Beginning with God

Clifford Green

By Clifford Green
June 22, 2016

  I often wonder about beginning our worship with the confession of sin. Not that we shouldn’t, but right at the beginning of the service? Is sin what God is most interested in? Surely God is more interested in faith and loving our neighbors. Or maybe it’s not even about us in the first place, but about God and God’s purposes.
  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the first words were not about us, but about God: “hallowed be thy name.” And what does that old-fashioned word “hallowed” mean? It means to honor and respect, to revere, to glorify and worship. Of course, that’s very different from the casual, mindless way the name of God is mentioned countless times every day – not “hallowed be thy name” but “oh my God” or simply “OMG” in Twitterspeak. Anyway, the second thing Jesus taught us, after honoring and glorifying God, is to pray “thy kingdom come.” Another old-fashioned word, not used much in a democratic republic. But the meaning is clear – we are praying for the reign of God, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are not praying that God will sanctify our status quo, even a much improved status quo. We are praying for the fulfillment of all human history, for the kingdom of Jesus the Messiah, the kingdom of ultimate shalom, the kingdom of God’s perfect justice and peace, God’s love and truth.
  Then, once we have focused our thoughts on God’s glory and goodness, and God’s loving kingdom, we should indeed pray “and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
  Churches don’t change liturgies quickly, and rightly so. But perhaps we could begin with a reminder that Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, as in this verse from Psalm 118: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

Clifford Green joined St. Paul two years ago after a twenty-year membership at Resurrection Lutheran Church, Roxbury. He edited several volumes of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition and currently serves as Bonhoeffer Chair Scholar at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

An Invitation to Join in “Accepting Success”

By Melissa Brown
June 2, 2016
     I recently saw a quote that gave me pause.  It read, “A mother’s job is to teach her children to not need her anymore. The hardest part of that job is accepting success.”  I suspect other mothers have wrestled with this concept – as I have - during the different stages of parenting and various life events of our children.
     This weekend as my younger son, Colton, is confirmed with two other youth from St. Paul that phrase seems fitting. This Sunday will be a joyous celebration as the confirmands confess their faith before the congregation.  They will be continuing their faith formation which began with Baptism and consciously making the choice to deepen their understanding of and involvement in St. Paul’s community of faith.
     I can’t claim this as a personal success because I didn’t do it alone – the St. Paul community has played a significant role in Colton’s decision to confirm his faith.  Our family was truly blessed to find St. Paul 20+ years ago.  When my husband Mike and I joined the congregation we were ready to start a family.  We chose St. Paul because it was a place where we believed our children would grow in Christ – and they did.
     The congregation we joined then is focused on the same thing now – a strong Christian Education program for children and youth of all ages.  Both of my sons enjoyed participating in Godly Play (Colton was known for enthusiastically proclaiming “Let the feast begin!” in his classes), Children’s Church and Christmas Pageants in their early years, and confirmation instruction in their teen years.  Our family has fond memories of the boys in sheep and shepherd costumes and we know that the various Christian Education experiences, both formal and informal, have helped to shape their faith and their desire to be part of a vibrant faith community.
     In a time where going to church or being a practicing member of an organized religion seems to be more and more out of vogue I am grateful for the spiritual foundation Colton (and Trevor) have built at St. Paul.  Join me this Sunday in “accepting success!"

Racial Justice

During Lent this year we have been exploring racial justice in the Adult Forum, and I would like to invite all of you into this journey. It’s important for us to have this conversation on many levels: at St. Paul, in the ELCA, and in our nation. Last June, the country was horrified when nine people who were African-American were shot and killed at a mid-week Bible study at their church in Charleston. It felt more personal to me when I learned that two of the ministers who were killed, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Rev. Daniel Simmons, were graduates of an ELCA seminary (Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in North Carolina). The killer, Dylann Storm Roof, was a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Columbia, SC. He reportedly attended church regularly, at least as a child, and went to an ELCA summer camp, which was perhaps a lot like Calumet. This news set me on a personal journey to gain a better understanding of racism in myself, our church, and our country. I feel called to share this work with others, so I am writing this article and asking you to participate by watching these videos, reading these articles, questioning your own assumptions, and reflecting on and praying about how we might work together for racial justice.

In November, the women’s book group read and discussed Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving, a white woman who grew up in Winchester and still lives in the Boston area. In her book, she describes how she came to understand what it means and has meant historically to be white in the United States. Her book is an excellent place for white people to start to understand systemic racism in our country, but first watch her TED Talk.

Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is an article was written by Peggy McIntosh, a white researcher at the Stone Center at Wellesley College. She wrote it as she reflected on her own circumstances as a white woman, and compared them with those of colleagues who were African-American women. It is about the experiences of one white woman in her own place and time, and is not meant to depict the experiences of all white people everywhere, but I’ve found it to be a useful tool to consider how I am privileged in many ways that I didn’t see or understand until recently.

PBS aired a documentary about race in society, science, and history called Race: The Power of an Illusion. All three parts are eye-opening (the series is available through the Minuteman Library Network), but "The House We Live In" is by far the best and most powerful. Housing in the US became increasingly segregated after World War II, due to the denial of GI Bill benefits to many black soldiers returning, and the way that it was written into law. Learn more from this clip from “The House We Live In.”

Watch this TED talk, “How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them,” given by VernāMyers, a dynamic and thought-provoking speaker who works as a lawyer and diversity educator. She has some suggestions for us about specific things we can do to become aware of our biases and overcome them.

The whole "Black Lives Matter" idea has been extremely controversial. Many white people see it as a divisive slogan, but I think that it’s important to understand it from the perspective of black Americans. The reason why the expression Black Lives Matter is important is that for our entire history, black lives have usually not mattered as much as white lives. "All Lives Matter" is experienced as racist by many African-Americans, because it erases black lives again. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is not saying “White Lives Don’t Matter,” or “Only Black Lives Matter.” If all lives matter, then it is true that black lives matter, and we need to be able to say that. (Jesus told a parable about the Good Samaritan, not just the Good Man. It mattered that he was a Samaritan.)

The mass incarceration of black men, is a huge problem in the United States, and we need to figure out how to fix it. Michelle Alexander has written a book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, which I recommend, but start with this article that she wrote in 2010.

Last July, the Pew Research Center published a study, “How Racially Diverse Are U.S. Religious Groups?” I was surprised to find out that the ELCA is almost the least diverse religious organization in the country; we are 96% white. Of course that’s because we are a church that was formed by white German and Scandinavian immigrants, but I’ve been wondering what it means for us as a denomination in an increasingly pluralistic society and for those among us who aren’t white. Pastor Tiffany Chaney, an ELCA mission developer, wrote a blog post, “Living Lutheran: My Story,” about what it has been like for her to be African American and Lutheran. I think it is our responsibility to listen to her voice, and the voices of others who have been hurt in our church. Please read her powerful and moving message.

I hope that you will explore this material, watching the videos and reading the articles. I encourage you to reflect on and pray about these two questions as we move forward together. Please contact me if you want to discuss anything I covered in this article, or about racism and racial justice.

  • In reflecting on the work we have done so far during this Lenten season, what implications do you see for yourself both individually and for St. Paul in answering the call to confront the sin of racism?”
  • What is one concrete action that you individually and we as a congregation can take to dismantle racism?


Susan Lee

Many thanks to Vicar Alissa Oleson for her help in planning the Adult Forum series on racial justice, to Cathy Venkatesh and Pastor Rebecca Bourret (Christ Lutheran Church, Natick) for their ideas, and to Pastor Tiffany Chaney for permission to use her blog post, and for her witness and ministry.


Men's Bible Study

As I was thinking about starting a Bible study at St. Paul, one of my initial thoughts was how I had wanted to read the entire Bible before I turned 50. I’m almost 55 and that goal is yet to be reached. After careful thought, a more modest and reasonable goal for the St. Paul Bible study was to read just the New Testament. I had thought that this would be the equivalent of reading a third of the Bible, but it is actually more like reading just over 20% (259 pages of 1,215 in a text only Bible that I have). This goal certainly seemed more attainable.

In forming the Bible Study, the more difficult decision was to make the Bible Study specifically for men. Being an inclusive-type of Christian guy, I generally want to be more inviting, welcoming and gathering of all (not just toward one gender). And yet, my gut told me that making this space particularly for men could provide a needed opportunity for men to communicate openly about their faith and the role it plays in their lives.

The goal for reading one chapter a day, Monday through Friday, and discussing every Sunday morning at 8:45 has been quite manageable. While I strive to read every morning, that sometimes is not possible. One week, I read three chapters Thursday night, one Friday morning and the last Saturday morning. Reading five chapters could even be done in one sitting of about an hour and a half, but there’s something about the daily discipline of reading the Word, which makes me more aware of being a Christian all week and not just over the weekend.

