Get Outside!

After a long winter this year, I find myself outside far more regularly these recent days, getting reacquainted with my neighbors, and reconnecting with that part of nature that migrated or went dormant for the winter, the world seems to be coming alive again, and with it, my soul too seems to be regaining a new life.

With this notable increase in my time out in the natural world, even as I gather with others inside our fellowship hall each week for exploring our lectionary texts together, I am struck by the notion that very very little of the Gospel narratives, took place inside. We have a hand full of choice encounters indoors in the Gospels: when a disabled man was lowered through the roof of a home in order to be brought to Jesus, that encounter with Mary and Martha, the time when Jesus gathered in the upper room with his disciples washing their feet and sharing a holy meal, when Jesus meets the disciples in hiding after the resurrection and he approaches Thomas (off the top of my head). Sure, there are clearly some moments of the Gospel narratives that take place indoors, but the vast majority of our spiritual heritage comes from stories that take place outside in the natural world: in a manger, baptism in the river Jordan, in boats out on the sea of Galilee, on the mountain-sides and mountain tops, in gardens, near mustard trees, and vineyards, on the road to Emmaus…

Both our physical & spiritual heritage are rooted in the outdoors, and yet we Minnesotans spend so much of our time and so much of our years indoors. The human body and spirit were simply not intended to be walled up the way so many of us are today, and so I urge you to get outside this summer, as much as you can, whether that means simply sitting outside on your porch, taking a long walk, or kayaking on the rum river. Why is my pastor so animate that I get outside? (you might be wondering)

I’m currently reading a book called “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age” by Richard Louv author of “Last Child in the Woods”. It’s not a Christian book (or religious at all for that matter), but as a pastor and former wilderness guide in christian outdoor ministry, so much of this book’s message resonates with me on a spiritual/pastoral level. Louv recounts that:

Studies suggest that wilderness adventures increase participants’ capacity to cooperate and trust others… exposure to the natural environment [that God created for us to be part of] leads people to nurture close relationships with fellow human beings, to value community, and to be more generous!

This is why we build a wilderness adventure trip into our middle school programming. Getting outside of our walls, our phones, and our comfort zones reconnects us with the world and the people around us. If we want to raise up caring youth to care deeply for neighbor and serve selflessly on mission trips, we need to first be about reconnecting our young people with the world God created for us to care for. Research clearly shows that connecting with nature helps, inspires, and moves us to care more deeply about our human neighbors, but it’s not just about our young people. It’s for all of us, young and old alike!

Previous studies have shown the health benefits of nature range from more rapid healing to stress reduction to improved mental performance and vitality… [and] now we’re found nature brings out more social feelings, more value for community and close relationships.

So let’s all take a page from Jesus journey and get outside, be that in a garden, in a boat, at a river, or just walking down a road. I look forward to seeing you all in the sanctuary at Cross of Hope for an hour each Sunday, but let’s all spend as much of the other 167 hours of the week outside, where God meant for us to live.

Grace and peace to you all this day and always,

Pastor Jason

Easter Snow’mageddon

Christ is Risen!

In the twilight hours while walking into church before the Sunrise Service on Easter Sunday morning something felt noteworthily off kilter, namely that the scene of the full moon nestled in the sky directly above the church reflecting brightly on the blanket of freshly fallen snow felt far more suited for Christmas Eve than Easter Morning. I even received a number of tongue in cheek “Merry Christmas” greetings (along with at least one unintentional bleary eyed honest mistake). Weeks later, still in midst of the Easter Season, canceling worship due to record April snowfall (humorously referred to as Snow’mageddon) mother nature apparently seems to have something else in mind altogether.

Springtime, with buds emerging on trees, song birds returning, brown shades turning to green, and  the general frolicking of all God’s creatures is a very apt metaphor for the resurrection: what is dead comes back to life, even the world around us appears to be risen indeed Alleluia! But this April is not filled with any of these earthly metaphors we long to see, and instead of proclaiming springtime alleluias in our souls, we are instead left wondering if this winter will ever end.

Perhaps there is something deeper we can glean from this unseasonable weather; perhaps extended winter while not what our bodies, minds, and souls long to experience is indeed more of an apt seasonal metaphor for the experience of post resurrection Christians than the joyful renewal of spring.

In our Gospel text on Easter Sunday the women who found the empty tomb were not joyful and elated, but rather they were left trembling and bewildered. I don’t know about you, but this Easter Season (of 2018 in MN) has left me far more bewildered and trembling (shivering at least) than any other Easter Season I have experienced, but it’s not just a physical/emotional experience that connects this unseasonable weather with the Easter Season, there is also a valuable theological connection that is worth exploring.

The disciples were expecting a seismic shift in the spiritual and sociopolitical landscape as a result of Jesus truly fulfilling the prophecies he spoke of. They were expecting a king who would not only personally turn the world around in word and deed, but also through their experience of the world around them. The early church continued these expectations that something big was coming soon, a game changer in 1 Cor. 7 26-29 the Apostle Paul instructs singles in the early christian community in Corinth not to marry if they are not already married because the time is short. To Paul, the fulfillment of the Kingdom is is right around the counter; to us we pray with regularity “thy kingdom come” and yet here we are proverbially experiencing winter when it should be spring. Herein lies the complexity and beautifully Lutheran paradoxical tension of the Christian faith that professes the kingdom of God is here already, but not yet. Just as the Season of Spring is indeed upon us (being past the Spring Equinox on March 20th 2018), look out the window, and it is also clearly not Spring (as we know it) yet, and so MN Spring time might just be the perfect metaphor for the complexity of our faith and hope in Christ Jesus.

