Posts tagged Pastor Keseley
"Sort-Of" Farewell and Godspeed to Sara Dyson, Children & Family Minister
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This weekend we will bid "sort-of" Farewell and Godspeed to Sara Dyson, our Children & Family Minister for the past five years. While Sara is stepping down from her position on staff, she and her family will remain active members of Abiding Presence. So, we will send her off  "sort-of" with our prayers and blessings as she steps down from the staff. Then we will welcome her back into her role of being an active Abiding Presence member. 

When Sara stepped into the position of Children's Minister five years ago, it was a 10 hour a week position that was relatively easy to work around her desire to be a stay-at-home mom. Under Sara's leadership, our children's ministry has grown significantly. Sara increased the number of Sunday School classes, added new family ministry opportunities and welcomed many new children and families to the life of our congregation. The 4-5-6 youth group became a reality along with reshaping Wednesday Night Gathering to include our senior high youth as teachers of our elementary schoolers. Just two weeks ago, Sara's leadership envisioned a two session Vacation Bible School that allowed us to welcome more kids into VBS than ever before. 

Along with all of this growth in ministry has come an increase in the number of hours of the Children & Family Minister position. This past January the position went to 30 hours a week. As Sara lived into it, she realized that it no longer worked with being the stay-at-home mom she has always felt called to be. We honor and respect her first calling to being a mom and look forward to the ways she will continue to help shape our church as a faithful member.

I am grateful for Sara's leadership, enthusiasm and flexibility. She has poured her time and energy into making Abiding Presence the vibrant, active and family friendly congregation it is today. She is a gifted teacher to our children and mentor to our youth. While she will be missed on the staff, we are glad to have her and family remain part of the Abiding Presence family. 

Please join me this weekend in thanking Sara for five years of well done and faithful ministry as our Children & Family Minister. We'll be celebrating with cake between services and a send off during both of the Sunday morning services. 

Log College Project
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As many of you have hopefully heard, Abiding Presence is one of 12 churches in the country who have been chosen to be part of Princeton Seminary’s Log College Project Community of Practice. The Log College Project is focused on innovating the church’s ministry with youth in ways that build new ministries that take theology and young people seriously. This past week seven of us from Abiding Presence had the chance to spend five days on the campus of Princeton Seminary learning, dreaming and discerning with the other 12 churches.

Our intergenerational Design Team ranged from a rising 9th grader to retired members of our congregation (and several of us in between as well). We participated in workshops, worshiped, ate ice cream and talked—a LOT—about what we heard God calling us to do to address the problem of the amount of stress and anxiety facing our high school students today.

The picture below is our team on our last night receiving our grant check for $15,000. Now, however, comes the hard work! We are equipped, excited and enthusiastic about innovating our ministry in a way that creates both physical and relational space for youth experience God’s love and find their purpose as God’s hands and feet in the world.

I would ask that you please start praying specifically for our Log College Project ministry as it begins to unfold. If you want to hear more about what we’re up to, anyone from our Design Team would love the chance to talk with you. We’re also looking for some more amazing adults who feel called to come alongside youth to serve as mentors and conversation partners. If God might be nudging you in this direction, please let us know.

We are a Faith Family, Together

Here at Abiding Presence we talk a lot about being a “faith family.” One of the core values we discerned together this past spring captures that idea with the phrase, “At Abiding Presence we are a faith family, together.” But what exactly does that mean? Last weekend, I saw it in action at, of all places, the pool.           

My daughter is on swim team this summer, which means we spend a lot of our time at the pool. While we were parading into a pool with the rest of our swim team for an away meet last week, one of our church kids from the other team came running up to me to say hello. We stopped and chatted for a moment. I had no idea they are swimming at this particular pool. We enjoyed a bit of friendly banter back and forth about our teams, both of which have sharks as our mascot.  

When the time came to swim, however, our church family cheered my daughter on just as enthusiastically as if she had been on their team. She got out of the pool to a big high five from the dad who was serving as a timer from the other team. I switched my allegiance, too, cheering appropriately for the opposing team when our church kids were swimming.

When we got back in the car after the meet my daughter said to me, “Who were those people? Were they from church?” “Yes,” I said, as I went on to explain who they were. In her mind, people who she doesn’t know who do things like that are – of course – from church. They are part of our “faith family.”

Being a faith family is not just something we do at church. It is a way of being together out in the world. It is the joy of raising kids together, cheering on the opposing team because they are our team, too, stopping to say hello to one another in the grocery store and just doing life together. Being a family of faith means that we don’t have to go it alone in the world. We follow Jesus together in the sanctuary and in our daily lives.