On Sundays, we gather to discuss the previous week’s readings. Currently, there are four of us who meet for regular discussion, and each one of us is reading a different translation. Although we did not intentionally plan to do that, we are gaining new insights with the differing choice of words. We started with Mark (one Bible titled the chapter- “The Messiah in Motion”) and are now reading Acts (entitled “A Book of Amazing Adventures!”).

In reading Acts, we are not only learning about the early church, but also what’s important in being a part of a Christian church. As we read about Paul, Silas, Barnabas and other preachers of the Good News, Peter Hedlund noted the importance of preaching to the growth of the church. I cannot help but think about the wonderful preaching we receive at St. Paul. Ross leads the way, but Alissa, Eric, Douglas and Daniel have all given terrific sermons over the past four years. Then, Lionel noted that it was not just preaching, but also what the church was doing for people. Again, I think about St. Paul and how the Social Ministry Committee strives to have us serve others both close and far away.

I have found reading the Bible for myself very rewarding and look forward to the conversation each Sunday. I cannot imagine a better way to spend my time.

Peace be with you, Aurelio

Godly Play @ St. Paul

Godly Play Logo


           When my son Thomas and I were decorating our Christmas tree this year, I pulled out an ornament made from a transparent plastic ball with a couple of tablespoons of sand and some shiny glitter stars visible and flowing around loosely inside. I received this ornament at a Godly Play teacher training session that I attended a few years into my time as a Godly Play storyteller here at St. Paul. The ornament represents the Great Family. The sand and the stars signify all the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, their Great Family promised by God, “as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” (Genesis 22:17) When we tell this story in Godly Play, we recount the life journeys of Abraham and Sarah beginning at Ur, tracing a path in the sand of the desert box as we describe their various stops as they travel through many lands. We report the birth of their son Isaac, his marriage to Rebecca, and the birth of Isaac and Rebecca’s children. We say that this Family grew and grew, until our great grandparents were born, and they had children—our grandparents, who had our parents, who had us. We are all part of the Great Family.
            My ornament also reminds me of my time as a Godly Play storyteller when St. Paul first started using Godly Play. We ran a pilot program during Children’s Church, mostly just telling stories, given the short time. For one of my first stories, I told the parable of the great banquet, in which a landowner sends his servants out into the lanes and byways to invite the marginalized to seats at his table, and his table still has room for more. After each parable, we wonder, “What could this really be?” The sense of wonder that Godly Play fosters in both children and adults drew me in, and ever since, I have always listened to a parable as a gift that contains a deeper meaning buried somewhere inside. Sometimes, the parable remains a closed puzzle, but that’s okay.
            Many stories of God fill the shelves in each Godly Play classroom, and we tell those stories and wonder about them. We may ask, “What part of this story is about you?” But more than that, each room is also filled with symbols and is arranged in subtle ways that have meanings that often remain unspoken. Part of the Godly Play experience is an immersion in a space that evokes the mysterious presence of God, the sense that God is hidden in plain sight. While spending time in a Godly Play classroom, the symbols and meanings seep into us, so that we carry them within us as we journey, like Abraham and Sarah, through our lives. Sometimes they break through to a more conscious awareness, as when I picked up the ornament filled with sand and glitter stars reminding me that all of us at St. Paul belong to the Great Family.
            Godly Play also teaches us a lot about transitions, how frequently they occur on our journeys and how difficult they can be, even the good ones. The Godly Play greeter asks the children if they are ready to go into the classroom, a transition into a special place to be with God. But we also learn that getting ready is a constant process, not just done at a threshold into another room. Getting ready is a part of every transition: before the story, sometimes during the story, before response time, before the feast, for the dismissal. In our lives outside the classroom, we also have many transitions, small ones every day, and larger ones, as loved ones come and go in our lives, as we move, change jobs, and reflect on our lives, just as Abraham and Sarah experienced changes in their lives.
            My Great Family ornament was just one of many gifts I received from Godly Play. Remembering that transitions are inevitable on our journeys, that even small transitions and good changes can be hard, and that God is somehow present, even if I can’t figure out how or where, are also gifts that have remained with me from my time as a Godly Play storyteller. I am glad that Godly Play continues to thrive at St. Paul.

-Bev Hjorth

Sunday Worship

  8:30AM | Worship with Holy Communion (without singing)
  10:30AM | Worship with Holy Communion (with singing and streamed to Facebook)
  11:30AM | Coffee Hour

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