To most who meet him now, Davis Conrad is a typical 95-year-old man living at Bethany Lutheran Village in Dayton. For hundreds of people who worshiped with him, attended a concert at his church, or sang under his direction, he is a master of his trade; a member of an almost-lost generation of musicians who produced legendary music programs during a golden era of corporate worship. At Hope Lutheran Church, his retirement after decades of faithful service - coupled with changes to the surrounding neighborhood - led to the end of a once-storied music tradition.
It has been more than twenty years since he left. Through some Dayton friends I discovered that Hope was ready to part with its music library – hundreds of pieces of music that were sung joyfully on Sundays, Christmas, Easter, feast days, clergy installations, and bishop celebrations, including several that were commissioned especially for their esteemed choir. A gift to Lord of Life, if we would take it.
As I shared the news with some of our own choir members, I discovered connections to Hope Church that I never would have expected – Pastor Ed Williams spent a great deal of time at Hope when he was on the Synod staff; Pastor Bill Funk, who has been singing with us for two years, was an associate pastor at Hope for three years.
When I arrived to pick up the music, the secretary looked at my car and said, “you might have to make a few trips in that.” She wasn’t kidding. Seven filing cabinets, each with four drawers, full from front to back and a desk filled with music. What an amazing gift. Mr. Conrad’s notes on his copy of each piece – a lifetime of study, planning, practice, and teaching; a legacy from which to build.
I managed to empty six of the filing cabinets and the desk in one trip. I was so excited to bring it all home; I filled every nook and cranny. As I’ve gone through it all, I’m humbled to piece together the rich history contained among the pages. I’m sad there are so few people at Hope to share in that history, but it will live on through our own worship and offerings.
It will take me many weeks to sort through all of our new music. Once I have, I’ll invite anyone who would like to join us for a “sing through” – I’ll pick out some of my favorites and we’ll sing through them just to hear them for ourselves. Mark your calendars for Tuesday, April 10 at 7 pm!
Fingers are crossed, eyes are glued to the bottom of the screen during the evening news, and you have already eaten your packed lunch in the fridge because you’re so confident that tomorrow will be a Snow Day. How exciting is a whole day to goof around as snow falls outside? Days of playing games in the snow and then cozying up close to the fire are the kind of winter days I longed for as a kid. Snow Days were the best!
While in high school, I had an amazing job on the weekends and throughout the summer working as a counselor for an outdoor camp. At this camp, we often served the youth from the urban core of Cincinnati. While the kids were with us in the outdoors, nearly everything they got to do at camp was a first-time experience. It was so transformative for me to witness these children see a deer for the first time, or to finally be able to see the Big Dipper in the night sky, or to play in and around a large pond. Prior to working at this camp, I had no idea that there were kids so close to my home that never experienced these basic joys that I experienced nearly every day.
One morning, I was leading a group of campers through the woods to the cafeteria for breakfast, I asked “what is your favorite thing to do on a Snow Day?” They took turns sharing as we all nodded in agreement for each response. Eventually, the only person left to give a response was the little boy holding my hand as we walked. I said to him directly, “what’s your favorite thing about a Snow Day?” There was a long silence until he finally said “I don’t like Snow Days, because there is no school that day, and that means I don’t get to eat that day.” My heart sank, and suddenly, I never desired a Snow Day in the same way again.
As temperatures drop, God’s most precious children grow colder while they’re forced to live outside. As winter months settle in, social services grow more crowded and more of God’s children battle with hunger. This year, I witnessed the Holy Spirit hard at work through Lord of Life as our guests from Family Promise called this place home during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Family Promise is an inter-faith ministry that equips congregations to respond to local homelessness.
Our call to respond came during a week that most consider to be a “Snow Day.” In the midst of resting, playing games, and staying home, God filled our hearts and empowered us to serve others. Although play and rest are an important part of our lives, I am thankful that God is still at work on a Snow Day. God continues to show up day after day, season after season, snow fall after snow fall.
With a Serving Heart,
“The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12
I never understood this phrase. Singing hills and clapping trees? I’ve heard the passage in worship for years and read it occasionally in my own devotional life. I’ve savored the beauty of creation from expansive vistas and lush valleys, but I’ve never witnessed trees clapping their hands, except for the creepy scene in The Wizard of Oz when the trees cheer and jeer and toss apples at Dorothy and her traveling companions.
On Christmas Eve, we read some similar words from Psalm 96, which describes all of creation raising their voices at the coming of the Lord. The Psalm culminates with a rejoicing earth, roaring seas, and “all the trees of the forest singing for joy” (v.11 ff.). For some reason, on that holy night, the words of the psalm writer began to make sense.
Maybe they began to make sense because of the howling wind that blew snow and knocked around trees, as well as rustled Christmas Eve clothes and hair. Maybe understanding carved a path in the ringing hand bells and singing voices, the flickering candles and sparkling lights. Maybe, faith and understanding connected through spoken Scripture and sung refrains telling of the night that Christ was born. Maybe, clarity came in the hot chocolate and coffee which flowed freely and the warm greetings and hugs of reunions, as friends and family connected.
Thankfully, our “Jesus Christ is born!” declarations weren’t only contained within the walls of sanctuaries and worship spaces. Outside, all creation joined in the birthday announcement, too. The glistening trees, falling snow, whipping wind, and hush of bedtime led us into Christmas morning and beyond. Did I hear some trees of the field clapping their hands?
This side of the Christmas and New Year celebrations, the rejoicing isn’t as easily found. The cleansing, white blanket of snow has turned to black slosh on roads and icy clumps clinging to our wheel wells. Garbage cans are overflowing, neighborhood curbside recyclers have extra cardboard packaging to pick-up, and the lifeless, naked Christmas trees are discarded as they wait to be hauled off. Inside, many of us have already packed up decorations and crammed lights and ornaments back into their nests for an 11-month nap. For some, the happy buzz of glad tidings have given way to the daily grind.
As we jump into the new year, creation won’t allow our exclamations to end. Christ is born and the world is changed! All creation, including us, is summoned to declare it. We continue to celebrate and look for renewal. We continue to cry out for justice and peace. We pray for those who are ill, lost, or alone. We work to care for the Earth and one another. Could it be that all creation cannot help but respond to the arrival of God coming among us?
The very end of the Psalms says as much: “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6).
Joy to the world!
As we reflect on 2017, our gratitude overflows for the many ways you have served and participated in life and ministry at Lord of Life throughout the past year. We thank God for each of you and the numerous ways that you generously share your lives for God’s mission here, in our community, and throughout the world.