So, when you see me at the next swim meet, come say hello so I can switch my allegiance at the appropriate moment. When you spot someone from church out in the world – walking through the pentagon, standing in the slug line, at the grocery store or shopping at the mall – stop and say hello. “Don’t you go to Abiding Presence,” is a great opening line. Be a faith family, together.

And, if you happen to need some family support, don’t hesitate to reach out. We cannot always see people’s needs, but we have a big family that is ready to offer support anytime. Just say the word and someone will be there.

 

Life Together at Abiding Presence

As hopefully you have heard by now, we are getting ready for Vacation Bible School (VBS) at Abiding Presence. VBS is a week of fun, faith, friends and learning about God’s love. Recently, however, concerns have been raised with Group Publishing’s Roar VBS curriculum, especially in regards to racial and cultural insensitivities. Sara Dyson, our Children and Family Minister, our VBS Director and I have spent the past few weeks wrestling with these matters and discerning how to move forward.

While the publisher has recently released revisions to the curriculum, we still do not feel comfortable using it. Therefore, we have made the decision to switch to a different VBS curriculum. One of our core values at Abiding Presence is “All are Welcome,” which helps us to create an environment where we can share the message that God loves each and every one of us. We believe that the new VBS curriculum we have chosen, To Mars and Beyond, will encompass our core value beautifully. 

For those of you who have already signed up to participate or volunteer, there are no changes that you need to make at this time. We’re looking forward to a great week when we launch VBS on July 8.

I want to make sure that the congregation is aware of our position on the curriculum and the switch that we have made. As always, we seek to be a faith community that creates a positive and loving environment for everyone. Being this kind of welcoming community takes intentional work.

One of the quotes on my office wall attributed to Martin Luther says, “We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it...” Together, may we keep growing toward what God is calling us to do and be as the people of God at Abiding Presence.

If you have any questions or want to talk further about VBS curriculum, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

A Story, an Update and a New Opportunity

Happy Summer! As we head into summer, let me share with you a story, an update and a new opportunity.

First, the story...Ben, my husband, and I were sitting around the other night when he said to me, “Did you see that someone on the Living In Burke Facebook page is looking for a church?” Ben knows that I regular watch pages like this for people who are looking for churches. It is a great way to get the word out about Abiding Presence and invite the community to come check us out. Before I could even open the app on my phone, though, Ben followed up, “Oh, never mind! Your people already covered it.” Sure enough, there were multiple posts from all of you sharing your experiences at Abiding Presence and inviting this person to come join us.

In this season of moves and transitions, there will be many people looking for a church. They could be your friends, new neighbors, new coworkers or random people you don’t know on social media. I encourage you to be talking about Abiding Presence and inviting people to come see what we are all about. Why? It’s not just because we have something special happening in our faith family (although, I think we do!). Even more importantly, it is because others are searching. They are actively seeking a place to connect, to grow in faith and to hear the good news of God’s love for all people. When we offer an invitation we are helping them to find that community for which they are searching.

Second, the update...as you have hopefully heard by now we have two open positions for which we are hiring - a Children & Family Minister and a Youth & Family Minister. I have been actively working my contacts, learning how to us LinkedIn (come connect with me there!) and talking to various people in the children and youth ministry world. Thanks to all of you who have helped to spread the word about the positions. I’ve had initial phone conversations with nine people, most of whom will now be moving on to first round video conference interviews with our interview teams. The hope is to have the positions hired in the next six weeks and for people to begin in the positions on September 1. Please be actively praying for the people who God is preparing to join our ministry team.

Finally, a new opportunity. This fall we will launch our fifth year of MOPS, our midweek ministry to moms and children ages birth through kindergarten. New this year, we will be adding a Moms Next group, geared toward moms of 1st grade and older kids and teens. This will allow us to expand the ministry to all moms in our congregation and community. If you are interested in participating in MOPS or Moms Next, there is more information and registration on our website.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you! Thank you for all the ways you support ministry at Abiding Presence. You are the church! What we are able to do as a faith family is only possible because of your involvement. I am grateful for the privilege of being your pastor!

Summer Memories
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Some of my favorite summer memories as a child revolve around Vacation Bible School (VBS) in my home congregation. My mother, who spent several years as the volunteer VBS Director, always used to say that VBS happened on the hottest week of the summer. My home congregation wasn't air conditioned when I was growing up and the 2nd story classrooms of the education building got miserably hot. There were crafts and songs, games and snacks and, of course, Bible Stories, too. What I remember most about VBS, though, were the teenagers. 

