My recent chilly, early morning visit to Central Lutheran, a near downtown church, was delightful. They offer warm greetings, solid music, a meaningful liturgy, and brief but meaningful homilies. Serving a diverse ethnic and socioeconomic congregation, they have established and maintain a significant Christian presence in their neighborhood. I intend to revisit to sample the atmosphere of their other congregations at their two other Sunday morning services. [img_assist|nid=145237|title=Central Lutheran Sanctuary Interior|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=166]
Ignoring the Lutherans?
So far I’ve now officially visited four Lutheran churches in the Anchorage area. Two were wonderful visits in every respect, one ignored me totally but offered a good service, and one was a painful experience I never did write up. Lutheran churches tend to have smaller but better utilized facilities than many denominations. Where some denominations may have a huge church, you’ll often see only one service. Lutherans may have two or three services in a significantly smaller church building. Outwardly, they may not be as visible but when you get inside, you’ll notice strong markers of the Christian faith.
Arriving a few minutes before Central Lutheran’s 8:15 a.m. service on October 25, 2009, I was warmly greeted inside the foyer by an older gentleman in my line of sight. Entering the sanctuary I was greeted again and handed a bulletin by two greeter/usher/bulletin passers. The church was spacious and brightly lit. The smaller group of worshipers at this service filled one-quarter to one-third of the church. They tended to be more mature worshipers dressed in suits, or certainly more nicely dressed than in many churches.
The bulletin detailed the order of service and liturgy for the day. To my recollection, the 20 page bulletin was the largest I’ve received in my visits. However, it contained the whole of the service, including the words and music for the songs used. Only three pages were devoted to schedules and announcements.
Service Moved Well
Starting promptly at 8:15 a.m. with an organ prelude of a beautiful Pachelbel tune, the liturgical service commenced, lasting for about an hour. Lutheran liturgy tends to be structured with Confession and Forgiveness, Greeting, Prayer of the Day, First and Second Reading of the Word, Gospel Reading, Sermon, Nicene Creed, Prayers of Intercession, Eucharist, Benediction, and Dismissal.
Central Lutheran has co-pastors who work well together, alternating key responsibilities. On this Sunday Rev. Glenn Petersen served as preacher, and Rev. Lisa Smith served as presider. As presider, Rev. Lisa led out in many of the responsorial readings. Unusual for a pastor, she offered clear diction, and a strong and pleasing voice, easily heard and understood by her primarily mature audience. I appreciated this. Rev. Glenn also had clear diction and was easy to understand as he delivered his brief sermon titled “Standing Under”. Mention was made that this was Reformation Sunday, the day commemorating Luther’s inauguration of the Reformation by his nailing the 95 Thesis to the church door in Wittenburg. As the actual date of Luther’s action was October 31, the coming Saturday, Lutheran churches were celebrating this date on Sunday, October 25, a great commemoration.
I very much liked this service because the church, atypical of most Lutheran churches I’ve visited, was bright and brightly lit. I consider this to be a warm and friendly church. The Eucharist was served only after the pastors clearly invited all to the table, a strong departure from most churches. They pointed out that this was God’s table, not a Lutheran table. It was an emotional moment for me because so many churches do not freely invite the “stranger within their midst” to God’s table. Finally, I loved the Benediction and Dismissal being done by both pastors from the rear of the church, thus enabling them to be in position to greet departing worshipers. I was warmly greeted by Rev Glenn who also asked my name, an unusual departure from most churches, even if you do happen to shake the pastor’s hand. Clearly Central Lutheran is a church with good tradition, warmth of fellowship, and a clear articulation of Christ’s ministry. I’m sure all comers would receive a warm welcome here.
After this visit, I received a warm email from a Central Lutheran member couple, offering to bring me a loaf of bread if I provided my address. Typically I only use my firstname.lastname@example.org address when filling out visitor registration cards, but I sincerely appreciated their offer. Regardless of how many times I fill out a visitor card at any Anchorage church, it is rare I receive an acknowledgement of my visit, a sad commentary on contemporary Christian practice. I believe I’d have a much higher response rate if I also indicated I wanted to become a member.[img_assist|nid=145238|title=Central Lutheran Exterior|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=126]