This sure didn’t seem like the mainline liberal, bang-the-social-gospel-gong church, I expected to find. I found the Gospel here, liturgy (low church but liturgy nonetheless), and no contemporary worship.
There is a whole lot of meeting and greeting going on preservice and at the beginning of the service, but it seemed genuine not forced.
The Invocation and Call to Worship were distinctively Christian. They had two collections the first was “Children’s Noisy Collection” in which kids put change, loudly, into a coffee can. I don’t know what money was collected for, but the kids enjoyed collecting it.
This was preceded by a children’s sermon. This wasn’t distinctively Christian but new age. You deal with stress by breathing in God with deep breaths and breathing out stress in long exhales. The pastor said she learned this at seminary. I can believe that. What I can’t believe is that what she preached she learned at a Methodist seminary.
As I said, this was low church liturgy and it sent mixed singles. For examples, all the candles on the altar were lit, but the altar was not used for anything but to hold the collection plates, have them elevated high over it, and returned there. The liturgist used the lectern for the Call to Worship, but the pastor didn’t use the pulpit at all. However, she was vested in an alb with a stole. She worked from a podium in the nave. She read the one lesson from there, and basically stayed tethered to it when preaching.
When she finished reading the lesson she said, “This is the word of the Lord,” in a loud voice and emphatically thrust the Bible heavenward. When I say those words, I always thought I was referring to the Words I just read not the Book containing them.
The prayers preceded the reading of the one Scripture and the sermon. The prayer requests were gone into in some detail, and then the pastor after each one would say, “We lift them up” and the congregation respond with “Lord, hear our prayers.” After going through the individual petitions, she invited anyone who wanted to come and kneel with her at what Lutherans would call the Communion rail, but she called the prayer rail. I don’t know if this is common among Methodists. If it is, it is a theological statement. The place God comes to us is where they go to God. Her prayer at the rail was more declamatory than supplicatory.
The sermon was on the only Scripture read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. The theme was “The Offense of the Cross” and she preached the text, the Gospel, and though confusing Law and Gospel did preach both. She said such things as: There is no salvation apart from the cross. God only meets sinners at the cross. She contrasted her beautiful cross with a friend’s ugly, offensive cross. She had commented to her friend that it was ugly and he – a fellow Methodist pastor – said it was because the cross is offensive.
She said the cross is offensive because it “points out people’s sins and their limitedness.” She said that if you eliminate the offense of the cross you eliminate the substance. She clearly said the Son of God died for sinners. She clearly said more than once, “We’re not here to promote feel-good humanity.” She plainly said, “If we try to preserve people’s high opinion of self, we don’t preserve the substance of the Gospel.”
This was all jumbled together, but the message was that we need the cross because we’re sinners; the cross will offend sinners, but we dare not try to remove that offense. She left us both in sermon and “benediction” with making us promise to share the cross in all its offensiveness.
What to do with the madness of finding Christ and Him crucified in the mouth of a female Methodist minister? The acolyte, the liturgists, the pastor, and assistant were all females. The ushers, interestingly enough, were all males. This is what over 60 years of ordaining women will get you. One wonders: in such a milieu, can they continue to withstand the LGBTQ barrage as their current denominational statements do?
I almost didn’t write this review. I came away stunned. I don’t think this woman proves the legitimacy of women pastors any more than I think this particular church proves the legitimacy of the Methodist confession of faith. I do think that going by Jesus’ standard (Mark 9:38-41) this church and ministry were not against us and therefore are in some sense for us, and they are trying to gather with Jesus and therefore they are not scattering (Matthew 12:30). I could not say these things about the Wisconsin Synod mission start I visited (“Visit to A Wisconsin Synod Church”, posted May 2, 2016).