Building capacity for Ministry Through Generosity

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Whenever a pastor brings up the issue of money, it seems to create a bit of a stir.  Pastors are supposed to talk about spiritual matters, not financial ones.  Talk about God's grace.  Talk about the stories of Jesus.  Talk about hope.  Talk about anything else but the taboo subject of money.

Ironically, the same things were being said about Jesus' preaching.  In the gospel of Luke, the topic that Jesus speaks the most about is God's love.  The second most talked about subject is wealth and possessions.  The two topics are linked.  If we are going to talk about devotion to God and response to God's love, then the conversation is going to eventually involve money.  This is not because God's love is bought, sold, traded, or hoarded.  God's love and grace come as the totally free gift of a generous God.   So what gives?

In a world that heavily values wealth and possessions, there is bound to be a clash of gods.  Remember, Martin Luther defined a god as "that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need.  To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe [god] with our whole heart."   The dominant god in our culture, community, and world is not the God of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Jesus but is rather the Almighty Dollar.  More decisions, commitments, risks, relationships, and ideologies are formed as a result of money than any other single factor.  Money is power.  Keeping, growing, defending, leveraging, influencing, and obtaining monetary power is a religious endeavor pursued with the greatest of devotions and fervor.   A truth as real in the first century as Jesus walked through the marketplaces as it is today.

Jesus understood both the power, devotion, and distraction that money created in our spiritual lives.  He challenged his disciples to frame possessions in terms of their faith in God.  Wealth is to be used for the sake of the gospel - to bring the good news of God's priceless love to a world that remains largely bankrupt.  Giving is a spiritual practice that helps to shift the focus from material creation to the Creator of life.  When we give, we set our attention to God's purposes and suspend our own. 

What is more, giving allows for good things to happen in the context of Christian community.  When we give, we support the messaging of God's love in real and tangible ways.  It is ironic, but to proclaim the free grace of God in real time and space costs money.  Resources are needed to worship, instruct, be present, and reach out.  Without the generous support of committed disciples. the church's mission is stunted.  Likewise, generous support allows the church's mission to grow and expand.  

To build generosity and our capacity for ministry, St. James began Special Offerings a few years back.  Three times a year, the community is asked to close the gap between our planned/pledged giving and the actual cost of ministry.  Lent is one of those times. 

It seems fitting to me that during this season of renewed spiritual focus on Jesus' life and passion, we invite folks to make additional and first-time monetary gifts.  The act of considering to make a gift - no matter what size - forces us to think about our priorities. 

What is it worth to me for the hospitality of God's love to be shared without cost?  What risks am I willing to take so that Jesus presence can be made known in this place?  Do I use what I have to advance my agenda or contribute to bringing the kingdom of God a little closer? 

Thank you ahead of time for your consideration and for your generosity.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

p.s.  At the half-way point in the season of Lent we are about 1/3 of our goal for this Special Offering.   




Coming Together in Hope and Care


Last Saturday, St. James came together as a community for the funeral of a long-time member, Sharon Bloch.  The church was packed as nearly three hundred fifty people filled the sanctuary.  Tangible signs of love and support surrounded Sharon’s husband Del and their kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. 

Being present in times of grief has long been a core value of Christian community.  Before Christians had designated buildings for worship – when it was only prayers, songs, scripture, and table – our spiritual ancestors found it important to offer mutual care and support.

In light of the resurrection, Christians hope in God to bring about restoration in the broken and hurting places of life.  Christian funerals have long been times when trust in the sure and certain hope of resurrection takes center stage.  

Saturday was another example of this long-held tradition.  We came together in the midst of sorrow and grief to celebrate the gift of eternal life that God gives us.  Even though that gift does not make the pain and sorrow magically disappear – it gives needed strength.  Knowing that we are not alone, that we are with others and with God, lifts our tired and weary souls. 

I am grateful for the community of St. James that comes together whenever we find the joy of life overcast with the shadow and reality of death.  Thankful for the leadership of Doreen Evans – Director of Ministry and Operations – and her compassionate coordination of ministry and events.  Thankful for the leadership of Lela Valentine – Funeral Luncheon Ministry Host – who gathers a cadre of volunteers to make bars and offer hospitality.  Grateful for the musical leadership of Jan Pofahl, our Pastoral Care Team (Birdie Olson and Karen Krafka) who help with liturgy, and Jeff Andrews making sure that it all sounds good.  Thankful for Gail Pederson who makes sure our church home is clean and that tables/chairs are where they need to be for large gatherings.  Thank you to all who gave time and energy on Saturday so that St. James was able to offer hospitality and care.

Funerals are not planned long in advance.  They usually interrupt the normal flow of things.  In a moment’s notice, they remind us of how much life is fragile and precious.  Also, funerals remind us in an instant of how important it is to have a church community to surround, care, and lift up God’s promises.  Thank you for your gifts of time, talent, and treasure which provide these essentials.

As always, I look forward to seeing you in worship.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

Little Hands Bring Great Joy


Each Sunday as I greet folks at the door,  I hear positive comments about the participation of children in worship.  St. James is truly a special place where children take an active role in worship.  Kids bring the joy with them as they wave ribbon banners, shake shakers, ring bells, and collect coins at the Noisy Offering.  