As we enter our 30th year together as a community of faith, we pray that the Spirit of God will continue to bring us health, joy, and peace as we remain rooted in the promises of Jesus.
The Lord of Life staff
(l to r) Paula Drake, Bob Burnette, Intern Lucas McSurley, Pastor Lowell, Donna Harvey, John Johns, Cara Hasselbeck (not pictured Pastora Carmen Brown and Lori Krach)
It is my favorite moment in Christmas worship in every church I’ve gone to. The lights dim, the music starts, everyone gets quiet, and the fire from the Christ candle on the Advent wreath spreads through the church as we pass the flame from candle to candle. Silent Night ...
It was another kind of silence that brought this beloved hymn to life. In 1818 at a chapel near Salzburg, Austria, Christmas preparations were underway when organist Franz Gruber found that the organ had failed and wouldn’t work for Christmas. A young priest, Joseph Mohr, had written some lyrics a couple years earlier and asked Gruber to set them to a tune they could sing easily with guitar accompaniment to replace the organ.
People liked it, but they mostly forgot about it. When the organ was repaired several years later, the organ builder found the music laying with the organ pipes, had it published, and it was a hit!
We are full of expectations during the Christmas season. The perfect gifts. Perfect family time. Perfect music. We’ve spent the entire season of Advent working and waiting for everything to come together, for the wrapping to come off, for school to let out, and to finally light that fifth candle on the Advent wreath so we can share the light of Christmas with each other. Silent Night ... What a testament to the promise of Christmas that even when things don’t go according to plan, we still receive the gift of God’s love.
Celebrate Christmas with us this Sunday at 6, 8, and 11 pm – each of the services will include communion, candle-lighting, and a weepy music director trying to make his way through his favorite song ...
I have a confession to make... Until just last year, I had never heard of a poinsettia. This may let you in on how much I know about decorating, but I have always simply called them “Christmas flowers.” I’ll admit, there was an awkwardly long amount of time between when I heard the word “poinsettia” being tossed around in the church newsletter and when I finally discovered what in the world it meant.
After a quick search, I learned that poinsettia plants are named after Joel R. Poinsett, who worked in the U.S. government as a diplomat under James Monroe. Joel R. Poinsett traveled to Mexico in 1828 and brought back a holiday tradition to the States. The tradition in Mexico was born out of a cultural legend. As the story goes, a young girl could not afford to provide a gift for Jesus' birthday. As she was feeling down, an angel appeared to her and told her to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Before she knew it, red blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias (www.history.com).
Many of our traditions, especially around the holidays, do have meaningful backstories that help make them relevant. Usually, we just have to do a little digging to discover what the meaning behind our traditions are. As it turns out, poinsettias do have a religious purpose and do make a theological claim in our worship space. So, this Christmas, as you see the sanctuaries, stores, and windows filled with beautiful flowers, I hope you are reminded of the girl who gifted weeds for Jesus’ birthday. Christmas is not about material things or unwrapping frivolous doohickeys, it’s about the gift of giving. All that the little girl brought to Jesus was flowerless weeds, but that was enough.
When you see poinsettias, know that they represent God’s unimaginable ability to create something out of nothing, to bring the dead to life, and to make beauty out of what we perceive to be worthless. Sprouting a bright scarlet flower from the weeds is what our Christian story is all about. God takes us, considered by some as worthless weeds and helpless sinners, and transforms us into agents for love and justice. The peace that we create and the love that we proclaim is God’s gift to the world.
I may know nothing about poinsettia placement or decorating for the season of Christmas, but thankfully, God is the one that does the important decorating. God places us together and puts us in the perfect arrangement that extends out from beneath any sized tree. God’s Christmas display expands far beyond any window sill. When God creates, God uses decorations far more beautiful than poinsettias, Christmas trees, and bright twinkling lights. We are what God decorates the world with during the holiday. Through us, God showers the world with joy, love, peace, and hope. This Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus is the centerpiece of God’s display. We are arranged, we are illuminated, and we are made beautiful by God’s wondrous hands.
With Sprouting Beauty,
You’ve seen it. If you tossed a rock in the air and celebrated the pluming splash of water, you were witness to the growing circumference radiating out in a ripple. When you paused to watch a boat carve its way up the Ohio River, your eyes may have followed the ripples as they wiggled all the way to the shoreline. Canoeing or kayaking on a placid lake, the point of entry for your paddle may have drawn your attention and mesmerized you at length.
Christmas is coming. For many of us, the rhythm of daily life has been disrupted by the splashing preparation of the Advent season. The normal surfaces in our homes have been taken over by evergreen sprigs, strings of lights, and nativity scenes, as we anticipate the coming of Christ. In a few weeks, we will celebrate God bursting onto the scene, but long after December 25 has come and gone the realities of Christmas will linger.
Canadian poet and musician, Bruce Cockburn, captures these lasting effects of Jesus' birth as he recounts the story of God in his Cry of a Tiny Babe <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRZxrr4P9FE>.
Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph gets upset because he doesn't understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says "God did this and you're part of his scheme"
Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says "forgive me I thought you'd been with some other man"
She says "what if I had been - but I wasn't anyway and guess what
I felt the baby kick today"
Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe
The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything
'Cause the governing body of the Holy Land
Is that of Herod, a paranoid man
Who when he hears there's a baby born King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two
But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and get away clean
Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe
There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn't to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you have ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It's a Christmas gift that you don't have to buy
There's a future shining in a baby's eyes
Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe
From Bruce Cockburn’s Nothing But A Burning Light ©1991
You might not see it or feel it, but that doesn’t mean that the promises of Jesus don’t ripple in and through our lives.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!
It has arrived! That time of year when calendars are full, stores are crowded, stockings are hung, and families are gathered. Growing up in my house, the month of December always meant that we were hosting family and friends. Snow days for most kids meant hot chocolate and sled rides, but for me and my siblings, cold winter days meant cleaning and chores. We spent our snow days sweeping the floors and dusting the counters. It felt like we were always preparing to entertain for that coming weekend.
Eventually, the hour would hit that were done preparing and cleaning and all that was left to do was wait patiently for our guests to arrive. All the work was finally done as we peeked our heads through the window looking for familiar cars to pull into our driveway so that we could shout “they’re here.” That shout was our family code for finding the coolest posture we could, one that indicated that we were not frantically throwing our toys in the closest just before the guests appeared. While we were frozen in that pose, we waited eagerly and patiently.