Our VBS program involved a couple of hundred kids and a lot of middle school and high school teen helpers. They were old enough to be able to help with scissors, glue and glitter. At the same time, they weren't old enough to be moms and dads, which made them really cool. They ran around with us outside as we played games and laughed with us during snack. The teen helpers brought the "fun" to the week of Vacation Bible School (not that the adults weren't fun, too...but...well...they were adults). 

For years I waited until I was old enough to be one of those cool teen helpers. When I finally was, I came to love VBS even more. There was something incredibly special about that week and the relationships that were established. 

Now that I'm a pastor, I still love VBS. I say that it is the most exhausting and wonderful week of the church year. Nothing compares to it! And, it takes a whole church to make it happen. It takes amazing teens who are willing to wake up early (and stay late) to connect with the kids. It takes adults who are able to rearrange their schedules to come teach and/or lead groups of children around.

We've started the VBS countdown at Abiding Presence and would love to have you join us! If you are interested in helping, please be in touch with Sara Dyson, Children and Family Minister. Then you can be part of the fun, too!

Confirmation Sunday at Abiding Presence

A Note about Worship this Weekend:
Saturday at 6:00 p.m. & Sunday at 8:45 a.m. - Regular Services (60 minutes)
Sunday at 11:00 a.m. - Confirmation Service (2 hours)

Please plan accordingly as our confirmation service will be much longer than a usual Abiding Presence service.

It’s confirmation weekend at Abiding Presence! This Sunday at the 11:00 a.m. service 15 of our young people will affirm the promises made for them at their baptisms and we will pray for the Holy Spirit to be stirred up in them to confirm their faith. It is one more joyful, Spirit-filled opportunity to witness how God is at work in the lives of our young people.

What I remember about my own confirmation experience are relationships that I made during the two years of my life I spent in confirmation classes. There were a group of four of us who became the best of friends, hanging out at youth choir and confirmation each Tuesday night and during Sunday School on Sunday morning. In the midst of the trials of the rest of my middle school friendships, those three girls became the friends that I could count on not matter what.

Confirmation was also the time that my relationship with my pastors developed into something beyond just a hello in the handshake line on Sunday mornings. My pastors came to really know me and, in turn, I came to know them. They became people who I felt I could talk when I needed a listening ear and they became my trusted adult as I navigated tough decisions into high school and beyond.

Finally, confirmation was the time in which my relationship with God started to mean something. It was in the midst of my first year of confirmation that I heard the call to be a pastor. I often joke that I felt called to be a pastor before I even knew what a pastor did all day. Regardless, that call to the ministry was loud, clear and nurtured within me throughout those confirmation years.

As I prepare to now be the pastor who gets to lay her hands on our youth’s head as they are confirmed this weekend, I am filled with awe at this amazing group of young people. They are a fun, faithful and passionate bunch who don’t shy away from asking hard questions. I pray that the time that they have spent in confirmation may be as formative to their lives as it once was to mine.

This year we’re doing something new with confirmation. Each of our confirmation youth will receive sponsors – members of the congregation – who will invest in their young person is his/her post-confirmation life. During the confirmation service, the congregation will be asked, “People of God, do you promise to support these sisters and brothers and pray for them in their life in Christ?” The entire congregation will make the promise, responding, “We do, and we ask God to help and guide us.” We want to make sure, though, that each confirmand has two adults in the congregation (outside of their parents, pastors, confirmation mentors, senior high youth advisers and church staff) who are on board to actively fulfill this promise specifically for them. I believe that congregation sponsors have the potential of making a huge difference in the lives of our youth post-confirmation as they experience the care and support of the Abiding Presence faith family in tangible ways.

Thank you to our congregation sponsors and to all of you who will help us to support and pray for our confirmands in their life in Christ.

Reflecting on Mother's Day

As the calendar turns to  Mother's Day this weekend, we know that each person has varied experiences and emotions. For some, this is a day of great rejoicing. For others, this is a day of grief to great to be captured by words. Borrowing the words from Amy Young (http://messymiddle.com), we want to acknowledge the wide spectrum of mothering. 

 To those who gave birth this year to their first child - we celebrate with you.

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you.

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you.

To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away - we mourn with you.

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and

disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you.

To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you.

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you.

To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you.

To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience.

To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of

motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst.

To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be.

