We all know the feeling of liturgical dread. You are on the road. You aren’t sure about the local churches. You drive into the parking lot of a local parish wondering if you will be able to worship God according to known and rehearsed forms or if you will be subjected to the whims and tastes of the local overseer who has crafted his own unknown, unrehearsed form of worship based on his own tastes and preferences and a weird amalgam of non-Lutheran Methabapticostal forms and ethos.
Of course in this day and age of smart phones and the “intraweb,” it is much easier to find out ahead of time if a church is liturgical. One can also check the liturgical churches website.
Anyway, I had a chance to hook up with one of the pastors from my doctoral peer group this last weekend and was delighted by the liturgy at his parish. Rev. Philip Quardokus is Senior Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Stevensville, Michigan down in the southwestern corner of the state. It is clear from the liturgy and the preaching that Pastor Quardokus places an emphasis on being Scriptural and Lutheran when it comes to the Divine Service.
There were many highlights including the fact that they had a real live introit! “Introit” is a Latin Word for “entrance” or “travel” and was originally brought into the liturgy as a piece of psalmody to be played as the priest and the rest of the participants travelled into the chancel for the Divine Service. At Christ Lutheran the pastors and acolyte processed to the first step of the chancel during the opening hymn and then processed into the chancel during the Introit. Such high delight!
Other highlights of liturgy at Christ included the fact that most of the responsory parts were chanted by liturgist and congregation, the congregation sang really well, and the service included a reading from the Book of Concord. The Scripture readings were read by the assisting pastor but the reading from the Book of Concord was read by a layman. I’m no big fan of lay readers but I will take time out of any Divine Service to have a layman read to me from the Book of Concord.
Here was something really refreshing. There was not a single verbal instruction given during the entire service. I have been to several confessional parishes where the pastor thinks that he needs to interrupt the drama of the Divine Service with “we now turn to page so and so for such and such” or “the congregation will please rise,” so forth and so on. It is not necessary particularly if you have a printed order of service and even if you don’t, people will learn when to stand and sit and they know where to look for the hymns. The visitors are also able to read and follow others. They will be far more impressed with a room full of people who know their parts for the Divine Service without prompting than they will be put off because they had to follow what everyone else was doing a split second later.
The sermon was great. Quardokus is a bit more dramatic than average but that is who he is and because I knew that and because his sheep would know that, it was actually very natural, sincere and effective. He preached clear and scathing law and clear and salving Gospel. The sermon was textual and Christ-centered.
Only one person recognized us as visitors and greeted us but that does not bother me. I am the type of person that would rather not be bothered anyway. If I have a question or want to be identified as a visitor I will seek out the pastor or someone else if need be. Despite that, the mood of the narthex was very lively and personable. If I were checking this parish out as a visitor I would be impressed that the Divine Service was about God and his words of law and gospel for me and that the people really enjoyed each other and enjoyed being there.
The people were fairly young. That is probably because they have a Pre K – 8th grade day school. Good for them. When done right, Lutheran day schools are a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.
I would not change a single thing at Christ Lutheran, well maybe a few things. It would be nice if the procession included a cross with Jesus hanging on it so that there is no mistaking that this time is devoted to hearing about the savior of the world. It would also be nice for the lector to let the people sing the Gospel response to him as the mouthpiece of Christ rather than he singing it with them.
They do have a contemporary service a couple times a month. Pastor Q assured me that it was mostly about the music and that the basic form of the liturgy was maintained. It was nice to see that there was no “praise pit” and not a trap set anywhere in sight.
It was very edifying to be convicted of my sin and convinced of my salvation via the liturgy and preaching at Christ Lutheran – Stevensville, Michigan. My prayer for your upcoming trips this summer is that the road rise to meet you and that you find liturgies with real, live, travelling introits.