Last night my wife and I sat with our organist and her husband at a wedding reception and Amy and I took turns chasing Theodore everywhere, while the other conversed. During the course of conversation, my organist was telling me about a conversation that she had with a recent fill-in pastor about young, so-called “high church” guys and their lack of emphasis on evangelism (no doubt he was observing the empty pews in my church). The conversation then meandered toward the topic of why the older, so-called “bronze-age” pastors and the so-called “Hypo-Euro-Lutheran pastors” couldn’t find some common ground and work together more.
As we talked, I was trying to put my finger on this myself. Why is it that it seems like the older generation of pastors and the younger guys seem to be incapable of finding common ground to stand on. The best I could come up with was that the older pastors are suspicious of us younger guys who where Roman collars and read books on how to conduct the service. Perhaps part of this is because there was a day when the guys who wore collars were the Bible-destroying libs. I think that they don’t trust us. They feel they are bequeathing the Geliebte Synode to a bunch of guys whose main concern is which thumb goes over which when you hold your hands. They are worried that we are all going back to Rome because we wear chasubles and adore Christ in the Sacrament even after all have communed. I could be wrong, but I think they are suspicious, if not a bit annoyed by us.
Of course, the flip side of it is that many of us feel woefully misunderstood. They just don’t get us. We are not all about flashy vestments and liturgical gestures. Our love for the traditional vestments and ceremonies did not begin as such, but rather began as a love for the Confessions and Christian doctrine. This, I believe, is what distinguishes us from the old “high-church libs” of the sixties and seventies. This is not first and foremost a liturgical revival, but a confessional and sacramental one. We deplore false doctrine and rejoice in the truth. Speaking only for myself here, the more I fell in love with our historic doctrine, the more interested I became in the traditional liturgy of the Church. I don’t think this is just coincidence here. Reading books by Paul H. D. Lang and A. C. Piepkorn on the conduct of the service just put the icing on the cake, so to speak. So, I don’t think that I am way off base when I say that we are woefully misunderstood by the older generation of pastors, many of whom think that we are all just a bunch of chancel-prancers.
Perhaps if we are to find common ground with each other, we younger guys should have a bit more humility towards our older, experienced brothers in office. There is a lot we can learn from those who have years of experience in the Ministry under their belts. I think for one thing when it comes to dealing with individual people and having good old-fashioned common sense, many of the pastors from a generation or two before us have us licked. But the landscape has changed since then too. Fifty years ago, when people still respected ministers for the most part, a visit from the pastor was a big deal. Bring out the coffee, cookies, and the best chair for the pastor to sit in. Now, generally, it seems like people, even the faithful, see home visits as something of an oddity, an invasion of their privacy, an imposition, a matter of inconvenience. Believe me–I’ve tried! I’ve tried to set up appointments for home visits with people, and I’ve tried just showing up out of the blue. I can tell when I am unwelcome.
Perhaps we younger folks could also learn a thing or two from the older guys about knowing when to close an eye to something and knowing when to bring out both barrels. Perhaps one of the reasons we often experience a lack of respect is because we have a tendency to make a life-and-death issue out of everything, even the things that don’t matter all that much. Perhaps if we reserved some of that for the things that really are big issues, we might have greater success. I really don’t know–I’m just thinking out loud here.
On the other hand, for those who are older, maybe it wouldn’t kill you to open up Paul H. D. Lang’s Ceremony and Celebration or A. C. Piepkorn’s Conduct of the Service and read a little bit about conducting the liturgy. Perhaps rather than sneer at those who like to wear chasubles and talk about which lectionary is better, or what the rubrics for the Daily Offices are, consider the possibility that there are some things that may have gone unnoticed all these years, and perhaps there are some new and old treasures that some of us are bringing out of the Lutheran treasure-chest. Each generation has its own contribution to make to the Church, and no doubt there will be something that was missed by us, some blind spot that we could not see because the smoke of our incense was too thick. 🙂 Who knows? Perhaps we could all begin by learning not to take ourselves too seriously, and having a sense of humor.