Easter Vigil – Sisters of Katie Luther

Today there’s an article on the Sisters of Katie Luther about my favorite church service of the year, the Great Vigil of Easter. If you’re unfamiliar with this service, or you’ve just always wanted to learn more about it, I encourage you to take a few moments on this Holy Saturday to read about what makes it such a beautiful, unique bridge between Good Friday and Easter Sunday!

So, what does the Great Vigil of Easter look like? What is a vigil, anyway? (That one is easy…it’s a devotional watching, often the night before a church festival.) Why should you go to a service on Saturday night (sometimes quite late, although often in the early evening instead), when you’re going to be up early on Easter Sunday morning anyway? What is the benefit of this service?

Now, I may be biased, but the Great Vigil of Easter is my favorite service of the church year, and the one I have learned the most from over the years. The service is divided into four main parts: The Service of Light; Readings; The Baptismal Remembrance; and The Service of The Lord’s Supper. (Some churches also count the Service of Prayer, and the Service of The Word as unique parts). Each part of the Easter Vigil has a unique purpose, and the totality of the service bridges the gap from Good Friday to Easter morning.

via Easter Vigil – Sisters of Katie Luther.

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!

Der Weihnachtsgottesdienst

Tonight, we had the opportunity to attend a German Christmas service at Trinity Lutheran Church in Nashville, IL.

I took the children to a German Good Friday service this year, and that was an experience–very meaningful and somber. But there’s something about a Christmas service in German that makes you wonder if you’re actually in Heaven. The liturgy, although German, was familiar, even to the children. Even the sermon wasn’t impossible to follow, (although I did find the printed prayers, other than “Das Vaterunser,” more difficult to understand). And the hymns! All the standards you would expect: “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen,” “Von Himmel hoch,” Müde bin ich,” and, of course, “Stille Nacht.”

Following the service, there was even an opportunity for some good, old-fashioned gemütlichkeit in the church fellowship hall, where they had some delicious homemade cookies. It was a great night, and I’m so thankful we had the chance to go, and that the children got a taste of Christmas in Germany!

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.

Easter Evening

We have been blessed in the last 24 hours to attend three beautiful worship services. Though they were all very different, they did share common elements–the full proclamation of the Gospel, a celebratory air befitting the Savior’s resurrection, and, of course, the return of “Alleluia!” I love this weekend every year, because of how much time we get to spend at church.

With apologies to my pastor, (who I hope got a well-deserved rest this afternoon following the whirlwind that is Holy Week), it makes me wish that there was such a thing as an Easter Evening service. I would love to gather with the Eleven in that locked room, and witness their reactions to their risen Lord and Savior, just I traveled to the tomb with the women this morning, and rejoiced with them when they learned that Jesus was alive.

Basically, I guess I just don’t want it to end. I’m grateful that we have a whole season of Easter, but even then, it seems like we return to “normal” too quickly. The more time I spend at church, with my church family, hearing the Word, and receiving the Sacrament, the more I want to be there. Between the Wednesday services all Lent, and the extra services of Holy Week, I feel a little let-down now that it’s over, and we’re back to our usual one service per week.

Then again, I suppose if we had extra services all the time, I’d get so used to it that I’d be complaining about them taking up too much of my time. I guess it has to end sometime!


I had the opportunity to take the children at a German Good Friday service at Holy Cross, Wartburg, this morning.

It’s a beautiful old church. From what I was able to gather while there, the congregation is 170 years old, and the stone tower is almost 100–that’s some major American Lutheran history!

It was a wonderful experience. I’ve somehow managed to never make it to a German service before, even though I’ve always wanted to. I really enjoyed being able to worship in the language of my grandparents and great-grandparents, and I discovered that after all these years, my high school German stuck with me enough that I was able to (mostly) follow the service.

I was also impressed with how Turkey was able to follow along. That’s one of the beautiful things about the liturgy–if you know it in one language, you can figure out what’s going on, even in a foreign language. The rest of my children weren’t as interested in following the service, they just wanted to watch and listen. And it was quite something to hear all of those voices singing in German!

