Usually I attend an independent Christian Bible church, but once a year, I step back in time.
I go to the homecoming service at my grandmother’s Lutheran church about an hour from home, in a different state. The cornerstone of the church is from the mid-1800s, and documents are always spread out on the back table during homecoming that trace memories and family members through their journey in the church. There are photos; this year, I saw my grandfather’s baptism certificate.
The church itself is beautiful. The sanctuary is small and probably hasn’t changed too much since the church was built, but the organ at the front has shining, tall chimes. There is stained glass, and the light comes through the windows in such a way that it inspires awe. At the beginning of the service, candles are always lit; at the end of the service these candles are extinguished, and the large church bell rings from the steeple. Even without personal connections, the church building and its people are endearing.
Yet, the personal connections are what make this service a yearly homecoming. My grandmother, definitely a spiritual role model in my life, died in her 90s, but going to the homecoming service at the little Lutheran church in the country brings back memories of sitting on the wooden pews next to her when I would visit as a young girl. Just walking into the building brings back vivid thoughts of her because she was a devout, caring woman who made Christ and the church a priority in her life.
It’s also the church where my parents were married. When I think about everything that has happened there in my family’s past, I get goose bumps because I feel connected to all of it.
A Lutheran service is quite different from what I grew up with in an independent church. Part of the homecoming service includes responsive readings, in which the reverend reads a section, and then the congregation answers by reading the bold print either in a book or on a program. The hymns are the same ones my grandmother sang; I know this because when I opened a hymnal there this time, a children’s scripture paper dated 1981 was tucked inside. Interestingly, 1981 is the year I was born.
Instead of sending children to a different class during the service, which I grew up with, a children’s message at this church consists of bringing the children to the front of the church to teach them for about five minutes before they return to the pew with their parents for the general sermon. I love the children’s sermon. First of all, it is adorable to watch the children being taught, and they usually do or say something adorable/innocent/hilarious. Second, this year I loved seeing my husband take our toddler up front to be a part of it. I also like the children’s sermon because it’s so simple that it’s easy to commit to memory.
This year, the children’s service was about the time when Jesus was asked if it is right to pay taxes (Matthew 22:15-22) in an attempt by the Pharisees to trap Jesus into an answer that would anger people. Here is the scripture (NIV):
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Jesus’s message encourages believers to give their whole selves to God because that is what belongs to Him; nothing less than your whole heart is owed. As the reverend taught the children this, he showed them a plaque with coins from biblical times. The plaque had a denarius, a widow’s mite, shekel, and a few others. I am a visual learner, so seeing this made the lesson come alive for me. It was a neat view of history, and seeing something historical is definitely my cup of tea.
Besides this, the service also included a message for the adults and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer together.
I can’t really compare this to how any other Lutheran churches organize their services since this is the only Lutheran church I have been to over the years, but I enjoy the services. It takes some concentration to keep up with the different responsive readings if a person isn’t used to that, but it is also interesting to speak aloud in a service when you’re used to only singing hymns.
At this service, like many I have attended there in the past, I could feel God’s presence. It makes me feel so grateful.
After the service, everyone went downstairs for a meal of homemade noodle soup, ham and chicken salad sandwiches, steamers, baked macaroni, and other seriously delicious comfort food. My son and all the other children played together in a big corner filled with toys that had probably been there since the 1950s or ’60s. Carson really liked the rotary telephone! Meanwhile, Larry and I pulled a large book from the 1800s off of a nearby bookshelf to flip through. Inside, we found many old newspaper clippings that were fascinating to see.
We sat down with my aunts and uncles for the meal, and we ended our visit by going outside to stand at my grandparents’ grave and reflect. It’s always the last thing we do before we leave.
Homecoming is a tradition that I cherish. I know faith is about so much more than family tradition, but these services combine faith and tradition in a way that is meaningful to me on many levels.
I hope to show this post to my son someday.
Thank you for reading this, my friend. I hope you are having a wonderful week.