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

 

New Position in the Church Office

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At last week's Executive Mission Team, authorization was given for the hiring of a part-time, office support person.  Although this will not replace the position recently vacated by Bonnie, we are in need of coverage and administrative assistance.   This person will answer phones, serve as a receptionist during regular office hours Monday-Thursday, prepare bulletins and parish publications, maintain the website, and help out with other needed support tasks.  A complete job description will be coming out in early July and we will seek to hire as soon as we can fill the position with a qualified candidate.

If anyone knows of someone who might be interested, please have them submit a resume to me as soon as possible.  I am looking forward to conducting interviews during the week of July 9.

We are in the process of evaluating staffing needs in consultation with the Executive Mission Team, Pastoral Support Team, and the Council.  This work will happen throughout the summer months.  It is my hope that we will have a new configuration in place by September.   

As with all matters involving our life together as a community of faith and struggle, I look forward to receiving feedback and input.  Be sure to let me know what is on your mind.  I will return from two weeks of vacation on July 2. 

In Christ,

Pastor Walt 

Taking Children's Messages "out of the box"

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Starting on July 2, I will be trying something different during the Children's Message.  A box is in the narthex.  Children (and parents too) can please whatever items fit into the box.  At the time of the Children's Message, I will open the box.  I will reach in and out an item.   Using this mystery item,  I will preach a message.  I will need to keep on my toes, no doubt.  There is even the potential of "stumping the pastor."  We will see.   It promises to be a lot of fun.  

Kids, be creative.  With your parent's permission, find something to bring in each week.  Who knows, your item could be the 'mystery item' that I pick out of the box.   

I am looking forward to seeing what happens.  It will be an adventure, no doubt.  

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

Take Out Church

I am pictured here in front of my home church in Secaucus, New Jersey.   I traveled back to my hometown during a recent continuing education event.   

I am pictured here in front of my home church in Secaucus, New Jersey.   I traveled back to my hometown during a recent continuing education event.   

This summer,  we will be offering "Take Out Church" at St. James.  Unlike the high-calorie versions available from local fast food restaurants, our 'Take Out' will be filled with wholesome ingredients.  Each week (on Sundays and Wednesdays) there will be a stack of boxes ready to be taken.   Inside each box, there is a scripture reading, prayer, short devotion, little notebook, candle, matches,  a small vial to bring back water from your trip, a few crayons, and a "Flat Luther."   

Individuals/families are invited to pick up a "Take Out Church" box whenever they are going to be away.  Whether your travels are near or far, you can use this resource to stay connected with St. James and your faith.  

Use "Flat Luther" (you can use the crayons to color him or not) to take a selfie.  Send your pictures to me (pastorwalt@stjameslc.com) and I will post them to the website and put them on the screens on Sunday morning.  In this summer that leads up to our 500th Commemoration of the Reformation, let's see how many places "Flat Luther" can go!

Use the water vial to gather a sample of water from your trip.  When you return to worship, you will be invited at the start of worship to pour your water into the baptismal font.  During our weekly Thanksgiving for Baptism, we will be thanking God for the waters of our lives and will be naming those bodies of water where we live and play.  Just let me know before worship starts that you have water to share.  

Please return the boxes after each trip that you take.  We will be replenishing the supplies within.  Also, the small notebook will allow greetings to be shared with others in their travels.  You are welcome to take as many 'Take Out" boxes for each of your adventures.   

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I am grateful for Vicar Andrew and his work of bringing this idea into being.  Thanks also need to go to Doreen Evans and her office volunteers who put the boxes together (and will be updating them throughout the summer).   

Let's have fun and grow in our faith this summer.  The "Take Out Church" boxes will help us stay connected when we are gone.  Sunday morning and Wednesday night worship will do this when we are in town.  As always, I look forward to seeing you in worship (and looking forward to seeing your pictures with "Flat Luther" as well)!

