Story Magazine - Second Quarter, 2005
Professor Mons Teig Retires from Seminary
by Shelley Cunningham, '98
How do you measure faithfulness -- by longevity? Truthfulness? Dedication? Integrity? In nineteen years as professor of worship at Luther Seminary, Mons Teig has been all these things. Arland Hultgren, professor of New Testament, who paid tribute to Teig at the spring faculty/staff dinner put it like this: "We who have gotten to know Mons at a more personal level have come to know him as one who combines things that many would like to put asunder. In his own way of being, he combines formality and creativity, order and flexibility, kindness and critique, warm piety and social engagement, traditional form and evangelical passion." Teig's faithfulness shines when you consider the thousands of students he has engaged in conversation about what it means to lead and plan worship as an encounter with the gracious God we know through Jesus Christ. "Mons has made students aware that what they do in preaching and leading worship sets the tone for everything that goes on in a parish," Hultgren said.
Teig grew up on an Iowa farm, a setting far from what he would encounter as a parish pastor in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Los Angeles, Calif. Yet the disparate locales gave him a bigger picture of how the church needed to reach out through worship.
"My experience on both coasts, where you couldn't take for granted that people would be in church, pressed me in truly imaginative, creative ways," he said. "I knew people wouldn't show up for worship unless a lot of thought had clearly been put into it."
He believes that good worship starts with a team of church staff and lay people who "can put thoughtful, cognitive, careful time into the process. We're finding in the business world today that groups of people working together on a project create a more imaginative and better product than those who work alone. The danger for pastors planning and leading alone is that they can fall into routine."
As much as he admits "I'd rather do it myself," he felt God calling him to leave a larger mark on the church through his teaching. "I have stayed [at the seminary] because I wanted to help students catch the vision of what it was to draw a whole community into worship--to discover that worship isn't simply something they 'do' to them, but that God is making them church in this event of Word and Sacrament. I want them to start thinking about why we do certain things, so that it isn't just rote." It's been particularly rewarding, he says, because students tell him that it's in leading worship that their sense of pastoral identity really comes into being. Even students who say, "'I've done worship all my life' walk away with a real sense that the biblical, confessional material we talk about is embodied in worship."
As a member of the team that created the Lutheran Book of Worship, Teig traveled through North America to help introduce it to congregations. He remains proud of his work with that team. And, though he's well aware of the 'worship wars' that hit many congregations, he doesn't necessarily agree with them.
"For me, any discussion about worship style always has been about creative tension. Being faithful to tradition always means making responsible change. If we don't pay attention, we develop 'liturgical alzheimer's'-- we lose all memory of where we come from. But we need to keep the conversation going to adapt to a contemporary context."
He likens discussing worship styles to the way Lutherans read the Bible: "We are constantly saying, how does this speak to us today? But we're also constantly aware of how it's been interpreted in the past."
Teig gives credence to the belief that every life we touch can be an encounter with the holy. He and his wife, Shirley, like to engage in conversation with people they meet in the course of their everyday activities--errands, travel, dining out. One such person whom they met was a waitress at a restaurant in Alexandria, Minn., several years ago. "We asked her, like we so often do, 'So, what do you do when you're not here?' She was touched and surprised from this question from one of her customers," he said. "But I believe it's important to pay attention to people pastorally, even if you're not their pastor." As it turns out, the waitress had been considering following God's call to serve the church. She kept in touch with the Teigs as she explored entering seminary and visited him during an on-campus tour, and left him a thank-you message in his online memory book when he retired.
Though he'll be making the transition from professor to, he jokes, "a free agent," Teig will continue to shape and lead conversation about how worship affects discipleship, through teaching workshops, writing, and consulting with congregations. Which just goes to show: faithfulness doesn't end at retirement.