Juneau Alaska's Evangelical Lutheran Church of America downtown community dedicated to the Spiritual growth in Christ and service to all people.
Summer is here. Those three months of more sunshine, warmth, rain and that need to get outside and escape that cabin fever of the winter. God’s creation renewing life and another generation. Renewing life is what Resurrection is all about. It’s our mission, as Jesus gives us his promises of grace and love to share. It’s freedom from all that would bind us from being less than God intends for the human family. And its opportunities.
Our summer opportunity is to consider issuing a call to ministry for a new pastor. Not hiring a new pastor. To be “called” is to hear the voice of God speaking to us in this time and place. As a pastor, I have always considered myself part of a chain of pastors. I have a parish for a while and I build on what others have done and hopefully, when that call is completed, the parish has moved a bit further down the road in a healthy manner and has responded to the needs of the moment. I always resist the temptation to call it “my church” because it’s God’s church and it’s the church of the people. While one has to provide leadership, guidance, counsel, correction, care and learning, it is still up to the congregation to be the people of God. And that is every individual’s baptismal call to serve their Lord and Savior. We share the call of Christ.
When we put together a Call Committee, it’s a spiritual exercise. Do the people on the committee have the humility to serve the congregation and put aside what they personally would like? Can the people work together in love and unity? Do we mind our tongues (cf. the book of James) to keep the process filled with integrity? And do we see this as God’s work and not our own?
A Call Committee is also the face of Resurrection. The first contact with a potential pastor. A happy, joyful committee makes one impression. One that sits back with a frown and arms folded across the chest is another. Are we open or closed? Free or bound? Worried about the future or full of confidence in God’s mission for Juneau? When I’ve interviewed with congregations, the Call Committee alone has sometimes made me close the door to a future with them, just because of the impressions I picked up. For example. . .
One congregation interviewed in a messy and disorganized fellowship hall. Made the impression that they were too depressed to keep the building clean and up to date. Another congregation started out with “Do you believe Adam and Eve were real people?” even though the bishop had asked them not to do that. Apparently one patriarch of the congregation thought he alone was the gatekeeper for the theology of the congregation, rather than a mutual student of the Word, a disciple like us all. That was a no, because there was an issue of authority that was unresolved and the ELCA doesn’t see that as the only important question to ask of Genesis. Still another congregation made it clear that they weren’t interested and had already made their mind up on who they wanted. Who wants to be second best? Another congregation never mentioned Jesus. Still another showed me a huge furnace deep in the basement and wanted to know how I could fix it. I thought, I would pick up a phone. Another gave the clear impression that they were there to judge the pastor rather than being in a mutual ministry together. And one had little energy to show as far as what they were doing to help others. Still another telegraphed the congregation didn’t trust the call committee. And there was a Skype interview where the only person you could see was a chairperson who never smiled!
Call Committees work both ways. They are our way to see if there is a good fit for a new pastor. But they are also the one window that we open to let someone see what Resurrection is really like. What our heart and soul is all about. Pray for the Call Committee and our Transition Team. Support their work this summer. God is calling. Opportunities abound. Faith is always about the future, not the past. — Pastor Mark
Greetings as we move in the cruise ship season! It’s been fun to see the docks being washed down, new streets under construction and people scurrying about, fixing things for the season. More boats in the channel as the fishing season is coming up and shake down trips are in order. Our bears are out and about and bird songs filter through the neighborhood. It is such a blessing to see life abundant rising from winter darkness.
We had a wonderful Lent and Easter here at Resurrection. It is a joy to be able to sing “Jesus Christ is Ris’n Today” with the congregation, isn’t it? The happiness of being together, the great Easter Brunch and the bells ringing out made for a memorable festival! And we had some wonderful sharing of our faith during the Wednesday night Soup and Bread meetings. Thank you to all for pulling together! All for the good.
Behind the scenes we are working on putting together our Transition Team as the council came up with a list of people to ask. They will be working on our behalf to put together our Ministry Site Profile (the MSP) in the next month. We are continuing our congregational work on answering the questions that the Team will put together as their report. Things are moving forward.
