A person in our church was complaining bitterly and threatening to leave the church. His power and influence were waning and he was lashing out. After prayer and reflection, I decided that confrontation would escalate the situation into a polarizing fight. Instead of confrontation, he needed space. Like a child throwing a tantrum, he needed to cry it out and regain his composure.
A Presbyterian minister told me a story about his first year at a certain congregation. His predecessor had abolished the general confession of sins from the Sunday liturgy, and one of the first things this new pastor did was try to reinstate it. But resistance to the proposed change was fierce.
Ever since I was a child, my mother has observed the season of Christmas in the same way. Some time around Thanksgiving she begins shaking her head, looking disgusted and sighing, “Oh Lordy, Lordy; it’s almost Christmas and I haven’t done a thing!” Then come four intense weeks of shopping, baking and Christmas card writing.
In this ecumenical era not only churches but cultures are melding, merging, learning from one another and even transposing and trading their distinctive characteristics. For example, Finland, historically Lutheran, has come to exemplify old Catholic understandings and uses of purgatory at a time when the Catholics themselves think and talk less and less about purgatory.
“Brothers and sisters, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Let us therefore join our hearts together in prayer. . . .”
With these words, I invite my congregation into a spirit of confession week after week. To some extent it works: everyone dutifully bows, prays, holds silence, sings a contemplative chorus and rises for the words of assurance.