Ask and We will Respond

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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!

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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!

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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,

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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,

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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"

AND

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 

A Great Day for a Walk

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

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It was a great day on Sunday for the Fifth Annual CROP Walk.   We met at St. John Lutheran in Lakeville and joined with walkers from other churches in the area to raise awareness for hunger-related issues within ourselves and the community.   We also gathered funds to support the critical work of Church World Service - an ecumenical association that works around the globe in the fight against hunger.  

Thanks to all who participated and supported the effort and to our Ministry Host, Marge Larsen.  As this was the first year that CROP Walk was a part of the Confirmation Ministry, I am glad for all the faith learners and small group leaders who took part.  Through our service to others, we learn what it means to follow Jesus.

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

In Christ,

Pastor Walt 

Meal Pack - Not Just for the Kids

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Sisters and brothers in Christ,  

On Wednesday night we begin another year of monthly Meal Packs.   Comfort Meal Ministry began in the fall of 2010 as a tangible way of sharing the love of Christ with those who needed a little extra comfort through the gift of a homecooked meal.  We have already shared 5,000 meals out of the freezer in the narthex. 

On Wednesday night, we begin our eighth year of this important year-round service ministry.  The night starts with a free meal for everyone.  Attired with hair nets (stylish, I know) and plastic gloves, we will lovingly pack about two hundred Comfort Meals.  Confirmation ministry plays an important part in making this happen.  That said, the Meal Pack is not just for the kids and their leaders.  Everyone at St. James is invited to come out and serve.  Come for the table fellowship and to share in a good meal with your church family.  Come to serve and lend a hand in the packing of Comfort Meals.  Come and worship - we conclude the night with worship in the fellowship hall that is informal and moving.

I hope that you are able to join me and the dozens of people that will come out on Wednesday for this ministry.  It will be a fun evening that is full of meaning and purpose for all who attend.

As always, I look forward to being with you in worship (on Wednesday night this week and on Sunday).

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

A Tablecloth for ALL SAINTS

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

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Back in 2010, we introduced a 'eucharistic experience' for All Saints' Sunday that involved pictures.  We gathered photos of the saints in our lives to place around the Altar Table for this annual festival that gives thanks to God for those whose lives bear witness to Christ's love.   This practice was continued for six years and helped to frame our Eucharist on All Saints' Sunday as a celebration that was done with all the saints in heaven and earth.  Through the sacrament, God connects the saints together into one eternal body of Christ.       

This year, our 'eucharistic experience' for All Saints' Sunday will again involve recalling those special people in our lives that have taught us and shown us Christ's love.  Instead of photos, however, we will be writing down the names of those saints.  Throughout the month of October, there will be a tablecloth in the narthex (back of church).  Using a variety of colored markers (saints are as diverse as the rainbow) you are invited each week to write down a name (or two) in thanksgiving for their life.   Each week, you will be asked to recall saints from various parts of life.  For example, who was a memorable Sunday School teacher or a kind coworker that showed you compassion?  The point of the exercise is to think deeply and recall those lives that really matter so that we can share our deep thanks to God for them.  

On All Saints' Sunday, we will have the children bring the tablecloth in during the offering and help set the Altar Table.   With the names of the saints in our lives literally on the Table, we will celebrate and share in the Body of Christ.  

We begin the first week with recalling someone that shared God's love with you as a child.  Come and write down their name (or names) on the tablecloth.   

As always, I look forward to seeing you in church,

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

New Number, New Name, Same Personal Care.

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Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

For the last seven years, St. James has had a designated line for emergency pastoral care.  This innovation made getting a hold of a pastor easier - all you needed to do was call one number, and a pastor would pick up on the other end.  The 24/7 coverage was provided by multiple St. James pastoral staff members (pastors, pastoral assistants, interns, pastoral care team) as they passed the on-call phone back and forth among themselves.ll

To continue to provide the same availability with a single pastor serving the St. James community, we have begun a working relationship with MAS Communications.  This is a Minnesota company, based in Mankato, that provides live after-hours answering service for Prince of Peace Lutheran in town.  Pastors at POP recommended them based on their own positive experience.     

