For as long as I’ve been a Christian (which is my whole life since I was baptized as a baby), I’ve been Lutheran.
Growing up and living as a member of the Lutheran Church has influenced my life in countless ways, some I am just beginning to realize as a woman in her 40s.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which has given me a chance to consider, challenge, and reflect on how being Lutheran has changed my life.
Growing Up Lutheran
I grew up in a Midwestern town in Illinois where being Lutheran was deeply woven into life. My father (born in 1937) accepted any Lutheran teaching and practice as if gospel truth. His parents’ parents immigrated to the United States from Germany and spoke only German all their lives.
I deeply respect my father and the traits he instilled in me like faithfulness, the importance of family, and how to have an incredibly strong work ethic. Yet along with those he believed that black people are to be avoided, Catholics are going to hell, and no matter what you do, do not bring home a boyfriend with long hair and an earring. My mom (who was raised Disciples of Christ and became a member of the Lutheran church before they got married) tried to influence his thinking in more accepting directions, but my dad was as stubborn as they come. I inherited that stubbornness, too.
Being Lutheran was more of an accepted aspect of life in our family rather than a decision. Babies were baptized into the Lutheran church. Church attendance was expected, and you sat in the same pew every week. Everyone else did too. The service was the same every week and most people had it memorized, rarely cracking open a hymnal or bulletin to follow along, except for the songs.
I attended Lutheran day school from Kindergarten through 8th grade, without my parents paying tuition because it was part of church membership. My experience in Lutheran day school was excellent. I attended the Lutheran School Association which was a loving community where nurturing and teaching the Bible were valued. I’m sure there were politics within the school structure, but as a child I was largely immune to any of that. My mom volunteered on a regular basis so I felt secure in knowing my family thought the school and teachers were valued.
In middle school, the entire school took a week off for Winterim, which was a week of fun classes like decoupage, wood working, calligraphy, and bowling. Winterim was fabulous.
I was confirmed in eighth grade, making my public announcement of officially accepting the teachings of God and the Lutheran church, thus becoming an adult member of the church. Confirmation is a big deal. Kids study the Bible and catechism for 1-3 years before being confirmed, and the confirmation ritual typically involves standing up in front of the church and answering questions or sharing a written essay of faith.
Confirmation is one of those rites of passage that many of us go through because it’s what you do, and honestly I can say it means more to me now than it did at the time. I’ve come to understand standing up at Confirmation means pledging that you not only believe but would be willing to die for your faith. At the time, most of us pre-teens were mostly excited by the fact that we got to take communion now with wine.
I attended a public high school because there wasn’t a Christian one besides the Catholic high school (which was too expensive plus we didn’t do Catholic stuff). After growing up in a small Lutheran school, attending a public school of 3,000 kids was like being thrown to the wolves. I managed to survive high school but it was rarely a pleasant experience.
Two absolutely pivotal aspects of my high school years were the youth program at my church led by a wonderful youth leader (who I am still friends with today), and my involvement in a teen evangelism program called Ongoing Ambassadors for Christ (OAFC).
During youth group activities I developed a group of Christian friends and I learned to incorporate my faith into my daily life.
OAFC taught me how to boldly share my faith. We met together for monthly local events at area churches and in the summers we gathered for a week of Summer Training. Being around other kids who actually thought it was cool to share your faith deeply solidified mine. As part of OAFC we went door to door witnessing. (And yes, we were Christians, not Jehovah Witnesses or Mormon.) I’m not sure how much we brought people to Jesus, but it taught me to be be able to speak my faith clearly and boldly, and I’m forever thankful for that.
At an OAFC Summer Training, I met the boy who is now the man who is my husband, so I have OAFC to thank for that, too.
When it came time to attend college, choosing a Lutheran college seemed like a natural choice, and I honestly didn’t look at any others. My original plan was to attend Concordia River Forest, but my then-boyfriend-now-husband asked me to consider attending Concordia University Wisconsin. Most of my friends thought I was crazy to switch colleges for a guy and that I was making a terrible mistake, but I proved them wrong in the end by marrying him.
College was like a return to my Lutheran day school roots on a bigger scale. I loved college and thrived there, graduating with a Lutheran and public school teaching degree.
Choosing to be Lutheran
That guy I married was studying to be a pastor, so if there was ever a decision that cemented my plans to be a life-long Lutheran, it was that one. Some women agonize over the choice of marrying a pastor, but it was barely a blip on my radar. Ministry and faith were such an integral part of my life so this seemed a logical step. Plus, I was head over heels in love with a fabulous guy. If anything I thought marrying a soon-to-be pastor was cool, considering my circle of influence. (Love is naive, what can I say?)
My husband attended the Seminary and we had a one year vicarage at a church in Kansas. Today, we have been in ministry for almost 20 years and served at 3 different churches.
Life as a pastor’s wife is not exactly typical, but I have been blessed that overall it’s been a great experience. Ministry is humbling, challenging, and always we are growing.
Our denomination is Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which matters when you are in the Lutheran church as deep as we are. In this hilarious Cheers episode, Woody learns that his bride-to-be is ELCA instead of LCMS and isn’t sure he can marry her. How this slipped into the writing of Cheers I have no idea, but it’s so spot-on it’s a bit spooky.
Christian Belief as a Lutheran
As I have looked back at the Reformation over these last weeks, it’s brought me a new awareness of why the Lutheran Church is as it is.
Like studying your family ancestry, you learn aspects that are positive, aspects that are negative, and some that simply are. Each one brings awareness.
Here is a link to the doctrine of the Lutheran church if you want to read more in depth about what our church teaches and believes.
Click here to read the continuation of this post: On Being Lutheran, including what I see as the strengths and growth areas for the Lutheran church.
Did you grow up Lutheran or another denomination? How was your experience similar or different? Share in the comments below.
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