May the this snowy MN springtime weather bring you perspective and peace in the risen Christ.
He is risen indeed!

Pastor Jason

It needs to be heard

Greetings to you faithful Pastor’s Letter readers!

As periodically occurs, this week I ended up in a big picture conversation with Tom Struwve (our piano player, long time invested volunteer, and deeply thoughtful Christian guy) who asked the kind of reflective question I have come to expect of him. After spending well over an hour fleshing out plans for our holy week services together, he leaned back in his seat stared past me and pondered out loud: I wonder, what would Jesus say about all this..? What I think he was getting at was something to the effect of, is all this particular time and energy spent preparing for Holy Week worth it (to Jesus)? Is it important? Is it of value beyond the experiential impact of the few hours worshippers are physically present partaking in these Holy Week services?

As Tom continued reflecting, wondering himself more deeply into his own (perhaps) rhetorical question, I believe I heard Jesus’ response echo in my heart. Immediately upon hearing Tom’s reflective question, what would Jesus say about all this? I heard repeating within me (yet somehow not of my own thinking) this simple statement, I am glad that you are sharing my story; it needs to be heard.

I suppose that is the spirit and intention of Holy Week: sharing the tender yet commanding story of Jesus’ final interactions with his disciples/friends in the upper room, sharing the story of his passion and death on the cross, sharing the story of the women who discovered the empty tomb, and encountered the risen Christ. As I explored the layers in this statement whispered to me by the Holy Spirit, I too wondered, and began doing what pastors often do, interpret: we’re telling Jesus’ story in creative ways so people today might hear it more deeply, know and experience the story of Jesus life and death in new and different ways… we need to keep telling and retelling the story… but something in me was telling me that these interpretations/unpackings of the simple statement I heard within me somehow muddled its simplicity, and after a few days had passed with this statement still rattling around in my head/spirit, and a new thought struck me.

I doubt that Jesus is not likely to be notably and specifically gladdened by the telling and sharing of his story to people who have already heard it, such that they might hear it again in a new and different ways (though growing deeper in our experience and wonder for the passion narrate, or any part of Christ’s ministry is certainly a wonderful side effect for us disciples of Christ). I believe that Jesus is indeed gladdened by the sharing of his story, that needs to be heard, with those who are not so familiar with it, who have never heard it, or at least have never experienced Maundy (Holy) Thursday or Good Friday services before.

I am struck with the following unsettling realization: over the last few years, our (Thursday & Friday) Holy Week services have some of highest ratios of time and energy committed over attendance out of any services held throughout our liturgical year. In part, this has to do with the fact that it is natural/good/right that we would invest a lot of time & energy into planning/implementing Holy Week services, but it is also in part to do with the fact that our Maundy Thursday & Good Friday services have far more than a few empty chairs. Now, I am not attempting to guilt anyone here. My goal in sharing this reality is not specifically to get you (faithful Pastor’s Letter readers) to come to the Holy Week services; my goal is to get you to invite others to come experience Holy Week at Cross of Hope (to hear the story that needs to be heard). Specifically, invite those who may not be so familiar with the scene of the upper room, the passion of Christ, the brutality of his crucifixion… because without hearing the tenderness and brokenness of the journey, the (out of context) destination sounds far less profound at best, and oddly confusing at worst. More simply put, hearing that Christ is risen each year is far less meaningful/impactful when one has not first heard and experienced the deep sense of loss and brokenness of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and death on the cross of Good Friday.

I am glad that you are sharing my story; it needs to be heard. The worship team has taken on the (holy) responsibility of telling the story each year, but I entrust the responsibility of making sure it is heard to you faithful Pastor’s Letter readers. It’s time we all take our mission statement to heart, take it on as our communal and personal mission statement, we must invite our friends, neighbors, random acquaintances… (and not just the Christian ones) to come to church where we share Jesus’ story is shared in creative impactful ways

because it needs to be heard.

Pastor Jason

Paper and People: a “win win” case study on mindful use of resources

When we embarked on our Stewards of Creation year-long congregational theme in the fall, one of the significant changes we made was to our bulletin format. Based on my previous 2 years of experience at Cross of Hope, I noticed that for whole seasons, we would reused a significant amount bulletin text from week to week, as we typically select a liturgy that we would use for each liturgical season, pasting in other weekly changing material to print a new bulletin for the following week. The portion of the bulletin that included liturgical text being reused included items like the Confession & Forgiveness, Hymn of Praise, Communion Liturgy, Blessings, and other unchanging weekly worship instructions, while the elements of the bulletin that changed week to week included items like readings, prayers of the people, and hymns.

The theory was pretty simple: What if we take all of the material we reuse each week, and only print it once per season? Then the items of the bulletin that change on a weekly basis would be printed in a separate insert. Turns out this was a more complicated endeavor than the Worship and Music Table had at first anticipated. This sounded like a great idea from a paperwork standpoint, though from a worshiper standpoint (particularly from on our first of now 6 iterations of this same general idea), it originally made the worship service admittedly very hard to follow. For each new ~5 week season we solicited feedback and refined this approach to printing our worship material in our search to find the best of both worlds: less paper usage, but still easy to follow.