Going forward, MAS Communications will initially answer calls made to the Pastoral Care Line.  They will be better able to provide referrals for those who are seeking financial assistance (which make up a significant number of the calls that come in on the emergency line).  When people are in need of financial help, the operator will be able to give them the direct phone number of our partner organizations (such as 360 Communities or CAP) - something I was never able to do because I didn't have a directory with me at all times.

To make the switch, we had to change our phone number (something technical related to the area code).  Please replace the former St. James emergency number on all your devices with the FOLLOWING NUMBER:  

(952) 890-4410.   Pastoral Care Line   

The old number is no longer in service.  A message to that effect will remain on the line for the next month but we will not answer any calls or messages from it.    

As we make this change, we are also changing the name of this service.  Instead of "Emergency Pastoral Care Hotline," we will be using - "Pastoral Care Line."   What's with this name change?  We discovered that the word 'emergency' was getting in the way of people calling to say that someone was in the hospital and wanted a visit, or someone wanted to meet with the pastor for prayer.   People did not consider their needs an "emergency"; even though, they were hospitalized for a week and would have liked a visit.  Pastoral Care line - invites ALL requests for pastoral care contact including conversation, visits, hospital stays, as well as emergency calls (unexpected surgery or hospice).  If you would like to add someone to the PRAYER list or have a message for the Pastoral Care Team, you can also call this number.  

I am aware of the inconvenience that this phone number change presents.  Thank you for your patience and for erasing the old number.  

I am also excited about this new resource as I am convinced that it will provide better care and will allow a sustainable on-call coverage.  Not having to field a variety of non-urgent calls at various times of the day and day will allow me to be more present in my pastoral role for when it is needed the most.

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

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

Commemoration and Reformation

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Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

On October 31, 2017, Lutherans (and other Christians) around the globe will be commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.  On that date in 1517, an obscure (except in the region surrounding Wittenberg where he taught Bible at the University) monk posted 95 Theses with this intention of starting a scholarly debate over needed reforms in the church.  What resulted was a widespread needed Reformation and sadly a schism of the church (which is finally seeing healing through the tireless efforts of Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians).   As a church in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, St. James is part of this historical legacy.

A bunch of things will mark this significant anniversary at St. James.  For the last four months, a Ministry Team - led by Judy Jensen - has been meeting and planning.  Fun activities, educational opportunities for children, youth, and adults, fellowship moments, movies, a book fair, a Reformation Faire, and a German-style potluck are all in the works.  Pay attention to website, bulletin, and weekly emails for details.  Each day, on the St. James website, we will post a daily Luther fact which Vicar (soon to be Pastor) Andrew Lewis researched and provided commentary on for us  (click here to read today's Luther fact).  

For my part, I am excited to be work on two efforts.  Along with Dr. Gary DeKrey, historian and part of the St. James community, we will be hosting a two-week Adult conversation on Luther's ideas.   Starting on September 17, I will also be posting a daily, seven-week blog on my website: www.Lightfromthishill.com.  

In the spirit of ongoing Reformation, this blog series, entitled "From...to...", will raise seven areas that need reform within our church today.  Through sharing my perspective as a pastor with over twenty years of experience teaching and preaching in the church,  I will raise some questions and invite conversations.   I will be using Isaiah as a scriptural background with a passage from this prophet (which Luther taught at Wittenberg) selected for each day.  I hope you will join me for this journey - a link will be emailed out daily through St. James email and Facebook.  For those who prefer a printed copy, these will be made available on Sundays at St. James.  

It continues to amaze and delight me to be a part of a church that God's Spirit continues to make anew.  

See you in worship, 

Pastor Walt

Time to Rally!

