Bethany Lutheran Church
Bethany Lutheran Church, West Hartford CT
As we left the church after the service (the last ones to leave, of course... as always; why should retirement be any different?), I shook the senior pastor's hand and said, "Welcome to West Hartford." Timothy Krieger and family drove across the continental United States in October, saying goodbye to a parish in California to begin a pastorate at Bethany Lutheran Church. At the door with us were the son and grandson, Robert and Marty Duchow, of Bethany's founding pastor, The Rev. Martin C. Duchow. Son Robert is a retired pastor living near Albany NY, down for the day, I assume, because his son, Marty, a computer maven with Aetna Insurance, was the lay reader for the service.
I asked Pastor Duchow why neither the outside bulletin board nor the order of service contained any reference to Missouri Synod, the church's denominational affiliation. He confirmed my suspicion, that when his father recruited and organized the congregation he sought to foster an open and including reputation, which is not the aura "Missouri Synod" usually carries. In the Midwest, where the denomination flourishes, it is a champion of doctrinal and disciplinary purity. I said my own private prayer of thanksgiving for the founding pastor's breadth of spirit, while kneeling at the communion rail, encouraged to participate in the Eucharist because, as the order of service declared, anyone who loves Jesus and is trying to follow him, even (my thought) Methodists, would be welcome. So my traveling companion and I took the wafer and, as did Pastor Krieger, an individual communion cup instead of the common chalice, which was also offered. Wonderful: mercy, generosity of spirit, and hygiene all in one ritual!
This review, like the one last week for St. Peter Claver, represents a return. I was tempted to repeat information contained in that review. Instead I invite you to go directly to it with a few twitches of your mouse: Bethany Lutheran Church 09/15/02. There I recount my lifelong, somewhat standoffish, if admiring, experience of Lutherans. The reference there to Dr. Paul Scherer will surface again further down the page in the report on the sermon.
Subsequent to the 2002 Yom Kippur visit I have expanded my range of acquaintances with Bethany congregants. Bob Ney, member and plumber, rescued me when I reached an impasse in the installation of a new Bosch dishwasher. Gerry Pierson, member and church webmaster, exercises with us at the Cornerstone Aquatics Center. And Assistant Pastor, Bob Mikulastik, has brushed naked elbows with me at the same Aquatics Center. This Sunday I was greeted as in 2002 by a tall usher with a bowtie. He introduced himself as Andy Howard. I replied, "Andy, you're not going to believe this, but my name is Howard too." His German grandfather took that surname when immigrating to these shores. My Irish great-grandfather, Michael Howard, kept his.
You will probably, and maybe properly, accuse me of stereotyping, but I have sensed over these past four and a half years of visiting other people's churches certain patterns. Like, Baptists and Methodists seem to be more effusive in their welcome. Like, Episcopalians exude a certain preppiness and delight in all things English. Like, UCC's are the prestige congregations in most New England towns, and seem (am I being paranoid?) to be sure of their own excellence. Which brings me to the Lutherans: but seeing that I have in retirement sampled only two Lutheran services, one of which I have not reviewed, it would be unseemly for me to draw any broad conclusions... except that Bethany's appeal has been largely if not entirely to those who trace their ancestry to Germany or Scandinavia. As with Andy Howard, though not Gerry Pierson. Stepping inside the sanctuary, looking around, seeing the faces, I felt like I was back in Brooklyn, a happy feeling, surrounded again by second and third generation Nordic congregants.
The sermons this morning were very good, both of them. Pastor Krieger held the children's attention with a foot-pedal cymbal that crashed - a reference, of course, to I Corinthians 13:1 - with his recitation of the angry and careless words even little people utter about others. The adult sermon no less arrested attention. Timothy Rieger has an aphoristic style of preaching, and the text for the morning, Paul's aforementioned "love chapter," lends itself to aphorisms and has created several of its own. Such as: "so faith, hope, love abide, but the greatest of these is love"; or... well, pick your own. Pastor Krieger, in an extended critique of The Donald's way in the world played upon the phrase "using people and loving things," how it runs directly opposite to God's love for us and through us, how God's love "uses things and loves people." The title of the sermon was "Beyond Bumper Stickers." Such as "I Æ Vermont" or "I Æ my Dobermans." Such bumper sticker Æ is a feeling. But love of Biblical dimensions is a doing. My homiletics professor at Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Paul Scherer, posited the rule that every sermon should end at the foot of the cross. Which is where Pastor Krieger led us, to behold the very best demonstration of love, God's for us through Jesus Christ.
I couldn't resist the thought, even though I had the civility not to express it, that the pastor's bandaged hand, from a surgical procedure to release a tightening tendon, suggested, as we thought of Jesus on the cross, preacherly stigmata.
Oh, there were some blemishes on an otherwise perfect Sabbath. The order of worship was carefully annotated with prayer book references, by way of enabling strangers like us to participate fully. Perhaps the arthritis of seniors can be blamed, but I found it difficult, just as I did in September 2002, to juggle a prayer book and a printed program while trying to figure out when to stand and when to sit down. And situating the choir in the rear balcony may be theologically correct (the anthem is a witness and not a performance, hence it needs not be in the spotlight... something like that), but most of us cannot resist turning in our pews and straining to see the choristers; so why not just stand up front?
Finally, another word of appreciation for the behind-the-scenes labors of webmasters everywhere and Bethany's in particular. See what Gerry's hands and mind hath wrought: Bethany Lutheran Church Website. Glancing through its many pages I discovered that perhaps the real reason The Rev. Robert Duchow and wife were in town was to celebrate son Marty's birthday.
Rating: four haloes... with a thought that someday I'll explain, that Main Street, West Hartford CT, now boasts a trinity of strong pastoral leaders.