Three congregations tell about their intentional worship focus on members' everyday callings. Their efforts affirm God's valuing of the ordinary as extraordinary.
One of the more active members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Overland Park, Kansas, gets up early on the Sunday mornings he serves as an assisting minister to read the morning newspaper. He then incorporates what he reads into the prayers during worship. Not only is he doing due diligence to his task in helping lead worship, but he also wants people to realize that their prayer lives are connected to the world around them.
Likewise, David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, says that when he begins a discussion about vocation, or a Christian's ministry in daily life, he often begins with a question regarding the daily newspaper. Lose will ask, "What part of the newspaper would God be most interested in?" The most frequent answer he receives is "religion" or "faith and life." However, Lose says, the correct answer is that God would be interested in the whole paper, everything we are doing in our daily lives and that is happening in the world, even the most mundane.
This particular assisting minister would likely answer Lose's question correctly. However, the average Lutheran may have a hard time understanding his or her role as a minister in daily life. Lose says that most Lutherans will have rarely heard or thought about the idea that their vocational callings are fulfilled through work, volunteering, or time spent with an elderly parent or a young child.
"It is incredibly empowering for the local congregation to lift up the ordinary roles of our lives and say none of this is ordinary. It is extraordinarily uplifting to hear that God's grace is poured out through all these ordinary things," Lose says.
The challenge for congregations then becomes how to successfully prepare members to understand their vocational callings. In what follows, three congregations, from Pennsylvania, Kansas, and North Dakota, chronicle how they have worked toward this goal by incorporating the teaching of vocation into the act of worship.
Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, Emmaus, Pennsylvania
The organizational chart at Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, is in the shape of an inverted pyramid, with members at the top and pastors at the bottom. The congregation grounds their mission in the priesthood of all believers, and, based on that core value, members know that their baptism makes them all ministers, not only the pastors and church staff.
Pam Bonina, director of faith formation for adults, says that because they have only an hour in a given week dedicated to worship, the congregation occasionally challenges members to consider the question: What is my ministry in the world?
"It is really critical that people understand that church and worship are about more than one hour or one day a week and they can carry what they learn all week long," said Bonina.
Teaching vocation is a fundamental part of worship at Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit. One of the ways they have done this is by affirming occupational callings during worship. To take this fairly common practice one step further, as the congregation honored various occupations, members were asked to bring in the instruments of their trade during the week that their occupation was affirmed. These visual aids proved to be highly successful in helping members better understand how ministry is done in occupations other than their own.
To further lift up ministry in daily life, the congregation has held a special worship service centered on vocation. For the service, members submitted pictures of themselves doing ministry in the world. These were featured in a PowerPoint slide show during this special worship service, which was held after a regular Sunday morning worship and followed by a luncheon.
Last year, Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit took this another step by honoring vocation during a Labor Day worship service. The event even included a special liturgy that affirmed all workers. During worship, small index cards were distributed and members were asked to share where they do ministry. Answers varied from "in my office" or "in the classroom" to "on the playground" or "in my home." The cards were then posted on a bulletin board for the congregation to see.
It is incredibly empowering for the local church to lift up the ordinary roles of our lives and say none of this is ordinary.
The worship services, along with Bible studies and other events tied to vocation, are all helping the congregation better understand their daily ministry callings. "In worship, we have done a lot to really lift up that your job is part of your witness. No matter what your job is, it is worthwhile... Every job is important and you have worth no matter what your vocation is," said Vi Ballard, a member of the congregation.
"Because of what I've learned, if people at work say something to me like, 'pray for me,' I know that I can do that and I don't have to feel uncomfortable saying that."
Ballard, who works as a traveling nurse, says she now has a better understanding of her vocational calling and she feels comfortable and empowered to pray for her patients before going to visit them, especially if she thinks the visit may be especially difficult.
"Having heard at church that our job is part of our witness, I now feel supported to go out on a limb and support people in a Christian manner," she says.
Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Overland Park, Kansas
When it came time for Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Overland Park, Kansas, to rebuild their sanctuary, a key element of the design was to put the baptismal font in a place of prominence. As people enter, they are visibly reminded of their baptism. And, as they leave, they will again see the baptismal font and the windows that surround it, a physical reminder that as one leaves the doors of the church, they are called to go out and do God's work in the world.
