Those searching for a new church home often have questions revolving around a faith community’s history, beliefs, energy and passion. But we also recognize that the more practical questions, focusing on what you can expect once you arrive, and who you might find there, are just as important.
Below are just a few of the questions (and answers) some visitors have had of the Lutheran faith and of Good Shepherd in particular.
A: A denomination of the Christian Church, Lutherans trust completely in the grace—the freely-given love—of God. While there is nothing we can do to get God to love us more, there is also nothing we can do to make God love us less. In the confidence of that relationship, we seek to live in ways that honor God, enable us to experience the good life God intends, and serve those around us, who are also loved by God. We do so not because we are afraid of God, but because we are trying to love God back and experience (to quote the Bible) “the life that really is life!”
A: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the largest Lutheran denomination in America. As compared to the other major Lutheran bodies in this country (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod), the ELCA is more liberal. We believe that God's love conquers all human misunderstandings and are willing to change with the times and culture.
Our congregation, like others within the ELCA, is organized as an independent religious corporation with an elected board of directors called a "Congregation Council." Each year, at congregational meetings, we elect four new members to this governing body of twelve and approve a budget. The members serve on a three-year rotation along with staff members and a youth representative. We have a church constitution, voted on by the congregation, that empowers us to own property, such as the church building. Following a "call" committee’s research, and Council’s approval, our clergy are then "called," or hired, by congregational vote.
The regional synod to which we belong is the Lower Susquehanna Synod (LSS). Bishop James Dunlop is our regional presiding Bishop and works out of the LSS office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. LSS serves as a resource for Good Shepherd, providing educational opportunities for congregations throughout the year. It has yearly assemblies, at which delegates from member congregations vote on various matters. A majority of delegates are not clergy. One of the voting responsibilities of Synod Assemblies is the election of a bishop to a six-year term, when that job falls vacant. It is also responsible for the training, formation, approval, and placement of clergy throughout its jurisdiction.
We have a church-wide assembly every other year, with delegates from every synod. The assembly chooses a presiding bishop, currently the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton. And, people serve as delegates, not representatives, in these assemblies. That is, they are elected by their constituencies, but are charged with voting their consciences. They are not accountable for their yes/no votes to the people who elected them, only to themselves and to God.
The ELCA is a member church of the Lutheran World Federation, as are other organized Lutheran churches.
A: While admitting to some discomfort with the word “Protestant,” which has its origins in what and who we opposed in conflicts that are now 500 years old, most “classify” Lutherans as a Protestant denomination, meaning we are a part of the western church that is not Roman Catholic. Here are four beliefs that set Lutherans apart from some other Protestant Christians:
Credits: Patti Podnar, Newsmax
A: An unsuccessful effort to reform the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1500’s was the genesis of the Lutheran Church we know today.
Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and theology professor in Wittenburg, Germany, was critical of the Pope’s use of indulgences (payment in exchange for lessening one’s time spent in purgatory) to build St. Peter's basilica in Rome in the early sixteenth century. His criticism, known as the Ninety-Five Theses, was a list of debating points nailed to the Castle Church door in Wittenburg in 1517.
Luther reacted against the politics surrounding the papacy of the time and developed a theology claiming that salvation came by grace through faith and not by works. He rejected the papacy, all but two of the sacraments, any redemptive power for the virgin Mary, praying to saints, purgatory, and celibacy for clergy. This put him at odds with Rome.
Pope Leo X was not about to debate indulgences, an important source of church revenue, nor church doctrine, and in 1521 he had Martin Luther excommunicated. Luther was declared an outlaw and a bounty put on his head. However, Luther was admired by the prince of Saxony, who hid and protected him. While in hiding, he spent much of his time writing, and by 1522 had translated the New Testament into German. This, along with the advent of the printing press, made scripture available to the common people for the first time in history.
By 1525, Luther and his supporters had ordained its first minister. He did not want his name used for the new church and preferred calling it “Evangelical.” The term “Lutheran” was actually used in a derogatory manner by Catholic officials but Luther’s followers embraced it. Luther’s ideology and writings continued to engage more and more people and by 1544, Sweden and Norway had both made the Lutheran faith their state religion.
Though Luther died in 1546, the Reformation*, as it would come to be called, did not. Other forms of Protestantism arose and many of those members, including Lutherans, had begun immigrating to the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Most importantly, Luther made the Bible — "sola scriptura" or Scripture alone — the only authority for what Christians are to believe, a model nearly all Protestants follow today. The Catholic Church, in contrast, holds that teachings of the Pope and church bear the same weight as Scripture.
