car to embarrass your kids. The only place these songs and singing happens on a regular basis in in church.

Now if you are a near every Sunday attender, even if you are skipping traditions, in a few years you will become accustomed and know the songs of that tradition at least to the point of recognition. And again in that subjunctive past, a larger percentage of Christians attended at those frequencies. Once upon a time, the rule of thumb was the ratio of attendance to membership was 1:2. I consider us fortunate to be in the 1:3 range. I know many pastors who hold 1:4 as the new guideline. If attendance is monthly (1:4) there are big gaps. For example, the season of Advent is 4 weeks. There are more, but I would say there are three great hymns of Advent: On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry, Hark the Glad Sound and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. (The Lutheran Specific gem might have been Come, Thou Precious Ransom Come). Talking with the person who is arranging some of the music for one of those Advent Services, she was surprised when nobody in the group knew O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. My reaction was that if your church attendance had been limited to Christmas as a kid why would you know it? And expanding that to the current situation, if you are in service once a month, in December that is probably not that third week (15th – 22th) that is the traditional place for O Come, O Come. O Come, O Come is ancient dating back to at least the 9th century as the antiphons in Evensong or Vespers. A verse a day from Dec 17th to the 24th focusing that last week before Christmas day. The advent Hymnbook, which for me personally is the beating heart of Christian piety and practice (for if we are not in a perpetual advent what are we in), is something that for many within the church is not familiar.

Now there are two reactions to this. The first is a general “dumbing down” of the hymnbook. You can do this by capitulating to the culture and bringing in professionals all the time. That is what CCM is. We replicate the radio sound you know, bring it into the sanctuary and have a professional sing it hoping that you will do what you do to the radio. You can also do this by shrinking the hymnbook. By singing the same hymns instead of 1 – 3 times a year singing a smaller number 3 – 6 times a year. If they don’t go with the text or the theological theme of the day, oh well. A third way is simple defiance which is really asking the faithful to keep alive this tradition and practice the faith. And this is where I want to bring in another article and address that third part of my title.

James Rodgers, layman and fellow LCMS’er, writes today in First Things:

Churches also need to take back some of the responsibility that they shifted onto American culture. Because of the (largely Protestant) religious public consensus in early and 19th Century America, social pressure effectively substituted for ecclesiastical discipline. We can debate whether this cultural arrangement ever worked all that well (as well as what prompted it), but whatever moral consensus ever existed has been strained by the upheavals of post-War American culture. Because of the earlier reliance on social consensus, and the consequent blurring of lines between society and Church, this cultural shift created an ecclesiastical challenge. American churches must now get into the business of distinguishing between themselves and the broader culture in ways that they didn’t in early American history.

For Christians who have been used to thinking of themselves as sitting in the mainstream of American society and culture, this can be a disturbing and disorienting shift. The upshot is that the self-identity of church communities in the U.S. must now be drawn much more sharply than it was in the past, or else they will simply evaporate with the evaporating (or evaporated) consensus. All this is to say that the Church and Christians in America can no longer free ride on the diffuse pseudo-Christianity of American culture. We must express the ontological reality that Jesus created his Church to be through baptism and the Supper: One with him, and one with one another

There was a time when O Come, O Come, Emmanuel I would have placed in the general cultural knowledge like Silent Night. As Dr Rodgers points out, the American church had it easy in a sense. The culture helped instruct in the faith. He calls it ecclesiastical discipline, but what I would call it is the law of practice. What does it mean to be a practicing Christian? The culture used to form and guide people to at least nominal practice. Today, true practice of the faith is counter-cultural. The church and the individual must take responsibility for their own practice. What does this mean? Well, in one sense it can be that stubborn defiance in regards to language and songs. You know you have walked into something different when the hymnbook is used. And it might require some learning. But in a deeper sense, the church is probably going to have to get used to proclaiming a clear law. Membership in American society is not membership or practice of the Christian faith. Spelling out what it means to live your baptism, to receive the body of Christ, and to incarnate that body in your world. The church has been vague for a long time accepting the general societal definition. That definition is now toxic to the true faith.

Congregational Meeting Presentation

We had our congregational meeting yesterday. The simple agenda was: short preschool update, budget presentation, nominations. Here are the core charts shared. Just paging through them doesn’t give you the actual talk. I try and make slides that are support and hence they don’t “walk” quite as easy. If I’m just reading charts I’m not respecting your intelligence. But, these are the underlying data that the council and elders have been working with.

The progression of the charts is:
– agenda & Church vision
– statistical picture of congregation
– How that vision becomes reality, or How we spend your tithes in mission
– Budget, or what we want to spend next year
– Pastor’s words on what the budget means and the state of the congregation

Congregational Budget Meeting Oct 2013 vCongregation

Unionism & Syncretism Follow-up #2

President Harrison and the District President have both issued new pastoral letters.

Now I am feeling much better for three reasons.
1) President Harrison, instead of his first letter asserting a definition of worship as prayer and readings and holding the pastor guilty, has admitted that we as a synod are conflicted about that definition.

