Gloria Dei’s Eighty Years of Gospelling Chicago & Beyond
Dear Fellow Celebrators of our Octogintennial Year:
You all know the routine for merging into traffic on an expressway: you have to look backward in order to go forward. Either by looking in your mirrors, or by physically turning your head (or preferably by both), you have to see what is behind you in order to step on the gas pedal and propel your car forward into what lies ahead of you.
I tend to think of our life together in the Holy Christian Church like that. We have to have the ability to look backward at what has been in order to go forward toward what is ahead. We know that in the Church today, things are different—most likely very different from when you were a child, or even from when I was a child. The Church does not have the same favored role in society it once did. People do not feel any sort of societal pressure to be a member of a congregation, or even to identify as a Christian. Because of this, people who used to be peripheral “members” of Christian congregations are no longer to be found there. In fact, it is probably more detrimental for people’s status and position to be associated with Christianity today than it is not to be.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing. It simply means that the people who remain in God’s Holy House—those who remain faithful to the hearing of God’s Word, receiving of His forgiveness, and supporting the proclamation of the Gospel—are those who are there because they truly believe that God is true, His Word is faithful, and that all of His Gospel promises are “Yes!” in Jesus Christ. In other words, it is the faithful who remain.
This month we are celebrating our 80th Congregational Anniversary, our Octogintennial Year! We were formed on January 24, 1940, with these simply words recorded as a motion in our official Church Minutes (emphasis mine), “The purpose of the meeting was then stated, namely, the permanent organization of an Evangelical Lutheran Congregation. After a brief discussion, in which all present participated, it was duly moved, seconded, and unanimously carried to form an Ev. Lutheran Church in this community.”
Pretty straightforward and simple, wasn’t it? Yet those words to which we look back upon, themselves look back on words that were said long before them, the very words of our Lord Jesus, who said, “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” Where the saving Name of Jesus is confessed in its truth, there is the Holy Catholic Church to be found. That is what our forefathers in Christ did at that meeting on January 24, 1940: they gathered in the Name of Jesus, and confessing His Promises, they prayerfully called this congregation into existence. They then immediately called a Pastor, and planned for the first celebration of Holy Communion (“February 11th, first Sunday in Lent, was chosen as the date for the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper”—the Minutes). And did you note the wording of their resolution, “the permanent organization…”, in other words, they planned for this congregation to last.
And so, in the Name and with the Promise of Jesus guiding them, this congregation came into existence, and has faithfully served here for these 80 years. That is what we look back to—and rejoice in—at our 80th Anniversary Celebration on November 22. But we look backward toward those founding moments in order to go forward. The past indeed has much to teach us and tell us about how we might face the future. As the Church’s place in society continues to change and shift, I think that we will probably have to look back even farther than 80 years, to the days of the Reformation Church, the Medieval Church, and even to the days of the Ancient Church, and recapture those ages’ sense of meaning, mystery, and community; when God’s immanent Presence in the Word and Sacrament were the center of people’s lives, and the Church was called to live in a totally different manner than the world and the society which surrounded them. It may be time to look backward to go forward; to explore a kind of 21st century Lutheran version of the Rule of St. Benedict and Benedictine Community for us today, living more and more in a Christ-centered and Cross-shaped community of the faithful.
This is a time of great change, but also of great hope in a great Savior. Let us rejoice in our anniversary, but continue to look forward in hope to what God has prepared for us in Jesus Christ.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Steven J. Anderson