After all the LCMS-ELCA-WELS talk last week, I attended an ELCA Lutheran church on Sunday.
While the services themselves were similar, the atmosphere was completely different.
I got to the church a few minutes early – early enough to snap a picture without anyone noticing. I noticed the only books in the back of the pew were a hymnal and Bible. So I looked through the papers I was handed as I walked in and found a booklet called Holy Communion Creation Setting: Pew Edition. And I have to admit, that little booklet was much easier to handle!
Around the time the service was set to begin, the pastor stuck his head in the sanctuary and said “Peace be with you.” The congregation responded, and a woman stood and went through the announcements. The pastor then led the processional up the aisle (if it isn’t called that, let me know!) and the service officially began.
The order of the service was much like the LCMS, but a woman led the hymns. I still got a little lost in the service, flipping between the hymnal, booklet, and bulletin. (Easier than the books at LCMS, but still a juggle!) But the main difference between the two, at least in my opinion, was Communion.
Unlike in the LCMS church (at least the one I attended – apparently not all are closed) I was allowed to take Communion. On the front page of their bulletin, this ELCA church states “YOU ARE WELCOME…at the Lord’s Table. The Lord Jesus Christ invites all baptized Christians to the fellowship of his Table.” And to me, that said a lot about the church.
But being allowed to take Communion wasn’t the only difference. The logistics of Communion were very different as well. At this church, each row stands up and forms a line at the front of the church. Each person takes a glass (actual glass, not plastic) thimble and walks to the altar, where they kneel. The pastor and assistant pass out the bread and pour the wine from a common cup into the glass thimble. Each person takes the elements as they receive them, takes a moment to pray, and walks back to their seat. Grape juice is an option if you prefer, but I didn’t see anyone choose it. (To indicate that, you are supposed to place your hand over the thimble when the wine passes. I assume someone else would come with a cup of juice.)
The service concluded, and before I could gather my belongings people started coming up and introducing themselves. It took me a few minutes to make it out of the sanctuary, and I was brought to the guest book. I signed it and wrote my address, and was then (politely) asked to put my phone number down too. More people came up to talk, and the pastor stopped me as well. Since everyone was being so friendly and insisting I join them for coffee and donuts, I couldn’t really say no! I was introduced and questioned and served coffee by some of the nicest people. They all seemed really interested in my journey, and unlike some other churches/congregations, they seemed really supportive of it.
This ELCA church reminded me a lot of the Episcopal church I visited in January. Whether this was because the ELCA is more like the Episcopal church or because these two specific congregations were similar, I’m not sure. But I liked it!
Now, does that mean I think ELCA Lutherans are better than LCMS Lutherans? Absolutely not! Overall, the two seem pretty similar to me. I think I just happened upon a very friendly congregation of ELCA Lutherans…