The International Center

It’s funny…even though I used to work at the LC-MS International Center, and have visited the Concordia Historical Institute Museum there, and even been in the KFUO studios as a guest on Faith ‘N’ Family, I’ve never actually toured the building, and haven’t seen much outside the main entrance, the chapel, museum, and of course, the cubicle in which I worked. So when I found out our church was going to take a field trip to the center, of course I decided we should all go…Moose even got to take the day off school to go with us!

Our tour started in the chapel, one of the few places in the building with which I was already familiar. Before the service, we had a chance to look around, and I learned quite a bit about the history of the building. And, as a special treat, the pastor that preached the day’s sermon also happened to be a member of our congregation!

We then got to visit the office of synod president, Matthew Harrison. Unfortunately, he was traveling, so we didn’t get to greet him, but we did get to see his very impressive collection of books (some of which are very old!) and crucifixes, and his famous banjo. I think this was my very favorite part of the tour…such an amazing personal library!

We then visited the Walther Room, where the Council of Presidents meets with the synod Board of Directors. The size of the tables in that room is unbelievable. There were also some gorgeous relief castings on the wall from the exterior of the old administrative building on North Broadway in downtown St. Louis.

After admiring the Walther Room, we then went back downstairs to the KFUO studios. We again ran into a member of our congregation, who also works for the radio station, and he explained a lot about how the studios are set up, and who is listening to the broadcasts around the world.

There’s quite a bit of stained glass throughout the building, including a large, curved piece depicting the verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” that stood over the revolving door at the old Broadway building, and panels of the four evangelists which used to be located in the president’s office in the former administrative building.

In addition to the stained glass, there’s a great deal of art throughout the building, including my favorite, a wooden depiction of The Great Commission, which is made up of almost 1,600 pieces of wood.

Our last stop was the Concordia Historical Institute Museum. Before going in, we stopped to admire the solemn beauty of the Walther Bible:


We were then free to look through the museum at our own pace. It begins with, as you might expect, Martin Luther and the Reformation, and continues through the Saxon immigration, the early days of the LC-MS, the various mission fields of the church, and the modern LC-MS. Although it’s a relatively small museum, it’s very well put together, and I highly recommend making time to go through it if you’re in the area.

It’s interesting to compare the gavel on display in the museum (which is used only for synodical conventions every three years), with the one on the table in the Walter Room (which is used for the more regular meetings):

The only thing we didn’t get to see that I was hoping to show the children is the cafeteria. Not for the food, but for the flags adorning it which show all of the countries with which the LC-MS has a relationship. Other than that, we saw everything I love about the International Center, as well as everything I’ve always wanted to see!

A Coat of Arms for English Lutherans

It’s no secret that I’m both an Anglophile and a Missouri Synod Lutheran. So I was tickled to see that the theological institute (Westfield House at Cambridge University), of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, with whom we are in fellowship, was granted a Coat of Arms by the Crown:

Coat of Arms


Maybe it’s just my personal bias, but I think this Coat of Arms is especially beautiful. You can read about the meaning behind the Arms here.

Children Really Need to be in Church!

I’ve posted before about the importance of bringing children to church, from pretty much the moment of their birth on. I was reminded of why this is so important this morning. Even I can be surprised once in a while!

Chickadee was being her normal toddler self in church this morning, while our pastor was preaching on the Gospel text of John 4 about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. She was coloring on the bulletin, climbing on the pew (and falling off of it), and turning pages in the hymnal. Basically, doing anything other than paying attention to the sermon.

Or so I thought.

Suddenly, she looked up and (embarrassingly) shouted, “Drink water!”

She was listening.

She heard our pastor preaching about the Living Water that only Jesus gives, heard him and repeated it. Now, I’m not saying she understood what he was saying. (Because I can’t fully understand how the Holy Spirit works, however, I’m also not willing to say she didn’t understand on some level.) But she was listening, in her own toddler way.

