Looking Backward to Go Forward: Part 3
Dear Friends in Christ:
The last two Pastoral Letters have dealt with the theme of Looking Backward to Go Forward, as we looked at how we might look to the past to find a better way forward as Christians in this post-Christian society. This month is the third and last letter in that series as I look at what this all might possibly mean for us as Christians here at Gloria Dei.
One such possibility is to look to the saint who is often called the Founder of Western Monasticism, St. Benedict, who wrote the Rule of St. Benedict. Now here, you might (rightly) ask, “Didn’t the Reformation do away with monasteries and monasticism for us Lutherans and Evangelical Christians once and for all?” The answer to that is complicated, as you might expect; but for the most part, the answer is: Yes, it did. However, that is not the full answer. Dr. Luther was himself released from his Augustinian monastic vow and later married Katherine von Bora, who was an escapee from a convent (yes, she had to escape). Dr. Luther had some harsh things to say about the horrible abuses that took place in the monasteries and convents. Indeed, the Lutheran Confessions, to which this congregation and your pastor subscribe, condemns those abuses and the idolatry of works righteousness that those monasteries came to embody. However, the Confessions do also say this about the monasteries, “The chapters and monasteries which in former times had been founded with good intentions for the education of learned men and decent women should be restored to such purposes in order that we may have pastors, preachers, and other minsters in the church, others who are necessary for secular government in cities and states, and also well trained girls to become mothers, housekeepers, etc. If they [the monasteries] are unwilling to serve this purpose, it would be better to abandon them or tear them down…” So there was some hope that the monasteries could be rehabilitated to serve as places of education and community for Christian men and women, and not places of vice and works righteousness. But that never really happened.
Of course, we are not talking about reinstating monasticism, in any event. That is not the way we live today nor is it the way that Holy Scripture calls us to live as Christians within our different vocations. However, there might be some good applications that we can take from the Rule of St. Benedict that we might consider applying to our lives as confessing Lutheran Christians today in this post-Christian society.
At the heart of the Rule of St. Benedict are the two ideals of: PAX (living in PEACE) and ORA et LABORA (Pray/Worship and Work/Labor). These ideals guided their lives together within the Christian community in which they lived, namely that they were to live together in peace, supporting each other in their lives as Christians, and that they were to live focused on Jesus present for them in worship and Liturgy, and in the noble gift of the work and labor that God gave them to do. The important thing for us is that St Benedict’s model for the monastic life was the Christian family, with the abbot as “father” and all the monks as brothers. Because of this, almost all the Rule of St. Benedict is applicable to church communities that are not made up of monks, but can be applied to lay people living and working in their different vocations.
So what might that look like for us here, as we (God willing) come out of the shadow of this pandemic? Perhaps something like this: 1) Living in peace together is something that we embody here in our congregation quite well, confessing the saving Word of Christ, and rejoicing together in it every Lord’s Day. As we go forward and are able to meet again together more freely as brothers and sisters, we might start looking for more opportunities to gather together for meals and for other opportunities for Christian Fellowship and mutual support and conversation. Living in peace might also look like finding more ways to reach out into our community with the love of Jesus Christ.
2) Prayer and Work might look something like this: rather than offering fewer worship opportunities for the Divine Service and for other Services because we are a smaller congregation, we would instead actually offer more such opportunities, and commit ourselves to attending these Services for our continued growth in Christ, and growth in Faith and Love. Might we commit to Midweek Services once again in Advent and Lent, or even beyond these Church Seasons, to more regular Worship opportunities during the week all year long? What if we offered regular times here for the beautiful Services of Vespers or Evening Prayer? Or times in the morning for Matins followed by a lunch together?
As for the work/labor part, we could follow these worship opportunities with a time of working on some kind of Service Project of the congregation’s choosing for our community, our missionaries, our seminarian, or for any in need around the world.
These are just some ideas for our consideration on how we might look to the past to inform how we might faithfully move forward into the future.
With that in mind, on the next page you will find notes from the November 2 meeting with a developer about how we might start to think about making use of our school building for the continued Ministry of the Gospel here. We expect him to report back to us sometime in the beginning of this year with his findings. When the time comes to make a more concrete decision, we will ask the entire congregation to be involved in that decision making process. In the meantime, we invite and encourage you to keep Gloria Dei in your prayers as we respectfully look backward to what has gone before us in order to move forward with boldness toward what God has in store for us.
Your servant under Christ,
Pastor Steven J. Anderson