Showing posts with label ALC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ALC. Show all posts

Friday, June 17, 2011

More Laestadian Boys Acting Out

This time it's Apostolic Lutherans near Duluth, MN. No charges filed, but sometimes a mom just has to assert herself with other people's badly behaved kids. :-)

From Mother of Preschoolers


Two boys . . . got off the bus. The[ir parents are] infamous for their eccentricity, their role in the Apostolic Lutheran sect, their old-fashioned beliefs concerning the roles of women . . . I watched them both flip the bus the bird as it drove away. . . I drove past them.

. . . My lack of appreciation for these two pre-teen boys' antics was probably written all over my face. . . they yelled something unpleasant at me as I drove past them. One boy, the bigger of the two, picked up a rock and actually threw it half-heartedly at my truck.

. . . I will be damned if I was going to let those little punks act that way toward me. I slammed on the brakes and backed up fast.

The looks on their faces were priceless. . . I asked them if they had something to say to me. . . They mumbled "no" and stared at me. I suggested at that point then that they not yell, throw things, or wave a certain finger at any other cars again. This was done under threat of me giving them a ride home so we could all three talk to their mother together and figure out how to solve their little attitude problem.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Occasionally I Think

"Lucien Black," grandson of an Apostolic Lutheran pastor, has a blog describing his journey from faith to atheism. I thought he raised some interesting questions about the Genesis creation / fall story and its implications on the nature of God as depicted through a biblical literalist interpretation of the Bible.

from Why I'm an athiest


First off, one should know that I come from a very religious background. My grandfather has been an Apostolic Lutheran pastor for my entire life, and my mother became "born-again" at some point after getting pregnant. When I was a child, the family would play "Bible Trivia," and I kicked butt because I enjoyed me some Bible stories.

Around about the seventh grade, I started thinking, and one thing that kept going through my head is that the deck was stacked against humanity from the start, if one believed the book of Genesis. God was omnipotent and omniscient, so he knew exactly what sort of creation he'd made, and the consequences thereof. So, here's Adam and Eve, with one rule to follow: don't eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What follows is well known of course, the "Fall of Man." What got me though is that God should've, indeed must have, seen it coming from the very start, and took no steps to prevent it. There are many that could've been done: don't let Satan in the garden, don't make the bloody Tree, make sure Adam and Eve really are obedient and not prone to disobeying just cuz of a few honeyed words, just to name a few.


Does anyone else remember playing Bible Trivia? I was not the best player, although I could hold my own against most. :-) I was pretty good at New Testament and Pentateuch, but major and minor prophets could stump me pretty easily.

On a more serious note, Lucien illuminates an issue that I think is common with people who leave their original faith for a new formulation of the faith, or even no faith at all. The stories or the meanings behind the stories no longer "make sense."

Friday, April 01, 2011

An Outsider's look at the ALC OALC

What do strangers unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Laestadianism think when they visit an Apostolic Lutheran congregation --specifically the Hockinson church?

Among other things, they might mistake it for the OALC.

Apostolic Lutheran: The Begotten, by Amanda P. Westmont. This documented visit is part of the blog A Year of Sundays whose tagline is: "we go to church so you don't have to." The goal of the site is to visit a different type of church each Sunday and write a humorous post about it.

See also the companion piece, A Brush Prairie Home Companion, by Joel Gunz

Why? "Because Baptists can’t have all the fun, Buddhists can’t have all the peace, Jews can’t have all the guilt, Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t all the apocalypse fantasies and Catholics can’t have all the cute altar boys."

Enjoy!

P.S. Another post with a picture of the interior of the church. Also, apparently a visit to an OALC congregation is forthcoming!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Two Versions of ALC Doctrinal "Principles"

I've long been aware of the 1996 ALC official doctrinal statement Principles of the Doctrine of Christ as Taught in the Apostolic Lutheran Church of America A long-winded document with lots of proof-texting and presenting assertions as if they were self-evident, it makes my head hurt to try to wind my way through it (and I am typically the type of person who likes to read this type of thing!)

What I didn't know until recently is that there was an earlier version of this document that was much shorter. First published in 1989 and titled A Brief Statement of the Principles of the Doctrine of the Apostolic Lutheran Church of America it also states the ALC position on such theological issues as conversion, justification, baptism, confession, laying on of hands, etc.

Neither version of the document speaks to issues such as shunning, exclusivism, dress codes for women and men, TV ownership and viewing, or the host of other issues that seemed to make the ALC distinctive back in the day.

Thinking back to my ALC confirmation class, these documents were never mentioned. We used Luther's Small Catechism, and the confirmation teacher pointed to the Nicene Creed, Apostle's Creed, and "unaltered Augburg Confession" as being the main doctrinal documents for the church. Does anyone know if either version of the Principles is used today in confirmation class or anywhere else?

SEE ALSO: Principles of the Doctrine of Christ

Monday, January 24, 2011

Media and the ALC

Lately I've been visiting various ALC church web sites listed on the denomination's church locator page. There are 57 congregations listed there from all across the United States, providing interesting insights into the role that the internet and media plays in this historically media-suspicious branch of Laestadianism. The congregations listed there range from those without any web presence all the way to those that provide advanced multi-media options for viewing, listening, or reading part or all of their church services.

