Thursday, January 23, 2014

Backgrounder on Augustana Synod in MetroLutheran -- how is a religious denomination like a '57 Chevy?

Pre-story on 2012 meeting of the Augustana Heritage Association at Gustavus Adolphus. Headline: "Augustana Synod to re-gather 50 years after LCA merger." MetroLutheran is a monthly publication in St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Quotes the Rev. Wayne Peterson, pastor at St. Barnabas Lutheran Church (ELCA), Plymouth, Minn. “If we know our past, we know more about who we are in the present. … Knowing our family roots is important for our self-identity.” It adds:

The Augustana Synod thrived for 102 years and in 1962 merged with three other Lutheran church bodies to form the LCA. Twenty-five years later, the LCA became part of the ELCA.

Augustana’s influence through merger was substantial, according to Peterson. “Augustana had an outsized portion of social ministry,” he told Metro Lutheran. “While it only had about seven percent [in attendance] of the newly-formed LCA, it brought something like 30 percent of the social ministries,” he continued.

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Ecumen — a collection of nursing homes and senior living centers — have their roots in the Augustana Synod, Peterson explained.

“The Augustana Synod had both a theological conservativism and [a commitment to] social action,” said the Rev. Michael Edwins, a retired pastor from the Augustana tradition. “The pietism, which helped to found the Lutheran Bible Institute, was outgoing, so there was no hesitation in admitting the sinfulness of the world, but there was hope because people who were sinful weren’t seen as bad; they just needed to be cared for.”

Also some good atmospherics on why 2012 was the last biennial meeting of the AHA:
The 2012 gathering will be the last, according to Peterson. “I’m 57 now and was seven years old when Augustana went out of business,” he said. “Most folks [in attendance] will be in their 70s and 80s.”

Arland Hultgren, Luther Seminary retired professor with roots in the Augustana Synod, said that most people think of Augustana like a ‘57 Chevy. It went out of business at the boom time of the Christian Church in the U.S., with congregational growth, strong youth programs, and a dynamic missionary presence, and so they have very positive memories. But the synod didn’t have to go through the turbulent changes of the 1960s, with assassinations, movements for civil and women’s rights, and the like, that affect today’s church bodies.

Granquist concluded, “Augustana went into merger at a time when all church bodies had a sense of self. People were loyal in a different way than today. There was a communal pride that led to support of church colleges, seminaries, and social service agencies.”

Peterson wonders whether the church today can regain the kind of loyalty that Augustana engendered so that 50 years after its end, people still meet to ask questions about the future.

Mark Granquist, quoted above, is a church history professor at Luther Seminary.

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