And as we go to press, the Alaska Synod is meeting. The ELCA pastors of our state meet at the Shrine this year to share ideas, listen to continuing education, be with the synod staff and re-energize for the year following Lent and Easter. It’s a good time to get a wider perspective on the work among Lutherans in Alaska. We share a ministry in Alaska, one that is unique. The distances involved puts many pastors alone in their calling. To come together is a great privilege and joy. As one pastor wisely said, “Jesus sent his disciples out into the world two by two. Ministry is too important to do alone.” Thank you for that support each year.
One area that we lift up is our identity. What does it mean to be a Lutheran? Keeping the God given voice of reason and faith alive is important. We are all buffeted and shaken by an odd convergence of events surrounding our churches. The generation shift that always happens makes for interesting times. We have social pressures from drug and alcohol abuse that need our work. Food security is a need, as well as shelter and just plain safety. Education is feeling the stress of uncertain funding. Family life is sometimes under strain. And many of the needed safeguards for the environment, fairness and justice that were developed in the past 50 years are now under attack in our society. That is just part of the puzzle that is before us as a congregation. Add to that the age old issues of race, sex, justice and security and you have a world that is moving fast and yet seems to slip away from a deeper moral or ethical discussion. The Word of God is not silent on such matters, but biblical illiteracy is higher now than it has been. Churches are a place of moral discernment.
It is a shame that organized religion is no longer trusted. Faith communities are one of the few widespread organizations that work in these areas of greatest need. Without the work and voice of the church, doing God’s will in the world, we would be poorer and human nature would quickly go to the lowest common dominator of greed and self-centered pursuits. While we in the church have certainly done things worthy of repentance, we also have a calling to work for the common good in this world. To lift up Jesus Christ is also to lift up what he taught. It’s good to raise that up when people make comments about churches.
We are resurrection people. We rise up. We do the work that God has us do. We shake off compliancy and do not tire of doing good. As we look forward in the next months, getting busy calling a new pastor to live among us, remember how difficult that work has become in the last 50 years. Things are moving and we will be responding with faith in God. There is a future before us—and our community are going to be asking Resurrection for help. Pray that the Lord will send willing workers for the harvest! - Pastor Mark
Easter is just around the corner. New life. Risen. Totally new directions. Spring. Flowing streams and waterfalls. Bird songs in the air. Life abundant rising. Nothing can be the same after Easter….nothing!
Yet, we all know the other reality. We live in the other kingdom too. Here on earth, we confess that we don’t often take Easter into account when we do the daily things of life. Death and resurrection may be a great thing to consider for a funeral, but doing it in our daily living? Too morbid?
For a congregation that is in transition, it should be our rallying cry! We must die in order to live. That is the Christian way! We are working together through some important questions. Important things to consider for the future of Resurrection….which, by the way, is an Easter name after all!
So, what do you want to die at Resurrection, so that we might live and be resurrected? That requires some careful thinking. We should not depend on past momentum, assumptions or even previous plans to govern our future. Things change. I used a fishing boat metaphor last month, so let me use a railroad one this month. I lived in Billings, Montana, which started as a village built on the hope that the railroad would pass through it. So they named the city after the head of the railroad! He never visited the city named after him, but it was a bold move to get his attention. A bit transparent, right? But they realized that being a hub of activity and transportation was the future. Until the coal stopped being economical and safe and the Bakken oil fields slowed down. Then a basic problem with railroads became clear.
They can only go where the rails were laid down a hundred years ago. There is no flexibility to go anywhere else. What were sure bets on the future when the rails were built suddenly became ghost towns. Airplanes were faster.
Churches tend to run on rails. What worked in the past is what we assume will work in the future, if we just do it better or stronger. But what if the rails we run on aren’t as useful? If the rails were laid down in response to things that are no longer around? One thing that underscores this is a building. Ours represents the best that the congregation after the fire could do. But it also represents their dreams, their feelings about the future of Resurrection. We inherit some decisions made in the 1950s and the mid-1970’s. You can walk into any church and see what the generation that built it hoped for. Their dream still is there, laid down in bricks and mortar.
Now, Easter. If we believe that Easter brings us new life every single year it rolls around—the old is dead and in the tomb, Christ is Risen! Now, what are we going to do with that? What if the new world is more about relationships and not so much about church buildings? How would we arrange our ministry? What guiding principles would be our light for the future? What are the core values we take on as a group? What if engaging the world is as much a priority as worship? What if being a safe place for people of all ages to gather is as important as the walls we maintain? What does a quality mission and revitalized ministry look like at Resurrection?
