A brave new Lent

An devotional Easter message from the pastor of Minnekirken

Minnekirken - Lent

Photo courtesy of Minnekirken
The Norwegian Memorial Church in Chicago—Minnekirken—is a 112-year-old historical landmark at Logan Square.

The Rev. David Schoenknecht
The Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, Chicago

Lent at Minnekirken began with one of the largest attended services for the “Imposition of Ashes,” which I have been privileged to officiate since I began my ministry at this special congregation in the fall of 2015.

I could share many more stories of progress in ministry over these years:

  • We’ve received new members who have come to appreciate our quirky blend of small church Norwegian Lutheran-ness in the urban heart of Chicago.
  • We’ve staged concerts and speakers—from the Nidaros Cathedral Jentekor to the University of Olso’s Dr. Hallgeir Elstad speaking to us about the “Careful Reformation” in Norway.
  • We’ve enjoyed year-over-year growth in signature events—like our “Taste of Norway” Christmas fair—always the Saturday before Thanksgiving, as we say here at The Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church!
  • We’re fixing our steeple, restoring stained-glass windows, handing out school backpacks to needy neighbors, and enjoying some truly cozy Lørdags­kos winter fellowship dinners! Our pictures are worth a thousand words.

But on this particular Third Sunday in Lent, I write to you knowing already that for all great things happening at Minnekirken, there will not be a single worshipper in our pews today. 

Not a one.

At 11 a.m. this morning—Sunday, March 15, 2020—I know that Minnekirken’s 112-year-old landmark sanctuary on Logan Square will stand achingly empty. For, you see, COVID-19 protocols in Illinois have moved our church council to suspend all church gatherings—including worship—until (we hope!) Palm Sunday.

And so, Minnekirken, like many other congregations, is giving up some very unusual things for Lent this year. Many churches are giving up their midweek “simple supper” community meals and evening worship. Many churches are giving up those all-important choir practices that lean into their Holy Week services. Many churches are giving up children’s programs, confirmations, and Sunday Schools. No Easter egg hunts this year. No Passion Plays. No service projects. Not even Holy Communions.

This year, many churches are giving up Lent for Lent. 

And I have to tell you, on this side of Holy Week, that it feels very, very, strange. Most of us have never encountered anything remotely like this COVID-19 outbreak. I’ve wondered, how many times in our 100-plus-year history has Minnekirken been completely empty at a time when services were scheduled?

We may not be accustomed to times such as these, but I have been able to draw some encouragement from someone who has—the father of Lutheranism, Dr. Martin Luther. 

In August of the year 1527, the bubonic plague swept through Wittenberg, Germany. Despite urgent calls that he and his family flee the city, Luther remained. Martin and Katie turned their home into a ward for the afflicted. The Luthers tended the sick and preached the Gospel of God’s grace and peace to the dying.  Every day in Wittenberg, between that August and November, was a Good Friday of death and sorrow. But in the face of that, the Luther family projected the Easter Sunday hope of new and eternal life in Christ. 

As heroic as this sounds, however, modern medicine has urged 21st century Christians to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic through “social distancing.” Science tells us that this can be an act of compassion as well!

Twenty-first century Christians have new ways to both do and be the Church. We may not have any worshippers in attendance at Minnekirken this morning, but I will continue to “preach the Word in season and out of season,” as St. Paul urges, by way of Facebook Live and Zoom teleconferencing. 

A lot of pastors and churches are getting super creative. At Minnekirken, we are even doing choir practice online!


Photo courtesy of Minnekirken
This year, many churches are giving up Lent for Lent. The sanctuary at Minnekirken may stand empty for now, but Lent will go on, albeit differently than before.

Lent will go on, albeit differently than ever before. Holy Week will happen! Palm Sunday’s “Hosannas!”—the shouts of “Save us, we pray!”—will arise from us even now, especially now! Påske will be celebrated – if not in our pews, then in our homes; if not always in the here-and-now, then forever in the here-ever-after because Christ IS risen. Kristus er oppstanden! Kristus er virkelig oppstanden!

Jesus lives! The victory’s won. Death no longer can appall me.

Brighter scenes will then commence; this shall be my confidence.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. While the ways we show Christian compassion and proclaim the Gospel might be different today—especially this Lent—our faith, our hope, and our love in Christ remains. The living, loving, Body of Christ in our world today remains. The confessing, singing, celebrating, serving Church of Christ remains. The first Easter was just the beginning.

I can hardly wait to celebrate this Easter at Minnekirken!

David Schoenknecht

Image courtesy of Minnekirken
The Rev. David Schoenknecht

The Rev. David Schoenknecht is the pastor of the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church. Rev. Schoenknecht has three decades of pastoral and professorial experience. In addition to serving Minnekirken, he continues to be an employee of 1517 Media/Sparkhouse Publishers of Minneapolis and an adjunct professor of Religious Studies at Rockford University. He lives in Elgin, Ill., and is married to Lynn. They have three adult children and four grandchildren. Pastor’s favorite Bible passage comes from Nehemiah 8:10: “The joy of the Lord is your strength!”

This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.