Like Grant and Lee in Class at Westpoint

I was speaking with a professor at Concordia Seminary last week. He said something very alarming to me about some of the first-year students at the seminary. While many classes on the whole are good, he said, there are more and more students coming in who have never witnessed liturgical worship and to whom the hymnal is a completely foreign thing.

It’s frightening for those students. Could you imagine being raised in a church using consumerist worship with all of its emphases and experiences believing that this is what the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was like and then being dropped into the flagship seminary and attending worship for the first time? Talk about bait-and-switch! I can’t imagine what kind of culture shock that must be for those young men.

Of course it’s frightening to me too. The seminary does a pretty poor job of educating about the liturgy in any systematic kind of way. One class in worship which pretty much relates to technique and the rest must be pulled from this or that textbook, this or that professor, a few who emphasize our worship and liturgy more than others, but most remaining silent for whatever reason. For these young men who have no experience of what Lutheran worship had been–uniformly–for 450 years, I’m afraid that they will leave the seminary still not knowing.

When I was there a few of the men were ardent supporters of jettisoning the liturgy for the consumerist worship we have today. Those men were rather in a minority, at least in their outspoken disdain for the Synod’s history and confession. They saw their years at the seminary as either missionaries to convert the rest of us heathen about our dead tradition, or, failing that, as a cross to bear and hoops to navigate until they could leave and go back to their former ways. I remember one couldn’t take it and left. He eventually was ordained through “alternate” means and is now serving somewhere out west.

I know some who read here are not as convinced about the historic liturgy as I am. I’m glad you read anyway. But I think we can agree on this: when you have, in the same synod, at the same time, the Lutheran Service Book, the tooth-less and relatively meaningless “Theses on Worship” the Council of Presidents produced, and a generation of future pastors who have only known contemporary worship, it does not bode well for our unity.

5 comments on “Like Grant and Lee in Class at Westpoint

  1. I’ll have to agree with you. The seminary does not provide adequate teaching on the liturgy. But then, I would argue that the three years of book work (even if taken up with extreme zeal)are not adequate for teaching all that a Pastor needs to know.

    Father Hollywood suggests an extra year for languages, and you would like to see more liturgy. I’d like more time in Christology, the confessions and general Christian history. And I would suggest that more time and study is needed, as were not dealing with something as simple as our nation’s economy.

    Sadly, though we are heading in the other direction – less book work and less learning at the feet of faithful, intelligent and churchly theologians. The result is going to be the continuation of the frightening situation you’ve described above.

    I’m just preparing for my depressing mood here in Michigan, when the clouds move in for 5 straight months. 🙂

  2. Thanks for commenting, Jay. My vicarage theory is this: it takes 6 months to get the hang of it, three to realize that, yes, you can do this, and in the last three you start to realize how little you actually know and need to learn more. So, yes, four years is a short amount of time to learn what is needed, though the seminary makes the assumption that we will continue studying throughout our ministries. To some extent, they are right, and I am continually impressed by hearing usually off-hand comments on what other pastors are reading and learning–even from the less than academic types. Four years of graduate education will make just about anyone a scholar of some sort.

    But I am intrigued by your comment that there is less book work and less learning. Can you describe this in more detail?

  3. The liturgy should already have been learned by the time most go to seminary. If our faith was formed and shaped by the Mass, ahem, Divine Service, from our youth, then we would only need direct our focus on the why. Sacramental and liturgical theology could easily be taught in theology classes. The conduct of the liturgy could then be done in three hours and field work. This is only possible, of course, when we share the same liturgical rites, diversity being minimized to local ceremony. Sadly, this is not the case. And so the ennui.

  4. Mason and Sharp–for some of us it was learned well before Seminary. You’re right about the “why.” The technique or praxis is important, yet the “why” is critical and is simply not taught in any official, systematic, intentional or programmed way. I learned much from Feuerhahn and Nagel and some others that escape me right now. I’m not criticising them either–they taught their material and wove in liturgical theology brilliantly. Lex orandi, lex credendi, after all.

    But I could have not listened or skipped those days or simply not taken them as profs because they are weird and never have learned.

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