Concordia Seminary may be dropping chapel services in favor of “small group ministry” but here at Bethany Lutheran Church and School we are adding chapel services. As a matter of fact, I have already attended two chapels today and we had two more earlier this week.
At 8 AM this morning we had staff chapel (the entire congregation is welcome) and then at 9 AM I led the ten minute chapel for our Ladies Lifelight Bible study group. The staff chapel is a beautiful service based on the daily prayer services in the LSB (p. 294 ff.). Those services are based on the minor offices that the church has used for centuries. The Ladies Lifelight chapel was based on the same order but is a little less sophisticated since the staff chapel has a cantor, band director and an organist involved. On Wednesday we had our regular school chapel (congregation invited) where we typically sing Morning Prayer. After that I led our pre-school and Kindergarten chapel where we do a real short version of Morning Prayer. (This was the day where I use a big cardboard cross that I hold in front of my torso to show the kids how to make the sign of the cross.)
It is too bad that Concordia Seminary and all the congregations that have gone to the small group model of organization are trying to script something that ought to be natural – the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren. At Bethany it happens naturally. We don’t need no “stinking small groups” – we actually spend time with each other. We gather around food in the shared church and school work room (that was by architectural design). We stop in each others offices and classrooms to chat about our shared work or simply about nothing. The congregation also spends time with each other at our numerous potlucks and feast day celebrations. (We just had another one last Sunday – the annual Family Reunion in honor of all the mew members that have joined in the previous year.) Besides, who doesn’t complain that we are too busy these days? Who doesn’t complain that the family unit is being undermined. The last thing we need is another night for small groups that further divides families.
Please know that I understand that good things come out of small groups. I am not naive. Good things also come out of forest fires and hurricanes. I reject small groups as an organizational principle for the parish and as teaching units even though acknowledging that some good can come from them. I reject them because they inculcate bad theology (trying to answer the question “what does this mean to you?” without the pastor in place to answer the more fundamental question “what does this mean?”), they are rooted in a methabapticostal notion that the Christian faith is fundamentally relational rather than rooted in the proclamation of objective justification, they undermine the office of the ministry, and among other things, they are just not necessary per my point above that the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren need not be scripted and if it is, there may be greater problems in a congregation not resolvable by small groups.
Back to the Bethany chapels – there are few things as wonderful as 20 plus Lutheran teachers, pastors and secretaries chanting the psalm and singing the Lord’s Prayer accapella. We also add to the order of service a recitation of part of the Small Catechism and include a time for ex corde prayer in the form of “For such and such a petition…let us pray to Lord – Lord have mercy.”
Here is cute little story form chapel this morning. At the end of the serive we exchange the peace of the Lord. As I was extending my hand to the 1st grade teacher she was extending her hand to the 8th grade teacher. She simply gave me her left hand, exchanged the peace and then proudly exclaimed “I am multi-tasking.” Multi-tasking the peace of the Lord. What a great way to start a Friday.
So I plead with the leadership of Concordia to reconsider their decision to replace chapel services with small groups once a week. It is not a healthy direction for a seminary of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod to turn. I am also convinced that somewhere in a cemetery on the south side of town, the founder of the seminary, a lifelong opponent of all things methabapticostal, is rolling in his grave. And more unbelievable than that is the fact that somewhere in Saxony, Philipp Jacob Spener is lying in his grave and smiling.