Over the centuries, Lutheranism itself has divided into dozens of sub-denominations, and today it covers the spectrum from ultra-conservative to ultra-liberal branches.
Credits: Mary Fairchild, About Religion/Lutheran Church History
* Drawn much closer to one another in recent decades, the Catholic and Lutheran Churches issued a celebratory statement on the occasion of the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation.
A: The name "Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd” was adopted in May 1972 by the merged congregations of two churches that were first established in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries— Advent and St. Mark’s Lutheran Churches. Groundbreaking began later that year. See a more detailed timeline and read more about how a history of traditions, liturgy and doctrine laid the groundwork for what was to become Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd.
A: Good Shepherd’s vision is to live out the unconditional love and radical hospitality of Jesus in our WORSHIP, in our SERVICE to the world, and in our SHARED LIFE. We work to realize these goals by being accepting, understanding and compassionate. Grace is the prism through which we view the social fabric of the world, and is reflected in our positions and policies.
Marriage — We seek to recognize, bless and support all loving couples wishing to live within a covenant of love and fidelity, no matter their sexual orientation. To that end, we amended our wedding policy in 2014 to include same-sex couples.
Women in Ministry and Leadership — Women are equally welcomed and encouraged to serve in leadership roles at Good Shepherd. They lead us as pastors, and cantors, serve as members of Good Shepherd’s Congregation Council, committee chairs, and other areas crucial to the life of the church.
Alcohol — Wine is served each weekend as an important part of our communing together. But we also believe that alcohol of any kind should be enjoyed in moderation. We recognize that its abuse, as with drugs, remains a very real and chronic problem among many in today’s society and we pray for their full recovery .
Gambling — We understand that any recreational activity enjoyed to excess can become an obsession. That can result in potential marriage, family or legal problems. Though Good Shepherd takes no official position against such activities, we also advise caution and call awareness as to its potential harm. There are many other social issues that may call for similar measured responses. But it is not for us to judge, but to advise, support and love those who are suffering, or in need.
A: You are always welcome at Good Shepherd — no matter your background or beliefs. And we invite you to participate in the ways you are comfortable. If you are considering a path to becoming a member of the congregation, there are a few steps you’ll need to take.
A: Good Shepherd’s congregation can easily be described in one word – welcoming. The people of Good Shepherd are dedicated to supporting one another warmly during worship and fellowship. We are a membership of roughly 400 families, where congregants come from diverse life experiences and age groups to join together in faith, liturgical worship and service.
Download and read “What It Means To Be Liturgical”, to give you a better understanding as to why we do what we do in the life of the church.
A: “Go in peace, serve the Lord” is an announcement we make at the end of each worship service. It reminds us that our ministry encompasses a wide range of activities in which we engage the world and one another. Feeding the hungry, visiting the lonely and comforting the afflicted are but a few ways we work to help make a difference in the lives of others. Learn more by visiting Service.
A: Opportunities for fellowship abound at Good Shepherd. Attendees regularly join at the Shepherd’s Crook Café every Sunday morning to visit with one another. Good Shepherd also hosts a variety of events throughout the year that provide fellowship for the community and congregation alike. Those interested are made aware of these fellowship opportunities through the weekly printed bulletin, the monthly newsletter — Good News or published in the online calendar.
A: You can expect to be welcomed warmly at the door by our volunteer greeters and ushers who’ll make sure you get a copy of the weekly worship service bulletin and answer any questions you may have. Depending on your arrival time, you can stop by the Shepherd’s Crook Café for a complimentary beverage and conversation. The café is open before and after the Sunday morning service.
A: The worship at Good Shepherd observes a reverence for God while celebrating the joy of coming together to share in the relationships we have with one another. You’ll experience this with readings, responsive text, beautiful music, and a warm sense of community. Here are some key elements of worship for first-timers:
To learn more, we invite you to read “More Than Words", focused on the sights and actions of worship.
A: Though faith formation is a life-long process, we at Good Shepherd recognize the importance of engaging the youngest among us and are committed to them and their families. Meaningful educational programs are provided for various ages, along with numerous ways for children to get involved in worship, readings and more. Learn more by visiting Children & Families.
Though many of the answers to these and other questions may already be found in greater detail throughout this site, we hope this brief list may help you with your search. If there are still other questions we can answer, please call the church office at 717.393.3958.