By Colin Johnson
We seem to be living at a time of unprecedented flooding. While certainly not something to
joke about, I offer no apology for retelling this old story, one of my favorites:
A certain community was experiencing a 100-year flood. As the waters approached his
doorway, a retired widower was hailed by a neighbor who was hurrying out-of-town in his SUV. “Wanta come along now?” called the neighbor. “No, I’ll be fine. The Lord will keep me safe, ” answered the widower from his porch . The neighbor drove on. Soon the floodwaters rose to the middle of the first floor and the man retreated to the upper story of his home. A patrol boat came into view on the flooded street. “We can get you down through that window. Grab this rope,” shouted the team. “No, I’ll be fine. I trust in the Lord. He will watch over me and keep me safe.” The boat motored on. The water rose above the eaves, and the man managed to escape to the roof of his house. A helicopter flew into view. “We’ll lower the winch and airlift you to hig h ground at the rescue center,” yelled the pilot over his bullhorn. “No, I’ll be fine. The Lord will keep me safe. This can’t get much worse or last much longer.” The pilot flew on. The water continued to rise above the roof of the house. The man was washed away and drowned. At the Gates of St. Peter the man was angry and railed at the gatekeeper, “I trusted i n the Lord to the end and was faithful. I shouldn’t be here. My death was your fault because you abandoned me.” A figure peered over a ledger from above. There was a moment of silence. “ Abandoned you? Our fault?” came the voice. “We sent you an SUV, a boat, and a helicopter.” At a recent Prince of Peace meeting, someone was asked, “How do you feel without a pastor at this time?” That someone—perhaps several someones—replied, “Kind of in limbo, drifting, nothing much is happening.” Mentally, I understood the response, but at the same time I had some disagreements about it. One way to look at is that our ministry had become like a piece of comfort food . . . a cinnamon bun. With the loss of our pastor, it has become a donut. There is a hole in the middle, but it is still a donut and, I hope, a pretty tasty one at that. But what we want is a complete cinnamon bun; we don’t want a donut. The issue is that we will need to accept the idea that our new bun is going to be different. It will have a different taste, a different aroma, and different consistency (notice that I resisted the temptation to say “more nuts, fewer nuts”). Why? Because we are not just changing pastors, but we should be looking at a change in our ministry as well. It need not be a large shift, but change will happen. What do we want to come out of "bakery?" That is a subject of a different discussion.
stagnant “Limboland.” In my mind, I began to enumerate the SUVs, boats, and helicopters in our inventory. 1) A congregation old enough to have traditions and an established, sound method of operation and yet young enough to endure the vagaries of change, perhaps even welcome it as a means to renew the vigor of the church. Yes, I assume that, on the whole, you will find evidence that most people are generally ambivalent to change. Some welcome it, some fear it, some resign themselves to it. More about that later. Let’s just say that there is much evidence that congregations with a willingness to change and demonstrating past change experience smoother transitions and calls. A prospective pastor might think, “If they can’t show me that their previous pastor moved them from A to B, how can I expect to get them to C?” 2) A solid group of dedicated council members consistently taking care of church business with monthly meetings under a solid constitution and set of by-laws, along with a “Covenant of Leadership” that defines some of its operational boundaries. 3) A host of ministry teams and committees with an understanding of their domains and tasks. For example, the Worship Committee responsibly plans services months in advance, clearly respecting the traditional liturgy while looking for creative ways to provide variety and diversity in the worship experience for all tastes. 4) A binder in the hallway full of multiple copies of specific instructions for tasks related to services. No one needs to be in the dark about specific tasks they can perform. 5) An interim pastor trained to lead us in the very thing we are engaged it. Make no mistake: intentional interim ministry is a “thing,” a recognized calling within the church body that is backed by curriculum at many seminaries, like chaplaincy or seminary teaching. It is not just a form of glorified pulpit supply or what pastors gravitate toward in retirement for extra income. Those are something completely different. I am certain that you can come up with others. Change. Those of you who have known me since way-back-when recognize that in my “previous” life I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran. In fact, I came into the Lutheran Church through my first wife, who was a PK, a “pastor’s kid.” Her oldest brother was also an LCMS pastor and another brother and his wife were Lutheran school teachers in California. A few of her uncles were pastors. As many of you know, the LCMS has a reputation for being quite conservative. You can’t take communion there without “announcing” for it or requesting a consultation with the pastor. The synod’s radio outlet, “The Lutheran Hour,” was a feature of our household when we could get it as it was often broadcast during service hours. (Remember when you last recorded a radio program!?) I may be misremembering, but I recall the opening strains of some staunch hymn like “Lift High the Cross,” while the charismatic and beloved Dr. Oswald Hoffman—or his announcer--intoned, “The Lutheran Hour, for an unchanging church in a changing world” [emphasis mine]. No, I haven’t heard the program for years; perhaps much or all of that has been altered.
