October 2019- Worship- 150 years in the making

Members of our congregation who traverse the spectrum of ELCA congregations affirm that worship at Our Saviour’s in 2019 is indeed unique.  How did we get this way?  What has brought us to be seen as a dynamic, creative, vibrant and bold urban worshipping community and to where our music, preaching and liturgy are considered strong and exemplary?

Our congregation’s history shows a steady journey to our present form.  Along the way, a few key decisions, or perhaps, opportunities, found the fertile soil needed to sprout.  It is a testimony to the Spirit at work in our congregation that these sprouts were nourished in ways that would allow them to grow.  We are Sprit led.

Imagine the hopes that were being realized as a new sanctuary was designed and built on Chicago and 24th that would change the intimate worship setting into a more formal and expansive one.  Issues of sound and lighting, mobility and comfort came with such a large open space.  Financial and maintenance pressures might only have been matched by the challenges of an ever-increasing membership that reached eventually over 1000 members.

Imagine the challenging decision to move from a Norwegian language worship service to using English.  How the hopes of including “non-Norwegian” speakers was weighed with the willingness to struggle with learning and using a new language. Bilingual efforts were the Spirit’s way of supporting those whose first language was Norwegian to be uncomfortable in worship.

Imagine the efforts to install an organ that could fill that large sanctuary with the music this congregation had come to rely upon, with talented musicians and singers to join it as they lifted the worship experience to new heights.  By the 1940’s and 50’s multiple services and multiple choirs were celebrating worship in a reflection of the blessings and abundance felt during these post-war times.

Imagine though, the discussions in the worship committee as urban challenges of the 1960’s and 70’s began to impact our congregation.  Freeway construction decimated the community and displaced members to farther reaches.  Growing poverty and crime, not felt at such levels in this area since the turn of the century, gnawed away at the feeling of community.  Outside social forces of civil rights, gender equity and racial disparities did not get left outside of worship.  It was with hopes of being God’s people that led to banners in the sanctuary that would speak something different than the stained glass.  It led to musical exploration that brought in contemporary songs and instruments.  When the new Lutheran worship hymnal (the Green Book) arrived, there were already efforts to bring new music and new liturgy into this congregation.  A small collection, “Sing a New Song,” was one of those sparks that eventually saw Ray Makeever’s With All Your Heart become a liturgy borne of this congregation and become gift to our denomination now present in the new Red Hymnal.  We continued to display a willingness to grow as we hired music and worship director, Mary Preus, and helped us explore the additional resources of With One Voice, the Holden Evening Worship, and Bread for the Journey’s collection of Global Songs during the 80’s and 90’s

Imagine the conversations that were happening during that time among worship leaders.  Inclusive language and new images for God were being introduced with the same level of hopes for reaching new members and the need to support those for whom this was a new language to learn.  New music and instruments were both exciting and out of place in traditional worship.  Organ music was being replaced with piano, guitar, banjo, drum, flute, violin, harmonica and new tastes didn’t always sit well, yet the spirit led on.  Choir robes were set aside and the spirit led on.

Imagine the conversations that surrounded the knowledge that a small group of members was in the church basement, serving communion every Sunday instead of following the once-a-month celebration of the traditional worship. It was a loving spirit of acceptance and that brought the invitation from the congregation to have this small group lead a monthly worship service in the sanctuary.  From twice a month communion, it became easier for the Spirit to lead us to trust that the logistics of weekly communion, and to allow this sacrament’s place within weekly worship to change us as a congregation.

Imagine the conversations after the fire that destroyed our original sanctuary and then how our worship experience was central to what was to be rebuilt.  Visions of natural light and openness, of flexibility and accessibility, of intimacy and beauty all arose out of the worship experiences that we carried with us from the Lutheran Social Services chapel and had held us together as a community in exile.

Imagine the hope and wonder we all felt as the font, such a central symbol of our faith, took shape as a stone with running water, would settle into the entrance to our new sanctuary.  As we accepted a space without stained glass, nor a full organ, we leaned into the abundance and beauty and talent of artists and musicians among us of so many gifts to share.

Imagine how we recognized what this meant about our worship together and felt language and liturgy shift again, as creeds moved out and children’s messages moved in, as the Lord’s prayer added Our Mother and appeared in new forms, as professional storytellers and actors among us shared their gifts and taught others to give us powerful experiences with the word of God.

We have been blessed with fertile ground and the nurturing of the Spirit.  Members of the Altar Guild have cared for our space with love and attention. Lay leaders have stepped into assisting minister roles, preaching, and music leadership to supplement our staff and illuminate the abundance we know is among us.  We have been blessed with another songwriter, Bret Hesla, whose work to create our anniversary songs, continues to help us see God’s story at work in this place.

And now new worship conversations carry on around movement and noise level of children in our midst, and on ways to build understandings of reparation into our liturgy, and on how we can be even more relevant to those who don’t know the language of our liturgy.   In these hopes and wondering, may we feel that same Spirit among us, the nurturing one, who, as we practice every Sunday in our announcement portion of worship, sends us out to celebrate, serve and do justice.

Thanks be to God!


- Dan Swenson-Klatt