Pastor’s Thoughts

Declining Christianity & Fear of the Future

In recent years, Christians in the U.S. have heard depressing news about statistical trends. It can be summed up with a grand overview by Religion News Service “During the post-war, baby-booming 1950s, there was a revival of religion. Then came the societal changes of the 1960s, which included a questioning of religious institutions. The resulting decline in religion stopped by the end of the 1970s, when religiosity remained steady. Over the past fifteen years, however, religion has once again declined. But this decline is much sharper than the decline of 1960s and 1970s.” The decline has sharpened since the article was published in January 2014.

Many “mainline” congregations in NJ are valiantly struggling to keep their doors open, and over recent years I have witnessed much fear, doom & gloom, and even scare tactics spoken by Christian leaders “If we don’t do such-and-such, the church (or even Christianity) will die.”

We do indeed live in a rapidly changing world. But for Christians, there is no need to fear Christianity will die – or to think that the church’s failure (or success) rests completely on our shoulders! In the end, it’s not our church, it’s God’s church, and God has seen it through many other eras of very rapid change (e.g., the enlightenment & the industrial era which, arguably, had more change than the current technological era). Thus, on one hand, we can stay calm in the face of dire, depressing reports about Christianity, and continue steadfastly to give away what has been given to us – the “living stone” – that is, Jesus Christ. The heart of the church really is that simple, and hasn’t ever changed, even though societies have changed in each generation since the first Christian congregations.

Realistic Expectations and a Royal Priesthood
On the other hand we should have realistic expectations about our era and what that means for being church in the coming decades. There were many grand visions and strategies created by mainline denominations in the 1990’s and “the church growth movement” for extensive ministry programs and ploys to “market” to younger people to attract them to church. Unfortunately, the opposite happened, and fewer people are now gathering around Word & Sacrament in all denominations. Not to mention that believing “if we just do such and such, they’ll come…” also takes the church out of God’s hands and puts it into ours.

Here, then, are both ends of the spectrum: There’s no need to tremble in fear for the future of the church…and there’s no need to have wild or false expectations about our power and influence.

Humbly Confident
So then, with humble confidence, let us face the future. Humble, because we see that many friends, family, and people in general don’t find the Christian faith as meaningful or life-giving as we do. But confident, too, because the church rests upon the rejected cornerstone – Jesus Christ. First Peter’s advice continues to be helpful: “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…” that is, Christ is the living & rejected cornerstone, who continues to build us up to be a living, spiritual community held together by him.

Pastor Ingrid Wengert

Declining Christianity & Fear of the Future
In recent years, Christians in the U.S. have heard depressing news about statistical trends. It can be summed up with a grand overview by Religion News Service “During the post-war, baby-booming 1950s, there was a revival of religion. Then came the societal changes of the 1960s, which included a questioning of religious institutions. The resulting decline in religion stopped by the end of the 1970s, when religiosity remained steady.  Over the past fifteen years, however, religion has once again declined. But this decline is much sharper than the decline of 1960s and 1970s.” The decline has sharpened since the article was published in January 2014.

Many “mainline” congregations in NJ are valiantly struggling to keep their doors open, and over recent years I have witnessed much fear, doom & gloom, and even scare tactics spoken by Christian leaders “If we don’t do such-and-such, the church (or even Christianity) will die.”

We do indeed live in a rapidly changing world. But for Christians, there is no need to fear Christianity will die – or to think that the church’s failure (or success) rests completely on our shoulders! In the end, it’s not our church, it’s God’s church, and God has seen it through many other eras of very rapid change (e.g., the enlightenment & the industrial era which, arguably, had more change than the current technological era). Thus, on one hand, we can stay calm in the face of dire, depressing reports about Christianity, and continue steadfastly to give away what has been given to us – the “living stone” – that is, Jesus Christ. The heart of the church really is that simple, and hasn’t ever changed, even though societies have changed in each generation since the first Christian congregations.

Realistic Expectations and a Royal Priesthood
On the other hand we should have realistic expectations about our era and what that means for being church in the coming decades. There were many grand visions and strategies created by mainline denominations in the 1990’s and “the church growth movement” for extensive ministry programs and ploys to “market” to younger people to attract them to church. Unfortunately, the opposite happened, and fewer people are now gathering around Word & Sacrament in all denominations. Not to mention that believing “if we just do such and such, they’ll come…” also takes the church out of God’s hands and puts it into ours.

Here, then, are both ends of the spectrum: There’s no need to tremble in fear for the future of the church…and there’s no need to have wild or false expectations about our power and influence.

Humbly Confident
So then, with humble confidence, let us face the future. Humble, because we see that many friends, family, and people in general don’t find the Christian faith as meaningful or life-giving as we do. But confident, too, because the church rests upon the rejected cornerstone – Jesus Christ. First Peter’s advice continues to be helpful: “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…” that is, Christ is the living & rejected cornerstone, who continues to build us up to be a living, spiritual community held together by him.

Pastor Ingrid Wengert

Worship Insight: Hospitality

“If the Eucharist (Holy Communion) is the birthright of all the baptized, the exercise of hospitality is the responsibility of all the baptized. Gathering around word and sacrament is central to the life of the community, just so, the exercise of hospitality by the assembly is primary. Those who serve formally as greeters, ushers, and coffee hour hosts are important and perform significant functions, but they do not take over the role for the rest of the assembly.  All are welcomed into this most public activity of the church.”  (Sundays and Seasons).

 

WORSHIP INSIGHT: Creeds

One of the ecumenical creeds (Apostles’ or Nicene) is spoken as part of the assembly’s proclamation of and response to the word of God. The third and longer Athanasian Creed is rarely used in worship. Although the Nicene Creed was once exclusively associated with the Communion service, more recent Lutheran practice alternates the use of the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds. The Nicene is especially suitable on festivals days and during the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Easter. The Apostles’ is especially suitable for the season of Lent, with its emphasis on the renewal of baptism, and for Sundays for which the color is green (seasons of Epiphany and Pentecost).

Worship Insight: Gospel Verse

The Gospel Verse is sung by the congregation to introduce the gospel reading for the day.  We pay special attention to the reading from one of the Gospels as a way of

revealing that the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ crucified and risen is at heart of all of the readings. The “stand-by” Gospel Verse is printed in the hymnal: “Alleluia. Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia.”  These are the words from Peter’s mouth when Jesus asked him if he wanted to leave as many others were doing.

 

THANKS TO ALL!

Many thanks to all who made the Holy Week such a success here at Zion. Special thanks to Marilyn Hibler, Marlena Schilke and the senior and bell choirs for all of their beautiful music, Malainie Hibler and the Altar Guild crew for keeping up with all the changes to the Sanctuary for the Holy Week services, to all those who ordered flowers for the Sanctuary, and to Jance Denzler, the youth and all their helpers for the delicious Easter pancake breakfast! Together we can!

We Hope You’ve Noticed!

These beautiful banners were created with artwork by the LVCNS children and with help from Pastor Ingrid and Alexandra Seewald. They serve as a visual reminder of the connection we share to our important pre-school ministry, and remind the children that the Sanctuary is also their church home! The LVCNS is still enrolling kids 2 1/2 to 6 years old for the 2019-2020 school year. Please contact Director Meghan Bridge for more information.

Unexpected Endings & Beginnings

When Tim and I left our home in Riverton, NJ and moved into the parsonage, we had imagined returning to Riverton regularly and eventually retiring to that house. However, this congregation has been so welcoming and the parsonage renewal committee did such a fantastic job that we immediately felt very at-home here! Returning to Riverton became a burden, especially for Tim, whose library is located there because it cannot fit into the parsonage. He needs access to his large English, Latin, & German library for current & future writing and editing projects. Even though Tim was going back to Riverton more often than I, for me, getting to know a congregation keeps a new pastor busy, so I did not return until February. In addition, we learned from our CPA that the tax-advantage we thought we had in connection with the house actually no longer exists. After much reflection, we decided to put the Riverton house up for sale and did so on March 27. In addition, we plan long term to purchase a home in Long Valley when we find the right one. I have communicated this to Council at several meetings while the decision process was unfolding in order to be very transparent. One decision that Council made was to put the parsonage powder room project on permanent hold, since the driving force for it was our desire for another bathroom. I also assured Council that Tim and I would never wish to become a financial burden to the congregation. When I accepted Zion‘s call, we fully expected to live in the parsonage and not to receive a housing allowance. You should know that a housing allowance is not a legal requirement, but a recommended guideline for congregations, and it is necessary for most clergy to be able to afford a house and build equity for retirement. Tim and I are in a unique position, as his church pension may continue to function as a housing allowance for our primary residence. We have no doubt, therefore, that we will find a way to accommodate all of these concerns and do what we most desire: put down roots in this community for the foreseeable future.
Pastor Ingrid Wengert

WORSHIP INSIGHT: Baptismal Font – Central

In ancient times, churches were built over running water in order to make use of it in the practice of baptism, and the built-in font usually took a central place in the gathering. The font isn’t merely to be remember only at baptisms, but rather, it’s what all the baptized gather around each Sunday, something that helps us remember why we gather in the first place. The very first words spoken publicly each Sunday, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” remind us that we begin worship as baptized, forgiven children of God. It is not by accident that these opening words are spoken from the font and that the pastor dips her hand in the waters to make the sign of the cross.

WORSHIP INSIGHT: Lent, not Good Friday

Many people are accustomed to the season of Lent feeling like a season of Good Friday so that hymns, sermons and midweek services focus on the passion of Christ. In the past six decades many denominations have returned to the ancient practice of observing Lent as a spiritual time to prepare catechumens for baptism and the assembly for the renewal of baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil.