Feed My Sheep
Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Bexley, Ohio, which last year merged with Capital University across the street, has a new dean who is widely admired. In a recent edition of her weekly newsletter, Dean Kathryn Kleinhans talked about the state of seminary education across the ELCA:
“The numbers are out. This year the seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – together – are graduating a total of 114 students available for call. That’s not even two for each of the ELCA’s 65 synods. Geographical restrictions limit even further the number of candidates available for a call anywhere in the church. Any of our bishops will tell you that the need is much greater than that!"
Why are there so few seminary graduates? It's complicated, but the bottom line is that the ELCA itself is struggling. Congregations are closing or merging (and members are always lost in mergers), few are flourishing, and those who are somewhere in between are cutting back on their mission support--money and offerings directed to their synods, seminaries, and Churchwide headquarters, making it difficult for those bodies to function effectively.
And why is this? I believe that for the past 30 or 40 years the church has been starved from within largely by pastors from the baby boomer generation who have tossed out the church's great heritage of liturgical worship and song. Instead, they have forced on unwilling parishioners the praise band mentality, which considers liturgy to be threatening. They think worship should be common, simplistic, and familiar. "Church" then becomes mere entertainment in which the triune God, in all God's mystery, unfathomable dimension, and cosmic love, is lost in the noise.
People can find entertainment anywhere, on any device, at a moment's notice. They come to church for something more than that. They enter a sanctuary hoping, longing, yearning to be fed by the living Christ. To encounter the awesome holiness of God. To be swept up in the kindling fire of the Holy Spirit.
The younger generations especially are craving this connection with that which is higher than themselves. They need to know God loves them and forgives them. But they also desire to have a closer relationship with God, to know God and to be known by God, and to get some idea about how our state of separation from God can be healed. And deep down they know they can't get that by singing "My God is an awesome God" over and over.
There is hope, for we are always people of hope. Now that baby boomer-era pastors are retiring, new generations are coming into positions of leadership. These pastors may not be as rigorously trained in Greek and Hebrew as the previous generations, or at least they don't need to flaunt it. Instead, they are steeped in spirituality; they know their parishioners are hungry for God; and they are opening creative channels through the rituals of the church and its worship by which their flocks can be fed.
"Do you love me?" Jesus asks Peter near the end of John's gospel. "Then feed my sheep."