“Unchanging?” Imagine my reaction when I discovered the first chapter in our interim committee’s guidebook Temporary Shepherds: A Congregational Handbook for Interim Ministry, now 20 years old itself, to be titled “The Changing Church.” Lordy, what’s that all about?! As I have come to appreciate, to call it a “changing” church is not heresy, but only reality. For one living in Utah, a “changing” church means one that revises its heritage and history about once every five years. In the 70’s the “unchanging” Missouri Synod found itself in the midst of a true schism stirred by the faculty of the St. Louis Seminary, a bunch of theologically rabble-rousing liberals. My father-in-law regarded them as fodder for excommunication; my brother-in-law kept his lips tight. The schism threatened to divide families. It was that rift, by the way, that indirectly created the ELCA by bringing about the merger of the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and a third group that included those that had split off from the LCMS. The Missouri Synod had advocated years earlier for a merger of the synods, but then refused to join it when it occurred. They would also later be active in creating and promoting a new hymnal that they then refused to use, but that is another story. Ah, well.
The LCMS was big on church discipline. Absent members were tracked down and notified that their membership would be wiped off the books at a certain time. As an elder, a position we do not have in the ELCA, I was once asked to “disfellowship”—I believe that was actual, official term used--from membership an abrasive communicant and his family. He habitually challenged some point of doctrine I can’t even begin to remember. Later, when pastoral misbehavior came into the picture in the same congregation, I submitted evidence to the regional synod office that resulted in his defrocking. Boy, wasn’t I the synodical “hottie!” And also, boy, wasn’t I hit by change . . . in more ways than one?! When I was asked to join the Mutual Ministry Committee at Prince of Peace some years ago, I requested assurance from Pastor Scott that no disciplinary actions were part of the duties. None were. I suited up.
As a PK, my wife insisted on being on “best buddy” terms with every pastor of every congregation to which we belonged (and, no, I don’t regret a bit that I once regarded Prince of Peace founding Pastor Barry Neese as my closest friend in Cache Valley). Our pastors were treated like family, given generous gifts, and expected to attend major dinners in our home: Thanksgiving, Easter, progressive dinners, you name it. It was only later that I understood some of the darker aspects of this behavior, although I confess that I still don’t understand it all that well. Consequently, when the misbehaving pastor was forced to leave the congregation, there came about a complicated system of transactions whereby our family had to it was a case of God opening another door for we eventually found our way to Prince of Peace just as it was being formed. Also, you see, my daughter adored her Uncle Clifford, the LCMS pastor. Had we stayed in the Missouri Synod, she would have been unable to realize her dream because the LCMS would have barred her from the very thing she wanted most: to become a pastor herself. Then “Change” happened. Our move to the ELCA allowed her to enter the University of Chicago Seminary with some endowment support of our home church Mt. Tabor in SLC, earn her M.Div. degree, and serve several ministries to this date in northeastern Illinois.
But I make the above revelations (testimony?) without intending to preach from my private confessional. It is just what it is, as they say.
[See Postscript II here.]
Our Temporary Shepherds text claims there are three types of people in a church: (1) those who make things happen, (2) those who let things happen. Don’t be one of those in the third group who wake up one day and say, (3) “Hey, wha’ happened?” In closing, I would admit that I left one critical item—deliberately--off my “SUV, boat, helicopter” list. That would be you all and the talents and skill sets you bring to the process. They may be, in the end, the most important. And so I challenge you to examine your gifts, your resources, and get to work. Need some references? Try Ephesians 4, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and 1 Peter 4. If you are cut from a more interpersonal relations cloth, maybe brush up on one of the old human systems programs you have in a file drawer or in your set of self-help books (se below). Ask us about the one we are using. We will be coming to you for help, but there is much you can do to help yourself during this time. God bless!
Submitted by Colin Johnson, PoP Council Secretary and Liaison to the Transition Team
Postscript I: As I re-read this rambling blog while continuing to study the interim ministry manual, I discovered that I had unconsciously revealed something actually recommended by the manual during this time. That is, I had told a story, made a testimonial—actually more than one story--that revealed a topic of some concern to me that might be dealt with openly during the interim. It was a story that I might not otherwise have told. In fact, I have been trying to find a format it for some time. I had written it up last year, and then rejected it, believing the matter to be unsuitable for various reasons. Now it seems appropriate in this context. If you missed it, please re-read this from the middle point on. Hint: it has to do with church discipline. While my story is obviously not about Prince of Peace and occurred 30+ years ago, perhaps you have one that contains personal concerns about the ministry here—positive or negative--that could be opened up for dialogue and incorporated into the interim ministry report that will inform the call committee in its own work. Often, issues are brought forward and resolved during this period that might be ignored at any other time. Don’t let it fester. Think about it. Postcript II: As I reviewed my “essay,” the following paragraphs seemed to contribute to its length as an irrelevant interruption, so I appended it as a separate section here. Feel free to ignore it and just stop reading here if you are not interested in such things, as I am. One of the first things presented to us by Pr. Teri was one such tool like those described below:
Coping with change is hard work. One “tool” often used in addressing this challenge is an operational format based on human systems thinking that attempts to explain why we act—and interact—as we do. Often these represent a plotting of means to reduce conflict in institutional human transactions, paths for resolving organizational issues, instructions for conducting productive meetings, and the like. They help to explain why some relations work, some do not work, and what choices one may elect to do about it. If you have ever been appointed to a leadership position in an institution—most probably a job for which you were not specifically trained—you will discover in your files--as I did when I retired--numerous folders containing such programs handed out in workshops sponsored by your superiors. In recent decades, systems thinking methods have moved from analytic ones to more holistic structures. I used to tell my students there were two processes in examining a work of art, both necessary and essential: an analytic and a synthetic process. “Analyze” literal means to take apart, to break down; and “synthesize” its opposite. You may have to tear apart a non-functioning clock to see how it works (analyze), but it is never, ever going to run again unless you “synthesize” it, put it back together. . . correctly. Could be that it works with congregations, too.
