My parents brought me up in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church in rural Minnesota. Our parish was progressive by Missouri Synod standards, but it didn’t stray too far from the minimalist style and robust (and stern!) theological tradition of German Lutheranism. Nevertheless, my mother had been a Roman Catholic before marrying my father, so every once in a while she would turn to me in the middle of a church service and say something like, “You know, they could engage all of the senses if they wanted to. They could use incense. Worship is best when it engages all of the senses.”
Years later, I began to understand my mother’s motivations. She never expressed regret about her decision to become Lutheran, but she cultivated in me a love for beauty in liturgy, and I suspect her whispered comments to me were an expression of longing for what she had left behind. Her influence inspired me to join Lutheran parishes that embraced a rich liturgical tradition and a sacramental vision. Before I left the Twin Cities for Seattle in 1997, I was a happy member of Mount Olive Lutheran (ELCA) in Minneapolis, a parish replete with glorious music, graceful liturgy, and yes, incense. More striking still was Mount Olive’s location deep in the heart of south Minneapolis, an urban area marked by poverty and urban blight. At their best, MountOlive proclaims a vision of justice in a neighborhood that cries out for it.
In Seattle, following a five-year stint on the staff of a Lutheran parish, I visited St. Paul’s on the strength of its reputation as a good “liturgical” church. When I first arrived here, I was attracted to the fine music and splendid liturgical life, but also challenged to adjust to some unfamiliar things. I remember struggling with the sung Nicene Creed, which seemed long and labored for me, at least at first. (Now, of course, a spoken Creed sounds odd and awkward to me, like we’re skimping on something important!) And as a borderline extrovert, there were times when St. Paul’s felt a little too quiet and solemn for my taste. But I made a good decision: I told myself to settle down, keep coming back, and keep opening myself up to this interesting and entrancing little parish community.
Now, more than five years later, St. Paul’s is not as quiet, much larger, and (it seems) about as extroverted as I am! But my parish home has retained—and even greatly enhanced—its ability to draw me into awe and wonder, ravish and challenge me with fine preaching, and take me out of my everyday life—not as an escape, but rather for the purpose of transforming my life, clarifying my call, and sending me back into my home and workplace with a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.
A Lutheran church like Mount Olive in Minneapolis offers a similar culture and community, a similar setting in which the assembly draws ever closer to the heart of God, a similar parish in which both justice and beauty are found in abundance. But I am glad to be at St. Paul’s, centered as it is in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, and moving as it is into a time of renewal and growth. At St. Paul’s, I find myself excitedly emailing my dad to tell him about the great preaching (for it was my dad who taught me to listen for that!), and also drawing close to my mother (who is now among our beloved dead) to whisper into her ear, “You were right. And it’s lovely!”
By The Rev. Stephen Crippen
Stephen is a therapist and a permanent deacon.