Our annual report contains a short review of each church visited.

Ambassadors Visit Trinity, Lansdale

A Sad Day for Redeemer


The Ambassadors were out in unusual force yesterday visiting Trinity, Lansdale, one of the largest congregations in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod (SEPA) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). It was our 54th visit to a SEPA congregation.

It’s been a rough few days for Redeemer. Yesterday, Saturday, January 5, was particularly difficult.

At least a quarter of the people gathered in the large sanctuary on this cold Saturday afternoon claim Lutheran roots firmly planted in Redeemer, East Falls.

Tragically, the infant we gathered to remember and lay to rest was one of our family. Families at Redeemer have always been intricately interconnected. Remarkably, this has remained true even as we grow to become more diverse. One Redeemer member cannot itch without another scratching.

Indeed, we have a goodly heritage.

Part of the beautiful service was thanksgiving for baptism.

Our Jude was baptized as he was coming into the world. His chances for survival were known to be slim. When his parents learned early on that he was not likely to survive birth, they named him. His name breathed life into him. Jude Michael Boeh belonged.

I am privileged to know the family of both sides of one set of Jude’s grandparents. Many of the names bandied about in the narthex as the family gathered came alive again. Remember Clarence and George, Vicki, Tom, Emma and Jacob?

I wasn’t born into Redeemer, but I remember them well. It was good to hear their names again and to pass their stories on to the younger members of the family. Some belonged to Redeemer and some to the Presbyterian church across the street. But that was a formality. Redeemer members worshiped at Redeemer in the morning and attended services with their Presbyterian neighbors afterwards. Dual citizenship.

Jude’s mother, born Elizabeth Leach, gave a moving tribute to his short life and its powerful force.

Jude was named for the patron saint of lost causes. His life was a tribute to the value of any life-affirming cause, even one that appears to be facing hopeless odds.

We are so proud of his family, especially his mother whom we watched grow up at many Redeemer services and events.

Redeemer, East Falls, and Trinity, Lansdale, are worlds apart. Trinity’s narthex is about the size of Redeemer’s sanctuary. But it doesn’t matter how large a sanctuary is. A lot of good can come out of both large and small churches. As the history we read on the walls of Trinity attest, churches start small. Some grow in size. Some grow in spirit. All have worth.

As I participated in the memorial service for my step great-grandson, I thought of my late husband.

Jude’s great-grandfather, Andrew Leach, was the first baby baptized in Redeemer in 1909. Jude’s grandfather and many of his aunts and uncles of varying generations were also baptized at Redeemer.

He would have been proud of the courage his grandchildren displayed in their compassionate, faithful, heart-wrenching choices. Their willingness to share their heartbreak is a gift.

Jude’s great-grandfather was the heart and soul of Redeemer, devout in practical ways. He managed the church finances and was responsible for protecting and growing the endowment that tempted SEPA from the day of his death. He was universally respected in the church and community and set the tone of what could be called Redeemer’s personality.

He not only managed the church as a business but he had a superb voice, a legacy passed on to many family members. He was never so proud that he wouldn’t clean the sidewalks and scrub floors. His interest in the community made Redeemer the common meeting place for many community groups. When it came to Redeemer, there was no-nonsense.

His great granddaughter, Hazel, (Jude’s older sister) was born shortly after Andy’s death. Hazel, at 14, shared with poise a heartfelt testimony of how her journey with her sister, mom, stepdad and baby Jude had awakened her faith. She reminded me of her great-grandmother.

Gertrude Trommer Leach was a member of the Sunday School class I taught at Redeemer. She worked hard with the ladies group, sang in the choir and played the piano. She was a deeply spiritual child of God, a true matriarchal cornerstone. Easy-going and loving, when she occasionally stood her ground, she was a force to be reckoned with.

Andrew’s youngest son, Nathaniel, is still a member of Redeemer. He was seated next to me in the sanctuary, singing with his father’s voice as we remembered Jude. I was reminded of his biblical namesake. Nathaniel in the Bible asks rather flippantly upon learning of Jesus of Nazareth, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?”

Is there any good to be found in trying circumstances, in facing difficult odds?

People of faith must answer yes.

Sometimes you have to dig through a lot of grime. Sometimes you have to wipe away the tears. Sometimes you have to struggle to get up in the morning. Often we have to withstand hurtful gossip and defend against questionable, self-serving advice. But there is value wherever there is life.

Jesus loves us, the Bible tells us so.

The service was beautiful, but as Sunday quickly rolled around, it would have been a comfort to many of the mourners to sit in the pews so familiar to our family, to kneel at the altar where our families knelt together for generations, to pass the font where five generations have been baptized, to shed a tear in our own sacred space—now desecrated with fighting that should have been resolved with love within the Christian family long ago, and to embrace other members of Redeemer who live in fear beyond their control. It would be a comfort to have some sense that in the community of God we have worth beyond the value of our assets.