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Each year I look forward to the September start up of another school-year of ministry.  This year is no exception.  In fact, there is a level of joy at St. James this year that makes me particularly excited.  There is good energy in both Sunday School and Confirmation.  Plans have been made to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran reformation in meaningful and memorable ways.  A host of ministry opportunities is available for folks to share their talents.  New faces have found a welcome and a church home in St. James.  New lighting throughout the building and parking lot will literally brighten things up.  Comfort Meals are ready to be made, packed, and distributed.  Worship is dynamic and continues to involve children on a weekly basis.  So much goes on and so much for which to be thankful.  Our back to church special offering is coming in strong and being supported by an ever widening circle of people.  Life and ministry at St. James are in a good place.

On Sunday, September 10, we kick a new ministry year with our Rally Day worship, the start of Sunday School, Comfort Meal Pack, and BBQ lunch.  Wow!  So much really does go on!  All ages are invited to participate, celebrate, and take part in the faith formation that lies ahead of us all.  

I hope to see you in worship on Sunday for Rally Day.  Join me in praying for the continued strength and vitality of St. James as the Spirit moves among us and ignites our response.

in Christ,

Pastor Walt

 

 

 

A New Kind of Youth Ministry

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus!

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This past week, I was struck by the involvement of youth in the life of the St. James community.  We may not have the flashy or big youth program in town, but something good is happening with and to our teenagers that ought to be recognized and celebrated.  Instead of ministry TO youth in the classic "youth group" fashion - we are doing ministry WITH youth.  At St. James, youth are integrated into the ministry that we do together (across ages) in the name of Jesus.  Just last week, we had high school youth volunteer in the office as office support, sing solos during worship, provide audio-visual coverage and act as a wedding coordinator!  Throughout the summer, they have participated in our Wednesday night band, weeded flower beds, worked as part of the Handymen of St. James, and engaged in Vacation Bible School as teachers and leaders.  

It is a pattern that has been present at St. James for many years - our youth are engaged and work alongside adults to do ministry.  These are leadership roles in which our youth are being affirmed by our community for their maturity, gifts, skills, and unique personalities.  More important than something they can list on a college resume, these are opportunities for them to grow as children of God in the context of a community that genuinely cares for and loves them.

I am proud of the St. James community and the kind of ministry that we are doing with our youth.  On a one-on-one basis, we are making a big difference in the lives of our teens.  Our emphasis is not on attracting the masses.  Instead, we are about making connections with individuals.  This aligns with our vision to build and deepen relationships.  Quality not quantity is dictating our efforts.  We are living out our identity as a "relational church." 

We will continue to offer group-based opportunities for youth to gather together.  These remain important.  SPARK - our weekly ministry for high school students after confirmation - will be led this year by Casey Fuerst.  More information will be coming out soon about this exciting ministry which will start up again at the end of September.  Registration is underway for Confirmation - a ministry for youth in middle school and 9th grade.  In addition to the learning, there is a lot of time devoted to building friendships and service.   In September, registration will occur for the National Youth Gathering.  I am looking forward to filling Wanda (the church van) with youth for this gathering down in Houston.  Given the flooding that is currently happening in Houston, I am sure that there will be many important service opportunities there next summer.

Youth ministry is alive and well in the St. James community.  Yes; it looks different than it once was.  Yes; it looks different than what most folks would imagine it to be.  Yes: as a parent of two teens, I am grateful for the opportunities for my boys to grow in their faith, serve their neighbor, and make connections with adults that are serving as positive role models.  I hope that you will join me in raising thanks for our incredible youth and for the ministry that we are doing with them.  

In Christ,

Pastor Walt 

 

 

Thanks Graham!

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You might have noticed that there is a new addition to the landscape at St. James Lutheran.  As you drive into the parking lot at the end of the building that houses the St. James Early Education Center, you will see a mini church, two benches, and new mulch.  The tiny chapel houses a community library and it is the Eagle Scout Project of Graham Moberg.   Graham, a Boy Scout in Troup 471, used to go to the St. James Lutheran Early Education Center when he was in pre-school.  For his Eagle Scout leadership award, he wanted to give back to the school and St. James.  This library, which already contains books for adults and children, will be used by not only the families who bring their children to SJLEEC and St. James but also by the entire community.  Thanks Graham for this wonderful gift.  You truly display the qualities of leadership and are a good example of a Boy Scout.