As Christians, we have worked tirelessly all year long, serving others, loving others, and fulfilling God’s mission in the world. Lord of Life has trained and equipped eight Stephen Ministers to listen effectively and passionately to those who are hurting. We have confirmed 8 students and baptized 11 of our youth. We have raised nearly 500,000 dollars for the mission of the Church. We have grown thousands of pounds of produce in our garden and prepared countless meals for those who are hungry. I could go on, but the point is clear, God has been hard at work in this place.
Now that Advent has arrived, although we should never let-up on doing God’s work, we are finally patiently awaiting the arrival of the long expected Jesus Christ. Although we may not be completely prepared, although the table may not be fully set, we are eagerly awaiting our guest to arrive and show us the way of peace, hope, and love. Let us wait for the Lord with that same kind of child-like giddiness we had when our faces were pressed against the window as the guests finally pulled into the driveway.
This Advent, I encourage to take a deep breath. Put your mops and brooms away and join the children at the window, who are waiting eagerly for the Christ-child to arrive. This year, I invite you to do your best not to be stressed about shopping, cleaning, and getting everything done on time. Because believe it or not, Christmas will come, Jesus will arrive, and all creation will rejoice at our Savior’s birth. Know that whether or not the house is exactly as we want it, God will arrive. God doesn’t care about whether or not our life is tidy. God shows up in our clutter and messiness. After all, Jesus showed up in a dingy manger surrounded by livestock. God doesn’t need impressing. When we cast aside our cares about superficial appearances, all of sudden, we become available to live into the presence of God. It is God that is coming down our driveway. It is God that enters into our homes this Christmas. It is God that fills our hearts and leads us to shout “Jesus is here!”
With faithful patience,
These last few weeks have been crammed full of celebrations. We’ve had three weddings in the Lord of Life community, two baptisms, celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and named forty-one of our beloved who died in the past year as part of All Saints worship. It has been a whirlwind of days!
Love has been at the center of each of these moments. Vows and rings were exchanged in love. Water splashed in love. “By grace through faith” was proclaimed and “A Mighty Fortress” was sung in love. Names of family and friends were spoken in love as the chime rang out. What a gift it is to love and be loved.
Each month, we gather on the floor in the sanctuary for preschool chapel times. Coordinating with the morning and afternoon schedules of these little ones, “Miss Paula,” Intern Lucas, and I sing, pray, and read, in an effort to reinforce faith for these children. Think of it as a twenty minute children’s sermon. Frequently, we close by singing “Jesus Loves Me.” We sing it for them, but often the simple words speak a reminder to the deepest part of me that there is a Friend and Savior, Jesus, who loves and cares for me with an everlasting love. What a gift it is to be loved.
Most days, we know this. We not only have an awareness that Jesus loves us, but we also recognize the caring and compassionate embrace of the community around us. What a gift it is to be loved. Other days, though, we feel disconnected, deserted, and even unlovable.
I don’t know what your plans are for this Thanksgiving week. Maybe there is a large gathering happening at your place and you are frantic with preparations. You may still have items on your shopping list and also need to finalize the seating chart and the minute by minute plan for food preparation. Perhaps, you are zipping out of town – or have already headed out – and will be celebrating somewhere else. Maybe this Turkey Day will be more low-key than some of your gatherings in past.
Wherever you are and however you spend this holiday, it is my prayer that you will have the occasion to remember that you are loved. Pause. Breathe deep. Recall those moments from this year for which you are grateful. Then, crank up your stereo, computer, or other music player and listen to “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You.” First recorded by Marvin Gaye in 1964, and then by James Taylor and others, this is an anthem of gratitude in celebration of love. Think of it as your Hymn of Thanks this holiday.
How Sweet It is to Be Loved By You
I needed the shelter of someone's arms
And there you were
I needed someone to understand my ups and downs
And there you were
With sweet love and devotion
Deeply touching my emotion
I want to stop and thank you, baby
How sweet it is to be loved by you
How Sweet It Is lyrics © 1964 Brian Holland/Edward Jr. Holland/Lamont Dozier
Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Barton Music Corporation
With thankfulness and joy!
In the Orthodox Church, icons (paintings of saints, often on gold backgrounds) are considered a window into the beauty of the kingdom of God. Craftspeople spend decades perfecting their art, learning to make pigments out of natural materials and techniques so their creations last for centuries. They dedicate their talent so the rest of us can step away from our ordinary lives and experience a glimpse of something sacred.
To sanctify something means to set it aside; to make it holy. We give it extra effort, we respect it, we don’t rush it. Sacred art – stained glass windows, fabric vestments on the altar, candles, flowers, statues, church buildings, and so many other offerings crafted by talented artists – draws our attention to scripture, prayer, and worship. We walk into a sacred space with sacred objects and we are inspired to see, hear, and act like the Christians we are called to be.
God is all around us all the time – in nature, at home, at work, in worship. We don’t need anything else to bring us closer to God. But symbols, artwork, and sacred spaces serve as reminders to step out of the secular nature of our lives and be holy. We set aside this space, along with a portion of our time, talents, and treasures, to be sacred.
As we move into the Advent season we'll have extra opportunities at Lord of Life to worship and enjoy our own sacred spaces; and to further lift them up as we decorate for the Christmas season. Watch the schedule for our Advent Adventure midweek worship, Pageant, Blue Christmas, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day worship opportunities.
Beauty... violence... beauty... violence... beauty! This was the pattern of our men’s retreat this past weekend as a group of us gathered at Hueston Woods Lodge. The Holy Spirit guided us through three heart-wrenching discussions about racial, sexual, and spiritual violence in the world today and in Scripture. Although these moments of learning were meaningful, thought-provoking, and honest, I learned the most about God between the lessons.
As a leader of the retreat, I carved out intentional time between the lessons for the men to literally “retreat.” I figured, in-between three intense discussions, they would want time for themselves to meditate, unwind, and reflect. I pictured them sitting alone on a bench by the lake, or hiking along a path in the woods alone. The environment at Hueston Woods was certainly conducive to sitting back and enjoying nature all by oneself. Although solitude is important, and God often speaks to us in when by ourselves, what actually happened at this retreat was fascinating.
What was meant to be meaningful moments of isolation, turned into beautiful experiences of community. It seemed that as the conversation about violence got more difficult, our desire to be in community got stronger. Suddenly, whatever we did during our breaks, we did together. We hiked together. We sat by the lake together. We even felt the need to experience silence together. Prior to this weekend, I had ever thought about the difference between silence and solitude. As we ended each session with a prayer, it was as if the word “Amen” was a light switch for joy, laugher, and togetherness.