 

in Christ,

Pastor Walt 

 

Taking Time to Reflect

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I am grateful to have served two congregations that have had a robust tradition of providing Continuing Education for their pastors.  This time last year, I had the benefit of being able to take a time of sabbatical renewal.   In so many ways, I remain appreciative of this opportunity that provided deep renewal, perspective, and spiritual growth.  Time away that is used for the purpose of regeneration is essential - this is especially true for those who serve the church.  The daily grind of ministry can be consumptive.  Left unattended, it can be destructive.   Times of sabbath are needed to keep the spirit alive and open to the work of THE SPIRIT.   

I am taking one of the two weeks of Continuing Education that are allotted to me each year to travel to New Jersey.  It has been twenty years since my ordination.  In that time, many changes have happened in my life and in the life of the church that I love and serve as pastor.  I will be taking along my camera and my computer, a few audible books (including one that I read as I prepared for my ordination twenty years ago:  Henri Nouwen's, Can you Drink this Cup?).   I will be driving alone and stopping along the way to write.  I find long drives to be restorative and wonderful opportunties to do some heavy thinking.   

I will return for worship on Wednesday evening.  I am grateful for Pastor Gregg Helland who will be preaching and presiding on Sunday, to Vicar Andrew for guiding worship, and to Doreen and Bonnie who will continue to care for the ministry while I am gone.  I ask for your prayers during this time of renewal.  It is my hope to be able to share with you the fruits of this labor in a 20 day retrospective on 20 years of ministry which I will be publishing as a blog starting on June 9.   

In thanks for the ministry that we share in Jesus' name, 

Pastor Walt  

Hot dogs, marshmallows, music, and worship!

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Summer time is here.  Time to be outdoors and appreciate the beauty of living in such a beautiful part of the country.  Starting this Wednesday, it is also time for us to worship outdoors.   Back in 2010, the idea of worshiping mid-week during the summer was revived.  Today, our campfire worship is well established as a favorite among many.   We gather for hot dogs (roasted over the open fire) at 6:00 p.m., and worship begins at 6:30.   Bring your lawn chair and something to drink.  Hot dogs (or as some call them "tube steaks") will be provided.  

This year, following worship (@7:15 p.m.), I will be hosting a campfire conversation.  Bring a second beverage of your choosing.  Like our anceint ancestors in the faith who gathered around the fire to share stories of faith, so too will we venture to the place of creative theology.  The conversation will be brought by those who gather as we explore our questions about God, Bible, and faith.  No prior Bible Study experience is required.  Bring your Bible and a learner's mind.

I look forward to our Wednesday evenings in the summer and hope that you can come out.  Although it is intended as an alternative worship option to those who are away on Sundays during the summer, there are some who come out 'in addition' to Sunday worship.  It is just that special.  For me, it is a time when community is apparent.  We are a 'family' of sorts as all ages share this time of food, fellowship, and sacred connection.   The music is also amazing and who doesn't like a campfire sing-a-long?   

See you soon in worship (on Sunday or Wednesday)!

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

 

Making Beautiful Music

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With Memorial Day weekend just days away, I am reminded that we have come to the end of another year of ministry (if you think of these things in terms not of the official Church Year but of the practical School Year calendar).  Before we enter into our summer schedule (Sunday worship times stay the same at 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.; Wednesday Campfire "hotdog" worship begins on May 31) it is good to pause and give thanks.   In previous weeks, I shared thanks for the Sunday School teachers and Confirmation Small Group leaders - because of their wonderful efforts, we have exciting ways of encouraging faith in our children and teens. I remain thankful for them and for the kind of relationship-based ministry that we are offering as a church.