That’s why we bring children, even very young children, as young as possible, to church, instead of leaving them at home or in the nursery, or giving up on church ourselves until they’re older. Because they are hearing, even when it looks like they’re not, and we know, because the Bible tells us, that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

That’s why we’re there every Sunday, even when it’s hard and our children do embarrassing things and it seems like they’re never going to get anything out of the service. Because they are getting the very most important thing out of the service. They are hearing, and their faith is growing.

That’s why our children need to be in church!

Top Ten Reasons Why We Use the Liturgy

This is a great article by the Rev. William Cwirla on why Lutherans worship according the western, catholic liturgy. Keep reading at Higher Things to find out what those 10 reason are!

“Why the Liturgy?  First a definition and a disclaimer.  By “liturgy” I mean the western catholic mass form as it has been handed down by way of the Lutheran Reformation consisting of the five fixed canticles – Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.  Pardon the Greek and Latin, but it sounds cool and we still use ‘em.  “Liturgy” also includes the assigned Scripture texts for the Sundays, feast days, and seasons.  Most of what I will say about the liturgy of the Divine Service will pertain to “liturgical worship” in general.

Now, why do we worship according to the western, catholic liturgy?”

via Higher Things : Top Ten Reasons Why We Use the Liturgy.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Today is a bittersweet day at the church in which I grew up, for this morning they are celebrating one last Divine Service in their current building, before observing the disposition of the Sanctuary, and then consecrating the Sanctuary in a new building later in the week.

Logically, I know this is a good thing. The larger worship space will allow the church to cut back on the number of services offered each Sunday, allowing more of the congregation to gather for worship at the same time. And while the building is changing, the congregation remains the same. The gathered faithful, the pastors and staff, they are still intact. Yes, there has been fluidity over the years–members, pastors, and staff alike have gone to their glory, or moved, or moved on, but the heart of the congregation, the commitment to the Gospel, remains the same.

Aesthetically, it’s also a good thing, a nice blending of the old, (in keeping and moving the stained glass from the old building), and the new, (such as a beautiful new font to remind members of their own baptisms, as well as for baptizing new believers). Practically, too, the change is beneficial–the church will now be able to hold pews with kneelers, which is a nice return to tradition, and kneeling will hopefully be seen as a meaningful addition to the worship service.

Most importantly, however, the Word and Sacrament will remain unchanged, regardless of where the worship is being held, (or even who the worshippers are!). The Word will be faithfully preached, albeit from a new pulpit, and the Sacraments will still be faithfully administered–again, from a new font and altar, but the Word needed remains the same, and the water and bread and wine will still be present, regardless of the location or the vessels.

My heart, on the other hand, struggles with this change. I was baptized in the old church; I was also confirmed and married there. I don’t think that many people can say that about one church anymore. So many memories from my childhood are tied up in that old building, as that is also where I attended school from grades pre-k through 8. Regular and holiday worship services, school opening and closing services, Christmas programs, weekly chapel services, my first Communion, Confirmation, 8th grade Graduation–these are all memories I cherish. I will always remember singing in the choir, playing handbells, and acolyting up in the front of that Sanctuary–my first introductions to serving in the church, even as a child.

Other memories, as I became an adult, are also intertwined with that church. VBS openings and closings, where I was finally a teacher. My father’s funeral service. The first Easter Vigil service I ever attended. More holidays and special services. My wedding rehearsal, and the next day, the wedding itself. Bringing my firstborn child to worship there for the very first time. These are also memories I hold close to my heart, and for which I thank God.

I am happy for the congregation that they are able to move forward into this new phase of the life of the church. I am thankful for the many members that gave of their time and money so generously, in order to glorify God and further fulfill the Great Commission. At the same time, I’m a little sad that I’ll never again worship in the church of my youth, that my children will never again have a chance to go back there and worship in the same pews as I did when I was their age, that the Word will no longer be preached from that old pulpit, and that the Sacraments will never again be administered from that font and altar.