(As an aside, I would love to know if this is an exhaustive list of all current ALC congregations. If it is, it makes the level of media use all the more compelling. Even if it isn't, however, I still think that what follows is interesting. Either way, the list seemed pretty exhaustive to me.)

One thing that struck me was how many congregations had live streaming video, live streaming audio, live telephone dial in, or archived audio or video of the services. It seemed more than a little ironic considering that many of these congregations were strongly opposed to television back in the 60s and 70s, and against the internet in its early days. On the other hand there has always been a role for media. I remember sermons being recorded on audio cassette when I was a kid, and they were circulated widely among those who lived too far away to attend an ALC congregation regularly.

Of the 57 congregations I looked at, 5 have live streaming video feeds over the internet when church is in session. That is nearly 10%!

Hockinson
Ashburnham
Eastside
Lake Worth
Spruce Grove

Of the 57, 4 have live streaming internet audio when church is in session.

New Ipswich
Greer
Hancock
Laurium

For those who may not have an internet connection, there are 4 congregations that provide a local or toll free telephone number and PIN where you can dial in to listen to church while it is in session over a land line or cell phone.

Seattle
New Ipswich
Laurium
Spruce Grove

Eliminating duplicates, that makes 10 congregations out of 57 that provide some means of accessing the church service live without being physically present. That's 17.5% and an astoundingly high number, if you ask me!

Carrying on the audio tape tradition in a modern format, 15 congregations had archived audio, video, or text of past sermons that could be either streamed or downloaded for playback on an iPod or other digital player. That includes some of the congregations with live options, however.

I haven't looked at other denominations in this level of detail, but my gut level reaction is that the ALC is making much heavier use of live streaming media than many other denominations.

I wonder why?

One ALC site I visited stated that they are merely trying to make the gospel as widely accessible as possible. While I don't discount this as part of the justification, there are many other denominations with more evangelical fervor that don't seem to use live streaming media as frequently as the ALC does.

I think the relatively small size of the denomination also plays a role. As with the earlier generation of audio cassette exchange, live streaming media fills a real need for many Laestadians that might live too far away from the closest ALC congregation to be able to attend services regularly.

I also wonder if vestiges of the old Laestadian exclusivism play a role in the demand for this type of "at a distance" access? Where other people might consider switching to a closer or more convenient denomination under these circumstances, Laestadians face a much higher bar where much more is at stake. Viewing services over the web allows them to stay connected even if they are hundreds of miles away from the closest like-minded congregation.

From an ex-Laestadian perspective, I find the streaming sites to be a great asset with a wealth of current information on the state of the denomination. I don't have to waste my time actually attending church services in order to keep up on what's current. If someone tries to sell me on the idea that things are so much different now and better than they used to be, I can test those assertions against written, audio, and video material directed at the flock and not as a sales pitch to backslider outsiders such as myself. :-)

Finally, I wonder what type of unintended consequences will happen as a result of putting the church service online? Will it invite more scrutiny because anyone can see it? Will devout ALCers start skipping church because they can watch it in their bathrobe Sunday morning instead? (or at least claim to?) Will there be more switching between congregations (or even between branches of Laestadianism) because there is now an easy no social cost way to check out other congregations?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is Laestadianism really Lutheran?

FinnForge got me thinking about this question. While FinnForge seems very certain that true Laestadianism is Lutheran, I'm not so sure.

When I was looking to leave Laestadianism, the first places I checked out were the LCMS, WELS, ELCA, and other branches of Lutheranism. They seemed very strange and alien, having little in common with my childhood church.

The biggest difference that was most immediately apparent was liturgy. Lutheran churches had it, and Laestadian churches didn't have it. As far as style of worship was concerned, I always felt much more comfortable in Baptist churches than Lutheran ones.

Differences in worship style often reflect different theological convictions. I think a liturgical style underscores the communal aspects of faith. Churches that don't have liturgy often emphasize a more individualistic approach. Both Baptists and Laestadians (at least back in the beginnings of the movement) emphasize a very individualistic "new birth" as essential.

Maybe that's why Laestadians don't have liturgy, and seem so ambivalent about infant baptism (gotta do it, but don't ever say that it actually accomplishes anything.) I personally think that it's hard to understand what infant baptism is supposed to accomplish without an appreciation for liturgy. In the liturgy, the church corporately acts out the story of Christian faith; in baptism the participants are bearing witness to and making manifest what God has already done.

Another way that Laestadianism seems really different from Lutheranism is the emphasis on the total depravity of human beings. Maybe this comes from all the amped-up rhetoric in Laestadius' sermons --he needed to get people to the breaking point by any means possible so that they would experience "the awakened state" or "new birth." Whereas more Catholic, Anglican, or Lutheran notions of humanity would see them as created good by God but fallen and in need of redemption. A Laestadian view of human nature seems more similiar to Calvinism or the Baptists than Lutheranism.

What are some other things about Laestadianism that make it very different than other branches of Lutheranism?