This week, I want to strike a slightly different key - literally.  I want to share words of thanks and deep appreciation for our Music Ministry. There is a long standing tradition of quality and participatory music at St. James. We have great choirs (vocal and bells) and awesome leaders who not only direct the notes on the page but also (and perhaps more important) foster relationships among those who share their musical talents.   Each choir is a group that genuinely cares for each other.   I am thankful for the overall guidance of Kelvin Miller (Minister of Music), the passion and skill which Jan Pofahl (Organist and Principle Accompanist) shares on the keyboards of piano and organ, and for each of our choir directors: for Kjersten Dysthe (Praise III), Kari Owens (Jubilation Ringers), Barb McCutcheon (Grace A'Plenty), and Barb Kleinfeldt (Soul Fire).  Thankful for each of the choirs - Chancel, Praise III, Grace A'Plenty, Jubilation Ringers, and Soul Fire (previously Praize Wee).  Thankful also for the additional musicians that provide accompaniment throughout the year:  Bob Andrews (Bass, guitar), Mark Lind (mandolin and guitar), Jeff Owens (Banjo and guitar), , Jeni Wojahn (piano and flute), Carolyn Fuerst (piano), Janet Karsten (guitar), Tim Evans (Bass), Tim Pofahl (Trombone) and Dave Osterkamp (drums).   We are also thrilled to have our youth assist with festivals and special events:  Jack Tressel (drums), Sarah Dysthe (Trumpet), Ainsley Fuerst (Oboe), Mark (French Horn) and Noah (Trumpet) Lichtenberger.  As you see we have so many talented folks - please forgive me if I have left any names out.     

God has richly blessed us with the ability and the passion to raise our songs of gladness.    

Thank you all.    

I look forward to the music that is yet to be made.   

In Christ, 

Pastor Walt

 

 

Waters that Open Toward the Future

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Twenty-two young men and women will be making their confirmation this coming Sunday at St. James.  It is a joyful time for families and teens alike.  As a pastor and a father who experienced the confirmation of his oldest a few years back, it is a privilege to see how they have grown.  Before our eyes, we see a new maturity as they stand up, read their chosen confirmation verse, publicly profess their Christian faith, and ask for God to help and guide them.  It is a hope-filled moment.  

On Sunday, twenty-two young believers will return to the waters of baptism as we celebrate the completion of one stage of their faith formation and the entrance into another.  Over the course of three years, they have learned, studied the Bible and the catechism.  They have also served others.  They have engaged in the life of the St. James community.  Now they are ready to wade further into the water. 

Camp Beisler was a Lutheran church camp in the northwestern part of New Jersey.  I worked there as a camp counselor after my second year of seminary.  In those days, before the construction of a beautiful pool, we swam in the lake.  This lake was made by damming up a small stream that ran through the property.  It had a 'beach', which was also fabricated by dumping a large quantity of sand along the shoreline.  To say that the lake was nothing special would be an understatement.  It was common and lacked the pristine quality of a proper and natural Minnesota lake.  Still, in the summer, on those hot days - it became a source of delight.  The sounds of children and counselors lent energy and excitement.  It was a place where everyone - whether they knew how to swim like a fish or sit like a rock - could be refreshed.  Relationships and friendships were built in those waters - they were a source of life.  It was at the heart of the camp's community.

Memories of the lake at Camp Beisler come back to me as I reflect upon Sunday's confirmation.  At the start of worship, each confirmand will be carrying in a little glass container of water.  They will pour their water into the font.  The water will be straight from the tap - in of itself nothing particularly special.  And yet the symbol is powerful.  In the waters of baptism - which each of the confirmands will be affirming - community, life, and hope are created.  God makes the ordinary extraordinary for it bears the promise and presence of Christ.  Baptism continues to open toward the future.   

And so my prayer for them, for this church, for me too - is that they/we will continue to find delight, meaning, and purpose in the waters of baptism.  May they/we have the courage to affirm our faith again and again toward God's future in ways that support relationships and community.  

in Christ,

Pastor Walt

 

p.s.  Confirmation worship starts at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 21.  

      

 

Sunday School Vibrant and Alive

On Sunday, we celebrated the completion of another year of Sunday School.  At the close of worship, we invited teachers, Faith Nurture Team, and leaders up front.  As a community, we thanked them for their passion and their commitment to faith formation in the lives of our children.  Afterward, there was an ice-cream social in the Fellowship Hall to round out the festivities.   

As a pastor, it is a joy to see the excitement in the faces of children and adults alike.  Something very good is happening at St. James in the area of children's ministry.  There is a vibrancy that is taking place among families in the sharing of faith across the generations.