This retreat taught me an important lesson about the violence that surrounds us every day. We must remain in community. Not only is being together important, but our coming together is one way to actively stand-up against the violence that surrounds us. Through our frustration, question asking, and doubt, God shows up in our lives in the form of relationship. If you hear the far too common stories of violence, and respond as I want to, it is easy to slip into isolation and despair. But, we must resist the temptation to give-up hope.
Being in life-giving relationship with others is what gives us the strength to make it through those moments when we feel alone. Just as darkness needs the light, as death needs the resurrection, our stories of violence need stories of communal joy. Sometimes it may feel like God is distant, but we are never alone. God will always be there through our cycle of hope and despair. As a church, we are here for one another. As children of God, we are never alone. In Scripture, we are reminded to “be strong and bold, to have no fear, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).
Together in Christ,
When I was kid, nothing was better than a good birthday party – especially if it was my birthday party. Wacky games and snacks, some kind of activity or craziness, cake and ice cream, and gifts, gifts, and more gifts all helped highlight my special day.
Some of the presents were predictable, purchased after I posted my suggested birthday list on the fridge with a magnet for the whole family to see. Other presents were grand surprises that seemingly came out of nowhere in just the right size, color, or shape. How fantastic!
It was, and still is, very easy to get excited when everything is about me. But that is an illusion, because life is not about me. Victorian era novelist, Mary Anne Evans, knew this and spoke the truth when she said,
"What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"
When we step back into reality, we realize that each of our lives extend far beyond me, myself, and I.
In a previous congregation I served, I ran into young Henry on his way into church on a Sunday morning. His arms were loaded with bags of non-perishable items. His younger sister, Eva, not to be left out of the excitement, was close behind, arms full of even more food. What a joy to see these little ones coming to worship weighed down with cans and boxes of food that our faith community could pass along to the Methodist Open Door Food Bank.
When I offered a word of thanks for their donations, Henry’s face lit up as he explained, “All of this food was from my birthday party!” On Henry’s birthday invitations, he had made a unique request of his buddies:
for Henry’s party,
please consider bringing
a donation for the local food
pantry in lieu of gifts.
Guess what happened? Everybody did it.
Henry’s friends – and their parents – stepped beyond normal birthday protocol of “fill the kid’s room with a mountain of toys” and instead showed up ready to fill empty bellies and souls. Just a few simple words gave his friends permission to think of others.
Henry’s parents said that if you asked him why he was doing this, he might say, “It is important to help other people who don’t have as much food in their house as we do.” At age seven, Henry was already living a life of gratitude. He recognized that having food on the table is a gift and that others are in need.
One of God’s favorite activities is giving. Gift-giving is central to what God is up to in the world. God is constantly looking for ways to share skills and talents, joy and blessing, as well as love, peace, and comfort. Over and over again throughout the Bible we hear stories of God pouring out blessing on people and delivering hope in the most desperate situations. But gifts aren’t just stuff of the Bible.
We’ve been talking for months about how God blesses the world through Lord of Life. We are blessed when we share in worship, learning, and fellowship moments, and then God makes it possible for us to bless our neighbors, community, region, and beyond! God’s good gifts spill into our lives and then out into the world!
Take time to thank God for the many blessings we receive and consider how we might share our gifts with the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Henry, as an act of love and compassion, used his birthday as an opportunity to think beyond himself. Fill your arms and fall in line behind him. Ready to share. Ready to love.
By now, you’ve heard that this Reformation Sunday is a milestone. October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther took his hammer and a list of 95 proposals to the front doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in hopes of reforming and correcting what he saw as errors in the Church. While this sounds bizarre to us, the doors were a central and prominent location for posting announcements and items for public discourse.
For this major anniversary, music settings and art pieces have been commissioned, hymn festivals have been organized, historical dramas have been staged, and special events and exhibitions of every kind have been pulled together. Wittenberg University, our closest Lutheran college, is currently hosting a display of Reformation era artifacts, including a first edition of The Book of Concord, a 1520 copy of Luther’s Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity, an autographed letter from Luther, and a Koberger Bible from the late 1400s.
Around the globe, and here in our own community, Roman Catholics and Lutherans have come together – many for the first time – to share in moments of study and conversation, as well as moments of worship and prayer. Sadly, for hundreds of years, our church bodies have viewed each other as enemies, rather than as children in the same family of God. We have chosen to focus on what divides us, rather than celebrating that which unites us.
This anniversary is a good excuse for us to begin anew and refocus our efforts. It is time for a fresh start. As we glance back and celebrate Luther and so many others who were catalysts for renewal and change, we also need to look forward and ask the Spirit of God to open a door to the future.
Doors are powerful images. Doors are gateways to new adventures. Open doors are avenues to hospitality and discovery. We use them to welcome, explore, and learn. During one of his sermons, Jesus invited people to “ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” Matthew 7:7-8.
Knocking on doors is big stuff. Little ones will be knocking on doors this week, hoping to generate a little candy treat. As we ask, seek, and knock, Jesus says that we’ll discover something much sweeter. We’ll receive freedom and joy. We’ll find peace and consolation. We’ll find an open door that offers unconditional forgiveness and radical hospitality. I pray that this season continues to reform and transform you.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
meme created by Daniel Scheurer
The first weekend of October, many women from Lord of Life gathered at Sisters of Charity Spirituality Center near Cincinnati for our fall retreat. Michelle Spahr, a speaker and discipleship trainer from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, led us in an exploration of 2 Timothy with the theme "Be an Everyday Hero." We discussed how the apostle Paul talked to Timothy and his words encourage us to persevere in our faith and likens our discipleship to everyday heroes. See the attached prayer that Michelle gave us. We enjoyed socializing, reading, and digging into Scripture, naps, walking the beautiful grounds, working on puzzles together, and putting a craft together that Terry Mingler set up for us.
The campus of the Spirituality Center is magnificent! Their website says, "The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati is an apostolic Catholic community of women religious that exists to carry out the Gospel of Jesus Christ through service and prayer in the world... Since the Community was founded [in 1809], the Sisters of Charity have sponsored numerous schools, hospitals, orphanages and social service agencies... The Spirituality Center provides opportunities for spiritual enrichment to the community through a wide variety of programs [including] weekend/overnight retreats, private retreats, days of reflection, evening prayer programs, massage therapy, a labyrinth and individual spiritual direction for both men and women."
