ELCA

Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Attention all supporters of strong, accurate religion-beat reporting: What is the first question a journalist needs to answer for readers when covering a "Lutheran church" story, especially when it is linked to controversy?

Let me raise the stakes a bit higher. This question is especially true when dealing with a flock located in Minnesota or elsewhere in the upper Midwest, which is often called the Lutheran Belt in American life because there are so many Lutheran congregations in that region.

The question: So what kind of Lutherans are we talking about?

Are we dealing with a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which, despite the presence of the E-word in the name, is a liberal flock on key issues of doctrine and moral theology? Or how about the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, located on the right side of the mainline Protestant world? Or how about the smaller Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which is also more doctrinally conservative than the ELCA?

So check out the top of this major story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press earlier this month. Yes, you'll have to look for clues in this long passage:

North Heights Lutheran, the one-time megachurch of Arden Hills, has run out of prayers.
The church is shutting down, the apparent victim of a civil war that has split it apart. After 70 years of weekly worship, the church’s last service will be Sunday.
“This took me by surprise,” 20-year member Zelda Erickson said Monday after learning of the closing at an announcement during Sunday’s church service. “I feel terrible about this.”

North Heights once had Sunday attendance of 3,400 at two church locations. But attendance has fallen recently to several hundred -- not enough to keep the church afloat.

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Baltimore Sun sing-along: We are one in the spirit (with a lower-case 's')

Baltimore Sun sing-along: We are one in the spirit (with a lower-case 's')

Anyone who has had any contact -- post-Jesus Music era -- with American evangelicalism will know the lyrics of the classic campfire song, "We are One in the Spirit." Some people may know this song under a different title, "They'll Know We are Christians by Our Love."

One thing is for sure, no doubt about it. The word "Spirit" in this song definitely has an upper-case "S," representing -- even under Associated Press style rules -- a reference to the Holy Spirit, one Person in the traditional Christian Trinity. The first verse of this famous song goes like this: 

We are One in The Spirit, We are One in The Lord. 
We are One in The Spirit, We are One in The Lord. 
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, 
Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love.

Now, I bring this up because of a very interesting musical reference at the end of the latest in a long list of Baltimore Sun stories written as tributes to brave progressive Christian congregations -- defined as those with doctrines acceptable to editors at the newspaper that lands in my front yard -- that are fighting to remain alive here in Charm City. In this case, we are dealing with a story about three congregations that are sharing a building in West Baltimore, in an attempt to make ends meet.

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Bubbles, Lutherans and the Wall Street Journal

Can colored soap bubbles blow up church attendance? Can giant crossword puzzles spell success? If you said “Wow, what great ideas!”, not only will you get a big hug from the Lutheran bishop of New York — you just might be Wall Street Journal material.

Yes, that Wall Street Journal. The staid, reserved chronicle of conventional urbanity gets all rah-rah over some of the wilder attempts by Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to bring up the numbers in his churches — or at least to stop them from falling further.

The WSJ article could be great for a journalism class on how not to write and report. Much of it is jarringly jumbled. The parts that do make sense don’t always match facts on the ground. And some statements contradict one another.

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Bubbles, Lutherans and the Wall Street Journal

Can colored soap bubbles blow up church attendance? Can giant crossword puzzles spell success? If you said “Wow, what great ideas!”, not only will you get a big hug from the Lutheran bishop of New York — you just might be Wall Street Journal material.

Yes, that Wall Street Journal. The staid, reserved chronicle of conventional urbanity gets all rah-rah over some of the wilder attempts by Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to bring up the numbers in his churches — or at least to stop them from falling further.

The WSJ article could be great for a journalism class on how not to write and report. Much of it is jarringly jumbled. The parts that do make sense don’t always match facts on the ground. And some statements contradict one another.

Please respect our Commenting Policy