Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Pastor's Ring: Common vs. Individual

A couple years ago, I heard about a New Orleans area Lutheran who had visited a church in another state, the pastor of which is a classmate and friend of mine. This fact was unbeknown to the New Orleans area Lutheran, who proceeded to explain some interesting things to my friend - both about me, and my parish.

For example, I learned that my congregation, Salem Lutheran, will not allow anyone to take communion unless they first receive private absolution. If that is indeed the policy at my congregation, I didn't get a copy of that memo (I hope my TPS reports have the proper cover sheet...). Let me see, we require visitors to: do the chicken dance, donate $1,000, and be able to "moonwalk" to the rail before we commune them. Nope, nothing in here about requiring private confession. Maybe that was slipped in under Murray's pastorate...

There were a few other silly things said by this person (who may well have mental issues).

Just yesterday, I learned that this same fellow explained to someone else about a very unusual communion policy at my congregation.

Very unusual, indeed!

Are you ready for this?

No, really. Are you ready?

You are not going to guess this one in a thousand years.

The claim is that when you receive communion at the rail at Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna, Louisiana, you must (hold on, I can't type while I'm laughing!), actually, literally, with your lips, kiss the pastor's ring before receiving the elements. Wait, I'm still laughing, and I'm fat-fingering all over the place. Sorry about that, I think I corrected all the typos. Oh, Lordy!

You know, when it comes to rumors and lies, I suppose bigger is better. But, of course, this is not to say that some people won't actually believe it.

Obviously, kissing the bishop's ring is a very old Christian custom. It is a sign of affection and respect for the holy office. I have never heard of this custom being done for lowly parish pastors, especially here in America - but it makes for a great story. As far as I can tell, it has never been the custom at Salem.

We may eat mudbugs and gators, wear plastic beads and masks, throw cabbages and carrots from parade floats, visit drive-thru daiquiri shops, bury our dead above ground, and "make groceries." But we don't kiss the ring of the parish pastor. Not even da Catlicks at St. Ant'neys do dat, dawlin'.

For one thing, it would violate the Scaer Rule of Rubrical Efficiency No. 12: "Any verdammtes act of personal piety that lengthens the duration of the Sacrifice of the Mass is verboten." Can you just imagine how long distribution would take if every parishioner is smooching the ring? We're already up to four distro hymns as it is - which, I suspect, according to Scaer, would nearly disqualify us from synodical membership.

But it has made me think a little as to how we could "Lutheranize" the ring-kissing practice. First of all, we'd have to offer a choice: the "common ring" or the "individual ring." The "common ring" would be the traditional practice of each parishioner kissing the gold ring on the pastor's finger. My ring happens to be a Concordia Theological Seminary class ring (gold, with a garnet gem with a "Chi-Rho" design etched on top).

Obviously, some would be squeamish about germs and such when it comes to the "common ring." We could create "individual rings" that each parishioner could take from a tray, kiss, and leave on the rail to be picked up after the service. CPH could produce some really cheap rings, making them out of inexpensive, disposable plastic - tastefully, of course (after all, these are sacred objects). Though some would advocate throwing the used individual rings directly into the garbage, the altar guild at Salem would have to find a way to thoroughly cleanse the rings (properly disposing of the water) before throwing them into the trash.

Secondly, some people would be, no doubt, uncomfortable with kissing, and would prefer a handshake instead of a smooch. Good pastoral practice indicates allowing communicants a lot of individual liberty in such matters, so as not to turn ring-kissing into a divisive or disruptive issue. Ceremonies have simply changed since Vatican II, and we need to be sensitive to these things.

I know plastic rings and replacing the kiss with a handshake aren't ideal, but as we all know, many a congregation has been destroyed by pig-headed Fort Wayne pastors who insist on communicants kissing the "common ring" only. The practice is, of course, an adiaphoron, and we need to keep in mind that the "individual ring," though not ideal, gives the very same benefit to the communicant as the "common ring." Ditto for allowing the ring to be greeted with a (laurel and?) hardy handshake instead of the biblical kiss. We need to bear with one another in Christian love.

Well, rumors to the contrary, we don't actually practice ring-kissing in any form at Salem. So much for our "high church" reputation.

But I have to admit, the Rumor Man has got me thinking...


Bruce said...

CPH did donate much to the New Orleans area in an effort to aid and assist congregations and schools that were impacted by the hurricane.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ooo! As a classmate of yours do I get to engage is creative rumor creation as well? Can I, Can I?

