This past Lord's Day, after Mass at Saint Stephen's, I mounted my brother's Huffy, and headed north, across the 6th Street Viaduct, and into the Downtown. By the time I got to Juneau Town I was a bit huffy myself, so I decided to stop in at the coffeehouse at Grace, the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church at the corner of Juneau & Broadway, right across from the old Blatz Brewery (which has been converted into luxury condos). Actually, when I got Downtown I realized that it was earlier in the day than I thought, since we didn't have Bible study this week. So I decided that not only was I going to get something to drink in the Lutheran coffeehouse, but that I would also sit in on their late Mass, which was scheduled to begin about a half hour later.
First I must say that I have never gone into a "Christian" coffeehouse and come out feeling like I had a really satisfying, genuine coffeehouse experience. Perhaps you, dear reader, were not familiar with the phenomenon of the Christianized coffeehouse. Fort Wayne had a couple of them, at least when I lived there. Grace's coffeehouse, Grace Place, is a modern looking facility, with a couple of friendly ladies behind the counter. They made me an adequate cup of cafe mocha. I sat down, relaxed, and read from one of the bibles that were stacked on a shelf. And so there was nothing wrong with the experience, per se. Yet, I ended up concluding that in certain ways it was not unlike those Evangelical coffeehouses I knew in Fort Wayne. Something about them gives me the heebie-jeebies. All things considered, I would rather be a Christian in a real coffeehouse than take the concept of the coffeehouse and "Christianize" it.
Again, I will say that those who were there were competent, and friendly. And I do not impugn the motives of those who decided to start this thing, and those who run it, for I cannot claim to know those motives. I am merely sharing some general thoughts on the concept.
On the one hand, one could say this operation is providing business for Stone Creek's coffee. On the other hand, Grace Church is also, with this coffee shop, providing a nice little business for itself. This leads to a broader question. Ought the Church be about the business of being in business? The answer, to be clear, is no; the Church is healthiest when it focuses on simply being the Church. She serves her children and the world best when she makes sure that Christ her Lord is preached clearly and relentlessly, and when her sacramental life is strong and central. I am not opposed to social activities and groups and programs and clubs rising up within a parish. That is a natural outcome of a lively ecclesial community in the modern world. What I question is when these things become official "ministries" and get organized from the top. All of this is to say that we ought to seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness. Then, all these other things will be added unto us.
Speaking of those fundamental things, like the Gospel and the sacraments, after I sat down in the church and the service got started, I was disappointed when I realized that it was not, in fact, a Mass at all. It had many of the basic parts of one, but without the Eucharist. This is not hugely surprising, in retrospect, but I was for some silly reason assuming when I entered and sat down, that I would get to see the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar. So as I say, that was a bit disappointing. Of course, many Missouri Synod churches are likewise negligent in celebrating the Eucharist on a weekly basis. I wonder what Grace's eucharistic schedule is, since I haven't really seen any indication in the printed schedules, or the web site, unless it's published on the web site where I haven't yet seen it.
But before I get ahead of myself, let me say that when I walked into the church, I was greatly impressed by the beauty and upkeep of what is a classic Milwaukee church. It is about the same age as my own church, Saint Stephen's. The present structure of Saint Stephen's, if I recall, was built in 1901. Grace, from what one woman told me, was built in 1900. They are both very good examples of the type of beautiful gothic churches built by Lutherans in Milwaukee at the turn of the twentieth century. Saint Stephen's presently suffers the effects of a deeply declined and depleted parish. Grace, on the other hand, is a very lively parish, which is obviously able and willing to take good care of its physical space. One of the features which I really like is the canopy above the altar, with detailed wood columns. Large stained glass windows in the north and south transepts depict scenes from the life of Christ. There are too many details to recount here, but suffice to say it is a spectacular interior, worthy of the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Upon entering the church, I was immediately greeted by three men. I suppose they were the ushers or "greeters" or what have you. They showed me where to find a worship bulletin, which comprised twelve pages stapled together, with three additional inserts. I entered the nave, and took a moment to look around the church. Then, I took a seat in the back pew. After a few minutes I noticed that the last four or five pews are reserved for families with children, so I got up, and relocated to a spot a few pews up.