You are invited to check out the library - perhaps bring a book to share.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

 

Restructuring the Office of Pastor in a Generative Manner

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The process is important.  That is often the case.  It is especially true as St. James leaders work on a new vision of the pastoral office.  As I am away on vacation this week, the Pastoral Support Team is meeting with the Executive Mission Team to share a new paradigm for pastoral ministry at St. James.  

The Pastoral Support Team is made up of Konrad Gastony (past President), Dave Dickman (past President), Birdie Olson (past Council person and Internship Mission Team co-leader), Jessi Kurvers (past Council person and Internship Mission Team co-leader), and Bjorn Pearson (Vice-President).  Among them, they have a vast knowledge of the workings of the pastoral office, pastoral leadership styles, and understand the needs of St. James.  Over the years, they have reviewed results of our many congregational surveys and direct feedback from Town Hall meetings and numerous conversations with others in our community.  As important as their leadership experience at St. James is, I think their most significant contribution to this project is their passion.  They have a deep passion for the health and vitality of St. James Lutheran.  Connected to this passion is a deep support of the pastoral office.  Healthy pastors and healthy congregations go together.  The Pastoral Support Team understands this relationship.  

In a time of largely uncharted waters for the church, the Pastoral Support Team has been a valuable asset to me.  Their support to the pastoral office comes in many forms.  At times, they are a sounding board that allows a confidential outlet for expressing concerns and frustrations.  At other times, they have spoken hard truths out of love.  They are natural listeners that know how to go to the deeper questions.  The team challenges, comforts, encourages, raises concerns, and offers alternative perspectives.  

Now, they are presenting ideas on how to adjust the role and responsibility of the Lead Pastor in light of the reality of St James being a sole-pastor parish for the current season in which we find ourselves.  These ideas have come from careful deliberation and exploration.  They have reviewed previous job descriptions for all the roles that have been expected of the pastoral office, when multiple pastors, interns, assistants served.  They listened to the wisdom of Pastor Sandy Rothschiller, who worked with Portico (benefit arm of the E.L.C.A.) and served as a sole pastor before joining the staff of Prince of Peace.  They interviewed people from other congregations in the area to see what expectations they had of their pastors.  They have also reviewed the comments, on what people in the pew expect from their pastor, made at the Pastor's Coffee and Conversation in early August.  They have done a lot of work.  

The new paradigm that they will be presenting to the Executive Mission Team is a step forward in reshaping pastoral roles and expectations.  Back to process.  Here is how we will make the ideas better together.  From the Executive Mission Team, the work-in-progress will be shared with Council at their September meeting.  After Council has had a chance to discern how it connects with our congregational tri-part vision - a Town Hall meeting will be scheduled in October.  At this point, the ideas will be made public.  Feedback and input will be solicited from the congregation at large.  Again, we will make it better together.   Following the public hearing, at the October Council meeting, a vote will be taken on the new model for pastoral ministry at St. James.  When all is said and done - many voices and perspectives will go into restructuring the Office of Pastor. 

I am grateful for all the work that is being done in reshaping the Office of Pastor in such a generative manner. As you might have guessed, since the beginning of the year, it has been a challenge to provide the visionary leadership that is needed to meet our challenges while also covering the other aspects of the Pastoral Office that were once done by multiple pastors. New patterns are needed in order restore healthy practices and expectations to the Pastoral Office now that it has only a single occupant.