Today in the Season of Watershed we seem to have found an approach that is indeed this best of both worlds scenario with our ~5 week bulletin taking the form of a “micro-hymnal”, one booklet that has reusable liturgy material in the front, and all of that season’s selection of hymns in the back (with big bold, easy to follow numbers). This allows us to print just a single double-sided half sheet of paper for our weekly changing worship supplement. We weren’t so sure how it would be received when we first tried this approach in our last season of Cosmos, but it turned out people really liked it! Even many folks who had previously offered critique came back saying, that was way easier to follow than our previous approaches.

As a result, we’re still printing 40-50% less paper per season than we would if we simply printed completely new bulletins each week with no reusable component, and of course, the number of weeks that we reuse each liturgy, significantly impacts that percentage. That, in and of itself, is something to celebrate, but as it turns out, it’s not just about paper usage. As some have pointed out, trees are a renewable resource, so why bother worrying about our paper usage? Well, it’s not only about our use of this natural resources, it’s about Stewardship in a holistic sense; why use more when we could accomplish the same thing with less. As a result, we not only use less resources, we also spend less money! If you hadn’t noticed, the offices printing budget for 2017 was cut down along with many other line items that needed to be reduced. Using less paper helps us to keep that cost lower than it has been in the past. Finally, there is an aspect of this new bulletin approach that many completely overlook and that is from the perspective of our people resources. You may not realize this, but each week our bulletins are assembled, behind the scenes, by a wonderful rotating team of faithful volunteers. This micro-hymnal approach leverages the functionality of our new printer’s ability to fold and staple complete bulletins so that volunteers don’t need to. It turns out that many of our bulletin assembly volunteers love this new approach, as it results in much easier work for them.

When we began this year-long Stewards of Creation journey together, not quite knowing what the future would hold, our highest hope was that through the challenges and joys of this spiritually formative journey, we might grow together and learn how we might be even better stewards of all that God gives. As we take a step back from the paperwork, workflow, worship experience, etc. it is plain to see that this new approach to printing worship materials is not only guiding us to better stewardship of natural resources through using less paper, while still being easy to follow, but it has also guided us to being better stewards of our financial resources, better stewards of our office technology, as well as being better stewards of our invaluable human/volunteer resources. Sounds like a win, win, win, win to me.

Let us journey on faithful stewards!

Pastor Jason

Stewards of Creation Reading List

We’re now officially halfway through our year long theme as we focus on our role of being Stewards of Creation. It occurred to me last week that I have mentioned, referenced, and quoted a number of books that I have used as resources and points of reflection along the way. Throughout the last six months, I’ve had quite a few people ask me now and then “what was the name of that book you mentioned again”, so I figured this would be a great opportunity to share a bit of a “Pastor’s Reading List” around our Stewards of Creation theme with you.

First up is an absolutely fantastic book that was recommended to me by a pastoral colleague upon hearing of our upcoming theme. GROUNDED: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution is the most recently published title written by Diana Butler Bass (author of Christianity After Religion, and Christianity for the Rest of Us). This happens to be the first book I started reading as we set out to plan a year in the church focusing on our role as Stewards of Creation, and has had the strongest impact on the framing of this theme of any of the books mentioned here. It was quoted in framing our Season of Soil, as well as referenced more directly as a sermon illustration. Diana Butler Bass invites her readers into a deeper reflection on God our creator through the interpretive lens of the natural world. If you choose to read only one of the books mentioned here, let it be this one.

Second up is a pair of books for my scientifically minded brothers and sisters in Christ. The first Sunday we kicked off the Stewards of Creation theme on Fall Festival Sunday, I heavily referenced a chapter from The Science of God:  The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom by Gerald L. Schroeder, in my sermon, where he maps the days of creation in Genesis to scientifically observed/theorized timelines of cosmology by applying the widely accepted Theory of General Relativity to the point of view of authorship in the first chapter of Genesis. I must admit I definitely didn’t have the time or ability to do this topic justice, but my hope was to wet the whistle, not necessarily lay out the tune. I have had a number of folks since that Sunday ask me about this book, and I definitely recommend it for anyone who may find their spirit intrigued by a healthy respectful dialogue between faith and science. Another book on the same general topic that I happen to be currently reading is a 2007 NY Times bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins, one of the world’s leading geneticists who headed up the Human Genome Project. In this book, he shares his reflection that “the experience of sequencing the human genome, and uncovering this most remarkable of all texts, was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship.”

While we’ve been spending time in deeper reflection about how we are called to be stewards of all that God has given us, this year has also provided a natural opportunity to reflect more deeply on financial  stewardship. In many ways it is often easier for God’s people to reflect on being stewards of the natural resources that God provides us, but (especially here in a capitalist nation) I strongly believe that Christ also calls us to be mindful stewards of God’s resources of financial capital as well. While I did mention Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate by J. Clif Christopher in a sermon a few months ago, after recently finishing Giving to God: The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life by Mark Allan Powell, I would more highly recommend Giving to God as it is written for a broader audience of today’s typical church-goers. The first book gets me thinking more about how the church approaches financial stewardship, while Giving to God get’s me thinking about my own financial stewardship.

Finally, another book I am still currently reading, (recommended to me by our very own Tom Struwve) isn’t really written with a specifically Christian readership in mind; that is to say, I would be quite surprised to find this title in a Christian bookstore, namely because it was written from the perspective of the unique intersection between botany and Native American spirituality found in author Robin Wall Kimmerer. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants is a beautifully written personal prose of the soulful discovery found in the internal dialogue between natural science and the roots of the nearly lost faith of Native American ecological world view. Aside from being beautifully written and thematically appropriate, as a Lutheran pastor, I also want to share this particular title as I deeply believe that interfaith dialogue must always be promoted and encouraged by leaders of all faith communities. We can never truly know who we are without also truly knowing the others who God calls us to walk alongside.