Redeemer members continue to meet, worship and serve—and grow.

Faith gives us no choice. Affirming life is a part of our legacy.

Jude. The patron saint of loss causes.

Is there really such a thing for people of faith? Sometimes we just don’t know what the real cause is!

The name Jude, by the way, means PRAISE! That’s how I will remember Jude. With praise.

God bless our Jude. God bless Jude’s family. God bless the Christian legacy that brought us all together in the sanctuary in Trinity, Lansdale, on January 5, 2013.

May it continue to grow and affirm life.

Ambassadors Visit Faith, Montgomeryville

Faith Lutheran Church, Montgomeryville

The sun was not cooperating with us and we didn’t bother to get both our Ambassadors in the picture this morning.

Congenial, Upbeat Worship Atmosphere

The Ambassadors were just two in number today with last minute cancellations from some of our usual number. We had decided to stall our visits until after the holidays as it is difficult for us to worship standing next to Lutherans who are suing us not only as a congregation but as individuals. But earlier in the week, the Ambassadors changed their mind and wanted a Sunday visit. This was our 53rd visit to a SEPA congregation.

Our choice to visit Faith Lutheran Church on Cowpath Road in Montgomeryville proved to be a perfect choice for us at this time.

We noticed on their website that the fourth Sunday is designated as “Old Time Gospel” worship. Other weeks of the month include Communion Sunday, a Sunday led by youth and a family Sunday.

We entered the church to find happy people. At least four people greeted us in the narthex and a few more made a point to stop and say hello once we had found seats in the sanctuary.

We don’t know how much “Old Time Gospel” Sunday differs from other weeks, but we noticed a decidedly casual atmosphere that seemed to be accepted by all of the approximately 60 worshipers. We sat in the next to last row. Most of the worshipers in front of us were in our own age group. But behind us was a healthy group of youth and a section of the sanctuary devoted to the trappings of a  praise band—a trap set, an organ and a piano.

The casual atmosphere extended to the community wardrobe. Many of the worshipers were wearing Faith Lutheran sweatshirts or T-shirts with Bible messages on them. This included the pastor, the Rev. Joyce Nelson, who cheerfully led worship wearing a Faith sweatshirt.

Pastor Nelson opened worship by reminding the congregation to enjoy Christmas and Advent music on a different plane, looking beyond the familiar tunes to pay close attention to the words. Very good advice for all Lutherans — clergy and laity alike.

The stained glass windows are a tribute to the faithful, depicting the symbols of many of the early apostles, with bold inclusion of a modern-day memorial for more recent saints from their community.

The sanctuary already appeared to be partially decorated for Christmas, but part of today’s worship included transforming the festive trappings from Advent colors to Christmas colors. At each musical interlude, the youth appeared like elves, and added an additional touch to the sanctuary’s holiday decor. During the first hymn, the wreaths were given bows. Later the Advent banners were taken down and replaced with white Christmas banners. I like the one that depicted a Christmas tree as a cross. Poinsettias were carried in and placed along the communion rail. A display, which I couldn’t see was arranged in front of the altar and at last the blue Advent candles were carried out, replaced with white candles.

Some of the music was “old time” and people seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to clap and feel good. Some of the hymns were more standard and parts of the service were from the new “red” book, not to be confused with the Common Service Book and Hymnal which we still find in some of the churches we visit and which we at Redeemer kept around, mostly to reference the hymns. They used the choral benediction which I hadn’t sung since high school choir but they didn’t use the crescendoing Amens that I recall ended our rendition.

A playing of Jesus Loves Me was a cue for the children to leave, but we saw only one or two children in worship. (We often sang Jesus Loves Me in Swahili in our worship and the Swahili chorus still comes to mind now.)

We wonder if the family attendance is better for some of the other theme weeks and how the themes seem to work overall.

The sermon was a dialog between the pastor and a man depicting the prophet Isaiah. It appeared to be part of an Advent series of conversations with Isaiah.

The music team (they didn’t use the word choir) was very nice with good deep voices opening the anthem and strong women’s voices.

We were given a nice visitor gift on our way out. We weren’t clear whether there was fellowship scheduled after worship or not, so we left to enjoy our own Sunday morning fellowship.

We had an impression that there was some affluence in the congregation as they are promoting a trip to the Holy Land for $3500, but their treasurer’s report indicates that they are very similar to Redeemer, with a smaller endowment, similar mortgage debt and running a $4000 deficit, which will likely disappear with Christmas giving. So they really aren’t much different than Redeemer as far as their financial viability. So many congregations no stronger than Redeemer were asked to decide who should own our property and assets.

We enjoyed our worship, but we always wonder if the good people we meet on our visits know that they are part of ongoing harassment of a church which includes equally good Christians in East Falls.

This will be our fourth Christmas locked out of the Lutheran Church with the permission of the Lutherans of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod.

