Maytag Repairman Pastor – Waiting for Confessers, by Pr. Rossow

Many of you will remember the Maytag commercials about the lonely repairman. He was lonely because the product was so dependable and never needed fixing. I feel a little like the Maytag Pastor today, waiting to hear confessions and not getting a lot of takers.

Since our first Good Friday service is not until 4 PM we set aside the three hours when our Lord hung on the cross for private confession and absolution in the pastors’ studies. We have been doing this for a few years and still only get a couple of folks to come in.

We also practice private confession and absolution throughout the year as requested but then as well, there are not many takers.

It is really our own fault because we have not done enough teaching on it. We are going to be spending more time teaching it throughout the coming year.

One person who came in, in addition to confessing sins and receiving absolution, volunteered some things about his spiritual exercise. He mentioned that during Lent, each Friday morning he prayed the Litany (LSB p. 288). He described it as a great way to respond to all of the garbage of the past week and a helpful bridge to the upcoming Divine Service. He found it so helpful this season of Lent that he has decided to make it a regular practice all year long.

I have been jotting this post down a little at a time as the afternoon passed on and I am happy to report that the reason I am finishing it up at 3:30 is that it wasn’t such a lonely day after all. We had several more confessers than a typical year. hopefully it is a sign of things to come once we spend more time extolling the blessings of private confession and Holy Absolution.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Maytag Repairman Pastor – Waiting for Confessers, by Pr. Rossow — 31 Comments

  1. How about you extol those virtues here? And maybe you could also fill us in on exactly how private confession is done? Honestly, I have no real idea, and I have been a pretty conservative LCMS Lutheran my whole life. Is there a rite that is usual? I have never belonged to a church that encouraged this. I’ve always heard about ‘daily contrition and repentance’ and corporate confession and absolution in the Divine Service, but that is all.

  2. Pastors make it difficult to make private confession a regular part of one’s life. I move around quite a bit due to my job. I attended a church with regular confession hours so using this rite became a regular part of my life. Since then I cannot find a church where it appears the pastor cares or wants to do it. In my past two churches I have experienced pastors who when asked for appointments give the, “I’ll get back to you when I can arrange a time” response and then don’t get back to me. I have also experienced from one pastor the setting up an appointed time then he not showing up. That happened several times so I gave up and have since moved on.”

    If you want people to come, set up regular hours and be there; and don’t joke about confession in Bible classes.

  3. Thanks Tim for the post. We have been slowly teaching and encouraging people here to understand and better appreciate this often neglected gift from the Lord. This year one of our pastors has been available an hour before each of our Holy Week services for private confession and absolution. Some days are more lonely than others, but I never feel more like a pastor than when I have the privilige to bring the sweet words of Christ’s forgiveness into a person’s ears. AC XI is probably a good place to start a more detailed discussion; note the emphasis is on the forgiveness, not on the confession.

    Blessed Good Friday! It is finished!!!

  4. The rite is found on LSB 292 and it is based on the rite in the Small Catechism (5th Part, p. 26 of Catechism). Of course a major problem for many of us LCMS Lutherans is that the 1943 Catechism omitted the rite even though it was part of Luther’s Catechism. I along with many others grew up thinking that Private Confession was a Roman Catholic thing, along with making the sign of the cross, genuflecting, and having a Gospel Procession. The 1986 Catechism correctly put the rite back in the Catechism. Many pastors are once again teaching about this sacrament.

  5. Somewhere (I can’t remember if it is in the Large Catechism, or in Luther’s commentaries on the Psalms) Luther said that it is impossible to teach old people anything new and that it is also unkind to do so. Perhaps he is right. I have had similar frustrations with long timers, but those who are new to Lutheranism and the young have less reservations about confession and absolution. My thought, focus on the young and the new Lutherans and look for results in decades, not years. Continue to offer private confession and absolution, but be patient. It is not a part of the piety of most long term Lutherans.
    If we keep adding good things, they will take root and eventually push the bad away.

  6. I’m another who grew up with the “blue” 1943 catechism and TLH, I was well into my 30’s before I had ever seen the TLH confessional service ever used!

    I’m not quite comfortable yet giving private confession to my own Pastor, maybe if I went to another Pastor I could….