If anyone is interested in delving more deeply into any of these books (perhaps with a small group of interested others), please let me know, I would be happy to help facilitate the formation of reading groups, and/or participate in more reflective conversation around any these (or other) titles, as we continue on the second half of our journey together as deepening disciples called to be Stewards of Creation.

Grace and peace to you this day and always.

Pastor Jason Lukis

Looking Back and Moving Forward (Pastor’s Annual Report)

Greetings in Christ,

One year ends, another begins. We put a period at the end of each sentence, some space between paragraphs, a title at the beginning of chapters, and we punctuate the passing of one year in the life of the church by creating an annual report. Much like the original languages of our Holy texts, time has no punctuation, no titles, no chapter/verse numbers. The books of the Bible were written as uninterrupted streams of text, just as God and creation co-author the story of time, uninterrupted. It wasn’t until much later, that we divided these the scriptural texts into chapters, we added in titles that attempt to capture the essence of each periscope, and we added in verse numbers to help us navigate our way through the story, through time.

Standing at this moment in time, I am drawn to craft my annual report letter in two parts: Looking Back (a retrospective look at 2016) and Moving Forward (a prospective look into 2017), as where we’re going is most certainly shaped by where we’ve been.

 

Looking Back: 2016 retrospective

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

In my annual report letter from last year, I wrote about the importance of focusing on being a healthy church – a healthy body of Christ. This topic became the broader framing for a Cross of Hope Leadership Retreat that was held off-site in February of 2016 that involved ~16 congregational leaders (new/returning council members, table leaders, and other key volunteers). We met for 3 hours together, engaging in discussion around what it looked like to be a healthy body of Christ using some tools/exercises to invite more reflective thinking.

Our sessions began with some really big-picture questions: Why do we do what we do as a church and what is the purpose of the church? Just to make things fun (and for time’s sake), I restricted people to giving one word answers. Some of the responses that were tossed out and written on the whiteboard were: God, Community, Love, Faith, Hope, Discipleship, Service, Worship, Fellowship, and more. This first reflective exercise, more than any other that day, has stuck with me throughout the year because it illuminated a simple and disquieting reality, we do not have a shared vision (sense of purpose) here at Cross of Hope. The closest thing we do have to a shared vision are the 5 goals that the Transition Team worked on, which served their purpose well and were not intended to be a long term guiding document (or strategic plan), but rather, some goals to guide us through a time of transition.

My intention/hope for this leadership retreat was that it might become a catalyst for continued reflection and investing some work around a congregational visioning process, but even though the feedback from this day was exceptionally positive, one thing I learned from that retreat was that we would need a smaller, more nimble, group to continue that reflection. After many months’ worth of attempts to answer the question that lingered on the “unfinished business” portion of our council agendas: “Leadership Retreat: what’s next?”, eventually the Strategic Organizational Reflection Team was conceived, specifically to be an ongoing team with no institutional power, composed of primarily people who are gifted in big-picture, strategic, and reflective thinking, tasked in a broad sense to engage in the very kind of work that the name of the team suggests. The team is currently comprised of Suellen Dickhausen, Connie Edstadt, Jim Meyer, Tom Struwve, and me, but I’m getting ahead of myself (more on that later).

Shortly after the leadership retreat in 2016, we engaged in a very successful Congregational Lenten theme, Water: From Scarcity to Abundance (a collaboration primarily between the Worship & Music and the Missions Table) that resulted in raising enough money to build 2 water catchment systems for people in Uganda who did not otherwise have access to clean water supplies! The success of this seasonal theme ended up becoming a prototype for our current year-long congregational theme “Stewards of Creation” that started in the fall of 2017.

Stewards of Creation has been a wild journey, that we’re still very much in the middle of, but some highlights so far have been our Fall Festival/outdoor worship kick-off, Last Harvest / Wild Game potluck, cutting our Sunday Morning paper usage in half, and a year-long growing art installation “Tree of Hope” being created by my wife Danae to follow/grow with the seasons and themes in worship; the Christmas Eve service being the first moment where the two converge. Without spoiling too much of the plans that lie ahead, I will say that we have a lot in store the second half of this congregational year-long journey of reflecting on our role as Stewards of Creation that will take us into next summer. Right now we are particularly excited about a collaboration between Worship & Music and the Faith Formation teams to introduce the congregation to an inter-generational hands on curriculum called Connect the Drops bringing faith and science into the same space as we explore watershed stewardship together during Lent in 2017.

While many know that I generally err on the side of optimism, I was inspired this year by a prisoner of war, named Admiral Jim Stockdale who I learned about from the book Good to Great by Jim Collins that we used in the leadership retreat at the beginning of the year. Admiral Stockdale is known for saying “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” The first half of this quote obviously appeals to the optimist in me, while the later, helps me frame the “brutal facts of reality” in a new and healthy way. So, while 2016 was indeed an exciting year, it was not without it’s challenges, and Admiral Stockdale reminds me that I would be missing something important as a leader in this congregation to not explore some of those challenges.

