Church: A Place to Become Closer to God

Written by Rev. Gayle Pope. Posted in The Seed

Our Synod Bishop John Roth recently sent out an email telling about an article posted by the Pew Research Center entitled “Why Americans Go (and Don’t Go) to Religious Services.”

hands to JesusAccording to the research results, the leading reason adults in the U.S. cite for choosing to attend religious services is “to become closer to God.” That reason was selected by 81% of the church-going respondents, well outstripping the next most selected answers. Roughly two-thirds say they attend religious services to give their children a moral foundation, to become better people, and for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow.

The new survey was conducted online Dec. 4 to 18, 2017, among a nationally representative sample of 4,729 adults on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.

Bishop Roth went on to say, “If this Pew research is accurate, it stands to reason that churches are likely to shrink in size if that which church attenders are looking for above anything else (‘to become closer to God’) is not a priority of their congregation.” But then he pointed out that we are not to set our priorities based on people’s desires, but on God’s purposes.

“So,” the Bishop continued, “the first question for those of us who are thinking through the implications of this Pew research is not ‘How do we provide what people say they are looking for?’ The first question is, ‘Where does the goal of people becoming closer to God fit in God’s mission for the church’?”

According to Bishop Roth, the answer is: not only does “becoming closer to God” fit with God’s mission, it also aligns very well with our theology as ELCA Lutherans. He cites 2 Corinthians 5:19 as one of many Biblical texts that reveal God’s desire for us to be close: “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to God’s own self, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

As Lutheran Christians, we are all about claiming and proclaiming the good news of God’s grace by which we are saved through faith in Christ. When we receive God’s grace, forgiveness and new life in Christ, we are brought close to God. The barrier of sin that separates us is broken.

I love the idea of Christ Lutheran Church being a place where people grow closer to God – of our congregation being a people who help each other grow closer to God. I actually think that does happen here and that’s why we continue to draw new people.

Some good questions to ponder in this regard are:
 What are the specific things we do that strengthen our relationship with God in Christ and how can we do more of those?
 What are the obstacles that tend to separate us from God and how can we help minimize those?
 How do we communicate the message that this is a place where people grow closer to God, so as to draw seekers in?

I plan to think about these things as we set goals and objectives and strategies to help us fulfill God’s mission for this congregation. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Rites and Rituals Make Blessings Tangible

Written by Rev. Gayle Pope. Posted in The Seed

God Bless Our Home

Growing up Catholic, I was exposed to a variety of rites and rituals that were part of our faith formation. Holy Communion and Baptism, of course, but also saying the rosary, blessing ourselves with holy water upon entering the church, ashes on Ash Wednesday, throat blessing on St. Blaise Day, crowning the Mary statue on May 1. We “played Mass” using Necco candies as wafers and made little altars in our bedroom using an upside down shoe box covered with tissue paper, on top of which would be a little statue of Mary or Jesus, surrounded by birthday candles standing in tiny empty spools of thread.

What these rites and rituals have in common is that they involve us bodily in expressing our faith and receiving God’s grace. We move, participate and use elements that can be seen, touched, tasted, heard and smelled. They also involve hearing God’s Word proclaimed and trusting in God’s promises. Rites and rituals push us to set aside doubts about whether the combination of words, actions and things actually have any real effect on anything. We are invited to simply participate and experience the movement of the Spirit.

Here are some rites and rituals that we already practice or that are available for the asking! 

Prayer Shawl Blessings

We bless prayer shawls and blankets during services, but when we give them away, we try to bring a group of people together to lay a hand on the shawl or blanket and pray for the person to receive it. Recipients of these blankets get a genuine sense of God’s peace and presence when they use them. (I know this first hand!)

House Blessings

I have done a few house blessings and am more than willing to do more. There is a neat ritual for this that involves going from room to room, reading and scripture and saying a prayer for the typical activities in that place.

Pet Blessings

Pet blessing services are typically done on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4. The Mutual Ministry Team has asked that we have a Pet Blessing this year, which I plan to do outside the church the evening of Thursday, Oct. 4.

Healing Services

We have had one formal congregation service of healing since I have been here, and another one is planned for September. But healing prayer, including anointing with oil, is available any time. Just call or stop by my office. I am thinking about setting aside some times for healing prayer in the Chapel.

Other Occasions

We often do blessings and sendings for people moving or going on missions. Rituals can be created to help with grief, making life transitions, letting go, etc. Symbolic actions using tangible items, combined with Scripture, prayer and conversation help us process feelings and turn to Christ. If you are interested, I’m ready and willing to serve!