COLUMBUS — A church is about to embark on a new journey as it welcomes new Lead Pastor Burnell H.R. Petersen.
The 35-year-old father of five said it was the Holy Spirit that called him to the Missouri-Synod Lutheran congregation accompanied by his wife, Concordia, to Columbus. “As radical as it sounds," the black-shirted pastor - bereft of hipster glasses, wispy beard, and shaved head - explained, ”I didn't scope out this place through marketing, surveys, or focus groups, but rather God called me here to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments without regard to human manipulation."
“The mission of Jesus Christ is what got me here: to reach unbelievers (not the unchurched, dechurched, underchurched, overchurched, or entertainment-deprived); but rather people who need Law and Gospel, but are being deprived of it in their tired old feckless baby-boomer churches, or maybe they’ve been hurt or are struggling in some way with being manipulated like a focus group,” Petersen said.
He went on to explain what sets his congregation apart from other churches in the community.
“We actually believe in this stuff. We aren't giving people hipster gobbledygook and hackneyed warmed over phony religiosity, but the actual Gospel ” said the 2005 graduate of a certain Lutheran Seminary. I like my motorcycle just fine, but I won't be riding it into the chancel."
He believes shallow postmodernism and silly innovations are often placed above the real reason someone attends church.
“If you asked someone off the street their idea of a church, they would think praise bands, a guy in jeans and an untucked shirt cracking jokes, just some of those older worn-out postmodern ideas of what church is, cookie cutter crap that just makes young people want to hurl," Petersen said. "Our congregation is not really any of those things. We don’t have praise bands, no middle aged pastor desperately trying to be relevant but just looking like a clown. We understand or try to project in our culture that church is more than just trying to bait and switch people and downplaying Jesus, the cross, redemption, and the Gospel. We don't throw our blessed Lord under the bus."
“It’s a challenge to minister as an actual believer instead of a poser, but if you simply carry out the Lord's instructions from Scripture, it's not really hard to understand that this isn't posing for selfies."
Petersen is excited about becoming part of the mission that the Holy Catholic Church has set out to accomplish since its opening in 30 AD.
“The neat thing about this body of Christ is we’re all broken, we’re all sinful and we all struggle. That grace and mercy that’s poured on us in Holy Baptism, we’re overjoyed by it. And in spite of the crosses we bear as disciples, we can’t help but want to share it, by inviting people to the Divine Service,” he said.
There is no target age or demographic, Petersen said with the Church's culture-transcending hymnody and multisensory experience of the Western Mass in its fullness, along with the Law and Gospel he uses within his sermons, the congregation has no intended age, race, or status of wealth.
“It’s liturgical and dignified so that’s attractive to young families. It’s an authentic atmosphere on Sundays so parents feel comfortable bringing their kids here,” he said.
His congregation tends to be a little different than other churches as actually worshiping God through the miracle of the physical presence of Jesus in Word and sacrament is a normal scene - as opposed to projection screens, bad guitar music, skits, lattes, cup-holders, couches, dancing girls, and mind-numbing praise choruses,
Petersen is confident that by virtue of the Lord's incarnation and mission to seek and save the lost, Jesus will continue to interact physically and miraculously as the Holy Spirit grows the church according to the will of the Father, a reality he gladly invites. He has no idea what the "numbers" will look like.
“It’s a really good problem to have,” he said.
Petersen describes himself as a "poor miserable sinner" who has been "called into the preaching office and set apart through Holy Ordination" with a preaching style that shuns gimmicks, current events, and modern media examples such as video clips and slideshows - focusing rather on Christ and His work on the cross for the salvation of sinners. It's a radical idea, and one certain to raise eyebrows, but Petersen is convinced that this new way is superior to the old, traditional shuck-and-jive contemporary nonsense that turns people off with its shallowness.
“We have not abolished the Mass," said Petersen, in a shocking quotation of the Book of Concord, "Moreover, in our churches 'Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc.'" It's an idea so radical and fresh that it's a wonder this has not been tried before. For more information about what authentic worship does not look like, visit any number of LCMS congregations.