There are two areas I would like to focus on. For starters, one doesn’t have to dig deep into the financial report from our treasurer & finance team (included in this annual report) to discover one significant area of challenge. The church’s financial footing going into the summer did indeed inspire me to voluntarily take some unpaid leave throughout the summer months to help ease the budget, which it did, but still not to a degree necessary to make things comfortable through the year’s end (that said, we absolutely rocked at raising money for the youth mission team, water catchment systems, a family in our congregation who experienced a great loss over Thanksgiving weekend when their house burned to the ground, and other directed giving). Secondly, and more generally in my regular weekly field of view, our Sunday worship attendance this year went down from 169 average weekly attendance in 2015 to 142 average weekly attendance in 2016. By the way, for better or worse, these trends are not out of line with what the majority of main-line Protestant congregations are experiencing. Note, that fewer people in worship each week does not mean we’re losing members (our membership has actually increased in 2016); it simply means that our average members are coming to worship at Cross of Hope on Sunday mornings less frequently. Yep, those are the facts; they’re not terribly uplifting or energizing, but despite what the numbers tell us, I am, without question, faithful that not only the church, but Cross of Hope will indeed prevail. I believe this, with such fervency, that I dedicate my life work to helping the church to adapt to and remain meaningful in the lives of an ever more digitally connected postmodern people of God.

 

Moving Forward: 2017 Prospective

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. (Proverbs 16:3)

In order to prevail, however, we will need to adapt to the changing social climate and attitudes toward mainline protestant religiosity in our nation and culture today. We will need to return to that very same spiritual heritage that got us here, and remember, especially now, entering into the 500th anniversary year of the beginning of the church’s Reformation journey, that we are a church that is called to constant re-formation.

Among many other critiques of the church in his time, Martin Luther noted that the church was not meaningfully meeting God’s people when the scripture and mass were not spoken, written, or read in a language that was understood by those who gathered to worship God. Martin Luther, did not seek to reform his community into one that more meaningfully interfaced with the structures of the church, but rather, he sought to reform the church in a way that more meaningfully met the people of God (how, who, and where they were) by writing the first German language translation of the Bible (only one small, but significant part of his contributions to the church’s reformation), and beginning to hold mass in the German language for local worshipers. It seems like such a simple and obvious move to us today, and yet it was revolutionary (and even treasonous) at its time.

We need to boldly adapt how we do what we do as the Body of Christ to meet God’s people where they are, rather than expecting God’s people to meet the church where/how it is. Thankfully, I do not believe that this will take another grand reformation, but it may take some deliberate adaptation, reframing of our priorities, and reaching out to new modes of community that (for better or worse) have become more important and far more highly engaged with than church communities. Like it or not, we are living in the midst of a major cultural shift into the digital era. An ever increasing amount of our social interactions are happening through and shaped by online communities. More human connections are happening through portable digital devices than in person. I hear critique from many adults, about how folks these days are so glued to their phones, even when they’re face to face with others; it’s not an uncommon scene to see two people sitting together out for a dinner, both on their phones. I too wonder about the health and long term impact of this utterly new mode of (dis)connectedness and communication, but like it or not, this is indeed the ever-evolving cultural reality of the world in which we live. Our last president was the first to stream live weekly YouTube addresses to the nation; and I’m sure that nearly every American is aware that our incoming president frequents his Twitter account. There’s no stopping it; the digital era is here to stay, and it’s only going to continue to become more significant in the lives of God’s people in years to come.

We are only just beginning to get our feet wet, as a church, in truly reaching out and therefore accepting/acknowledging this one kind of online community, by beginning to invest our time, energy, and resources in live-streaming our worship services. Currently, we have an unattended camera setup to stream the service, but if you happen to be sitting behind that camera, you would notice the thumbs-up and heart icons floating across the screen from time to time; you would notice comments being left by live online worshipers, and yes from time to time you would even notice (unsolicited) prayer requests during the prayers of the people. Imagine the potential for truly unique and meaningful human spiritual connection if we were to solicit those online prayer requests. Imagine the potential for the church meeting people where they’re at on Sundays mornings, if we had a live Sunday morning online community engagement minister. Imagine if we offered to then send communion out to God’s people who worshiped with us online. I believe that online communities just may be a new frontier for outreach to God’s people.

In last year’s annual report letter I wrote that “every church member should be involved in outreach”, but I realize that we have not adequately equipped our members with the tools for outreach in this era; we have not adequately taught our members how to engage in outreach. Well here’s one very simple, very easy, and very effective way to engage in outreach: If you have a Facebook account/app on your phone, then (whether or not you’re physically in worship on any given Sunday morning) type Cross of Hope into the search field and you will find our official FB page (which you should have already liked by now BTW), scroll down to the actively streaming (or previously posted) video of worship, and click the share button. With those few simple and easy steps you will have engaged in 21st century, online outreach/evangelism!

But a very reasonable question to ask at this point would be “why?”Why engage in outreach as a member of Cross of Hope – and to answer that, we must first answer the really big-picture questions I asked at last year’s leadership retreat: Why do we do what we do as a church and what is the purpose of the church? We took some good stabs at answering those questions at last year’s leadership retreat, and here is where I now (finally) return to the Strategic Organizational Reflection Team, as I believe we have made some significant headway in finding the answer to those questions as they relate to Cross of Hope. Now, I look back with some irony at the fact that I asked the participants of last year’s leadership retreat to answer these questions with one word because as it turns out, after discussing multiple books we had read (namely, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, by Tod Bolsinger, and Simple Church by Tom S. Rainer & Eric Geiger) we think that the answer to these questions really can be summed up in one word, and that word is: discipleship. The church exists to continue the work of Christ in the world, and it’s articulated pretty clearly in the great commission “Go therefore and make disciples…”

It’s quite simple really: Cross of Hope is about growing disciples of Christ. I lay this out in such an up-front manner here in my annual report letter because after some conversation and collaborative reflection, we actually can’t imagine people not agreeing. It’s what the church exists for. We do what we do as a church to make disciples of Christ out of all kinds of people, and oddly enough, I believe that we had really lost track of that fact, or at least we forgot how to say it so simply.

