Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Coffee & Worship at Grace WELS

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.

The coffeehouse. 
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.

The church.
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.


Joseph Schmidt said...

Hi Latif, I'm a member of WELS and I agree with what you say in your post. WELS is fairly "low-church" compared to the LCMS. In my own local WELS church I offered to buy some chasubles for use in our worship, but was shot down because those are "too Catholic." I never hear Geneva gowns are "too Reformed" though.

I've looked at various websites for LCMS congregations in my area (SE Minnesota), but none of them seemed to be much different as far as offering more liturgical worship so I have not felt too much impetus to join one. The only reason I would join an LCMS church is to be a lay member of the Society of St. Polycarp, but that didn't seem like sufficient enough of a reason if the congregation itself doesn't have a strong liturgical practice.

All in all I'm quiet dissatisfied with Lutheran liturgical practice in general and WELS in particular, so my option is to either stay home completely or go and bare it.

Oliver said...

Joseph - Where in SE Minnesota are you located? If you are a near the Twin Cities, I recommend a visit to my church home: University Lutheran Chapel (ULC)- LCMS, 1101 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN. (

ULC is located on the campus of the U of MN. You will find that we are a strongly liturgical congregation led by an excellent pastor, Rev. David Kind.

Joseph Schmidt said...

Hi Oliver, I live near Rochester, MN, so the Twin Cities is pretty far.

Oliver said...

Joseph - Pity that you are that far away. Have you searched for Liturgical congregations using the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgical Congregations website (

It could be useful. I can't vouch for any of the congregations, but there are specific criteria used to get listed on the website. The disclaimer on the home page is worth bearing in mind:
"Disclaimer -- The publisher of this directory does not guarantee that the congregations listed in the directory use only historic liturgies. If you visit a listed congregation and it does not meet the list criteria, please contact us so that we can look into the matter. Thank you for your patience and assistance in helping to improve this website. On the other hand, if you visit one of the churches on this list and are happy with the selection, please fill out a visit report available at the bottom of any church listing!"

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Oliver: Thank you for bringing up Father Gehlbach's liturgical catalogue. It's a good suggestion. I have not kept up with that list in a while. I can vouch for Fr. Gehlbach. He is a good man. And of course the best thing to do when finding a potential lead on that list is to contact the church itself, to make sure the facts on the web site are up to dae, and to ask one's own questions.

Joseph: Do drop in at ULC sometime if you are ever in the Twin Cities. Fr. Kind is a faithful pastor.

(By the way, I myself was a member of a congregation by the very same name, so when I see ULC, it often reminds me of the one I used to know, here in Milwaukee. It doesn't exist anymore, thanks to the bureaucratic treachery of good Confessional Lutherans on the Mission Board of the South Wisconsin District. And when they sacked Fr. Wiest's Call, Gary Gehlbach courageously resigned as secretary of the District. The Church in this world is so thoroughly mixed with good and bad, as is the soul of each of us.)

And don't forget, Joseph, to look me up if your path ever takes you to Milwaukee.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

I meant to add that you will be in my prayers, Joseph. Please keep me in yours.

Brian P Westgate said...

Latif, other than at Atonement (and not so much there any more), you'd be hardpressed to find cassock and surplice used in Milwaukee in WElS, let alone throughout the Synod. For what ever reason, they don't like that "style."
Last I knew, Grace does not have chasubles. Pastor Lindeman's mannerisms is probably par for the course in WELS. You may have seen some WLS profs there. . . .

Dave said...

1) Praying for your job prospects - I'll add that to the list of prayers for my monastic friends

2) The alb has always been an acceptable vestment for non-Eucharistic liturgies - the surplice is a recent innovation

3) A WELS pastor wearing alb and stole (are you sure the alb wasn't a white Geneva gown, BTW?) is their equivalent of a Catholic priest wearing a fiddle back with a lacy alb underneath and maniple on the forearm for a Novus Ordo Mass.

