Tribute Tuesday: Ron Lutjens and Old Orchard Church Family
Hey, lookee here, a Tribute Tuesday. Haven't done one of these in a while, although not because I've run short of people to thank. I didn't even do one for my own daughter yet and her birthday has passed. Mommy's falling down on the jorb.
Today I wish to pay tribute to Pastor Ron and all the good folks at Old Orchard Church in my hometown of Webster Groves, Missouri. I grew up in this church (a Presbyterian Church of the PCA branch) from the ages of 6-18, and then went during summers home from college. It's a smallish church and has a lot of longtime attenders, so whenever I come back I'm sure to see people who have known me since I was yea high. The church also gets a lot of young families, thanks to one of the major PCA seminaries being in town. We see lots of young seminarians and their young families during their time in seminary, so the church is always a very vital place for kids and adults.
You know how you never appreciate things until you don't have them anymore? Or until you realize that it's not the same everywhere? That's how it is with OOC. Some things I took for granted:
Old Orchard has amazing music (thanks to music director Greg Roig and all the people who sing and play there). Here's what's amazing about it: it manages to walk that fine, fine line of honoring the old hymns and having contemporary praise and worship style music. I've not found another church that quite manages as well.
I, for one, think it sad that so many Evangelical (and Catholic, from what I hear) churches nowadays seem to be of the opinion that hymns are boring unless Chris Tomlin adds a new chorus to them. Sorry, but the Wesleys knew their stuff and we don't need a chorus of "you are holy, holy, holy" x 4 million to make it better or more relevant. This isn't to say that there's not a place for more modern music, because I do enjoy that too. It does tend to be more emotionally charged but also often a lot less theological (in my opinion).
As I said, Greg does a great mix of both every service, and we sing a LOT. Most other churches I attended had a formula: two songs as sort of a warm up, then announcements/take the offerings, then the sermon, then two or three songs during communion. You were going to sing maybe five songs total. The "worship" part of a church service at OOC is a good forty five minutes of songs, readings, corporate confession, and more songs before you even hit the sermon (which could also be forty five minutes!) and then communion and at least one more song before it's all over.
As a kid, I did find this somewhat tedious. As an adult, I really appreciate it.
2. Liturgical Bent
I've only attended one other Presbyterian church besides OOC, so I can't really say whether all PCA churches are liturgical or not. The other one I went to was not. Old Orchard is. We follow the church calendar (although we don't have a lectionary) and observe Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time (as well as Reformation Sunday). There is an order of Worship, which I outlined above. Every week you'll hear an Old Testament reading, a Gospel Reading, a Psalm or reading from a prophet, and an Epistle reading. You'll recite together either one of the ancient creeds or a confession or both. There is a time of intercessory prayer, and there is the sermon. Again, as a kid I found it long and somewhat trying to my patience, but now I really appreciate it.
3. The Prominence of Scripture Reading
Many of the churches I've attended since being a regular at Old Orchard seemed to put a rather low emphasis on the reading of the Bible. Although all of them were "Bible believing churches", many times the only time you'd hear the Word read was whatever little snippet the pastor was using as the text for his sermon. Now that I'm at a Catholic church, I'm back to hearing an Old Testament reading, a Gospel reading, an Epistle reading, and singing a responsorial Psalm at each Mass. It seems like OOC's priority to put the Bible as the focal point is well-reflected by reading so much of it aloud.
4. Weekly Celebration of the Lord's Supper
I must say that I don't quite know why so many churches only celebrate Communion once a month or once a quarter. I've heard people say that it's so we can treat it more specially and don't slip into treating it as a routine, and I guess that makes sense in a way. Besides, if it is only a symbol or ordinance and not a sacrament, there's no need for it to happen regularly.
But Old Orchard treats Communion as a weekly event and does it in a special way that I've never seen or heard of any other church doing. The whole congregation gathers in a circle around the inside circumference of the sanctuary (it can get crowded!) and we pass the elements around. The bread is a loaf of bread that is broken in two and each is passed, one to the left and one to the right. The grape juice is poured into chalices and similarly passed, along with lots of little teeny shot glass things of grape juice if you don't like drinking out of a communal cup. I'm sure that this way of doing it is not something a large church could do logistically, but it is special.
5. Good Preaching
Pastor Ron preaches to the head and to the heart. He doesn't shy away from theology in favor of "relevant and practical advice from the Bible," and he enjoys exegesis and going through books of the Bible in painstaking detail (think multiple year series on one book). But he also makes sure to apply the knowledge to everyday life as a Christian and how what we know should play out in how we live. I have enjoyed and benefitted from the preaching of other pastors (Rick McKinley and Ken Swatman come to mind) but Pastor Ron is still my favorite.
6. Beautiful Building
Okay, the church building has admittedly become a lot more beautiful since I left (renovations, etc.), but it has always had a lovely sanctuary with large stained glass windows, a central dais and lovely pipe organ, and old dark wood pews. There is no center aisle, which makes it unusual, but I would have been happy to be married there (too bad it was so darn far from Oregon). It is simple and peaceful, and the outside of the building is stone.
I know that the looks of a church are not to be judged above what goes on inside of it. I loved Imago Dei, which met for many of the years I was there in a high school auditorium and was the opposite of aesthetically pleasing. Oregon City Christian Church--by the time we got there--was in a fancy new big building, but it was very modern seeker-friendly style and had a big windowless auditorium for a sanctuary.
I get that many newer churches want to reach out to people who feel intimidated or disgusted by churchy-looking churches, and it's important to be all things to all people, as St. Paul would say. Still, I do have a very soft spot in my heart for beautiful churches, because there is something about truth, goodness, and beauty in the spot where you're encountering Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. I'm hoping to visit the Cathedral Basilica while I'm in town, because WOW: over a million pieces of mosaic (mostly gold) is hard to beat for my definition of gloriously beautiful.
7. Caring Church Family
We know and are known. Everyone in our family has been prayed for and prayed over, loved, supported, befriended, and cherished in various ways at various times by various people. Our family (meaning my family of origin) is a fixture of the church (been there for 25 years). Even though my parents' theology has never quite lined up with Calvinist Reformed theology, it's been such a good fit and a home that I don't think they'll ever leave.
The other day I was honored to attend a birthday party for the babies of one of the kids I used to babysit in the church!! Now he's a dad of a gorgeous one year old daughter. He himself was adopted, and my family and I were there (along with several others from the church) to greet him at the airport when his parents brought him over to the States. Many of those same people were there at the party yesterday, twenty-something years later. That is an amazing family to be a part of, and I am sorry for all the times I took it for granted.
Pastor Ron and Old Orchard family, thank you for being part of the firm foundation in the faith I received during my most formative childhood years. Of course I have my parents to thank for passing on the faith to me at home, but all those years of Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, kids' choir and kids' musicals, Youth Group, mission trips, adult choir, Sunday services, and yearly invitations to the pastor's house for hot cocoa and good conversation were so important.
During baptisms (I was baptized there at the age of six or so), the congregation is called upon to promise to help nurture and raise the children up in the Lord and to assist their parents in doing so. So many of those who assented to do so have followed through. I know that many in the church still pray faithfully for me and my family, and for everyone who taught me in Sunday school or watched me in nursery, I thank you. At the time of my baptism, I didn't think much of all the grownups saying, "Yes, I promise" to the call to help me grow spiritually...but now I do, and I am so grateful.
God has used this group of people to nurture me, and although I wouldn't call myself a Presbyterian in terms of theology, I will always be an Old Orchard kid and grateful to have come of age in that particular part of the Body of Christ.