To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths.

To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren – yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you.

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you.

To those who placed children up for adoption –  we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart.

And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising – we anticipate with you.

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

Doubt, Sharing, Faith and Thanks - An Image of the Church at Work

On this weekend after Easter our gospel lesson transports us back to Easter night. We will hear how the risen Christ comes to stand among the disciples who are still locked up in a room terrified of what might happen next. Jesus had been crucified and buried. That morning when Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb she found Jesus’ body was missing. After encountering the risen Christ in the garden, Mary had told his disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” but they do not yet believe her. They still doubt. They continue to be overwhelmed by fear. Then Jesus himself shows up with a greeting of peace. He shows them the wounds on his hands and side. Suddenly, there is great rejoicing. Christ is risen!

All the disciples are there in the room with Jesus except for one. For reasons we will never know, Thomas is missing. When he hears the news that the disciples have now seen the Lord, too, Thomas doesn’t believe them. He doubts. He needs to see with his own eyes and touch Jesus’ wounds with his own hands.

In the midst of his doubting, Thomas is surrounded by a community of people who keep proclaiming to him the good news. They keep telling him their story. The other disciples aren’t scared of Thomas’ doubt. They do not push him away. Just one week later, this time when Thomas is there with the other disciples, too, Jesus shows up once again. Thomas gets to see him. He gets to touch Jesus’ wounds. His doubting is then turned to joy, too.

This Easter story offers us a wonderful image of what the church might be today. The church can be a place where we tell our stories of having seen the risen Lord over and over again. We keep sharing our faith because we need to bear witness to our stories and because those stories might help carry someone through their life’s challenge. At the same time, the church can be a community where doubt is welcomed and acknowledged because we trust in a God who shows up even when we don’t believe it is possible. We can both believe and doubt together.

This weekend is our annual Youth Sunday weekend. We will hear the reflections of some of our graduating high school seniors who will share about their faith journey. As I was working with one of these wise young people on their reflection they said to me, “I want to believe in God, but sometimes it is hard.” I told them there was no truer statement of faith than that.

I encourage you to come be inspired by our young people of all ages who will stand up this weekend to lead us in worship in faith and in doubt, trusting that God will show up in our midst. Draw strength from their stories. Share in their joy. Affirm the importance of their witness among us not just on Youth Sunday, but throughout the year. See the church at work in and through them.

Thank you - all of you - for being the amazing community of faith that you are. I am grateful for you, especially all of the ways you came together as a community to make Holy Week and Easter the experience that it was. It took a lot of hands - pouring communion, to waving people into parking spaces, to greeting people as they walked in the door, to vacuuming the sanctuary, to setting out flowers, to stuffing bulletins, to picking up signs on the side of the road, to so much more. Thank you!

The Great Three Days
A military chaplain washes the feet of members of the U.S. military. On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus’ commandment to love one another. As Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, we are called to follow his example as we humbly care for one another.  Photo Credit: ELCA Facebook Page

A military chaplain washes the feet of members of the U.S. military. On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus’ commandment to love one another. As Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, we are called to follow his example as we humbly care for one another. Photo Credit: ELCA Facebook Page

Tonight we enter into the Great Three Days as we take our final steps with Jesus to the cross and the grave. We know that Easter is coming, but first we enter into this most holy time of preparation. These are the holiest days of the year for those of us who follow Jesus.

I’m looking forward to journeying with you through these Great Three Days again this year. There are lots of opportunities for worship, so please take advantage of them! There are three services on Good Friday - 12:00 noon, 6:45 p.m. (Children’s Service) and 7:45 p.m. On Easter Sunday we will again worship at three services - 8:30, 10:00 and 11:15 a.m. (note that none of them are at our regular service times!). If you are able, please take advantage of the overflow parking at the Burke School and shuttle bus on Easter Sunday. If you cannot do the overflow parking, don’t worry. Come anyway! We’ll have spot waiting for you in the church parking lot.

When we say, “All are Welcome” at Abiding Presence, we really do mean all. So, bring your friends, your neighbors, the people you love and the people who may drive you a little crazy, too. Come! It’s going to be a great celebration on Easter Sunday as we proclaim with joy, “Christ is Risen!” Christ’s resurrection is good news for everyone!

But first…first come these next three days. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing in these coming days, I encourage you to pause. Sit. Breath. Pray. Read the story of Christ’s Passion (John 18:1-19:42). Be still and experience the holiness in the midst of all the ordinary around us. I promise, the joy of Easter will be much greater if you first take time to first journey to the cross and to the grave.

