by Andrew F. Weisner (March / April 2001 • Volume 17 • Number 2)
Our colleges and universities provide a variety of opportunities to help sustain students' spiritual lives. One of our ELCA schools, Lenoir-Rhyne College, takes its cue from our rich Word and sacrament heritage
Some of us at Lenoir-Rhyne College of Hickory, North Carolina, have been engaged in conversation on the topic of spirituality. This article is a proposal of sorts — a "proposal by example" — describing the college pastor's current effort toward spiritual formation and engagement with the broad topic of "spirituality."
(Some months after our current effort toward spiritual formation had begun, we were pleased to read the document unanimously approved by the faculty at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, "Spirituality and Spiritual Formation," which provides a theoretical framework for our approach to "spirituality" at Lenoir-Rhyne.)
At the outset we must consider: to what kind of spirituality shall we attend? I recall, from 25 years ago, a cultural interest in Transcendental Meditation ("TM"), a part of Asian-Indian spirituality. Ten to 15 years ago some people were interested in crystals, rocks, trees, and chanting and dancing in the forests under the moonlight.
To become more specific, there is "Christian spirituality" but even here, there is variety. For instance, the spirituality which Baptist Christians practice is different from Eastern Orthodox Christian practice. So the question for us becomes, what kind of spirituality shall we practice and promote at a Lutheran college?
There is a specifically Lutheran spirituality. It is not uniquely Lutheran, because Christians of other traditions practice styles of spirituality similar to it. But there is a "Lutheran form," which is readily accessible to any seeker and easily encountered on our campus.
The "building blocks"or rather, the foundationfor this Lutheran form of spirituality are found in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and the Augsburg Fortress supplementary worship resource, With One Voice.
Martin Luther's great and popular hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" concludes with this verse,
God's Word forever shall abide,
no thanks to foes who fear it;
For God himself fights by our side
with weapons of the Spirit.
What, exactly, are these "weapons of the Spirit"? They are the preaching of the Word of God (i.e., preaching Jesus Christ); baptism; confession and forgiveness (cf. LBW, page 196); the Holy Eucharist; daily prayer; and the singing of "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19).
These are the foundation for a "Lutheran spirituality." In The Small Catechism, we read that Luther exhorts and intends the faithful to observe all these activities (except singing. Luther does not mention "singing" in the catechism, yet he obviously considered singing to be valuable, since he composed so many hymns, liturgical and otherwise, for the people's use).
These practices are to be observed and taught in the family and in schools.
The ministry of the gospel at Lenoir-Rhyne employs all these "weapons" in our effort to shape Christian identity and encourage and provide for spiritual formation. We do so, practically and concretely, by offering these opportunities:
(1) Every Wednesday, at 10 a.m., is our community chapel service. This occasion is usually a proclamation of the Word with hymns and prayers. Sometimes we use an order for singing Morning Prayer (Matins), composed by Dr. Paul Weber, of our music department. But even then, there is usually a proclamation of the Word, and always prayers.
Four times a year, the Holy Eucharist is celebrated at this Wednesday service, thus contributing in various ways to the participants' spiritual development. Always at these services, music, in its finest Lutheran form, sung by congregation and/or choir, "lifts our spirits."
(2) Each week that school is in session, the Holy Eucharist is celebrated every day, Monday through Friday, at 3 p.m., in a small chapel in the campus ministry office building (known as Koinonia House, or "K-House"). Lutheran theology is clear and abundant on this point: "the body and blood of Christ are truly present and are distributed to those who eat in the Supper of the Lord" (Augsburg Confession, art. X; cp. Small Catechism, art. VI).
I have found in the Lutheran Confessions three references to the Reformers' daily celebration of the Eucharist. Two are in Luther's Large Catechism: from "The Sacrament of the Altar" (V, 24) we read "The Lord's Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh and strengthen itself and not weaken in (our) struggle but grow continually stronger."
And in section 39, Luther writes: "(N)ow that we have the right interpretation and doctrine of the sacrament, there is great need also of an admonition and entreaty that so great a treasure, which is daily administered and distributed among Christians, may not be heedlessly passed by. What I mean is that those who claim to be Christians should prepare themselves to receive this blessed sacrament frequently."
In the Apology to the Augsburg Confession (article 24, section 49), in a rather polemical paragraph against their opponents, Melanchthon states that "the proclamation of the Gospel and the proper use of the sacraments" the Reformers still keep as "the daily sacrifice."
Through the Eucharist, we are celebrating the incarnate presence of the Lord together. The students who attend this liturgy and I have grown closer to each other through our prayers together; yet more importantly, we have all grown closer to God. How could we not? In the Eucharist, we receive the incarnate God himself! Certainly we will grow closer to him, by receiving into ourselves the very body of Christ — Love himself! — giving himself to be received into our bodies, to give us his forgiveness and love.
Another purpose for our gathering is to pray, in the presence of Christ the sacrament, for our college president; our local bishop; Bishop George Anderson; for the pastors and churches of our synod; for the Lenoir-Rhyne faculty, staff, and students; friends of Lenoir-Rhyne; and specific needs as they become known to us.
