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The Temporary Lutheran

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In January of this year, our diocesan administration sent out a general notice to the clergy, with a request: “Is anyone free to take Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter services in a couple of country parishes?”  I knew that I had no commitments, so, after checking with St. Margaret’s to see if I was needed there, I replied, “Here I am, send me!”  And it was so.

Then the Bishop’s secretary wrote back to say, “Since you’re doing their Easter services, they actually need someone right through the month of April.  Can you do that, too?”  “Okay,” I said.

BUT... I had not read her original notice carefully enough: what she had actually written was, “ in a couple of LUTHERAN country parishes.”  Uh-oh.  We’re in full communion with Lutherans, and they have a clergy shortage, so there’s no ecclesial problem.  But I don’t know their rites!  “Well,” I said to myself, “they can’t be too different from what we Anglicans do, can they?”

Actually, they can be.  These congregations no longer use the Revised Common Lectionary; instead, they’ve turned to something called the “Narrative Lectionary”   developed at a Lutheran seminary.  In this system, Sunday Bible readings follow a four-year cycle, and the entire liturgy is made fresh each week, with thematic echoes of the Scripture passage of the day.  The confession repents of bad things generalized from the day’s Scripture selection; and the Intercession prays for issues and concerns related that material as well.

The congregations are provided with liturgical call-and-response prayers each week – where the pastor says one line, and the congregation, reading in unison, says the next – but I found, when I began to prepare for the worship, that the provided prayers often became what I call “preaching prayers.”  They would go something like, “Dear God, help us to not be like the hypocrite in today’s reading;” or, “help us to be better recyclers and stewards of the planet, like the sower who went out to sow....”  I’m exaggerating here, but I suspect that you’ve probably heard extemporary prayers that appear to offer petitions to God, but actually lecture the congregation.

So I began an intensive month and a half.  The secretary that served the two congregations would send me the Bible selection for the forthcoming worship, plus a draft of the liturgy.  I was allowed to change and edit the liturgy (and believe me, I did – reducing, wherever I could, the preachy bits).  Then I would prepare a sermon.  On the appointed day, Heather and I would drive the 100 kilometres out to the first church, where I would conduct the service and preach the sermon.  Afterwards, following a bit of visiting with the people, we’d drive the 40 kilometres to the second church and begin the same service and sermon again. We’d get home by, perhaps, two in the afternoon.

The people, though, were really sweet to us, and we grew very fond of them in that short five or six weeks.  Sunday, April 24th, was our last day to do all this, and in both congregations there was a reception – with cake – in our honour!  In fact, I’m having a birthday on Friday, and both churches got wind of this (I blame Heather for leaking the information), so they sang the birthday song at me, and put candles on the cake.

On that last Sunday, after the second service, we were directed to a farm about 11 kilometres down a gravel road, where we were the guests of an enormous extended family: about eight little kids, all cousins, ranging from 3 to 12 years of age, plus an equal number of adults; all of whom had brought pot-luck, and engaged us in the liveliest of conversations.  It was a blast.

As we drove away, I felt a soreness in my throat, and I have now come down with some sort of ’flu.  But the benefit is, I cancelled appointments and am taking it easy... with my laptop open.  So, what better time can there be, to catch up with email correspondence, and write up a narrative such as this!??

a wooden gangplank leading from rough ground to a dock
Trinity Church
in the community of Thalberg, Manitoba

The photo was taken on March 25, Good Friday
most of the congregation had gone home, leaving only the neighbour’s dog.

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