 As I shared in my blog series this summer, I remain hopeful for St. James and excited for the ministry that we will do together.  I can't wait to see what comes out of the work of the Pastoral Support Team and the Executive Mission Team while I'm away.  Again, the process is important.  That they are doing significant work in my absence points to the new paradigm that we are entering.  Please pray for these leaders, the generative process, and the well-being of St. James.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

Barn Signs, Ultimate Frisbee, Horseback Rides, and Community

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Last weekend, five families participated in this year's Family Camp.  We couldn't have had a nicer weekend regarding weather.  Thanks go to the Gastony family for sharing their beautiful farm with us.  They were such gracious hosts, and the accommodations were among the best that our Family Camp has seen.   Thanks also need to be shared with our Ministry Hosts - Jeff and Kari Owens - who made sure we had enough food, supplies, and social activities to make happy campers. 

There was a lot to do.  We painted barn signs using authentic farm boards.  Kaia Gastony lead horseback rides.  A game of Ultimate Frisbee involved all ages - even the panting pastor!  There were also bike rides to Cleary Lake, water wars, and campfire worship.  It was a full weekend that even had some time for naps.   Perfect.

Although there was so much to do for all ages and great fun each step of the way, the best part of the weekend had not so much to do with doing as it did with being.  Simply being together was the best part of Family Camp.  We were a community.  We were a family.  And we stopped along the way to listen, laugh, and share life.  Whether it was a meal, a cup of morning coffee on the deck, washing a paint brush in the shared water bucket, or sitting in a circle around the fire - the interaction was something special.

Christian community happens when those who follow Jesus share their lives with each other.  The level of the sharing can be deep, reaching those places where we are most genuine and vulnerable, or at the level of a joyful laugh, light and filled with frivolity.  To be the people that God created us to be, we need community.  We need interaction with others that goes beyond our tribe and clan.  Jesus knew this and so the building of community was connected to his acts of healing and compassion.  The community expanded as Jesus proclaimed in word and deed the kingdom of God.  True community patterned on Jesus must be open and ever expanding.  Hospitality broadens the circle around the campfire and adds space and chairs for others to sit down.

I am grateful for the hospitality extended and the community shared at this year's Family Camp, which was a short drive away.   Thank you all and thank you, God!

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

 

Line Up!

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Early this summer, our parking lot was re-lined.   The old lines had faded over the years, and it was a job that was desperately needed.  The bright, painted lines are a welcomed sight.   I am certainly thankful for a job well done.  

As a community, we need to share our combined thanks to Duane Stabler who completed the job.  A member of the Council, Duane exemplifies a renewed spirit of participation and engagement that is moving through St. James.   Duane saw what many saw - we needed to have the lines repainted.  This spring, I had more than one person bring this to my attention.  Pastor, the lines need to be repainted.  It was a job that would have cost us in the thousands.   Although we might have been able to do it, financially it was not on our priorities, and we are still in the midst of careful fiscal management.  In the discussions that followed, Jerry Sjogren (who years ago did the job the last time) mentioned that we have a line painting machine in the basement.  Duane not only located the machine but went to the local paint stores and bought all the parking lot paint that we could find.  

Over a series of hot days, lasting over a week, Duane re-lined the lot.  He continued to buy up all the parking lot paint at the local paint stores.  It was a lot of effort but it paid off and it looks great.  Thanks Duane for exemplifying the spirit of 'jumping right in there' and lending a hand.  You join a host of people who share their time, talents, and treasure at St. James - that get things done and make our church home look good and welcoming.  Thank you and thanks to all those who pull weeds, water flower, cut trees, maintain air conditioning/heating units, the list goes on and on.   And the church facility/property goes on too!

in Christ,

Pastor Walt 

Smore of This!

Over last weekend, St. James hosted Vacation Bible School for children from the parish and beyond.  It was a great experience for kids, youth, and adults alike.   There was singing, Bible stories, games, crafts, and snacks.   It had all the beloved and classic elements of V.B.S. making it lots of fun for all involved.   The whole experience was topped off with worship on Sunday morning.  The children sang, led prayers, collected a noisy offering, and handed out lanterns that they made to worshipers.  Skits and photos from Bible school helped to share some of the key learning.  Tents, trees, and rocks decorated the worship space, getting everyone into the 'Camp Out' theme.

