Out of Place
August 1, 2007
“You’re new, aren’t you?” Church ladies have a way of spotting someone out of place. I was new, having moved to the area only three days before. Now I was doing the necessary protestant church-shopping as I searched for a place of worship. But while any place would be new to me, I felt especially lost here. Raised in Baptist circles, I had set foot for the first time in a Lutheran church.
The woman who had spotted me (and my condition) introduced herself as Mary. She kindly asked me where I was originally from and then invited me to join her and her husband for the service. We sat down as the organ began to play, signaling, I was told, the soon to come start of worship.
I noticed what looked like a washing dish with a cross just a few rows in front of us. Trying to make conversation, I asked what it was for. Mary told me they used it for baptisms. “How can you fit an adult in there?” I asked. My believer’s baptism mindset was confused. Mary smiled. “Well, we baptize babies there.” Oops.
As I sat there trying not to embarrass myself further, one of the first differences I noticed was the bulletin. I was used to a bare-bones approach with a listing of the hymns to be sung along with a cliff-note manner of announcements. This bulletin was nothing short of 18 pages long.
Then out came the pastor. The service was now beginning. I had always encountered pastors dressed nicely in dark suits. In fact, the pastor rarely looked distinguishable from the rest of the congregation. Not so here. The reverend wore a bright green robe, a massive cross stitched across his chest and down to the ground. It gave an immediate distinction between pastor and congregation, between shepherd and flock. I liked how in my home church the pastor’s dress seemed to place him on an equal level with the people. He was one of us. Still, here I admired the authority this pastor’s robe immediately gave. Even before he spoke, I knew this was a man of God.
The service moved through in an orderly fashion. I quickly discovered why the bulletin was so lengthy. Where I might glance at my home church’s for the order of events, here I never put it down. In it contained the entire service, the liturgy for worship. I soon learned that, unlike back home, with a liturgy the congregation does not just sit and listen. There is constant standing and sitting (with which I would have been lost but for my trusty bulletin) as well as speaking in unison. I quickly noticed there is a cadence to the liturgy. Mary beside me recited the Nicene Creed in exact rhythm with the rest of the congregation. I fumbled along, not unfamiliar with the words but with the delivery.
Though foreign to me, I quickly became fond of much of the service. The liturgy contains a natural reverence. Many times in an age of church cafes, contemporary services, and worship bands, God becomes too much our friend and not enough our Lord. There is no otherness, much less greatness to God. We want to give Jesus a high-five. But not in this place. There is a solemnity in the unified delivery, an awe in language higher than base conversation. The liturgy never let me forget that I was not here to be entertained; I was here to worship. Jesus may be my friend, but He was also my God and was to be glorified for who He is.
After a short while came the reading of Scripture. Back home, the Bible reading was of one passage, that being the one the pastor planned to speak on. Here there were several readings. First came a reading from the Old Testament, followed by one from an epistle, then from a gospel. Afterwards, we recited a psalm in unison. In this manner, we heard God’s Revelation as revealed in the Old and New Testament, as shown in Paul’s letters and the life of Jesus. There was a lovely symmetry to it, a balancing of different elements of the Scriptures.
As we sang another hymn, my eyes wandered around the auditorium. In my church experience, the center and focal point of the service was the word. Not just the Word as in Christ, but the word as in Bible readings and spoken sermons. All else was either minimized or stripped away. Here, these were present but were not alone. Where bare walls stood back home, here there was the visual. Stain-glass windows loomed high above the pews with banners adorning the walls. The windows and banners were filled with images—doves to signify the Holy Spirit, a Shepherd’s staff for Christ, and an eye for God the Father. Even the building itself had a purpose, with its two broad sides coming constantly closer till they met in a long top, pointing from earth to heaven.
The culmination of the service was the Eucharist. All Christians were invited to partake as long as they believed in the true presence of Christ’s body and blood. I did not believe so and therefore watched the congregation partake. Here, too, a solemn weight of glory permeated the words and deeds. The people knelt to receive the emblems as others sang hymns of Jesus’ love and God’s glory. Once this was finished, we sang one last final hymn together. The pastor then blessed us from the old Hebrew blessing of Numbers 6:
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
The service being complete, I thanked Mary for her kindness and made my way out of the building. Though very different, I had gained an appreciation for my new friends’ worship of God. As I left, I promised to come back next week, a promise not too difficult to make. I thought maybe then no one would think I was out of place. I certainly wouldn’t feel so.
Adam Carrington is a senior from Wheelersburg, Ohio, majoring in Political Science.