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A hymn comes to life

December 13, 2010 02:08 PM

No longer just a hymn title, “Shall we gather at the river?” was recently a serious question asked from one group of Lutherans to another.


When the Tri-Lutheran Cooperative Ministry (TLCM)—a group of three congregations on the northernmost border of our synod—planned to hold a special outdoor worship service in September, they found that their preferred site was already booked. As it turned out, Robert E. Post Park had been reserved by a group they knew well: the three Kingston congregations that form the Tri-Lutheran Communion (TLC). The question—“Shall we gather at the river?”—was asked, and “Worship at the River” brought six congregations together one Sunday morning on the banks of the Hudson.


The six clergy met to put the worship together, incorporating their distinct traditions, and lay people from each parish stepped up to coordinate a picnic. Over 250 people showed up, causing the event to be affectionately termed “Lutherpalooza.” “Many of our parishes are rather small in our own gatherings, so it was fun to see that there were more Lutherans in this neighborhood,” said Pastor Rich Mueller. “When you looked out over the crowd, people were mingling and connecting, realizing that they knew other people.” “Plus, from a pastor’s perspective, it was enjoyable to be with one’s colleagues,” added Pastor Rob Harris.


Worship began with remembrance of baptism and mingling of the waters from the six congregations: Atonement, Saugerties; Christ’s, Woodstock; Immanuel, Kingston; Redeemer, Kingston; St. Paul’s, West Camp; and Trinity, Kingston. A strong baptismal theme anchored the sermon. During the sending ritual, the waters were blessed and poured back into the river as a litany in response to the Gulf oil spill was read. At the end of the service, Pastor Ed Schreiber got into his kayak and laid a wreath—in memory of the victims of September 11—on the river.


WorshipAtRiver2010-5“Worshipping together made an impression. Here are all of our little communities, usually isolated from one another, coming together, doing something different,” said Pr. Harris. “People weren’t identifying by congregation and no one knew everyone—there was a sense that Jesus was really calling us together.”


A giant potluck and a piñata for the kids followed. Participants reacted very positively to the experience—the only challenge was the wind! “It was inspiring—a good way to start the season,” said Pr. Mueller. Plans are already underway for next year. “We’ve started something here.”




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