The Rev. H. Jeffrey A. Clements
My son was new to his position as associate director of Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp. He and his dog had moved to Montana that summer with what he could stuff into his small car. My daughter-in-law was still working in North Dakota as a National Park Ranger, so my wife went to help her pack up the house. I headed to Montana and spent nine days at camp.
Let’s just say I love camp. I have great memories from my teenage years of retreats with my youth group at Caroline Furnace in Virginia. As a pastor, I have taken children and youth to Green Wing (a camp that used to be near Amboy) and our own Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center. I have even led retreats.
But, my love for camp apparently has its limits. After a week of morning and evening camp worship in Montana, I had developed a real need to praise God indoors and to sing some songs and hymns without hand motions and accompanied by something other than three guitars.
So, on Sunday morning, I headed to the closest ELCA congregation, not knowing what kind of worship I would encounter there, but hopeful that it would feel a bit more familiar to me.
Don’t get me wrong. The camp worship I experienced was great. It really was. On that Sunday morning, however, I needed something else. As I worshiped, in a building surrounded by altar, font and pulpit, with a liturgy accompanied by piano and a sermon preached by a vested pastor, I had found what I needed. But, I could not help but shake my head at just how subjective we can all be in our assessment of worship services. Here you have proof that I am as guilty as anyone.
If you serve on your congregation’s worship planning team, you have my gratitude. You know that planning a worship service requires much more than picking singable hymns. Planning a meaningful and relevant worship experience for a multi-generational congregation presents some significant challenges and not all of your efforts are uniformly appreciated. Thanks for what you do. It is important work.
I also deeply appreciate those dedicated folks who work with me on the synod’s worship team. This team is responsible for planning synod worship for our annual assembly, for ordination services, for the Congregational Resourcing Event and for the Professional Leaders Conference. In the course of a year, the team makes use of various liturgical and musical styles. We seek some common ground in these days when there is far more variety congregation to congregation than in any time in the past and expectations are harder to meet.
Worship is really at the core of who we are and what we do as Lutherans. It is one of the first things we emphasize as we discuss our faith practices. Yet, it seems that worship has become less important in the faith lives of many. The current trend is for even the most regular church attender to worship less often.
Does this mean that we should expend less effort in worship planning? By no means! Worship matters. If people did not care, they would not so freely express their opinions (or drive to town on Sunday from camp).
But, we need to remember that worship is contextual too. Worship that fits in one place may not be appropriate at all in another. As long as we follow our pattern of gathering, hearing the Word, sharing the meal and sending into the world, we are worshiping faithfully regardless of the musical style or instrumentation, architecture, color of wine, or length of sermon.