  7. It is my understanding that private confession has all but disappeared from protestantism, with only a small remnant still practicing. At least Lutherans seem to have kept it up better than the Anglican churches, but visit a random LCMS church in the US, and what are the chances that congregation offerse it? I don’t think they are incredibly high. I’m hoping that we see a revival of the practice in our synod.

    Oh, by the way, did you say that you received confession in your office? How about a booth? The informality of sitting down in an office seems like a possible intimidation factor that may prevent some from coming. I know I’d feel a bit, um, safer? doing it in a traditional booth, or special space set aside specifically for that purpose. I think having said structure on the church premises would also do something to communicate the significance of the practice as well.

  8. Nothing but crickets chirping when I offer Private Absolution at posted hours during Advent and Lent. BUT, it is offered in this intentional way, which says in an unspoken way that I/we think it’s important. Including the rite in the hymnal goes a long way to authorize its legitimacy. I’m teaching my youth catechumens by having them sit down with me and do the rite. I was encouraged to see that CSL offers PA as part of the routine schedule. It’ll take a generation before it’s ever (if ever) accepted as a normal part of a person’s spiritual life.

    Here’s an interesting snippet from Johann Sebatian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, giving one example of why Private Absolution fell into disuse. Influenced by Rationalism and Pietism, leaders in Leipzig at the end of the 18th century questioned the usefulness of private confession. Superintendent Pastor Johann Georg Rosenmuller (1785-1815) made the following statements which are characteristic of those influenced by the Age of Enlightenment.

    “Private confession in the strictest sense, in which each penitent must recite his confession and the preacher must speak the absolution to each individually, brings with it great inconvenience and basically has no advantage…For the preacher it is veritable torture when he must spend most of the hours of the day on which he should study his Sunday sermon in hearing confession and pronouncing the absolution and thus must keep on speaking until he is practically ready to faint. Let us say he has a hundred or even more penitents. Either he must repeat the same thing over and over 30 or 50 times or, if he wants to say something different to each one, he will in the end really say nothing at all, unless he is a genius…General confession has a great advantage over the private confession…The preacher can more carefully prepare himself for an edifying and moving address. Each penitent has the advantage of hearing a complete and edifying message, whereas in the few minutes that can be allotted to the private confession practically nothing is said. The solemnity of the rite and the exhortations and admonitions of the preacher addressed to the entire assembly make more of an impression and are accepted more willingly than the personal reproofs in the confessional.” (p.265)

    In a world where people freely, eagerly, and openly confess their sins online or on national television, I would think parishioners wouldn’t have a problem confessing their sins privately to their pastor, especially for the purpose of receiving absolution. But I’m the eternal optimist.

    “Since Absolution or the Power of the Keys is also an aid and consolation against sin and a bad conscience, ordained by Christ [Himself] in the Gospel, Confession or Absolution ought by no means to be abolished in the Church” (Smalcald Articles; Part III, Article VIII. Of Confession).

    “…it would be wicked to remove private absolution from the Church.” (Apology VI:3).

  9. Pastor’s office is for counseling. Confession, as a rite of forgiveness, belongs in the church. I would pull the large chancel chair up to the altar rail and let the penitent kneel at the altar rail to confess to the side of the chair into the pastor’s ear, yet the pastor can still easily reach the penitent’s head. The usher can keep others at the back of the church and out of earshot till it’s their turn. That would look most like Cranach’s painting in St. Mary’s Wittenberg of Bugenhagen holding his two keys. Don’t put confusion between pastoral counseling (in your office), with the rite of confession/absolution (before the altar in the church) into your people’s minds.

  10. If I miss anything from mu Orthodox days, Confession is on the top of the list. In agreement with Joanne I think Confession is best suited in the church, but then again that is what I was accustomed to doing.

  11. When in the parish, I vested and was available for one hour, 11:00-noon on Saturdays, I believe, for private Confession and Absolution. Generally, I heard confessions either in the first pew or while the confessee knelt before the altar rail (their choice). Absolution was delivered with me behind the rail. The date and time for private C&A was noted in all our publications and on our Web site. I also preached on private C&A once a year. Whether or not anyone came, I prayed for every member of the parish by name during that time. The rest of the time was spent reading the psalms or reviewing my sermon.

