Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Congratulations to the New LCMS President

Today, the Rev. Matt Harrison was elected the 13th president of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. He is a conservative, confessional Lutheran - and a theologian. In fact, here is a nice write-up by the traditionalist Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt, editor-in-chief of Gottesdienst, the world's foremost journal of Lutheran liturgy.

I'm sure Pastor Harrison doesn't remember me, but ten years ago, when he was pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I was one of many seminarians placed under his supervision for field work. Pr. Harrison can be an intimidating fellow: deep voiced, barrel chested, and theologically learned. And Zion (where I was later to be ordained) can also be an intimidating church: massive, historic, traditional, and laid out like a cathedral. On my first assignment to serve as subdeacon for a midweek Vespers service - which meant being vested (awkwardly at that time) in collar, cassock, and surplice; reading the lesson from the lecturn; and chanting the response - I was nervous, to say the least.

That evening, we had a big snowstorm. So I set aside my dress shoes and pushed my stocking feet into my oversized, sturdy, fur-lined winter boots. Problem is, in my nervousness, I forgot my dress shoes at home. There was no time to go back for them.

I was mortified.

Hangdog and expecting a dressing-down, I went to Pr. Harrison to face the music just prior to the service. I told him I didn't think I could serve that evening. When he asked why not, I pointed with embarrassment to my silly snow-booted feet.

Pr. Harrison laughed and laughed. He got the associate pastor and they both laughed. Not in meanness or mockery, but in a reassuringly backslapping kind of way, as brothers might tease each other. Pr. Harrison told me it would be just fine. So there I was in cassock, surplice, and clownish fur-lined boots performing the sacred office of liturgical subdeacon for the first time on the marble floor within the chancel of historic Zion church the same place where I would be ordained and celebrate my first Mass (properly shod that time) only four years later.

Pr. Harrison also lectured our field education classes at the seminary and occasionally preached in chapel. He had a well-worn copy of the Greek New Testament, and would read to us out of it without a translation, rendering it into English on the fly.

Five years ago, Pr. Harrison also came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to meet with several of us area pastors, and distributed funds from LCMS World Relief and Human Care to help us get our churches up and running again. On that occasion, he was gracious to sign a copy of Johann Gerhard's Meditations on Divine Mercy for me, a book he translated from the German. He inscribed the book for me in Latin.

I don't think Pr. Harrison will be able to fix all of our problems in the LCMS (and I hope people don't expect him to be a miracle worker), but we as a synod have certainly voted to move in a different direction than the path we've been on for nearly a decade. It should be an interesting time in the life of the LCMS.

Congratulations and blessings to Pr. Harrison, and let us keep the synod in our prayers.

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