Update on Our Liturgical VBS, by Pr. Rossow

I was disappointed during LCMS Convention debate yesterday to see an amendment fail that would have required new starts to use Lutheran liturgical resources. For some reason many in our church body have bought into the myth that using non-Lutheran liturgical resources is beneficial. People like this will object to kneeling or making the sign of the cross because doing such is too Catholic but they do not hesitate to use, and even chase after, basic Protestant resources (Methobapticostal as many like to call them) that are born out of an unacceptable theology that rejects baptismal regeneration and God’s gifts in the Holy Supper. Why would Lutherans not want to use Lutheran liturgical resources? It just does not make sense. We here at the Brothers of John the Steadfast use and promote the historic Lutheran liturgy.

What does make sense is how wonderfully the children of our VBS sang the liturgy this past week at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois. This year we changed our VBS worship by dropping the typical camp-song format and using the same Morning Prayer liturgy that our children use for our Day School chapel each week. They sang it wonderfully. Someone on an earlier comment string quoted Pastor Cwirla as saying: “Give them something to grow into, not something to grow out of.” That truism was on clear display at Bethany this week.

In my previous post I shared a few insights on how effective the liturgical approach was. Here are a couple mpre thoughts, this time from our closing VBS chapel service.

  • On the closing day yesterday we had two chapel services within three hours and the kids did just fine. As a matter of fact, they sang even better at the second service. Speaking of Rev. Cwirla, I felt like I was at a Higher Things Conference with so many chapel services.
  • The pre-service song was LSB #930 “All you works of God bless the Lord.” That song became so popular during the week that some of the kids started singing the refrain while the pianist was merely introducing the hymn. They were so enthused about the song they could not wait to sing.
  • Speaking of piano, as I stated before, the combination of piano and organ for our instrumentation had a quieting effect on the children. Most every LCMS-er knows the uncontrollable buzz of a VBS opening chapel. I was amazed that once the organ or piano started playing each morning the buzz stopped. It is not that way with the camp fire/strumming guitars approach. (Strumming guitars have their place by the way. We use them occasionally at our chapels and even in the Divine Service but not as the primary instrumentation.)
  • The office hymn was LSB #578 “Thy Strong Word.” It was also the theme hymn, It fit well with our week long emphasis on creation. We only sang verses 1,2, 3, and 6. The children liked the hymn so much that some of the boys complained that we didn’t sing verses 4-5! Are you kidding me? How wonderful to have children asking for more hymn verses. Maybe the adults will get to that point some day.

Speaking of strumming guitars in the Divine Service, in the coming weeks I will have our Cantor, Phillip Magness, newly elected member of the LCMS International Ministry Commission, write a series of articles for BJS on our approach to worship at Bethany. We are not “traditional.” We are not “contemporary.” We are not “blended.” The best way we have come up with to describe it is to call it “Authentically Lutheran.” We use a variety of instrumentation (numerous choirs, conga, tympani, strings, brass, bells, piano, accordion, etc.), hymns and liturgies all coming from LSB. The Lutheran Service Book is a great resource for rich, varied Lutheran liturgy reflecting culture from around the world (Chinese, African, Hispanic, etc.). It is far from stuffy and ancient. It is living and breathing but it is Lutheran and historic. Another great example of this approach to worship in a congregation much smaller than ours is Hope Lutheran Church in De Witt Michagan where Cantor Nicole Lepella has worked a model similar to Bethany. As President Elect Harrison begins his year-long program of unifying the LCMS we hope he will take a close look at this approach to the liturgy as a model for the LCMS.

It was a wonderful week. The children sang the liturgy as well and in most cases better than the informal camp “liturgy” that we used in the past. This is not just happening in Naperville and De Witt. In a day or so I will be posting a video from a liturgical VBS at Pastor Heath Curtis’ church in southern Illinois. Like our kids, they sang the catechism songs (see my earlier post) and sang them well. We are Lutherans. Lutheranism is the purest expression of the Christian faith. Let’s not go running after other mixed (heterodox) expressions but be who we are, be proud of it and continue to preserve the faith with these Godly expressions.

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