See also: Pietism, Baptism, and Laestadianism

Tomte's thoughts on Baptism

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More on FinnForge

I've had a chance to read a little bit more on FinnForge lately, and it's been intriguing. It seems to me like the author is trying to do the following things:

1) Place Laestadianism squarely within the Reformation tradition. In other words, FinnForge doesn't believe that Laestadius innovated doctrinally in any way, but rather hearkened back to Luther and especially the Augsburg Confession.

from A Brief Expose of Errors. . .

Laestadius was an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church of Sweden, who held firmly and taught boldly the Lutheran doctrine, applying it to the heart, and citing the Lutheran Confessions as right doctrine.

2) To the extent that the Apostolic Lutheran Church of America deviates from the unaltered Augsburg Confession it has fallen away from what FinnForge's author considers the truth. Even to the extent that if the ALC's doctrinal statement Principles of the Doctrine of Christ (particularly the 1996 revision) conflicts with the Lutheran confessions, then the Principles are wrong!

3) FinnForge is a right-wing critique of the present day state of the ALC. Its author seems to find the ALC's tendency to become more evangelical in its doctrine and worship disturbing. He wants to return to what he considers an earlier, purer form.

I see now the fruit of division after division, many young leaving our fellowship for other churches altogether, and worldliness coming into the church. I see new music, with guitars and drums, making a noise nothing like the song of a redeemed soul who has tasted of grace.

and

Their changes have moved us far from the truth, and have made the Apostolic Lutheran Church into another church altogether

I must say that I see no small amount of irony here. It seems classic Laestadianism to me for someone to try to hearken back to an earlier age and circle the wagons around some notion of spiritual/ideological purity. To my mind, this is why there are the variants on Laestadianism in the first place. Everyone who splits off and starts a new group thinks they are "right" or "hearkening back to what the founders originally intended."

At this point in time it doesn't look like FinnForge is trying to split off and start a new variant. I'll give him credit for that. On the other hand, I think he's fighting a losing battle. As I've written elsewhere, I think the current trends in the ALC are moving in the opposite direction of where he wants to go.

I can understand why FinnForge wants to reform his own denomination instead of leaving for a different one. As we "exes" are acutely aware, there is a downside to leaving Laestadianism --even if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

If FinnForge eventually decides to quit the ALC, fortunately there are versions of Lutheranism that purport to follow the Lutheran confessional documents very closely. I'd point him to either WELS or LCMS for starters.

See also: Change in the ALC

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

FinnForge

As of last month there is a new blog called FinnForge that purports to be "Working to reclaim the Apostolic Reformation doctrines taught by Martin Luther and Lars Levi Laestadius."

Apparently authored by Steven E. Anderson with just eight posts so far, it will be interesting to see if this site has staying power.

I plan to post about this site in more detail in the future, but for now I'll say that I find it interesting (although admittedly longwinded) because it is, among other things, a critique of the present state of the Apostolic Lutheran Church of America (ALC) from within, and from the right. That alone seems rare enough to be worth watching.

If any of our regular readers can put this site into context, I'd much appreciate it. :-)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

ALC Foreign Mission Sites

This may be news only to me, but I thought I'd post some relatively new links to the ALC Foreign Mission.

As far as I know the ALC (Apostolic Lutheran Church of America "Federation") is the only Laestadian group in the U.S. that does missionary work.

http://www.themissionsite.com/ This is the offical web site for The Foreign Mission of the Apostolic Lutheran Church

http://www.foreignmissionnewsblog.blogspot.com/ This blog appears to reprint the monthly newsletter and other breaking news and letters regarding ALC foreign missions. Maintained by John Ruotsala

http://foreignmission.blogspot.com/ This blog is also maintained by John Ruotsala, but has different content then the one above. This blog appears to be reprints of devotional material.

http://foreignmissionstore.blogspot.com/ The Foreign Mission Store. As far as I can tell all products are created by Apostolic Lutherans, including a memoir by an ALC pastor, handcrafted wooden pens made by another pastor, and (my favorite based on title alone) "Naomi in Nigeria" --a collection of correspondence surrounding early ALC mission attempts in Africa.

I thought the store in particular was most interesting. Aside from the kitschiness of some of the items, I never knew there where that many ALC-themed products in existence!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Change in the ALC?

Il Coro's recent comments got me thinking about the ALC (Apostolic Lutheran Church of America, a.k.a. "the Federation") again, and how it has changed since I was a kid. So I thought I'd start this thread to give my pet theory on why this is the case, and invite everyone to post their views as well.

Back when I was growing up, it seemed like the ALC was a lot more like the OALC and other branches of Laestadianism. No TV, no sports, no make-up, no jewelry, no drinking, a lot of exclusiveness (thinking we're the only true Christianity), Finnish songs and preaching in the worship service, etc. Nowadays, however, you can find many ALC congregations that aren't much different than any other conservative evangelical denomination out there. People have TVs and even Internet connected computers. Women may dress conservatively, but wear makeup, jewelry, and clothing that are within the mainstream of the populace.

The first lens through which I see the change is that of the immigrant experience. First generation Laestadian Finnish immigrants, many of whom arrived in the late 19th and early 20th century didn't speak English, were uneducated with few opportunities other than farming, mining, and other manual labor. They built the churches as a touchstone and enclave where they could remember the best of what they left "back home," preserving the traditions and even setting them in stone over and against all the strangeness and harshness of a new land.