Early Catechesis

Turkey and Bunny recently began catechesis at our church. Watching their reactions to this process has caused me to reflect on my own confirmation experience, and I have to say, I like the way they’re doing it better. In fact, I’m coming to believe that younger catechesis, perhaps beginning somewhere between second and fourth grade, is better overall. I really like that our church, catechesis isn’t age-based; it’s on an individual basis, when the pastor, parents and child think the time is right. But I realize that not every church (especially larger congregations) can do everything on a one-on-one level, so I think it would be beneficial for more congregations to look into starting the catechesis process at an earlier age, for several reasons.

  • First, is the obvious reason–not linking confirmation to graduation, which is a problem many churches, especially churches with attached dayschools, face. It’s quite tempting for a child to think that because a stage of their life is ending with a school, and their work at that particular institution is complete, the same must be true of church. This can end with children grudgingly attending church with their families, or refusing to go at all. Of course, the parents play a huge role here, but it makes the parents’ job easier if their children haven’t equated confirmation with graduation in the first place.
  • Second, at a younger age, children are less likely to see classes at church as a chore. I remember when I was in confirmation class, my friends and I would pretty much have rather been anywhere else than at church. Maybe that’s simply a testament to my own immaturity at the time, but I think it’s fairly typical of junior high age children. They have so many commitments at that age, and school work takes up so much of their time, that the last thing they want to do is attend another class. Yes, they need to learn to make church a priority, no matter what else they have going on, but trying to emphasize that point at a tumultuous time in their lives when they’re feeling naturally rebellious is not the best way to accomplish that goal. But younger children aren’t that cynical yet–they still view learning as exciting, regardless of the subject material, and church is no different.
  • Children are also more amenable to memorization at a younger age. Just like their excitement about learning, they tend to enjoy seeing just how much they can remember. Memorization is also easier for a younger child, because of the sponge-like nature of the child’s brain. It can be intimidating for young children to see how much memory work they have to do, but once they realize that they *can* do it, it’s been my experience that they approach memorization with an enthusiasm that isn’t usually seen in older children or adults.
  • Younger children are also more likely to talk to their parents about what they’ve learned in catechesis, answer questions about what they’ve learned, and ask questions they may have. We all know how much junior high children like being in the same room with their parents, much less talking to them, but younger children haven’t yet felt that embarrassment, and they like to talk and share. This is a great opportunity for catechesis to enter the home, and involve the whole family in conversation and learning.
  • It’s also beneficial to catch children before the hormone-filled years of junior high settle in. When trying to teach a group of junior high children, you realize that their focus is on who likes whom, what the latest fashions and hair styles are, and who has the most status. The changes that each child is experiencing can also wreak havoc on their ability to concentrate, make them self-conscious about asking or answering questions, and cause conflicts in relationships with other students in the class. Younger children don’t face as many of these problems, and are better able to focus on the true reason they are in class.
  • Younger catechesis also helps children to see their role in their congregation from a young age, which in turn helps them to realize that belonging to a church is a life-long process, with every member of the body needed in order for the church to function. The longer you make children wait to become active in congregational life (even if it’s simple things like being an acolyte), the less likely they are to stay involved following confirmation. People, including children, need to know that they are needed in their church, and we should strive to encourage the fact that they are just as important to the body of Christ, and their individual church, as anybody else is, including adults.
  • Beginning catechesis at a younger age also gives children an opportunity to get to know their pastor, other church workers, and possibly even elders and board members from early on. This helps them build relationships with trusted adults in the church, and again emphasizes that church is for people of *all* ages, and that there are many different ways they can serve in the church, whether they decide they would like to be on a board or committee someday, or if they realize that they themselves are being called to a career in church work.
  • Finally, and most importantly, children should not be denied the opportunity to go through the catechesis process, and ultimately receive the Sacrament, simply because of their age. This goes back to my preference for catechesis on a case-by-case basis, but I think that if a child is ready to go through the classes at a young age, can understand the material, and complete the requirements, than he or she should absolutely be allowed to become a catechumen, regardless of age. As Lutherans we know that the Sacrament is all about what God does for us, anyway, so making restrictions on it based on age, rather than faith, seems completely contradictory to me. We should rejoice when a young child realizes his or her sins, and wants to receive the forgiveness that we as adults experience in the Lord’s Supper, rather than patting him on the head and telling him that he needs to wait until he is old enough.

