What’s Under the Hood? Amazing Grace’s Pastor Interviewed

Considerably impressed by my initial visit to Amazing Grace Lutheran Church (click here to read 3/13/09 blog post and comments), I asked Pastor Martin Dasler to share some thoughts about what makes this church unique. Hearing they had a great choral group, I attended again to listen to them sing and to see how it augmented their service. Reliable churches are consistent from week to week, and Amazing Grace is just such a church. I saw it again in my additional visits. Warmly greeted, by different people, I enjoyed another service. Although the presenter was not Pastor Dasler, but a young woman recounting her pilgrimage to Taize, France earlier this year, it all worked. The service, congregarion, and choir truly blessed my day. I’m pleased to share Pastor Dasler’s insights.
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Thompson – Although I consider Amazing Grace to be a friendly church, I note it still uses the “meet n’ greet” form of welcome, The Passing of the Peace, during services. Why?

Dasler – We are an example of how some Lutherans play a bit loose with the standard liturgy. The passing of the peace traditionally comes before the offering because of Jesus words in Matthew 5:23-24 “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

In the early church it was also the traditional post Easter greeting. People at Amazing Grace thought it would be better to use this as a welcome nearer the early part of the service. Some people use it as an opportunity to welcome new folks, others use a traditional formula “the peace of Christ be with you” and others take the opportunity to reach out to a child because we have encouraged the concept that “all kids are our kids”.

Thompson – Amazing Grace uses what I typify as a relaxed or more informal style of service, while retaining the Lutheran liturgical style. Could you comment on this?

Dasler – Luther believed that the liturgy form was optional structure for the church, so you can find Lutherans all over the map on this question. Like most Lutheran Churches, Amazing Grace straddles a respect for Liturgy and Biblical Authority. As children of the enlightenment we like to know the reason we worship the way we do and so our worship and music committee tries to ensure that our services maintain both a purpose and direction. I have been aware more recently that our faith is expressed in four types of spiritualities:

……Thinking……Feeling……Doing……Being
(from John Ackerman’s book “Listening to God”)

While all churches express their faith in various combinations, we do tend to specialize, and Lutherans often straddle the thinking/feeling line. I believe it is important to broadcast on more than one channel to speak to people where they are and at the same time encourage growth by experiencing God in more than one mode.

Thompson – What do you consider the true role of music to be at Amazing Grace?

Dasler – Thinking and feeling – good hymns do both. they teach concepts and Bible stories by entering into them like:

“Built on a rock” written by Nikolai Grundvig is based on the dedication of Solomon’s Temple and the call of Peter but calls the church to see Jesus in our midst:

“Christ builds a house of living stones: we are his own habitation;

He fills our hearts, his humble thrones, granting us life and salvation.

Where two or three to seek his face, he in their midst would show his grace,

blessings upon them bestowing.”

Or a simple song of dedication and prayer from the Iona community that captures a feeling:

Take oh, take me as I am; summon out what I shall be; set your seal upon my heart and live in me.

Or a favorite at Amazing Grace is the Daniel Shutte song “Here I am Lord” which recalls the call of Israel’s first prophet Samuel and reflects on our own call to love and service.

It’s not just the words – great music has this power to bridge thought and feeling. That is why the music of Bach has such direction. (Mozart has this wonderful longing) but Bach wanted direction through tension and resolution. Bach’s music declares that the world, while filled with tension and discord ultimately makes sense. That is theology as well as music.

The classic chorales, rich in harmony, were influenced by Lutheran musicians like Bach and Mendelssohn. Garrison Keillor remarks how Lutherans are taught choral harmony on the laps of their parents. While group singing in America is being displaced by “American Idol” type performance music I think it is desperately important for the church to sing our faith and many of our people love to do that in harmony. There is something mystical that happens when our prayers, hopes and griefs are carried to God on the wings of songs that we sing and hear ourselves sing. At a recent service we did not have an accompanist to lead the service and I was surprised at how well the congregation sang. We are blessed to have a building that is acoustically alive enough to encourage singing.
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Thompson – What is your vision for Amazing Grace?

Dasler – Now that I have been here a year it is easier to see the particulars of our mission. There are many natural gifts at Amazing Grace that we need to build on.

* Our healing ministries, directed by an abundance of trained Parrish Nurses, provide a real service to the community especially during this time of economic and medical uncertainty.

* Our partnerships for local service, to bring aid to our hurting neighbors through Lutheran Social Services of Alaska, Clare House, FISH, are important expressions of the Love of God. This next year we are hoping to develop a specific partnership with a mission in Africa that aids children recovering from warfare. My vision is that we better identify and focus these efforts.

* With the wider Lutheran Church, we will be participating in the “Book of Faith” initiative to encourage more Bible study and learning.

* I am also particularly excited about our new director of youth ministries, Tyler Malotky. While he has been with us only since April he is bringing energy to our programs for youth and young adults and already having an impact on the church.

Three areas of particular focus:

Specific mission objectives
We have many partnerships at Amazing Grace to care for hurting people in our community and spread the love of God. I want to narrow our focus to several projects here and one in Africa that capture our congregations imagination and passion.

Lively and engaging worship
Our Sunday worship needs to empower people for love and service as well as connect them to the forgiveness of God. Our service concludes with these words: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” If the love of God in Christ can transform lives in rebirth and renewal we need to be more intentional about being the midwives on Sunday to make that happen. Tyler our youth director and Chris, our Music Coordinator are working on a new worship format for Wednesday evenings this summer that will involve our youth.

Lifelong learning opportunities
My wife and I were trained as parochial school teachers. I enjoy teaching new members classes but hope to do more this fall. Too many Christians try to get through life with an 8th grade religious education. The simple concrete answers they received don’t survive complex and ambiguous questions of modernity. Lutherans maintain Seminaries and Universities throughout the country but this learning needs to get into the local congregations. We like many other congregations in the ELCA are beginning a program entitled “Book of Faith” this fall. These new materials will help our people look at some of the big questions like “Where did the Bible come from” or “How is the Bible the Word of God”.

Thompson – Thank you Pastor Dasler for sharing these insights about what makes your church what I consider to be, a gem on the hillside.

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