Thursday, August 11, 2005

I had intended to write about this sooner, but I'm lazy so I'm writing this now.

Maybe I shouldn't call this what I like and dislike about the WELS service as much as what I am not used to. OK, maybe I could categorize things into these things: things that were good about the service, things that bugged me but I could live with, and things that really annoyed me.

First, there were many excellent and good things about the two churches I have attended with Elle. First, both pastors I heard preached understood the distinction of law and gospel very well. This should be self-explanatory. Secondly, the services are well-ordered. A form of the liturgy is used throughout most WELS churches. The page 26 liturgy in their hymnal Christian Worship was what I had the chance to experience at both services. I have more to say on this later. Thirdly, The churches were friendly. Contrary to the popular belief that may float around the internet, both churches (and especially the church here in Wichita) were very friendly and very happy that I was there as a visitor. Both pastors were very friendly, and I have no complaints there. Pastor Rockhoff spent a lot of time after the service answering my friend's questions and just conversing with us. Fourthly, the hymns that I sung were the same hymns that I normally sing, so there was an air of familiarity to the service. Also, I did appreciate at both churches the pastor handled the consecrated elements exclusively. I also liked some of the language used in the Nicene Creed. The "We believe," accurately translating the Greek the creed was originally written. I'll talk a little more about the creed later.

This next discussion has more to do with things that bother me more than anything. Understand, much of this has to do with me growing up in the LCMS. In a way, seeing a WELS service is like being in a parallel universe. Much of what you are used to is the same, but some of it just doesn't quite seem right. I'm used to pastors wearing collars. If they hadn't come up and introduced themselves, I'm not sure I would have known who they were until they robed. Also, their robe was more like a preaching robe rather than the more traditional alb. One pastor wore a stole, and one pastor had a stole that looked like it was sewn into his robe. You get this sense that the pietism that the synod started with just hasn't quite been driven out. As was mentioned in the WELS Q&A, their robes looked more like choir robes than something a pastor would wear.

I must, however, take issue with the hymnal, Christian Worship. The Service of Word and Sacrament (page 26, if I remember correctly) claims to have a basis in the ancient liturgy. Now, I don't claim in any way to be a liturgy expert, but the wording of some parts of the service didn't seem to have basis in much of anything. It was almost like, "Well, this sounds funny so let's rewrite it." The Proper Preface is replaced by something that just isn't quite as powerfully written, to be honest. No "It is truly, good, right, and salutary...." No "...with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven...." They also changed the wording on a few other things. The Kyrie sounded funny to me. They use a longer Kyrie, similar to Divine Service 2 in LW. The most egregious example is the gender neutral language used in the Nicene Creed. Christ suddenly becomes a human rather than a man, and they eliminated the word "men" in the phrase "for us men." One of the consequences of this is that it eliminates the fact that Jesus is a man. Yes, this seems to be pounding on the obvious, but it's little things like this that can lead to all sorts of problems down the road. WELS should reinsert that phrasology back into the creed.

Overall, it was interesting. It was like being in someplace familiar, but with a few things not quite right. I'm sure Elle would say much the same about her experience in my home congregation. I think both of us consider our visits overall positive. I now know what a WELS church is like, kind of. I don't think I can judge a whole synod in two visits, but apparently I can judge a hymnal in that short time.

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