All the prayers, peace-passing, welcome messages and good wishes ring with a very hollow sound when they are backed up by years of apathy to a horrific situation which they contributed to—perhaps innocently at first—but with general avoidance of the consequences since.

Still, we had a great visit, enjoyed our time with Faith, and wish them well.

Ambassadors Visit St. John’s, Mayfair

Two of the three ambassadors who visited St. John’s, Mayfair, Philadelphia.

St. John’s: a beautiful church in “transition”

Redeemer’s Ambassadors visited St. John’s, Mayfair, Philadelphia this morning.

The beauty of this church is unsurpassed. Modest brick and marble or granite (low maintenance) walls and columns frame exquisite stained glass windows depicting the life of Christ.

Attendance at the 11 o’clock service was upwards of 80 but shy of 100. It was difficult to count as there was movement among worshipers, playing different roles in the church service.

The service itself was similar to a Redeemer service, mixing modern praise songs with various elements of the liturgy. We noticed that they haven’t bothered purchasing rack editions of the ELCA’s new worship book, and we don’t blame them. They had a 20-page bulletin and 12 additional pages of announcements. One of our Ambassadors was grateful for the help of a member in finding the hymns which were reprinted from various sources in the back of the bulletin. You would have had to read through the whole bulletin to discover this, though. Singing was strong. They skipped the epistle reading.

A four-member children’s choir sang a Thanksgiving hymn. A larger adult choir sang an Offertory. This followed an extended “passing of the peace” which continued through much of the anthem. The people sitting near us were heavily involved in loud conversations throughout the anthem.

Liturgically, there always seems to be a problem transitioning from the passing of the peace to refocusing on worship. At Redeemer, we solved the problem by having a musical call to prayer ending the passing of the peace free-for-all. This works very well.

There were about a dozen children, far fewer youth and a couple of infants. There were about ten people sitting in the chancel.

This is a program-sized church and suitably the bulletin listed many programs. We noted that the pastor encouraged creating some respite time during Advent. Not a bad idea.

On this Sunday morning we found St. John’s in “transition.” Their pastor of ten years left at the end of October.

We were aware that this was the church of The Rev. Lee Miller III, the lead “trustee” who came to Redeemer in the summer of 2007 and told us he was there as a “fact finder” who “wanted to help.” He then did very little fact-finding nor did he ever offer any help. He did not reveal to us at his first encounter with our leaders that he actually was a “trustee.” We learned of his deception five months later. He explained, without apology, that he lied because he didn’t want trouble.

Well, there has been nothing but trouble ever since. Oh, what a tangled web we weave. . .

His involvement in our community was confusing. He seemed to be in favor of supporting our ministry, but changed his tune (never in discussion with us) sometime during months of silence. We suspect that his position as head of the trustees was an exercise in brown-nosing and personal career advancement.

Having received just 15 votes at the last Synod Assembly election for bishop, he has abandoned the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for fairer pastures, leaving us to deal with the substantial mess he created.

The Rev. Lee Miller III was the person who first suggested that Redeemer “wanted to have the bishop arrested”—an impression we corrected immediately, but which nevertheless found its way into the trustees “report” and all subsequent court documents — even after we asked that this and many other false statements be corrected as long ago as May 2008—four and one half years ago!

No one at Redeemer EVER tried to have anyone arrested.

Oh, well, the Rev. Lee Miller III is gone, if not forgotten. Philadelphia’s loss is Buffalo’s gain.

“Transition” is an odd term. This is not to be confused with “transformation.” Transformation, in Synod-speak, occurs only after transition and ideally under their watchful eye. It can easily go unrecognized if it happened when they weren’t watching.

Church communities are always in transition. When SEPA uses this term, it refers to a time between pastors. As a congregation that existed without a pastor for most of the decade before Lee Miller intruded and four years after he came with the bishop and a locksmith, we at Redeemer find this official designation to be curious.

SEPA thinks congregations fall apart when a pastor leaves. The seeds of this thinking were in all this morning’s talk about vulnerability. The congregation was told repeatedly, “We are vulnerable. You are vulnerable. I am vulnerable.” Maybe they are. Perhaps the synod was creating fear and need to make it easier to reach their version of “mutual discernment.”

There were no obvious signs that St. John’s was falling apart because Pastor Miller left. That’s a compliment to both pastor and congregation.

In clergy’s view, lay people need their oversight to do anything constructive. This view, which reflects clergy vulnerability more than lay, creates an uncomfortable period of limbo. Laity will live lives on eggshells as they are questioned, observed, rated, evaluated,  defined, assessed . . .

Our Ambassadors reveal just how confusing this process is for lay people. Our account, Undercover Bishop, is drawn from our observations of congregations in “transition.”

The associate pastor, the Rev. Patricia Neale, confessed as a Synod representative looked on that she is in a vulnerable position during this process. Church “rules” require that an associate pastor leave at the same time a “lead” pastor leaves. Rules are made to be broken and in SEPA they are rewritten for convenience. Wait and see!

