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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The wind-down

One way or another, worshipers take the church experience with them

Dismissal is a strange term for describing the closing act of worship. Do people really need permission to leave? At a literal level, the word makes it seem as if we are ordering or allowing worshipers to exit an event of praise that is compulsory. I used to worry that some unsuspecting guest might see that word "dismissal" and think rejection, as in an employee who has just been eliminated from her job.

If the term itself seems odd, the liturgical words that follow it are rich with significance: "Go in peace (to love and) serve the Lord." The hymnbook on my shelf doesn't include the word "love." But in our congregation, we tuck it in all the time, believing that love is what gives serving its Christ-likeness. Without love, service to others may offer nice help, assistance or aid. But when love gets mixed in with a servant impulse, a Christian distinctiveness begins to emerge.

Once set free, worshipers may linger or leave the building. Staying or slipping away fast all depends on everyday tangibles like the presence (or not) of food, the warmth of hospitality, the need to paint the bedroom ceiling back home, or the broadcast of an NFL game already in progress.

As the communionware gets washed and the sanctuary lights go dark, the woman who spent two days preparing the bulletin grabs her coat. She peeks into the garbage can near the exit door and sees stacks of the day's announcement fliers stuffed in it. Don't people take the church home with them? All of that careful planning, scrupulous proofing and copier toner, sitting in the dustbin of history.


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September issue

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