As I think back on the success of this ministry, three "I"s pop into my mind: Innovation, Invitation, Inspiration

Innovation - This was a classic ministry done in an unorthodox way on a weekend.  One of the great challenges in previous years (St. James has not had a traditional VBS in about three years) was finding adults who could run it during the week.  Thankfully, we always had one or two dedicated folks who did not work during the summer months or were able to take the week off.  Staffing was a challenge and it often fell upon all too few shoulders. Offering this year's V.B.S. over a weekend greatly opened the pool of resources.  In the way of innovation, this ministry was guided by a Ministry Plan and by a talented group of leaders that came together specifically for this ministry.  

Invitation - Flyers announcing V.B.S. were passed out into the community and neighborhoods surrounding St. James.  Special scholarships, provided by St. James, encouraged participation among those who are new to the kind of children's ministry that St. James offered.  I am proud of the team that went out seeking our families that may not otherwise have come.  In the case of one family that didn't have a ride, the team arranged transportation.  

Inspiration - Watching our leaders (adults and youth) at work throughout the weekend, I was inspired.  It was a joy to experience their energy, creativity, and enthusiasm.  Keeping with the theme, they made the extra effort to pitch about a half dozen tents on the lawn.   They brought a deep sense of excitement that just propelled the weekend.  I am deeply grateful for Paul and Jeni Wojahn, Allyson, Ben, Zoe, and Jack Tressel, Patty Seewald, Sherri and Emily Lawrence, Helen and Dave Osterkamp - what a team!  The ministry of St. James happens when people share their gifts of time, talent, and treasure.  They shared such rich gifts and the result was an inspiring success.

To top it all off, as we were finishing on Sunday I received a delightful surprise.  As the team was taking the trees and tents out of the sanctuary and cleaning up, they were tired and smiling.  And they were talking already about next year!  Thanks be to God!

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

 

Houston - We have an OPPORTUNITY

Next summer, Lutheran youth from all over the country will be gathering in Houston Texas for a few days of life-changing experiences.   An estimated 40,000 participants will pack arenas, hotels, restaurants, and everywhere in the city of Houston.  And Wanda (St. James church van) will be parking in the world's largest parking lot.

We are going to the Gathering because it is truly an experience for youth like none other.  Something incredible happens when you get that many Lutheran youths and supporting adults together.  I can honestly say that attending a National Youth Gathering (back in the early 1990's) had a positive effect on my faith life and vocation as a child of God.  I remember being charged up and feeling like I was a part of a church that was much bigger than my imagination.  I heard incredible and inspirational people share their faith.   I recall "rocking on" with the music of Jay Beech.   It truly opened my perspective and formed my theology (thoughts about God).   

We are going to Houston because this experience is important for the next generation of Christians to have.  They need to have their faith inspired, charged up, and the opportunity to experience the larger church.   St. James has long supported youth participation in National Youth Gatherings.  We have a good and positive tradition of attending these Triennial gatherings.  

Over the course of the next week, I will be offering two information gatherings for parents and youths to find out the details about the Houston Gathering.   Invitations have been sent to households.   I hope that we will have folks come out - I know already that there are more who will be coming out for these info nights then went to the Gathering in Detroit.   I say 'hope' rather than 'wish' because hope involves trusting in God to make things happen.  The success of Gatherings in the past has largely been to the work of the Spirit moving among people who shared their time, talents, and treasure in order to provide this essential faith growth opportunity.

I hope (again, trust) that parents will encourage their children to take a chance on attending the Gathering.  They may not know anybody else who is going.  They may not think that it will be "cool enough" or fashionable enough.  Courage is needed to go outside of boxes.  Sadly, all too often we let our children stay inside carefully constructed realities (which ironically are not real at all) at the expense of exposing them to new opportunities.  This has the effect of stifling their growth.  The Gathering is a safe and life-changing experience where they will be able to talk about their faith, celebrate it, question it, and have fun.     

Catch me and I will be happy to share more stories and experiences of Gatherings over the years.  As a veteran of three Gatherings, there is a lot to tell.  