4) Finances and other circumstances permitting, I'll have to take you to Holy Cross Monastery in Chicago for some good liturgy.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Hi Dave:

Thanks for your input, and your prayers. I would slightly differ with your second point. It is true that the surplice can be described as relatively recent, but let's face facts, it goes back at least to the eleventh century, and is certainly, in my view, the most fitting and appropriate vestment for officiating at liturgies outside of Mass.

Whether the alb could be considered "acceptable" for noneucharistic liturgies is debatable. I suppose it could be, yet we ought to strive for more than what is merely acceptable.

And to be sure, what I saw was not a Geneva gown. They were both wearing alb and stole, though I might add they were not classic albs, but more like what manufacturers call the "cassock-alb."

Also noteworthy in a debate on appropriate vesture is the fact that while this liturgy was not the Mass, it was in no sense the Divine Office either. It was a strange Lutheran creature, which actually looks somewhat like a eucharist, until you come to find out you've just been teased because there is no eucharist.

Nevertheless, it would have been best to go with a surplice, worn over the cassock, worn over the collar. One of the problems with this vision, admittedly, is that these didn't impress me as the kind of men who wear collars, much less cassocks.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Oh, and I'd love to go with you to Holy Cross sometime. I'd also like to visit Saint John Cantius. (And Mike tells me there's also an Albanian Orthodox church in Chicago. We'll have to check that out sometime as well.)

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...


I suppose there may have been profs there. I don't know. Grace does have, like, four services each week. I attended the 11 a.m. service, which seemed to have a lot of young families.

lutherquest said...

(please forgive my use of the third person, no offense is intended)


My wife and I were at this service!

Actually, we were at the middle service. We visited, making the most of our visit to Milwaukee by attending all three of the original founding Wisconsin Synod churches (Salem on 107th St., Grace, and St. Marcus), in that order and on the same Sunday.

My reactions:

Well, of course I noticed the little deviations CW does from TLH because that is what I grew up with. Annoying for me personally but not heretical. When I was LCMS I found LSB likewise annoying, though not as severely so.

We didn't have time to go to the coffee shop because we drove across town from Salem. We got there like 5 or 10 minutes late.

The usher personally walked my wife (who I had dropped off) to one of the few remaining empty seats up near the front. When I showed up a minute later, he told exactly where she was.

The blog writer says:

"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."

I would agree with this. Also, both my wife and I were impressed with the simple teaching quality of the sermon. I know I felt like I learned something and that that was a lot of information contained in the sermon.

However, we were shocked by the omission of any mention (to the best of both of our memories after the service) of Christ's death and resurrection. The pastors at Salem and St. Marcus both included this. I have visited some 50 odd WELS churches and I must say that this is very, very rare. My speculation is that he just forgot.

As for the blogger's complaints about hand gestures and gowns, I'm not sure what he is talking about. I've been LCMS for most of my life, and beyond knowing what an alb and chasuble is, I don't have a clue. If the blogger would like to go to a WELS church that is more sensitive to these liturgical issues, I would recommend Nain on 57th St. Try either the Sunday or Monday night service.

Oh, and both my wife and I really liked the church architecture. It really is something else.

We also appreciated the mixed-age choir that did some chanting. Since the blogger didn't mention that, perhaps they didn't chant at the late service. They often have an individual or choir serve by cantoring.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Dear lutherquest:

I am not offended by you chosing not to address me by name. I am curious, however, since I thought I set up my blog so that my name was clear. It is Latif, by the way, Deacon Latif Gaba. And what is yours?

I just glanced at your blog, and I must tell you that when I studied in Fort Wayne, I used to love reading those old Lutheran Witness articles from the turn of the (20th) century. That's one of the nice things about Walther Library.

As far as I recall, the service I attended did not have a choir.

Obviously I don't know you, and I assume you don't know me either, but next time both you and I visit a downtown Milwaukee WELS church, look for the guy wearing a round clerical collar. That might just be me.

Brian P Westgate said...