Beyond believing that the core of our purpose is to growing disciples of Christ, we have been engaging in quite a bit of focused reflective conversation around what the signs/attributes of a well-developed disciple of Christ are, and how we as a church go about naming and framing our approach to growing disciples. We believe that if we say we are about growing disciples, then we should define a clear process that describes how we, as a congregation, engage in this important work for Christ. We should have a clear, simple, and focused answer to the question of how Cross of Hope grows disciples. I simply cannot express to you here in typewritten communication just how exciting, energizing, and hope-bringing these conversations/meetings have been, but I can (with the blessing of the rest of the team) share a bit of an update on where we currently find our reflections leading us.

Preliminary, unofficial, and admittedly rough draft though this language still is, we have begun to feel called to start floating these ideas, language, and thinking around in the broader congregational field of view while we are still early in the reflective process. We hope to refine this language through feedback from a larger pool of invested congregation members (than simply the 5 of us), while simultaneously beginning the slow and intentional journey (yet to be fully conceived) of engaging the broader congregation in what we hope may possibly/eventually become a shared vision as we believe that some derivation of this language is indeed needed to help us focus and organize our collective ministry efforts here at Cross of Hope. We felt that this 2017 prospective portion of my annual report letter would be an appropriate place to invite the rest of the congregation to join our reflection. Below, I will leave you with our first attempt/rough draft of describing that very process, with the invitation to engage any of us in discussion, reflection, and feedback.

What if:

Cross of Hope Lutheran Church is about growing disciples of Christ through
CONNECTING to God and neighbor, GROWING with others, and SERVING the world.

Cross of Hope Lutheran Church: CONNECTING – GROWING – SERVING

More on that in the year ahead… maybe even at a cottage meeting near you.

 

May the Great Spirit/wind of God, divine parent, and holy Son, be with us all as we journey on, in the year and years to come. Faithfully yours in Christ Jesus,

Pastor Jason

Advent, the Season of Wind and Weather, is upon us.

In each step of our year-long Stewards of Creation journey together, we are learning and growing along the way. While you may have noticed there are certainly some messages of ecological justice that have risen out of this year-long congregational theme, our worship seasons are more richly textured than simply a focus on faith and ecology alone. In the Soil Season (for instance), we used soil as a metaphor to engage in theological reflection together. Conveniently, Jesus used soil quite frequently when it came to inviting his followers into theological reflection (prime example: the parable of the sower / good soil – Matthew 13), but you may have also noticed that we have used soil as a theological lens through which to peer and reflect as we did in our words of confession and forgiveness and in other ways. How’s the soil condition of our hearts? Polluted by sin. Perhaps instead of asking God to wash away the soil of sin in our lives, we should instead be asking God (the soil farming father) to restore our hearts to good soil open to the seed of God’s word. I hope you’ve had as wonderful a time as I have getting your spiritual hands dirty in the soil this season, but either way, it’s time for our season of soil to come to an end and for us to invite in a new season of our journey together.

windweatherAs Advent swiftly approaches, I suspect along with it, the cool winter winds will soon arrive (despite this beautiful unseasonably warm November), and we will welcome in the Season of Wind & Weather. Following Jesus’ lead, the church has always utilized metaphors to more deeply engage God’s people in the Christian narrative: Jesus the Good Shepherd / Christ the King / Lamb of God.  That said, how many actual shepherds, kings, and sheep do you know? [crickets chirping] Don’t get me wrong, the Biblical metaphors are beautiful and precious, poetic Word of God, but perhaps these metaphors have gone stale for God’s people; perhaps they no longer resonate with our cultural frame of reference as well as they used to or are too well-worn to ring truth anew in our ears. The new seasonal sub-themes for Stewards of Creation were selected with care to give us a new lens to more richly enter into theological reflection around these well-worn seasons of the liturgical calendar. So, please allow me to paint a picture (with words) of how Wind and Weather may guide our Advent reflections and prayers together.

I will begin by going straight to the heart of what I suspect some of you might be wondering. Will we be talking about Climate Change? Yes. Will you have to study up on recent research of climate science to fully engage in worship at Cross of Hope or even believe that climate change is a thing? No, not at all. While the phrase “climate change” will indeed come up, we’re certainly not intending to spend the entire season of Advent talking about it. Remember that these seasons are metaphors for engaging in theological reflection together. As an example of how we may use this metaphorically: I think we can all agree that the advent and subsequent widespread use of smartphones and social media has (for better or worse) caused a significant social climate change in modern culture. Likewise, as we delve more deeply into the scriptural advent narrative, we hear the familiar words of a well-known prophet, minister, and preacher who called out from the wilderness: there is one coming after me who is greater than I. These prophetic words prepared God’s people for the world-altering spiritual climate change that was coming ahead.