Easter is Coming!

For a reason I have long since forgotten, I mentioned the word “Alleluia” at one of our recent family meals. “Mom,” my daughter immediately scolded me, “You cannot say that. That’s a sin.” I tried to make the theological point of why it probably wasn’t nearly as much of a sin as she thought, but I quickly realized this was not a battle I was going to win. She had been taught that Lent meant giving up the word “Alleluia” everywhere, all the time, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday without exception. My violation equated to a sin, without exception.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve missed “alleluia.” I’ve missed the joy it brings. By this point in the season of Lent, I’m ready to be done. Especially with Easter falling so late in April this month, I’m just ready to move on. Can’t we hurry this Lenten journey up already? Yet, the church year will keep us in Lent for two more weeks. Two more weeks of trudging along to get to the cross. We’re close, but we’re not there yet.

For many of us, this is probably a good thing for there is still Lenten work around the disciplines of Lent to be done. How have you been engaging the disciplines of repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love? What have you done fully? What do you still need time to be able to do? What aspects of the disciplines do you need to engage in order to be ready for the joy of alleluia on Easter morning? Think about it. Pray about it. Act on it. There’s still time! You don’t have to be ready for Easter yet.

Here in the church, we’re far from ready! We still need many of you to sign up to help make Easter morning possible. So, if you will be here Easter Sunday, please plan to lend a hand to enable the celebration.

Get Involved on Easter Sunday
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As Abiding Presence continues our Lenten journey, we’re also in full planning mode for Easter Sunday…and…we need your help! In order to make Easter Sunday the festive, joyful and smooth-running morning of worship we want it to be, we need lots and lots and lots of members of our faith volunteer to get involved. Here are a few of the options of what you can do:

·       Sing with the adult choir. Even if you don’t usually sing with the choir, you can join them for Holy Week and Easter. More information, including the practice schedule, is available here or by talking with David Chavez, Music and Worship Minister.

·       Be a worship assistant. We need greeters, ushers, readers, assisting ministers, communion assistants, acolytes and crucifers for all three services. In fact, we need 63 worship assistants across our three services! Children are welcomed and encouraged to serve with a parent. Email Alissa Salamone, Volunteer Worship Coordinator, if you can help and what service you plan to attend.

·       Host the petting zoo. There are two shifts 9:30-10:30 and 10:30-11:30 for which we need hosts out on the lawn to welcome people to the petting zoo and hand out hand sanitizer. Sign up here.

·       Serve on the parking team. We need people in the parking lot at Abiding Presence to create a safe environment as they direct traffic, maximize parking and welcome people to the church. Sign up here.

·       Host the offsite parking. We have secured offsite parking at the Burke School, but we need people there throughout the morning to welcome people and direct them to the church. Sign up here.

·       Host the crosswalk. An off duty police officer will be at the intersection of Lee Chapel Rd and Britford Drive to facilitate safe crossing of the street and turning. We need volunteers to take shifts helping to host the crosswalk to support the work of the officer by asking people to wait to cross until the designated time. Sign up here.

Looking at our Core Values
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Connecting People to Christ through Community is the mission we share at Abiding Presence. It is our way of life as the people of God in this place. This mission is how we follow Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples. (You can read Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20.) We live it out every day as we open our doors to enable connections to form among our neighbors with one another, the Abiding Presence community and Christ.

Last weekend the Church Council and I invited you to help us think about our core values as a congregation. As part of our year of “Making Firm the Foundation,” we want to intentionally think about what the core values are that will shape our discernment around ministry, staffing and facility planning. We distributed in worship as survey of 16 possible core values and asked the congregation to mark what they see as the top three core values for Abiding Presence. Three core values rose clearly to the top:

·       All Are Welcome

·       Family Centered (both “We are a Family” and “Bring Your Family”)

·       We are God’s Hands and Feet in the World

Coming out far above any others, All Are Welcome was lifted up by nearly 70% of those who responded as one of their top core values. When we say “all are welcome” at Abiding Presence, we really do mean all. No matter who you are, what your background or what your current situation might be, you are welcome in this community of faith. We invite you to get connected with the church, build relationships with other followers of Jesus and grow in your faith. We want you to invite others, knowing that they will be welcomed, too.  