As the nation struggles with increasing violence and tragedy, we as a church body have struggled and continue to struggle with how to respond to civic/religious services in the midst of such events and to do so in a way that is in accord with our core convictions about the uniqueness of Christ. There are strong differences of opinion on this issue within the Missouri Synod, and that is because we all take our commitments to the Bible and to serving the neighbor very seriously.

2) President Harrison has made it clear that Pastor Morris’ apology was not over that difference, but as his initial letter held he apologized where offense was taken. The apology was not over core differences which are still present, but was an acknowledgement of differences.

I naively thought an apology for offense in the church would allow us to move quickly beyond internal controversy and toward a less emotional process of working through our differences, well out of the public spotlight. That plan failed miserably. Pastor Morris graciously apologized where offense was taken as a humble act to help maintain our often fragile unity in the church (1 Corinthians 8).

3) The joint statement of unity is big to me. This may be taking it too far, but what I take that as is President Harrison who sympathizes with a tighter definition, and the pastor who sympathizes with a looser definition, acknowledge that this is not, at this time, a communion dividing difference. There are no anathemas to be declared. That is the purpose behind the announcement of reconciliation and peace in my hearing.

If there is one thing that I am for it is clear definitions even if those definitions are just of the status of the controversy. At the time of the Reformation it literally took two generations to work through differences and come to concord captured in the Formula of Concord. The first part of that work is always a definition of the controversy. The first set of letters in my mind dodged clarity and asserted unity where there was none. These are clear and call a thing what it is. That is a holy tension we carry.

Unionism & Syncretism Follow-up

COEXISTThree days ago I noted something interesting coming out of LCMS, inc. and wondered if it might get picked up by the larger news media.

Jerry comes in today and asks, “have you see a small snippet in the D&C?” I had not, and I couldn’t find it on the D&C website, but I imagine it came from this AP wire report. I think the AP did a much more even job than I would have expected. However I do wonder if that is because the way it is portrayed is “church struggling to overcome archaic rule-book”. I wonder if the reporter would have taken the same tone and approach if she had connected the politics of the previous president coming out in support in very strong words and the current president issuing a ruling and asking for an apology. Her story arc doesn’t fit that well.

That is enough media criticism. Just a couple of definitions. Syncretism, which this event following Pres. Harrison’s definition would have been, is when a Christian and any non-Christian are involved in worship together. What is being said by such an action is that all “gods” are the same. All paths lead to the same “god”. The leaders are syncretizing beliefs. This was big in the ancient and pagan world as each locality would have its “gods” like Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28) who would be identified by other names in other places like Diana (Rome) or Cybele (Asia). Since the gathering in Newtown included Muslims and Hindus you would use syncretism. Unionism is more limited. Unionism is when leaders of different Christian confessions, say Lutheran and Baptist, get together for worship. What is being said by such action is that baptizing babies vs. waiting for a believers baptism or the body and blood in with and under the bread and wine vs. a memorial meal are not really big differences. The LCMS was spurred by something called the Prussian Union which did just that saying the Reformed and Lutheran would worship in the same place because there was no true difference in the core of the gospel. Fleeing that, unionism became the big hob-goblin of the LCMS.

As I said in that previous post, to me the most interesting thing is President Harrison’s definition of worship. He puts in extraneous things to bolster his definition, like vestments, but the core of his definition is prayer and religious readings. What happens when I have coffee in the morning with my baptist friend and we pray and read a scripture passage? Or what happens during VBS when we open with Prayer, singing of songs and reading of a scripture verses? In a deeply pluralistic society, unless you are Amish, can you avoid unionism?

Afternoon update
Here is the NY Times on this story.

Here is Get Religion (Mollie) who is LCMS, but who has a much harsher take on that AP story I included this morning.

Unionism, Syncretism and the LCMS

These have been a problem from beginning of the LCMS. The last flare-up was District President Behnke around 9/11. When I saw Newtown I was wondering if we’d see another. I just received a notice from the Synodical President’s office. Here is his letter (with his ruling) in regards to the Newton pastor’s actions. Here is the pastor’s letter.

I’ll let you read each. If you have any questions, concern or discussion we can talk about this in bible class or just give me ring.

The only new ground here that I found interesting is President Harrison’s definition of worship – the presence of prayers and religious readings. That moves the needle considerably toward the Wisconsin Synod definition in regards to prayer fellowship.

An Interesting Story

There are certain roles that are just intriguing both for the history behind them and for the challenges they face. The Archbishop of Canterbury is one of those. And there is a new one. This article has a little of his story and background. And I have to say that I feel a little kinship – from the boarding school background to the living off of savings right through the “you have no future” comments. Although, Bishop Welby sounds like a much better man than I am. He will have to be, reference the challenges the ABC faces. Here is a small prayer from someone across the pond that he might live up to the some of the great predecessors in that office.

From Thomas Cranmer, the translation of the collect for purity before the reception of the sacrament. Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen

Seems a worthy prayer on entrance to such an office.