....see all the bickering, fighting, name-calling, war-mongering, and general chaos that is St. Matthew Lutheran Church, located in downtown Logan, Ohio, USA.
Can you imagine what it must be like to be part of a church that has members slaying the beliefs of other members? Former members accusing current members of thinking God is more pleased with the members who go to church regularly....God it irritates the hell out of me!!!!
Never in my life would I think St. Matthew Lutheran Church would have to go through so much turmoil to leave our Lutheran denomination, and join another Lutheran denomination. The first vote came around in August of 2010. During that time, only a few members left the church when the congregation decided to remain with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Fast-forward to May 19th, 2013, another vote came around on whether St. Matthew should leave the ELCA, and join the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).
The NALC is a theologically central Lutheran church, with a congregationally focused attitude, compared to the ELCA's top-down approach. Yeah, the NALC sounds like a much better choice to me too! However, some members have come to the conclusion that this is Pastor Mark Daniels' doing, and that this whole debacle is nothing but his jabbing at the ELCA for not funding his former mission congregation in Cincinnati. This is completely not true. For these last two votes, it was members of the congregation who have initiated the process to leave the ELCA, and not Pastor Mark.
The screaming matches that have occurred during the more than ten informational sessions have gotten us nowhere but hurt, anger, and, for me, confusion and bewilderment. How can God-loving, God-fearing, faithful people act in such a way that undermines nearly 160 years of Lutheran heritage in the Logan community? Never in the church's history has something like this happened. Well, several people (even within my own family!) have blamed this mess on Pastor Mark, saying, "He's brought nothing but trouble to this congregation." To that I say, "Pastor Mark has been able to visit more shut-ins than the past two pastors combined. Pastor Mark has increased attendance to the church consistently for six years now. Pastor Mark has people attending our church from Columbus, Lancaster, Nelsonville, Athens, and other areas, where there are plenty of ELCA congregations. They chose St. Matthew Lutheran Church for a reason. They could have simply gone to Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Athens, Ohio, or Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Lancaster, Ohio, or Redeemer Lutheran Church in Columbus, Ohio, and many more. But they instead to come to St. Matthew Lutheran Church, in the middle of podunk hollow. What does that tell you? To me, it shows that we have a pastor who has a backbone and is willing to share the Gospel with lost souls. I know he's saved my life. Just before he came, I was a tangled mess. I wasn't going to church, and I was in a seriously depressed state. He gave me a challenge: Go to church for six Sundays. I dare you to miss the seventh. Let's just stay that I have been so involved with the congregation, I'm currently the head sound engineer and radio broadcast engineer for the church (we broadcast weekly on 98.3 SAM FM at 10:15 Sunday mornings).
I don't want the oldest running radio program in the state of Ohio to be cancelled. I don't want the second oldest Lutheran congregation in Hocking County to dissolve. But from the looks of things, this is a real possibility.
Bloodstained glass windows deter visitors. I don't know about you, but when I see people talking smack about the pastor during the sharing of the peace, I can't help but wonder what visitors are thinking. I usually shake visitor's hands first during the sharing of the peace, and welcome them to the congregation. But I can't imagine what they are thinking when they hear our own members saying things like "The pastor has created this mess."
A 2/3 super majority is required to leave the ELCA. A large number of people who voted to remain with the ELCA are people who only come to church on Easter and Christmas. This freaking irritates me. The number of people who voted to leave the ELCA and join the NALC is staggering, and these people have been on-going members who attend every single week, and not just twice a year. Yes, I do realize that you are a member, and I do realize that you may be doing things on Sunday mornings that require you to be away from the congregation. But please, try to be there more involved with the church. There are two opportunities of worship on Sunday mornings (8:30 chapel service, and 10:15 sanctuary service). There are two Bible-study opportunities on Wednesdays (11:00am, and 7:00pm). There are summer kindness outreaches, where we hand bottles of water or Coca-Cola to drivers stopped at the red light at the intersection of Hunter Street and Zanesville Avenue. Do these "twice a year attendees" go to any of these amazing opportunities? No. That's all I'm going to say.
Maybe some branches of Christianity do some things right, and some things wrong. But this is absolutely no excuse to recreate the Thirty Years' War. As one member put it on the church Facebook page, "Instead of all of the bashing, I wish that they would be that vocal in spreading God’s word, if they did, our church would be filled to the rafters! Instead, they are confrontational on Facebook. Even saying “shame on you”, no, it is shame on all of us for not trusting a pastor to do his job! Let’s not tear our church apart."
I'm reminded of a line from that great Bruce Springsteen song, "Johnny 99" that goes, "Well your honor I do believe I'd be better off dead / if you can take a man's life for the thoughts that's in his head / Then sit back in that chair and think it over one more time / then shave off my head and put me on the killin' line."