Pearl River For some years when he was still going to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church where he was raised, and where he raised my brother and me, my dad would act as an usher at the Sunrise Service on Easter along Lake Ponchartrain near the seawall. Several times I went with him. I liked getting up early. I liked being outside better than having to go to church later. There used to be hundreds of people there greeting the daybreak and within that religious tradition celebrating that Jesus had risen from the dead. That was the theology.
Later he moved with my mother to the Methodist Church which given his lifetime of deep involvement with the Lutherans at every level was always a bit shocking. The conflict in the congregation drove him out. First, there was the split over the proprietary of square dancing in the church hall. Finally, there was the even deeper split over integration of the church school. My mother had been raised a Methodist. Unlike Orange County, California, in Drew, Mississippi, there were only two choices in her day, the Baptist Church or the Methodist Church almost next door to it. That was her choice then, and became their choice later.
Driving along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, we saw signs for sunrise services on Easter despite the stay-at-home instructions in the state, which had left plenty of wiggle room for just this kind of risk taking that some ministers seem willing to inflict on their congregations. This sort of “religious nationalism” had led to the absurdity in Kansas of the Republican dominated state legislature passing a law to overrule the Democratic governor who had banned meetings the size of church gatherings. The Kansas State Supreme Court was forced on the Saturday before Easter to overrule the legislative fervor to ban church assemblies and support the governor.
The Pope is live-streaming Easter Mass. Some ministers are doing drive-by services. In New Orleans the Archbishop and other religious flew over the city on Good Friday to bless the citizens from the air. All that is creative. What I remember from my years in the church is that a pastor shepherds the flock. I thought that meant looking after their health, not only spiritual, but also physical, yet we read repeatedly of the pandemic being nurtured and spread in religious gatherings. Church membership and attendance is falling throughout the world, so that will surely save many, despite the false teachings of these fake ministers.
I think of my father and his deep and abiding faith, which we admired, even if we were unable to share it completely. With respect for him, we brought our children through the Lutheran Church until they were confirmed and old enough to make their own choices. We buried my brother in the same chapel where they had worshipped. My father would have been enraged. Faith doesn’t live in a piece of architecture, whether humble or grand, but in the heart and minds of the believers.
Clearly there are many politicians and preachers who have lost faith in their own congregations and must believe that its roots are so thin and shallow that it would be necessary to risk their lives and that of their communities in order to count them in the number, along with perhaps the collection. As I remember, false prophets were roundly denounced by believers, yet now it seems they are everywhere among us.