Monday, June 11, 2007

I'm Not Really a Lutheran

I was at a celebration banquet my congregation was holding a month or so ago and as I listened to the long-time members talk about the life stories and how they intertwined with the church I came to the realization, I'm not really a Lutheran.

Don't get me wrong. I think like a Lutheran. I love the Lutheran hymns and liturgies. I was baptized as a Lutheran. I was married in the same Lutheran church where my parents and grandparents had been married and where I had grown up and been taught how to be a Christian.

But I'm not Norwegian or Swedish or German or a descendent of any of the other traditional Lutheran ethnic groups. I joke that I come from a long line of Irish Lutherans. My English/Irish grandfather somehow made his way into a Lutheran church (he was at least Pennsylvanian, so I've got that going for me), and that's how I came into Lutheranism. But as I sat at the banquet and listened to the Norwegians talk about their Norwegian culture, I realized, I'm not really one of these people.

Again, I love Lutherans. I'm endlessly thankful that they let me hang around with them. I've even taken to making an odd joke about lutefisk now and then, though I've never eaten the stuff and don't intend to. Still, I can't help feeling like I'm a wolf that was raised by sheep.

I was born on Reformation Day, so I've got that going for me too, but -- are you ready for this? -- my middle name is Wesley. It's a family name. The side of my family that weren't Irish Lutherans were Methodists -- at least until my great-grandmother lost her bid for control of the congregation to another woman, so my grandfather tells me.

Now I'm not planning to become Methodist any time soon -- I'm quite happy as a resident alien among the Lutherans -- but I've recently come to the realization that I'm almost completely ignorant of the life and theology of John Wesley. So I picked up Kenneth Collins' John Wesley: A Theological Journey and an anthology of Wesley's writings. I started Collins' book last night. So far, I've learned that I also know next to nothing about the history of the Church of England after the 16th century.


Tom Krogstad said...


You're more of a Lutheran than most Lutherans. And I consider that a compliment, though some may not. Question: Are you LCMS? I know ELCA has been trying celebrate ALL ethnic heritages in its churches in part to look to the future, in part to evangelize, in part to celebrate its roots.

Chris (The Lutheran Zephyr) said...

Hey Andy,

I think it a shame that Lutheranism is so wrapped up in cultural identity. I grew up in a Swedish Lutheran church and you would think that the Luciafest was the highest and holiest of days . . . I've been blessed in recent years to attend Lutheran churches that are multicultural and which are newer and thus not tied to an immigrant, European identity.

As you know, I think that theological paradox - including the paradox of free grace for a sinful people - is at the core of Lutheranism. That's the kind of stuff that makes one Lutheran - not the Garrison Keillor junk . . .

Andy said...

No, I'm ELCA. The thing is, while the ELCA might try to celebrate all ethnic heritages, we do a really poor job of actually pulling it off. We're still at the stage where cultural diversity means a congregation with Norwegians and Germans. I don't actually mean this as a complaint. We just can't seem to get non-Lutherans in the door.

I read somewhere that something like 90 percent of the members in an average Lutheran congregation were either born Lutheran or married a Lutheran. It's almost funny. Almost.

Of course, I belong to a congregation that shares space with a Taiwanese Lutheran congregation, so I guess there's hope.

Andy said...


You're definitely right, Lutheran thinking is what really makes one Lutheran. It's probably even because the ELCA wants to branch out so badly that we're so aware of the problem, but our past as an immigrant church isn't going down without a fight.

I mentioned in my reply to Tom the Taiwanese church that my congregation shares a building with. I have this hope that someday we'll just start worshipping together, but right now their Taiwanese identity is important to them. They need it. And that's not a bad thing, really.

Heck, if I could find a congregation of English/Irish/West Virginian/Marylander/Lutheran/Methodists in Oregon, I'd probably join. :-)

P.S. an after-thought said...

I'm died in the wool Lutheran, even have the "son" at the end of my maiden name, but I never heard a Norwegian or Swedish cultural tidbit or joke until attending one of those very Scandanavian Lutheran Colleges.
Dad didn't convey any culture to me. Got the German stuff from mom's side, though.

The church I currently attend has many people with non-Lutheran backgrounds as members. For some it is the church they choose because they lean more that way than toward Baptist. For some, they want liturgy, but their old denomination isn't here. For others, it is the compromise in their marriage. For some, it was the result of church shopping.

Ethnic background?? Overwhelmingly Northern European ethnic identity. as is the community, but not 100% white.

Recently, a friend and I were mentioning R who has been an active member of this church for probably 50 years. My friend said, Well, he's really a Catholic, you know.

I've run across people who NEVER go to church, but some how identify with a particular denomination.

BTW, I never heard any of the Garrison Keillor stuff come out of anybody's mouth except when making a joke.

Andy said...

Must be all those big churches in Minnesota throwing off the statistics. :-)

David said...

I often feel that we (ELCA) worry too much about getting non-Lutherans in the door, and need more focus on getting non-churched folks in the door. We get too hung up on not having enough minority representation in our churches and not having enough diversity. where does that leave those people who don't have a church and don't hear the gospel proclaimed?

I for one don't care where the people in my congregation come from. What I care about is that they encounter our risen Lord each time they come to worship, and then enjoy the fellowship of the Christian community.

LutherPunk said...

Stand proud, Andy! I too am an Irish Lutheran. Maybe we can create our own inside jokes, including things like beer and brawling, rather than lutefisk!

Andy said...

Alright! There are two of us! Irish Lutheran unite!

P.S. an after-thought said...

Big churches in minnesota throwing off the statistics? Did you mean my comment? This whole town has the number 620 for population on the town sign.

I actually think that small towns are more "integrated" than cities in one respect: the various income groups are more integrated.

Ross said...

I've been expressing for a while that Lutheran theology is the most accessible theology for all people. Lutheran heritage, on the other hand, is like an inside joke.

I'm sorry that you have become the butt of that joke.

Lee said...

Scots-Lutheran here (though I've been cheating and going to an Episcopal church for the last year). My paternal great-grandaddy was a Lutheran too. Maybe it just skipped a couple generations.

Andy said...


I meant it's the big churches in Minnesota that are giving us statistics saying 90% of Lutherans were born Lutheran or married a Lutheran. I'm joking, of course.

In fact, I hope everyone realizes this post was meant as a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing. I really don't feel like an outsider, though I know a lot of newcomers to Lutheran chuches (my wife included) do.

Andy said...


I think you hit the nail on the head. Our theology is great and everyone would love it if they didn't get put off by lutefisk and the fact that everyone laughs when they hear the name Ole without even waiting to hear what the joke is.