It seems that the Gottesdienst editors have been on summer vacation; sorry about the few-and-far-betweenness of the posts. But with lawn mowing, summer travel, fishing, and "drinking good Wittenberg beer," maybe you haven't noticed.
At any rate, I was awakened from my summerly slumber by the mailing advertising "LWML Sunday." It includes one of those "special" Divine Services peculiar to middle of the road Protestantism. It doesn't matter that this comes from the LWML: it might just as easily come with LLL Sunday, Concordia Sunday, Life Sunday, etc. This is a problem common to all such "special Sundays" and has been for a long time. I don't mean to pick on the LWML - it's just the example that happened to come in the mail this week; there will be others. And one sees this sort of thing not just in Lutheran churches, but in Methodist churches, UCC churches, and in all the places where one is apt to find vaguely liturgical Protestantism. There is a feeling that worship should be formal, or at least written down, but that it should also be flexible and "special."
[This is the sort of thing that is sometimes called "blended worship" if you toss in one of the currently popular songs of American Evangelicalism and the standard Praise Band accompaniment. But the various RSOs who send these things out usually stick with hymns, so I guess it's not "blended."]
The theory in operation is that the liturgy is more or less an outline whose details are to be filled in as one sees fit, especially for "special occasions" where new line items might be added. In traditional parlance, everything is a Proper and some Propers are invented out of whole cloth. Most of these Propers are responsive readings, prayers, and litanies that are best described by the word awkward. How could they be anything else? It's the first time anybody has ever seen these words and we are supposed to read them smoothly and with meaning? That's a tall order. The liturgy rolls off the tongue by long usage. And even then, the translation committee has spent many long hours trying to make sure that it is easily pronounceable. Such care simply cannot occur in these rapidly produced "special services." A sample:
The Litany of PurposeP: God sent His Son to seek and save the lost. We were once part of the lost.C: Lord, make us into people who are glad to share the Savior. Bring us to our community's lost and our church's needy.P: God sent His Son to sae the sinners and now He sends the Holy Spirit to call them to forgiveness, faith, and salvation.C: Lord, make us people who are glad to share the Savior's salvation and peace. Help us share His peace with those we meet.P: In His providence, God has granted us grateful hearts that are glad to share the wonders of His love and the glories of His grace with others.C: Lord, make us people who will share the Savior with those who are closest to us.P: The Lord blessed us with children both biological and spiritual; He will also bless us with the words to tell them of the Savior who wishes to bless them.C: Lord, make us people who will share the Savior with families who are hurting and in homes where there is fear and discord.P: In His wisdom God will give to us that Scriptural message which is most needed in thee homes. In those places where stuff and not the Savior is most important, may we share the Savior. May we reflect Your love, which is far greater than ours.You have told us not to forget all our blessings. There is not enough time for us to list all of them. But help us remember some:(A single bell chime may be rung after each remembered blessing)A Savior from sin; the Sacraments; leaders both temporal and spiritual; gift of family and friends; plenteous food and drink; warm homes; technological advancements.In thanksgiving, may we be Your people who share the Savior, who must tell of what we have seen and heard.If, in the coming years, we suffer loss, if discouragement and depression are to come, let us look to You for strength and deliverance. As loss brings changes to our fellowship, let it be because we have gone with our Savior, and not because we have turned our hearts away from you.[This is then followed by the Litany of Confession. ]
Kind of awkward, yes? There are dimly remembered phrases from the Catechism that are written down wrongly and which will thus cause some stumbling for someone with the Catechism memorized ("forgiveness, faith, and salvation" instead of "forgiveness, life, and salvation.") The key phrases invented by the author are inconsistently stated and thus apt to cause stumbling: first it's "make us into people who" and then it's "make us people who." Or are we supposed to read something into the first "into"? The pastor's last paragraph begins by speaking of God in the third person and then suddenly switches to being a prayer in the second person. There are words and phrases that are foreign and awkward sounding to the churchly ear which expects Scriptural, catechetical, or liturgical language: "Litany of Purpose;" "children both biological and spiritual;" "share the Savior;" "stuff and not the Savior."
And then there's that bell ringing for blessings. Where did that come from? We typically toll the bell for the dead at All Saints' Day and at funerals. The Zimbelstern goes on for doxological stanzas. Sacristy bells are jingled at the Consecrations. But this tolling for blessings is a novum. The single chime business calls to mind nothing so much as the funeary customs.
You get the idea. The criticism of my criticism will be that I'm over thinking it, being nit-picky, etc. The point is to honor the LWML/LLL/CUS system/Life Sunday/Etc. It's a special day so it gets a special service. Nobody's perfect and you are just being a jerk. It's a nice, special, service.
Verily, a great chasm has been fixed between us. Can't we honor the service of these groups by praying for them in the General Prayers? Is any group within any particular denomination given the right to suggest that churches displaces the universal lectionary and liturgy?
And then there is the preachiness of such things. Preaching should be carefully limited to the sermon. Prof. Gibbs at CSL has a hilarious routine wherein he makes this point to potential pastors when it comes to "special" communion dismissals or distribution formulae. You know what I mean. The sermon has been about, say, prayer. At the dismissal the everpreachy pastor might say, "Now [they always add "now"] may this Body and Blood strengthen and preserve you to be people of Prayer. In Jesus' Name: go in peace." Gibbs then says: You get 20 minutes to make your point. You don't get to drop it again and again in the prayers, the dismissal, etc.
I think the LWML/LLL/CUS, etc. are better off simply asking for our prayers in the midst of the church's liturigcal year which always seeks to make Christ the spotlight and the Lord's Supper the special event of each and every Sunday. This is also why I throw away all the junk mail from Synod HQ regarding "Pastor Appreciation Month." All of it means well, of course: but well-meaning needs to be guided in the right direction to be of service to the Church.