The second generation had a foot in both America and Finland. Fluent in both Finnish and English and educated in the American public school system, this generation felt the most conflict between the old ways and the new ways. While they were still sheltered from much of mainstream America through long hours helping out on the farm, raising siblings in large families, and not watching TV, English was their primary language and they were immersed in the mainstream culture through school and listening to the radio (often evangelical Christian radio). As this generation reached adulthood English started to become the primary language used in ALC churches, with Finnish songs and sermons becoming secondary.

The third generation and beyond (this generation) is fully acculturated to America. For the most part they have not learned the Finnish language, and speak only English fluently (or maybe some other language they learned in school.) They do not have any special ties to Finnish culture or heritage except for what might be preserved through church, or some foods eaten primarily during the holidays. Many of them have achieved higher education, even advanced degrees in engineering and humanities. Many of this generation feel no particular allegiance to the ALC as part of their cultural heritage and leave for other types of churches or no church at all, in keeping with whatever their worldview may reflect as a mainstream American living in a pluralistic society. Those that stay may stay for the sense of community and extended family, or may stay because by this time the church itself also largely reflects the mainstream of conservative evangelicalism with which they agree. There is now little or no singing or preaching in Finnish, instead largely traditional hymns or in some cases "praise music" drawn directly from the conservative evangelical subculture of "Christian radio" and books.

The other lens through which I see the change is that of factions within the ALC. At least since the 1960s and 1970s, there have been at least two and maybe three factions in the ALC. There is the "Laestadian faction," largely older but some younger members, often in smaller congregations in rural areas. These are most like the OALC and others in their implementation and view of the faith. There is also the "evangelical faction." Often larger congregations near larger cities, these ALCers would listen to James Dobson on the radio, attend Billy Graham crusades, and enjoy contemporary Christian music as well as "praise music." They seek to implement these types of changes within their own ALC congregation. A third and perhaps overlapping faction are those ALCers that support formal clergy training via the Inter-Lutheran (ALC) Theological Seminary. This non-accredited conservative seminary trained many pastors that went on to be ALC pastors, but the more "Laestadian" faction still eschewed formal theological training, so there is a landscape within the ALC of congregations where the leadership has some formal theological training, and others where the pastor has none at all. Still other split the difference, with a head pastor from the seminary but an assortment of assistant pastors without any formal education.

It seems to me that the momentum within the denomination lies with the evangelical faction. As time passes the Finnish heritage becomes less and less relevant, giving the Laestadian faction major headwinds. Conversely, the wind is to the back of the evangelicals, as adherents are looking for a form of ALC that accommodates itself better to the larger American culture with which they increasingly identify -- at least the conservative evangelical subculture. It's still not a perfect fit, because to the extent that Apostolic Lutheranism is actually Lutheran there will be major theological differences with the evangelicals --especially on baptism and eschatology. On the other hand, both Laestadianism and evangelicalism share an anti-intellectualism, populism, and suspicion of institutions, as well as Biblical literalism. To most rank and file modern day ALCers, theological distinctions between Laestadianism and evangelicalism may matter a lot less than the general "tone" and "mood" of the worship experience, and preaching that emotes "the Word."

My big unanswered question: Since the immigrant experience and the evangelical resurgence of the 60s and 70s potentially affects all branches of Laestadianism in the United States, why does it seem like some branches have changed more rapidly than others? Why does the ALC seem more accommodated to mainstream conservative evangelical culture than all of the rest?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Communion, Laestadian Style

Some recent comments from Pyhä got me thinking about Laestadian communion again. :-)

See also Sacrament of Communion, by cvow, and Laestadian Communion, by free2bme for previous posts and comments on this topic.

One thing that I didn't see described in the previous posts was a detailed description of the communion service, which I will now do from an ALC standpoint.

These services were always long. Typically an ALC church service lasts an hour, but subjectively seems a lot longer. This is because the congregation plays such a passive role, and the sermon lasts such a long time (at least thirty minutes, often longer.) Because so much time is dedicated to the sermon, very little time is dedicated to anything else. The typical order of service would include an opening hymn, a prayer, another hymn (accompanied by passing the collection plate), the sermon, another hymn, and you're done.

The sermons were generally incoherent and spontaneous, because writing the sermon in advance was thought to "quench the Spirit" and King James phrasing was not always limited to the Bible reading, but also to the pastor's own utterances. Even as an adult with an education I still often cannot discern the point of any given sermon. At best, it is a stream-of-consciousness free association of Laestadian theological and moral sentiments.

Communion was not every Sunday. It was typically once a month, and on special occasions such as Holy Week. Communion added time to the service, as it was generally tacked on the end of the hour-long service described above. Depending on how many people were in attendance, this could add another 30-45 minutes to the service. Confirmation Sunday (worthy of a blog post in its own right) was a marathon in pew-warming, with larger than usual attendance, all the confirmation specific stuff, plus the long sermon, plus communion!

