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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

The Role of Gottesdienst: my turn

While I certainly and wholeheartedly agree with Petersen's description of the role of Gottesdienst in the LCMS, I'm going to add two cents more.

Ever since the inception of Gottesdienst, I have considered the question of its role.  In 1992, Jonathan Shaw and Richard Watters, and perhaps Doug Spittel and John Fenton (those two might not have been in on the ground floor, I forget offhand) launched this journal, asking Tom Von Hagel to be editor.  They asked me to write an article for the first issue, on the historic lectionary.  For the first couple years, it was something like eight pages long, and its purpose was to promote the historic liturgy of the Church, and in part to proclaim the Gospel by doing so and while doing so (sermons were in the mix from the start).

Then in 1995, the journal was about to fold, because Von Hagel was interested in other pursuits, and no one seemed to have the time to make it go.  So Fenton and Spittel, and maybe Mark Sell, asked me if I was interested in taking over as editor.  I figured I had nothing to lose, so, with about 40 subscribers left, all of whom were on the cusp of getting refunds instead of more issues, I took the reins, and immediately called on my friends and colleagues Karl Fabrizius, Aaron Koch, Jonathan Shaw (already on board), and John Fenton (also already involved) for regular participation.  And I began to buttonhole people I knew, at conferences and such, offering subscriptions to most everyone I knew.  Soon the numbers had risen to about 200 or 300.

Then in the late '90s, we discovered the internet, and with a new web site, we began to pull in subscribers hand over foot.  Kathryn Hill soon became our able copyeditor.  By the end of the 20th century we had gone well over the 1000 mark.  Still very small, when compared to many other journals, but for something as specialized as we were, we figured we were doing pretty well.

And many of our subscribers were quite avid.  We received routine correspondence encouraging us to continue, saying that Gottesdienst was a breath of fresh air, an oasis in the desert, a voice in the wilderness, a light in the darkness, etc.  In short, we had tapped into a crying need--including among many lay people--for our Lutheran church to rediscover her heritage and liturgical beauty.

Bolstered, we continued year by year, bringing on new editors, starting this Gottesdienst Online, and finding ourselves seemingly to have become known by many in the LCMS as those liturgical guys: that is, Gurus, if you liked us, or Nazis, if you didn't. 

And Gottesdienst became larger than it really was.  Today, I am pretty certain that there is a fair number of people, particularly pastors who have come through our seminaries in the past twenty years, who may have never seen, or at least never read, an issue of Gottesdienst, or bothered to check this site, but who notwithstanding make mental associations.  We have made some sort of mark.  Reasonable minds can debate what sort of mark it is, but it is there.

What this means for me is that perhaps in some small way, in some small corner of the universe, we have helped churches, pastors, people to be more aware of what it takes to be faithful, and why it is important.  We have sought not only to bend the knee, but to teach why the wise men did so.  We have tried not only to promote liturgical worship, but to explain why liturgical worship was universal in all of Christendom until only very recently.  We have endeavored not only to be dignified and grave in our approach to holy things, but to teach why the angels are.  And if there are those who have learned from our humble efforts to be aware of those holy things and their salutary (and salvific) effects on us, then perhaps, at least to some extent, we have achieved our goal.

It is, finally, all about Jesus, who comes to us in his own appointed means of grace.