How should I put this? I’m an insufferable pessimist. I find it easier to just assume at best a neutral outcome. It drives my wife nuts, but I usually greet those feel-good personal interest stories on the news with an audible groan. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I find optimism somehow unrealistic. Having been raised in Central Illinois, I was accustomed to the ubiquitous statement from a Cubs fan: “There’s always next year.”
And for my time in the LCMS, especially on the clergy roster, I’ve gone through times like many of us were I wonder if much good can happen. As one of my professors famously says, “Doesn’t Lutheranism get you down?” Yes, it often does. We often sweep the work of our altars and pulpits under the rug so we can move on to the “REAL” mission work, the kind of stuff you can learn about at a conference and bring home a three ring binder to learn 5 Simple Techniques for tricking unbelievers into loving Jesus.
In all honesty, when I see one more conference, one more synod program or initiative, I tend to be at best indifferent. I formed this opinion over the last several years when I saw many LCMS conferences featuring non-Lutheran speakers with enthusiastic worship practices. It’s like we’re embarrassed of who we are. I didn’t expect this from Unwrapped, but the skepticism is always there. Knowing the people involved in the planning, I was eagerly awaiting the fruits of their labors. I (yes, even I) was excited because the tide is changing, we have a fantastic new staff at the IC, a new day seems to be dawning, and this curmudgeon thinks maybe we’re doing alright and the Son of Man just might find faith on earth.
I’m actually confessing a sin here. The pessimist can start thinking the worst, not so much about things and events, but can think the worst about people. Repent, my fellow grumbling, muttering pessimists!
There is nothing that has brought my error into focus like the recent Unwrapped Conference in St Louis. I attended the conference as a presenter excited to see how it would shape up, and one of my people from Philly whom I met working with the homeless was invited along.
College students from around the nation gathered to hear speakers from WITHIN the LCMS speak on various topics. The pastors were actually rostered with our synod. I saw Rev Todd Wilken present his sectional called “The Online Apologist,” and another fellow BJS blogger, Sam Schuldheisz, presented on apologetics in literature. Other sectionals included Adriane Dorr’s presentation on being single, a topic which is a timely one to address, since the church often focuses on married couples and singles can feel inadequate in our hook-up culture. This is just a sample of the many great sectional offerings.
On the final day, President Harrison addressed the entire conference about the synod’s emphasis of Witness, Mercy and Life Together. Interestingly enough, at the end of his presentation, he received a standing ovation.
But the highlight of the conference was the times everyone came together for morning and evening prayer. A Roman Catholic congregation within the campus of St Louis University allowed us to their space for the prayer offices, affording us a beautiful building. So, after Lutherans spoke as Lutherans to our college students in sectionals, everyone worshiped as Lutherans together. Unlike many of the conferences using contemporary worship where I’ve noticed only a few “participate” (mostly the Baby Boomer tables in the front), everyone filled the space with singing that can almost rival Kramer Chapel on the CTS campus–almost.
The formerly homeless man I brought with me, someone who is just recently introduced to Lutheranism, was fascinated. He left the chapel humming “Thy Strong Word” and learned how to chant the Psalms. He took a lot away from President Harrison’s presentation on WMLT. But more than that, he was brought into the circle of the other groups there. Everyone loved him and he had a blast. He is the “cookie guy” I’ve mentioned before, and the organizers brought him in to make 1500 cookies for the conference. At the closing, he was introduced like a rockstar to tell a bit of his story, and I think only President Harrison got louder applause than he. This speaks to the the general atmosphere of the conference that encouraged both of us. Not only does he appreciate the love Lutherans have shown him, he also thinks we’re pretty cool too.
I do, however, have one complaint, as a good pessimist should. We never received the Sacrament during the conference. I’m sure I wouldn’t want a Roman Catholic altar to be used for this at a Lutheran event, but there had to be an LCMS church nearby, or at least the seminary. I heard that it was a logistical nightmare to cart around 450 conference attendees, but I’m sure being fed to the lions was a nightmare for the early church, but they celebrated the Sacrament anyway. I want our people to desire the things of God no matter the cost, and we should set an example that there is no hurdle too high to receive Christ’s body and blood, for God’s Gifts are never an inconvenience. It’s this pragmatism that causes congregations to have the Sacrament maybe once a week, when we sin daily and daily require the Medicine. A conference is a great way to introduce our synod to daily mass through its young people, but I digress…
So, to wrap up, there is much to be encouraged by with Unwrapped. Marcus Zill and his coordinators have set a pretty high bar for the future of these conferences, a future I pray is long and fruitful. We should rejoice. We should be encouraged. Not only were college students soaking up Lutheran theology and Lutheran liturgy, but they were actually given it without the played-out excuse that they don’t care for the historic doctrine and practice of the church.
Where I used to assume the worst, I now assume the best. I assume that the conferences we have coming from us will knock it out of the park like Unwrapped did. I think we are giving people the best we have. Think about it, folks. This is our Reinassance. We have the Confessions in the hands of more lay people than we probably ever have in our history. New media has been taken over for the cause of exposing the world to Confessional Lutheranism. We have a stellar administration and more worth-while events like Unwrapped.
This fantastic conference was due to the persistence of the new administration, and these good things will endure the more we support them in it. Send your members to these events. You won’t be sorry.