What a wonderful time of sharing and getting to know old friends and making new friends. It was a time of "pause" where we sat in community and alone with our self, where God could meet us as we listened. To be in community, sharing our faith with each other, is a time that is so valuable to our Christian life that can sustain us for our journey with God. We all agreed that it was a time of renewal.
Michelle, reflecting on the weekend mentioned, "It is so humbling to be invited to teach at a women's retreat and leave refreshed and renewed myself. What a beautiful place and a wonderful group of ladies!”
Don’t miss our Fall Men’s Retreat, Manhood and Violence, coming up on November 3-4. Join the Men of Lord of Life for an overnight retreat in Hueston Woods to experience God beside the water, surrounded by the trees, and among friends. Escape, recharge, learn, and have fun, as we explore the topic of Manhood and Violence in Scripture and our culture today. The schedule will allow plenty of time for fellowship, unwinding, and enjoying God’s great creation. $90/person covers housing and meals. Scholarships are available. Register online by this Sunday, October 22.
Singing, praying, learning, fellowship, and service – these are all things that bring us together each week within our community at Lord of Life. There shouldn’t be any surprise that the same things could bring together people from other communities, too. Our first REFORM event with Roman Catholics and Lutherans from West Chester and Mason exceeded our expectations of how powerful the experience would be.
We began with a worship moment led by musicians from St. Max, Christ the King, and Lord of Life (the next event will include leadership from St. John’s as well). Through common words and common songs, we infused the evening with a joyful prayer that continued into our conversations. We heard from Lutheran and Catholic clergy from St. Susannah Catholic (Mason), Prince of Peace Lutheran (Loveland), and Zion Lutheran (Middletown) who presented different views, but we heard even more common views. We listened to a biblical message that defined us all as part of the same vine. The same body. One faith, one hope, and one baptism.
I found myself at a table made up of Catholics from various parishes. We asked questions and discussed among ourselves how we each came to the body of Christ and what that means to us. About half the table had been born into the Catholic church. But one young woman shared how she found the church through an ecumenical sports team. An older gentleman started going to Methodist Sunday school after his mother died when he was nine, and then converted to Catholicism after years of seeing the positive impact the church had on his wife. We all had stories about how we saw people’s faith overflow in their actions.
The thread that kept weaving its way to the top was: “We need to do more of this.” We need to find ways to maintain the natural bond we have through Christ and the Spirit. We need to worship together and talk together and serve together. Our connection to each other is too powerful to let ourselves be kept apart.
As the clock forced the evening to a close, we put notes on a door describing how we wanted to move forward in our relationships. More combined worship. More dialogues. More learning. More outreach opportunities together. Singing, praying, learning, fellowship, and service.
Even though the next two REFORM events are self-contained – they are three separate events rather than one continued event, I suspect we’ll see some of the same faces coming again and again because we are so inspired to move forward as one body. Come be a part of the conversation on October 19 at 7 pm at Christ the King or October 21 at 10 am at St. Max.
Flour covering the kitchen counter, white handprints all over the apron, and sneaking squirts of whip cream while my wife isn’t looking, are what I love most about October. Awaiting the ding from the oven indicating the pumpkin pie is done and smelling the sweet aroma of Fall baking in the kitchen brings so much joy to this season. Dare I say, the baking of the pumpkin pie is more enjoyable than the tasting of the pie itself. For me, baking is more about the experience in the kitchen than it is about the end result.
Pumpkin pie, stewardship, and the Reformation are the three themes stuck on replay in my mind this October. What do these things have in common? They each require a process, a journey by which they are made. The final product is made with ingredients, pieces, and layers, working together to create something new.
Stewardship is not just about the amount that you give to the mission of the church, but more importantly, it’s about what happens to your heart when you give. This year, we are diving into the theme of “God blesses the world through Lord of Life.” When we discover how we are blessed by God, the Holy Spirit moves us to give with thankful and joyful hearts. When we reach that place where we can give, not out of guilt or self-promotion, but out of pure joy for the Gospel and love for the church and its mission, amazing and transformational things can happen. Stewardship is more about the experience of giving than it is about how much we give.
As we look toward commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we lift grace up as the core theological tenant that sparked this radical movement in history. Grace remains a staple of Lutheranism. Similar to baking and stewardship, grace is more about the experience than the result it brings. Grace is more than the gift of salvation. As we think about Martin Luther hanging the 95 theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, it is helpful to reflect on what he might hang on our door today.
What are the things preventing us from living into and experiencing God’s grace? Are we competitive about our faith, believing that Lutheranism is better than the rest? Do we view ourselves as unworthy to receive grace? Understanding grace as a gift freely given is much easier said than done.
I am reminded of the parable about working in the vineyard. In this story, one group of workers begin laboring in the morning, while another group begins laboring in the afternoon. At the end of the day, the vineyard owner gives everyone equal wage. Understandably, those that had worked all day were outraged! The lesson being, “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). Whether we are first or last, God will provide the outcome. Our faith is about the experience of being together as a community. Our life in Christ is about the journey.
See you in the kitchen,
You may have heard that this Reformation Sunday is an extra big deal. October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany – an act that sparked the Lutheran Reformation. For many years, Roman Catholics and Lutherans have been striving to find common ground and heal divisions in the Church.
This fall, we commemorate this anniversary and celebrate the steps toward unity in a variety of ways, both locally and regionally, including some exciting events right here in our area. REFORM: A Roman Catholic-Lutheran Conversation will bring together various voices for worship and learning. Join us as we seek to Rediscover Common Ground, Renew Relationships, and Respond to Local Needs as Jesus Christ calls us into the future. Centering ourselves in Ephesians 3:16-21, “Now to God, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,” we’ll explore the many ways that the Holy Spirit continues to work in our lives, congregations, and communities.
Our time together will include a prayer service for unity, panel presentation, small group discussions, and reflections on how we can continue to love and serve the people of God as we respond to local need. The following dynamic voices will invite us into engaging God’s promises and one another as we look to the future.
REFORM: A Roman Catholic-Lutheran Conversation
Tuesday, October 10, 7-9 pm
St. Susanna Church, Mason
with Father Eric Roush, Parochial Vicar at St. Susanna
& The Rev. Jonathan Eilert, Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
REFORM: A Roman Catholic-Lutheran Conversation
Thursday, October 19, 7-9 pm
Christ the King Lutheran Church, West Chester
with Father Norm Langenbrunner, former Pastor at Sacred Heart
& The Rev. Brian Ferguson, Pastor at First Lutheran Church
REFORM: A Roman Catholic-Lutheran Conversation
Saturday, October 21, 10 am-noon
St. Maximillian Kolbe Church, Liberty Twp.
with Dr. Martin Madar, Professor at Xavier University
& The Rev. Lisa Bernheisel, Pastor at The Presbyterian Church of Wyoming
We are offering the same program three times in various locations in the hope that more people can participate.