Hero Tales

Sonlight used to include a book in Core K called Hero Tales Volume One by Dave and Neta Jackson. Unfortunately, they swapped it out for something else before I had a chance to order, so I haven’t actually used the book in school. I *have* looked through it, though, and I think it’s a really cool idea (and from what I’ve seen, I would have preferred it way over its Sonlight replacement, I Heard Good News Today, by Cornelia Lehn, which we could just *not* get into). There are four volumes in the Hero Tales series, and each one has information on 15 heroes of the faith. There is a short biography on each, and then three short stories that recall accounts from specific life events. Volume One included stories about Martin Luther, D.L. Moody and John Wesley, among others.

This book got me thinking–wouldn’t it be great if there was a book that followed a similar format, but focused on Lutheran heroes of the faith? Sure we all know about Martin Luther, but what about the others? I know there must be someone out there qualified to write such a book (I also know that someone sure isn’t me!).

Every morning in school, we have calendar time, and we always check out our CPH church year calendar to see if there are any special commemorations that day. I can tell the children who the Biblical commemorations are for (if they don’t already know), and I can usually remember the major early church fathers, but I have to admit, I’m a little cloudy on some of the major players in Lutheran history. Johannes Bugenhagen? Fun to say, but I had to do some digging to find out who he actually was. And there are over 15 commemorations for key players in Lutheran history alone. That’s quite a lot of subject material.

Sure, I can (and often do) research the names on the calendar, but wouldn’t be great if there was a book out there, written on a middle to upper elementary school level, that could introduce our children to the men (and women–let’s not forget Katie Luther!) who shaped our church into what it is today? I could see it being useful in so many settings–Lutheran Day Schools, Confirmation classes, homeschools–so many opportunities for learning our history. I think it would be great to have a book that introduces children (and their families) to these people who may be unfamiliar, and shares how God used them to reform, share His Word, and shape, even if unknowingly, the denomination that we have today!

Lutheranism 101

I found out about a new book that CPH is publishing this fall, and I’m so excited about it! It’s called Lutheranism 101, and it covers all the key points of what it means to be a Lutheran, and what Lutherans believe.

I’m not clear if this book is meant for laypeople, or is geared more toward pastors, but I don’t care. I can see this resource being useful in so many ways! First of all, I can always use a refresher course in what my denomination is all about–no matter how much I’ve studied it, (a lot, but not nearly as much as many people I know, my husband included), I always, *always* learn something new when I read material like this. I’m no expert by any means, and I love having new insights on my faith. And it will be nice to have something a little more casual, (and injected with humor, to boot!), than, say, the Book of Concord.

I also see this being very useful in our homeschool (and I’m sure it would also be beneficial in Lutheran day schools, confirmation programs, and Sunday school programs, besides home use, and potentially adult Bible study). Based on the table of contents, it will provide us with a logical, pre-planned way to walk through the teachings of our church, and provide us with good doctrinal answers and information. I just have to wait a few more years for Turkey and Bunny to understand what we’ll be reading to spring it on them!

I can’t wait to actually get my hands on this book–it’s release date can’t come soon enough for me! Now I just have to decide if I’m going to pre-order, or just go to the CPH bookstore when it comes out. Look for a review here sometime this fall–I’m pretty sure I’ll have nothing but good things to say about it (can you tell I’ve studied the “look inside” feature of this book on CPH’s website several times?)!