If you don't have youth in your household (grades 8-12 this September) to encourage to attend, then simply pray to God for the blessing of this effort.  Celebrate the ways that we are reaching out and connecting with high school aged youth.  Support, through your general giving, the ministry that provides this opportunity.   Pray.  Please pray for those who will be going, those who will be preparing Houston for the Lutherans.     

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

Making Good Use of Summer time

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It is tempting to drag out the old hammock, find a shading space, and catch a snooze.  Summer time is certainly the season for taking a deep breath.  I've already had a chance to do some of this as we vacated town and headed back east.  

Summer is also the time for dreaming and retooling.  In the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day, ministry downshifts a bit.  It allows for dreaming and to reimagine ministry.  I have always enjoyed this work.  

This year, I am blessed to work with staff and congregational leaders on a variety of projects.  They are:

Reimaging the role of Pastor at St. James:  Along with the Pastor Support Team (consisting of former council members and past presidents), we are looking at the role of pastor as we transition to being a single pastor parish.  Starting today, I will be publishing a new 20-day blog sharing my thoughts, dreams, and tools that are essential for pastoral ministry moving ahead (click here). I hope that folks will take the time to read and share their feedback.  In early fall, there will be a Town Hall Meeting for the congregation.  At this event, the Pastoral Support Team will present their work and ask for feedback.   We will work together to adjust expectations and rewrite the job description of St. James pastor.  

Strengthening Confirmation Ministry:  I have been working with the Small Group Leaders/parents to enhance our Confirmation Ministry.  Building on the positive changes that were made in the spring, we will continue to make this middle school aged ministry the best it can be.  I just met with a sub-group of the Small Group leaders to incorporate suggestions and feedback that was shared at an end-of-the-year review dinner.  The result is an exciting schedule that is filled with service, bible and catechism study, speakers, and a weekend winter retreat.  We are also going to be experimenting with Learner Directed Confirmation.  This original idea seeks to offer a confirmation experience that students and parents design from a comprehensive list of learning objectives.  It will be offered as a pilot and participation will be voluntary.   

Reconfiguring Staff:   At the beginning of the summer, we were sorry to see Bonnie Gauquie leave our church office staff.  This caused us to rethink the way that our office staff was structured.  We are currently looking for a contract-to-hire candidate to fill a newly created position that will provide needed communications and front office coverage (click here for a job description).   Also, we are looking at creative ways to provide the needed support to multiple ministry plans.  We will do this by shifting roles and expectations of the whole staff.  One of our congregational strengths during this time of adaptive change has been a flexibility when it comes to matters of reorganization.   The Council and Executive Mission Team will leverage this strength to make sure that we have all the bases covered by Rally Day.  

Youth Ministry:  Two areas are currently being worked upon.  First, I am in the process of gathering a group of teens to go to next summer's National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas.  I am optimistic that we will have a good-sized group of youth attend.  Second, we will be reshaping our SPARK ministry- weekly youth experience.  We are thankful for the leadership of Mary Kruse and Jeff Owens who guided this ministry for the past two years.  I am in the process of forming the new leadership team and look forward to announcing their names by the end of this month our new leaders.  Both ministries offer excellent opportunities for high school aged youth to connect with each other and grow in their faith.  

 These are just four areas that are being worked and reworked.  Please keep the process, staff, and leadership of St. James in your prayers as we go about the task of improving all of our  ministries.  As I say on a weekly basis at the end of worship - when the people of God share their gifts (time, talent, treasure) we are able to do the ministry of Christ in this place and time.  Your gift sharing allows the needed resources to do ministry.  With a grateful heart for what has been shared and a hopeful heart for what will be shared, I close this week's Ministry Moment.

 

in Christ,

Pastor Walt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Ministry Night -

On Thursday night, July 13, at 7:00 p.m. we will be hosting a Fall 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 Fall.  The last time that we did this in the early Spring, 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.  

So, come out, and lend your hand, mind, and heart to this effort.

I look forward to seeing you and working with you together.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt