By Paula Schlueter Ross
The 2014 Rose Parade float sponsored by Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM) — and the only Christian-themed entry among more than 40 floats in the Jan. 1 parade — received the Princess Award trophy for “Most Beautiful Float 35 Feet and Under.”
The flower-covered float’s “Jesus Welcomes All” theme depicted people of various nationalities being welcomed into a church with open doors, illustrating that “all tribes and nations would come to know Christ as Lord,” that “Christ has called His church to make disciples of all nations” and that “by the grace of God, there is salvation for all who believe,” according to LHM.
A project of the International Lutheran Laymen’s League’s Southern California District, the float included pink, hot-pink, orange, white and yellow roses; pink and white carnations; white orchids; and orange gerberas as well as a variety of other materials, such as rice, nuts, seeds, pine cones and black, kidney and lima beans.
The float is a 64-year tradition in the annual New Year’s Day parade, “carrying on a mission to provide a Gospel witness to viewers everywhere, from the parade route along Pasadena’s [Calif.] Colorado Boulevard to televisions all over the world,” noted LHM in a news release.
The parade, which also includes marching bands and equestrian groups, is watched live on television by some 40 million Americans and by millions more people in 150 countries, according to LHM.
Riding this year’s float were LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison and his wife, Kathy, both of whom assisted — along with their son, Mark, and a friend, Jacob Walker of St. Louis — as first-time decorators: cutting dried yellow flowers into pieces for “tree bark,” and affixing whole, fresh carnations and roses to foam bases on the float.
“The great thing about decorating is that all these great folks are sitting ’round a table talking and having fun while getting the job done ‘midst the calls, ‘more dark carnations!’ and ‘more roses, please!,’” Harrison told Reporter.
With some 5,000 “Petal Pushers” volunteering to decorate — far more than are needed to finish the Lutheran float — they also decorated nine other floats, including those for eHarmony, the City of Beverly Hills, Lions Clubs International and the “banner float” that leads the parade. In return, their labor on those floats paid most of the $75,000 cost of the LHM float.
“In doing this, our LCMS people bear witness to Christ,” noted Harrison.
In fact, he added, “the witness given behind the scenes in the parade community is phenomenal, including people who have come to believe in Christ and joined the LCMS through that powerful witness year after year.”
In a “delightful” turn of events this year, Harrison said the City of Los Angeles float got a much-needed boost from the Lutheran volunteers when it looked like the LA float wouldn’t be finished in time for judging.
A call to the “Iowa LCMS contingent (mostly retirees and church ladies!) who’d already worked a full shift that day” resulted in the Iowans coming “back from the hotel and [working] all night to finish the LA float,” according to Harrison. “LA got the glamour, the LCMS got the go!”
Also riding on the Lutheran float were Dr. Buddy Mendez, a professor at Concordia University, Irvine, Calif.; Lisa Carreon, a member of the LHM Float Committee; and LHM staffers Gunya Na Thalang, regional director for Asia, and Berhanu Moges, ministry center director for LHM—Ethiopia.
A “first” for the Rose Parade — which had an overall theme of “Dreams Come True” — was a controversial same-sex wedding that took place on the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s float, located just a marching band away from the Lutheran float.
On Facebook, a user called the gay wedding “so inappropriate,” and Harrison responded, “All the more reason for us to be there.”
“We can withdraw or be present,” the LCMS president told Reporter later, acknowledging that “some folks got worked up about the title of the LHM float, ‘Jesus Welcomes All,’ because of our proximity to the gay float.” But he noted that “the music playing on our float was ‘Amazing Grace,’ a song about repentance and salvation.” The view of the LCMS is that homosexual behavior is sinful, and that marriage is reserved for one man-one woman relationships. But the Synod also believes that the “redeeming love of Christ … is offered to all through repentance and faith in Christ.” (From Frequently Asked Questions/LCMS Views.)
Harrison said it was “overwhelming” riding through a “sea of 1.5 million people,” seeing all the “thumbs-up” gestures and hearing shouts of “Go, Jesus!,” “God bless you!” and “Thank you!” He added that “getting our name and Gospel message in front of that many people in that positive a way is priceless.”
Although it was hard sitting on the float for some six hours, the experience was “tremendous,” Harrison said. “Kathy repeatedly said how moved she was seeing so many people who were obviously in challenging circumstances in life and need Jesus.
“I came away convinced that in addition to getting the Lutheran name in front of people, the LHM float performs sort of an ecumenical favor to all Christians by being present in the parade. Kudos to LHM, [float organizers] Dick and Lynn Gast, the LHM Float Committee and all the volunteers. I was blown away.”
To watch a YouTube video of the LHM float, click here.