A Carol Treat

Wow!

For the first time, Our Saviour Lutheran Church and the “little church”, St. Francis’, Funtley, joined forces for a carol service. Not quite 9 lessons and carols—but we did have 6 of the traditional nine.

The church is little, so with a tad fewer than 60 people in attendance, there was standing room only for the last half-dozen arrivals. The roof very nearly lifted off with the singing.

And then there was the choir.

Formed especially for this occasion, the children’s choir—12 children between the ages of 6 and 12 from our local Junior and Infant schools—sang their three numbers beautifully and confidently. “The Angel Gabriel”, “The Calypso Carol” and “In Dulci Jubilo”. Despite only having had four rehearsals, the children managed to get their mouths round the Latin and the Thees and Thous very well indeed.

I do hope this was the first instalment of a long and happy tradition!

P.S. I have no pictures of the occasion, but here is what St. Francis looks like.

A Year of God’s Grace

Our Saviour Lutheran Church

Annual General Meeting
20 March 2014
Pastor’s Report

Church SignOur Saviour Lutheran Church has enjoyed another year of God’s grace, receiving and sharing the love of God in Jesus Christ. There have been many joys, some deep sorrows—but above all, the constancy of God’s loving gifts.

Except on two of the Sundays when the pastor was away on holiday, Divine Service (service with Holy Communion) has been held “on every Lord’s Day and on [many of] the other festivals”, as enjoined by our Lutheran confessions (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV.1). Sunday attendance by the members of the church has remained regular, with very many attending every Sunday unless they were away. In addition, a good number of members also attended services for Ascension and Ash Wednesday. I am very grateful to DL who, as the elder, led services during my annual leave—as he did faithfully during his whole long tenure as elder—as well as to Pr. GJ who led the service, preached and administered the Sacrament during the same period of leave. In addition, in February students from Westfield House assisted in the service by preaching and by assisting in the liturgy.

We have experienced greater variety in the liturgical life of the congregation than in the past. In addition to Settings III and IV, the Easter season, we used the Healey Willan setting of the Divine Service, and during Advent, an unaccompanied setting of the Divine Service, which is being prepared by the ELCE’s Committee on Worship.

Thanks to the faithful service of our Sunday school teachers and helpers, Sunday school has been held on almost every Sunday of the church year, and our children continue to grow in the knowledge of God’s word.

A whole new set of services came into being from September. In co-operation with the Parish of St. Peter & St. Paul, regular Daily Office services began to be held at St. Francis’, Funtley: Matins on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and Vespers on Wednesdays. Although members of the congregation have not begun to attend these services regularly, it is nevertheless an encouragement that there is regular prayer for the congregation and for the wider community. Moreover, some members of the local community who are not members of Our Saviour have attended some of the services from time to time.

In the traditional Advent Vespers, we studied the Epistle readings for the Sundays of Advent. In the current series of Lenten Vespers, we are taking a leaf out of Martin Luther’s book, and going back to being students of the Catechism (Introduction to the Large Catechism), with each week’s service focusing on one of the Chief Parts.

Bible study remains well-attended. This entire past year has been taken up by a close study of the chief confession of the Lutheran Church, the Augsburg Confession. Several adults and two children have been receiving instruction in the Church’s doctrine in preparation for full membership in the Lutheran Church.

There have been many joys. On Pentecost, H was received into communicant membership through the rite of Confirmation. As in past years, we have had the opportunity to serve the children of the local area through holiday clubs and the Drama Club. Since the autumn, a newly-formed youth club has met fortnightly, generously hosted by B (even while she was away in Australia!). We have been able to serve the elderly members of our community through ongoing care home visits, as well as regular visits to a newly-built care home. As a church family, we have met monthly over excellent food and drink at Saturday suppers. In January, the congregation was able to lend their pastor to extend God’s grace to a Finnish family in Galway, Ireland, to bring their newborn daughter S to the saving waters of Baptism. We hosted the LWLGB convention in November and a Westfield House weekend in February.

Amid the joys, we have also endured sorrows. The upheavals within the ELCE in the past year were and are felt painfully by all: when one member suffers, the whole body suffers. Our service of prayer for friends and strangers, which manifests itself in a long prayer list in the weekly bulletin, encapsulates many needs of loved ones and others. Some prayers have been answered with a ‘Yes’ through relief and healing, others with a ‘No’, as we have had to bid a final farewell to those for whom we have prayed. Above all, we lost from our visible fellowship our dear friend and sister in the faith, Forbes. She has gone to the promised glory ahead of time. We, who are left behind, grieve, yet not as those who have no hope but rather in the firm assurance of the resurrection of the body and our reunion with all the saints in God’s heavenly kingdom of glory.