Analytic systems tend to be vertically hierarchical with the single “vision” and the visionary (Steve Jobs) at the top, the various goals somewhere in the middle (tackled by the engineers, and the middle-managers), and the myriad tasks at the bottom (the assemblers of computers, team lead-persons, and so forth; in other words, the workers). Those systems are marked with illustrations that are usually plotted in one direction, straight. We tend not to like those structures, especially in universities and churches. Today’s more integrated, holistic systems give us many illustrations that are circles or at least healthy triangles, often with feedback going in several directions. No part is more important than another; all parts contribute to the health of the system. Not only is the whole greater than the sum of its parts, but a part contains/reflects the entirety of the structure. A “bad” part can infect the whole organism; in an analytic system, the bad part can just be lopped off. Good riddance. In a holistic system, we see how eliminating it would affect the entire body. Some of us are old enough to remember Eric Berne’s popular self-help book I’m OK—You’re OK, where the object was to replace unhealthy triangles of "Parent," "Child," and "Adult" role-playing scenarios based on real-life situations (which one are you in this situation??) with healthy -- or healthier -- ones. His book was dozens of circles, triangles, and arrows that were fascinating to sort out in a system called transactional analysis.
But make no mistake: I want to be clear that I enjoyed the process of studying such systems and still do. I found them valuable in the short term as they seemed to open up a world of insight directed at specific problem-solving techniques in a variety of human relationships. Fascinating to study, they nevertheless required extensive concentration to incorporate into one’s everyday working environment. As much as one sorted through them, there was always the problem of why no one liked working with Jane (a fictional example). Jane was an anomaly. Was this our problem or was it Jane’s problem? Maybe it was Jane who didn’t like everyone else. Maybe Jane was not a circle or a square. Maybe Jane was a pentagram. I digress, but, as you can see, I am having a lot of fun with this. I once diffused a hallway fistfight between two of my colleagues. I don’t know what human systems thinking tool I used during the half-hour confrontation, but I’m certain my colleagues didn’t care, nor did the students trembling behind nearby office doorways, or so they later told me. Nor did the system give me much confidence in my continence in that particular stressful moment. (Way, way too much fun now!)
When I first learned that the ELCA includes an advocacy office, my reaction was ‘What? Wait – I thought Christians aren’t supposed to be political!’ I decided to look for the biblical underpinnings of advocacy, and investigate further as to what the Advocacy Office does.
Advocacy can be defined as ‘public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy’, or (and this is my favorite definition), ‘the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending; active espousal’. So advocacy is standing up for something you feel strongly about.
In the Bible, there are numerous examples of people of faith standing up for others – here are just a few. Moses heard God’s call and faced Pharaoh, demanded the release of his people, and eventually led them out of Egypt. (Exodus 5-12). Queen Esther stood up and bravely pled with King Xerxes on behalf of her people, the Jews (Esther 3:8–4:17, 7:1–8:8, 8:11–13). Nehemiah lobbied King Artaxerxes and his officials, to seek permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He also confronted high-ranking Jews who were profiting from unfair lending practices (Nehemiah 1:2–4, 2:1–20, 5:1–13). Of course, Jesus is the ultimate Advocate. In addition to sacrificing himself for our sins (1 John 2:1-2), he modeled servant leadership (John 13:14-15), gave dignity to the marginalized (Luke 7:36-50, Luke 18:16), and challenged corruption (Mark 11:15-17), among other acts.
What does advocacy look like today? Today, we can advance the dignity of all people by advocating for racial and gender justice, accessibility to food, adequate housing accommodations, immigration policy, environmental sustainability, and much more. Advocacy actions can include: exercising your right to vote, speaking out when you witness injustice, writing or calling your elected officials to express your viewpoint, or volunteering nationally or internationally to share God’s love and serve your neighbor.
The ELCA maintains an advocacy action center, found online at https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Publicly-Engaged-Church/Advocacy ELCA advocacy “works for change in public policy based on the experience of Lutheran ministries, programs and projects around the world and in communities across the United States. We work through political channels on behalf of the following biblical values: peacemaking, hospitality to strangers, care for creation, and concern for people living in poverty and struggling with hunger and disease.”
At the ELCA Advocacy action center, there are links to resources for getting involved with causes such as: AMMPARO Migrant Children, Congregation-based Community Organizing; Corporate Social Responsibility; ELCAvotes!; Faith, Science and Technology; Lutheran Office for World Community; Justice for Women; Peace Not Walls; Racial Justice Ministries; and Social Issues. You can sign up to receive ELCA Advocacy News and Alerts. There is also a section on Volunteer Opportunities. If you are looking to become an advocate, or just want to learn more about these timely issues, check out the website.
Advocacy for Christians is an outworking of obedience to God, a desire for justice and compassion for others (particularly people who are poor, marginalized and vulnerable) and it is a way of pointing people towards Jesus. As Paul reminds us in Galatians chapter 6: “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
Many of us are in a season of change. Our church is seeking a new pastor. It’s the beginning of a new school year. This is definitely a time of transition for me: I’m a new member of the church council, and I’m just heading back to work on campus after a year of sabbatical. I’m one of those weirdos who tends to really like change—at least temporary or low-stakes change. I think that’s partly because God’s steadfastness and ever-presence creates a safe context for change. And that’s true even (or especially) for transitions I may not expect or want.
