Monthly Archives: September 2013

Why I’m ELCA

There was a query on the ELCA FB group as to why… I didn’t get around to responding, and the thread has since scrolled off the page. Alas, here would be my response.

We have the absolute best preflight announcements.

On a more serious note, there are a few key bits that really resonate with me.

  • The ELCA does grace well… as we get accused of being antinomian. At the same time, the law is a big deal, a lot bigger I think than the law obsessed churches that make a lot of noise. Its not law, its not Gospel, its both, but they must be viewed through a societal lens, and overwhelmingly, the hundred + ELCA congregations I’ve been at do well with this.
  • The 100% Saint 100% Sinner thing. Granted, some push the limits on this a bit, its a matter of daily regeneration, not a progressive holiness ladder thing, nor an antinomian thing, Personally, I think the “Weak on Sanctification” T shirt rocks.
  • The real presence, and even better when its offered every Sunday, and even better than even better when its offered mid-week as well as Sunday. (And it would be super cool if compline could fit in there somewhere….)
  • The extreme anti-pelagianism stance which permeates our theology and practice. Its never take a small step, and God will meet you, or climbing ladders, or reaching out to God, its always God to us, not us to God.
  • Corporate confession and absolution, even for those who do not believe. (Granted, its controversial and was never really resolved back in ~1867
  • The scriptures point to Jesus, they are not items for man’s idolatry or to be sacrelized. Some pastors I’ve heard use the term “feeding trough”. The Bible is a much bigger deal than the terms inerrant or infallible reduce it to.
  • Paradox and the conflict rule, rather than reason and logic to bend and harmonize. Questioning is generally revered.
  • The ecclesiastical structure of synods and churchwide, rather than independent congregational models.
  • I really like the churchwide voting mix, where in its mostly lay folks and as of late, more and more young folks setting the direction. I wish we had more cultural diversity.
  • The tent is huge:
      1. Ecumenicalism is a big deal
      2. Inclusion is a big deal. Gay folks are welcome, and are not barred from the pastorate whether they are in same gender relationships or not. Bound conscience provides for churches who dont approve of such.
      3. Change is constant and to be embraced. The tag line from CWA13 “Always being made new” is pretty cool, as was “God’s work our hands”
      4. Many don’t get too hung up on the confessions, some feel Luther was far from finished, some feel he was in error on a few things, some ascribe to the Book of Concord in total.
      5. High church and low church are both practiced. The only bird some have, including me, is pietism and its resulting legacy.

The ELCA has a lot of really cool, as well as some incredibly disturbing predecessor synod history. I wish well meaning folks hadn’t scrubbed and sanitized so much of it. We learn from error and scandal too.



Calculus Matters – ELCA Membership Decline

@Feralpastor posted a excel chart of ELCA and predecessor groups membership levels from around 1950 up until recent times. A quick glance might lead one to think doomsday scenario… but I thought I saw some wobbles in the data.

As a result, I pulled the data off the ELCA website and took a look at the 2nd derivative… basically how quickly the change in membership numbers are changing, or in car talk, whether we are braking or stomping on the gas.



While a near continual loss of members since the ELCA”s inception is not good, to see such a change in rate of decrease is a significant positive.

The following graph adds in the yr-yr loss of members in green.


In a nutshell, we are no longer in brake lock up mode post CWA09, In fact, once the 2013 numbers come out, I would not be surprised if we are back to the same state we were in pre CWA09 as concerns the yr to yr loss of members.

Causality is always a tricky thing, and often is not correlation, but I’ve been pondering this for years and more and more my hypothesis seems to make sense. Namely I believe the ELCA since its beginnings has been undergoing a long term shift to higher Fowler models.

The predecessor bodies were quite ranging in approach. Some catered to a lower Fowler model, some catered to a higher one. Since the ELCA”s formation, many CWAs have leaned towards a higher numbered model. This seems to correlate with the negative peaks in the 2nd derivative as folks self selected out. The overall trend to a smaller size would also make sense, as the higher numbered Fowler models embrace smaller numbers demographically. Ie, a Fowler 2 or 3 is often a growing stage, where membership decline is pretty common in a Fowler 4-5.

Authentic Rocking World Worship

I previously wrote about music that blows chunks, but which endures due to the memories associated with it. If you take the same music, and spin it out in front of folks lacking any memory connection, the chances of them being impressed is about nil, and they may well think you are off your rocker should you sing its praises.

I’ve been pondering how this relates to worship. A friend of mine describes almost every Sunday service as sort of like seeing a arena rock concert for the first time. (Feel free to replace arena rock concert, with Opera, jazz, country, whatever…). I’ve heard the same from a number of folks over the years… the worship service rocks their world. Such views are not limited to full bore high church liturgy with a massive organ, they could be low church with a folk band, or even without any music or liturgy at all. Even more so, for some folks this is a near weekly occurrence.

Such is not my experience. There may be a profound sermon here or there, and I do have a real affinity towards weekday morning masses at a Catholic church… but worship rocking my world, um no.

In fact, when I look at Revelation and such… and things going on 24/7, its like hmmm. I get that we will be changed, I get that super holy stuff has to be rock my world awesome beyond belief, but its such an abstract thing, it just doesn’t connect.

On the other hand, as a pilot, the words of a tv copy editor wing walking for the first time rings very true. I get exactly what she is saying.

Thanks to Jane and Charlie, I now fully understand the poem “High Flight” by John Magee.  I paraphrase, but I truly felt I touched the hand of God.

Very few people will believe or understand this, and most of you will think I’m high (never did drugs, for the record) but strange as this sounds…at one point the wind stopped clawing at me. The motor roar stilled. I was suspended in a peculiar time and place where I felt the presence of, well, quite frankly, my grandparents and guardian angel slightly behind me on either side. And I felt their happiness and approval.  For just a moment, I felt the ethereal presence of those who at one time loved and protected me as if they were physically at my back. Call me nuts as my last name means in German, but there you go.

There in likely is just a tiny view of what the Revelation text talks about… I capture this in a plane should I be in “flow”. An old friend said similar things about being in the midst of storms in his boat on the great lakes. As a bass player, I’ve caught fleeting glimpses of this too if I’m literally rocking the stage with 5000+ Watts of power so to speak…

I came across the following this evening as yet another descriptor of encountering God’s hand so to speak.

…an intimate connection with the God who created us, an inner peace unlike any our five senses can provide?  It’s scientifically inexplicable. It’s mystery beyond any words.  Yet there is where we most clearly experience and encounter God.

I can try and attach memories and run with them, but unless in the cockpit half upside down, on the stage, or in the storm so to speak, merely attaching the memory doesn’t make the connection. It has to be authentic… a memory attachment alone won’t work.

This then brings me back to folks for whom worship rocks their world. If it makes such connections as above, it cannot be an attached memory thing, it has to be real, it has to be authentic.

It makes me ponder…