What if we turned the church inside out and asked not if it was good for us, but was good for the world and our neighbors? What if the guiding principle was not if we liked it, but if it was God pleasing and good for our world? Would our future change if we placed the church on a different track with a new pastor? Yet. . . will it really change if we don’t change first? And change is to believe it’s OK to have some things in me die so that I, we, might live.
Easter is Resurrection’s name! New life springs from the tomb. Those first disciples realized nothing was the same! They had a wonderful heritage, but life needed to spring forth, living waters, light in the darkness….all the words they used pointed that new direction. Engage the world. Claim God’s future. Baptized into that life, we live. Through Lent and into Easter’s joy! Into the new life! —Blessed Easter, Joy to You1 Pastor Mark
Lent is a wonderful time for the faith. A time to batten down the hatches, reef the sails, drop anchor and get down to basics. To stop the journey of life for forty days and think about how we are living out the words of Jesus Christ. Lent is our safe harbor in the strong winds of change, challenge and commitment. And we know that by the time we are done with Holy Week, Easter’s sunshine and fair winds will speak to us in new ways.
Lent comes from the word that is very close to our English word “lengthen” as in the days are getting longer and we are moving from the darkness into light and new life. I remember driving in rural Washington and as we exchanged pulpits for the season, getting the wonderful feeling that the light was returning. We started in darkness and we end with light.
As we stop in the safe harbor of our faith, we examine how we are doing. Personally, we take a good look at our faith in Jesus and how it’s doing. As a church, we will be working on our mission profile, as we work together on what we will be asking the next pastor to bring to us as gifts and vision. The way we will do it is to fill out a simple survey each Sunday. We’ll be asked about what things are really important for us and what we are doing in Juneau. What tasks and gifts do we excel at doing and what do we find not as important. The surveys will take us through Easter as we look at one question each Sunday. The transition team will then collect all our thoughts and start to put them on the Ministry Site Profile form, with maybe some follow up meetings. That is the task, so we invite you to come and worship! It’s really important always, but in the next months, as we put together what we are looking for in our mission, it’s vital that we get as many opinions as possible.
The Ministry Site Profile (MSP) is important for us in more than a few ways. First of all, the process of putting it together helps us think about why we are here and what our future dreams are about. It’s too easy in a congregation to repeat each year without really thinking. Are we are meeting the needs of our community? It may be working for those who are already here, but what about reaching out to new people? What areas need to be more flexible? How has the world changed in the last ten years?
Secondly, the MSP will guide our bishop and synod staff in finding us a good match for the future. There are thousands of pastors in the ELCA. The MSP will be the most vital document in the whole process, because it proclaims what the majority in our congregation are dreaming for when they think about a new pastor.
The third way it’s important is that it’s the most important calling card for the interviews. A candidate for the call will be looking over what we say in the MSP with a fine tooth comb. We want to be honest in our comments, but also realistically positive in how we present ourselves and our ministry. “If God is for us, who can be against us” sort of thinking. If there are any issues that we need to be upfront about with a new pastor, then we can and should say that. But it’s also the time to let us dream the Gospel dreams of what we can do together.
That’s why Lent is a great time to do this. A time to reflect on what we are all about. A time to seek the light in the darkness. We have to do battle with our own natures in the faith. We have to struggle against the darkness, against sin and against the powers and principalities that have control over us. So that God’s kingdom will prevail and this world can find compassion and love. Life is very unpredictable. People are merely human. But the one thing I think that congregations want, more than anything else, is love. Can a new pastor love us as a congregation? Can we trust and love a new pastor? Is there joy in the darkness? Good Lenten questions! Love to all in Jesus Christ, Pastor Mark
Welcome to 2017. And the time between Christmas and Lent, Epiphany. For the curious, Easter is on tax weekend this year, April 16th. Not real late, not real early either. So that gives us a little bit of breathing room to dive into what we are going to be doing in the next chapter of our congregation. More on that inside the Risen Son. I hope that all of us get involved in the process and form a clear consensus on the future. The process only works as well as we all commit to it.
