About 15 years ago, we had a vicar at St. Stephen's. Vicar Lynell was here on Sundays, she assisted with worship, and worked with the youth groups and Sunday School.
I see Lynell every year at Synod Assembly, and we say hi. This year I was particularly excited to make sure that Lynell and Pastor Jason met each other.
Lynell was at St. Stephen's at a time when the church was going through turmoil with both personnel and finances. It wasn't one of our better periods. There was tension between people. We were hesitant to do anything because we felt we couldn’t afford it.
Lynell has a personality that is different than that of other pastors I had encountered at St. Stephen’s. I enjoyed having her here. She did some good racial awareness programs with the youth group, though not nearly enough people participated. She was a wonderful smiling face on Sunday mornings.
Betty Sperati and I introduced Lynell and Jason at Synod Assembly. They had a quick conversation to get a sense of each other, and quickly discovered some common points. Lynell is currently thinking about ways she can have St. Stephen’s and her current church in Pimlico to do some things together.
I broached the idea of having her visit St. Stephen's as a supply pastor. There aren't a lot of folks around who would remember her. But I'm excited to have her see what St. Stephen’s has become. We are a different congregation that when she was here. We’ve grown in diversity. We’ve strengthened our finances. We’ve opened our hearts and our activities to the community.
I also realized that I’m really excited to be excited about showing off my church. That’s a new feeling.
I usually love worship at Synod Assembly. There is something about being surrounded by several hundred people in the worship experience that is invigorating.
My feelings during Saturday's final worship service were different. The LYO (Lutheran Youth Group) music team provided the music. I can't complain about the group. I was in that type of group when I was in high school. I was the guitar player, and sometimes the bass player, and definitely the singer. I don't have a problem with the music, I enjoy it, and once upon a time contemporary Christian music was high on my playlist.
But I didn't know most of the music they were singing on Saturday. I was reduced to standing there, staring at the words on the screen, unable to sing along. (OK, I was being a little passive-aggressive and chose not to try to sing the songs.)
St. Stephen's has a tradition of being a musical church. We use music extensively in our worship, in the hymns we sing, and in parts of the liturgy such as the Kyrie and Hymn of Praise. Sometimes we chant the psalm or sing a hymn version of it. We offer the opportunity to sing during communion. It is a very musical service, and we’ve cut out the musical part of the Great Thanksgiving and proper preface!
Not everyone currently in our congregation is enamored of all the music. They don't read music, or they don't feel they can sing. It may seem too formal or "high church" for some of our visitors.
It occurred to me at that Saturday worship that the feeling of being left out of part of the worship experience may be how some of our own congregation members feel on Sunday morning.
I don’t see us ever giving up the music, but I have a better understanding of those who show up just for the sermon.
I had another reminder on Saturday of why I’m proud of St. Stephen’s.
I perform in a lot of churches. My harp orchestra is usually performing as part of a church’s concert series. But my women's’ chorus is usually at a church because the Music School of Delaware is using the facilities.
For example, the Music School winter program has been held at St. Stephen’s for the last two Decembers.
I’ve noticed that at some churches, we are treated as someone just using the facilities. There is no advertising at the church, and there frequently the only people there from the church are there to unlock the doors.
But when St. Stephen’s hosts the Music School concert, or the Sustainability Gift Fair, or tax assistance, or Peace Week press conferences, we treat them as our own events. We advertise them to the community; we advertise them to the congregation. We own them. If they are happening on our property, we treat them as our events.
That’s something to be proud of. We don’t just let others use our building. We make what they’re doing a part of our church life.
- Ann Iona Warner