Family Centered is who we are at Abiding Presence, both in the way we operate as a faith family and in the way we create a community where families of all different shapes and sizes are welcome. We are an intergenerational church where people of all ages are valued, engaged in ministry and seen as integral to the life of our community. Ministry with children, youth and families are one of our congregation’s strengths. Our worship seeks to provide an environment where families experience grace as they teach their children how to worship. (As a side note, I think “Family Centered” needs a bit of wordsmithing to wrap everything it means into a catchy phrase, so I would love to hear your ideas of better phrases to capture what this core value means.)

Our faith community understands our calling to be that We are God’s Hands and Feet in the World. This is a common phrase we use around Abiding Presence as we seek to serve God and God’s people. As the body of Christ in the world today, we are often the only hands God has to minister to a person or situation. Our feet might be the ones God is nudging to go to provide care. This year we are focusing on “every member serves” as a way to live out this core value across our congregation.

While these three core values hit the top of our quick survey in worship last weekend, I think there is another core value out there in our community that the survey didn’t quite capture. One of the things I will be working on in the coming weeks is how to best articulate it. So, stay tuned!

For those of you who participated in the survey last weekend, thank you! For those of you who didn’t have the chance, don’t worry! There will be more opportunities in the coming weeks to be part of the discernment as we together look to the future and go about the work of “Making Firm the Foundation” of Abiding Presence. I’m excited to see how the Holy Spirit will stir within us as the people of  God in this place.

Final Words
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We all know crucifixion is painful. It’s hard to even think about it without cringing in pain. Yet it wasn’t until I got to reading Adam Hamilton’s Last Words that I realized the implications of crucifixion on speaking. Hamilton explains that in order to speak from the cross, Jesus would have had “to pull himself up by the nails in order to expand the diaphragm to speak.” The pain he must have gone through to speak gives his final words great impact. They are words for us to take to heart as we think about what it means to be followers of Christ today.

If you haven’t already signed up, I invite you to join one of our small groups this Lent that will look at Jesus’ final words together. The small groups will run for five weeks beginning this coming week. If you’ve never participated in a small group or a Bible Study before, don’t worry! You’ll be in good company of people who are giving it a try for the first time. There’s no required preparation. You can read along chapter-by-chapter in the book if you would like. If not, you’ll still easily be able to jump into the discussion. If you’ve been looking for that “next step” in getting to know people at Abiding Presence and/or growing in your relationship with Jesus, the midweek Lenten small group experience would be perfect.

On Ash Wednesday we heard the invitation to the Disciplines of Lent - repentance, prayer, fasting and works of love. I encourage you to be intentional in your response to the invitation to add these disciplines into your life for the next six weeks in intentional ways. Joining a small group - even if it takes you a little outside of your comfort area - might be a great place to start!

All Are Welcome

Every Sunday Pastor Heidi or I stand behind the altar at the time of Holy Communion and offer the invitation, “This is the Lord’s Table and all are welcome here.” Most Sundays when I am behind the altar, you hear me say it twice so that I am book-ending the instructions on how to receive Holy Communion. Why? Because I want to make sure you don’t miss the message. I want to give it a minute to sink in so you realize that “all” means you. It also means those who you might not realize are welcome alongside you at the Lord’s Table.

Here at Abiding Presence, “all” really does mean all...everyone...no exception. Why? Because the communion table isn’t our table. When you get down to it, Abiding Presence isn’t really our church either. It’s Jesus’. It’s Jesus’ communion table and Abiding Presence is Jesus’ church. When we look at Jesus’ witness - his life, death and ministry - we see that the kingdom of God has come near for the sake of the world that God’s so loves. God’s desire is for everyone to believe in Jesus - everyone, without exception. In Jesus, God’s kingdom came near for you and for me, the faith and the not so faithful, the people we agree with and the people we don’t, the people we love and the people we strongly dislike (note: I didn’t use the word “hate”…remember last week’s sermon?). We are not the gatekeepers of the kingdom of God. That’s a position far over our heads best left to God alone! Instead, we are inviters to and proclaimers of the good news of Jesus, which is good news that God wants all people to hear. Our Lutheran proclamation that “all are welcome” is good news that needs to be shared.

I hope this week that you will take a few moments to prayerfully consider who in your life needs to hear the good news of Jesus. Who do you know that needs to hear that God’s love is for them? How might God be calling you to be an inviter to and proclaimer of that good news that Jesus came for them, too? Think about it. Prayer about it. Act on it. There’s a world out there that God loves and God wants to hear the good news of Jesus and we are the hands, feet and voice God has to proclaim it.