This past Sunday, we involved children in a new way.  During the opening hymn, throughout the season of Lent, our children will be adding to the scene at the base of the large cross in the sanctuary.  They are creating a 'wilderness' on our Lenten journey.  They poured sand on the First Sunday in Lent.  This coming week they will add something new.  You will have to come to church to see what the new item will be.  

As a pastor, I am so proud of the community of St. James and its active welcome of children in worship.  Thank you, parents, for bringing them.  Their regular participation fosters a faith foundation that will last their whole life.  Thank you also, adults without small children at home, for your hospitality.  You encourage with your smiles, laughter, coins, and gracious spirit.  I am excited about what we are doing together - through our actions and worship practices - for the youngest believers among us.  It is impossible to understate the importance of letting our kids know that they have a place and are welcome.   In so doing we follow Jesus' command to his disciples to "let the children come to me."  

Looking forward to seeing you and children of all ages in worship this week,

Pastor Walt

Beginning Our Tenth Year of Ministry Together


On February 15, 2009, I preached my first sermon as the Lead Pastor of St. James Lutheran in Burnsville, MN.   It was a whirlwind of a week for my family and me as we moved from New Jersey.  We left our house in New Jersey on a Tuesday and moved into our new home in Savage on a Thursday.  Looking back, we should have given ourselves more time for the transition, but it was an exciting time and we were eager to begin a new chapter of life and ministry. 

When I look back on the years since that time, they have been a time of transition and transformation.  Little could I have anticipated at the start that St. James would have resized its ministry moving from a programmatic congregation to a relationship-based community.  We have changed from being a kingdom of kingdoms – each with its direction, passion, and resources- into a focused community with a vision to build and deepen loving relationships with God, each other, and our neighbor.  Our altar table and communion practices have opened to include on a weekly basis not only children but all who seek the presence of God.  Children bring vitality to each worship as they march around, collect a noisy offering, and shout out the dismissal.  We are smaller, to be sure, but are more engaged in the giving of our time, talents, and treasure.  Innovation has been a constant companion as we have adjusted the way we do ministry to meet the resources and the opportunities/challenges available.  Together we reduced the size of St. James’ congregational debt from $1.3 million in 2009 to currently under $350,000 with a plan to be debt-free in just over three years.  There is much to celebrate!

I am grateful for the many folks who I’ve been privileged to be in ministry with at St. James.  Councils, Executive Mission Teams, staff, pastors, students, interns, Ministry Hosts, Mission Teams, and weekly worshipers – each of you brought your efforts, dreams, skills, and gifts.  I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to learn and grow with you all.  It wasn’t always easy, and at times we were faced with making difficult decisions.  Both faith and struggle fill ministry as it does life itself.  That said, as a community of faith and struggle, we sought God’s guidance and direction.  We came together and trusted in the Spirit to lead us onward.

How do you measure time?  Most folks measure it as years completed.  I like to think of time as what lies ahead.  So instead of finishing nine years at St. James, I am celebrating the beginning of a tenth year.  What will this year ahead bring?

Lord knows, and that is good enough for me.  Trusting in God’s care, love, and guidance we venture forth as a community of faith and struggle.  Let us seek together where the Spirit is moving, inviting, prodding, and encouraging.

Thankful for you, I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday.


In Christ,

Pastor Walt

Teaching To Love and Breaking Chains of Hate


At the heart of Jesus’ teaching was the idea of God’s profound and expansive love.  God loved the whole world and all the people in it.  God, after all, created ALL humanity in God's Divine Image.  Although our Bible unconditionally supports this idea, Christians haven’t always been the most loving of groups.  We have judged and excluded.   We have been responsible for acts of violence (both doing them and remaining silent while others carried them out) in the name of defending the faith.   Sadly, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other divisive ideologies have been given credence and strength by Christians.    

In a divisive time when voices of division and the White Supremacy movement is on the rise, as Christians, we need to return (that is what repent means) to the core of the gospel – the undeniable love that God has for all people.  We need to name the sin of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and any other ideology that degrades and dehumanizes. 

To that end, in Confirmation Ministry, we have been learning about the sin of racism and God’s gift of diversity.  We have been talking in class about these things.  Last week, we listened to the experiences of Icy Mackley, an African American woman who is a long-time member of St. James.  She spoke about growing up as a young girl in Birmingham, Alabama and attending the 16th Street Baptist Church there a year after the KKK bombed it.  In that act of domestic terrorism, by white Christians, four girls were killed on a Sunday morning while they were at church. 

This coming weekend, I will be going with our Confirmation students and Small Group leaders on a Winter Retreat.  We will be watching the movie “Hidden Figures” and talking about how we can work together to end racism and celebrate diversity.  I hope that our efforts will have a positive impact on all of our lives.  Please pray for us as we head to Camp Omega.

I invite you in joining me this week to help reflect on the opportunities that God has given each of us to share Jesus’ love.  Repent, with me, of the kind of thinking and actions that head in the opposite direction of God’s love for every person.  Let us in all things follow Jesus’ path of love.