But isn't this the smallest Sunday School that St. James has seen in thirty years?  Aren't we in decline?  Shouldn't we be concerned about what is happening/not happening?

Although it may be the smallest Sunday School that St. James has had in awhile - this ministry is NOT in decline.  

Looking beyond the numbers we see a greater engagement of families in the passing on of the faith.  This critical growth can not be understated.  What is more, families are present in worship.   It used to be true that a large percentage of children (and some adult teachers) were "drop-offs"; they came for the Sunday School hour alone.   When some children got to confirmation age they didn't have the experience of regular worship.  It is no wonder that they didn't stay involved after confirmation.  

Worshiping as a family and then going to Sunday School is now the dominant pattern at St. James.  Children are now actively engaged in worship every week (noisy offerings and processions for the littlest, reading prayers and serving communion for the biggest). This is making a difference.   

Studies show (e.g. Pew Research periodically does one) that if families are involved in worship then children are more likely to be engaged as adults.   

Thinking back, this was true for me.  My parents took me to worship and Sunday School each week.  It happened at a tiny Lutheran church on a busy corner of bustling city street.  The church didn't offer any fancy programs - just Sunday School and a VBS in the summer.  The strength of that ministry was found not in programs but in people and the relationships that were forged each week.  As a family, we worshiped together and then we kids went to Sunday school after. It was a wonderful relational environment of nurture.  I was known and loved by caring adults (my parents and the many adults who knew my name).   

Quality not quantity.  People not programs.  This is the path of growth and vitality that we find ourselves on at St. James.  Over time our reputation as a relational community that really cares for the person (where names are known) will grow and attract others.  These things take perseverance and patience.  But even if our numbers don't increase, the goal is not to be found in increased numbers but rather in increased faithfulness.    We are not a Walmart where volume reigns.  We are a church were love reigns in friendships and relationships.  

So thank you Sunday School teachers and parents for your engagement and participation in the faith life of our kids.  I would be remiss if I didn't list your names:   

Teachers - Jeni Wojahn; Konrad Gastony; Kaia Gastony; Jennifer Corcoran; Amy Shero; Doug Lundstrom; Bethany Jarvis; Ben Tressel; Allyson Tressel; Zoe Tressel; Jack Tressel; Emily Lawrence; Ainsley Fuerst.  

Faith Nuture Team - Jeni Wojahn; Jill Bell; Christina Schaaf; Jennifer Corcoran; and Seminarian Sherri Lawrence (Faith Nuture Team staff leader).    

Music - Barbara Kleinfeldt.  

Your work is planting important seeds in a soil that is not only fertile but also has the highest likelihood of success for long term growth.   For the children.  Yes.  For our community as well.  

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

 

Believing What We Say About Easter.

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen, indeed.  Indeed?  Really?  What does it mean for us as a church that we proclaim these words throughout the season of Easter?  Do we really believe in resurrection and that Christ's body is given new life?  Or is that just something we say - a polite slogan that church-goers share when the pastor begins the cheer?    

What does it mean to BE the Risen body of Christ in this world?  Does it mean that we choose to live in a way in which Jesus lived - full of compassion, kindness, mercy, and forgiveness?  Does it mean that we have the courage to love and relate even when others are unlovable and stand-off-ish?  Does it mean to embrace a different kind of standard than the one that is used in our culture to determine success and effectiveness?  Are we really (according to Jesus' teaching and example) meant to count beans and heads as a way of judging whether our ministry is vibrant?   

Do we persist in our unchecked wisdom about needing to offer an endless variety of programs that 'get people in the door' as though we were some sort of spiritual Walmart where volume and mass consumption are the keys to the future?   

Or do we trust in God to bring a different kind of growth and vitality - such as the world cannot give and cannot count?  Do we seek to live out the Easter message in the relationships that we have with each other and our neighbor simply because that is what Jesus calls us to do?  Do we assemble each week to share in the good news that God has triumphed over the grave, to share in a sacred story and break bread not concerned about the entertainment value of such actions?  Instead, do we worship because God calls us to give glory and praise not satisfy our feelings?   