Rev. Patricia Neale, was called to St. John’s upon graduation from Philadelphia Seminary in 2007.  That means she has identical parish experience as Bishop Claire Burkat who served just five years as associate pastor of Holy Trinity, Abington, before joining SEPA Synod staff.

Pastor Neale’s sermon talked about Pilate and his need to control the situation festering among the Jews, Jesus and civil authorities. Doing the right thing in regard to the troublesome Jesus was less important than doing the thing that protected his power. Some things never change.

Control is similarly part of the “transition” process, although it is never presented this way.

Pastor Neale probably knows the congregation well. She gave both a good sermon and children’s sermon. Since SEPA has their interim person coming once a month and not every week, we suspect the decision has already been made about St. John’s future.

Ambassadors Join Team Jude

The Ambassadors split up today. A couple of us joined the Charity Walk to benefit Children’s Hospital. They’ve been good to one of our legacy families facing serious health challenges, so we rallied to support Jude.

Ambassadors Visit St. John’s, Hatboro

The Ambassadors were back on the road today. Our visits are taking us farther as we have visited most of the churches near us.

Today we visited St. John’s, Hatboro. Our former pastor’s wife served here until they both fled the synod in 2006. We were surprised to find St. John’s still in transition or in transition once again.

We turned at the road just before the church, seeing a few parking spots along the church. We found these spots were reserved so we set out to park on the street. Parking was allowed on only one side of the street and NOT the side we happened to be on. As we drove, looking to remedy that, we found the exit from their parking lot and we entered against the Do Not Enter Sign. We would have had to cross a four-lane highway to find the proper entrance. No one was coming; no harm done.

Bishop Burkat criticized our congregation for not having a parking lot, but the walk from the parking lot this morning to the front door of the church was considerably farther than we ever had to walk after parking on the street in East Falls.

We were early. We found a nice outdoor sitting area, a memorial garden surrounded by shrubbery and begonias.

We entered a church which was much wider than it was long with very long pews flanking a center aisle. The only window was a circular stained window at the peak of the domed roof.

We were attending the second service of the morning at 11 am. There were just shy of 40 present and the people used the full width and depth of the church in choosing seats. We do not know how many were present at 9 am service. We were reminded that the synod trustees never visited our worship before announcing they intended to close our church and a visit by one of the trustees a week before synod assembly reported only the attendance at one of our two morning services in their report to the assembly. According to the online newsletter, St. John is one of the larger churches in SEPA.

We managed to hit another stewardship Sunday (our fourth!) with all the lessons addressing Christian giving. A member, a retired school teacher, opened the service with a temple talk and spoke passionately about the congregation’s food pantry mission. It was a service he had learned as a boy scout and he was proud of St. John’s enterprise in helping the needy of their community in a supportive and dignified manner.

The names of the pastor and music director were not in the bulletin but their web site says that the pastor is The Reverend Marcia Bell, of Mount Airy Seminary, and the music director is Michael Brinkworth. The pianist enhanced the hymns with many flourishes and upped the tempo of the closing hymn, Take My Life, as a spirited recessional. The width of the sanctuary seemed to affect singing.

Pastor Bell’s sermon talked about the need to make commitments and to take risks in determining offerings to the church. That message probably hit our ears differently than the congregation’s as Redeemer members took risks, made commitments and gave generously only to have Synod confiscate our assets and put our members in jeopardy with law suits as they try to get still more.

Ambassadors Visit St. Matthew’s, Woodlyn

Today’s visit—our 47th—was noticeable once again for its similarities to Redeemer. Most of the churches we have visited have been so like us that it is difficult to fathom why they have abided their Synod’s treatment of a congregation just like them.

Woodlyn is a small community south of Philadelphia. The homes in the neighborhood of the church are small and well kept—set back from bustling McDade Blvd.

St. Matthew will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. Redeemer will celebrate our 121st. (SEPA Synod stopped counting in 2010. We have not!)

Attendance at this summer service was under 30 and included two children and one youth. Their sanctuary is long. Unlike many congregations, most of the people sat towards the front. The altar is set far back behind flanking choir lofts.

Like Redeemer, they have a summer day camp. Like Redeemer, they serve meals to children in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Many of the churches we have visited have nursery schools or day schools. However, few of them seem to connect this outreach to church attendance. In most cases there have been very few children present at worship—even in churches with weekday children’s programming.

Music was well done. The organist, Jeanne Sach,  played a lovely Offertory on the piano. Singing was good. We are finding that the strongest music presence is often in the smaller churches.

Pastor Nancy Brown seemed to weave her message of the day throughout the service with an opening talk about the Olympics and the work that goes into them (we can relate to hard work going unappreciated), an interactive moment early in the service, and a fairly lengthy sermon.

We noted on their website that they shared a minister with us. Rev. Jesse Brown left Redeemer around 2000 and was at Woodlyn for a while before they called their current pastor in 2003.