Look forward to seeing you in worship soon,

Pastor Walt

Praying For You

When someone is praying for you, it can be an uplifting gift.


From personal experience (in my life and walking with others in their lives), our paths can all too quickly become rocky, impassable, treacherous, muddy, and disheartening.  At other times, we wander in a wilderness where the concerns of health, family, jobs, addictions, and finances are all too big, consuming, and formidable.  Feelings of fear, uncertainty, powerlessness, and loneliness are not uncommon. 

For centuries, Christians have found strength, comfort, and hope in prayer.  Intercessory prayer – praying on behalf of another – is a regular part of our worship and community life.  St. James maintains an ongoing Prayer List.  On this list are the sick, homebound, struggling, grieving, and those serving in the armed forces.  Folks will regularly call the church office to be added to the list or to add someone else to the list.  Each week we send this list out to a group of people who pray for those on the list.  We also mention the Prayer List as part of the Prayers of the People on Sunday morning worship.  If you would like to join those who pray weekly for those on the Prayer List then contact us

Why is it so powerful for others to lift us up in prayer?  For me, it has something to do with the communal aspect of our faith.  In baptism, God made us a part of a community that has a core purpose to be a part of God’s creative and redeeming work in all the world.  When we pray for someone else, or a concern that affects God’s creation, then we are making room in our hearts for them.  We are letting them know that they are not alone.  We are willing to enter – even if it is only in a small way – the struggles, concerns, trials, and tribulations that they are facing.  We are letting them know that they are not alone.  What is more, we are willing to speak to God – who is the source of healing and transformation beyond our limited imaginations – on their behalf.      

Starting this week, I am putting a new feature on the homepage of the St. James website called “Pray For Me.”  It is an online opportunity for you to submit a prayer request at any point during the week.  Your prayer requests will be sent directly to me, and I will offer a prayer for you within 24hours.  Also, during its regular weekly meeting, the Pastoral Care Team will also pray for you.   You can still submit your prayer requests for the Prayer List through the church office – we will continue this important prayer ministry.   “Pray For Me” is an additional resource for you from St. James that carries out our vision: by the grace of God, we will build and deepen loving relationships with God, each other, and our neighbor.

Look forward, as always, to seeing you in worship,

Pastor Walt

An Important Time Together


Time is a funny thing.  Although there are moments that seem to take forever, time mostly flies.  It seems like it was only yesterday that we were getting ready as a church for our 2017 Annual Meeting.  As a congregation, we were facing a big financial challenge and concerns over how we were going to meet the needs of website communication, ministry oversight and support, and confirmation without dedicated staff resources. 

Already it is a year later, and it is time to meet again. 

Things have changed for the better. Instead of a $30,000 deficit, we finished 2017 with over that amount in the positive column, which we will be able to use to strengthen new ministry and stabilize some property/insurance contingencies.  The introduction of Ministry Plans allowed us as a community of faith and struggle to manage, support, and accomplish one hundred eight ministries using an expanded leadership base.  Utilizing new technology for our website, we were able to reach 6,353 unique visitors with nearly 22,000 pageviews – not to mention all the Facebook traffic that we generated.  Confirmation has expanded and I’m looking forward to the return of our Winter Confirmation Retreat in February.  In addition to successfully addressing these things which concerned us a year ago, we installed new LED lighting that has made things brighter and is saving us money, celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (remember the fun we had with Flat Luther), continue to pay down our debt, and much more.  Check out the Annual Report for more details.

With so much good happening at St. James, it is important for us to come together to celebrate and raise our collective thanks to God.   We will also be doing some other important things.  Together, we will elect members to serve on our Council – who provides oversight and direction to ministry throughout the year.  Together we will vote on a mission spending plan – that earmarks the needed funds for ministry inside and outside our church.  Together we will share in fellowship as we eat, laugh, remember, and dream about the future that God has in store.

So mark your calendars for this Sunday – January 28 (snow backup for Feb.4).  Potluck begins at 11:30 and we will start the meeting at noon. 

I look forward to seeing you there and in worship before.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

A Warm Cup


It seems like the temperature reminds us on a daily basis that we are in the middle of winter.  Cold. Brrrrr.  Bundle up if you go outside.  Hats, scarves, and gloves are all needed accessories this time of year. 

At the risk of gaining unpopular feedback, I will share an opinion that might seem strange to you given that I’m originally from a warmer place on the east coast.  I kinda like this weather.  When the air is crisp, it seems extra bright outside.  Bundling up is a ritual that allows us the needed armor to face adversity.  I like to wear the sheep wool lined bomber cap that my mother-in-law Judy bought me at the State Fair over nine years ago when we moved here. 

I also like to come in out of the cold and have a warm cup of something to drink (be it tea, coffee, or hot cocoa.)  Holding the ceramic mug or china cup in my chilled hands is another ritual that seems to bring warmth into the very core of my being.  Sharing that cup of warm beverage with another makes the experience extra special.

