You may find this hard to believe, but of all the churches I’ve visited or attended in my life, I’ve never been to a Lutheran church. Since my daughter-in-law is Lutheran, I put a Lutheran church in Saratoga on my list of churches I wanted to visit, and today was the day I scheduled for visiting.
Immanuel Lutheran Church has two services: a traditional service at 8:30 and a contemporary service at 11:00. I opted for the traditional service because they said this was the one that played organ and bells. Since I used to play bells at Reedwood, I was hoping to hear some bells played this morning, but this was not the Sunday for that. They did have a full organ with huge pipes on the wall, however, and they played that to its best advantage.
I have often noticed Immanuel Lutheran as we’ve driven by because they have a sign out front that says “God’s River of Life”, and also one that says they accept and distribute donated clothes. That sounded like it should be a well attended church with an active ministry in the community.
I walked in a couple minutes late (fashionably late, as they say) and the minister was making the announcements. I had been given what appeared to be a couple books. One was full of announcements about activities they had coming up, and the other was the order of worship with everything in it, including oral responses and music that wasn’t in the hymnal. There were only maybe 25 or 30 relatively old people.
The sanctuary was large and gorgeous! The whole front of the sanctuary was floor to ceiling windows, and there was a very large redwood tree outside the side windows. At the very center, outside, was a cross. In front of it on the inside was a deep crimson candle holder with a lit candle inside hanging from a chain. I followed a couple of teenagers in. Sarah or Delores, you’ll have to help me on this. I would have called them alter boys except that one was a girl. What are they called? Both wore white robes. The boy carried a cross on a long pole, and the girl carried a lighter which she used to light the two white candles on the table. The choir was standing at the back of the church, and when the service began in earnest, they walked up the aisle singing and went to the choir loft. They wore robes of gold and red. The minister wore a white robe with a green prayer shawl around his neck. On the table at the front, on his prayer shawl, and on a hanging on the wall where the organ pipes were, was embroidered something like a flowering vine or branch. The colors were so lush and vivid it was like standing in a beautiful garden.
I found the service very interesting. My daughter-in-law says the Lutherans at the church she grew up in can’t sing, but these Lutherans could. I had to remind myself that Martin Luther never meant to start a new church. He only meant to renew the Catholic church. The service had some elements in it that reminded me of the Orthodox church I attended last week. The Orthodox service was almost entirely sung or chanted. This morning’s service had some singing and chanting in response to what was going on in the service, but there were also spoken responses.
Both churches used the Nicene Creed in their service, but there was one important difference I was prepared for after having things explained to me at the Orthodox church last week. The difference was in the section that starts out, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” According to the Orthodox church, the Nicene Creed originally said, “…who proceeds from the Father.” This change, small as it sounds, was what ended up dividing east from west. Rome added, “…and the Son” without consulting the eastern bishops, thus making a claim for its dominance, even over the Creed that had been agreed upon originally by all the churches. Furthermore (and this I don’t claim to fully understand the ramifications of) to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son apparently made it sound like it had a lesser role than the other two, whereas the Orthodox church believes in a triune and equal God. So judging from this morning, Luther apparently wasn’t attempting to bring east and west back together, but perpetuated the Creed as revised by Rome.
Communion was served at the railing at the front, where we knelt and held our hands out to have the wafer and then the cup put in them.
The sermon was about Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The pastor pointed out that Stephen died in much the same way as Christ; first commending his spirit to God, and then praying for forgiveness for the people who were stoning him to death. This was sermon number 65 in a series the pastor is doing through the Bible. There was a Sunday School class afterward to discuss the sermon further. The pastor invited me to attend (I couldn’t hide in this small group either) so I did. Through the sermon and the discussion in the class, I’m still mulling over the topic of forgiveness. I am in a situation now where I’m trying to decide if I am more in need of forgiving others or myself. Both seem equally difficult.
After the class, I asked a couple of people if the contemporary service is better attended than the traditional service, and both said it’s smaller. A number of people came up to me and introduced themselves. I have a feeling I could make many of the small congregations I’ve visited very happy if I would choose to stay with them. I’m not sure what the ingredient is that makes some churches thrive, and some dwindle like this. So far, every church I’ve visited here has had something of merit to offer. Somehow the message isn’t getting out.
I received two replies from readers who had an answer to my question about the teenagers that were helping with worship. Here is from Delores Warner:
I will try to answer your question, and add a bit about the Lutheran church we belonged to. Some things were a little different with us. Our church was Grace Lutheran Church, and yes, I would say that the young adults/children that lit the candles and carried the cross were “alter boys” at our church. Never saw a girl do that. Maybe they let girls do it now too.
We had a nice organ as well. Some songs were sung by the choir in back and in a loft of our church. But, the congregation sang along with most of the songs.
Communion was served by the minister and assistant ministers, as we lined up and reached the alter we would kneel and open our mouths and one would put the wafer in our mouths (which I always felt awkward about not putting it in my mouth myself) and then give us a sip of “the blood of Christ”.
We did no chanting. And we would recite over and over throughout the service. “I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
The decoratons (so to speak) are very similiar to our church. And the way the minister was dressed.
And here is from Capi Reed:
Acolytes: we ‘ve been know to use them in the Presbyterian church too! hey any Presbyterian church es around you?