Body Builder Faith

What is faith? How would you describe your faith in one sentence? What difference does your faith make? These are some of the questions I posed to our pre-confirmation 6th graders this past Wednesday night as we sat in my office talking together. “This is getting deep!” one of them said to me as we wrestled with the idea of faith together. Indeed, faith can sometimes seem like one of those deep conversation topics that is hard to grasp.

In the biblical book of Hebrews, faith is described as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (11:1).” I encourage you to commit this verse to memory, highlight it in your Bible and recite it often. It’s short, sweet and to the point. Faith is both hope in God’s promises for the future and conviction, or trust, in all of God’s works that we cannot see.

The pre-confirmation youth and I talked about how God gives us all the faith we need. We don’t have to go out searching for faith. We don’t have to worry about if we have enough. God is the giver of faith and God always provides. This conviction that God has and will give us faith is something in which we can take comfort.

But, that’s not all! Faith is like a muscle. We all have it, but only some of us exercise it. When we exercise our faith, it gets stronger. We can feel it in a more pronounced way. It becomes visible to others. Faith becomes something we think about and engage with through the exercise of worship, prayer, scripture reading, service and life together in Christian community.

As I’m passionately discussing exercising faith with our 6th graders, one of them looks up at me and says, “So, basically, pastors are body builders.” Immediately, there was lots of laughter from all of us! But, it is not just pastors who are called to be body builders, it is all of us in this faith community who are called to exercise our faith and coach others along in exercising their faith, too.

I continue to be amazed by the faith of our young people and the ways that God is working in and through them. I’m thankful for all of the teens and adults in our congregation who are serving as body builders of the faith to help our children learn how to exercise their faith muscle. I hope you will prayerfully consider how God might be calling you, too, to get involved in body building in our faith community.

How Much is One Ton of Food?

The calendar has now turned to February, which means that it is time for us to get to work stocking the ECHO food pantry. While we support ECHO’s work and collect for their food pantry throughout the year, February is the month when Abiding Presence takes responsibility for ensuring there is plenty of non-perishable food, toiletries and household products on hand to meet the needs of our neighbors. Stocking the ECHO food pantry is February is a longstanding Abiding Presence tradition. It is also more important than ever as the needs of our neighbors increase.

So, what can you do? Bring food, toiletries and household products each and every time you come to church this month. When you’re at the grocery store stocking your pantry, replacing your shampoo or picking up laundry detergent - buy double and bring one set to church for ECHO. If you’re grabbing cans from your pantry, make sure they haven’t expired. If you have children or grandchildren, take them with you to the store to help shop and then bring the items to the donation bins at the church. It’s a great way to instill a sense of service from a young age.

Our goal is big - ONE TON of food, toiletries and household products! The fact that February is the shortest month of the year doesn’t deter us from setting a big goal. We know that working together we can meet the needs of our neighbors and ensure that the ECHO food pantry is well stocked.

Fund for Leaders

The Church Council and I are excited to share the news that Abiding Presence is launching the “Abiding Presence Lutheran Church Fund for Leaders Scholarship” through the ELCA Fund for Leaders in Mission. The ELCA Fund for Leaders scholarship program supports students of tremendous promise attending ELCA seminaries. By making seminary more affordable, the ELCA Fund for Leaders enables more future ministers to go to seminary and helps them graduate with less debt, empowering those whom God calls into ministry to go and serve as the church needs and the Holy Spirit leads.

As we celebrated our 40th anniversary earlier this year, we remembered the many pastors our congregation has lifted up over the years. We have sent six sons and daughters of the congregation to seminary. As an internship congregation, we have also provided training for six seminarians. Looking to the future, I believe we have several future pastors, deacons and church leaders who we are raising up in our midst.

Rev. Mark Olsen, one of the sons of the congregation who Abiding Presence sent off to serve the larger church as a pastor and now the Associate Director for the ELCA Fund for Leaders, will be will us on Sunday, January 27 at the congregational meeting to celebrate the launch of our Fund for Leaders scholarship. For those of you who would like to visit with Pastor Olsen and his wife, Kari, they will be worshiping with us at the 8:45 a.m. service as well.

On a personal note, this week I will celebrate my 13th anniversary of ordination. When I began seminary in 2002, I received a full tuition Fund for Leaders scholarship. The scholarship was not only allowed me to graduate seminary without having to take out loans, but was also a constant reminder of the support of the whole ELCA of my call to ministry. On the hard days of ministry, I still find strength in the support and financial investment the larger church was willing to pour into me. I live out my ministry hoping that the larger church sees a return in their initial investment in me.  