That said, there is WAY more to the upcoming season of Wind & Weather than simply boiling it down to one theological metaphor of climate change. We may spend time together in reflection of the breath of life, Ruah (wind/spirit), that was breathed into Adam and all human-kind. We may get caught in a storm out on the sea of Galilee with Jesus and the disciples. What I do know for sure is that the winds are shifting, and Advent is at our doorstep once again. It will certainly whistle, rustle, and rumble in our hearts anew as we prepare the way for the Lord in the changing world that lies ahead.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Faithfully yours,

Pr. Jason

Stewards of Creation – Introduction

Friends in Christ, as the summer nears its end and we approach the fall season (surely far too soon for many), I am excited for all of the new life in our community together: new life in worship/music/liturgical, mission, faith formation, and stewardship, even new life for our shared space/God’s house as we replace windows and siding in the sanctuary and education wing. As I reflect on our life together, the seasons of the natural world don’t always mesh well when lined up our liturgical calendar and/or the calendars of the lives (school/work/time off up North). In many ways, the church (whether we like it or not) seems to hibernate during the summer months, and so here we are coming out of hibernation, as we stretch, yawn, and rub the sleep from our eyes I’d like to point out some signs of new life around us that I’m excited to watch grow over the year to come.

As we enter the fall season, I’d like to point out that a few artistic seeds will be planted; yes, they’ll grow unseasonably quickly, but we have some catching up to do. In the fall we will begin a year long art installation in the gathering hall which will grow as it is added to each month. This art installation will bring us from seed to tree as we enter into our 2016/17 year-long theme we’ve been preparing for over the last 6 months called Stewards of Creation.

maxresdefaultIn the past couple of years, we have engaged in a richer theming of our life together. At first it started with a simple a theme for Lent (From Rubbish to Resurrection: A Journey of Restoration) that began at the Worship and Music Table, but we quickly realized that this worship theme for the season of Lent would mean much more if it were connected out our broader life together in a deeper way, it grew beyond simply being a worship theme, as it quickly became connected to a Mission to restore a bicycle life in worship that we donated to local homeless youth outreach – Hope for Youth, and later we continued to engage in this theme of restoring journeys, through a project called Sole Hope where we used recycled products to help make shoes for people in Africa. This theme served as a means for us to connect our worship and faith-lives to our actions, work, and meaning-making outside of worship as well. As we look back at the success of that journey together we used this idea of a congregational theme as a template for future collaborative ministries. Illumination the following Advent/Christmas; Water the following Lent/Easter seasons… Again, we saw fruit that grew from the process of intentionally rooting ourselves in these broader congregational themes, but as we continued forward, we realized that while Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter are amazing seasons in the life of the church, we don’t necessarily have to wait until these times of year to engage in this kind of broader collaborative ministry together… what if we engaged in this kind of intentional experiment of thematically rooting our life together through the course of an entire year? Well, that’s exactly what we’re about to embark upon together as we enter into a year of focus on our role as Stewards of Creation.

We have already fleshed out the broad strokes of the year which will include 5 week sub-themes  in worship beginning this fall with: Earth, continuing with Soil, Wind & Weather, Plants/Flora, Cosmos, Watershed, Rock, Fire, and will conclude by the end of next summer with Animals/Fauna. While these themes have a definitive creation/ecology flavor to them, we will also be taking the year to think more deeply about our role as stewards of the world around us. Thinking more broadly about this word “stewardship” involves realizing that it’s not just about money, it’s about caretaking. In that broader sense of the word, hopefully we will see that in all ways, stewardship is not a one way exchange, but a cycle. We take care of the world around us, and the world takes care of us, continuing to provide produce, water, energy, clean air…  Similarly if we think about that same notion of stewardship in a more local/familiar sense, we take care of the health of our church community and that church/community takes care of us in our spiritual health; even stewardship of the within a church context is a cycle.

Our highest hope for the next year of our life together at Cross of Hope is that we, as Christians, might not only be rooted in the gospel, but that the gospel might help us to also root ourselves in the beauty, balance, and fragility of God’s created world around us, seeing ourselves as part of the balance of creation, called to be stewards in the cycle of care for this beautiful planet that, in turn, cares for us.

More coming soon to a church near you this fall…

Pastor Jason

Extra Time Off This Summer

Greetings in Christ,

After May’s council meeting (specifically regarding our finances and the fact that we were just starting into the summer already dipping into our reserve funds), a curious thought rattled around in my brain. When I got home, I mentioned it to my wife, Danae, “What if I were to take some time off unpaid this summer.” I got thinking about the idea of suggesting an utterly self initiated voluntary furlough; though practically speaking, as far as my family is concerned, it really just amounts to “extra vacation time” to be taken during the summer of 2016, that comes with some particular side-effects, some of which happen to be beneficial to Cross of Hope’s 2016 budget. Let me be very clear that I don’t actually think this is a necessary action; this is not a fear-fill reactionary response to the church’s finances going into the summer. I’m sure we would be totally fine throughout the summer (albeit likely with some conversations about cutting back expenditures that we’ll probably still have either way). I also want to be clear that I don’t feel that the church’s finances are solely my burden, or my responsibility to solve. As with the whole ministry of the church, we’re all in this together, and we all have different ways we are able to support the church’s ministry. Generally speaking, I usually consider giving more time, presence, money, and energy to the church as the primary avenues of giving in the support of God’s ministry, but in this noteworthily calmer season in the church year, it occurred to me that taking some unpaid time off, could also be a creative way to give to the church, while simultaneously giving more of my time and presence to my family. In short, I see this idea as a mutually beneficial convergence of natural consequences.