On Thursday I will be hosting a Pastor’s Coffee and Conversation (click here for more information).  I make sure that there is something warm to drink and treats to eat.  Those who come to the gathering will bring the agenda in the form of questions, concerns, and ideas.  I have hosted these listening posts a couple of times a year for the past few years.  They are a valuable source of feedback and ideas.  I have greatly appreciated these conversations and those who have taken the time to participate in discerning where God is calling us as a community of faith and struggle.  They warm my soul as they remind me that we are in ministry together.  

Ministry in our rapidly changing times is a challenge.  At times it feels like we are even out in the cold a bit without the proper outerwear.  So much noise in our culture that distracts and misdirects.  The love and the values of Christ – though they can provide all the warmth we will ever need – are too quickly abandoned in favor of the latest and greatest.  Repentance – a turning towards God’s ways – is needed.   

Whether you can join me this week for the Pastor’s Coffee and Conversation or not, I hope that we might all take the time to hold in our hands a warm cup of God’s love.  May we also share that cup in the presence of others so that together we might have our souls refreshed. 

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

A New Teapot for a New Year

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ,


For Christmas, my family gave me a new teapot.  It is a wonderful gift.  They know how much I like to brew a pot of tea, especially when I host meetings in my study at church.  It is cast iron and will keep tea warm for hours.  Did I mention how much I like it?   

In any case, when I brought my new teapot to church, I forgot at home the little basket that you use to brew the tea leaves.  Wanting to brew tea in the new pot, I went to get the metal basket out of my old teapot.  This teapot was porcelain and came from a visit in the 1980's to England.  Just as I took it off the shelf, the handle broke.  I didn't drop or bang it.  The handle just fell off the pot.  Everything, even teapots have a life cycle.  With sadness but also an appreciation for many years of service, I said goodbye.  It was time to discard the old and embrace the new.  

At the start of a New Year, it becomes important for the church to engage in thankful releasing of the old things that are broke.  We can - and ought - to do this with a sense of appreciation for what has been and the way that we as a church have proclaimed the good news of Christ.  When we say goodbye to something we've been doing or change a practice from the past, we are not saying that it was 'bad' or 'broken' or that we shouldn't have done it.   We are simply acknowledging that going forward it is not going to serve the gospel in quite the same way.  

One of the things that it has taken me a long time to recognize which fits into this category for St. James is the programmatic style of ministry.  This way of doing church involves providing a large cafeteria of options for all ages (from children to youth to young adults to seniors).  These programs (if done right) attract a large number of people, who will join the church.  Trouble is that this way of doing church is expensive and requires a large paid staff.   From experience, we found out that it will burn out volunteers to try and maintain the same level of programming.  With a large debt and St. James historic giving patterns, we could no longer afford to do ministry in this model.

In the past three years, we have successfully navigated the waters of re-sizing ministry at St. James.  Our leaders have discerned a direction away from the programmatic model.  Instead of offering multiple programs, we are committing ourselves to developing relationships with people.  We are choosing to engage one-on-one in ways that build and deepen relationships with God, each other, and our neighbors.  Quality over quantity.  We are doing this using creative and entrepreneurial methods that involve more volunteers called Ministry Hosts.  We have adjusted the planning horizon from a year to a four-month period, which allows for flexibility, freshness, and greater productivity.  At the same time, we have worked to bring down our debt, which will free up additional resources in the future for ministry.  Things are hopping, and the combined new vision and methodology is working remarkably well. 

To arrive at this place we needed to say goodbye to the old teapot which was broken and embrace a new and different vessel.  The new teapot is brewing an amazing cup of tea.  St. James is smaller than we once were and we are vibrant, attractive, imaginative, welcoming, healthy, and receptive to God's Spirit moving among us.  We remain a "work-in-progress," which is a designation that I hope we never lose.  There is untapped potential.  There is a need for greater engagement.  There is always a need for us to repent and turn again to God.   

At the start of a new calendar year, I look forward to what God has in store for us.  May God bless us all with an openness of heart, mind, and spirit.  May we commit anew to the sharing of the good news of Jesus in our words and actions.  And on these cold winter days, may we find the wisdom of stopping to brew and enjoy a pot of tea.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt     

Christmas Blessings


Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ! 

On this first day of Christmas, I wish you all a blessed Christmas season.   

This is a special and sacred time of year in which we give thanks for the birth of Christ among us.  A time to remember God’s great love for us and all people.  A time also to share that love with others.  Family.  Friends. Neighbors.  But not just them!  Christmas invites a charity toward all people.  Strangers.  Opponents. Even enemies.  As crazy as this might sound, especially in our divisive times, Christmas invites us to walk down Jesus’ path of compassion, forgiveness, and grace toward all.  It is a difficult journey no doubt.  It is also the only way that leads to shalom (Hebrew word for peace that means wholeness and restoration).   

It is my Christmas prayer that you may find a glimpse of God’s shalom this Christmas season.  It is my same prayer for the St James community.  May we walk an ever closer path to Christ not only during these next twelve days of Christmas but also during this coming year.

in Christ  

Pastor Walt

Worship Out in the Neighborhood


Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ!

