Friday, February 08, 2013

Officers Versus Leaders

Come Sunday, we are installing members of what is technically known as our Congregation Council.  (In practice, everybody says Church Council -- a name which the ELCA arrogated, logically but confusingly, for its national board of trustees).

Not having done this in a while, what with serving a mission church and all, Father A. had to give himself a quick refresher course on the relevant liturgical forms.  And he finds some subtle but noteworthy contrasts.

The LBW and ELW forms are extremely similar:  an introduction, a reading from 1 Corinthians, a description of the duties, the extraction of some promises from the councillors, and a promise by the assembly to support their new leaders.

The most interesting difference, honestly, is in the name given to the service.  Where the LBW called it "Installation of Elected Parish Officers," ELW calls it "Installation of Leaders."  This is a salutary change, since churches do not need office-holdership half so much as they need leadership.

More provocative is the contrast between these modern forms and their predecessor rite, specifically, the description of a council member's duties.  Here is the ELW language:

You are to see that the words and deeds of this household of faith bear witness to God, who gathers us into one together with the whole church. 
You are to seek to involve all members of this congregation in worship, learning, witness, service, and support, so that the mission of Christ is carried out in this congregation, in the wider church, in this community, and in the whole world. 
You are to be faithful in your specific area of serving, that the Spirit who empowers you may be glorified. 
You are to be examples of faith active in love, fostering peace, harmony, and mutual understanding in this congregation.

Here is the language from the Occasional Services of the 1918 Common Service Book:
It will be your duty to see: That the services of God's House* be held at the proper times, and conducted in accordance with the Order of the Church; 
that the pure Word of God be preached, as the Church confesses it, and only by those duly authorized according to the Constitution of this Congregation; 
that provision be made for the Christian instruction of the young; 
that strict discipline be maintained, the erring admonished and impenitent offenders excluded from the communion of the Church; 
that the property of the Congregation be cared for, and all that relates to its worldly affairs properly administered. 
It will furthermore be your duty: To assist the Pastor in the care of the sick and needy, in the cultivation of harmony among the members, in the promotion of the general welfare of the Congregation, and in the furtherance of Christ's Kingdom, at home and abroad. 
Nor should you be unmindful that, while holiness of life and conversation is required of all who name the Name of Christ; it is especially incumbent upon those who have been called to be office-bearers in His Church to show themselves in all things, by word and example, a pattern of good works.
The differences are interesting.  The CSB installation is a lot windier, as was the unfortunate custom of those times. The language of pure preaching "as the Church confesses it" is a reminder of the fierce confessional strife of the 19th century.  It also includes specific themes -- discipline, in its different forms -- which have largely gone underground in the modern Church.  That is, they still exist, but we are reluctant to talk about them very much, for fear of frightening people away.

In general, we find the modern brevity very attractive, and we don't miss the business about excluding people from Communion.  We'll leave that to the LC-MS.  But we do think that the penultimate paragraph, about assisting the pastor, is a serious loss.

The idea that lay leaders "assist" the pastor may sound, to some ears, like the dreaded and much-maligned clericalism.  But it is not clericalism to acknowledge that, in most congregations, the pastor is the person chiefly entrusted with care for the sick and the welfare of the congregation.  Not to mention extending the Kingdom; far too many council members have a hard time thinking beyond their own property line.  And arguably, it is clericalism to omit the duty of lay leaders to engage in such things as well.  (This duty is spelled out in most constitutions, and the rubric does permit us to just read the constitution in the rite.  That would make for a far longer-winded service, but may still be worthwhile.)

We are not, in this case, calling for a return to the old rite.  It wasn't particularly great.  But it did have its beauties, and they are worth thinking about hen we talk about leadership in a fast-changing church.

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