So, what I ran by our church leadership (and was voted-on/approved at the June council meeting) was that I take an extra 3 weeks worth of time off this summer (unpaid). Some of this time off, Danae and I had already been planning to take by using some regular (paid) vacation time away this summer with our kids, but this simultaneously allows us to plan a bit more of that kind of time, as well as still having more vacation time left over for the fall/winter than I otherwise would. As you may or may not have noticed, some of this time I have already started taking, being out of town 2 Sundays in a row toward the beginning of the Summer.

paid-time-off-policiesTo address a few potential questions/concerns: some of the time I will be taking off unpaid, I plan to be out of town with my family, and some of it we will be staying home. For the times when I am out of town (which are best not published so publicly), I will plan accordingly (just like I would for any regular vacation time when I am out of town) to have another local area pastor be “on call” for pastoral care needs that arise in the Cross of Hope community. We will also be calling on pulpit supply pastors to come on the Sundays I will be gone (just as usual), so that Cross of Hope can continue to engage in worship involving weekly word and sacrament. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns regarding this time off, please feel free to reach out to me: in person, over the phone, email, carrier pigeon, message in a bottle, or my personal favorite: post-it note.

This summer, may you find God in creation, be surrounded by family & friends, and filled with renewing peace; I know I will!

Pastor Jason

There is a Season for Everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: … a time to plant and a time to uproot… The season of planting is upon us. It’s a season of growth, but in order to get here, last season’s harvest must be uprooted, and the ground must first be tilled up.

The church calendar in many ways does not follow the same rhythms as the rest of the world. Sure, Easter lands conveniently in the spring (the quintessential season of new life), but here in MN we often get frost (or even snow) on Easter, rather than budding trees. Soon enough though, summer rolls in a season of abundant natural life, and we drop down to one service as God’s people prepare for the church’s summer hibernation.

Wait! What? “Hibernation”? I believe that summer is an important time of sabbath for the church. We all need a break. If we keep going around and around, we’d quickly burn out our wonderful Sunday school teachers, confirmation guides, and leaders of all kinds. Even God took a time of rest after creating the universe, so yes, by all means, take this time for some rest and renewal from business and programming, from schedules and preparations, and get outside to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. We seek rest and renewal because even God sought rest and renewal, but we must also remember that the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.

Of equal importance to our rest and renewal is our time in worship and prayer, time intentionally connecting with our God, and so while, yes, many of the church’s programs take a break for the summer, the energy we put into our worship life together will not wane. In fact the summer is a time for us to focus on the most important aspect of our life together as Christians, worship. It’s a time for us renew our perspective on what it means to be followers of Christ. It’s not just about coming to church on Sundays, it’s about living out our faith in our lives the other 6 days and 23 hours of our week!

On Pentecost Sunday we took an informal survey on how people felt about last advent’s 4 week experiment of turning the sanctuary on its side. It wasn’t a vote; it wasn’t a tally; it was a sanity check, a quick pulse check on whether we were right on track or way too far off the path of comfort for God’s people. We were not initially intending to formally publish the feedback (because again, the intent was never about taking a vote), but the feedback we received is just too intriguing not to share. In case you missed worship that Sunday, in reference to the idea of temporarily moving the sanctuary back on its side again for two months during the summer (given that we had worked out the kinks with needing a middle aisle for communion to flow well), I asked people to give us some very simple feedback by writing an “A” on the back of their bulletin if they thought the two month 90 degree shift would be additive to their worship experience, or by writing a “D” if they felt it would be more of a distraction.

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By the end of the morning when I sat down at my desk with all that had been collected from the bulletin recycling box, I counted up the feedback, and there were 36 A’s and 36 D’s (and 2 bulletins with neither A nor D, including a message of total indifference). To my complete astonishment, from the random unexpecting sample set of Cross of Hope worship attendees who chose to give feedback that Sunday, it was a perfect 50% split. I would also like to add that there were some fervent A+’s with continued explanation about why it was so strongly supported, and a few Dissertations about the complications and problems with the idea, just to make sure that things stayed balanced. (Here’s another fun fact: the last time we took a full blown multi-question worship survey, the feedback was equally balanced in its spread, even with equally balanced fervent outliers just like this time.)

So what do I take away from all of this? I left my desk with a sense of celebration that such a beautifully balanced, diverse community of people, personalities, and spatial sensibilities gathers as one body of Christ each week. The worship and music table learned that we are in fact on the right track with the idea of thoughtfully changing up our worship environment from time to time, knowing that we should and will continue to return to “home base,” as I phrased it on Pentecost. As was pointed out, the room was surely designed with the notion that the chairs would face the far wall. That said, water was designed to swim in, but that didn’t stop Jesus from walking on it. The disciples were trained to be fishermen (and a tax collector), but that didn’t stop them from becoming students of the Messiah, evangelists, and eventually apostles who fished for people. They followed this Rabbi of theirs all across the countryside, rarely getting the opportunity to rest their heads at home, and so perhaps (from time to time, for the right reasons) it’s even spiritually healthy to leave the safety of home base, the safety of our usual seat in worship, or the safety of our usual orientation.

Please know that just because the feedback was a 50/50 split doesn’t mean that we have any intent of staying off home base for 50% of the time; that’s not how the survey was intended to be used, but it did tell us that for 8 weeks of this summer, it’s worth the effort to show the world that our worship life together at Cross of Hope is not settling down for summer hibernation. It’s doing just the opposite. We’re turning our worship to face the natural world, the beauty of God’s  woods and wilderness to remind us that being a Christian isn’t just about sitting in reverence of a beautiful cross for 1 hour a week, it’s about what we do with the other 6 days and 23 hours.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: … a time to plant and a time to uproot. For 8 weeks this summer, it will be a time to uproot, a time to till our habits, stir up the soil of our Sunday mornings, and then it will be be time again to let the roots grow in their familiar “home.”

See you in worship!
Pastor Jason