On this Wednesday night, December 20, we will be having the last of our mid-week Advent worships.  For many years, it is a tradition to use the beautiful evening prayer liturgy from Holden Village for both Advent and Lent.  The music resonants deep within many people.  It is a tradition worth repeating as each new generation becomes inspired by this special worship. 

On Wednesday night, we will honor the tradition with a twist.  Instead of worshiping in the sanctuary at St. James’ “home base” on Williams Drive, we will be gathering down the road at Savage Senior Living/Cherrywood Pointe.  We will bring our sacred music, Word and Sacrament out into the neighborhood.  In conjunction with Christmas caroling (6:00 p.m.) and a shared meal (5:30 p.m.), we are taking worship on the road. 

It aligns with our church’s vision to build and deepen relationships with God, each other, and our neighbors.  Our worship experiment (we’ve not done something quite like this before – or at least not in recent memory) will be touching on each aspect of this vision.  Worshiping offsite will remind us that a building is not at the heart of a church’s identity.  The church is the people that gather around Word and Sacrament to sing praises and offer prayer.  For sure, our beautiful sacred space on Williams Drive aids this worship and our coming together as a community of faith and struggle.  However, a building (even a beautiful one as we have) cannot define our identity.  It is the Spirit that brings us together as a church.  The Spirit makes us a church by gifting, nurturing, defining, and sending our faith.  The Spirit, through the life-giving waters of baptism, gives us identity and mission in Christ. 

On Wednesday, we will share that identity and mission out in the community with the residents of Savage Senior Living/Cherrywood Pointe.  Through our presence, prayers, and praise we will share the joy that we find as a church in Christ.  We will not, however, bring Christ out into the neighborhood.  Christ is already there!  Instead, we will go out into the neighborhood in the name of Christ to engage with the Spirit of Christ that lives just down the block. 

I hope that you can join us in what I hope becomes an Advent tradition.  Meet us at the Savage Senior Living/Cherrywood Pointe residence just behind the Savage library and Savage Police station at 5:30 for the meal, at 6:00 for the caroling, and at 7:00 for the worship.  Come for one portion or stay for it all!  Come with Advent hope to share in the joy of Christ as we leave our familiar surroundings and celebrate anew as the Body of Christ.

in Christ,

Pastor Walt

Good Constructive Conversation - An Advent foretaste of the Feast to Come.

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Yesterday, St. James offered a Unique Conversation opportunity.  Almost twenty adults dared to take part in what some folks might describe as a challenging conversation.  Using a format for controversial discussions that was developed at St. James, the group discussed the issue of gun violence in sacred places.  In a safe environment, folks shared a variety of opinions, perspectives, emotions, and experiences.  In the end, participants shared words of appreciation for the opportunity to deal with one of the pressing concerns of the time.  It was a productive conversation and time well spent.

Back when I was working on developing the Unique Conversation format - which I based on a model which the MN Council of Churches formulated to talk about same-gender marriage – a close friend questioned having such conversations in the church.  Aren’t you asking for trouble wading into such hot water?  It was a legitimate concern. 

At the start of each Unique Conversation, I am aware of the potential for things to get out of hand.  Afterall, these are dangerous topics.  In a highly polarized and divisive political and social environment, things could go very wrong, very quick.  It is precisely because of this tension that the church needs to engage in Unique Conversations.  

The church needs to claim its identity as a repairer of the breach and a healer of brokenness.  While everyone is moving to the poles and siding with people of similar opinions and experience, the church ought to be a place where differences find refuge.  We have a unique opportunity to give witness to the love of God, found in Jesus, which is not the exclusive property of any position, pole, party, or person.  Jesus demonstrated great courage as he sat down at the table with both his friends and his adversaries. 

Following Jesus’ lead, the church can be the place where we can find common ground and values.  We don’t need to agree on the issues, have the same experiences, or vote in the same way.  These things don’t make us a church.  The love of God in Christ Jesus – now that is what gives us our identity.  It is also the place where we can find the kind of insight that is needed for us all to navigate our tumultuous times. 

The church can be a safe place for difficult conversations when we honor differences, perspectives, experiences, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  A key part of the Unique Conversation model is the respect that each person is asked to demonstrate for everyone around the table. 

I am proud of the fact that St. James can be a place where such respect can happen.  I look forward to more of these conversations in 2018.   With each one of these discussions, I learn a great deal about others and myself.  With each opportunity, I receive a glimpse of the powerful witness that the church can give as it honors differences.  In the way of Advent, I join the prophet Isaiah as I dream about a feast when all people will be sitting around the table (see Isaiah 25:6-9).

In Christ,

Pastor Walt


Which of the Advent Invitations Will You Accept?


Imagine holding in your hand a bunch of dinner invitations.  Each one of them is an opportunity to have a meal and connect with others.  Although schedules are packed and busy, you shuffle and arrange things such that you will be able to make most of them.  Even if you are hesitant with some, you know in your heart that you will be glad to have accepted the invitations after the fact.  Staying home, though always an option, does little to build friendships.  Besides, when the cooking is good, it is hard to pass up a tasty meal.