Times of uncertainty and change may bring to mind the coffee-mugs-and-inspirational-posters verse from Jeremiah about God’s plans: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). It’s true that this passage has been misunderstood by many people to mean that God has designed a pleasurable future immediately ahead for individual Christians. But considering the verse in context, I actually find it more comforting (if not exactly what I might choose). That’s because many Christians’ lives don’t seem very prosperous, and our uncertain future may not quickly resolve into a prosperous present. So if this verse doesn’t imply our lives should be all roses and rainbows, then perhaps this verse is applicable in some way for our real lives as they actually are—we who are embarking on a time of change and uncertainties.
In this passage, God was speaking to the people of Israel collectively about His plan for them as His people. They were in exile in Babylon, and He goes on to tell them they’ll remain there for 70 years. (That rather puts the timeline of our transition and call process into perspective!) During that time of exile, He calls them to flourish where they are, to pray for their captors, and to draw their hope from the certainty that God’s plan will prevail and that it will bring forth good for His people.
Facing what promises to be a lengthy transition from an incomplete present to a more settled future, we may want to rush through and get on the other side of the transition as fast as possible. (At least, I can feel that way; I describe myself as a “destination” person, not a “journey” person.) But in reflecting on this verse, I see its gentle counsel to slow down, to really be faithful and intentional in working through the transition process before we even begin the work of the call committee. This is a time for us to draw together, to delve into our past, and to prayerfully reflect upon what forms God’s future hope may take at Prince of Peace. I confess that I’ve been worried about what the future will look like for us and whom we may find to join and to pastor our little flock. But I’ve been drawing comfort from the certainty that God has a collective plan for us that He’ll carry forth according to His own timetable. I’m beginning to recognize that this time of transition isn’t something to push through as quickly as possible nor to passively sit through until it’s finally over. Rather, it’s a rich opportunity to draw closer to each other and to Him
I’ve heard a few people half-jokingly refer to the Ministry Site Profile (https://www.rmselca.org/congregations-transition) as our dating profile. This is worth a chuckle, and I decided to give it more thought. I’ve observed a handful of couples whose relationships began with online profiles (I once met both halves of a match in towns 570 miles apart before eHarmony set them up and they eventually married!), and I’ve dabbled in the world of algorithmic matchmaking myself in the past. Therefore I’m marginally qualified to share this listicle on finding a pastor and online dating.
1. Ask yourself why you're filling out the profile.
Is there a creative dating solution you haven’t considered? Are we in a place to search for a match? Do we have the time, money, and motivation to search for and start a new (pastoral) relationship? Are you looking for something part-time, a casual fling, or something more stable? Some of these types of questions have been inherently answered by our initiation of the call process, but they’re worth keeping in mind throughout. Online dating works best when you know who you are and what you’re looking for.
2. Make it creative.
If you want to write a boring profile, stick with a few lines about how you’re laid back, like to spend time with friends and family, and enjoy adventure. Get into some details: Where do you like to go on adventures? What kinds of things make you laugh when you’re out with your friends? What is unique about our ministry context? What needs exist in our community?
3. Don’t stop loving the world around you.
It’s easy to get caught up in the search, but don’t stop engaging with all the really neat people you already know! You could miss out on meeting someone great who lives across town. Or not notice an opportunity to join the ministry of a local organization you haven’t checked out yet. Dating profiles work better when you can write about what you’re doing now, and not just that one cool thing from five years ago.
4. “Christ’s Church: Better Together!”
The visit by Pastor Leslie and Janet Philipp last Sunday makes me think that maybe the Ministry Site Profile isn’t at all like an online dating profile. I attended the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly this spring as a voting member from Prince of Peace, and we must have heard Bishop Gonia say “Christ’s Church: Better Together!” at least 20 times. The Rocky Mountain Synod does a lot to embody this theme. We heard stories about congregations building relationships with other people in their communities, global partnerships where our partner ministries across the world are doing good work, and a congregation giving back a small piece of tribal land in urban Colorado (we were exhorted by Rev. Dr. Tink Tinker to do this more often). Our congregation, our synod, the ELCA, our ecumenical partners, and the whole Christian church are better together. We don’t write our profile alone. Unless you’re in the habit of enlisting the help of 50 friends and family to help write your profile, the (admittedly tongue-in-cheek) analogy falls apart. We have the guidance and prayers of the Synod, God in our midst, and the leadership of the congregational council and Pastor Teri. We are the Beloved of Christ whether or not we find a match.
Living God, you have called us be the conduits for grace and healing in this community. Strengthen the witness of this congregation and help us to better see the needs of our community. Give wisdom to those called to lead your church and be with those discerning a call to congregational leadership.
Have you ever wondered why we don’t say or sing alleluia during Lent and Holy Week? Alleluia is a word of great praise to God which was prominent in early Christian liturgies and is based on the Hebrew word hallelu yah, meaning “Praise the Lord’.