Yes, visit Nain! Pastor Berg is a good friend of mine (and former classmate) and a son of Fr. Peter Berg of Motley Magpie fame.

Jon Townsend said...

We are very blessed that in the Western Suburbs of Detroit there are three WELS congregations that are very liturgical and celebrate the Eucharist every Lord's day: St. Peter's Plymouth, St. Paul's Belleville and Good Shepherd Novi. St. Paul's even breaks out the incense!

Michael L. Anderson, M.D. said...

Dear Br. Dcn Latif,

While good friend Mr. Townsend's enthusiasm is no doubt sincerely intended and undeniably infectious, a warning: the unwary visitor to a "liturgical" WELS congregation of the western Detroit suburbs may well encounter a most curious, mixed message concerning holy things. In one such church, the Eucharistic distribution of the Body and Blood of our Lord features human bodies cloaked, side-by-side, in chasuble and business suits ... a most conspicuous and jarring nod to diversity incarnate, if not laitical Romaphobia. The credal recitation, on a given Sunday, will usually consist of the aforementioned ground-breaking, feminized version of the ancient Nicene Creed. Accordingly, the unsuspecting guest may feel peer-pressured into publicly testifying that the dear Lord Jesus Christ "was made incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary." My sense is that this is distinctively libidinous, quite in opposition to the traditionally soaring, and solidly evangelical catholic "was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary." I suppose I am being picky with the language here, but the former word-play calls to mind the fleshly congress of Zeus and Europa, which shared coupling manufactured a minotaur ... a slayer, not a savior, of mankind.

St. Paul's of Belleville employs the orthodox Lutheran Nicene Creed, Sanctus bells, elevation of the consecrated elements, and vested priest and deacons/subdeacons. The Host and the Cup of the Mass are centered on the Altar of the Most High, as is good Lutheran practice. The General Prayer of the Church gives explicit praise and thanks to God for the gift of the saints, and especially the blessed Virgin Mary. And there are no ushers to get in the way of one's genuflecting in God's presence before assuming the pew and the start of the Divine Service ... if one so chooses. Now, I suppose ushers can be useful if the wife slips into church 10-15 minutes before you do, for tracking purposes, but so is a long leash. Mind you, others in Detroit might alternatively recommend GM's "OnStar." But I digress.

Yes, the congregation in Belleville has kneelers. Yes, the church has a font at the entrance to the nave, equipped so that one can trace the baptismal seal of the cross with water, as a laudable reminder of what makes the Old Adam daily aspirate to extinction.

The Word is preached faithfully within the three churches of the western 'burbs. The pericopal lessons/readings are, thank God, devoid of the editorializing which ... in effect ... adds to the books, in spite of St. John the Seer's lifted eyebrow and darkened countenance. All such readings are verily, verily pronounced by those properly vested within the Ev. Lutheran Church, to the best of my knowledge. This is indeed a blessing. Still, even among some of the designated "very liturgical," there is much work to be done, while there is yet day.

Michael Anderson, SSP

Michael L. Anderson, M.D. said...

Dear Br. Dcn. Latif,

Based upon the level of posting mastery I am exhibiting at your blogsite, I would say that I could stand to use a cup or two of that "Grace" coffee.

Although chances are I would find the beverage to be on the order of luke-warm.


Michael Anderson, SSP

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thank you for dropping in, Michael. We must meet. Speaking of Michael, will you be at the Saint Michael Liturgical Conference at Zion, Detroit this year? I am not 100% sure I'll be there, but I am going to try. Deacon Muehlenbruch has threatened to haunt me if I do not make it. Anyway, if you're there, and see a strange man who looks like he might just be out of place anywhere but Zion, Detroit, it might just be me.

Michael L. Anderson, M.D. said...

And thank you for being the amiable and generous teaching-host, Latif. I do keenly hope on attending the Conference at Zion this year, once again. I look forward to meeting you there with great anticipation, which means that I'm urginmg you not to cross Deacon Muehlenbruch in this important matter.

Unless you do so, left to right.

Michael Anderson, SSP