That’s a joke about how insular Lutherans are reputed to be. You know, the only church plants most Lutherans are known for are the kind donated at Easter. Outreach is usually limited to that extra stretch when passing the offering plate to someone at the far end of the pew. Witnessing is something you do in court. Evangelization means not taking the Lord’s name in vain more than once a day. Ecumenism is wishing a WELS coworker a Merry Christmas.
But that was then. This is now. No, this is now. No—this, this right now, is now. Wait—this…dammit…
In any event, meet Matt Popovits, “lead pastor” of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Rego Park. That’s in Queens, the NYC borough no one talks about. (No, wait, that’s Staten Island.) Now the reason this church caught my eye was that I lived a stoner’s throw from OS back in the late 90s and again in 2006. In fact, when I came back to the Lutheran church in ’06*, that was one of the first churches I checked out, having not darkened an LCMS door for a couple of decades.
I found that first Our Saviour experience very moving. In fact, after my very first divine service, I remember telling my wife, “We have to move.”
The service began with a puppet show, led by the senior pastor, who proceeded to walk up and down the aisle interacting with the congregation as if he were in flight attendant hustling cashews. There was nothing of the liturgy I had grown up with. I simply didn’t recognize this as a distinctively Lutheran church. It reminded me of more than a few evangelical churches, however.
I would have quite a few dispiriting experiences with NYC LCMS churches. I finally found one, Redeemer, out in Bayside (also Queens), that was solid: the old DS3 liturgy; the Revised Standard Version Bible (the one Jesus and the Apostles used); profound, resonant preaching; and Communion so closed, even the pastor wasn’t allowed to receive.
Of course, it was 2010 and I was just about to leave New York for good.
Listen to Pastor Popvits’s story here.** He tells about how he came to New York and “replanted” the Our Saviour church on 63rd Drive, which had been around for 90 years. Our Saviour now has a Midtown “parish,” too, that offers an evening service at Church for All Nations, on West 57th Street. (I attended services there also for a time. I’ll leave it at that.)
So I watched one of the OS Rego Park services that stream live and, frankly, was very disappointed to see that the liturgy was as nonexistent as a Baptist walking the Stations of the Cross. It’s a “contemporary” service (awful name—as if the liturgy were obsolete or archaic) with a band. A band. Like on The Tonight Show.
The preaching is lively and Christ-focused, however. Pastor Popovits comes across as a congenial and engaging sort, and I have no doubt he will attract the yutes. I have no idea what happened to the “old” OS congregation—or the pastor, for that matter. They may all be dead or gone Episcopalian (same thing). There’s an 11am service coming to the Rego Park parish—will that provide a traditional liturgy?
Anyway, Popvitz & Co. are obviously seeking to provide a vital confessional Lutheran presence in a city that has seen Redeemer Presbyterian attract 5-6,000 attendees per Sunday—and that’s in Manhattan alone, not counting sister churches and church plants around the rest of the city, including Queens.
But this is not how I’d go about it. I would raise up a new generation of Lutherans soaked in the old Matins/Holy Communion liturgies such that they would be able to sing or recite them by heart on their lunch hour. Such a foundation links the generations, not only of Lutherans but also of Christians, as the old Lutheran liturgy retained elements dating back to the Middle Ages. It’s beautiful, rousing, and rife in biblical imagery. Why would you settle for an order of service that looks and sounds like a thousand others? You’re passing on the Italian White Alba Truffles and opting for dill pickles…
Ah, but what do I know… Perhaps this approach will prove a gateway drug to the heavy-duty stuff. I wish OS and Pastor Popovits well. (Follow him on the Twizzler here.) Perhaps I’ll stop in next time I’m in New York. I’ll be the guy yelling, “Divine Setting 3 or death!”
*Ignore the date on the FIRST THINGS post. It was originally written in June 2006. The date that graces the post now no doubt reflects when the third FT website went live and the post had all its paragraph breaks restored.