As the Lenten season is one of repentance in the western church, singing or saying the word “alleluia” has been suspended during these forty days. During this time of reflection on the quality of our baptismal faith and life, it is deemed that the joyful nature of alleluia would be more appropriate during our Easter celebrations when sung fully and jubilantly. Hence, the alternate Gospel Acclamation for Lent which omits the alleluia; this omission goes back to at least the 5th century in the western church. But, the custom of actually bidding it farewell developed in the Middle Ages. “Alleluia, song of gladness” (ELW #318) has a translation of an 11th century Latin text that compares an alleluia-less Lent to the exile of the Israelites in Babylon. It then anticipates the joy of Easter when glad alleluias will return in all their heavenly splendor.
Additionally, some congregations have used the practice of physically “burying” the alleluia. A banner or other visual representation of the alleluia is created and then “buried” inside or outside. Alleluia is last used on the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday – Transfiguration of Our Lord – until the Great Easter Vigil, or Easter Sunday. The burial of alleluia could happen at Mardi Gras, aka Shrove Tuesday, either by simply suspending its use or physically burying a crafted alleluia – inside within a container or outside in a sturdy box – to be resurrected during the hymn of praise at the Great Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday.
Alleluia cannot always be our song while here below;
alleluia our transgressions make us for a while forgo;
for the solemn time is coming when our tears for sin shall flow.
In our hymns we pray with longing: Grant us, blessed Trinity,
at the last to keep glad Easter with the faithful saints on high;
there to you forever singing alleluia joyfully.
--- “Alleluia, song of gladness” ELW 318 verses 3 & 4 ---
At the Great Easter Vigil, may your alleluias be silenced no more; may you rejoice and sing loud, strong and joyously!!
Joan Mahoney, Vice President
By Colin Johnson, Council Secretary
One of my favorite television programs is the Smithsonian Channel’s Air Disasters, and I don’t know exactly why. But think about it . . . almost all air crashes result from a complex and unique sequence of failures of highly sophisticated technology. It takes an equal amount of similar technology, usually driven by persistence and luck, to solve these cases. And—funny thing--air disaster movies like the one in the title of this article made me think of Stewardship. Remember the phoenix, the bird that crashes in flames, yet soars again in glory, like the old crate in the movie? But I will get to that later.
With the Annual Meeting coming up, we can expect to find ourselves engaged in sometimes delicate, sometimes hard-nosed discussions about our budget. Approval of the budget is the main item on the agenda, but the meeting itself can be an opportunity for renewal of the vision and mission of Prince of Peace. The 400th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses (they exist whether the story is true that he actually nailed them to the door) was the occasion for reexamining many of the principles of the church founders. Prince of Peace has adopted “Gathered, Gifted, and Sent” as its touchstone for moving into the future and we approach the budget process in that frame of mind. A modern airliner gathers scores of people, is operated by gifted people—many in control centers not seen—and sent into the heavens.
When I took over the position of Council Secretary in 2015, one of my first duties was to bring the congregation’s registry of official membership up-to-date. This had not been done for about two years. Deanna Outsen had been the full-time office secretary prior to that time, but the downsizing of the professional staff became a priority that year and the meticulous membership records she kept were suspended, although she did have some records that had not been entered into the ledger, a large red book that sits on a shelf in the office.
Such records are very important as the Synod requires an annual report with this information. An annual meeting (or other proof of activity) is required by tax-free organizations in order to satisfy IRS statutes. Moreover, the Prince of Peace Constitution, as most constitutions do, requires that a quorum be present at official meetings where voting is undertaken. Our quorum, depending on the type of vote taken, is “20 percent of the voting membership.” So an accurate count of the membership is not a casual thing. A “voting member” at Prince of Peace is defined as a communicant member who has made a donation of record (i.e., one for which there is a paper trail, like a check or a credit card receipt, not simply green bills in the offering basket) and who has communed at least once within the last twelve-month period.
At the time I began my “census,” there were, I believe, somewhere around 110 individuals in the membership ledger qualified as voting members. The Council considers a confirmed child living at home up to the age of 18 a voting member if they have communed but not necessarily made a donation of record. The accounting was more difficult than I imagined because documentation was not always available or conclusive. Individuals and families who had been attending had never written their former congregations for a release and transfer with a letter recognizing their status. Conversely, there were names in the record of individuals and families still known to be in the community but not attending with no letter of request to transfer to another church. What to do? Such individuals become an “asterisk,” a statistic, until their status can be determined. This generally takes a call from the Pastor or a Council officer to follow up on the intentions of the individual. Sometimes an infant is baptized in the congregation to parents who are not members of the church, but the child still belongs to us, so to speak. Once my work was done, the list was passed to the Pastor to verify communion and then to the Financial Secretary to verify donations of record, this last step being confidential. We finally come up with a reasonable number.
When I had finished my accounting with Pastor Scott’s help, I ended up with a list of names that numbered somewhere around 70. In other words, the number of official members considered to be voting members was about somewhere between 35 and 40% less than the registry previously showed two years earlier. During the years prior to that time, the congregation had moved its place of worship, had had a series of interim pastors, and several long-time leadership families had retired and/or moved from the Valley. Moreover, the country, beginning in 2008, had suffered one of the worst recessions in modern times, from which it took about 8 years to make a substantial recovery. For some individuals, this so-called recovery is still happening. Are there food and utility-challenged individuals and families at Prince of Peace? Most probably so. Moreover, for the past several cycles, our annual budget forecasts have exceeded our previous year’s giving. Often we end up “balancing” at year’s end because some programs choose not to use their funding. Yes, it was a time for some serious discussion on strategic planning.
