Valparaiso University

Last week was another reminder of higher education in our Lutheran sphere needing to go through a re-evaluation, to say the least. Valparaiso University, one of the bedrock institutions for many of our siblings in Christ to further studies in music and theology and more, has publicly acknowledged the possibility of eliminating those two programs altogether. In addition, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (Columbia, SC), one of the seven remaining for our wider Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), announced its move to the campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina. These are just the latest rounds of reality checks that this isn’t “our grandmother’s Lutheran church anymore.”

“This isn’t our grandmother’s Lutheran church” of pews packed to the brim requiring folding chairs to be setup in the narthex area for worship before they would all spill over into the nearby hallways to overrun the classrooms with joyous noise for the Sunday school hour. “This isn’t our grandmother’s Lutheran church anymore” when Wednesday evenings were virtually second Sabbaths, when no local sports were scheduled, and children refilled those same hallways for junior choir rehearsals and Confirmation sessions. This isn’t just “not our grandmother’s Lutheran church anymore;” it isn’t our grandmother’s world hardly at all anymore.

Whenever the rounds of harsh reality checks emerge online, word of mouth, or otherwise, as it did last week: we stubborn Lutherans often lash out at university provosts and seminary presidents and boards of directors; as if they are solely responsible for the lesser interest from the younger children of God in church music or theology or organized religion in general. Once we’re done with them, we’ll move onto Little League coaches and travel team organizers, as they’re obviously conspiring to keep our youth out of the pews and classroom chairs. Once we’re done with them, we’ll unleash our frustration on Facebook and Instagram and TikTok for doing a better job at keeping them interested. Once we’re through with that, we’ll keep going with the parents and families and schoolteachers and whoever else is responsible for not doing nearly well enough in emphasizing responsibility to children as they did in our grandmother’s Lutheran church/world.

Of course, once we’re through our usual stubborn Lutheran “It’s all their fault!” diatribe against today’s culture/world…we’re right back where we started: that, “it isn’t our grandmother’s Lutheran church anymore.” And…that’s okay…it will be okay. After all, even if it isn’t the same, it still is God’s church. It was never our grandmother’s or anyone else’s, no matter how many hours they spent with the altar guild or making casseroles for potlucks or teaching Sunday school or singing in the choir or whatever else in the best ‘ole days. Actually, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if our grandmother’s grandmothers thought they had even better best ‘ole days anyway. So, it still is more than possible to create some new best ‘ole days for all generations now.

Of course, it might be helpful to come around to another harsh reality check first: it isn’t all just about youth sports or social media or family dynamics. The church has done this to ourselves, too. We haven’t always been willing to roll with the drastically changing world for our youngest children of God, who were just born into this chaotic whirlwind anyway. As much as we would like to not only teach but to push them as close as possible to mid-1500’s Germany, to the supposedly best of the best ‘ole days for us Lutherans, we’ll just be right back where we started, and so will our young people: who just need a little more meaning, a little more hope, a little more care and Gospel application not to 1517 or 1950 or 1980, but to their lives, their just-as-precious lives as any other of their grandparents or those before. It may not be their…great-grandmother’s Lutheran church anymore, but it still is God’s church. It is still an outpost of grace. It is still a hotspot of hope. It is still a home for the Gospel to reign through it all. Regardless of how it looks, it will be done. Regardless, God still has a church. God still has us, setting us free to help bring God’s love to life in whatever way we can. Thanks be to God, indeed!

In Christ,
Pastor Brad

Image: Valparaiso University (valpo.edu)