Review: St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Ravenna OH

I’m thinking I should be doing this for Ship of Fools, where people can find it, and I can at least be anonymous.

St. Paul’s is a biggish church that has been around 82 years, with a simple bright sanctuary. Right now, they have an interim pastor. And their organist retired after over 50 years of service, so there was no organ. This should be taken into account when I report on what happened, as opposed to what could happen. The basics are there, and this could be a different place in a year or so.

We got there late because of snow and being slightly lost, so we missed the first hymn and were into the 2nd, which was this hideous African call-and-response thing. The singing was lackluster, which may have had to do with the lack of organ, but was more likely because the hymn was boring.

The liturgy had a lot of congregational chanting, which is I think a good thing, and was even more classical in design than at the Missouri Synod church we visited. The other hymns (with one exception) were about as bad as the first. After the closing hymn, another African call-and-response piece, the pastor said, “We have to work on that one a little.” No, you have to pick better hymns. I don’t know if this necessarily shows a multi-culti obsession from anyone besides Augsburg Fortress, who printed the hymnal. They could have been chosen because it was thought they would work better with minimal accompaniment (the music director was using a digital keyboard). I am really glad that African Christians have music in their own style, and I’ll bet they have trouble with German chorales. Given that I saw nobody in the church whose contact with African genetics was any closer than Lucy, and that the Lutheran church is caretaker of the 2nd greatest musical heritage in Christendom (I expect Anglicans and Orthodox to challenge me on that), it would have been “meet and right” to put it on display.

The sermon was a somewhat diffuse commentary on the 3 readings. The pastor was obviously Very Excited About Obama, and drew a parallel between America pre-Obama and Israel pre-Samuel. I think Israel post-Solomon might be the better comparison, but hey, at least we’re agreed it isn’t the Babylonian Captivity yet. And we are to pray for him, which has been standard procedure in the church since time immemorial (maybe they didn’t pray much for the more rabid Roman emperors). If God could turn Saul of Tarsus, then it’s entirely possible that Obama could become a practitioner of limited government. He also stressed evangelism (in the context of the Gospel reading) and its relationship to membership at St. Paul’s; with 70 people at church on the 11th and a 17% budgetary shortfall, this was not an academic exercise.

The choir sang an offertory anthem, which was poor music poorly performed. Really good music is practically indestructible. Worse, the congregation was involved in general conversation all through it, which struck me as extremely rude and distracting. Real bread (not wafers) was used for communion (which I still don’t feel quite right about taking, until I get some doctrinal clarity).

Afterwards, there was a fete in the basement for the organist’s retirement, and we went. And we were given the Visitor Rush. We’re used to this by now. And yes, they need me. But you know, every church is needy, and it would be novel for somebody to try to sell me membership in their church on the basis of what the church could do for me…you know, like everything else in this world is sold? (and yes, service is something we need to do, so they could fulfill that need.) . But, lacking that, I’d say Pam and Janis and others did a really good job. We got got presented with a jar of bean soup makings, which was really sweet. They were fine friendly folks, not afraid to tell us about the church in Mantua, so not afraid of competition. We’ll probably come back at some point.


8 Responses to Review: St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Ravenna OH

  1. rwp says:

    It’s probably not a fair comparison. There’s no extra-liturgical music in the East, so they have no hymnology. But the Russians have managed to do pretty well with what they have.

  2. kishnevi says:

    1) Maybe the African hymns were in honor of a certain national holiday?
    2) Lutherans might object to being called the second greatest musical heritage. Sie haben Bach! (and Mendelssohn and Buxtehude and Schutz).
    3) “Worse, the congregation was involved in general conversation all through it, which struck me as extremely rude and distracting.” You should never ever step foot in a synagogue…..
    4)”which I still don’t feel quite right about taking, until I get some doctrinal clarity”
    Never mind that. How does God feel about you taking Communion?
    Even in my Christian days, I never felt it was that important whether the bread and wine were the transmorgified flesh and blood of a guy that was crucified 2000 years ago, or a physical symbol of said guy, or some mystical transformation that was both (isn’t that the Lutheran version?)–but I did attend only churches that held to the first view, whether Episcopal or Catholic, and made sure to take the Eucharist two or three times a week. And I never really even considered the Baptist or other churches that don’t have frequent communion services–because they were infrequent as much as anything else. The important thing was that it linked the believer to God and to his fellow believers.

