The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Altar Ego

Although new to me as a seminary junior, I really liked the practice of worship leaders being behind the altar, facing the congregation. I liked it so much that when I became the pastor of a church where the altar was “nailed” to the wall and leaders often turned their backs to the congregation, I wished otherwise.

After a year, I summoned up such courage, compassion and genteelness as the gospel advises, then employed the tact and negotiating skills that seminary professors said we pastors would need. I faced the issue squarely, intent on liberating the entrapped holy table to a freestanding position. Not surprisingly, my wish to face the congregation and proposed altar move flew in the face of some members who variously threatened: “The altar has been there since this church was built! Our ancestors and all of the pastors who were here before you wanted it there, and you should be no different. If you move that altar, I’m moving my membership!”

I really wanted to face the congregation. So employing proper order, I appealed to the congregation through the worship and music committee and the council. It worked. In the end all of us moved some. I agreed not to move the altar “too” far. The congregation moved to adopt the new placement. And the disgruntled members also moved by not moving. They came to appreciate the new, more prominent altar position and stayed, perhaps deciding that with me facing them they could keep a closer watch on me in case I tried something else, which I did.

The moral of this story? Parishioners don’t really expect all pastors to be alike. Many of them just don’t like change.


Charles Downs

Charles Downs

Posted at 2:45 pm (U.S. Eastern) 6/28/2011

Posted at 4:42 pm (U.S. Eastern) 6/28/2011

You're right. Change is difficult, especially when a person thinks of themselves as a "founding father" of that church. So many things were donated by their mothers and fathers, that they take ownership. If there's a little brass plaque saying "Given in memory of my parents," you are most certainly in trouble if you want a change. It sounds like you handled everything just exactly right! Good for you for being patient and willing to compromise! 

Rebecca J Sanders

Rebecca J Sanders

Posted at 7:28 pm (U.S. Eastern) 6/29/2011

Is it change or is it tradition? Traditions, routines, and "sameness" provide comfort and peace to many -- and each church has many of these that are institutionalized, in the positive way. Change must be a part of the future of any group, family, business, church, etc. The key is to find balance between traditions and change; it is a difficult path to travel. Prayer, reflection, kind discussion, love of God and love of His people are the keys to success. We are human ... so we must "be still and listen." Blessings to all, Rebecca :)

Note: Rebecca J Sanders edited this post at 7:28 pm on 6/29/2011.

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February issue


Embracing diversity