I wonder - what does it mean for each of us to belong to the body of the Risen Christ which continues to gather at St. James - called by the Spirit?  Is it about the numbers who are missing or about the faithfulness of those who are present?  

Can God resurrect the hardness of our hearts and the coldness of our imaginations?   

It is time for us to leave our tombs of the past and our tombs of fear for the future and start to live in the reality of Easter in the gift that God has given us in this present moment.   It is time for us to gather anew around Word and Sacrament to worship.  It is time for our beliefs to align with the possibilities birthed in Easter's new day.  It is time for us to worry less, give more, and celebrate even more.  It is time for us to live as God's Easter people like our very lives depend upon it - for, in truth, they really do.

Christ is Risen - INDEED - Alleluia!  God continues to give new life to the body that was once was dead.  Thanks be to God. 

 

in Christ, 

Pastor Walt

 

 

Behind the Bright Lights

How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb?  

Answer:  Change?  Why do we need to change? 

I've always liked that quirky joke.  As I'm coming to the completion of twenty years as an ordained pastor, I know all too well the sad truth contained within that old-but-still-relevant quip. Change is hard, particularly for Lutherans.     

And yet, that is what we did on Sunday.  Literally, we gathered as a whole group of Lutherans to change the lightbulbs.  It was incredible.  On a Sunday that is typically a low attendance Sunday for most churches, a special Congregational Meeting was held at St. James to consider whether we should install energy efficient LED lighting to replace our aging and costly incandescent bulbs.  There is much to celebrate.  Not only did we handsomely exceed our quorum and the project was easily approved but the meeting itself illustrated what resurrected community can look like when it gathers around basic Christ-centered values.  

In the past nine years of serving St. James as pastor, I have noticed that there have been many changes -some good, some not.  One of the very good changes has been a change in atmosphere.  Before I even visited St. James, I heard the stories of Congregational Meetings here that were simply horrible - factions, divisions, accusations.  A general distrust of leaders existed.  There was a conflict that made life within this community tense and unpleasant.   Over the years, through a lot of hard work by many people and the centering on core values, we have turned the corner.   It is no small thing that we have moved from a spirit of malaise to one that is future thinking.  It is a sign of new life and resurrection.  Thanks be to God!

From Sunday's meeting, I would like to highlight just three examples of the new life that exist today at St. James:

1) Collaborative leadership.   The lighting project is a good example of leadership in action that was transparent and efficient.   Back in November, the idea was first brought to Council by a member.  It was given consideration and a lot of behind the scenes work was done to see if this fit with our overall vision and mission.  Once the new Council was elected in January, the information was deliberated by the Executive Mission before it was brought to the whole Council.  More work was done that was supported by core staff.  You can read about the discussions that were had in February and March in the published minutes of Council and Executive Mission Team.  Once it was determined by reading the Constitution that Council lacked the authority to enter into a contract of this size, we followed our procedure for hosting a special Congregational Meeting.  Information was heavily communicated through a variety of sources (letters, bulletins, weekly email updates, Facebook, and website).  I remain thankful for the good collaboration of the Council, Executive Mission Team, core staff, and congregation.  

2) Respect.   Questions were asked and even a few concerns were raised at the meeting.  This was done in a respectful manner.  No one questioned the intelligence of the Council, the Executive Team, or the pastor during the discussion period.  People were honored for what they brought to the proverbial table.  This should all go without saying - except in a polarized culture (where public officials are defamed and slandered for their views) and during times of congregational conflict, respect is often the first value to be set aside.  Differences and disagreements are healthy for community life.  Because we all see the world in a unique way, it would be suspicious if we were to all agree on everything.  Respect for each other and the wisdom that we each have to share is critical.  It opens a door that would otherwise be closed.  Healthy congregations are places where people are respected and honored for who they are and what they have to bring.  