Beyond Fareham, Brighton Lutheran Mission had its second anniversary in January. The work continues to grow and develop slowly and steadily. The monthly services and Sunday Bible studies are regularly attended by five to eight people, of whom three are receiving adult instruction with a view to Baptism or Confirmation. In addition, since last spring, there has been a regular Bible study on the afternoon of the fourth Friday of the month. In addition, I have had the opportunity twice now to share the Gospel with guests at the lunch club run by Holland Road Baptist Church, our generous hosts in Hove.

Our Saviour continues to serve the wider ELCE also by supporting the pastor’s regular visits to Oxford Mission, enabling that small but steadfast community to receive the same gifts of grace which God gives to us.

Finally, my thanks are due to all who have assisted me and served the church in various capacities: DL, who during his long tenure as Elder, which came to an end in August, was always exemplary in his concern for the welfare of the congregation, and who continues to serve as Treasurer; MC, as Chairman and as incoming Elder; to all the other office holders; to the Sunday school teachers; the musicians who make it possible for us to have accompanied services; those who make tea and coffee, the washer-uppers; all who cook; those who have hosted guests; those who give lifts to others; holiday club helpers; and to all for your prayers.

In human terms, the future of our church remains uncertain, all the more since we received the added financial burden of retrospective pension liability payments. Nevertheless, none of that needs to make us anxious: we are not a human society but a divine society, the body of Christ in Fareham and Southern England. Whatever is uncertain to us, whatever shortfalls we may be aware of: none of those are a concern to our Heavenly Father, from whom all blessings flow. Whether the future promises growth and greater resources, or decline and the reduction in worldly goods, we have the sure promises of Jesus. He will be with us always to the end of the world. The Church is His Church, and the gates of hell not prevail against it. So all is well, because all will end well!

Soli Deo Gloria: To God alone be all glory!

Respectfully submitted on the Thursday of Reminiscere Sunday,

Rev. Tapani Simojoki
Pastor

Some thoughts on long hymns

An extract from the Sunday Cantata episode for Trinity 24, first aired on 3 November 2013 on Lutheran Radio UK.

In my life so far, I have been fortunate enough to have lived in a number of different countries. In fact, I have moved around enough to consider myself a bit of a home-grown expert on culture shock. And one of the things I have noticed is that often the experience of culture shock is greatest when the differences are small but significant, rather than really big. So, for example, moving from Northern Europe to East Africa was very interesting in all sorts of ways, but going from England to the Midwest of the USA brought about a much bigger shock to the system!

Going from a church service within one denomination to a different one can also be a bit of a culture shock. Things that you take for granted are missing, or done very differently, and you will encounter things you didn’t expect at all.

So if you engaged in a bit of time travel and went to church in Leipzig in the second quarter of the eighteenth century, when Johann Sebastian Bach was serving as the director of music to the main churches of that city, even if you are a lifelong Lutheran, I suspect that you would be quite vulnerable to a good dose of culture shock—precisely in the area where the differences are small but significant. The powdered wigs, the body odours, the strange language—those you would expect. But the three-hour service with its one-hour sermon? That might be harder to take.

But it wasn’t only the sermon that made the services last so long. There was, of course, the church cantata for the day, which would usually last between 15 and 30 minutes.

And then, there were the hymns! Lutheran hymn singing is rarely done these days as it was then. I mean, a first-time visitor to a Lutheran church in England may have a look through our hymnal and think that some of our longer hymns with, say 10 stanzas, are a bit on the long side, not to say heavy in their content. But consider this: many of those 10-verse hymns were originally much longer. Some of the longer ones have been split into two separate hymns with, say 6 or 8 verses each. And some others fell out of use altogether as people grew impatient with three-hour services and 30-minute hymns. The longest hymn I have quoted in Sunday Cantata in the course of the past church year had 32 verses. The longest Lutheran hymn I’ve ever sung has 41 verses of eight lines each.

