“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12).
The Lutheran community has been a major part of my life for fifty years. Within this community I have consistently found friendships, help, and hope. Since 1985, this community has also provided me a career. Many other expressions of the church universal also do much that benefits the world. One in three people in the global village claim to be Christian, totally 2.19 billion members.
The early Christian community began with a few hundred people. It was a grass roots movement in which participants shared mutual love and respect for one another, and people outside their fellowships. Their way of living was in sharp contrast to the abuses of power within the predominant religious and political institutions of the time. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament indicates it wasn’t long before conflicts and arguments became part of the Christian tradition. Loving one another as Christ has loved us is a goal rarely actually achieved.
Scandals and Conflicts
Today the failures and flaws of the contemporary institutional church are on full display:
- Leaders guilty of lurid sexual assaults on members.
- Covering up for the guilty while trying to silence the victims.
- Perpetuating policies that exclude potential leaders on the basis of gender.
- Denying inclusion to some on the basis of whom they love.
- Refusing to acknowledge and apply generations worth of scientific research that address some of our serious global health and economic challenges.
Yet in spite of all the church’s wrongs, people still turn to it for inspiration and help in times of trouble. I was not raised in the church, but rather was introduced to a sampling of several different denominational flavors. Sometimes I attended with my mother or grandmother. Other times I tagged along with a friend. My smorgasbord of childhood churches included Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, and Unitarian.
How I Met the Lutherans
I didn’t set foot inside a Lutheran congregation until my college years. Though my exposure to the Christian community was sporadic, I consistently experienced a warm welcome whenever I did show up. No one seemed particularly concerned with what I believed about the virgin birth, the trinity, or the death and resurrection narratives about Jesus the Christ.
I shall never forget my first Easter service in a Lutheran congregation. My future mother-in-law took me to the service. At that point in my biography I had only achieved girlfriend status with my future husband. He took me home for the weekend to meet his parents. Easter morning he and his father left early to help with the annual Easter breakfast. My future mother-in-law introduced me to the pastor and said, “She’s not Lutheran. You don’t have a problem with her taking communion, do you?”
He didn’t. I was included. I sometimes wonder how different my faith life would have turned out if that pastor had said, “No, she can’t.” I wonder if that would have ended my affiliation with the Lutherans before it even started. I cringe when I hear stories about people turned away at the communion rail. I’ve heard all the excuses for doing this, and I don’t buy any of them.
Martin Luther the Reformer
After we married I spent several years observing Lutheran ways. During those early days I made many friends while older members mentored me through the early years of raising children. Somewhere along the line I got acquainted with Martin Luther via Roland Bainton’s biography, Here I Stand. The title refers to what Luther is believed to have said when the church authorities of the 1500’s demanded he recant his criticism of the church. “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” Luther did not recant. We call what happened next the Protestant Reformation.
The more I learned about this gutsy guy, the more I related to him. I related to his ongoing search to understand the nature of human relationships with God. I admired his courage in standing up to the wrongs he identified in the church institution of his day.
I never intended to be a pastor. How I became one anyway is a story for another day. My journey from clueless outsider, to curious observer, to ordained leader within this tradition has amazed me as much as family and friends who didn’t see that coming. However, in researching my family genealogy it seems the seeds for this are in my family history.
Lutherans and Leadership in my DNA
My father’s father was Lutheran in Germany before he immigrated to the States as a teenager. The church in which he was baptized was the first church to flip from Catholic to Protestant in that German state. On my mother’s side I am related to Elder William Brewster who became the lay pastor to the Pilgrims when they settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.
Because the church consists of millions of humans, it has been both a blessing and a bane to society for over twenty centuries. With all the bad press currently circulating about the church today, I want to focus on some of the ways in which it is still a blessing to society. Thousands of people quietly go about doing considerable good for others through their affiliation with various organizations within the Lutheran community. Other denominations are also up to much good, but I am most familiar with what the Lutheran are doing. HowWiseThen is devoting the month of March to stories about these Lutherans and some of their organizations.
Next up – Lutheran Disaster Response. LDR is still working to clean up the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. They are also actively helping with the recovery from a variety of other disasters.