Now think about the season of Advent and the opportunities that St. James offers for spiritual nourishment.  From extra worship, devotions, book and bible studies, the chance to have a deep conversation - there are many invitations that your church is placing in your hands.  Each of these Advent gatherings will not only encourage your faith but it will also connect you with others.  Your participation in Advent at St. James will help you to build and deepen relationships with others and with God.  Your participation will also strengthen relationships with neighbors.

Although each of these items is described better elsewhere (I've provided the link so you can check out the details), here is a brief description to wet your appetite:   

Wednesday Mid-week worship - Holden Evening prayer.  Three different places on each of the Wednesdays in Advent (Fellowship Hall, Sanctuary, Savage Senior Living (formerly Cherrywood Pointe)).  Click Here to Read More  

Daily Devotions - from the convenience of your phone or computer, you can read a daily devotional written for the St. James community.   Click here to Read Today's Devotion.

Bible Studies for all.  Though not new for Advent, these weekly studies allow an opportunity to dig deeper into scripture in the context of a conversation with others.  Click here to find out more information.

Unique Conversation.  The recent shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas has raised concerns for many over the issue of gun violence in sacred places.  Pastor Walt will be guiding a structured conversation where folks can voice their perspectives and differences, listen and grow.  Click here to find out more.

With a handful of options, which of these invitations will you accept?  How might God work in your life to strengthen your faith through these opportunities?  

As you think about your answers, I hope to see you soon in worship.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

We do the ministry as the Body of Christ

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Mark your calendars! 

On Tuesday night, December 5, at 7:00 p.m. we will be hosting our First Trimester 2018 Ministry Night.  Once again, it is time to invite suggestions, ideas, perspectives, and assistance with the ministry that we share as we look ahead to the start of ministry in 2018.  We will be planning all of our ministries for the first four months of 2018 (January-April).

The last time that we did this in the summer, we had a great turnout.  As a result, we had lots of constructive input into making St. James ministry the very best that it can be.  This innovative approach puts the responsibility for doing ministry with the people.  We gather.  We plan.  We do the ministry as the Body of Christ.  Ministry is not the sole work of a paid staff.  Ministry is the work of the people.

If you are unable to be present next week, you can still participate.  Submit your Name, a suggestion for ministry, and How you would like to support the suggestion to either: or   

I am filled with a hope as I think about the ministry that God is calling us to do in 2018.   Please pray for your church that we might have the capacity, will, and strength to do God's will in this place and beyond.  

As always, I look forward to seeing you in worship.  On Sunday, we begin the season of Advent.

in Christ,

Pastor Walt 

Giving Thanks For Food, Cheer, and Song


Recently, I came across a quote from J.R.R.Tolkien that is on my mind during this Thanksgiving week.  The creator of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, once wrote, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."  Imagine that.  What would it look like if we placed a higher value on the things that bring people together to share and enjoy life rather than monetary wealth?  Things would not only be merrier, but we would be a lot closer to the concept of peace/shalom.  

As we make preparations to celebrate a time of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the food, cheer, and song that we share at St. James for it has truly made my life merrier.   I am thankful for ministry that involves food – from the weekly sacrament of communion to the monthly comfort meal pack to the regular potlucks and cookies/coffee on Sunday mornings.  I am thankful for the good cheer that characterizes our worship and fellowship time.  Across the generations, we are sharing something special.  A good example is the weekly ‘noisy offering’ which allows for interaction of young and old during worship.  I am thankful for the song that we raise together each week.  The beautiful music that is made by so many faithful hearts is truly inspiring.

Throughout November, daily emails have been sent to the congregation highlighting a different aspect of the ministry that we share in Jesus’ name.  These emails have been put together in the office, and I’m delighted to see what each day brings.  With each new image, there is more reason to give thanks for the community of faith and struggle that is St. James.  If you would like to see the whole series of pictures, (CLICK HERE) or access it through the homepage of the St. James website.  There is much to be thankful for here at St. James!  Please join me in praying for and supporting ministry through the sharing of time, talent, and treasure. 

Thanksgiving blessings to you and your family.  May Thanksgiving be a day of food, cheer, and song for you.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

Ask and We will Respond


Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I write this week to share with you a critical ministry of St. James that is not as visible as some other ministries but plays a vital role in sharing God’s love and support in the midst of life’s struggles.   

If you were in church on Sunday at our 9:30 worship, then you saw me share an appreciation for the Pastoral Care Team.  I am grateful for Cathy DeKrey, Birdie Olson, and Karen Krafka who serve in this group.

The Pastoral Care Team is a trained group of volunteers that work closely with me to visit, pray, and listen to those in the hospital and homebound.   We also extend care to those who are in need of spiritual care through phone calls and contacts.   If you would like someone to pray with you for whatever reason, then please ASK.  It is our practice to respond to direct requests as quickly as we are able.  You can contact us by calling the Pastoral Care line (952) 890-4410.  Someone will answer this line 24 hours/day, 7 days/week and be sure to connect you with someone on the Pastoral Care Team. 