The Communion part of the service started with the congregation reciting the Apostle's Creed. Then we'd launch into "O Jumalan Karitsa, joka pois otat maailman synnit, armahda meille päälemme..." Sometimes we kids would call it "the Mailman song." I never knew this was the "Agnus Dei" or what any of the words meant until I was an adult and left the church. All I knew was that it was a moment of great solemnity, with the a capella drone of the words as the elders in the congregation slowly made their way up to the communion rail.

I had mixed feelings about Communion. On the one hand I liked it because it was a more interesting service. We got to sing more, and there was always the possibility that a member of the congregation would stand up before us and publicly confess their sins, sometimes very emotionally with cries and tears. Usually they were pretty general about what they had done, but once a man confessed to cheating on his wife in front of the whole congregation! One would hope that he had talked to his wife about this beforehand, but no matter what the offense, the congregation would always respond "you are forgiven in the name and shed blood of Jesus Christ." Whether this is touching or trivializes the whole idea of forgiveness and absolution I do not know. As far as I know there was never any pastoral follow-up regarding what got confessed in front of the congregation.

On the other hand, Communion was an anxiety producing event for me. In confirmation class I had learned that if you take communion "unworthily" you were "drinking damnation unto oneself." Therefore it was very important to make sure that you had no unconfessed sins (confessed to God, or to the confessor, according to Luther's Small Catechism). I would usually try to solve this problem by doing a blanket "forgive me for everything" prayer (in addition to specific items) right on the rail before taking the elements. I did this in my head, not out loud to everyone. :) Yet I also worried that this wasn't good enough, and felt guilty about confessing for the same things over and over again. It was as if a slate of sins would accumulate through the month, then they would get "wiped clean" after confessing and taking communion. But then the sins would start accumulating again, sometimes moments after having them wiped away!

In addition to the theological/existential anxiety of Laestadian communion, there was also the logistical anxiety. Typically old people would commune first, followed by "the youth" contingent, and then all other adults. Young children were not allowed to receive. It was entirely up to you to decide when to come forward, and as a teen I was often worried that if I went up "too soon" or "too late" that there would not be room for me at the rail and I'd look like an idiot. I'd have to time my approach just right to make sure that I could get a spot at the rail before it filled up, but arrive too soon and you'd have to stand there before the previous group got dismissed.

Once at the rail and in the kneeling position, the elements were consumed in the most submissive posture I've ever seen in any church. We weren't allowed to touch either the communion cup or the wafers of bread, instead keeping our heads bowed until the presider came by, when we would tilt our heads upward with our mouths open, very much like a baby bird looking for a worm. The wafer would be placed in our mouths, and the wine would be poured from the communion cup directly into our mouths as well. Given how submissive this posture is, is it any surprise that there are no female Laestadian pastors or communion assistants?

There were times when all of this needless anxiety made we want to skip communion altogether. But if you were in attendance, eligible, and didn't take communion, it would prompt questions from the pastor and whispers from the rest of the congregation. So not partaking was not an option. With communion only once a month, though, one could arrange to be out of town, or sick, and manage to go a few months without the sacrament.

I attend a church with a liturgical tradition now, and as such the Eucharist is the high point, climax, and focal point of every Sunday service. There is a feeling of celebration, and an expectation of meeting Christ in the sacrament. I can't imagine trying to avoid communion now, and there is no anxiety surrounding it. I still take communion seriously due to my upbringing, but I can't imagine placing the strictures on it that we did as Laestadians, and I still don't really understand the Laestadian approach to communion.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

2009 Apostolic Lutheran Church Convention

Based on some of the comments, I thought it would be useful to start this separate thread for discussion of all things related to the 2009 ALC Convention, currently underway in St. Cloud, MN.

Sounds like Norah and ex-falc will be attending the convention. I'd like to hear your impressions.

I'm also re-posting some information from A.L.:

ALC has an annual convention which is held in a different location each year. This year it will be in St. Cloud, MN, hosted by the Kingston, MN congregation.

Last year it was held in the Twin Cities (Plymouth Apostolic Lutheran and North Apostolic Lutheran Churches co-hosting). 2008 marked the 100th ALC annual convention. And I believe Minneapolis wanted to host because the first ALC convention was held in Minneapolis. (I may be wrong about this, but I think it is so.) The 2008 convention was held on the campus of Bethel University, St. Paul, MN. Numerous photos and other artifacts documented the history of the ALC, particulary the convention history.

Laestadian movement history was also represented. I seem to recall that they displayed the panels documenting the history of the Laestadian movement which were created by the LLC for the 200th anniversary of the birth of L. L. Laestadius in 2000. I believe this display traveled about the country during 2000 and perhaps after. It may be permanently housed at the Finnish American Heritage Center and Archives, Hancock, Michigan. I'm not absolutely certain about this.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Apostolic Lutheran Church Makeover

No, they haven't started holding classes on the proper application of mascara or the best way to fasten a huivi. As far as I know they haven't told the men to stop smoking out front after services. ;-)

The Apostolic Lutheran Church of America (Federation) official web site has had a makeover. High time, I'd say, as the previous version of the site looked very much like a product of 1993.

The new site recycles a lot of content from the earlier version, but I did notice a few points that I thought were interesting.