I have told students: "If you have a great semester, the prayers of those who prayed for you is one of the reasons why. And, who knows? If you did not have such a great semester, maybe it was people's prayers for you which kept it from being worse!"
(3) Every weekday, while school is in session, we hold a daily prayer for about 15 minutes in the Prayer Chapel in the Student Center at 12:10 p.m., using Responsive Prayer 2 (LBW, p. 164). Just as Luther recommends in his Small Catechism, the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer are said, and prayers are offered for special concerns and brought to the college pastor's attention.
Over the course of each week, we pray for every student enrolled at Lenoir-Rhyne by name. Besides the chief benefit of simply approaching Christ in prayer with the promise that we are heard and that Christ will respond, there is another benefit of this prayer time. Students, passing in and out of the Student Center through the door beside the Chapel, see the college pastor and others praying, and know that they are being prayed for.
(4) Thursday, at 10 p.m., we have a Bible study and informal Eucharist in the Student Center Prayer Chapel. We may spend weeks on even brief New Testament writings, reading them chapter-by-chapter and discussing details. After we have read and discussed the Scriptures, and then prayed for God's blessing for ourselves and others, we conclude by receiving Christ, the Word, in the Sacrament.
(5) Another opportunity for spiritual formation is our PATHWAY Spiritual Renewal retreat, held each fall and spring. This retreat, initiated by a former Lenoir-Rhyne chaplain, is modeled after the Via de Christo (also known as Cursillo) retreats. It regularly includes students from Lenoir-Rhyne and the Lutheran Student Association at near-by Appalachian State University.
The retreat's popularity has also drawn students from many state universities and private colleges in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Capital University in Ohio, which now has its own PATHWAY Retreat.
Students leave campus for the retreat center on Friday afternoon and return Sunday afternoon. The central feature of the retreat is short "talks" given by students regarding God's presence and activity in their lives. These are followed by discussions, skits, and songs.
Small Group Fellowships
(6) "Small group" fellowships for Bible study, prayer, and singing are another important place for spiritual formation. Groups meeting weekly include the Baptist Student Union, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Lutheran Student Movement, Methodists Fellowship, and the (Roman Catholic) Newman Club.
We have Bible studies led by students in our residence halls, and sometimes, Bible study groups composed of Lenoir-Rhyne faculty and/or staff members.
(7) And, finally, of great significance to spiritual formation is the importance of our local congregations. When faculty and staff role-models and students' peers participate in Sunday worship and activities in local churches, this has a vital, lasting effect on our students' character and spiritual development.
During my years of ministry at Lenoir-Rhyne College, prayer has become one of the most important things I do. I carry with me constantly a "Prayer List," and I am approached by faculty, staff, and students of varying (and sometimes, surprising) types, asking me to pray for them or a friend or family member.
Prayer requests come by e-mail and telephone voice-mail. I have been asked to visit and pray for sports teams as they load onto a van to go away to a game; team members and coaches also say prayers at the start of and in the midst of athletic contests. Apparently, many of our students respect and participate in prayer.
Whether or not they participate in other opportunities for spiritual development, I remain hopeful that, if the students are open to prayer, they eventually will seek more. And if they begin to seek God while on our campus, there is available to them opportunities and "building blocks" which have been used for centuries for deeper, richer spirituality.
The items I have mentioned above are the fundamentals for building spiritualityparticularly, a Lutheran spirituality. Experience has shown me that, by no means is it Lutherans alone who learn and benefit from these offerings on our campus.
For example, one of our students, who is not Lutheran but frequently attends the daily Eucharist and other offerings, said to me, "I doubt that, when I leave Lenoir-Rhyne, I will remain in my previous tradition."
It is not, and has not been, my intent to "steal" students away from other religious traditions. But if they have found something at Lenoir-Rhyne, in this incarnational and sacramental approach to faith and spirituality, I can understand why some may look for the same after they have graduated and moved on.
Therefore, I hope and pray that our congregations will remain faithful to our confessional tradition, to the message and the means of grace which proclaim that the risen Jesus is now alive, and present among us.
Music and styles of worship, often discussed in articles and at worship and evangelism conferences, are, according to my experience, "adiaphora," i.e., non-essential. Among the Eucharists celebrated at Wednesday Chapel services last year, one of them included a Dixieland band, while another used Gregorian Chant. Positive responses were received from many people after both worship services.
On evaluation forms for our Pathway Retreats, worship continually gets the highest marks. It is done in a make-shift chapel, using "renewal music" (sometimes called "praises and choruses") and an abbreviated liturgy which includes proper liturgical vestments and an entire Eucharistic prayer. While the setting and music do much to help create a certain atmosphere, what matters most is bold proclamation — through words and actions — that we are in the presence of the holy, awesome God, who has power over life and death, and who, raised from the dead, is now actually among us, giving us his blessing, his body and blood, and intends a particular purpose and direction for our lives.
Young people are looking for something, or Someone, to whom they can commitor even, abandonthemselves. Talk of spirituality and efforts toward spiritual formation at our Lutheran colleges should tell them about, show them, and both sacramentally and incarnationally, give them Jesus.
Andrew F. Wiesner is college pastor at Lenoir-Rhyne College, an ELCA school in Hickory, North Carolina.