Send Off to Something Spectacular

On Sunday, St. James will be sharing Sending Prayers with the group of youth and adults heading to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston.  You are invited to come to worship and participate in this sending.

To say that I'm excited about going with the group would be a gross understatement.  These events are formative and memorable.  Each one has unique experiences.   This will be my fourth ELCA Youth Gathering - but no two are alike.  

I am grateful for the youth and adults that will fill WANDA  (the church van) as we make our journey south.  

So that you can join in the fun, I will be posting pictures and updates from the adventure to the church website.  Be sure to check all of next week.

Look forward to seeing you in worship - either on Sunday or on Wednesday night.

in Christ,

Pastor Walt

 

Working With Some Talented Creatures

cover2.jpg

I am excited about a project that I've just completed with the teens who are going to Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering from St. James.  They are an exceptional group of youth.  Together we put together a 30-creature prayer book called God of Creatures Great and Small.  I wrote the prayers and took the pictures.  They researched fun animal facts for this eclectic grouping of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, and arachnids.   There are some really cool insights. 

In just three weeks, St. James will be carrying on a long-standing tradition of sending youth to ELCA national gatherings.  Over the years there have been different sizes of the group, different host cities (for example, Detroit, New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis, San Antonio, Dallas), different styles of music played, and different groups of kids.  These differences are a cause for us to celebrate.  How wonderful and diverse God has made us!  What is common, however, is also remarkable.  We will go and share an incredible experience with thousands of other Lutherans.  Together, we will give our thanks to God for awesome gifts of love and grace.  We will celebrate the work of the Spirit in the lives of our kids.  How wonderful and awesome is our God!

St. James actively supports youth participation at National Gatherings through general giving.  A portion of every dollar given throughout the year goes to fund not only this experience but faith formation for all ages.  If you are a regular giver - thank you for your generosity.  You have made it possible for us to take a group to Houston.

To share additional support, Light From This Hill - my online devotional company - is offering the original 30-creature book that I mentioned.  It can be used as a daily devotional or just a fun read.  For a donation of any amount - Light From This Hill will send you God of Creatures Great and Small as a thank you.  You receive a link to each of the creatures in your inbox.   You decide when the series starts and control the pace through all the creatures.    For more information about this project CLICK HERE.   

It was a real pleasure for me to see the enthusiasm of our teens for this series.  I can't wait until they see the final product of our common work.  Perhaps we can look through the animals as we make our two-day journey by church van to Houston - what fun!

As always, I look forward to seeing you in worship this summer either on Sunday or Wednesday night.

In Christ's Light,

Pastor Walt 

Sharing Hope, Wisdom, and Meaning Through Jesus' Stories

jesus stories -campfire - summer 2018.jpg

Summertime is here and it is time for campfires and being outdoors with family and friends.  There is something wonderful about hearing stories told around a campfire - they ignite our imagination in a way that connects with our inmost being.  This summer, I am excited about offering a different kind of sermon series.  At Wednesday night campfire worship (which starts tomorrow night - May 30 - 6:00 p.m. hot dogs/6:30 worship), we will hear stories that Jesus told.  These stories, all recorded in the Gospel of Luke, will be told in a manner like you would be accustomed to hearing a story around a campfire. 

Over the course of the summer, there will be fourteen stories in total.  Jesus was a master storyteller, using down-to-earth examples and illustrations from everyday life to talk about God.  Wednesday's sermon (which will be different than Sunday's sermon this year) will look at the hope, wisdom, and meaning that is found in these wonderful teaching stories.  

You can hear these sermons live on Wednesday night at the Campfire Worship or online on Thursday each week.  The sermons will be posted on the St. James website on Thursday.  If you would like, you can sign up to receive a free link to the sermon that will be sent directly to your email inbox as soon as its posted.

Of course, I will look forward to seeing you in worship when you are in town.  When you're away, check out this accessible online resource to nurture your spirit.  

In Christ,

Pastor Walt 

Exploring The Unknown Land Outside Our Door

crossgrowingneighborhood.jpg

When I think of expeditions of discovery and exploration, my imagination goes quickly to remote corners of the globe.  You discover places and things that are far away.  Frozen tundras and civilizations hidden in rainforests.  Ever since a child, I have been fascinated by stories and photos of the kind that you encounter in National Geographic or on the Discovery Channel.  I have always been eager to learn about this planet and its peoples.