As I look ahead to another year of ordained ministry serving Abiding Presence, I am also mindful of who will step into my shoes in the future. The need for innovative, faithful and willing pastors to serve ELCA congregations is great. I wonder how the Holy Spirit might be working in the lives of our young people and even, too, our older people to answer that call. One of my seminary classmates was in his early 70s when he began seminary, so you’re never “too old” for the Holy Spirit to call! I believe that in our next 40 years together that we will send off even more people to seminary to serve the larger church as pastors and deacons and I’m delighted that we are taking the steps now to prepare to be able to fund their theological education for the sake of the whole church.

We’ll be talking much more about the “Abiding Presence Lutheran Church Fund for Leaders Scholarship” at the café sessions this weekend and at the annual meeting next Sunday. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to be in touch if you have any questions about it.

Supporting Each Other and the Community
Nadia and I took advantage of the nice weather one afternoon this past week to scooter together around the neighborhood on our scooters. She was only a little bit faster than I was up the hill!

Nadia and I took advantage of the nice weather one afternoon this past week to scooter together around the neighborhood on our scooters. She was only a little bit faster than I was up the hill!

As some of you may have heard, I had some minor post-holiday foot surgery to take care of an old injury that flared up and wouldn’t heal on its own. At this point, I’m well on the way to recovery with the minor inconvenience of not getting around quite as easily as I normally do. I’m back in the office and leading worship and looking forward to seeing all of you.

While I’m always grateful to be part of our amazing faith family, I’m especially grateful in times like these. Having so many offers for help from people who I knew I could call on was invaluable. Thank you!

Here at Abiding Presence, we’re always looking for ways to support each other and the community. We’re excited to be launching a new support group this month for parents and caregivers of children with ADHD that is affiliated with CHADD, a national ADHD organization. The first meeting will be Thursday, January 24 at 7:00 p.m. and is open to people in the church and community. The support group was the idea of one of our members who was looking to connect with other parents of children with ADHD. Abiding Presence was happy to help provide encouragement and resources to make the group a reality.

Our Parents of Teens Group will also resume meeting this month on Wednesday, January 23 at 7:00 p.m. This group is facilitated by a licensed social worker from the community who comes in to provide conversation and guidance for parents raising teenagers. We also host a monthly Metal Health Family Support Group facilitated by a pastoral counselor.

If you have an idea for a way that we can better support one another and you’re willing to help take a lead in making it happen, please reach out to me. The church and I are here to provide encouragement and resources. I’d love to see a relaunch of our meal ministry to provide meals to members of the congregation who may be recovering, grieving or welcoming a new family member. I also know there are plenty of other support groups that might be helpful for us to launch or community groups with which we can connect. There are lots of possibilities, we just need people with a bit of time and passion.

What if...

Like some of you, I’m in the frantic stages of shopping, wrapping decorating and preparing for Christmas. I envy those of you who have had your gifts wrapped and under the tree for weeks. Right now, I wish I was you! I may have started listening to Christmas carols in mid-November, but I didn’t get wrapping until just this past week.

In the midst of all of the preparations as both a pastor and a mom, we had not one but two families with whom we have worked throughout the year approach us to help provide Christmas gifts for their children. Many thanks to all of you who jumped in to help in the midst of your own family preparations! As a church family, we were able to provide gifts for nine children in two families in addition to all of the toys we collected for ECHO’s Christmas shop.

Working with these two families, I’m mindful of the needs of our neighbors for resources. We have amazing social ministry organizations in our community such as ECHO, the Lamb Center, the Shepherd Center and others, too, who support families and seniors throughout the year. But…those organizations cannot possibly meet all the needs of our all neighbors on their own.

As we prepare to head into the new year, one of the things I ear God calling us to do is to find more opportunities to provide resources to those in our faith family and to our neighbors through our community center, especially in regards to health and wellness. The possibilities for us are endless! A parish nurse, a social worker, trained volunteers from the congregation who are willing to help our “walk in" neighbors get connected to social services. What if we had trusted therapists on site and provided childcare for parents during their appointments? What if we expanded the support groups we offer to provide one for caregivers and/or a grief support group? What if…?

I invite you to start dreaming, praying and listening to God about how we as a church can continue to best provide for the needs of our faith family and our neighbors. Come the new year, I’d love to share a cup of coffee and hear your ideas. We have such an amazing congregation, that the possibilities of how we might expand our ministries really are endless. So, if you have some time and/or some passion, start dreaming and praying!