There’s a very good reason for this phenomenon. In Lutheran theology, hymns serve a wider range of purposes than perhaps in most of the rest of Christendom. All Christians sing hymns that praise God and hymns that are prayers addressed to Him. One of the distinctive features of Lutheran hymnody is that much of it is catechetical, which is to say that it is designed to teach God’s word to the congregation. And teaching takes words, and it takes time. And so, we have long hymns—but we also had congregations who were immersed in biblical doctrine through singing it repeatedly, without a hurry. It’s hard to deny that we have lost out when we have opted to spend our time differently as a church.

Contented Peace

This beautiful aria was our Communion anthem today at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, from Bach’s Cantata BWV 170, Vergnügte Ruh, to words by Georg Christian Lehms (1684–1717).

Contented peace, beloved delight of the soul,
You cannot be found among the sins of hell,
But only where there is heavenly harmony;
You alone strengthen the weak breast.
For this reason nothing but the gifts of virtue
Should have any place in my heart.

As it happens, this cantata was also the subject of today’s Sunday Cantata. If you missed it, you can catch up by visiting Lutheran Radio UK’s website.

[The singer is Robin Blaze, on Vol. 37 of Bach Collegium Japan’s complete set of Bach’s sacred cantatas. Translation: Francis Brown, reproduced by permission of the translator and bach-cantats.com.]

Here we go again!

Tomorrow morning, 33 children will descend on the Scout Hall that serves as our church building on Sundays and other select dates. For the second Holy Week running, we are hosting a one-day Children’s Activity Club.

This year’s theme is Alive! Through story-telling and song, we will go over the events of Good Friday and Easter, focusing on the key question: why would Jesus do all that? Answer: he did it for me.

And we’ll have plenty of time for relevant and irrelevant crafts, games and other fun.

It’s always exhausting, but above all it’s great fun, and a great opportunity to engage with the young people of the area.

We always pray that the seed sown in these clubs will take root and bear fruit in God’s good time.

You can pray that, too! Thanks.

On being one in Christ

 A paper presented to the Fareham Clergy Fraternal at St. Dominic’s Priory, Sway, Hampshire
11 May 2011

Ubi Christus, ibi ecclesia

Where Christ is, there is the Church. Whether we have thought about it or not, whether we would phrase it like that or not, we can’t get away from the simple truth: where Christ is, there is the Church.

In this reality lies our unity as Christians, in all its diversity. And in this very same reality lies also our sad, yet necessary and indeed legitimate, disunity.

Against this reality, Christians and churches are prone to sin in two seemingly opposite ways.

On the one hand, we are tempted by the sin of false exclusivity―of denying that the Church is found wherever Christ is found, because He is found over there, with them, who are not us and not like us and not with us. And so we make ourselves, likeness to ourselves, agreement with us, definitive of the Church―and thus deny Christ.

On the other hand, we are tempted by the sin of false inclusivity―of denying that it is in Christ that the Church is found. We define the Church in terms of our fellowship with one another, seek unity by seeking unanimity with one another and make common goals with one another, and set aside or ignore the differences that exist. And so we make ourselves, our agenda, our views, definitive of the Church―and thus deny Christ.

And of course, these two sins are really the same sin, differently applied. They both deny the reality of the Church as the body of Christ, and make it a body of believers instead. The only difference is in attitude and preference. One is inward-looking, the other outward-looking. But both are looking, not at Christ, but at self.

But let’s break things down first.

One of the great achievements of the last 100 years in the Church has been the Ecumenical Movement. Ancient barriers of hostility have been broken down globally, regionally and in local places. Many years ago I had the privilege of spending an evening in the company of the great NT scholar C.K. Barrett. In the course of the evening, he recalled a source of sadness from his student days at Cambridge in the 1930s: as a Methodist, never once was he allowed to receive Communion in the Anglican college chapel. These days, Anglicans and Methodists don’t only extend eucharistic hospitality to one another’s members, but in many places they have formed joint parishes. Many Lutheran and Anglican churches exchange members and clergy. There’s even traffic between the Anglican church and the Church of Rome, though that appears to be moving only one way at the moment. Amazing times!

One of the great battle cries of the Ecumenical Movement ever since its beginnings in Edinburgh in 1910 has been the prayer of Jesus in John 17: “ … that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me … so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” A united Church bears witness to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, which is a mission imperative: “that the world may believe”! A disunited Church bears witness to a divided Christ, which is no witness at all. One Indian delegate at one of the early ecumenical world conferences begged the Western churches to sort out their divisions, because their divisions were such an obstacle to mission outreach. “Come and join the Church.” “Which one? ” “This one.” “Why this one, why not that one? Or the one over there? Tell you what, come back to me when you have sorted out which church is the true church amongst yourselves.”