When the church traditionally talked about missionary work, it looked to places afar.  We would send preachers, teachers, doctors to the other side of the earth to be missionaries of Jesus' love.  Although this history has not always been reflective of that love, Lutherans learned that the model of accompaniment is able to produce much fruit and life-connections.  We have as much to learn and receive in global partnerships as we have to teach and give.  I am grateful for the relationships that we have at St. James with the Christians in Idunda.  Over this summer, you will hear much about how we are planning to strengthen this network through visits to and from Tanzania.  We have so much to learn from our African sisters and brothers.      

For now, I want to focus on the needed missionary work outside our front door.  Our neighborhood is a largely unexplored horizon when it comes to sharing the love of Jesus.  Dramatic demographic changes are happening all around us.  Major cultural expectations regarding church and religion have shifted.  No longer is church attendance and membership a prized social value.  The neighborhood has changed drastically since the days when the people built St. James in the early 1960's. 

On this Thursday night, I am gathering a group of folks to begin a year-long expedition to learn about the hopes and dreams of those who live within a few miles of St. James.  If you are inquisitive and like jigsaw puzzles - I could use you on my team.  If you like to ask questions and talk with people you don't know - I could use you on my team.  If you would like to see St. James engage its neighborhood in a new way - I could use you on my team.  If you like to read National Geographic to learn about other cultures - I could use you on my team.  If you daydream and wonder what God might be up to these days - I could use you on my team. 

Thursday night - May 24 - 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. our expedition to Discover the Neighborhood begins.  I hope to see you there.

AND... of course, I always look forward to seeing you in worship.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt      

Pentecost is Going to Be BIG this Year!

fire.jpg

Over two decades of parish ministry has taught me that each church has a rhythm.  Annually, we get excited about things at different times of the year.  Energy rises and falls.  Participation increases and recedes.  Like the waves that lap upon the shoreline, there is a pattern that is observable.  Receiving this reality as a gift has been a challenge at times.  Sometimes you need to act 'out of season' or against the natural pulse.  More often than not, however, if you can time efforts with the natural flow, you will find that there is a double blessing.   

In Minnesota, with its long winters, and amazing summers, the pattern of ministry is influenced by the weather.  When it gets nice outside, folks will head to the lakes.  By Memorial Day weekend, the pattern is fully established.  Family cabins, camps, and state parks all have a gravitational pull that is both understandable and undeniable.  Time is our most precious gift and time spent with family is even more valuable.  The weekend exodus has already begun.  In just two weeks, our mid-week outdoor worship will offer an extra opportunity for those who are gone on Sundays.

Pentecost is a movable festival.  Fifty days after Easter, we deck the sanctuary in red and celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit to energize the church's mission.  Often this special celebration coincides with the MN 'lake-exodus' phenomenon.  As a result, we don't usually seem to have the people-power to celebrate 'up big.'     

Things are different this year.  With an early Easter (April 1), we get an early Pentecost before Memorial Day.  Most families are still in town.  Yay!  We will be leaning into the opportunity and having children play a larger role than usual in leading worship.  The Sunday School children will be singing three songs as part of our liturgy.  What is more, all kids present will be helping us to dramatize the reading of the Pentecost story.   This is in addition to the usual participation of the little ones during the procession, recession, and noisy offering. 

It is a tradition to wear red on Pentecost.  Red is the color connected with the Holy Spirit.  Later in the day, our ninth graders who completed their Confirmation studies will be wearing red stoles that they made for their Affirmation of Baptism worship (1:00 p.m.)  What joy to celebrate this important time in the life of our teens!   

So if you are in town, come to our Pentecost worship (9:30 a.m.) or Confirmation worship (1:00 p.m.).  Wear red and join in a joyful celebration of what the ways that the Spirit continues to move at St. James.  God's Spirit is active and leading us in new ways to open our hearts and doors to share God's love with others.  I look forward to seeing you in worship.

In Christ, 

Pastor Walt

Getting Our Hands Dirty

bulbs in bucket.jpg

Tis' the season for planting and spring cleaning.  With the winter behind us, there is a lot of work needed before our flower beds and gardens bloom and produce.   Unless we have a full-time gardener on a household staff, we will need to get our hands dirty.  Plants don't plant themselves and weeds absolutely refuse to leave of their own accord.