The Pastoral Care Team is but one of four, cooperative care ministries at St. James.  In future weekly emails, I will describe these ministries.  For now, let me express my gratitude for the work of Befriender ministry (guided by Deb Mueller), Grief Support Ministry (guided by Viv Aarestad), and Healing Ministers (guided by Lynne Lind and Deb Mueller).  All four ministries - Pastoral Care Team, Befrienders, Grief Support, and Healing Ministers - work to provide visitation and contact on behalf of St. James with those in need.  As a congregation, we are committed to supporting each other through trials, challenges, and grief. 

This past Sunday we celebrated the work of the Pastoral Care Team during worship during the Sharing of Appreciation.  At future worships, we will do the same for Befrienders, Grief Support, and Healing Ministers.   

Please don’t hesitate to call - no request is too small.  If it would help you to receive a pastoral contact/visit, then let us know.  We want to be present for you during your time of need. 

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

A Familiar Face in A New Role

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ!


After four months of a variety of leaders working together and two Congregational Town Hall Meetings (Oct. 1 & 3) later, Council voted to establish a new leadership position at St. James – The Director of Ministry and Operations.   The genesis of the idea came out of the conversations of the Pastoral Support Mission Team this summer.  The team was talking about the need to adjust the role of the pastor in light of the changed nature of our congregation.  When I was originally called as Lead Pastor to serve St. James, there was need of my administrative skills.  Over the years, as St. James resized from a programmatic church to a relationship-based church, I needed to take on additional responsibilities.  The team determined that as a solo pastor, I couldn't continue to do all that I was doing.  We agreed that it was better for me to focus on spiritual matters.  Someone else needed to do the administrative aspects that I was doing (aside from visioning matters). Working with the Executive Mission Team and the Council, the new position of Director of Ministry Operations was created.  

Working in a close partnership relationship with the Pastor, the Director of Ministry Operations works to see that both ministry and facilities run in a smooth manner.  The Director of Ministry Operations has an intimate knowledge of the resources (people, schedule, funding) that are needed and available for St. James to carry out its vision.  A key leader, the D.M.O. will sit on both the Executive Mission Team and the Council.   All ministry requests (including whenever folks need to ask staff or volunteers to do something) need to go through the Director of Ministry Operations to ensure that we make the best use of our resources (people, facility, and funds).  Council will occasionally provide direction to ministry through the Director of Ministry Operations who will then figure out the best way to put ideas into practice.  If anyone sees a need or wants to help out in any way at St. James, their first stop will be with the Director of Ministry Operations (not the Pastor) who then can connect the dots and resources needed.  

It sounds like a big job.  It is!  From someone who did a large portion of this work to this point, I can tell you that this work comes on a full plate.  Recognizing this, Council has provided additional salary resources – at Synod lay leadership guidelines – to make sure that we are properly compensating this person for their efforts. 

After consideration as to who might serve in this capacity, it quickly became apparent that we have the person with the skills, wisdom, and energy already on our staff.   Doreen Evans has been faithfully serving St. James for eighteen years in a variety of capacities.  She knows the people, building, and vision of our congregation.  Her hard work and warm personality have been invaluable on a day to day basis.  It is a personal privilege to work with her, and I’m excited about this increased leadership role for her.

On this coming Sunday, November 12, during worship, we will install Doreen into this new position.  Please come to worship to share your words of encouragement and prayers. 

In Christ,

Pastor Walt   

Grateful and Surprised.

Sisters and brothers in Christ,

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ!


At the end of worship yesterday, I was shocked, delighted, and grateful.  According to the order of worship, we were supposed to be handing out Bibles to the Third/Fourth Graders who haven't received these gifts from the congregation.  Just as I was leaving the Altar Table to do this, I was interrupted by Council President Jeff Owens who was standing in the congregation with a microphone.   

Jeff proceeded to call my family to join me up front.   On behalf of the congregation, he presented me a beautiful glass cross in recognition of serving Christ's church as a pastor for twenty years.  He mentioned that although the anniversary was during the summer, the Council wanted to take the time to recognize my two decades of service as a pastor.  You don't often find this preacher speechless but I didn't know what to say - except, "thank you."

On the top of the glass cross is the St. James logo.  Early on in my ministry at St. James, a talented group of people developed this symbol based on the input and feedback from a congregational survey.  The new logo was part of a larger effort of leaders, staff, and others to move in a common direction, inspired by a common vision.  Instead of logos that reflected our building, this St. James cross reminds us of people and core commitments to worship and service.  If you look at each of the quarters of the cross, you will see people.  Two stretch out arms upwards to the heavens in praise.  Two stretch out arms downwards to the earth to help others.  The logo has become a common and unifying symbol for all ministries at St. James.  As Council worked three years ago on a new vision statement - the St. James cross was in the background.  By the Grace of God, we will build and deepen loving relationships with God, with each other, and with our neighbor.  That vision connects with the St. James cross.    I am proud to serve a congregation that holds up people before programs and vision before "doing things the way we've always done them."  I am also grateful for the many people that continue to work together to drive and lead St. James ministry.  

I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to serve as pastor at St. James.  Thank you for your support, affirmation, guidance, conversations (even the difficult ones are fruitful), respect, and care.  In this ninth year of service to St. James, this cross comes as a treasured gift.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt


Commemoration of the Past, Celebration for God's Work in Shaping the Future

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,


Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ!

