Today’s post is from Deb Stein, pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Syracuse, NY.
Greetings from Syracuse, NY!
Last Sunday for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, St. Stephen in Syracuse, NY worshipped with two other congregations; those who also worship in our building. Both are immigrant Christian congregations, not connected to the ELCA, except through us. The small Burundi church understands English and didn’t want anything translated. They were happy to be in among the assembly. However, the Evangelical Living Church (ELC), a Burmese Chin congregation, doesn’t understand English as well, so we used an outline (with some explanations) of our joint worship up on their screen with a PowerPoint in Chin. Detailed explanations were printed of what we’re doing and why in our English worship bulletin. We worked closely with the ELC, over three weeks, to pull our Reformation worship together in both languages. The Gospel was read in English by me and in Chin by Pastor Elisha Thwang. Pastor Elisha also offered a prayer in Chin after the Thanksgiving for the Word. In addition, the ELC choir, most of whom attend high school in the city, joined our own choir for the event. Our worship was filled with the grace-filled readings, prayers, and joyful music in English and Chin. We used the ELC’s version of an “Alleluia” for our Gospel Acclamation (to the tune of Amazing Grace: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia Amen… Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia Amen), and the ELC Choir, along with Pastor Elisha offered an Anthem in Chin, the title, of which translated: Standing on the Promises.
It was such an exciting day for us all – beyond my imagination for sure! We had been talking about having a joint worship for some time, and Reformation Sunday just seemed to be the perfect day to do it. It was a day to celebrate a church that is constantly reforming and always being made new. In doing so, we embraced our differences, while lifting up all the things we have in common. Last Sunday, nearly 500 years after Martin Luther offered up his 95 theses, St. Stephen sang A Mighty Fortress, together with folks from around the world, immigrants who came to the U.S. looking for a fortress of safety within our boundaries, sharing with us God’s own Mighty Fortress of grace and love for us all. We used a modified Service of the Word, and I inserted hymns where ever we could fit them. During the service, four of our youth affirmed their baptism in Confirmation, supported by every Christian present. It was truly a joy-filled and uplifting celebration for everyone.
Our day wasn’t over! We’d been partnering with another group, who meets in our building, The Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA), which I think of as a cross between civil war reenactors and a renaissance fair. The SCA worked with us to provide a 3-act play hosted by St. Stephen at 4:00 PM that afternoon, open to the public. The third act was Martin and Katharina’s wedding, which was followed by a wedding reception in our fellowship hall. The SCA created period decorations and costumes, as well as provided period food, music, and dance – all of it done as close to correct for Martin Luther’s time as possible! The guests had the opportunity to take a turn at period dancing, so even I got in on the act!
We are grateful to have such wonderful connections, not only in the community but also in our own building, which has become a bit of a community itself. We were blessed to have so many wonderful people taking part in our Reformation celebrations, even while many other Lutheran churches in our area were celebrating in different ways. Syracuse has been well represented in this 500th year of the Reformation!