Why I Love the Liturgy

The older I get, the deeper appreciation I have for our liturgy. Between my own personal experiences, and things I’ve talked over with others, and observed in others, I’ve come to realize what a true treasure liturgical worship is. When we participate in liturgical worship, we hear the Word proclaimed not only in the readings and the preaching of the sermon, but in the very words of the service itself. What a joy to be so immersed in the Word during worship! And while everyone benefits from this continual proclamation of the Gospel, there are some distinct groups that seem to especially take comfort in liturgical worship.

  • Older people, with failing memories, often remember the words they learned as children in church. Yes, the words have changed a bit over time, but the basics are still there. I have spoken with many people dealing with aging parents, and they are so grateful that even as their parents’ memories fail, they can fall back on the teachings of their childhood–namely, the Bible, the liturgy, and the prayers they were taught. What a comfort to know that those words became so engrained upon their hearts that even as they age, they can remember and participate!
  • Travelers, whether they be families on vacation, or business folks out for work, can take comfort in the fact that worship will be familiar wherever they go in the country (and to some extent, around the world), if they stumble across a liturgical church. This is actually something I really admire about the old Roman Catholic Latin services–you could truly go *anywhere* in the world, and know the service. Granted, to understand it, you have to learn what the Latin meant, but once you did, you could travel anywhere, and be assured that you could understand and participate in the service.
  • Parents who often have their hands full on Sunday mornings also benefit from using a standard liturgy. I know many times I have been holding one child in my arms, and helping another find the correct place in the hymnal, leaving me no way to hold a hymnal of my own. But, the words are familiar, and so the hymnal isn’t as needed for the liturgy itself (remembering the verses to many different hymns is a different story!).
  • Children, even those who can’t yet read, can participate in liturgical worship, especially if they are brought to church every Sunday from baptism on. Young people are notorious for being little sponges, and so it’s no surprise when we hear even toddlers singing along, saying the prayers, and participating. They can learn the words by heart before they can even read them, and fully participate as the part of the body of Christ that they are.
  • Those with special needs especially benefit from liturgical worship. I have seen this in evidence in two very different ways in my life. My blind parents were able to fully participate on Sunday mornings because of the familiar liturgy. Yes, the hymnal is, and has been, available in braille, but for anyone who has ever seen a braille book, you know how cumbersome they are to carry. This is especially true while traveling–it’s impossible to even know which volumes will be needed. And then there are those blind people with poor circulation which makes reading braille difficult, if not impossible. But going to a church the uses the liturgy every week frees that person to participate just as any other member of the congregation.
  • The other example of the liturgy being a comfort to those with special needs comes from observing my son, who has autism. Speech came late for him, and is still delayed, and so he hasn’t be able to participate in the liturgy the way his siblings have. He *does* recognize it, though, and that is everything to someone with autism. All children benefit from routine, but for a child with autism, routine can be the only thing that keeps you from a complete meltdown. And so, even when he couldn’t speak (or sing) the words, he knew and recognized them, and could hum along to the music when the words wouldn’t come. And now that speech is becoming easier for him, he realizes he already knows the words, and so participation is that much easier.

The liturgy is ancient, but it is timeless. I don’t think we give today’s young people enough credit when we assume that they don’t get it, don’t like it, and don’t want it in their churches.

I Have a Plan!

So, after spending the last several weeks going through homeschooling catalogs and websites of all kinds, as well as talking to people online, I think I have a plan for this year!

We’re going to start with Sonlight K, but not the newcomer package, because I decided to use A Reason for Handwriting instead of Handwriting Without Tears, which is what comes with the newcomer set. (And how much does all this agonizing I’ve done over handwriting curriculum even matter? Everybody is typing nowadays. But they still need to learn to write properly!) I realize that most people who have tried Handwriting Without Tears have loved it, but I really prefer the more traditional look that is taught in A Reason for Handwriting, and I also like that the practice is done with Bible verses (even it is selections from the Living Bible. *sigh* I’ll have to see how the lessons are presented, and how easy it would be to substitute with the ESV). So, my big challenge is going to be making sure I order everything else that would have come in the newcomer package, just switching out the handwriting materials, and also adding Ready, Set, Go for the Code for additional learning to read help.