Yard work and gardening are good metaphors for ministry.  As we begin the second Trimester of Ministry at St. James ( May-August), there is a need for folks to step up and commit their heads, hearts, and hands.  We no longer have household staff to carry out all the ministry that needs to be imagined, planted, nurtured, pruned, and harvested.  Leadership for ministry must come from all those who call St. James their home.   We need Ministry Hosts to fulfill our vision of building and deepening loving relationships with God, each other, and our neighbor.  

At the second Trimester Ministry Planning Night, the group (in which the entire Council participated in for the first time) came up with a whole list of ideas.  Some of these things we've done before.  Some of them are brand new.  There is something for every age group.  Things that will strengthen our spirits, friendships, and connect us with the outside community.  

Already we have had people step forward and respond to the invitations in the bulletin to serve as Ministry Hosts.  As Director of Ministry/Operations, Doreen Evans will work closely with them to make sure that they have the resources needed for success.  If you have led ministry before, you will recognize in our Ministry Plan a level of detail that makes sure all the proverbial bases are covered.  If you never have led a ministry as St. James, fear not!  The Ministry Plan has it all laid out for you.  You will receive the support that you need to make your inaugural leadership experience a satisfying one.  

So..... are you in?  Are you able to lend your time and talents towards ministry that will give you a sense of accomplishment and connect others with the life and love of Jesus?  

I am confident that God has blessed St. James with all the resources and leadership that it needs to be a positive force in our lives and in our community.  My prayer is that the Spirit will inspire us to a deeper level of response and action.

Look forward to seeing you in worship,

Pastor Walt

On Prayer Retreat

beach bench.jpg

This week, I will be spending three days (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) on a Prayer Retreat with my Spiritual Director.   I share this information with you for a couple of reasons.  First, I want you to know the practical details of my being away - I won't be available in the office or on the phone or email.   If you have an emergency, are in the hospital, or need to speak to a pastor - rest assured, I have arranged for coverage.  Just call St. James pastoral care line - 952-890-4410 - and someone will be able to assist.  This line is answered in person 24/7.   While I am gone, Seminarian Sherri Lawrence has graciously agreed to be 'on-call' for me.  If the matter can wait - leave a message for me or send me an email and I will get back to you when I return.

Second, I want you to know that your pastor prays.  Time away for spiritual reflection and prayer plays an important part in grounding my pastoral ministry.  I seek to have my connection with God strengthened as I live out my call as an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament.  A few years ago, my sabbatical taught me the importance of tending to my spiritual needs.  Although every Christian life needs prayer, it is an essential component for those who preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When I find myself too busy to pray, I become distracted and frantic.  Praying helps to center and focus efforts, energies, and priorities.   Prayer informs my pastoral leadership by reminding me to open my heart, mind, and spirit as I seek to discern where God's Spirit is calling us.

When I pray, I have found it helpful for me to clear my mind of thoughts, words, agendas, concerns, fears, and distractions.  I close my eyes and breath deeply.  Most often, though not always, I kneel using a prayer bench (pictured above).  Since I'm usually concerned about time, I set the timer on my phone for an amount of time and then I don't worry about it.    Clearing mind, breathing deeply, I open myself and listen for God. 

It is hard to describe how this meditative practice works except I have found that it does.  At times, silent prayer offers me a glimpse of God's shalom.  At other times, it slows me down so I catch a needed breath.  At other times, it offers clarity.   It is always different and I'm never sure of what outcome, if any, will transpire.  

As I head off to the woods of Wisconsin for this retreat, I ask that you would keep me in your prayers as I will keep you in my prayers.  

I will be back in time for worship on Sunday.  As always, I look forward to seeing you then.

In Christ,

Pastor Walt 

A Different Kind of Garage Sale

freegaragesale.jpg

This weekend, there will be something unique happening once again at St. James.  We will be hosting a garage sale.  This in itself is not unique.  Many churches and organizations host Rummage or Garage Sales.  It is a popular way of raising funds that involve a bunch of folks.  Although we will be engaging a lot of people - we are not in it for the money.  In fact, no money will exchange hands.  St. James' Garage Sale is FREE!   It is a ministry that seeks to serve our neighbors.  We are so richly blessed by God's Grace that we gracefully share with others.

True to our vision to build and deepen loving relationships with our neighbors, our FREE GARAGE SALE will bring neighbors together.  There will be something for everyone.  Those who give their time and treasures will receive the satisfaction of helping others out.  Those who come and receive the many items (clothes, household goods, toys, books, etc.) will be blessed with items that will be given a good 'second' home.  Together we will reuse and recycle.  

