Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Confession for Remaining Traditionalists in the ELCA

I have been very critical of the services conducted in San Francisco and in St. Paul for the reception of those previously ordained by the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. The center of my criticism has been on changes made in the liturgies (outside of the Rite of Reception itself) that remove all language such as "Lord" and "King", changes the wording of the Eucharistic dialog (the sursum corda) and Eucharistic prayer, offers "alternative" wordings for the Lord's Prayer in order to address the prayer to "our Mother", and the questionable use of some hymns. One of the liturgical elements that has upset me the most has been the wording of the confession that has come at the beginning of these services.

I have (and do) accuse these confessions as being written to confess the sins of others, rather than the sins of those gathered in those worship settings. In particular, I have written elsewhere that these confessions are more in the way of accusations against those such as myself, those who reject the 2009 CWA decisions and who continue to uphold the traditional Christian interpretation that same-gender sexual acts are sinful even when they are restricted to monogamous relationships. I am particularly concerned with the words of the confession used at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco, the site of the first such service that was held by the Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA.

But I am also able to give self-critique. I am indeed guilty of sin, and have need for confession. Through the long course of these matters being debated and disputed in the ELCA, I have at times spoken and written immoderately; and I have also learned much from others, including those whose views I oppose.

It is in that spirit that I offer this, a rite of confession for those of us remaining traditionalists, those of us still in the ELCA who continue to oppose last year's churchwide assembly decisions and the implementation of them that is occuring now. This is a sincere effort on my part to begin a process of being honest about my own sins, failures, and transgressions committed, especially against those who have been and still are a persecuted group in our society: those whose sexual orientation is other than clearly heterosexual. I owe a debt to the writers of the confession used at St. Mark's, as I have taken their framework and words and re-worked them. So here I offer my contribution to the ongoing debate in this churchbody:

A Confession for Remaining Traditionalists.

Pause for reflection and confession.

In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friends in Christ, as we gather, we seek to speak the truth of the difficulties we have witnessed in our church.
Our church of the reformation has been too long captive to bias and misinformation.
We have not remembered the life giving words of our own Confessions.

We have not respected the gift of sexuality, nor the joy, delight and vulnerability sexual intimacy creates between husband and wife.

We have not honored faithful and loving promises, marriages, and the gift and responsibility of children.

We have not reached out to those struggling with their sexual orientation with the life-giving assurance that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

We have not acted quickly enough for some who have died and have not made it to this day.

We have not accorded all families with the dignity and respect they deserve.
We have not spoken up.

We have betrayed fellow members of the body of Christ because of cultural prejudice.
We have misused Scripture as a tool that we could manipulate and emend at will.
We have forced celibacy upon some, without supporting all in their vocation to faithful chastity whether single or married.
We have too often condemned the sinfulness of homosexual acts while remaining silent on the sinfulness of heterosexual acts: intercourse outside of the marriage bond; conception of children outside of marriage and the abandonment of such children by one or both parents, especially by abortion; and multiple divorces and remarriages.
We have ignored violent words and acts committed against our brothers and sisters who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

We have encouraged silence and complicity.

We have promoted invisibility and dishonesty.

We have hardened our hearts with bitterness and despair.

Our actions have destroyed faith and have led people away from the gospel's call to repentence as the kingdom of God draws near.

(A bell is rung. A shofar is blown. Silence is kept.)

(Absolution is proclaimed in the words of the prophet Isaiah. Water is poured into the font.)

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, he who formed you: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.

Do not fear, for I am with you; I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,... Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Through Christ, God has indeed done a new thing and is continually doing a new thing through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Shower us with your Holy Spirit. Renew our lives, and our life as your people, with your forgiveness, grace and love.


(This was the rite of confession and absolution used at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, San Francisco, in the service of Reception to the ELCA Roster, found here: I post it here in order to give credit to the source of my own work.)


Rev. Megan M. Rohrer said...

Thanks for your confession Erma. it is certainly also one I would confess with you any day.

Just as an FYI, -hopefully not read as discounting your blog and written with much respect and love - is that a draft of the confession was written by the 7 pastors received that day. I would call it tamer than the one that was read at the service. It was then edited by our local Bishop. While I wasn't at the meeting and certainly don't want to speak for others, but I believe the additions were to reflect the sins he wanted to confess that day as someone who had changed his position. He's spoken about this at several events, so I don't think I'm talking out of turn here. Also, St. Mark's Lutheran was the site of the trial that expelled First United Lutheran and St. Francis Lutheran from the ELCA, so many folk present stood in many different spaces in the continuum of wanting the policy to change.

I also know that the confession was for me. I needed to confess the ways that I participated in the previous policy and every single one of the things listed in the confession.

Having said all this, I want to apologize to you and others who felt like the confession was a way to chastise others or that is was meant to pour salt in the wounds of those who felt like the policy change was a step away from the Gospel.

I hold in the highest regard anyone who tells me what they believe the Gospel is saying to them. I want to be a part of a church where people tell me if they think my life or actions strays from what God is calling me to do.

As always, you are on my prayers. I always learn so much from your ability to share your truth, your courage to admit when you may have missed the mark and your generous heart!

The Rev. Erma Wolf said...

Megan, thank you for this response. Learning more about the circumstances surrounding the composition of the confession used at the service at St. Mark's, and especially your bishop's additions and his reasons for them, certainly help me to better understand the motivation for many things that were said in that confession.

In light of that, I want to thank you for your apology. It is certainly fully accepted by me. And I also know that these are difficult times, and as we come at these occasions with different histories of how we have experienced the policies of the ELCA, past and present, we often will speak in ways that may give offense to each other. There is increased need to continue to communicate with one another as we try to navigate through these murky waters.

Again, thank you for your kind words. As I said above, this confession is an attempt for me to take responsibility for those sins I know I have committed. Repentence is not the end of the journey, but only a beginning.