I know some people would probably recommend starting with the P 4/5 curriculum, since I’m going to be working with a four and five year old. But I’ve been over both the K and the P 4/5 materials many times, and I really think they would both be bored with the 4/5 stuff. I don’t want to sound like the typical bragging parent, but both of my older children are pretty advanced, which was partly the reason we decided to homeschool, so they could be more challenged, and I think they know most of the stuff from the 4/5 curriculum. I guess at worst we end up stretching out or repeating the K curriculum, but I really don’t think it’s going to be an issue.

As long as homeschooling goes well this year, and I feel comfortable with what I’m doing, I may look into switching out other parts of the curriculum. Not the core, obviously, because that’s the best part of Sonlight–all of the reading, and the natural learning method as far as history, geography, etc., goes. In the future, though, especially if I actually get to a curriculum fair, I think I may want to try Apologia for science (maybe starting at grade two, so I can do the astronomy, botany, and three zoology texts before general science hits in seventh grade), because I always loved science in grade school (and high school and college for that matter, except for physics, but that’s a whole other story!) and the Apologia curriculum looks really cool!

I’m also hoping to get a chance to compare Saxon math to the Horizons curriculum that Sonlight recommends, because I know it’s a tried and true method, and a lot of homeschoolers use it, so I figure I should at least check it out. Hopefully I can make that decision before we start grade one next year–that way I won’t end up doubling up on manipulatives sets (I know I could put together my own, but that idea is still intimidating to a new homeschooler like me!).

Eventually I know I’m going to want to move away from the religion that Sonlight provides, as well. I’m already adding the Lutheran Children’s ESV to our materials for this year, to beef up the Bible curriculum that they provide, and maybe some Arch books, too. I’m OK with Sonlight’s offerings (supplemented by CPH material) up through about grade two or three, but then they A.) start using Bible translations I’m not fond of, and 2.) start teaching some stuff that could be contradictory to Lutheran theology, at least from what I can tell so far. I can always fall back on CPH’s dayschool religion curriculum or *gasp* prepare my own–I was a DCE before children, after all, so if there’s anything I should be able to create on my own, that would be it!

The reading, read-alouds and Language Arts all look good to me, so no worries about replacing those. The electives look pretty good, too–certainly more about music and art appreciation than I ever learned in the early elementary years. And while I’m not using Sonlight’s number one recommendation for handwriting, and I may decide on different math and science, all of those materials are still available to order through Sonlight (and I think still eligible for the member discount), so except for the religion materials, it appears I can keep all of my business in one place. Very convenient!

I’m most excited about Sonlight’s core, though–I can’t believe how much we’ll be reading! I think I’ve looked at the book lists for almost every grade, and there are so many familiar books from my childhood that I can’t wait to share with my children. And I love the way they use “real” books to teach history, instead of just dry textbooks. I know I remember much more from the stories I read as a child, whether they were true, or just entertaining fiction, than I do from any textbook I read. I know this isn’t the only way of learning, but it is the one that makes the most sense to me, so I’m especially happy Sonlight has put together such a nice curriculum for me–I wouldn’t even know where to start doing this on my own!

I can’t believe we’ve actually made the decision to homeschool. I certainly never saw myself as a homeschooling parent. Then again, our family has always been a little unorthodox, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised that this seems to be such a good fit for us–we’re good at going against the grain! I’m especially grateful to my husband, because he was obviously listening to me, (at times when I didn’t even realize I was talking!), and was open minded enough not only to consider this, but to actually do a complete 180 on his opinions on homeschooling. I never even would have seriously considered homeschooling without his support, but I feel that with God calling me to do this, and Ryan’s encouragement, I’ve been set free to do something I always wanted to do, without even really knowing it at the time.