Sign up is requested. Sign up today online today.
A freewill offering will be taken for Matthew 25:Ministries for Hurricane Relief.
In addition to the REFORM events, please be sure to explore these other events in the area:
THE REFORMATION: CATHOLIC & LUTHERAN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES
Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
Thursday, October 12, 7 pm
Immaculate Heart of Mary Church
7770 Beechmont Avenue, Cincinnati
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati and ELCA Southern Ohio Synod are sponsoring conversations this Fall to understand the origins of the Reformation, our differences, and our growing unity in Christ. Dr. Mengel (Xavier University Dean of College of Arts and Sciences and History Professor) will highlight the historical roots of the reformation. Fr. Endres (Dean of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and the Athenaeum of Ohio) will speak about the reforming movement’s impact on the Catholic Church leading up to the Council of Trent. Both will also speak to our hopes for a future of greater reconciliation and unity.
SOUTHERN OHIO SYNOD REFORMATION SERVICE
Sunday, October 22, 4 pm
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
5475 Brand Road, Dublin
FESTIVAL CHORAL SERVICE to COMMEMORATE THE REFORMATION
Sunday, October 29, 7:30 pm
Weaver Chapel, Wittenberg University
200 W. Ward Street, Springfield
500th REFORMATION ANNIVERSARY
Joint Prayer Service
October 29, 4 pm
Kumler Chapel, Miami University
Join Father Jeffery P. Silver, members, and friends of St. Mary Catholic Church along with Pastor Logan Dysart, members, and friends of Faith Lutheran Church for this service of prayer and hope in Oxford.
REFORMATIONS OF THE 16TH CENTURY:
MARTIN LUTHER AND HIS WORLD 500 YEARS LATER
A conference on the European religious reformations of the sixteenth century
Miami University Art Museum
802 W. Patterson Ave. (U.S. 27), Oxford
This conference will host a variety of voices and topics, including:
Thursday, November 2
4:30 pm Martin Luther and the Reformation
The Rev. Dr. Joy A. Schroeder, Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University
Friday, November 3
9 am Martin Luther the Radical Prophet, Dr. Ronald Rittgers,
Eric Markel, Valparaiso University
10:15 am Panel Discussion: Reformation and Language
Tudor and Stuart England – Peter Williams (Comparative Religion)
Germany – John M. Jeep (German)
Scandinavia – Ruth H. Sanders (German)
11:15 am The Theology and Politics of Jewish Liturgical Change in the 16th Century
Rabbi Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, Hebrew Union College
1 pm Three Surprises about Women in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation
Renee Baernstein, Miami University
1:45 pm Panel discussion: Reformations Beyond the Germanic World
France – William Brown (History)
Italy – Wietse de Boer (History)
Eastern Europe – TBA
3 pm The Shroud of Turin as Image and Relic in the Age of Reform
Andrew Casper, Miami University
This event is co-sponsored by Miami University Humanities Center, Faith Lutheran Church, and Hillel at Miami University. Free and open to the public.
These are exciting days to be the Church of Christ! Make time in your schedule for one – or several – of these commemorative events. Who knows, God may use them to reshape and reform you!
Always being made new,
Raise challenging questions. Speak from your core values. Surface unresolved conflicts. These are the pearls of wisdom that I gathered from my intensive course at Trinity Lutheran Seminary last week, while studying the qualities of effective leadership. Like most everything else, leadership is much easier said than done. The most important first step to take is understanding yourself as a leader. We all have God-given gifts, passions, and skills that God calls us to share with those around us. We all are leaders, capable of equipping others to have a meaningful impact at Lord of Life and in world. How are you feeling called to lead?
The courage to raise challenging questions is essential for growth. Through the process of asking these questions, we can better understand who we are as a community. By being grounded in our mission and rooted in the Gospel, we can learn to view radical and invocative ideas as opportunities for meaningful dialogue.
Knowing who we are requires the ability to speak from our core values. These values are formed by our identity as Christ-followers, and articulating them often takes practice. Take a few minutes to jot-down what you believe are your core values. Are you running out of space on your scrap paper or is your paper blank? Coming up with a list of core values can be difficult, but our values are what shape us. The values of Lord of Life, congruent with the values we find in Scripture, are what make this place come alive on Sunday morning and throughout the weeks. All the way from the 108 preschoolers playing and learning here, to the many Bible studies and recovery groups supporting and teaching here, our mission is formed by the people God serves in our space.
In the midst of ministry, not everything is as life-giving. Surfacing the unresolved conflicts in relationships and within our community is the not so fun side of being in community together. But, one cannot garden without pulling weeds. Whenever I am involved in conflict, I try and tackle the challenge head on, while staying focused on the future. Being open and honest about the current struggle is important, but we must live as Resurrection-people, by living with the assurance that God will bring restoration and healing.
This Sunday, we will experience the joys of Lord of Life’s Ministry Fair. Many of our outreach partners will be represented, along with the many ministry areas from Lord of Life. It will be a bustling morning filled with opportunities to meet inspiring people and share meaningful conversation. There is no better time to think about your own leadership roles within this community. The question is not whether God is calling you to lead, but where?
One of the greatest gifts that God gives us, is the opportunity to love and serve one another. Even though Jesus said to do it and to do it often exhausts us, it also continues to be a deep source of joy and a blessing for all involved! “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Each year, the ELCA has a day of service to kick off the school year, called “God’s work. Our hands. Sunday.” It is an opportunity for congregations around the United States to be the Church in the community as we serve and love our neighbors and demonstrate God’s love among us and through us. One participant declared, “We love Jesus by serving others!” This past Sunday, families and individuals, young and old, came out to serve and “Live Generously,” as our T-shirts exclaimed!
This year, we shared in three projects. One group showered the West Chester Police Department and West Chester Fire Stations with food, posters, cards, and affection, visiting a total of six stations!
Another crew prepared our fellowship hall for our Family Promise guests by putting up the mobile walls, loading in beds, nightstands, lamps, and then cozied up the rooms by making beds, creating welcome signs, and assembling care bags for each person. After they were done, they also prepared a delicious lunch for the entire crew.
Our third team helped with several outdoors projects at Union Elementary School, including playground clean up, trimming and mulching the back side of the building, and unearthing an outdoor classroom that had been overgrown for some time.