Food will also be served.  Hot Dogs are on the menu for all.  Extra Comfort Meals have been made and will be given out to all who wish to take these quality, homemade,  frozen meals.  

A ministry this large takes many hands and I'm grateful for everyone who freely gave of themselves in the planning, gathering, sorting, and setting up of this ministry.  Special Thanks go to our Ministry Hosts, Kevin Bohnsack and Steve Hawks.  Additional hands are needed.  If you have some time this week - check with our Director of Ministry - Doreen Evans (doreen@stjameslc.com) and you'll get a job.  

It is a blessing to serve in a church community that is always reaching beyond itself.  This FREE GARAGE SALE is just another example in a long line of ways that we share God's love with others.

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

in Christ,

Pastor Walt

Taking the next step together to plan ministry.

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

What are you doing tomorrow night, April 17 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.?  St. James could really use your help!  

gburgsem3.jpg

Three times a year, we host a Ministry Planning Night.  Those who gather, which starting tomorrow evening will include the entire Council, consider the upcoming Trimester (next four months of the year) and where God is inviting us to do ministry.  A combination of new ideas and longstanding ministries will be considered.  We will think, dream, and identify critical ministries for each of our tri-part vision areas as we seek to build and deepen loving relationships with God, each other, and our neighbors.

Identifying ministry ideas together is the first step in our innovative process of bringing ministry to life at St. James.  Once things are "on the board" we will prioritize, look for areas that need to be strengthened, and begin the search for leaders.  Some leaders will sign up on the spot, while other leaders will commit later.  Each ministry gets a Ministry Plan - which will help flush out the details.  Doreen, as Director of Ministry, serves as a valuable resource in putting this Plan into place.  

Using our proven process, we have done an amazing amount of work together in Jesus' name.  To continue this success, we need as many people as are able to participate.  So.... what are you doing tomorrow night?  

Hope to see you then and, as always, in worship,

In Christ,

Pastor Walt 

 

Discerning the Body and Saying "Not Now"

DSC_0130.JPG

Back in January and February, you might remember that I hosted a series of conversations relating to worship times and our Sunday morning at St. James.  These "Listening Posts" were sparked by what I was hearing back in the Fall from a few different corners of the St. James community.  Some were saying that our life together as a worshiping community would benefit from a schedule change.  Others were not so sure.  As Pastor, it seemed like we needed to do some discernment.

Discerning where the body of Christ is on a particular issue, topic or practice isn't always the easiest thing to do.  It can be messy work.  This is especially true when we have folks with passions on both sides of things and conflicting ideas.  Discernment is a spiritual process that encourages an honesty in sharing differences AND a listening to those who see things differently.   

As a pastoral leader, it is my job to make sure that when we are faced with divergent views that a table is set where our core Christian values are honored and guide our conversations.  This is especially needed in our current and divisive culture that draws battle lines all too quickly.  It is all too easy for us to shut down communication with those holding contrary opinions.  The church is called by its Lord Jesus to take an alternative path. 

It is a firm belief of mine that the table fellowship of Jesus, as witnessed throughout the gospels, invites Christians to engage with each other in a way that listens, respects, and affirms each other.  I am proud of the unique conversations that we have had around sexual orientation, gun violence, and biblical interpretation.  Even though at the end of these conversations we remained committed to our opinions, informed by our experiences, we born a greater witness and commitment to Christ.  We loved each other, even where we passionately disagreed.  

Listening. Honoring.  Respecting.  Remaining in Christ.  These are all important aspects of the work of discernment.  They have once again guided the conversations that we had related to our Sunday morning schedule.

After three months of discernment, here is what I heard.  Some of our older members are finding it harder to get up on Sunday mornings for our 9:30 a.m. worship.  It was even indicated that anything before noon was too early!  Many more folks, however, find our current time fits their Sunday morning needs.  After much listening, the common wisdom seems to say to leave our schedule as it is.  In a report to Council, I recommended that no change be made at this time. 

For our older folks who wanted to see an earlier time, I have added a monthly worship at 11:00 a.m. at Savage Senior Living.  This is open to any one who would like to attend.  I will also be suggesting at our Ministry Planning Night (next Tuesday, April 17) to offer a noon worship for seniors.  If I get others who are interested in helping out, we would do this once a quarter.   