At the start time, the younger of the two pastors, Pastor Daron Lindemann, comes to the front of the chancel, attired, curiously, in an alb and a stole. On the one hand, if this were to be the Mass, it would have been appropriate for him to wear a chasuble over that alb (and now I wonder if they use chasubles when they do have the Mass). On the other hand, as I say, after a while I caught on to the fact that this was not to be the Mass; therefore he ought to have worn a surplice instead of the alb. I wonder if any such distinctions are observed at Grace. If not, Grace is not alone (gratia sola non est?). Too many Missouri Synod pastors are likewise infected with liturgical ineptitude to the point of not even knowing what to wear. But I digress. Pastor Lindemann stands there in front of the congregation, in what I must say is a weird stance for the chancel of the church, with his arms down at his side, giving an impromptu greeting and summary of the theme of the service. Through the rest of the service he continued to use the same posture, whether walking from one point to another, or reading the lections, or whatever, with his hands down at his side. I suppose he was told somewhere along the line that this would be a natural, or winsome, way in which to conduct himself in the church. It's goofy, and should have been corrected in his first year of seminary.
The service then commences with a hymn, "With the Lord Begin Your Task," an eighteenth century hymn translated in the modern age by W. Gustave Polack. My reaction to this hymn is twofold. First, in general I think the Church could live without hymns that tell us what to do. Hymns, at their best, should combine confessing the faith with prayer to Almighty God, rather than merely ordering us around. After singing a hymn in which I tell myself to begin my task with the Lord, maybe I should go on to sing a hymn in which I tell myself to lift high the cross. Second, it is unnecessary and less than ideal for the Church to sing hymns in which God is addressed by the pronoun "You." Did the makers of Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal do this to all of its hymns? I could page through it to get that answer, but I'm not that interested.
After the hymn, Pastor Lindemann, who already greeted the people informally, now greets them liturgically. Both this greeting, and the response of the people, are right out of the modern Roman Rite's Novus Ordo:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.
R. And also with you.
At least the Novus Ordo directs the priest to say the Trinitarian Invocation before doing this greeting.
After an innovative confession of sins, there is the singing of a piece called "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good," followed by the prayer of the day.
Before reading the Old Testament, Pastor Lindemann gives a little summary of what he will read. Not only is such a practice unnecessary, it is an unfitting, even distracting, intrusion into the liturgy of the Church. He does the same with the Epistle and the Gospel. Before the Epistle the congregation sings a Psalm of the Day, which is done in the modern, irritating style of singing a refrain after about every four or five verses. It was a setting composed by David Cherwien in 2005. It's style is reminiscent of the Hymnal Supplement 98, which I endured at Kramer Chapel. It is also reminiscent of many a modern Roman Catholic Mass I have witnessed, with the music leader trying to motion for everyone to join in the singing.
The sermon was preached by the older pastor, Pastor James Huebner. He preached on the Lord's Prayer. What I like about his preaching is that he has a rather lively manner. It actually seemed that he was preaching to me, and cared about his message. What I did not like was that it was mostly a sermon giving advice on how to pray better, but didn't really say anything about the death of Christ.
After the sermon the congregation stood and confessed the Apostles' Creed. I suppose one good thing about this not being the Mass was that I didn't have to suffer the Nicene Creed as it is printed in that hymnal, a version which constitutes, as far as I know, world Lutheranism's first feminist version of the Nicene Creed.
Then, after an offering was taken (while "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" was played on the piano), there was the Prayer of the Church, which was made up of the parts of the Our Father, interspersed with explanations of those parts. After this prayer, the congregation sang "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."
The service concluded with a concluding prayer, a final blessing, and a hymn, "Lord, Teach Us How to Pray Aright." And just when I thought I got away from "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," it was played as the postlude. Pastor Liundemann asked everyone to greet each other in the pew after the final hymn. I love meeting people, and so forth, but I wanted no part of fraternizing in the holy space of the church, so after the hymn, I slipped out of there. I retrieved my bike, and headed home.
It was an interesting experience, much that was good, and much which I hope that neither I nor anyone else will have to experience again. Over all, Grace does a magnificent job of marketing what they sell. (Already today, for example, I got a post card from them in the mail.) I'm simply less than content, as a traditionalist Lutheran, with what they are selling.