Church #24, Holy Spirit Lutheran (ELCA)

Date: 1/20/13

Church name/type: Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America)

Format summary: I will fill this in later…I can be lazy once in a while, I’m allowed.

Overall Impression: wonderful

To start with I want to make note that although this denomination has Evangelical in the name it doesn’t feel very “Evangelical”. Let me explain, in case you didn’t get that. In my mind, if someone told me a group or person was Evangelical Christian, I’d immediately have an idea about them. They shout loudly during sermons, they expect you to say “amen” after every sentence, they are pushy, they want you to be ‘saved’, they think a very specific list of things will get you out of hell and outside that list you are screwed.
Well this church is nothing like that. ELCA will ordain gay ministers and sanction gay marriage- something a close friend assures me quotational “Evangelicals” would never do. For Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, evangelizing means spreading the good news. The good news in this church seems to be welcome, come one in, we like you as you are.

Now that the nomenclature is out of the way, I’ll tell you all the stuff I liked about this church. I arrived rather early and was the first in the sanctuary. A man greeted me and asked how I had found the church, which of course prompted me to mention my project. He reacted positively and asked if it was a school project. (This is a really common question because I look young) I told him it was a personal project and he smiled and welcomed me. Next the pastor greeted me, then, with no knowledge of me besides my name, he invited me to take communion during the worship. And he said there’d be choice of either wine or juice. I’ve never taken communion where there was a choice. Communion itself was also exciting in that I got to again kneel at a rail and get the wafer right on my tongue. How do pastors do that without ever missing?

Every part of service gave me reasons to feel nice about this church. The service had formal parts reminiscent of a Catholic Church, but was so relaxed you didn’t feel pressure to get it all right. The bulletin was easy to follow with most of the songs and even the singsong chanted words in musical notation. Behind me was a younger woman taking care of an older woman in a wheelchair. In front of me was a woman who didn’t seem to realize greeting time was over, explaining to her seat mates that peace is really two fingers together instead of apart like a V. (I think she may have been mentally disabled but highly functional.) The two women sitting with her just said, “Ok sit down now.” No one acted like it was a problem or unusual. Directly in front of me was a woman with two kids. She apologized to me before they’d even done anything, but not in an exasperated way. Just like, shrug smile- they’re kids, they wiggle! I like kids and they were fine. In one of the sections where the congregation said prayer together, we prayed that those taking care of animals continue to have the sense if responsibility in that. We prayed for those who are homeless, and were told how to donate to a shelter supported by the church. The back page of the bulletin was an extensive list of anything you might want to know as a visitor: bathrooms, gluten issues, kids area, inclusion of all in taking communion. Printed material means a lot to me and can often be a reflection if how much attention a church is willing to give those walking through its doors. Holy Spirit Lutheran did a superb job on both accounts.

After service I dawdled a bit as usual to see if new people would greet me. My first greeter came back to let me know about food in the room down the hall. Once there I also had a woman greet me and strike up a similar conversation, what brought me here, where did I live? She thought the pastor and visiting bishop might like to hear about my project so I also got to talk with them. Yeah, on top of all the other cool stuff, I got to meet a bishop. This is one of those weeks where my project makes me so happy. This church has the best vibe and I think I’ve found another denomination to love.

Notes to self: Learn more about wine, juice and how the cup is interpreted by the various denominations.

5 Replies to “Church #24, Holy Spirit Lutheran (ELCA)”

  1. Tracey –
    I really enjoyed meeting you and have told several folks about your project. I enjoyed reading your blog. I’m delighted that you felt welcome at Holy Spirit and that it had a good vibe. If ever I can be of help to you – in prayer or your spiritual life or answering questions or whatever – just let me know and I’ll do what I can.

    Grace and peace,
    Marie Jerge, Bishop, Upstate NY Synod, ELCA

    1. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on prayer. It’s one of the subjects I’ve been trying to work out. I don’t always know what to make of the nature of prayer. I wrote a post in November called “I don’t get prayer”. If you feel like jumping in with a response I’d like that. Or we could talk by email.

  2. Hello Tracey,
    I’ve been checking out your blog because Bishop Marie (or Mama Bish) as we call her, mentioned it in her report to the Synod Council. What an interesting project to undertake! Your writing is so expressive and really gives a feel for what you experienced at the different churches. I feel like I visited them myself.

    Since I am very involved in mine (St. Timothy Lutheran, North Greenbush – where my husband was pastor for 31 years) I am getting lots of good ideas about what TO do and what NOT to do to welcome visitors. I may steal some of your experiences and use them! I like the idea of explaining about bread and wine (we use both regular bread and gluten free wafers as needed and only serve non-alcoholic wine! But who would know?)

    I’m glad you enjoyed Holy Spirit. Good folks there.

    Re: “Evangelical” in the name of our church. Back 25 years ago when the ELCA was formed by the joining of the Lutheran Church in America (geographically eastern US and German by background) and the American Lutheran Church (geographically Midwest and Scandinavian by background) the church voted to “take back” the word evangelical from the right wing Christians who had usurped the word for their own purposes. Evangel = gospel = good news. All Christians should be evangelicals spreading the good news of Jesus!

    I look forward to reading your blog often!

    1. Marilyn,
      Feel free to use my experiences to improve! That’s partly why I keep the blog. Sometimes it’s difficult for those within a church to realize shortcomings and figure out how to make things better. It’s my hope that the criticisms I make can help change local faith groups into better versions of themselves, at the same time as I’m becoming a better version of me. That way everybody wins!

  3. March 21, 2013

    Blog correspondence:

    Tracey Fountain

    Dear Tracey,

    How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who
    announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who
    says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ – Isaiah 52:7

    Because I know how much notes of encouragement and support have meant to me over the years, I take time, when I can, to write such notes to others. As part of my personal devotions I watch for and record signs of hope that I see. This has helped me to focus on God’s activity around me as a counterpoint to the negative energy I see in our world and even in our church. You have been one such sign of hope.

    Tracey, it was a delight to meet you at Holy Spirit, Albany back in January. I was equally thrilled that your experience at Holy Spirit was one of welcome. You have claimed for yourself a fascinating task in visiting congregations. I can only hope that you will continue to learn about the many aspects of the love of God through your visits. I appreciated our conversation, especially about what it means to be evangelical in our time. I believe that being evangelical means being centered in the love of Christ for the world and the grace of God, not some rigid set of rules and regulations. It was fun to have a conversation about it. I pray that your churchproject will draw you ever closer to the holy one who gave his own life just to show you how much he loves you. If there is ever any way that I can be of service, please feel free to contact me.

    I give thanks to God for you today and for our partnership in the gospel. My prayers are filled with thanksgiving and hope. I trust that you are being blessed day by day by the grace and mercy of God. As we move more deeply into the Lenten season, I pray that you will know the blessing of walking in the way Jesus Christ.

    Grace and peace,
    Marie C. Jerge, Bishop


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