St. Matthew seems to be another solid little neighborhood church, dealing with the same kind of challenges Redeemer and others deal with.

We wonder what would happen if we all worked together, instead of in competition for leadership and resources.

Meanwhile, our visits overall reveal a pronounced disconnect between what is preached in our churches and what is acted upon. We don’t fault the preaching—as far as that goes.


Ambassadors Celebrate an Important Birthday

Today, the Ambassadors of Redeemer will not be visiting churches. We are worshiping together on our home turf and celebrating the birthday of the ONE and ONLY SEPA pastor who took the time to know and appreciate the ministry of Redeemer Lutheran Church in East Falls before joining the throng who would see our ministry destroyed for Synod’s monetary gain.

This one pastor is a true man of God. He carries with him his Bible—its binding held together with tape, its pages curled with use. For the past three years, he has joined us in worship at least once a month, led us in communion, visited our sick and shut-ins, checked on our individual members periodically, and prayed for us daily.

Other SEPA pastors have done nothing.

SEPA, you can be proud of this dedicated servant. He is a model for you all, especially those new to ministry.

We’d use his name but we know he is not one for the spotlight. Happy birthday to a man of God.

Ambassadors Visit St. John’s, Ambler, Pa.

Redeemer’s Ambassadors visit St. John’s in Ambler, just off the main drag in this suburban community business district.

We discovered a delightful small church that reminded us of our own. Even the layout of the sanctuary and fellowship hall were familiar to us.

Attendance was about the same as Redeemer with only two children, but there was talk in the announcements of some youth activity.

Hudson and Freda helped with the blessing of the stuffed bears to be given to needy children.

The service began with the distribution of stuffed bears and a small stack of prayer shawls. The stuffed animals were cared for throughout the service, blessed during the prayers, and gathered for presentation with the offerings. The bears will be given to children as part of St. John’s support of Interfaith Housing. It is hoped that the children can cherish and love the stuffed animals and feel the comfort of the congregation’s blessing. The prayer shawls were passed throughout the service to each member.

The service music was excellent and accompanied by various combinations of flute (Cindy LeBlanc), cello and piano (Jim Holton)  and organ and included both hymn renditions and some classical themes. Christine Djalleta served as cantor, led singing, and sang Softly and Tenderly as an offeratory. The amount and breadth of music reminded us of a Redeemer service, the only difference — no Swahili words!

The pastor’s sermon (Sandra Ellis-Killian) was an interesting mix of Scripture and Shakespeare.

All members were welcoming and ready to engage in conversation.

They were looking forward to a busy week or two as Easter approaches and were planning for a Maundy Thursday meal (much like Redeemer’s Green Thursday tradition). They were also planning a labyrinth mediation walk at a nearby church and a commemoration of the 14 stations of the cross.

We enjoyed robust fellowship and were interested in the after church Bible Study on Isaiah, led by a lay member, but we slipped out to return home.

It was nice to be in a church that “felt” like Redeemer. There is beauty and power in small churches like St. John’s — and Redeemer.

Ambassadors Visit Christ’s Lutheran Church, Oreland

Last Sunday four Redeemer Ambassadors visited the suburban congregation Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland, Pa. This was our 40th congregational visit.

We arrived to find a nearly full parking lot. The front door was hard to find from where we parked. We followed signs for the church office and ended up entering the busy sanctuary from the front of the church. This may have been the largest congregation we’ve encountered and was particularly impressive that it was the first Sunday in Lent, not a popular holiday. The other large congregations we visited on Reformation Sunday and Palm Sunday.

We were interested in Christ’s because one of our former pastors had come to us from this congregation back in the 1980s. We were happy to see that the service was very well attended with a healthy mix of ages. The organist was away but the substitute pianist did a great job with a beautiful prelude rendition of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Her hymn choices during communion were also very nice.

A children’s choir sang. This was only about the third children’s choir we have encountered. The adult choir nearly filled the chancel area. It was the largest choir we have encountered so far and had a well-balanced blend.

Rev. Kay Braun led a lovely service. She is listed as senior pastor but apparently she is the only pastor.

We left the service through the same door we arrived and did not talk to anyone. The side door opened to an area surrounded on three sides by brick walls and the sound reverberated, reminding us of Redeemer’s plans to someday build an outside worship area using the hill and church wall to amplify sound.

The bulletin announced a number of fun ideas, including a “Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner” event where participants sign up to either host or attend dinner in someone’s home . . . only who will go to which host’s home is not announced until just before the appointed time. Sounds like a fun mixer!

A long announcement period before the service talked of many mission projects.

Alas! We forgot to take our picture!

Ambassadors Return to the Road: St. Paul’s, Ardmore

Our own events, weather and other commitments grounded the Redeemer Ambassadors over the holidays but we returned in good force this week with a visit to St. Paul’s, Ardmore. This was our 39th visit.