On the Find a Church page, there is now an entry for each listed congregation called "online services," which will tell you if a particular congregation offers such 21st century amenities as a web site, video streaming, audio and video archives of sermons, or other multimedia.

Back issues of the offical ALC publication Christian Monthly are available going all the way back to 1998.

The Sunday School curriculum is available as a PDF download. I thought this was especially surprising, because when I was in Sunday school there was no curriculum that I could see, other than flipping open the King James Bible and preparing for boredom. For the kids the "flannel graph" was a big hit. :-) I wonder how long the ALC has had a national, standardized, official Sunday School curriculum?

A box of 1,000 communion wafers is only $15.00. That seems like a pretty good deal. Fifty copies of The Sinner's Plea for $3.50? I think I'll pass. ;-)

Seriously, though, I wouldn't mind seeing PDF or web versions of some of the foundational ALC documents such as the catechism and the constitution/bylaws.

Nice update to the site!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Is change inevitable?

Like many readers of this site, when I was growing up there was no such thing as the internet, or the world wide web. The main source of media during that time was television, but like so many Laestadians "of a certain age," in our congregation no television was allowed.

In some branches of Laestadianism, in some congregations, this has changed during the last 10-20 years. Some Laestadians have TVs now, and even some of the ones that still don't have internet access. So I am always interested when a Laestadian church decides to put up a web site. Remembering how the internal politics of these congregations work, I think we can safely assume that if a congregation has a web site, use of the internet is not a major "controversy" within that congregation.

This weekend someone sent me a link to the Apostolic Lutheran Church of Kingston. It's a very nice site design, professionally done. It has an RSS feed, sermon podcasts, the pastor's blog, and the promise of constant updates with new content of interest to the congregation or visitors.

Housed within all that technological newness, however, are the very old ideas that most of us are so familiar with. One page in particular jumped out at me:


In Jerusalem, Israel, in the year 33, the Apostles Church was established upon the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the authority of God, our creator. This was the beginning of our present church.

In Germany, in 1517, Martin Luther fathered the reformation, hence we use Lutheran in our church name.

Within the Lutheran Church of Sweden, in the 1700's and 1800's, the quickening and awakening work of God began to stir the hearts of men. . . By 1845, in the Northern parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway, the Apostle Church experienced a revival by Lars Levi Laestadius.


On one level I fully realize that this capsule history is a cute way of unpacking "Apostolic Lutheran Church" in a few short paragraphs. On the other hand, it also perpetuates an idea that was certainly alive during my youth and lives on today in many fundamentalist protestant denominations --that nothing of any real theological or spiritual relevance has happened in the last 2,000 years.

This understanding of church history would have us believe that Jesus died, the apostles lived, skip ahead to the reformation and Laestadius (or insert your own sects founder's name), and here we are today. It completely hides the wealth of riches to be found in all the myriad and diverse understandings of the faith that have arisen between then and now, as well as the dark and shameful episodes of the tradition we call our own.

Thankfully, we live in an age where information has never been more freely available. It was easy to remain in the dark growing up, but it's much more difficult to control the message today. It's all here for anyone who cares to look.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Growing up in the ALC, we had church services on Ash Wednesday, but we never had ashes put on our foreheads or anything like that. I also wasn't aware of anybody giving up anything for lent.

I'm interested in knowing how the other branches of Laestadianism handled (or did not handle) the season of Lent.

I'm also interested in what spiritual practices you might be doing now that you're an ex-Laestadian.

I usually go to Ash Wednesday services, but tonight I can't due to a scheduling conflict. Can anyone recommend any good online Lenten resources I might do in lieu of attending services?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Laestadian ignorance about Roman Catholicism

After reading some of the comments Precious has been making about the Catholic Church, I was reminded of identical inaccurate rhetoric growing up in the ALC. My how we hated those Catholics, and loved to hold them up as the prime example of a dead faith that got it wrong! (Looking back the irony is almost overwhelming. :-) I'll post some of my own thoughts regarding the relationship between Laestadianism and Roman Catholicism later on, but for now I thought cvow's succinct and accurate post clearing up some of the misinformation was worth repeating here.

cvow writes:

Precious,
You ask to be educated about various beliefs of the Catholic Church. Let's see if I can help a little.

You stated several OALC commonly held beliefs about the Catholic church. I know that when I was a member of the OALC I heard the same things, along with statements that the Catholics gambled in church, danced in the church aisles, worshipped statues, and all sorts of other outlandish stories. (I also heard lots of stories about other faiths as well, but since you zeroed in on the Catholics, that's where I'll focus as well.) The leader of the OALC congregation that I belonged to loved to pick on the Catholics, although I suspect he had never been inside a Catholic church in his life, as is probably the case with most of the OALC "preachers" who make similar attacks.

Just following your thread more or less in order, you stated that the Catholic Church teaches that you can buy yourself a seat in heaven through charity -- and that they "brag" about their charity. Now I don't really know where this idea got started, because there is nothing in the teaching of the Catholic church to support such a claim. I suppose it hearkens back to the Middle Ages, when the church was "selling" indulgences. I'm pretty sure the error of that was resolved several hundred years ago, but the perception still lingers on. Rest assured, you don't buy your way into heaven in the Catholic Church by charity or any other way except through acceptance and belief in Jesus Christ as saviour and redeemer.