In the meantime, life does go on. Let me share a little bit about Martin Luther King, Jr. on this page. We celebrate his work with a national holiday this month and he is also one of the Lutheran people we are to remember in our worship as a renewer of society and a martyr of the faith (LBW, page 10). I grew up in the 1960s and the year 1968 was as uncertain a year as I could imagine. Martin Luther King was a part of the news and I was certainly aware of the protest marches and the evils of segregation and racism. However, I really got to know Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma and took a month long course on his life. I read his letters, essays and books. I met a keen mind on those pages, one that was well read and educated. I saw a passion for the Kingdom of God, not just a political movement. He was first and foremost, a preacher of the Gospel. He had a gift of seeing the heart of the Jesus preaching and then applying it to the mainstream American culture. We have not had someone do that for us since.
What made his message so effective is that he placed a wager that the American public had a positive moral center. That when the public saw peaceful American citizens, men, women and children, attacked by racism they would respond. The dogs of Bull Conner attacking non-violent marchers, the bombing of the church and deaths of children in Sunday School, freedom riders. . . They put our moral behavior as a society under the spotlight. And as a nation we were properly horrified to see it on our black and white television screens. Church going people were filled with hate and racism in the deep South. We failed in the love of Christ. We had a moral compass regardless of our religion or lack of religion—that compass said this was not right. Many Lutheran clergy joined Rev. Dr. King on his marches, including one that my wife Elaine worked for while I was at Luther seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In the last years of his life, MLK turned toward much broader concerns. The subtle racism in the northern half of the country. The poverty that divided the nation into classes of haves and have nots. The problem of the Vietnam war. Injustice in the labor laws. He brought theological, faith based thinking into these problems and it wasn’t always well received. It’s always nice to see other people misbehave, there is a certain moral indignation that feels good. It’s a far different problem when it is your neighbors, friends, family and even maybe yourself. And he also faced opposition from this own community, as some thought he was too accommodating and slow to move. His firm belief in non-violence was being tested by the more violent elements.
So on January 16th, let us remember that sin is not private and individual. As the prophets of Israel spoke, both blessings and curses can also be among us in the masses. God’s Kingdom still needs voices and hands to do its work on earth. Faith active in love is an amazing thing for the good of the world.
A new church year starts with Advent. And for a congregation that is working in transition toward a new chapter in its history, Advent is a good place to start. It's a journey. Through time, toward a goal, patiently believing that something good is going to be coming. Trusting in a promise by God. We are on our way.
When you fly a plane, there are tools that you use to navigate. A map, with a straight line drawn to our destination and a stopwatch is the most basic. Then came a way of tuning in an AM radio station and homing in on that signal. You got to New York listening to the Yankees playing. Then we had ground stations that sent out signals, radials that you could use like a highway. Then Loran-C with chains of distant radio antennas and computer timing. Finally, GPS with atomic clocks timing that exact amount of time it takes a signal from outer space to be received and calculating where in the world we are. Now even a private puddle jumper using a smartphone has more information in the cockpit than the airliners did in the 1950s. There isn't much room to wonder... if you are wondering, you are probably lost! Journey is pretty much according to plan.
But what would it mean to be wondering if you had lost your bearings? Advent's journey reminds us that the promises God made are true, even if generations and generations didn't see it happen in their lifetime. They kept the course, they stayed true. They didn't waver in believing that something better was around the corner. They passed the faith on to their children and grandchildren. This is the way. Yet, hundreds of years is a long time to keep the faith. Patient faithfulness.
Advent always seems to be a time to wonder. Can we stay the course? What would it be like to be a part of a faithful group of people, under oppression and domination, still clinging to truths revealed by the ancient prophets? They deeply believed a Messiah would come. They believed the words of hope. Even when things looked bleak and without a future, they had faith. Advent asks if we would please walk awhile alongside these ancient people. And imagine what a world with distant hope would feel like.
When a congregation is in the interim time, we do a lot of imagination work. To get started, we have to look back into our history and wonder. An advent sort of work. What did we learn from events in the past? What good things happened to propel the mission forward? What mistakes were done that need repentance and forgiveness? What have we learned? What do we need to forget? What do we take on the journey and what do we really need to leave behind?
After Christmas we'll start that process. In the meantime, we reflect on Christmas peace, joy and good will. And waiting for better things to happen. And we have faith. We encourage each other to come to church and worship. We journey toward a future with hope in each step. And we watch each step to walk in faith, seeking justice and what is right. And we walk forward with peace in our hearts. After all, angels will be singing great joy to us soon!