St. Paul’s has two services with fellowship in between. We entered their fellowship area and were met at an Official Visitor’s Center. St. Paul’s has been working on its outreach to visitors. We had a long talk with several members before the service began. Several members made a point of greeting us away from the greeting station. Pastor McDowell greeted us after the service as well. It is always noticeable when congregations are consciously practicing welcoming hospitality.

One of the greeters said she was a fairly new member but explained that the visitor’s greeting desk was begun about five years ago. They present a visitor with a gift mug filled with goodies as they leave. If you are in the neighborhood, they offer to bring the gift along when making a follow-up visit. We noticed in their newsletter that they accepted about ten members last quarter.

The 10:30 service had about 60 in attendance, including 17 serving at the altar and in the choir. The music offerings were glorious and included a violin solo, which we missed because we entered the sanctuary during the announcements, after the prelude, and an ambitious anthem set to the tune of the “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”

The congregation is on its fourth building and has been at its present site since the 1940s. The colorful stained glass windows were saved from previous buildings and incorporated into a colorful sanctuary. The color seemed to leap from the windows’ traditional depictions from the life of Christ to the exposed beams arching across the sanctuary. The color throughout the sanctuary complemented a more reserved chancel area, accented by a small, circular depiction of Christ at prayer. All in all . . . beautiful.

While there were children in the fellowship area, we saw none at this second worship service.

Their bulletin flier was filled with projects and service opportunities.

One of our ambassadors commented that while she misses our own church she really enjoys our church visits. The Ambassadors have begun to look forward to our Sunday morning excursions and fellowship during and after our church visits. We share breakfast together and plan church activities for the week.

Redeemer is not closed; we are locked out of God’s House by SEPA Synod.

Redeemer Ambassadors Year in Review

The Redeemer Ambassadors have now visited just shy of one fourth of the churches in SEPA Synod.

As we enter the 2012, we have some observations to share.

  • Attendance is challenged across the board. We attended many services with fewer people than Redeemer.
  • The Lutheran Church is aging. There are few children attending church and even fewer tweens and teens. A typical service at Redeemer had half the congregation under 18.
  • Hospitality is a challenge. Most congregations are friendly and say hello but generally few make any attempt to introduce themselves or engage visitors. This includes clergy.
  • There are many churches in interim, bridge or mission redevelopment ministries, which means that their ministries are monitored by the Synod to some extent. SEPA broke its interim ministry contract with Redeemer.
  • Worship style and communion practices differ from congregation to congregation.
  • Most congregations do not use hymnals but print comprehensive bulletins. Redeemer does too.
  • Racial and ethnic diversity is rare. Less than 10% of the congregations we visited had broad diversity. Redeemer is mixed both racially and culturally.
  • Languages other than English are rare as well. Redeemer is multilingual and our worship reflects this.
  • People love their congregations and are proud of who they are. So does Redeemer.
  • People feel little connection with the greater church. There is a sense that they are alone in ministry and that they cannot expect constructive help from their denomination. Synod had almost no contact with Redeemer for a decade. We feel the same way.
    Interesting aside: Several church consulting groups across the nation have published statistics that indicate that 75% of church members disapprove of their denominational leadership — with an additional 10-15% weighing in with “not sure” responses. This should be a cause of concern!
  • Most congregations need more leadership than they can afford the old-fashioned way. If congregations are to grow, the denomination needs to help them find creative and affordable solutions to leadership challenges. As it is, some congregations are doing this successfully on their own with impressive commitment from their lay leaders. Unfortunately, they sense that asking for help might bring the same kind of actions from Synod that Redeemer experienced.
  • Most churches have very little knowledge of their nearest neighboring Lutheran congregations and even less of those farther away. Redeemer was much like everyone else until we started our Ambassador’s program!

Ambassadors Visit Lutheran-Sponsored Home

The Ambassadors set out with the best of intentions to visit a church which supported a Lutheran Retirement Home where a friend of our congregation lives. Circumstances conspired against us. The Philadelphia Marathon blocked major roadways crossing the Schuylkill and we ended up being close to on time, but we don’t like being late.

Instead, we took a tour of Luther House in West Grove, Pa. Our friend has lived there for seven years and enjoys it immensely. She led our tour.

We also enjoyed a breakfast and planned our Christmas worship. We do not look forward to being locked out of our church for a THIRD Christmas, but we make the best of things. Redeemer remains a faithful congregation called to action — not just prayer.


St. Michael’s, Kensington
September 18, 2011

The Ambassadors made a lovely visit to St. Michael’s, Kensington this morning.

We were struck by the friendliness of the neighborhood before we walked through their doors. A member on her way to church offered to help us by taking our picture. All the traffic waited at the stop sign, allowing her time to get her bearings with our camera.

Most members stopped by our pew to say hello on their way into the sanctuary. The pastor (Rev. Marjorie Neal) was away, but the service was led by very capable lay people.

