The distant church & the present church.


When we come to church on a Sunday like this, when we find our pews and greet our friends, when we open our hymnals to find that we are indeed singing my favorite hymn, when we let our thoughts wander when the pastor preaches, when we kneel at communion and when we listen to the comforting words of the old Blessing at the end of the service – then we are not in doubt that we are indeed in church and attending a service.

This is what church is to us: to gather, to sing, to pray, to listen, to confess and to simply be here in this beautiful building that to many of us simply is OUR church.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among you.”

When I was a pastor in Denmark, we had a term that most pastor hated. “ Messefald” that means that no one or maybe just 1 -2 showed up for Sunday Service and thus the service had to be canceled.” Messefald” The fall of the mass. The fall of the service. The fall of the worship.

For many pastors, this was almost seen as the fall of the pastor, as it could be an indicator that you were not good enough to draw just 5 people to church!

Every year we had to send a report our Bishop, confessing how many Messefald/ No show Services we had during the year.

I too had to report Messefald a couple of times, when I served as a pastor in Denmark with 3 small rural churches. Maybe 4-5 times during my service in Denmark, an early 9 am service in the Sacred Summer Vacation time, had to be canceled since only the cantor, the organist, the church warden, and I were present when the church bells rang. We then sang one hymn, prayed Our Lord’s Prayer, and had time to enjoy our morning coffee while getting ready for the 10:30 service that would draw people even in summertime when living was easy. “ Messefald” No service still is a term and a reality in the Danish Lutheran Church in DK as people move from rural parishes and churches, and membership of the Danish Church drops in general. But attendance to special events and seasonal services is on the rise.

 “ Messefald” was not a term any of us liked. As I was looking for a translation of the term, I realized that there wasn’t any word for this specific phenomenon. It just said: No Service or Low attendance.

And I should happily report that I have never experienced it here in our church – there might have been some low attendance Sundays during Summer, but never a total Fall of the Service. THANK YOU!


“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among you.”

It is a paradox in the history of and in the present state of the Danish Church in DK. An old Christian Kingdom that took its beginning when Ansgar in 826 build the first church of wood in Hedeby, and then generation by generation new churches were built. The Church is a vital and significant part of the Danish landscape and city.

I fondly remember how our American friend upon visiting Denmark for his very first time, with amazement pointed out to us all the white churches in the landscape as we drove from the Airport. “Look! That church looks exactly like yours in Yorba Linda. Look! There is another one. Look, Look…. How Oh I see: al the churches look like that.!”

There hardly is any country around the world, to boast the same kind of pride and love for all these beautiful old buildings and have big budgets and state finances to maintain them, but at the same time the Danes are not exactly World Champions in Church Attendance – and we even had to invent a special word for low or no attendance.

In Danish Theology and Church terms, we have another term called the “The Distant Church”/ den fjerne kirke.

The distant church is expected to be there, in the distant, beautiful, maintained, paid for and available when and if you need it. It is a building in the distant that you rarely visit but would not be without. You are like Christians 4 wheelers; you come for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and memorials.

The Distant church is the church of tradition, of culture, of conformity, of customs and low frequency of attendance.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among you.”

What makes a church a church, and what makes worship?

Worship begins with the simple act of people gathering.

Woddy Allen is quoted as saying: “Showing up is 80 percent of life.” And so is worship and church. Church and Worship is built by the living stones, the breathing bodies that shows up.

As Lutherans, we confess that Worship is at the center of our faith. In the Augsburg Confession written in 1530 as a statement of faith for the new powerful Lutheran Movement that swept over Europe and changed history, - in the Augsburg Confession the church is defined as the assembly where the word of God is rightly reached and where the sacrament is administered in accordance with God’s word. Church is not just something we do or something we have to do. Church is what God is doing among us and for us and through us. We gather to worship to hear with our ears the good news of Gods’ love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. We worship to be touched, bodily wit the water of baptism and the bread of communion. And we worship to respond to these means of grace with our prayers, praises, and our loving actions when we leave church.

So, worship and church doesn’t start with our showing up (even if it is important), worship and church begins with God calling us and God showing up in words, sacraments, and presence.

The distant church becomes the present church when we listen to the call of God and show up – and through attendance and worship makes this church our church.

Our wise presiding bishop Elisabeth Eaton says:

“When we gather for worship we hear God’s word or promise. We confess our helplessness and receive forgiveness. We ray and we welcome new brothers and sisters through baptism, promising to support them in their walk in faith. We are fed with the bread of life and receive our Lord poured out for us. And then we are sent back into the world. Worship is essential for the church’s life and service. …… Most of all we should come to worship expecting to be changed. We are touching, tasting, feeling, hearing, and seeing the one who knows us and loves us completely Our lives are restored, we are set free. Fed for the journey, we are set loose to go in peace and service the Lord. Thanks be to God!”

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among you.”

We are here today. We worship together today.

And we listened to the Gospel not just about when 2 or 3 gather in Jesu’s name, but even more practical advice about how to be human beings in a church, how to be a church. The Gospel today is basic advice on how to resolve quarrels in a church. Sometimes Christians to disagree. Sometimes they do quarrels. Sometimes they do hold grudges again each other. Sometimes they, or rather sometimes we disagree, quarrel, and hold grudges. Jesus gave very practical advice on how to resolve these matters as a church.

There will always be quarrels, differences of onions on how and who and why, disappointments with preachers or councils, hurt feelings, bent pride, loss of face and lots and lots of mistakes. Jesus knew that and advised his disciples to resolve these matters.

WE need to confront each other when there are misunderstandings or mistakes. Loving confrontation and loving communications, which Jesus calls us to practice is not easy. Many of us may prefer to ignore it, not to name it or rather keep quiet. It seems easier not to be involved. But being a congregation, being a church, a present church and not a distant church, - means that we also must resolve our differences in a Christ-like manner. Not by ignoring, neglecting, forgetting, or keeping quiet, but respectfully, lovingly and forgiving to resolve and correct.

Which reminds me of a wonderful little story about a pastor and the organist at a small church. They did not get along. As time went by, this began literally to spill over into the worship service.

The first week the pastor preached on commitment and how we all should dedicate ourselves to the service of God. The organist played: “I shall not be moved”

The second week the pastor preached on tithing and how we al should gladly give to the work of God. The organist played: “Jesus paid it all.”

The third week the pastor preached on gossiping and how we should al watch our tongues. The organist played: “I love to tell the story.”

With al this going on the pastor became very discouraged and the following Sunday told the congregation that he was considering resigning. The organist played: “O why not tonight?”

The pastor did resign. The next week he informed the church that is was Jesus who led him to them and it was Jesus who was sending him on his way. The organist played: “What a friend we have in Jesus!”

I am glad to say: What a friend I have in Rush!

I am glad to say: how wonderful it is to worship here with you. Sunday after Sunday. But let us remember that within ELCA we gather in more than 9.600 congregations in at least 40 different languages. Some gather in beautiful sanctuaries like ours, beautiful designed with stained glass windows and with a rich history. Others gather in storefront, in private homes, in bars, in coffee shops, in prisons, in hospitals. We worship in traditional or contempory ways, with wide array of music, hymns, instrument’s, building’s, and people.

This is how we are a present church in the world today. Worshipping here and being send out into the world, the day, and the moment to be church out there too.

Lord, let us be good soil, where love and grow and peace be understood among us!