It is already an exciting week, one for which we have been waiting for quite some time.  On Sunday, October 29, we will gather as we usually do on the last Sunday in October to celebrate the ongoing work of the Spirit with the festival of the Reformation.  Change might be difficult and something that most of us don’t particularly like.  That said, as Lutherans, at least in theory, we recognize the importance of renewal.  The church in every age needs to be shaped – re-formed – in the grace and the love of God.  Our practices – though beloved and familiar- need to be changed where they have become lifeless, redundant, or depart from the radical hospitality of God.  It is tough work that is not for the faint of heart but rather for the faithful of heart.  The festival of the Reformation reminds us that the work of renewal is never completed – as a church we are in the process of becoming.

This year, our festival takes on special significance.  It marks the 500th commemoration of the start of the Lutheran Reformation.  On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther issued a scholarly debate on the practice of selling indulgences.  What followed was unexpected.   Luther was not the first reformer of the church, but his ideas sparked a wave of reforms that quickly went beyond his initial intentions.

On this coming Sunday, we will be commemorating this special anniversary.   We are using the word “commemorating” rather than ‘celebrating.’  Although Luther did not originally desire for the church to split on account of his suggested reforms, a schism did occur.  A deep and painful rift between Roman Catholics and Lutherans existed for generations. Those who followed Christ did not always recognize tolerance and unity as virtues.  We can’t celebrate the negative aspects that were part and parcel of the Reformation.  To do so is to move in the direction of separation and further fracture of the Body of Christ (to which both Lutherans and Roman Catholics belong through the waters of baptism).  To ignore the divisions and pretend that they didn’t exist would be irresponsible on our part. 

During worship on Sunday, we will be using a confessional that I adopted from the Common Prayer worship that Lutherans and Roman Catholics (including Pope Francis) shared together last year in Lund, Sweden.   We will be using the same words that emerged from the ecumenical spirit and collaboration that has been characteristic of the official dialogues between Lutherans and Catholics since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s.  We will be confessing the sins of the past of intolerance, division, prejudice, and bias.   We will turn to Gid and the places of common witness.  As we commemorate the Spirit’s work of renewal five hundred years ago in Wittenberg, we will ask for God to create anew in us a willingness to bridge divisions and heal brokenness.  

At the table, we will celebrate that God is present with us – in the midst of reformation, commemoration, and the living of our daily lives.  In Word and Sacrament, we will find forgiveness for the sins of our past and hope for our future.  We will form the Body of Christ again – remembered – for the sake of the world that God refuses to leave or give up.  Like the imperfect saints before us, we will play our part in the next chapter of the church’s history. 

Sure hope to see you in worship,

In Christ,

Pastor Walt


p.s.   There will be a lot of fun and games on Sunday following worship.   A special potluck  will round out the day.    

How Much is the Baby Basin?

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,


On Saturday, St. James hosted a FREE GARAGE SALE for the neighborhood.  It was a tremendous success.  We had over a hundred and twenty people attend.  Tables were stacked high with donated items -about 80% were taken (the rest will be picked up by local charities).  A group of about a dozen folks from St. James lent their hands to the effort.  Many thanks to all who contributed and special thanks to our Ministry Host, Kari Owens.  

Those are the wonderful details but let me tell you a story that helps to explain why we would host a Free Garage Sale in the first place.  Let me tell you why this is a ministry and why we are careful about how we fund ministry at St. James. 

The story comes to me from a reliable source - my wife, Katie.   While Katie was standing by one of the tables, greeting guests and seeing if anyone needed help, she noticed a woman who was looking at a baby basin.  The woman was hefting the basin as she considered the item. Her scrutiny was intense as she carefully kept turning the item.  With a questioning look and in a broken English tongue, she hesitantly asked, "how much?"  Katie said, "nothing.  It is free.  If you like it, it is yours."  "Really?"  the woman replied.  With a smile on her face and a tear in her eye, she clutched her new found treasure. 

Garage sales at churches are a lot of work.  It takes time to collect, sort, and display donations.  Many churches do this work to raise money.  Since the donations are free, it is seen as pure profit.  Although this might be the case, and Lord knows churches can always use extra funding, at the end of the day I want to ask the question that should be primary - what witness is the church giving?

What witness is the church giving that is different from a local charity raising money for a good cause or to send youth on a trip to an exotic locale?  In charging for donated items aren't we saying in a consumerist culture - we want your money?  When people from the neighborhood enter our ministry center, what do we want them to experience?  Sure, we could welcome them to a sale and make them 'feel at home.'   To what do we witness when they find their 'bargain deal?'   How is the core of our Lutheran identity - GRACE - communicated with a price tag? 

A FREE GARAGE SALE - it might seem crazy to some.  Why would you do all that work and not make some needed money in the process? 

To answer that question let me remind us of our VISION for ministry; "By the Grace of God, we will build and deepen loving relationships with God, each other, and our neighbor"


hold up the reaction of a grateful woman who went home with a baby basin at no charge... 


Thankful for the ministry in which we share and looking forward to seeing you in worship, 

Pastor Walt