We thought they were passing the peace at the beginning of the service and so we were surprised when they seemed to be passing the peace a second time toward the end of the service. They explained, the first time is the “Welcome.”

LBW liturgy was used with numerous hymns from LBW and WOV.

The congregation uses a beautiful ground-floor chapel. The original sanctuary above is also beautiful but they told us it has not been used in a year. It is difficult to maintain. All we city churches know about that!

They had recently had a flea market and were planning for a big St. Michael’s Day celebration on the 25th to which they are inviting all the many groups who use their building.

They operate a Christian Day Care and were planning to send some of their youth on a mission trip to New Orleans. Their bulletin also mentioned a food pantry.

As one member gave us a tour of their sanctuary and building, the front doors and gate were locked. We had to walk the length of the building to the back door to get out. In doing so, we passed a group preparing for a meeting. They quipped, “That’s a change. You thought you were locked out. Now you are locked in!”

Ambassadors Visit Temple, Havertown
October 9, 2011

Havertown is between pastors as their pastor of seven years, Rev. Matt Staniz, resigned, leaving only three weeks ago. We encountered former Bishop Michael Merkel, who is serving as the congregation’s interim pastor. We are still astounded at how many churches we visit have interim ministries.

Chancel Mural, Temple, Havertown, Pa.

We were struck by the chancel art, a depiction of the violent scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, a reminder that the Christian path is not always lined with roses — even in a garden.

We attended the second service — the contemporary service at`10:45. A more traditional liturgy is used at the 8:30 service. From the statistics published in the bulletin, attendance at both is about equal and very similar to a typical Sunday at Redeemer. We enjoyed the “praise band” which included two guitars, keyboard, a drum, and two leading singing. They used many hymns, mostly newer hymns.

We didn’t get to talk to many people, but the church seemed friendly enough. They seemed to be engaged in a number of community projects. Their confirmands were looking for sponsors for a CROP walk, and other projects included putting together school kits, college care packages, and senior activities. Their bulletin advertised events at other churches as well.

We wish them well as they look for new leadership!

St. Matthew’s, Springfield
October 16 and 23, 2011

St. Matthew's, SpringfieidOur ambassadors visited St. Matthew’s in Springfield, Pa, twice. One ambassador visited October 16 and three of us visited yesterday. It wasn’t intentional; we just got our signals crossed.

We discovered a well-kept suburban church with all things in good order. The property, which they are about to renovate, seemed to be loved and cared for. The worship service was well-structured with good leadership. The congregation was quiet and attentive, which may seem like an odd observation, but many of the congregations we visit are “busy” with lots of moving around. The supply pastor, Rev. David Oppold, told us he was a member of the congregation and often supplied pulpits. He spoke movingly of his work with hospice patients and the privilege of conducting funerals.

The choir of about 15 was one of the largest choirs we encountered. Most churches we visit have no choir. It looked like a lay member led the children’s message which was well-attended. They also have a seminarian working with them, Laura Gorton.

The attendance at the worship service numbered about 80 or so.

The service contained a stewardship message as they are about to embark on a major renovation program. The plan is to raise a $200,000-$300,000 and borrow about one million. Their lay leader stood before the congregation and announced a program designed to encourage weekly gifts of $40.

We cannot help but contrast what we saw at St. Matt’s with our own experience.

A typical Redeemer worship service had an attendance of about one fourth that number . . . and we borrowed about one fourth of the amount they plan to borrow for the same purposes. Our leaders stood before our congregation and advocated for weekly gifts on a tiered basis — $15, $30 and $60 — and had seen improvement in giving. Redeemer’s renovations were absolutely necessary to moving our ministry forward as the working rooms like the kitchen had not been updated in 70 or more years. We did this in an atmosphere of steady membership growth (unlike most congregations in SEPA). The difference in our situation is SEPA leadership attempted to seize our assets, evict our congregation and sue our lay members.

We wish the people of St. Matthew’s better luck with their project!

Ambassadors Visit Augustus, Trappe

Posted on October 30, 2011

Redeemer’s Ambassadors planned a special Reformation outing today. We visited Augustus Lutheran Church, Trappe, another church in our region with family ties. The Fry family, descendants of the President of the predecessor body of the ELCA, is from this church and are closely related to several Redeemer members.

The church is also known for its ties to the Muhlenberg family, who played a huge role in the nurturing of the Lutheran Church in colonial and revolutionary times and into the 19th century.

The service was the best attended service we encountered, somewhere around 180, including more than 40 children, who were in worship for the first few minutes, sang “This Is the Day,” listened to a short children’s sermon and disappeared. It was moving to see so many children in church because children have been rare in our visits, with most churches having just a few and often none at all.

The choir sang a familiar anthem and as last week, included at least 15 voices. The service was quite traditional with assistants robed in cassock and cotta, something not often seen.