The part of the service that really choked me up (I knew there would be something!) was the Benediction. Not really sure why, but I really enjoyed hearing something so familiar and comforting in the language of my ancestors:

“Der Herr segne dich und behüte dich.
Der Herr erleuchte sein Angesicht über dich und sei dir gnädig,
Der Herr erhebe sein Angesicht auf dich und gebe dir Frieden.”

Churches without Organs?

Between the economy, and our society’s obsession with praise worship, this article really doesn’t surprise me. It does, however, make me very sad. Not just for a suffering business, (and I really do hope the Wicks Organ Company sees that pendulum swing in the future, and is able to go back to not just repairing, but also manufacturing, pipe organs), but for a loss of something beautiful and historic.

There was nothing my father liked better than a great pipe organ. Emphasis on great, because he was something of an organ snob. His idea of a good evening was listening to records, and later CDs, of organ concerts. Now, I can’t say I ever totally understood that, and while I do appreciate a good organ, I don’t feel as strongly about it as he did. Still, to me, an integral part of worship is the congregation’s singing being accompanied by an organ.

I really feel badly for people who don’t appreciate, don’t even want, that kind of music in their churches. I’m not saying you must have an organ to be saved or anything, but it’s historic, an art form, (and I do fear that many modern churches have lost sight of what art is and how beneficial it is to worship), and more importantly, an element of worship, that shouldn’t be so easily discarded.

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.

Distractions in Church

My recent musings about children in church sparked a lot of discussion. One thing that came up frequently was how much of a distraction children can be to others in worship, even when they’re well-behaved. That got me thinking–at what point do we have to take ownership for the things that we allow ourselves to be distracted by, instead of placing the blame on the person (or thing) that is distracting us?

Everyone has different things that cause their attention to wander, be it in church or somewhere else. For example, unless a total meltdown is in progress, I very rarely notice any child-noise in church, unless the noise is coming from my own children, of whose noises I am hyper-aware. Maybe it’s because I’m a mother, and I just tend to block it out; maybe it’s just not something that tends to cross my radar, I don’t know.

On the other hand, there are things that *do* distract me, to the point that I will suddenly realize I missed a big part of the service because I had been focusing on the distraction. But whose responsibility is that? The person who had been distracting me? Or myself, for allowing my mind to focus on something other than the Word on Sunday morning?

My guess is that the real problem there is me. Again, I’m not talking about something that is almost impossible to ignore, like the complete meltdown of a child, or someone collapsing in the service. I’m talking about rather innocuous things–things that might bother me, that you’d never even notice, or things that make you crazy, while I’m left wondering what the problem is. It’s the minutiae in life that tends to get us, after all.

There are so many things in worship that can distract us if we allow it. The innocent noises that come from babies and toddlers. The way someone is dressed. Adults whispering a few pews away. The scent of perfume or cologne (or even the flowers in church that Sunday). The sound of coughing or sniffling. Even our own thoughts and plans. Any of these little things can encourage us to move our focus from where it should be, to something, anything else. Who among us hasn’t drifted away, only to realize that half of the sermon has gone by, without our hearing a word? And worse yet, *the* Word? I know I have. Mea culpa.

Yes, as fellow members of a congregation, we need to be sympathetic to those things we do in worship that may cause our brothers and sisters to become distracted and take their focus of Christ. I would never suggest that we concern ourselves only with our worship, and what works for us–we should be concerned with the whole body of Christ. But we also need to be responsible for our own minds, and the direction our thoughts take when we allow ourselves to look away from Christ, and focus on anything else when we are in His presence. And in everything, whether as distractor or the distracted, we should all keep in mind the words of Galatians 6:2–“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ.”

Children in Church

I hate church nurseries. At every church I’ve attended that has *had* a church nursery, I’ve been offered, encouraged and harassed to use the nursery. I know people have good intentions, but I grew so tired of hearing people to tell me to “let myself have a break,” or “let the children come and play,” or whatever other way they so nicely suggest that my children didn’t belong/didn’t need to be/weren’t wanted in church. This is why I am so glad that they church we go to now has no nursery in sight. Places where you can take your child during the service? Yes. Staffed nursery? No. So grateful.