Does the church "brag" about their charity work? Not as near as I can tell. Perhaps the fact that they do ask for donations to support their charitable work -- and it is considerable, believe me -- is what you perceive as "bragging". I will agree with many other posters here -- I was in the OALC for 35 years, more or less, and never, not once, did I ever witness or know about any charitable act to the poor, sick, or homeless by any OALC congregation. I am sure some of the members gave individually to charity as you say you do -- good for you, and I mean that sincerely -- but most did not.

Purgatory is probably one that we could go around on for a long time, since the primary scriptural foundation for that is found in the Old Testament, in Maccabees, which is not part of the KJV bible. If you are interested, in 2 Maccabees 12, the statement is made that King Judas made atonement for the dead, which is held as evidence that there is some kind of purging of sin even after death. In the New Testament in both Peter and Corinthians, the passages about cleansing fire are held as further evidence of this final cleansing. Here again you make the statement that based on money given to the church, a person's soul might be moved from hell into heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Period.

You ask why during the Catholic Mass only the priest partakes of the wine. Hmmm..., I went to Mass last Sunday and partook of both species -- bread and wine -- as did most of the people. I know that at one time, only the host was offered and not the wine, but that changed long ago. I did see that still being done in a very small church, and don't know why it was still done that way -- but there is no liturgical reason for the wine to be withheld. I suspect it was one of those man made traditions that come and go as our faith evolves. The church teaches that you can partake of either or both species and have received communion. As an example of this kind of tradition, people note the ringing of the bells during the consecration of the host and wine. The history of this is that in very olden days, the entire congregation in very large churches could not see what the priest was doing (there were no pews in those days so everyone stood) nor could they hear (no PA system, you know). Hence the bells were rung at important times during the consecration and prayers
so that the congregants could follow the order of the Mass, saying common prayers at the correct times, appropriately bow their heads, kneel, or whatever was called for. Many Catholic churches have abandoned the bell ringing, because obviously those needs no longer exist, but others still do it as a remembrance of those traditions. Eventually it will disappear, I'm sure, as again, there is no liturgical reason, only tradition.

And finally the molestation issue. This has been a shameful discovery and recognition of human failure on the part of some priests. We could debate a long time whether the church failed to act in a timely fashion, whether the official reaction was appropriate and swift enough, and whether the consequences have been just. I can only say that since it has come to light -- albeit much too slowly -- the Church has cooperated fully in the criminal prosecution of the sexual offenders, and has tried to make monetary restitution to the victims. Is it enough? I don't know that it ever could be.

Hopefully these explanations make some things clear, put to rest some old wives' tales, and give food for thought. If you ever really want to know what goes on in a Catholic Church, by all means attend Mass a few times. Believe me, this is a place where truly and absolutely, "All are Welcome". You will probably find to your amazement that you can recite most of the prayers right along with the rest of the congregation, with only a few word changes here and there.


-ttg

Monday, November 12, 2007

Intelligent Design, Laestadian style?

Growing up in the ALC, we took the book of Genesis quite literally when it came to the story of human origins. I assume this is true for the other branches of Laestadianism as well, since if you have no reason to believe otherwise it is a pretty natural way to read Genesis 1.

Biblical scholar Marcus Borg calls this way of reading the Bible "natural literalism." Prior to the beginnings of modern science in the 1500s, it was pretty normal (although still not a universal practice by any means) to take much of the Bible's descriptions of natural history at face value. Given the high status the Bible holds within the Christian tradition, with little evidence suggesting otherwise, a reasonable adherent would have no reason to doubt that the creation story was anything but a straightforward account.

Since then, many of the sciences and humanities have delivered findings that call older interpretations of the Bible into question. Whether one accepts the findings as true or not, I think everyone can agree that the findings do question older ways of understanding the Bible. Perhaps the most notorious example of this is Darwin's theory. One of the many dividing lines in modern Christianity is between believers who incorporate modern science into their understanding of faith, and those who see science and faith as diametrically opposed to each other.

I think it's safe to say that Laestadians are firmly in the "diametrically opposed" camp. ;-) Ex-Laestadians, on the other hand, run the gamut. I bet we have young earth creationists, intelligent designers, people who just aren't sure, as well as folks who fully accept Darwin's theory reading this blog.

I'd love to hear from all of you.

I'd also like to recommend a Nova episode that will air tomorrow evening on PBS. It might be fun to watch the episode "together" and then discuss it here in the comments. If you don't have access to the television program, PBS has a comprehensive web site full of information. Full details below:

NOVA: Judgment Day: Putting Intelligent Design on Trial Tuesday, November 13th 8:00 PM Eastern Time on PBS (check local listings)

Phillip Johnson, the founder of Intelligent Design, defends his ideas

Defending Intelligent Design


NOVA: Why do you think some people do not accept evolution?

Johnson: I think they see a problem. I don't think it's that they're ignorant. I think that they see that what's being given to them as evolution is less than science in that it hasn't really been proved, and yet it's presented as if it were proved. And on the other hand, it's more than science, in that it contains the whole philosophy behind it, metaphysics as it were.