  3. jeffreyquick says:

    1.) I don’t even want to go there…principle of charity and all.
    2.) chant, Dufay, Josquin, Palestrina, Byrd, Monteverdi, Haydn. Mozart, Bruckner…just for starters.
    4.) Oy! so I have a Jew as my catechist now? Which I mention only because you are absolutely right, as I concluded on the drive in this AM. Actually, it’s fear of the mechanics (it’s been so long…do I open my mouth, my hand, or what?) as well as leftover MS “close communion” stuff. ELCA might be the place to start…a MS church would probably grill me on the Large Catechism and the Augsburg Confession, lol!

    Transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation vs. “no substantiation”…. I find it hilarious that the most fundamentalist churches have the most Clintonesque take on the “is” in “This is My Body” (and the “Do this”). THe Lutheran thing as I was taught it is that it really is B & B. but only if you believe it and after you take it…which means there’s no Host idolatry or sacred crumb problems. As long as they say the Words of Institution, it’s my business how I perceive and receive it. The most important thing: “You are what you eat.” I do think that people who insist that Jesus drank grape juice out of season in pre-refrigeration Israel are just silly.

  4. kishnevi says:

    2)Byrd’s Anglican. And if you want to push in everyone that ever wrote a Mass–umm, Bernstein?
    4) Lapsed Anglo Catholic as a catechist. And from experience as an adult convert–get in line and watch how the people in front of you do it. No one ever actually told me, IIRC, what the detailed mechanics were. That should work, unless you stumble into a parish that does it the way my Episcopal parish did–everyone up on the altar , pass the platen and cup around in a circle and say the appropriate words (“bread of heaven”?–I’ve forgotten them, of course) to the person next to you as you offer the bread and cup of wine. This sounds hippie-dippie, of course, but it worked well because it was a small parish, almost all university students, and everyone pretty well knew each other. (And the only question asked the first time I wandered in to see what the service was like there was, “Don’t you want to take communion?”). Of course this was in the 80s, and you’re probably in no danger of it at St. Paul’s.

  5. jeffreyquick says:

    Byrd WORKED for the Church of England. His own practice and sympathies were with Rome. The C of E had no use for something like the Gradualia (esp. 3 centuries before the Oxford Movement). He got away with it because he was a good subject and a great composer. But he was sort of the Shostakovich of Elizabethan England.

    And Bernstein didn’t write liturgical music, not even in the Kitchchester Psalms

  6. Josh says:

    Does anyone know who the current pastor is of this church? If so, please email me at

  7. choirboyfromhell says:

    Second greatest caretaker of music in Christendom? Well that puts us Anglicans as the first surely.
    Seriously, I can count almost forever the Episcopal Churches that have done the exact same thing this Lutheran parish has done. Dumbed it down, tarted up the politics and then get desperate when the attendance drops. Don’t clerics get it?

    1. Don’t mess with the liturgy, if it works, leave it alone.
    2. Be proud of your heritage and let it reflect in the music. It isn’t necessarily better than others, it just nourishes the soul. A little bit of sentimentality never hurt anybody.
    3. _Practice_ inclusiveness, along with peace and justice issues, just don’t bore people with it from the pulpit.

  8. Jeffrey Quick says:

    It’s a statement somewhat like Ned Rorem’s re the Boulanger generation of composers: “3 out of 4 (and 3 of the top 4) were gay.” It allows you to point fingers w/o being responsible for outing any particular individual. Likewise, #1 is not specified. The RCs have the heritage, but you can argue that they haven’t been much of a caretaker. Yes, the Anglicans have at least as good a claim as the Lutherans…but I was confirmed at St. Matthew Lutheran in Lexington MI. Chauvinism and sentiment counts, even after I’ve moved on from my heresy.

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