I truly believe (and always have) that children belong in church from the time of their baptism on. I also believe that children should be baptised within weeks, if not days, of their births, ergo, children belong in church from the time they are days (or weeks) old, hearing the Word. And don’t tell me it’s too hard, because I don’t buy it. When I had one, or even two children, mothers with more “experience” would knowingly say that I’d change my mind when they were older/more mobile, or if I had more children. Well, I’m here to tell you, I didn’t change my mind, not when I had four children four and under, not when I found out that one of my children has autism (which can make sitting through church a challenge), not when my husband is out-of-town and I have to take them all by myself, not ever. Children are part of the body of believers, they need to be taught how to worship, and they need to be in worship.

So, to everybody who talked down to me like I had no idea what parenting was like when I was a younger parent: you were wrong. I stand by my belief that children *always* belong in church. To the other parents out there who are struggling to do the right thing and keep their children in church with them, here are a few ideas for you:

  1. Sit in front. This is just common sense. If you’re sitting in the back, facing the front, when your child is loud, that loudness travels in front of you, toward all of the rows of people sitting in front of you. If you’re in front, the sound is mostly just traveling toward the pastor, and he’s usually more understanding than the people sitting in the pews.
  2. Limit distractions. I know a lot of people swear by “church bags” full of toys, books and snacks. I used to do that, too. But I found that all that stuff really just provided more distractions, more noise, and more problems when they were dropped, lost or fought over. If you *must* bring something, bring a quiet toy (stuffed animals are great at being quiet) that doesn’t rattle, sing, squeak, or have wheels that make lots of noise. Better yet, bring a church related book. A Bible story book, or one of my favorite books for toddlers–The Things I…series from CPH. I think those are actually best used at home before and after church to talk about what you will be (or what you have been) seeing and doing, but in church would be OK too, if you have to bring something.
  3. Sit in front. I know I said this once already, but I’m saying it again for a different reason. Children love to see what is happening in church. There is so much to watch and listen to, and the closer you are to the front, the better children are able to participate. Yes, you will need to whisper to them what is going on, and yes, they will need to be taught to whisper their questions to you, but this is how they learn. They need to see, hear and understand what is going on in the service–this is how they learn to be part of the service themselves when they are older.
  4. Help them participate. Help young children learn to stand when you stand, sit when you sit, and fold their hands at appropriate times. Also, a benefit of attending a liturgical church is that even small children can learn when to say the appropriate responses, and what those responses are. And young children who can’t yet read still like to follow along in a hymnal, so show them the correct page, help them turn the page at the right times, help them to learn how to treat the hymnal with respect (just as you’re probably teaching them to do with story books at home).
  5. Talk about church. Talk about how you behave in church before you go. Talk about what happened in church on your way home. Play church with stuffed animals during the week, modeling correct church behavior. The more children know what to expect, and what is expected of them, the better they will do on Sunday morning.
  6. Be consistent. Go to church *every* Sunday. Yes, there are weeks when illness makes us miss out on worship, but those instances are usually few and far between. There will be Sundays that you won’t want to go. Go anyway–these are the Sundays you need to be there the most. The more often you go, the better you children will behave, so go regularly.
  7. Leave when you need to. Even with practice and help from parents, even the best child has a Sunday with a meltdown. So, if you need to leave because your child is being a distraction, just leave, as quickly and as quietly as possible (I know this is embarrassing when you’re sitting in front, but hopefully if you’re sitting in front, and your children are engaged in the service, you’ll need to leave less often, anyway). And when you get out of the sanctuary, sit with your child, or stand if there are no seats available, but keep participating in the service. No running around, no playing with toys, no going home. Even if you’re not in the sanctuary, your child needs to learn that Sunday mornings are for worship, and if they are not willing to sit in the pew (preferably in the front), then they are going to worship in the back, where they can’t see as well, and aren’t as much a part of things. I know from experience that this is not more fun than sitting in the pew, and the child will eventually realize that in the church, where they can see and hear well, is the better place to be.

Helping children to learn how to worship is not always easy–at times is may seem like a never-ending task. But, one Sunday you will realize that your toddler is singing the words to the liturgy, and you will realize that your elementary-school age children are listening to the sermon, and you may even notice that your special-needs child is at his best in church, and you will know what an important and rewarding task it truly is!