3) Forward Looking.  From the Council and its officers to those who were sitting in the pews and maybe hearing of this project for the first time - I sensed that a choice was being made to look ahead.  Yes, there are financial challenges that we face as a congregation.  Yes, there are another whole set of challenges that are facing churches as more of the population turns away from organized religious communities.  For the pessimists among us, it doesn't take much to declare that our glass is half empty (at least half of what it once was in the golden hue of memory).  Unfortunately, when congregations succumb to this kind of thinking it is akin to hiding in the tomb.  Easter, in contrast, inspires us to look forward and step out into the brightness of this day that we are living.  As an Easter people, we give thanks to God for where we are - we own our current reality with all of its challenges and opportunities.  We discern where God is leading us and we head out.  Never sure of how long a particular path might be, we walk in bold confidence that we are not alone.  We move forward.

So maybe a more fitting question to ask in light (pun intended) of Sunday's meeting on the Second Sunday of Easter is:  how many Lutherans does it take to change the atmosphere of a congregation?   

Answer:  Many, many disciples of Jesus working intentionally over the course of a bunch of years.  In fact, it remains a work in progress that requires each and every person who is a part of this wonderful Christ-centered community.  Easter is a process of resurrection as well as a wonderful destination.  As Easter people we remain well on the journey - thanks be to God!      

See you in worship,  

Pastor Walt

A Special Garden and A Glorious Day

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As I arrived at St. James yesterday it was still dark outside.  It was forty-five minutes before our Sunrise worship.  Unlocking the door, I turned on the lights in the narthex.  I found myself delighted.  The Resurrection Garden, which was made by the Sunday School, was transformed.  It had gone from grass, three crosses, and a rock tomb to this wonderful celebration of Easter life, complete with butterfly and flower cut-outs.  I knew this was going to happen.  Still, I was surprised to see it happen.   Easter can be like that - a day filled with surprise and wonder.

I am thankful for the good work that Seminarian Sherri Lawrence and Jeni Wojahn have done with the Faith Nuture/Sunday School team.  Their creative efforts with things like Resurrection Gardens have really made a difference in the faith lives of our children (and pastor too!)  I know that this is true because I had a group of children explain the Garden to me- they know the Easter gospel and could proclaim it to me.   

I am also deeply thankful for the many people who shared their talents in the past week as we walked together through our Holy Week and Easter observances and celebrations.  

Thanks to Jan Pofahl for beautiful music on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter;  to our combined Festival choir (conducted by Kelvin Miller); to Jubilation Ringers handbell choir (conducted by Kari Owens); to Youth Brass Ensemble (conducted by Tim Pofahl); to welcome/usher teams (coordinated by Krista Gentry); to Assisting Ministers Janet Karsten and Jeff Owens; to Ministry Hosts: Lisa Carlson & Miriam Ring (Maundy Thursday Table worship), Maria & John Edlund (Good Friday Tenebrae), Kari Owens (Good Friday Children's Crosswalk), Vicar Andrew (Good Friday noon), Sylvia Dobrovolny (Holy Saturday sanctuary decoration), and Starlett Drader (Easter Sunrise).  Thanks go to Doreen Evans and Bonnie Gauquie for their behind-the-scene staff support with all of these ministries.  Last, but certainly not least, I am thankful for Vicar Andrew and his assistance throughout these many worships.  

We have been richly blessed as a community with talent, passion, and the willingness of people to step up.  Christ is alive in the giving and the sharing of life with each other - truly a joy! 

Easter blessings to you and your family as we begin this Easter season, which lasts a week of weeks (7 weeks).  

in Christ,

Pastor Walt

A Donkey at St. James?

This week, worshipers might have been surprised on Sunday to see Polly the Donkey as they came to St. James.  Thanks go to the Gastony family for sharing their miniature donkey with us on Palm Sunday.  It was fun to watch the children (of all ages) take delight in greeting this descendent of the animal that carried Jesus into the city of Jerusalem on that original Palm Sunday.  Holy Week has begun - let the worship begin.   Be sure to check out the complete worship schedule for times and opportunities.  There are lots of surprises that await as we come together around Word and Sacrament.  

Blessings on this Holy Week!  

See you in worship,

Pastor Walt