The Power of a Prayer and of a Principle: An explanation to why we are all learning new words in worship.

A message from Prs. Peter and Kathy, and Intern Pr. Mary   

One of the more poignant moments I've experienced as a pastor was on an evening over 20 years ago. A group of men from our church had just returned from a "guys only" fishing trip—minus one man. The missing one had drowned, his body not yet recovered, the result of a windstorm that had capsized the boat in which he was fishing.

As the men gathered at the home of his widow, they mostly sat in silence in her presence. There was nothing much to say. A profound and silent sadness enveloped the room. I remember hearing the clock ticking on the wall.

Eventually it came time for us to leave—each to find one's own place to grieve, to cry, and to share the story. Before we departed, I remember all of us standing, joining hands, and breaking the silence by saying the Lord's Prayer together. In the moment, the words seemed to fill the emptiness of the room and the emptiness in our hearts. They gave order, solemnity, and promise in an otherwise chaotic and desperate time.

That night I learned that the Lord's Prayer is a powerful thing. Taught by Jesus himself, it is little wonder that the Church has handed it on from generation to generation and included it as an integral part of worship for centuries. It is "the prayer" that Christians say together.

Change and Concern
Two weeks ago Kathy, Intern Mary and I explained during worship that we were updating the words to the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles Creed based on translations currently being published by the ELCA in its worship books and educational materials. We chose the timing of the update to coincide with the kick-off of the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation. One of the foundational aspects of the movement was Luther's translation of the Bible and order of worship into the language of the people. Since our announcement, we have heard some concerns about changing the Lord's Prayer from people in our community. It is our hope that we can further explain the change and address those concerns here.

A Brief History of the Lord's Prayer
The Lord's Prayer as we know it comes to us from two places in the Bible: Matthew 6:9-14 and Luke 11:2-4. These two renditions are slightly different, and what we know as "The Lord's Prayer" is actually a combination of both variations (plus a doxology, which doesn't appear in original manuscripts but shows up in the Alexandrian church later). The language of the "old" Lord's Prayer was established in 1928 when the Episcopal Church of the United States updated the Book of Common Prayer to accommodate modern English. Other English-speaking denominations soon adopted it as well. The 1928 revision was, itself, an update to the prayer from the Kings James Bible, which was published in 1611.

In the 1970's, an international and inter-denominational counsel began working on updating the English of the Lord's Prayer again, along with other ecumenical worship texts such as the creeds. They circulated several drafts among hundreds of congregations for feedback throughout the 70's, and in 1979 published the current wording in a document titled Prayers We Have in Common. The four leading Lutheran Denominations in the United States at the time adopted the updated language even before this document was published, and included it in their shared hymnal in 1978 (this is the Green LBW that we still use in church today). In 2006 the ELCA published a successor to the LBW called Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW), a cranberry colored hymnal now used in many of our sister congregations. Within its liturgies of the hours (e.g., morning, afternoon, and evening prayer), only the updated version of the Lord's Prayer is provided. The same updated translation of the prayer is present in Marty Haugen's Holden Evening Prayer service published in 1986. The new language is also the translation of the prayer that is incorporated into the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, which is the translation we read for public worship. The same or very similar translations are used in almost every other modern English Bible currently available.

Languages change while Principles remain
Many of us are deeply rooted in the majestic cadence of the "traditional" 1928 English translation of the Lord's Prayer. Its traditional words spill off our lips and out of our hearts with ease. It is the way many of us learned the prayer from our earliest memory.

The world of language and its usage most certainly changes over time. It is for this reason that we believe it important that all of us now learn the updated version of the prayer together. We do this not for our own sake, but for the sake of others, and in the freedom and the precedence we have as children of the Reformation. We think of our children, youth, and young adults for whom the traditional language of the prayer is archaic and difficult. And even more importantly, we consider our guests and the newly baptized who find the updated language of the prayer more accessible and easier to understand.

There are practical reasons for all of us to learn this newer version as well. The modern language of the Lord's Prayer is what our confirmands learn as they work through their Small Catechisms. We have observed the struggle our students have in studying and memorizing their Small Catechism while we continue to employ the older words in worship.

Ecumenical Efforts
It is important to note that this is not a change that is limited to Messiah—most of our sister congregations in the ELCA already use the updated language of the Lord's Prayer in worship. Nor is it limited to the ELCA—most other English-speaking Lutheran bodies, in addition to our ecumenical partners in the United States and around the world, have been working to adopt the updated English for over three decades. In fact, updating the language of worship isn't even unique to the English-speaking church. Church bodies around the globe are wrestling with how to update the language of worship to include regional dialects, changing vernaculars, and an ever-growing body of Christ.

Safe, Welcoming ... and Inclusive
Messiah seeks always to be a safe and welcoming place for all of God's children. Part of that mission includes using language that is accessible to everyone, including those who may have never encountered the formal, Elizabethan English of the "old" Lord's Prayer. But we also recognize that changing the words of the Lord's Prayer—even if the meaning remains the same—can challenge that same principle for our community. If you are more comfortable with the older words, we invite you to continue to use them whenever you pray the Lord's Prayer. Officially we will still post the new words on the screens and in our bulletins for weekend worship; however, for weddings, funerals, and other special occasions we will defer to what you find most comforting. We on staff also stumble through the newer version and will likely continue to do so for a long time, but we do so because we believe it is important to make these changes for the sake of our younger generations and for the sake of our guests who find this language more accessible and easier to understand. Our words may not all be in unison, but our hearts are as we worship our Lord.

After all, the Lord's Prayer is what so many of us have turned to in times of grief, trouble, and deepest pain. The patterns of the words themselves are a source of comfort and stability. We understand that changing these words is frightening, and that there may be some in our community who will feel tremendous grief that these words that have been so important are changing now. We ask that, regardless of how you feel about either translation, you treat others who feel differently with compassion. Recognize that we hope to be inclusive of all people—but that we also must be sensitive to those among us who feel a sense of loss.

Always Reforming
Ours is a tradition that embraces change, knowing that we rest in the constancy of our God. We are a church that is "always reforming" for the sake of the Gospel and the neighbor. Language is powerful, and it is our hope that placing the timeless message of the Lord's Prayer into modern language will ensure that these words continue to be a source of comfort and hope for the next generation—as they were for a bereft group of men 20 years ago.

We are grateful for your continued fellowship as we learn together what it means to always be made new in the image of Christ.

Yours in Christ, Prs. Peter and Kathy, and Intern Pastor Mary

Below are the updated versions of the Lord's Prayer and Apostles Creed.

The Lord's Prayer
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen.

The Apostles Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.*
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

*Or, "he descended into hell," another translation of this text in widespread use

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