Importantly, each worship service begins and ends at the baptismal font. Pastor Michael Peck says that this format reminds members that "they are called to be God's people in the world, to live lives with God's structure in the world."
Baptism is not only central to this congregation symbolically but also literally. Since the congregation is fairly young, a baptismal service occurs nearly every week. The congregation plays an important role in each service, as they are reminded to help the baptized child grow in his or her faith.
"This is meaningful to me," says Kathie Walter, a Holy Cross member. "Instead of just going through the motions of baptism, it reminds me that I have a job here."
Through their worship format, members are regularly reminded of their vocational callings. To drive the message home, services often celebrate significant vocational changes. One such change is a driver's license blessing. During the blessing, the new teen drivers are told that they now hold a tremendous responsibility, and each new driver is given a special key chain to remind them that they are called to be responsible stewards each time they get behind the wheel.
The congregation also does backpack blessing services at the beginning of each school year, including prayers for all who work in education. At the end of each year, a blessing is held for graduates. Peck says these education-related blessings are the one time of the year Holy Cross lifts up a particular profession.
Along with the special blessing services, the regular worship services remind members that their vocation is in all realms of their life, and that it will look different in their home, school, and workplace. "Too many people think it is their job, and it is larger than that," Peck says.
The worship structure at Holy Cross has helped members see this larger picture. Walter says, "A lot of people identify themselves by their occupation. I think through the preaching, the prayers, the liturgy, people see that I am much more than what I do eight-to-five."
Calvary Lutheran Church, Grand Forks, North Dakota
Pastor Roger Dykstra of Calvary Lutheran in Grand Forks, North Dakota, finds that the ministries of two familiar biblical characters offer an understanding of God's daily work in our lives. "Peter was called from his daily work to fish for people. Zacchaeus was called to go do ministry, but do it differently. This is a helpful distinction. Peter was called to fish for people, but some people are called to fish for fish."
Whether they are called to fish for people or fish for fish, members of Calvary seem to generally understand the concept of ministry in daily life. "Your vocation is your calling. In your daily life, you are in your calling," says Brian Harris, a member of the congregation.
That sense of vocation has found its way into the lifeline of the congregation. "We've all preached that sermon many times — that you are the church — people seem to have that in their DNA around here," says Dykstra.
Because helping members understand their vocational callings was important to Calvary, the congregation partnered with Luther Seminary's Centered Life Initiative, a process that equips congregations to connect faith and daily life, Sunday and Monday. Here Calvary discovered their own strengths and weaknesses in the area of vocation. Based on these findings, they designed their worship services, along with their broader offerings, to bridge the gaps.
Calvary also offered a six-week worship series titled "Called by God," which challenged members to listen for God's claim upon their lives. The congregation was then asked to think of ways they do ministry in their daily lives and to consider how God works through them to fulfill God's purpose. A particularly effective element of the series was a panel discussion in which members lifted up how they do ministry each day in their occupations. Other weeks the sermons lifted up the importance of prayer, answering God's call, and finding ways to connect their Sunday lives to their Monday lives.
But, the congregation knew more had to be done than a short worship series dedicated to vocational callings. "Faith and life includes public worship, but we want them to go deeper," says Dykstra.
Go deeper they did. Members were given the opportunity to connect their weekly Sunday worship to their daily lives by creating an e-mail service called "The Daily World." This daily e-mail offers a Bible verse and short prayer, each written by a congregation member.
Dykstra is quick to point out that while Calvary has learned a lot and has already made many changes, both large and small, they still have much work to do. However, based on what they learned from the Centered Life vocational assessment, Dykstra is dedicated to continuing the process, saying "Taking a couple steps in the right direction, that's worth trying."
Laura Kaslow is a communication specialist at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. Special thanks to Sally Peters, director, and the staff of Centered Life at Luther Seminary for providing assistance in the development of this article. Centered Life helps people connect their faith to their daily lives. It is a nondenominational initiative begun in 1999 by Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, write to Centered Life, c/o Luther Seminary, 2481 Como Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108. (651) 641-3353, www.centeredlife.org.
This article appeared in the September / October 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners (vol. 25, no. 5).