Everyone who has attended annual meetings as well as the congregational input meeting held earlier by the Finance Team prior to the Council’s final presentation of the budget knows what the discussions often sound like: “Costs are going up, giving has stagnated, and the budgets keep growing. We cannot continue using up our reserves and trimming around the edges.” Such discussions are heard not only at Prince of Peace. On the other side, we are reminded of the strategies—including prayer--that are available to congregations. Some do not like to publicize the financial potholes in the road to the annual budget, fearing that “crying ‘Wolf!’” or crying anything will alarm the faithful. We know that some members actually choose to go elsewhere. Call it a vicious circle or a self-fulfilling prophecy, but one thing we cannot do is not talk about it and address it head on. Some will say, prayerfully, “Maybe Prince of Peace will still exist in five years, maybe it will not. In either case, it is okay; it is God’s will.” A simply majority is required for most votes. With 70 eligible voting members, 14 would constitute a quorum, meaning that 8 souls could decide an issue for the church. Last year 42 voting members attended the Annual Meeting.
What to do?
Many of you are old enough to remember columnist Ann Landers’s famous question for a person stewing over a flawed, failing marriage: “Am I better in this marriage or out of it? Is it better to stay with my spouse or leave?”
Let’s rephrase that question to fit our situation: “Is it better that Prince of Peace remain an entity in Cache Valley or shall we dissolve the congregation and put our resources elsewhere?”
The question is not rhetorical. Where would you put your “resources”? (By the way, there is a lot of help out there for congregations brought up against the harsh reality of this question.)
Let me make another analogy, the one I started with, and I ask you to bear with me: Suppose you are the pilot on a transoceanic flight with 250 souls in your care in the cabin behind you. For some reason, you were unable to refuel at the last stop and have now run into terrific headwinds and hail, forcing you to consume extra fuel. Perhaps there is a leak somewhere. The fuel is just not there to sustain you for the flight. A simple calculation shows that it is not possible to reach a safe destination before the jet and the surface of the ocean come into contact with each other. But a complex calculation means looking at other possibilities. In this scenario, I see three paths, three choices:
You have all seen this movie. No one chooses #1 except a pilot committing suicide (which may have actually happened with the Malaysia Airline pilot, but he still put the plane on autopilot and flew several thousand miles anyway).
Choices #2 and #3 may be variations of the same thing. “Sully” Sullenburger chose #2 but he was within hundreds of yards of dry land and rescue ships—and really, really, lucky. No, I think #3 is probably the most likely choice most would elect. After all, it’s the movie scenario, isn’t it? Survival!! Survival for as long as possible!! It may end in the same result as #2, but at least all hands on board will have tried their best.
Now . . . what are the strategies we might use to prolong our existence, our journey across the barren sea? I say “our” because the smart pilot will engage us “gathered” passengers to assist with this. The first thing that comes to mind is that the pilot will adjust wing and engine trim, speed, altitude, fuel mixture, even his course heading based on using tailwinds, and other things we don’t even know about in order to maximize fuel consumption. That is his “gift.” He will use his training and knowledge to keep the craft on its best course. Depending on the aircraft and the configuration of its doors, one of them might have to be opened (hence, a low altitude is necessary). In my scenario, there is an emergency stairway at the rear (D.B. Cooper anyone?) able to be opened. Passengers will be enlisted to relay any unneeded weight out the back, especially food, food carts, luggage, and about 300-400 pounds of shoes as they won’t be needed. (I just saw an old movie in which such jettisoning happened; the southbound airplane even overflew its Panama City destination by 300 miles and crash-landed in the South American jungle? A DC-3 yet!)
What else? Have I dealt with the most obvious? Is there a novel, creative one that has been missed? (Have you seen the parachutes designed for small craft that floats them to the ground?) Maybe in your movie, President Trump flies Bruce Willis out on an Air Force tanker because Benjamin Netanyahu is on board, and he finds a way to hook the fuel hose he is lowered on some way into the fuel tanks of the airplane. Not in my movie. You are just being silly. You’ve seen Air Force One too many times.
Now comes the tricky part. What is Prince of Peace’s baggage, its food carts? How do we “adjust” its speed, altitude, and trim in order to prolong its flight as long as possible. Dare one mention them? We’ve seen movies in which both pilots, incapacitated by a bad chicken dinner or worse, were replaced by a weekend flyer from among the cabin passengers and it worked. However, I don’t recall a movie where the passengers grumbled, “The pilot, he got us into this! It’s his fault. Let’s toss him out the back!!” and then did so. Film over.
Every analogy like this has a point at which there is no further correlation, and this one is pretty flawed. First of all, while there might be a finite amount of fuel (resources) on board, our congregational “fuel” comes from within and is not limited to the amount in the wing tanks. We have the capacity to yield up or manufacture more “gas” and determine how to use it. Yes, only up to a point, some will say. In the case of Prince of Peace, some will insist that we have already used some of our gifts to increase efficiency—less staff hours, turned cleaning service over to volunteers, reduced materials (bulletins), solicited more in kind, donated materials (dinners). Indeed, that is true. Also, our goal is not a glide path to a safe termination of our journey. (Some say that another phrase for a “controlled crash” is a “safe landing.”) No, our wish is that our ship sails on and on and on!! That it be “sent” sailing into the heavens forever.
