This is the second in my series of five articles leading up to the theme of the 2003 biennial convention: Sing to the Lord a New Song.
Many of the first Lutherans in Canada were homesteaders. Some came as immigrants because conditions in Europe were so economically desperate. Others were involuntary immigrants, dispossessed by war and political oppression. Canadian Lutheran World Relief began as an agency to meet and help settle many of these immigrants who were displaced by the war in Europe. The British Empire Loyalists were German mercenaries who fought for England in the United States and were given land in Upper Canada in lieu of cash salaries. The Canadian government offered homesteads as virtually free land provided improvements were made each year. Through "sweat equity" and determination these settlers could make a life for themselves.
The earliest Lutherans set out to make a life for themselves, and in the process, started churches as part of that life. In some sense, the churches they started were also churches for themselves. These settler churches were located in this land, but they were still part of another world. For some, they were part of the old world; the congregations were not only places where the gospel was preached, but where the ethnic heritage of the members was preserved. For others, they were simply detached from the civic life of Canada, and they were not very ecumenical.
It is my opinion that the homesteader model of church is still deeply embedded in us. We have named this church the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, rather than of Canada. This seems to suggest that we are visitors rather than full citizens. We remember when we were a dispossessed people like the exiles in Babylon, wondering how to sing the Lord's song in an alien land.
Listen to what the prophet Jeremiah wrote to those exiles: "Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jeremiah 29:6–7)
Things have changed a lot. We are not as insular as we once were. Nevertheless, the Global Hunger and Development Appeal (GHDA) funds we use for coalition work and advocacy on behalf of the social needs of Canadians are still considered controversial and are seen, by some, as taking away from the "real" work of international relief. We have maintained a solid grounding in our 16th century roots, but have found it hard to adapt to a society that is asking different questions of the church.
We see the Anglican and United Churches as being the "civic" churches of Canada, but do not identify with that role ourselves. I think this limits our understanding of the mission to which God has called us and is one of the challenges I hope we can address at the 2003 convention.
How shall we Sing to the Lord a New Song as full members of this society?
-- Bishop Raymond Schultz