We all recall Paul’s indignation at the divisions amongst the Corinthians, who had formed little denominations within their small congregation. Is Christ divided? Since the Church is the body of Christ, and since there is only one Christ, then there can only be one Church. And since the Church is the body of Christ, wherever Christ, the head, is, there the body, the Church is also. To deny that is to deny Christ.

As I said at the start, our unity is based on the reality that where Christ is, there is the Church. We can’t even establish unity with other Christians or with other church bodies―because if it exists, there is nothing more to establish. We are simply called to recognise such unity. It is Christ who establishes the unity of His body by grafting members into it.

But this is also where trouble brews. We all recognise that where Christ is, there is the Church. But let’s ask a few questions: Where is Christ? By what marks do I recognise Him?

Is Christ found in a particular hierarchy or organisation of the Church? Is He embodied in a particular episcopal office? Or should we seek Him in a particular set of experiences? Or a certain kind of ethos? Is Christ present in the Sacraments? Which ones? Or is Christ in fact absent with His presence mediated by the Spirit through some phenomena (which ones), or simply through the believer’s inner conviction? Or is it a particular theological confession, broad or narrow, that signals the presence of Christ?

I could go on. Given the very reasonable and harmonious gathering here present, the list may seem churlish and petty. But of course, any item on the list only seems petty to those who swear by a different item on the same, or some other, list. The claims of the Bishop of Rome, or of the signatories to the Lutheran Confessions, or the Lambeth Quadrilateral, or whatever theological touchstone you may have, are all based on the ultimate conviction that by them we can recognise Christ’s presence in His Church.

The relationships that follow are necessarily asymmetrical. The standard set by the Holy See of Rome may seem unreasonable and draconian to those who don’t believe in them, but to the Holy Father they are the logical outcome of His confession of Christ. The Lutheran practice of closed communion―only inviting other Lutherans to receive Holy Communion―is hopelessly narrow-minded and un-Christian to modern Anglicans and Methodists, but it is the only logical outcome of our confession of Christ.

Because that’s the business we are in: of confessing Christ, of saying, “ Jesus is Lord.”

The temptation is always to seek unity with one another, to make agreement amongst ourselves the goal, and to equate that with Christian unity. After all, Jesus prayed that we may be one.

But in fact Jesus wasn’t praying for His disciples to get along. He was praying for them to be one as He and the Father are one. The ‘as’ here is not quantitative, but qualitative. It’s not about how much the disciples are to be one, but in what way.

The Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit are one, because they are one God: three persons in one God. Christians are one with Christ, because they are in Christ―“I in them and you in me”, as Jesus said. And Christians are one with one another, because they are individually and collectively in the same Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, emphasises this again and again that once we are in Christ, we no longer deal directly with one another. When I see my Christian brother and sister, I see Christ in him and in her. I relate to her, not directly, but in Christ. Our relationship with one another is defined by the Gospel. We consider others better than ourselves, because we consider others to be the face of Christ to us. We forgive one another, because we are called to be the face of Christ to one another. We are to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, because we are in Him, He is in us, and to have any other kind of mind would be a denial of who we are in Him and who our brothers and sisters are in Him.

And so we are called to an essential unity and a necessary disunity. We must acknowledge and confess Christ wherever we find Him, wherever Jesus is confessed as Lord by mouths and lives. And for the very same reason, we must also draw lines where Christ is not being rightly confessed by mouths and lives. Jesus prayed for us to be sanctified in the truth of the Father’s word―that is, in Jesus. He in us and the Father in Him, that we may become perfectly one.

Let me finish by having a little trot on my hobby horse.

In the business of Christian unity, we should resist the temptation of taking comfortable shortcuts, of deciding to be charitable and reasonable with one another, without reference to Christ, for the sake of missions or outreach or for some other pragmatic goal. If we are to proclaim the Gospel to the world together, we must first agree on what the Gospel is and how it’s communicated to us. And so, for the sake of unity, we need to seek all the time to grow closer to Christ together, to be united to Him together. In the process, we will find ever more things that already unite us; and more things that divide us; that some of the things that divide us are not of Christ but of us and therefore don’t divide us; that some of the things that we thought were not divisive are in fact of Christ and do divide us after all.

In the meantime, we can continue happily and harmoniously to work together in those things that we have in common. This will then be our witness to the world: not ourselves, but Christ for us, Christ among us, Christ in us.