I guess the point I am trying to make in the example above is that survival (may I use the word?) depends on the leadership of a strong pilot (Council + Pastor + other natural leaders) collaborating with the “passengers” (congregation members) to come up with a combination of logical procedures + creative suggestions, and, yes, maybe just a cockamamie idea or two in order to prolong our flight. Their “gifts.”
And perhaps we could pace our drama with just a little sense of humor--some comic relief, some irony--as we work together, as any good screenwriter and director of an air disaster movie knows. (Incidentally, you do remember the surprise at the end of Flight of the Phoenix, don’t you? Spoiler alert: The “aeronautical engineer” who reconfigured the wreckage into an airworthy vehicle for the passengers stranded in a remote desert was found out to be a designer of toy model planes!)
Valentine’s day is the perfect holiday to consider what you will be giving up for Lent. Lent starts on Wednesday, February 14th – Valentine’s Day. So, the timing is right to start making your plan for a Lenten fast, but there’s more to it than that.
Valentine’s day is a day to celebrate the people you love. Often, we do that in very tangible ways, with a card—sometimes handmade, a thoughtful gift, a special dinner or by spending quality time together. Valentine’s day is a day to be more intentional about expressing love to your significant other. Well, the same is true of Lent and the expression of our love for God.
During Lent, Christians are encouraged to give something up as one of the 3 Lenten disciplines. The “giving something up” is an example of fasting, which isn’t commanded for Lent (but is expected by Jesus as the Gospel appointed for Ash Wednesday, Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21, indicates). The same Gospel touches upon the other 2 disciplines of Lent, prayer and generosity to the poor. All 3 are appropriate ways for individuals to express our devotion to God. They are like Valentines, given to a loved one. They are expressions of love. They are ways to show God your love, not prove it.
On Wednesdays in Lent attend our special Lenten Worships held at 6:30 p.m., you are welcome to come early for soup suppers! This is a way to take up the discipline of prayer and spend extra time during the 40 days in Lent in worship.
Make a plan to increase your giving during Lent or support a charity, financially. This can be a church or other non-profit that serves the poor. The ELCA has some great extensions that serve the needy in the world including Lutheran World Relief and ELCA World Hunger or you may support our local Cache Community Food Bank.
Last, make a plan to fast this Lent. This is one of the most personal things we can do to express our love to God and our need for God. Fasting is an interesting exercise, to intentionally NOT do something as a way of expressing devotion to God. Lenten fasting isn’t always about giving up an unhealthy thing in order to become healthier! So maybe this year it’s time to go a little further than giving up candy, French fries or Lattes. Here are two suggestions for fasting this year.
Oh, and don’t forget, you don’t fast on Sundays. Why? Because that’s the day Jesus rose from the dead and it’s a day to celebrate His love for us!
Happy Valentine’s day!
Deanna S. Outsen
By Joan Mahoney, Council Vice President
Advent is the beginning of a new church year where scripture and tradition beckon us to slow down and wait; a season of anticipation and longing.
The Advent wreath is the most powerful symbol of the season – it can be traced back to the Romans’ ancient rite of waiting in the darkness for the return of the sun, and for the Feast of the Sun on December 25. The ancients took a wheel off of their wagons and fastened torches to it to see them through the darkness. The only thing alive in the winter, evergreen, was brought inside and fastened to the wheel – in darkness, it was a sign of vegetation and springtime. More than 300 years ago, German Christians fashioned the same elements into the Advent wreath – the greens a sign of hope and eternity. What was once the Feast of the Sun has become the Feast of the Son.
Advent wreaths and Advent calendars are symbols and tools of what Advent urges us to do - mark the passage of time as we wait. Advent is about the art of waiting. Now is the time for slowing down and leaning together; and, as with the ancients, we gather in the darkness to wait for the light. And, like the ancients who gathered together for courage and hope that the sun would return, we gather each week to hear the word that does not pass away. The season’s texts give us voice for our brokenness and the promise of the savior.
WEEK 1 of Advent: we are reminded of our desperate need for a God to restore and save. Mark’s gospel warns us to keep alert, stay awake.
WEEK 2 of Advent: we are urged to reorder our lives. As John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord, so do we. We prepare our hearts and homes, not in haste, but in love and with longing.
WEEK 3 of Advent: we who walk in darkness, especially in the season of waiting and watching, also rejoice. God is turning our mourning into laughter and joy. That is good news for people awaiting light. We walk in our own wildernesses, but are called to join the baptized of all generations to testify to the one who brings light and life to a broken world.
WEEK 4 of Advent: the angel Gabriel tells Mary that God will keep His promise to continue the reign of David.
With texts and traditions as guides, this Advent, let us challenge one another to honor these dark days. It is in the waiting that we learn about ourselves and others, taking important steps toward understanding. Over the first four weeks in December, let’s gather together in stillness with confidence that the savior is coming, that Christmas is “on the way”, but not here yet.
Be sure to join us each Sunday in December (3rd, 10th, 17th & Christmas Eve) @ 7PM for our service “Unfailing Light” (an evening service with Holy Communion). A Craft Activity for All will begin @ 6PM. There will be NO morning service on these Sundays.
Slowing down, waiting, and anticipating,
By Paula Zsiray, council member
For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in. Matthew 25:35
Your donation to the Prince of Peace Blessing Box contributes to a better quality of life for our neighbors.
