You may have heard that worship in Kramer Chapel is very traditional. Or that it’s liturgical. Well, guilty as charged. But given that words like “traditional” and “liturgical” can mean so many different things, these aren’t very helpful descriptions. So let’s step back and consider why it is that we do what we do.
A Living Tradition
Over the course of nearly 2,000 years, the church’s worship practices have undergone tremendous change. And yet, there is an unmistakable continuity that has developed down to the present day. Within the Western Church, of which we are members, that continuity has manifested itself in the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament and in the daily services of Matins and Vespers, Morning and Evening Prayer, as well as the bedtime prayer service of Compline. While the church has freedom to order her worship in different ways, these forms have endured to the present precisely because they faithfully deliver the gifts of God and so wonderfully give expression to our thanksgiving and praise for his merciful goodness.
The forms that we use, however, are not stuck in the past. Many of the services you will hear in Kramer Chapel were actually composed in the last forty years. We systematically make use of all the service settings in Lutheran Service Book, the primary hymnal of the LCMS. Exposing our students—future pastors and deaconesses—to this rich treasury is important so that they will not only have head knowledge but also firsthand experience of these services that sustain the faithful in every generation.
The same holds true for the rich body of hymnody that we sing in Kramer Chapel. The church’s song covers a wide range of traditions and styles, and we experience much of it week after week. One day we might sing a sturdy Lutheran chorale, the next a rugged Appalachian folk tune set to a modern text, and the following day a translation of an ancient text set to a newly composed melody. In each case, the guiding principle in the selection of what we sing is always that which best sings of Christ and his saving work on our behalf.
Ceremony That Points to the Gifts
But what about that word “liturgical”? Well yes, worship in Kramer Chapel is liturgical. But guess what? No matter where you go to church, it’s liturgical worship. Let’s look a little more deeply into that.
When we use the word liturgical, it’s really another way of speaking of ceremony. And the truth is, everyone has ceremony. The routine by which one prepares to go to work each morning, for example, is filled with ceremony. And so it is in church. The posture we choose at any given moment in the service is ceremony. (Shall we stand, sit, or kneel?) So is the vesture of both pastor and people. (Does the pastor vest in alb and stole or khakis and a polo shirt? And do the congregation’s members dress in their “Sunday best” or are cut-offs and T-shirts acceptable?) The list could go on, including such things as gesture and even architecture.
Now, there aren’t biblically-mandated answers to these questions of ceremony. But this much is true: there is always ceremony anytime Christians gather. The important question is this: how will our ceremony best convey God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation?
In Kramer Chapel we take ceremony seriously. You’ll see heads bow as we sing the trinitarian name at the conclusion of a psalm (“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit”). And people crossing themselves when hearing the absolution or receiving Christ’s body and blood. But not everyone, because matters of ceremony aren’t dictates of canon law that must be slavishly followed or everywhere the same. Nevertheless, ceremony matters, because it bears witness to what we believe is going on in worship. And because we believe that heaven itself is touching earth when God comes to deliver his gifts, we pay careful attention to the things we do in order to make sure that our devotion of God is fit for the reception of his holy gifts.
One area where this question comes into play in a big way is in regard to the choice of music used in worship. Perhaps no issue generates more discussion in the church today. Like with other matters of ceremony, there are no prescriptions in the Bible regarding styles of music appropriate for use in worship. The same is true for the type of instrumentation that is used. Yet, that doesn’t mean that all types of music and instrumentation are equally fitting. In every case, the question to answer is the same: how will this or that choice best serve to deliver the Gospel to the faithful? Be it an ancient chant melody, an energetic French psalm tune, a sublime Victorian hymn, or a newly composed song, we are always asking: how does it sing of Christ and all his benefits?
A Proud Heritage
For decades, students at CTSFW have recognized and cherished the rich worship life experienced in Kramer Chapel. They recognize, however, that as they leave this place and enter the harvest field, worship in their congregations will not be exactly like it was in Kramer Chapel. Each congregation is in a different setting with its own unique history and with individuals gifted in different ways for service in God’s kingdom. The beauty of our Lutheran heritage is that it can easily be scaled not just to fit the grandeur of Kramer Chapel but to serve admirably in every one of our congregations.
So we proudly lift up the heritage of liturgy and song that has been handed down to us through the centuries and we do it to the best of our abilities. For in so doing we deliver Christ, the one crucified for us and all people.
Finally, if you really want to know what worship is like in Kramer Chapel, come and visit us! Or if that isn’t possible at the moment, watch our live stream by clicking here.