Pastor’s Ponderings

Pastor David Eisenhuth
August 2018

Before I begin, let me say that in my last article I neglected to thank the many people who remembered my installation and the 37th anniversary of my ordination with cards and gifts. Your outpouring of support, especially in the many handwritten notes on those cards, was very affirming. I know my ministry here at Trinity Lutheran Church is helped immensely by the prayers you are all offering. I am happy that even after 37 years of ordained service in the church, things seem again fresh and challenging. I thank Bishop Gohl for matching us together and for trusting me to celebrate Trinity’s 150 years of life, even as we look to the future with enthusiasm.

When our Church Council was planning the event, I was asked what kind of gift I wanted. I jokingly said a “Lamborghini.” Indeed, I got one, even if it is too small for me to get into. I have been having a grand time “driving” my red, radio-controlled sports car down the long hallways of our building. This model car has doors that open at the touch of a button, working headlights, a horn, and lots of motor noise. It’s garaged on one of the shelves in my office if you want to see it. Thanks to the council for such an inventive gift!

Two things are beginning to take shape here at Trinity. The first will happen on Thursday, September 6, when Jazz Vespers will be held in our sanctuary. Vespers is a service of evening prayer that features chant, prayer, and scripture. The publication of the Lutheran Book of Worship in 1977 gave us a format for vespers that was well thought out and musically beautiful.

The focus of the service is the Evening Prayer Candle, which represents Jesus Christ who is the Light of the World. Jesus’s light piercing the darkness of the descending night is a theme which appears frequently in the New Testament. The service begins with the procession of this candle from the back of the church to its stand in the sanctuary before the altar. Chant marks three steps whereat the procession is paused. When the candle is placed in its stand, the Phos Hilaron is sung. It is one of the oldest hymns in the Christian Church. It begins, “Joyous light of glory.” As this hymn is being sung, the candles in the church are lit and the darkened space brightened.

Vespers is actually a monastic service used to mark the change of hours in the community. As such, it features psalms. In monastic communities, the entire psalter is used over the period of one week. The first psalm at vespers is always Psalm 141. It’s called the incense psalm because a little incense is used to bless the candle and the worship space. The opening words to the psalm are, “Let my prayer rise before you as incense.” After a period of silence, a second psalm is sung. Then follows an evening hymn.

A lesson is read. The litany is sung, followed by the Lord’s Prayer. Our format features a “teaching moment.” This is a brief homily designed for people who might not have a tradition of worship attendance.

Coupling vespers with jazz music has a long history at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan. St. Peter’s was a Gothic-style church in midtown that faced the usual building-maintenance problems. These were solved and the future of the church secured when it sold the air rights to its building plot on Lexington Avenue. CitiBank built a skyscraper on the site. It features a pyramidal roof, which is one of the hallmarks of the city’s skyline. St. Peter’s rebuilt itself as a strikingly modern facility under the CitiBank skyscraper. With a huge endowment (probably the largest in the ELCA), St. Peter’s reinvented itself with a myriad of ministries, including a pastor who dedicated himself to the spiritual needs of the jazz community in the city. His name was John Gensel. I actually knew him. Jazz became a hallmark of several services held during the week, including evening prayer. This ministry has been going on for at least 40 years now.

I was always interested in having a Jazz Vespers service when I was at Holy Comforter, but didn’t know how to put it together. This was solved when we were looking for a new director of music. One of the people I inter- viewed was a man by the name of Roy James Stewart. Turns out he was first and foremost a jazz musician. Together we developed a jazz ministry at Holy Comforter.

He wrote a service based on the Lutheran Book of Worship, but with the warm sound of American jazz. He assembled a quartet made up of a soloist, bass, piano, and sax, who stayed together until Roy got arthritis and could no longer play. His replacement continued to play until I left Holy Comforter and the church decided to discontinue the service.

When we first began, we debated what night to offer the service. We had to avoid weekends, when jazz musicians are already committed to playing in clubs. Sunday evening conflicted with football. We hit on Wednesday. I remember the first one – the fourth Wednesday in July. I was shocked to have 150 people at the service. The Jazz Vespers continued uninterrupted for eight years. At the end, attendance was hovering around 90. Rhonda Robinson, the soloist, had perfect attendance for the entire eight years!

The vespers service attracted an interesting group of people. Many were already members of other churches, but others had no church tradition and came for the mu- sic. Almost all of the people who joined Holy Comforter for the last three years of its ministry at 5513 York Road in Baltimore came through the Jazz Ministry. I am hoping that this new service at Trinity will offer a new experience to the people of Hagerstown and its surrounds. I believe when people come to a service at Trinity, its worship space and the friendliness of its members will be inviting enough for them to come to a regular Sunday service.

So, on Thursday, September 6, we will have our first Jazz Vespers. I hit on Thursday because the other nights were already filled up. The only conflict is the Praise Band practice, which ends before the 7:30 p.m. start time of Vespers. Of course, it being jazz, there is a relaxed attitude about time, so things don’t exactly get started as planned. My quartet is making a pilgrimage over the mountains from Baltimore to play the first service. I am hoping after that we can used the incredible musical talent we have in the congregation and the city to assemble our own group. I am sure my friend A.J. Stewart will give us permission to use the music he wrote for the service at Holy Comforter. As with the musicians, we could very well design our own service with home-grown compositions.

The service is supposed to attract a hip crowd, and we featured a wine and cheese reception after each service at Holy Comforter. Our Church Council reviewed the policy of serving alcohol at the church and discovered that a policy of prohibiting alcohol at weddings was all that was said. So . . . after our first service we will have a nice reception with wine and cheese. After this first service, a planning group will work to see if we want to do this again and determine how often it should be offered. I am hoping it can become a monthly event. How about “First Thursday at Trinity” or something like that? Please pray for this new ministry at Trinity. And above all, plan to come on September 6. Even if you don’t like jazz, it’s important to have, as they say in the industry, “a good house.” We want visitors to feel the warmth here and be invited through jazz to deepen their desire to share Christ’s love with us. We will also need people to usher and provide for the reception. Say “yes” when you are asked to help. Better yet, volunteer! Tell me you are interested in this new ministry and I will be sure you are involved.

The second thing I want us to offer is a new ministry aimed at children and hopefully their parents. This ministry will focus music. The young people will sing at one service each month. The plan is to start with 20 young people. Each Wednesday, or at least three times a month, we will serve dinner to the young people and their parents. While they practice for an hour, we hope to offer something of need and interest to adults. This could be Bible study, discussion, et cetera. After that half hour, we would offer at 30 minute start-to-finish worship service for the adults. By the time you are reading this, we will have had an organizational meeting to help flesh out the details. Since there are lots of things to flesh out, it’s reasonable to think we could begin no sooner that October. Right now, pray that God will help us develop a plan and provide us with an audience. More about this unnamed ministry will appear in the next edition of the Messenger.