Biologist Ken Miller defends evolution, and explains his views on why faith and science are compatible

Defending Evolution


NOVA: Where do you come from personally on this topic?

Miller: I think that faith and reason are both gifts from God. And if God is real, then faith and reason should complement each other rather than be in conflict. Science is the child of reason. Reason has given us the ability to establish the scientific method to investigate the world around us, and to show that the world and the universe in which we live are far vaster and far more complex, and I think far more wonderful, than anyone could have imagined 1,000 or 2,000 years ago.


-ttg

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Politics, Laestadian Style

My head was spinning the other day, as I read about Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani for president. Politics certainly makes for strange bedfellows, as the old saying goes.

At the same time, I couldn't help but think about Laestadians, ex-Laestadians, and how their politics has and has not changed over the years.

Growing up in the ALC, most of my fellow parishioners were farmers and unionized workers who tended to vote for the Democratic party. However those were the decades that saw the rise of the Moral Majority, Ronald Reagan, and social conservatives as a voting block. Today I'd be willing to bet most of these folks vote for the Republicans because of their opposition to abortion and gay rights.

As an ex-Laestadian, my own politics has changed over the years as well. As a kid I was a staunch Republican, because I was a social conservative and a fiscal conservative. Questioning the faith of my youth also caused political questioning. I've been a card carrying Libertarian, voted for Ross Perot two times, (I'm a bit embarrassed about the second time) and had a brief flirtation with the Green Party before settling into my current configuration of "votes mainly for Democrats, but is still very fiscally conservative."

I'm supporting Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate, I might leave that section of my ballot blank (because of her 'yes' vote authorizing the Iraq war.) So if I'm a Democrat, I'm a conflicted one.

How about you? Has your politics changed with your faith? Do the two inform each other? Do Laestadians tend to vote a certain way, or not at all? If you read this blog from outside of the United States, what is your perspective on the role politics and Laestadianism comes together in your country?

-ttg

Monday, October 22, 2007

Racism, Laestadian style

I received this question from a reader recently:

Why do so many Laestadians seem to be prejudiced against blacks especially, but people from other cultures, as well? How can they justify that? Standing out in the parking lot after church, I don't even know how many times I've heard the n-word. . .There are so few blacks in the LLL churches that it's ridiculous. Well, wait a minute. Actually there is a small LLC congregation of blacks in Togo, Africa, now. Maybe that will help some of them get over their attitudes. . .


Growing up in the ALC, racism was a common theme as well. N-jokes were told alongside other ethnic jokes. Our church was a small one, in the rural upper Midwest. Looking back I'm not sure whether we were any more racist than the general population, or if we were reflecting the general population on this issue. Both the church and the general population was quite racist. As northerners we liked to think that we were above such things (on the winning side of the Civil War and all) but I remember the way that "the new kid," a Hispanic foster child was received at school in our small town. The epithets, the shunning, his isolation. He didn't stay long.

At church I remember hearing a story about the one time a black family visited our congregation. Apparently the pastor switched his sermon at the last minute to include a long-winded section explaining how nobody in our congregation was prejudiced.

I think the pastor was afraid that our visitors would find something lacking with us or in our church. There was so much fear growing up Laestadian. Fear of breaking the rules. Fear of "worldly" people and influences. Fear that God would punish harshly any failing. Fear of "The Other."

When angels speak to people in the Bible, one phrase they often utter is "Do not be afraid." I take this to mean that our fear can keep us from loving God, and from loving our neighbor. So much bad behaviour is motivated by fear.

How do we, as Laestadians and ex-Laestadians, step past the fear?

-ttg

Friday, October 12, 2007

Forgiveness, Laestadian Style

I think the recent comments regarding sexual abuse and forgiveness are very iluminating, and extend well beyond the present context. I completely agree with the folks who have said that forgiveness within the OALC (and I saw this issue alive and well within the ALC too) was and is used to sweep problems under the rug, to shift responsibility from perpetrator to victim, and to allow people to maintain appearances and avoid taking responsibility for their own actions.

One of the reasons why this tactic is so effective, of course, is because as Christians we really are called to forgive each other. But is forgiveness saying "I forgive you" and then never speaking of the matter again? Absolutely not!

True forgiveness is a long process. It's the end of a long journey that in the case of abuse should start with a full criminal investigation. Only once the full extent of what the perpetrator has done has been exposed, examined, and judged in the full light of day can an informed decision about forgiveness be made. Only once the victim is safe from threat of further abuse and given time and resources to process the experience of what has happened to them are they in a position to consider true forgiveness.

The quick shortcuts to forgiveness offered by the Laestadian churches cheapens true forgiveness and in the case of abuse only serves to short-circuit the healing process and to enable the perpetrators to continue on in their evil ways.

This issue enrages me for a couple of reasons. First, sexual abuse happened within my extended family many years ago. It was covered up and never talked about. Secondly, the same dynamic comes into play for so many lesser issues as well. "Forgiveness" being used to close down discussion and disagreement of all kinds.

I apologize if this post sounds like I'm shouting. I'm not shouting at anyone but the perpetrators and enablers of this sick theological idea.


-ttg