Sure, the Roman Catholic Church is the oldest, and various Orthodox churches can vie for second, but at nearing a half a millennia (if you mark the birth of the church with the Edict of Worms from 1521), Lutheranism is no new kid on the block. There are, as one would expect from the Protestant love of division, several branches of Lutheranism. This Sunday we attended St. Luke Lutheran in Santa Rosa, which is part of the Missouri Synod (a more conservative branch of the denomination).
Entering the sanctuary, I was handed a quite large bulletin. Opening it, I saw it was big print for the visually impaired, so I traded it in for the small version. Both versions were 12 pages thick with all the hymns (music and lyrics), liturgical readings, Scripture and prayers. No overhead screens here (which might hide the beautiful stained glass windows).
The majority of the congregation was elderly (but not exclusively so). Before the service began and during the time of greeting there was much noise and enthusiasm (but no musical prelude), and it took a bit of effort on the pastor's part to get people quiet and back to their seats.Even though this delayed the service a minute or two each time, we thought it was lovely that the congregation was so enjoying being together.
Two children came forward for a children's sermon. There were no visual aids or parables but rather a fairly straight forward catechism of the Gospel. (And attentive listeners would also learn the proper use of the pronoun "whom".)
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was served and the bulletin had a helpful list of questions to prepare for it. Though most of the questions I could answer in the affirmative ("Am I a baptized child of God?"), there was also this question: "Do I believe that Jesus' Body and Blood are really present in the bread and wine?" There is a subtle distinction between the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and Lutheran teaching on the matter (consubstantiation), but not a large enough distinction to allow me to feel comfortable partaking. The congregation filed forward to receive communion at the front, and after all who could come forward had partaken, the pastor brought the bread and the cup to a few who were unable to come to the front.
Evangelicals and fundamentalists often assume all mainline denominations have a rather namby-pamby approach to the Gospel, shying away from the more difficult issues. That certainly wasn't the case in this service, which focused on the theme of our eternal destiny as the opening of a ten part series entitled "Believe". The hymn "The Day is Surely Drawing Near" features such lyrics as 'Then fright shall banish idle mirth, And flames on flames shall ravage earth" and "With shame and trembling they will stand, And at the judge's stern command, To Satan be delivered."
The sermon was a clear presentation of the options of heaven and hell and the need to put faith in the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ for salvation. There was certainly a spirit of compassion in the pastor's call to reach out others with the good news of the Gospel.
After the service, we very much enjoyed talking with Pastor Fred (a retired pastor originally from Wisconsin "don'cha know"). He told a little about St. Luke's 125 year history. The stained glass window in the front of the sanctuary was donated by the family of a retired pastor, but the stained glass window in the back of the church was donated by a Jewish family that had lived across the street and apparently wanted a beautiful view (which they certainly received, though this picture doesn't do it justice).
Service length: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Sermon length: 20 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Invited in bulletin to sign guest card
Our Rough Count: 110 people
Estimated Usher Count: 125 people