It was fun and empowering to see how our one congregation, one body of Christ, motivated by the invitation to serve could make such an impact on our community in the name of Jesus. This was certainly God’s work, through our hands, feet, words, kindness, and generosity.
So often, when we seek to be a blessing, we are also blessed. That’s how the Spirit of God works in our lives. We are simultaneously loving and being loved, serving and being served, encouraging and being encouraged.
One of the songs from worship last Sunday morning spoke to this reality of gratitude for all God’s good gifts.
For the beauty of the earth,
for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies:
Christ, our God, to thee we raise
this our sacrifice of praise.
For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above;
for all gentle thoughts and mild:
Christ, our God, to thee we raise
this our sacrifice of praise.
Folliott S. Pierpoint, 1835-1917
As you step into the rest of your week, continue to live generously, following the example of our loving Creator!
Last week, I wrote about the devastation of Hurricane Harvey as it took aim at the Gulf Coast, not once, but twice. Now, as I write, Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Haiti, following a demolishing blow to islands in the Caribbean. Irma is projected to lash Florida, this weekend, and then possibly crawl up the coast with more relentless destruction. Residents on islands and the mainland are scurrying for higher ground – or at least property that is at a safer distance from the shore – unsure of what this category 5 storm is going to do. They are bracing for the worst.
On the other coast, massive wildfires are burning from California to Montana, now consuming over 1.5 million acres of precious forestland. 800,000 immigrants, who came here as undocumented children, are trying to figure out what the recently rescinded “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) protections means for their future.
Across the globe, massive floods have impacted 16 million in South Asia, not to mention escalating wars, food insecurity, and the plethora of other natural and man-made disasters that bring daily despair.
So often, we are overwhelmed by the need. We want to help. We want to give. We want to share. We want to make a difference, but we feel ill-equipped for the struggle and destruction around us.
Romans reminds us that we can make a difference. Filled with the power of the living God, we step forward trusting that the Holy Spirit will empower and guide us for loving and serving our neighbor. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12:9-13).
You may have heard of Jim McIngvale, known as Mattress Mack to many in the Houston area. He wanted to make a difference for those suffering in his community, so he did the only thing that made sense to him. As the owner of a large furniture store, he opened his doors to anyone in need. Warm beds, hot meals, and compassionate conversations brought hope to hurting people in his corner of the world. Watch his story here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/houston-businessman-jim-mcingvale-opens-furniture-stores-to-evacuees/.
This weekend, God calls us to serve, too. After refueling and reconnecting in worship, we’ll head out into our communities to serve. We’ll be showering the West Chester Police Department and West Chester Fire Stations with food, posters, cards, and affection, helping with outdoors projects at Union Elementary, and setting up for the Family Promise homeless shelter and preparing a delicious lunch for the entire crew. Pick a project and sign-up if you want or just show up ready to serve on Sunday. We are collecting restaurant gift cards, snacks, and drinks to fill the baskets for the police and fire departments of West Chester.
There is much destruction and sorrow in the world, but there is also one Jesus Christ who brings hope to the hopeless, light into the dark, and life from death.
Called to serve!
If you are looking for a way to contribute to the relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, or other natural disasters around the world, Lutheran Disaster Response is one of the best organizations around. “Lutheran Disaster Response brings God’s hope, healing and renewal to people whose lives have been disrupted by disasters in the United States and around the world. When the dust settles and the headlines change, we stay to provide ongoing assistance to those in need.” You can find donation and volunteer opportunities here:
Thrivent will match up to $3 million in personal donations made online through Thrivent.com to specific disaster relief organizations (including Lutheran Disaster Response) responding to Hurricane Harvey.
As I write, Hurricane Harvey is coming back to shore to thrash the Gulf Coast, once again. After dumping record amounts of rain over the last week, Harvey swirled back out into the Gulf of Mexico to refuel for a Round 2 beating on the Texas and Louisiana coastal cities. Many are predicting that rain totals may reach at least 50 inches by the end of the week.
The Houston Chronicle states that there have been as many as 13 million people affected in over 50 counties, with 13,000 water rescues, and 31 deaths, including a police officer in his cruiser and a family of six in a van. 10,000 people are sheltering at the convention center, while 274,000 are without electricity. 14,000 Texas National Guard troops have been deployed with another 24,000 in the queue for next week. (www.chron.com August 30). These numbers are staggering and we have no idea what the level of need will be after the waters recede, other than the recovery will be massive and will extend for years.
A Lutheran pastor in Indiana posted a reflection earlier this week:
“My daughter came downstairs for breakfast, saw the pictures of Houston on TV, and said – without hesitation – ‘We have work to do.’ It took me a minute to realize she was talking about the ELCA Youth Gathering, and the recovery work we'll contribute to next June.
I am proud of her for not asking, ‘Oh, shoot, how will this affect me and my friends having a good time?’ but instead for instantly seeing her calling in the midst of this tragedy. And, this makes me realize even more how important these experiences are for our youth.”
It is no accident that 30,000 teens - yes, you read that number correctly – will be descending on the greater Houston area in June 2018. Who could have imagined, when the initial planning began for this gathering of Lutheran High School students more than four years ago, that Houston would be ground zero for this devastation?
A friend of mine lives on the banks of the Ohio River. Their home was built to include flood vents, confident that rising waters will sometime threaten their property and home. These vents allow water to flow in and through the house in the hopes of reducing structural damage from flooding.
This can be a powerful image for us as people of faith who often find our identities in the waters of baptism. We speak of dying and rising, washing away sin and rebirth, cleansing and renewal, but we also recognize that God’s love and generosity flows in and through our lives. As we pray for and stand with the people of the Gulf Coast, may we remember that God calls us to love and serve our neighbor.
Here we go!
If you are looking for a way to contribute to the relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey or other natural disasters around the world, Lutheran Disaster Response is one of the best organizations around, with a rating of 93 out of 100 on Charity Navigator. You can find donation and volunteer opportunities here:
What a weekend! This past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were loaded with congregational goodness and you were part of it!
Friday night, busy teens took time out of their late-August days for a Sr. High Lock-in. Twenty of us spent the night playing wacky games, studying the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), worshipping around the campfire, and snacking and munching our way through the night. What an excellent way to kick off the Fall!
Saturday morning brought set-up crews for Summerfest and the continuing work of preparing the Preschool classrooms that will soon be bustling with children and their families – 104 kids at last count are signed up for the 2017-2018 school year! Wow!