Um. . . inspired by the Epiphany banners at the Seminary that looked like they were supporting the NY Jets, Salem has Epiphany banners that have yellow flocking in them, just like New Orleans Hornets banners. They did that when the Hornets were up here in Oklahoma, and then their fast talking pastor told the mayor, "See, God wants the Hornets here, so if you don't get them back, I'm going to put the special Lutheran Whammy on you." And that's why NO was so adamant to get the Hornets back. . . and now Oklahoma City will be stuck with the Sonics. This is also why anyone from both Oklahoma and Seattle are instructed to wear a Kurt Rambis style headband when they commune at Salem, as a reminder to the pastor of how his liturgical duplicity has harmed his neighbor.

Oh. . . and if you ever visit up here and commune, I guess you could kiss my OU class ring. . . or even my wedding ring (ah, the sheer surprise that I go hitched!).

Petersen said...

Great post, but I missed Bruce's point.

These rumors will never end on this side of glory, and they always hurt. I think you've responded in the healthiest way: laugh. Some people are determined to think evil of you and the best way to heap coals on their heads is to simply endure it and love them back. That is blastedly hard to do because we want to defend ourselves. One of the hardest lessons to learn (and to believe) is that these things are not overcome by arguments or charm but only by the cross. That is why all of creation is groaning with you. We are all eager for the revelation in the end that contrary to rumor you are a son of God.

Keep up the good work. I love the blog.


Jeff said...

I suppose the requiring your confirmands to wear sackcloth and ashes isn't true either?

Man, next thing you'll tell us is that you don't actually require 40 days of fasting prior to membership...

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Bruce:

You are right about that! Several area pastors (myself not included) lost books, or even entire libraries because of flooding. CPH had these pastors list all the CPH-published books that they lost, and they were replaced free of charge.

Very generous indeed.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

Well, I do have family in Tulsa. That may fuel a few rumors. ;-)

I still don't know why our old team (now in Utah) is called the Jazz (About as many Utah Mormons listen to Jazz as there are actual Celtic-Americans playing for Boston, or dinosaurs in Toronto).

Of course, we stole Kent Schaaf's "Hornets" from Charlotte, and if we wanted to be consistent with local insect fauna nomenclature, we could have renamed the team the Fire-ants or the Termites.

What we should do is work out a deal to rename the Hornets as the New Orleans Jazz, and swap that whole beehive thing out with Utah. It would make more sense for everyone - which is exactly why it will never happen. After all, we are the state of Sen. Vitter (the family-values call-girl guy) and Rep. William Jefferson (the completely innocent guy with $90,000 in his freezer). If nothing else, we are inclusive. Our corruption knows no racial or partisan bounds.

You know, the funny thing is, I don't even care much for politics or the NBA. But everything becomes interesting in Louisiana. I have to believe that Lewis Carroll was a frequent visitor.

But I suppose it would be cool to see New Orleans win something other than the prize for the biggest natural disaster and most fragile levee system.

Living in New Orleans is a lot like growing up in Cleveland when it comes to sports. The fans are tenacious and full of hope each and every year. They are loyal to their teams, win or lose. Of course, winning is better...

And Eric, when you come for your pilgrimage to Salem, I expect you to set a good example for my "subjects" and kiss the ring on my finger rather than pick up a cheap plastic one from the tray...

Father Hollywood said...

Dear David:

Thank you for the "atta boy" as well as your wise pastoral words. For all of its ugliness, the Internet does provide us with the blessing of conversation with brothers-in-arms in a way impossible a generation ago.

The funny thing about spreading untrue rumors about pastors (or anyone for that matter) is that it's so unnecessary. Why lie? My goodness, do we not have "feet of clay?" Aren't there enough *true* unflattering things we can spread about each other? I mean, breaking the 8th commandment is bad enough, why compound the sin with lies? It's not a stretch by any means to come up with *actual* terrible things to say about me. There's no need to concoct exotic tales. We're talking "low-hanging fruit" here, people.

I appreciate the creativity and all, but it's just way too much work.

Well, anyhow, I take great comfort in knowing that Redeemer - Fort Wayne does not use the "individual rings." Saints be praised that someone in this synod is promoting liturgical dignity. ;-)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jeff:

It's a real letdown, isn't it? I don't even have a bishop's miter.

Oh, the shame!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Didn't the one Saxon ship with all the cool stuff sink on the way to New Orleans? Maybe you should get some scuba gear and see if you can find the wreck. Maybe you could find Steffen's German miter!

And I'm old fashioned - I would bring my own ring, let you wear it, kiss it, and then take it home. Everyone should have their own family ring for the pastor to wear. Individual rings. . . almost as bad as having hymnals in the pews instead of bringing your own. . . indeed, almost as bad as having pews!

Rosko said...

I bet I even know which parish that person came from. Let's see, it's probably in an historical district, on the Westbank, not too far from the ferry. Now I'm just gettin' too specific so I'll shut up.