We were moved by the minister’s sermon. Rev. Warren Weleck spoke of the ongoing challenges faced by the church throughout the centuries and the many attempts of authorities to destroy the Lutheran Church — from the pope to Prussian princes to Nazi Germany. Still, he noted, it survives.

Redeemer knows something of the tactics he mentioned although the destruction we see is from within. That’s what Luther saw, too. We’ve seen our professional leaders intimidated to follow policies against their stated convictions. Our faithful members have been evicted from our property and banned from representation among fellow Lutherans — effectively excommunicated. Lock them out and shut them up is nothing new! We’ve seen denominational leaders hide behind First Amendment Separation of Church and State as they take one destructive action after another. While claiming immunity from the law, they use the full force of the courts to attack lay leaders. Yes, the Reformation Sermon was very meaningful to us!

It is true. The church must be ever vigilant and, like Martin Luther, we must speak up when we see wrong-doing. While Martin Luther’s leadership spurred reform, eventually a lot of the reform happened from within. That’s the Lutheran heritage — which to truly honor we must practice.

After church, we stopped by Ursinus’s Berman Museum of Art and took in the nice exhibit of Muhlenberg artifacts (open till December 10). Muhlenberg spent a good bit of his ministry as a negotiator of peace within the church. Another history lesson for today’s Lutherans.

It was a good Reformation Day for Redeemer!

Ambassadors Visit St. Peter’s, North Wales

Posted on November 14, 2011

Redeemer Ambassadors took our farthest Sunday visit to date to the suburban town of North Wales. We noticed on their web site that their traditional service times were changed for a united worship on Consecration Sunday. We did not know what a Consecration Sunday entailed but learned that it was Stewardship Sunday with a Dedication of Sunday School teachers ceremony. This is the second Stewardship Sunday we encountered. St. Peter’s made the day very hands-on and participatory.

The sanctuary was packed. All the church choirs were robed and singing, including a young children’s choir, a girl’s vocal group and an adult choir. The groups sang separately and in a combined anthem featuring a song Redeemer sings each week as our offertory — Asante Sane Jesu or I Am Thanking Jesus. We noticed that their women and girl voices outnumbered males by a huge margin — something like 10 to 1 and that made us appreciate the work of our East Falls Community Choir, hosted by Redeemer, and the influence of the Keystone State Boychoir on our boy singers.

A guest speaker, Rev. Karl Krueger of the Philadelphia Seminary, spoke on stewardship. Pastor Wagner led the worship and we couldn’t help but notice that although the sanctuary held at least 100 people, he seemed to have a personal connection with each worshiper. He welcomed us to their fellowship dinner, which was a feast of ethnic foods. We were fortunate to sit with another guest, the Rev. Jonathan Shin and his wife. He is new to the Synod and will be working with the Synod Mission Developer, something Redeemer was once promised by SEPA Synod but was never allowed.

The youth led a quiz on the life of Muhlenberg. Our Ambassadors were well prepared with the answers as we had visited Muhlenberg’s home church two weeks before and had taken a field trip to the Muhlenberg exhibit at Ursinus College.

The most meaningful part of the service to us was the dedication of the Sunday School teachers. Pastor Wagner had a student offer a blessing for each teacher which was very moving. Our Ambassadors often talk about the influence of the Sunday School teachers in our lives. Their names are offered in remembrance at each All Saints Sunday. As the ceremony progressed, youngest child to oldest child, we were able to replace the faces of the strangers before us with the memory of our own teachers.

Our 34th Ambassadors visit was truly memorable.

Ambassadors Visit St. Michael’s, Unionville

St. Michael, UnionvilleSecond time’s the charm. Last week we set out to visit St. Michael, Unionville, and ran into multiple detours and road blocks. We returned this week and experienced no problems.

St. Michael’s appears to be a thriving congregation that relocated to a 7-acre rural lot about 25 years ago and has undergone some major expansion projects since. We entered an unusual sanctuary, much wider than long. Attendance on this Thanksgiving weekend was probably a little over 100, although we didn’t tally.

Their worship was traditional with an LBW liturgy. A hostess explained after the service that the choir had a week off in preparation for the busy holiday season to come. Two members sang a beautiful duet. They introduced one new Advent hymn and used several other more traditional Advent hymns.

Their new associate pastor gave a nice sermon and children’s sermon and blessed the work of their knitters and crocheters who had made prayer shawls. They seemed to be in the midst of a stewardship drive — seems to be that time of year!

We also heard a talk from a son of the congregation involved in mission work in Mexico. He talked about taking an ethnocentric approach to spreading the Gospel and noted that their were 8000 ethnic groups or “nations” waiting to hear the Good News. He claimed that the Gospel is often best shared in setting geared to individual ethnic traditions. We talked with him extensively after the service and shared our multicultural approach.

We talked to several members after church and learned a good deal about their ministry experiences.

We inquired about their new web site project which we had reviewed before attending.

We had a delightful visit and enjoyed sharing our story and learning from theirs.