I want to thank everyone who took part in the conversations.  Your input and the way in which you shared was consistent with our G.R.A.C.E. (God's Grace, Respect, Appreciation, Compassion, Encouragement) values.  We will continue to ask where God is calling us to be as Christ's body in this place and time.  I look forward to our ongoing discernment.

Christ is Risen Indeed! 

Pastor Walt

A New Venture

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ at St. James,

Walt and Mountains.jpg

A long time ago, my Father told that a good sermon was one that gave him something to 'put in his pocket' for later in the week.  He rolled tires in a warehouse and needed something to nurture his faith mid-week.  Growing up, I was inspired by his faith witness and need for down-to-earth spiritual growth.  It continues to inspire me today.

Writing has played an important role in my public ministry: Weekly Ministry Moments, blogs from Sabbatical travels, Advent and Lent devotionals all have been vehicles for preaching and teaching about the good news of Jesus Christ.  Both the audience of this writing and the time taken to produce it has grown and evolved beyond expectations.  Increasingly, I am spending more and more personal time with this work.  To date, I have been personally funding my daily devotions and blogs.  It has taken on a life of its own and the time has come to give it is own space.  

This spring I am launching a new online business venture called, "Light From This Hill."  

My goal is to provide inspirational resources that will Shine a Little Light on Your Path to a growing number of people.  Light From This Hill will operate as an online company offering subscriptions to daily devotions sent right to your email inbox.  

As I will be doing this work on my own time (nights, weekends, and free-time), there will be no official connection with St. James Lutheran Church.  I will not use St. James website, St. James Facebook Page or the church bulletin to promote my business.  I am sending this email through St. James electronic channels with the blessing of the Council for the purpose of setting a boundary upfront.  I wanted to let you know what I'm doing. 

As Pastor of St. James, I will continue to provide access to devotional materials during the seasons of Advent and Lent at no cost to the church or to you.  For those who subscribe during these times, I will offer additional opportunities to read other devotional series throughout the year.   My intent is to provide free-will subscriptions to these additional series to cover my personal costs and fund additional devotional and educational resources. 

50 Days of Easter Prayers.jpg

In celebration of this new venture, I am offering 50 Days of Easter Prayers for a free-will donation.  All monies gathered, less the small credit card processing fees, will be passed on to St. James Lutheran's MN Foodshare effort. More information is available on my website: Light From This Hill (click here).  

Blessings to you during this Holy Week,

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

Worship in Motion

Polly+the+donkey+palm+sunday+2017.jpg

On Sunday, March 25, Passion/Palm Sunday, St. James will have a special procession.  Instead of just involving the children, as is our usual practice, during the opening hymn, the entire congregation will be invited to take part.  Worship will begin in the narthex.  We will pass out palms to young and old.  We will hear the story of Jesus' triumphant parade into Jerusalem.  After a blessing of the palms, we will all process into our regular worship space to the hymn of All Glory, Laud, and Honor.  This interactive liturgy in motion will be a memorable experience for all involved.  

To add to the excitement, the Gastony family will be bringing a donkey!  Last year, Polly the Donkey delighted us all as we gathered for worship.  This year, the plan is to involve the donkey in the opening procession (at least as we make the first lap on the tiled floor in the narthex.)

Our Passion/Palm Sunday worship will start a week of interactive worships.  On Maundy Thursday, we will be worshiping around tables set up in the sanctuary at noon and 7:30 p.m.  On Good Friday, children's worship will bring the story of Jesus' passion alive for the kids (10 a.m.).  At noon, on Good Friday, adults will have an opportunity to hammer a nail into a large cross.  In the evening, Tenebrae worship will use light and darkness to engage us in a re-telling of the crucifixion.  Holy Week worship is worship designed to involve our motion and devotion.

I hope that you will be able to take part in these worship opportunities as we conclude our Lenten journey.

in Christ,

Pastor Walt

 

Building capacity for Ministry Through Generosity

offering basket.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

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

  

 

 

Coming Together in Hope and Care

DSC_0037.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

Little Hands Bring Great Joy

Sunday+School+Children+make+resurrection+garden+2017.jpg

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

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

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

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

Pastor Walt

Beginning Our Tenth Year of Ministry Together

ABEDE79A-D2BF-469E-826B-E860465047D6.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

Teaching To Love and Breaking Chains of Hate

IMG_0136.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

Look forward to seeing you in worship soon,

Pastor Walt

Praying For You

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

IMG_0535.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Walt

An Important Time Together

watch.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Walt

A Warm Cup

IMG_0516.JPG

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