You can donate items to the Blessing Box by picking up extras at the store, then placing them inside the Blessing Box. Or provide a gift of money to support the work of The PoP Blessing Box.
The BB is different from the local food pantry because it is small, does not require an application and can be accessed any time. The BB is a safety net. The BB is a proving ground, testing concepts like community, charity, justice, and sharing economy.
During the holidays, donations of items like canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and stuffing mix can help make sure a family struggling to put food on the table is still able to enjoy some of their favorite holiday meals.
Thank you for supporting this project.
Non-perishable foods that are good to donate:
By Colin Johnson, council secretary
Colin with grandchildren Amelia and Owen and friend in their new mini-deck playhouse in Grayslake, Illinois.
Last month I attended church at my daughter Rebecca Gordon’s congregation, where she had been providing pulpit service for some time. She lives in Grayslake, Illinois, about a dozen miles from her part-time call to St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Antioch, hard by the Wisconsin border at the end of the North Central Metra commuter line from Chicago. Two weeks ago this was recognized with a formal installation. The congregation is an older one with what seemed to me a fair distribution of ages.
That morning I was introduced to a form of post-service interaction with which I was unfamiliar. Intergenerational fellowship has been practiced for some time in the place usually reserved for “Sunday School” or sometimes an adult Bible study session. As the name suggests, there is no segregation by age. All—especially children—are welcome to participate. This particular Sunday, my son-in-law, a hospital administrator, was the designated leader and had engaged my seven-year old grandson in an important way.
The format is simple, contains five parts, and depending on the number of participants can take from less than a half hour to (I would guess) about 45 minutes. The leader assigns someone to read one of the lessons of the day he or she has selected based on what seems most appropriate to the discussion for that time. This was my grandson’s task.
The gospel reading for the day is chosen, which for that Sunday was the story of the disciples confronting Christ to explain the parable of the blind leading the blind; His earlier comments had offended the Pharisees (Matthew 15: [10-20], 21-28). Following the reading, each person at the table speaks of one “good thing” and one “bad, or unfortunate, thing” they experienced during the previous week. They are encouraged to relate it to the context of the lesson just read, as appropriate. Here, the Pastor is helpful in creating a possible context for this. Of course, for me this was easy: my visit with my daughter and my grandkids. The downside of the week for me was that I had injured my knee somehow in Logan and it was causing me some discomfort during my travels. In particular, it was interfering slightly with the project I had accepted for the trip—to design and construct a mini-play deck with a hammock chair as a “clubhouse” in the backyard of their new home. The project was going well and we would be putting some finishing touches on it that afternoon.
Others spoke of their anxieties, particularly surrounding the troubling events in Charlottesville, Virginia, of the previous weekend. The children in attendance—my grandchildren--would be starting school that week and were apprehensive of the change as their move the previous spring had put them in a new environment. Besides my family, there was an older couple, a middle-aged couple, and a single woman. Some obviously liked to talk and all were very articulate.
When everyone has spoken and it is clear that the conversation is drawing to a close, each participant offers a short prayer, addressing one of the concerns—or giving thanks for the good things—of one or more of the participants. The final act of the session is to turn to one’s neighbor—or several--and bless them with the sign of the cross upon the forehead.
I would by no means call this Bible study. You remember those? A book of the Bible is selected for study. The group plods through it verse by verse, during which someone, usually the pastor, preaches a sermon on nearly every phrase, sometimes holding forth on a single word, and by the end of two months, you discover you have covered an entire chapter and a half of the book you have chosen . . . if you are lucky. My daughter recounted to me the 19th century origin of the schoolhouse model of Sunday School (that is, the enlightened pastor, or leader, knows a great deal and the audience knows little to nothing). This occurred when Protestant denominations in England took on the task of moral instruction of its children whose parents were home sweating off the tremors of a gin-soaked weekend. Is the instructional model out-of-date? Could it be part of the reason that, according to my daughter, Sunday School attendance has probably declined by around 90% over the last several decades in Lutheran congregations? Judge for yourself.
When I asked my daughter about the source, she referred me to the Faith5 website of Stillwater, MN.: www.faith5.org. It’s founder, Rich Melheim, an ELCA pastor, has been promoting novel forms of faith education for something like a quarter century, so the concept is not exactly a new one. Melheim is the author of the two books entitled Let’s Kill Sunday School (Before It Kills Us). This pretty much spells out his philosophy; the second book details the Cross+Gen format, which is also on the website. His methods and materials continue to evolve.
What struck me about the intergenerational fellowship was that it resembled a family devotion, only a devotion carried out with one’s church family. The closest thing we have to it at Prince of Peace is perhaps the format of the Water + Word meetings. What I experienced was an opportunity to activate one’s faith with one’s fellow worshipers and their families in a way that could be meaningful and focused on the lectionary readings for the week.
Would it work at Prince of Peace? I don’t believe it is a question of whether it will work or not. It was a different experience, meaningful and significant in itself. It was not a substitute for traditional Bible study, Sunday School, nor post-service fellowship.
You may also be interested in Faith5’s much edgier www.faithink.org website of family resources which is promoting—presumably in time for the anniversary of the Reformation—the new works Luther: The Graphic Novel and Luther: The Rock Opera. I know I am.
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.