Ad orientem

Amy opens up a discussion about ad orientem (celebrating liturgy facing the altar, as opposed to facing the people) in Lutheran and Episcopalian churches. I commented,

Altars are often ad orientem in Lutheran churches of all stripes, Missouri, ELCA, and WELS. Probably in the majority of ELCA churches I’ve been in in Pennsylvania. Two of the three churches I pastored (a two church parish in PA and a church in VT) were eastward facing. Folks were still getting upset with pastors in the 1980s and early ’90s who thought they might try pulling it out from the wall. This was never a big controversy among Lutherans. And Lutheran rubrics were simple–for the parts of the liturgy that are “sacrificial,” in which you are offering prayer to God, you face the altar; for those parts that are “proclamation,” directed to the people, you face them. Everyone understood this. There were no whispered prayers, so there was no sense that the pastor was doing something that the people were not in on. And it wasn’t just churches that might be called “high church.” It was also in more pietistic churches that had a Jesus in Gethsemane painting above the altar, or a reproduction of Thorvaldsen’s statue of Christ, and which sang Baptist style Sunday School hymns and would only use grape juice for communion. I did a lot of supply preaching during seminary, at churches throughout central Pennsylvania and western Maryland, and this latter scenario was the norm. In Lutheranism, ironically, the “high church” folks, the liturgically fussy folks, tended to be the ones who insisted that the altars had to be pulled out.