St Paul Lutheran in Morgantown
St. Paul Lutheran Church is a congregation in the West Virginia – Western Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. St. Paul was established in 1897 through the work of deeply committed members and pastors. Up until the 1960s St. Paul Lutheran Church sat at the corner of University Ave. and Hough St. In the 1960s the congregation moved to its present location at the intersection of Baldwin St. and Patteson Dr. On the original site of St. Paul, there now resides the Lutheran Campus Ministry at WVU.
Lutherans are a historic confessional body that is named for Martin Luther, the 16th-century reformer who sought to renew the Church in the pure proclamation of the gospel. The Reformation began in 1517, when Luther nailed ninety-five theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. He was disputing the practice of selling indulgences, that is, where people could buy forgiveness. Luther, after a long struggle seeking the one true God, realized that scripture pointed to humans being made right in relationship to God by grace alone, not through any works. Justification, that is, being put in a right relationship to God, is the article of faith on which the church stands or falls. If the good news of God in Christ Jesus is ever proclaimed as being dependent on something we must do first, the church has failed in its witness to the grace given to us.
Our life as a Lutheran congregation is marked by several important characteristics that root us in the gospel. We are:
Evangelical – Luther did not designate his movement to be “Lutheran.” He designated it “evangelical.” To be evangelical is to be rooted in the gospel (evangel is the English word that is derived from the Greek word that mean “good news”). Of utmost importance to us is the proclamation of the gospel. The proclamation of the gospel is how the Holy Spirit works faith in us. In contrast to the gospel is the Law. The Law has an important role insofar as it acts as a mirror to show us our true situation. In essence it puts us to death as we are shown how we do not live as God desires, thanks to the power of sin. But the gospel raises us up to new life in Christ as we hear that through his death and resurrection we are made right with God by grace through faith.
Scriptural – The sole authority for Lutherans is the bible. It is in the bible where we hear the grand story of salvation, from the creation of the world and the fall of humankind through the choosing of a particular people to the incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ, the scriptures proclaim law and gospel to us. The deep study of scripture is how Luther came to understand the gospel taught purely. We hold that law and gospel are found in both the Old and New Testaments and therefore hear readings from both portions of the bible on Sunday mornings during worship.
Confessional – While the bible is the sole authority for Lutherans, we also lean upon another source of documents for our interpretation of scripture and in our common life together. The Book of Concord is a collection of historical documents from the time of the Reformation and shortly afterward that continue to guide our reflection and reading of the bible. The Book of Concord includes such documents as Luther’s Large and Small Catechism, and the Augsburg Confession. The whole contents can be found at http://www.bookofconcord.org
Liturgical – While practice varies from congregation to congregation in the Lutheran family, most congregations follow the historic order of the Sunday worship service. This is certainly the case at St. Paul. We celebrate on Sunday morning with singing of hymns, reading of scripture, praying together, confession of sin and the celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. While the order is very stable, the seasons of the church year influence the music, the worship setting, the preaching, the prayers and other things. It is our hope that our worship life is enriched by the liturgy not limited by it.
Sacramental – While we place great importance on the proclamation of the gospel in our life together, we recognize that not all of the proclamation is done in the sermon alone. Jesus gave the church the gifts of the sacraments, where the good news of Jesus comes to us. Since Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father, we might be left wondering where Jesus is, or if he is with us at all. Yet Jesus has promised to be with us in the very physical acts of the sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist. In the waters of baptism, which all members from the very young to the very old must pass through, we are united to Jesus through his claiming us. In the Eucharist, we trust that Jesus does not lie to us, but that when he said “This is my body” he meant that his very life would be truly and substantially present in the bread and wine during our meal. Baptism and Holy Communion help form our life and our proclamation.
Ecumenical – While the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments are the center of our life, we recognize that Christ and his church do not belong exclusively to us. We engage other denominations in ecumenical dialogues and participate with other Christians in various ministries. The ELCA is currently in full communion with a number of other denominations (e.g. Presbyterian Church U.S.A., The Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, Moravians) and in dialogue with others (e.g. Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Church). We work to build up and make visible the unity we already share in Jesus Christ.