A Warm Cup

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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,

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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

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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

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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?

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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:  Doreen@stjameslc.com or pastorwalt@stjameslc.com.   

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

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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

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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