Old Time Religion

My church at Christmastime in 2009

I have a confession.

It has been a very, very, long time since I’ve been to church. About five months. Which means my children haven’t been in five months either.

*Hangs head in shame* but not for too long, because I’m Lutheran, not Catholic.

Our pastor had even called twice to check on us. <insert more head hanging here> What?!  Summertime was busy, and there were things…that always seemed…..to be happening….on Sundays around 10:30 in the morning. Busy things.

Like sleeping.

I know. More shame. But I went to church today and my pastor forgave me for that and a few other things I mentioned only in my own head during confessional time.

Non of your bidness. It’s between me and Him.

While sitting in the second row wooden pew of our almost 100 year old sanctuary, my husband looks at me and points to the hymnal. Not to get me to follow along, because obviously I know the service by heart. He wanted me to notice that it was not the red hymnal we’ve had for the last couple of years but the GREEN one was back!

When we switched to the red hymnal a couple of years ago, it was very hard for me. Lutherans to not handle change well. It’s pretty much what we are known for according to Garrison Keillor. That, and our singing.

I love the GREEN one. It’s so much better. Everyone knows. I quickly snatched it up and flipped too ……..oh there it was…..hymn #221.

How I’ve missed you! Sent Forth by God’s Blessing. The sweetest, most cheerful a hymn that ever was sung. I used to sing it to my babies and dance around with them. Sang it to them on the changing table. I’m not making this up. The song brings me total joy.  I tried to find a version online to share with you, but none can compare to the organ in my church and the heartfelt singing of my smallish congregation. I checked the YouTube, and the iTunes. Nada.  Port Madison Lutheran Church sounds the best.

I was happy. The sun was shining through the beautiful windows, my family was with me, the green hymnal in my hands again. But God decided to throw one more little cookie my way.

Wait for it…..

Hymn #221 turned out to be the closing hymn! I hadn’t looked to the end of the service program to see what we would be singing, what with my standing there in bliss.

The organ started. I gasped! My husband looked at me and smiled, so did my kids. And I cried. But I sang.

Just for a little insight for you non-Lutherans, here’s how Garrison Keillor sums up my religious peeps:

by Garrison Keillor
I have made fun of Lutherans for years – who wouldn’t, if you lived in Minnesota? But I have also sung with Lutherans and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn.

We make fun of Lutherans for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like them. If you ask an audience in New York City, a relatively Lutheranless place, to sing along on the chorus of Michael Row the Boat Ashore, they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you do this among Lutherans they’ll smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road! Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It’s a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’s rib cage. It’s natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We’re too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you’re singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment. I once sang the bass line of Children of the Heavenly Father in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other. I do believe this: People, these Lutherans, who love to sing in four-part harmony are the sort of people you could call up when you’re in deep distress. If you’re dying, they’ll comfort you. If you’re lonely, they’ll talk to you. And if you’re hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad!

The following list was compiled by a 20th century Lutheran who, observing other Lutherans, wrote down exactly what he saw or heard:

1. Lutherans believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.

2. Lutherans like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.

3. Lutherans believe their pastors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don’t notify them that they are there.

4. Lutherans usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.

5. Lutherans believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.

6. Lutherans feel that applauding for their children’s choirs would make the kids too proud and conceited.

7. Lutherans think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.

8. Lutherans drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.

9. Some Lutherans still believe that an ELCA bride and an LCMS groom make for a mixed marriage.

10. Lutherans feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.

11. Lutherans are willing to pay up to one dollar for a meal at church.

12. Lutherans think that Garrison Keeler stories are totally factual.

13. Lutherans still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color of the season and think that peas in a tuna noodle casserole adds too much color.

14. Lutherans believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.

And finally, you know when you’re a Lutheran when:

It’s 100 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service.

You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can!

Donuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee.

The communion cabinet is open to all, but the coffee cabinet is locked up tight.

All your relatives graduated from a school named Concordia.

When you watch a “Star Wars” movie and they say, May the Force be with you, you respond, “and also with you”.

You actually understand those folks from Lake Wobegon, MN.

And lastly, it takes ten minutes to say good-bye

Peace be with you! And also with you!