    Robert C. Baker

  12. I think Frank Senn wrote that the decline of private confession and absolution declined as the numbers of people attended Communion increased. If I remember correctly the pietists also discouraged it. I will have to look it up tomorrow.
    Interestingly enough, I remember a passing fad in the Antiochian Orthodox church, of public confession and absolution. The Bishops put a quick end to it. Of course private confession is a Sacrament in the Orthodox church. While Luther valued and encouraged it he never said it was necessary.

  13. @Timmy #7
    We use the confessional service from TLH (page 46) in our church about once a month or so. But the first time I ever even heard reference to private confession in a Lutheran church was when I was going through some old things of one of my deceased grandparents and ran across a postcard from maybe the 1930’s or maybe even earlier, saying that the Sacrament of the Altar would be offered on Sunday, and that the pastor would be available in his office for private confession on Saturday from 1 – 4. No one that I asked about this remembered this practice, and the only reference I remember hearing about it in 9 years of Lutheran school education was that if you did something really, really bad that was troubling you you should go talk to the pastor about it, sort of on the premise that you might not believe that you were really forgiven unless he told you so, if it was THAT bad.

    It’s hard for me to imagine doing it, frankly. It requires a specific type of trust that I, personally, am extremely uncomfortable with. But there are several nearby churches that have this practice now, and so I’m trying to find out more about it.

  14. Does anybody know the history of how the LCMS ended up with “visible element” added to the Confessions’ definition of sacrament (“have God’s command and promises”), thereby limiting the number of sacraments to only two?

    The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
    Article XIII. (VII): Of the Number and Use of the Sacraments.
    4] Therefore Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments.
    16] Lastly, if among the Sacraments all things ought to be numbered which have God’s command, and to which promises have been added, why do we not add prayer, which most truly can be called a sacrament? For it has both God’s command and very many promises; and if placed among the Sacraments, as though in a more eminent place, it would invite men to pray. 17] Alms could also be reckoned here, and likewise afflictions, which are, even themselves signs, to which God has added promises. But let us omit these things. For no prudent man will strive greatly concerning the number or the term, if only those objects still be retained which have God’s command and promises.

  15. Pastor Rossow,
    Thank you for starting this discussion. I, too, was catechized with the 1943 blue catechism in the early ’60’s. I remember thinking at the time, boy, was I glad I wasn’t Roman Catholic. It would have been very hard for me to confess my sins to my pastor. Of course, the practice of private confession and absolution wasn’t even demonstrated to our class. Now I know why-the rite wasn’t in the blue catechism! I have never been a member of a LCMS congregation that posted specific times for the practice.

    Back in the late ’90’s CTS started publishing the magazine, ‘For the Life of the World’ and I remember a wonderful article by Beverly Yanke concerning private confession and absolution. That article got me thinking more and more about the rite. I finally got up the nerve to call my pastor and make an appointment. Luther points out that we should examine ourselves according to the Ten Commandments and our vocation in life. This helped me greatly. I have gone to PC several times and have always felt it to be a worthwhile practice.

    I think if pastors did more teaching about it and set up specific times for PC more people would take advantage of it. I also think that some pastors are uncomfortable with it because they don’t take advantage of private confession themselves.

  16. @Old Time St. John’s #1

    If you were in Southern California (you could always fly out here), I’d recommend you attend the annual Small Catechism Convocation for the People to be held in two weeks at Trinity Lutheran Church in Whittier.

    More information is at

    The topic this year is “Confession and Holy Absolution–The Keys in Action.” It’s free and the speakers are Rev. Dr. Larry Rast (CTSFW president), Rev. Bob Dargatz (pastor of Immanuel in Orange) and the Rev. Dr. Al Espinosa (pastor of St. Paul’s, Irvine, which sold its property in Laguna Beach and currently meets at Crean Lutheran High School).

  17. I also think that some pastors are uncomfortable with it because they don’t take advantage of private confession themselves.

    I think you hit the nail on the head.

    I take advantage of private C&A with my Pastor, in the church, when I make an appointment with him. We do end up chatting for quite some time usually beforehand, and it does make a nice bridge between “catching up” and the rite when we move from his study and he vests.

  18. I recall Pres. Harrison challenging congregations to use The Litany during their mid-week Lenten Services this year. Ours did.

  19. If a pastor does not have a “Father Confessor” of his own, he will find establishing Private Confession and Absolution hours at his own congregation impossible. So I’ve heard.

  20. Miguel :Oh, by the way, did you say that you received confession in your office? How about a booth? The informality of sitting down in an office seems like a possible intimidation factor that may prevent some from coming. I know I’d feel a bit, um, safer? doing it in a traditional booth, or special space set aside specifically for that purpose. I think having said structure on the church premises would also do something to communicate the significance of the practice as well.

    I’d want to see the pastor vest and wear a violet/purple stole and hear confession from behind the Communion rail. 🙂

  21. I’ll settle for the violet stole.
    There is a short one which can be worn over street clericals. Unless he is going to or coming from a service, the Pastor need not be vested.
    His authority is not in his alb or cassock.

    [Our Sr. Pastor/Reserve Chaplain does the midweek service nearest Armed Forces day in camouflage to make that point.]

    The Pastor with hours posted for private confession/Holy Absolution may be spending most of the alloted time in his study, after all.
    Of course, if your church can provide him with a steady stream of penitents….

  22. helen :I>Of course, if your church can provide him with a steady stream of penitents….

    Maybe a steady stream of impenitents….

    I reported to my congregation when the 2007 Synod-in-Convention passed a resolution advocating a return to Private/Individual Confession & Absolution and they looked at me as if I were insane. ;P

  23. I had been thinking about making an appointment with my pastor for Private Confession & Absolution, but had been scared to do so. This post came at the right time for me, and I made an appointment for next week. My pastor said it would be in the sanctuary and we would use the service from the LSB.

  24. @Ted Crandall #15
    I hate to see a question like this go unanswered, although with almost a week since it was posted I imagine the answer might never be seen, but anyway …

    It wasn’t too long after Augsburg that the Lutherans refined their definition of a sacrament to include “visible element” connected with God’s Word, thus leaving Absolution out. If you do a search on “sacrament” in the Book of Concord, you will find that Absolution, though still highly respected and encouraged, is no longer included after the Apology.

    Perhaps the most clear indication of this shift comes from Luther himself. At the beginning of the section on Baptism in the Large Catechism (Fourth Part), he says:

    “We have now finished the three chief parts of the common Christian doctrine. Besides these we have yet to speak of our two Sacraments instituted by Christ, of which also every Christian ought to have at least an ordinary, brief instruction, because without them there can be no Christian; although, alas! hitherto no instruction concerning them has been given.”

    (If I knew better how to do the tags, I’d put “two Sacraments” in bold!)

  25. @Pastor Jeff Samelson #28
    I agree that we shouldn’t quibble too much about whether or not we should call Private Absolution a sacrament. However, the bigger issue is why as you say, Pr. Samelson, “you will find that Absolution, though still highly respected and encouraged” is no longer “highly respected and encouraged.” What are the theological and sociological reasons that Private Absolution fell into disuse contrary to not only the Apology, but also the Smalcald articles, written seven years after the Apology and authorized along with the Apology et al as the Lutheran Church’s official Confession of faith as compiled in the Book of Concord in 1580: “Since Absolution or the Power of the Keys is also an aid and consolation against sin and a bad conscience, ordained by Christ [Himself] in the Gospel, Confession or Absolution ought by no means to be abolished in the Church” (Smalcald Articles; Part III, Article VIII. Of Confession).

  26. @Pastor Jeff Samelson #28
    Thank you, Pastor Samelson! I never noticed that the change in the definition of “sacrament” was already taking place even in the Confessions themselves. I suspected the change was much more recent — and likely to have been perpetrated by the DPs. 🙂

  27. I would suggest that in the Large Catechism, Luther seems to have thrown the baby out with the bath water, and in the Smalcald Articles, he rescues the baby (Holy Absolution) from the garden. 😉

    As he says, Christ also instituted “Absolution or the Power of the Keys”. “Whosoever’s sins ye remit they are remitted unto them and whosoever’s sins ye retain, they are retained.”

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