When Sunday came around, we gathered for one celebratory worship together with our seminarian Corey Wagonfield, who shared snacks with everyone during the Children’s message preached. Little Annabelle Potter had a bundle of family to surround her for her baptism and welcome her as a child of God.
Following worship, we shared a massive potluck of BBQ pork (thanks to Phil Panning and John Morrell for providing the meat), macaroni and cheese, side dishes, salads, and sweet treats, before enjoying an afternoon of field games and bingo, colorful face painting, target practice with the dunk tank, and creativity at the tie dye table.
Big thanks to all who planned, set up, cleaned up, led, and participated in any of these events. You can view photos from these events on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/LordofLifeWestChester) and in our upcoming printed Lifeline newsletter.
Our theme for this year of worship, learning, and serving moments is “God Blesses the World through Lord of Life.” We are blessed when God meets us in times of worship, education, and fellowship. God uses us to be a blessing as we are sent into our neighborhoods for living, school, work, recreation, and service. Our dollars and other gifts are a blessing as God uses them to impact churches and communities around the globe.
We want to hear your stories. Tell us how you’ve seen this in your life or the lives of others. How have you witnessed God blessing the world through Lord of Life?
“Blessings in the Bug.”
For the next month, a 1974 yellow VW Bug will be our mobile recording studio, ready to capture your reflections.
It’s as easy as 1,2,3:
1. Think of a Blessing.
“How have you been blessed by Lord of Life?”
“How have you seen Lord of Life be a blessing?”
2. Climb in the VW Bug.
3. Record your blessing.
You can also record elsewhere and send it to us.
Psalm 71:15 says, “I will tell of your goodness; all day long I will speak of your salvation, though it is more than I can understand.” Thanks for helping us name and celebrate how “God Blesses the World through Lord of Life.” We’ll let you know in the coming weeks how we’ll share these encouraging stories of faith and hope.
Wishing you peace.
Last week, I attended the inaugural ELCA Rostered Minister’s Gathering in Atlanta, where 900 pastors and deacons assembled for a week of worship, lectures, workshops, service projects, and fellowship. There were congregational leaders, military, hospital, and prison chaplains, campus pastors and seminary professors, and interim and retired ministers, as well as regional and churchwide staff. The event was promoted as a time to be encouraged, challenged, and renewed as leaders in the church, and did not disappoint.
Each day, I had opportunities to reconnect with friends from around the country and meet new friends and colleagues as we shared the joys and struggles of ministry. Bible study leaders led us into the rich story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), with comparisons to this chaotic season filled with death and resurrection moments. Our own Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton confronted the rumors that Christianity is dying, with a bold response, “The Church of Jesus Christ is not dying, but changing!” She continued by sharing stories of how God is using people, congregations, and ministry organizations in new and creative ways to share hope with the world. God is doing a new thing! (Isaiah 43:19).
There were many good moments of challenge, too. Presiding Bishop Eaton, in her opening remarks, reminded us, that ministry can be overwhelming and we can lose focus. “As leaders, you need to love Jesus because Jesus loves you... then, you need to love your people!”
Rev. Ronald Bonner, in his workshop Racism and the Church: No Bigotry Allowed, argued, “If you can fix the heart, you can fix the other part... Racism will end when white people stop accepting racism as normative.” As we spoke candidly about our own biases and histories, none of us could have imagined the events that would unfold in Charlottesville by the end of the week.
Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr., Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Church and professor at Union Theological Seminary (both in New York City), preached on Romans 12, saying, “the invitation to offer our lives as living sacrifices is not a graveyard death, but an invitation to die to our priorities, die to our selfish agendas, die to our fear, and say ‘My life is in your hands, Lord.’”
Just before we went on our separate directions, popular speaker and writer, Rachel Held Evans, spoke pointedly about the ways we beat ourselves up as people of faith for not being and doing enough for the sake of Christ. She said, “Our insufficiencies are the point. Death is something empires worry about, not resurrection people. We need to let [things] die! We win with surrender. We have a God who knows the way out of the grave.” Although Easter is a long way off, promises of resurrection fuel us, today.
I was also renewed by being part of the musical team for worship and other events throughout the week.
Thank you for valuing continuing education and professional development. This gathering was a tremendous boost. The introductory words proclaimed, “We are a church that believes God is calling us into the world – together. Together, we can achieve things on a scale and scope we could never do otherwise. As we continue to deepen our ecumenical partnerships, confront racism and boldly respond to the needs of the world, this gathering provides the opportunity for leaders to gather and explore what God has in store for us.”
Always being renewed,
For more about this event and to view a photo gallery, https://www.livinglutheran.org/2017/08/25087/
Smack! The door slammed shut in front of me. I may have been a few feet from entering the classroom, but when the bell rang, the teacher shut the door – even if all the students were not in their seats. It was a daunting and embarrassing walk to my seat after the door was closed. With my shoulders slouched and my head down the teacher would shout, “90 percent of life is just showing-up!” Although this trademark saying was meant to teach a lesson about the importance of being on time, it turned out to be an important life lesson that I continue to carry with me.
When traumatic and life-changing events occur in our lives, and our heart aches, often all we need is someone to walk alongside us. As a Christian community, we are not meant to bear our burdens alone. Recently, Ava Fiebig and I attended a week-long training event focusing on Stephen Ministry. This is some of what we learned:
What is Stephen Ministry?
Stephen Ministry equips people to provide confidential, one-to-one Christian care to individuals in their congregation and community who are experiencing difficulties in their lives.
Who is a Stephen Minister?
A Stephen Minister is any caring congregation member who feels called to serve in this role. Once called, Stephen Ministers receive 50 hours of training in providing emotional and spiritual care. As our community continues to grow, the need for active listeners also continues to grow. Stephen Ministers care, listen, encourage, and pray for those in need.
Who would benefit from a Stephen Minister?
Almost anyone can benefit from having someone present to listen to what is on their heart. Grief, divorce, illness, job loss, loss of a home, military deployment, loneliness, and spiritual crisis, are a few examples of life struggles that a Stephen Minister can walk alongside you through.
This past week, I was reminded of the importance of presence and how simply showing-up is vital to our calling to help one another in difficult times. As you are enjoying the last days of summer, I urge all of you to take the opportunity to be present, especially with those around you who are struggling. If you feel called to share your skill for listening, please join me for an informational meeting about becoming a Stephen Minister at Lord of Life this Sunday, August 13, in the Fellowship Hall following 9:30 worship.
With Christ's Presence,