Transitions and Transformation
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Transformation abounds in the natural world around us as spring takes hold, especially in these last few days as trees explode with new leaves. We bid winter goodbye, grateful that it was nothing like the one before. We welcome all the warmer, brighter and greener changes that come with spring in New England. Late April and early May visibly mark the transition from one season to another.
Transitions and transformations are also happening now at Saint Paul, particularly among our staff and interns.
I’m sad to share the news that Megan Getman is leaving our congregation after three wonderful years as our Director of Children, Youth and Families and as our parish administrator. She has accepted a full time position as Director of Children's Ministry at Westlake United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas and joins her friend and seminary classmate, Lisa Straus, who is the associate pastor there. Westlake is a large, thriving congregation and Megan will join a staff of 15! Her last Sunday here comes soon on May 22 when we will give thanks for her ministry among us and pray for her new life in Austin.
We are grateful for Megan’s ministry which has encompassed much of the life of the congregation in two jobs. Her care and competencies have ranged from overseeing the Christian education of our children and youth to the administrative tasks of preparing Sunday worship bulletins, publishing the weekly E-news, and most recently creating a new picture directory. Her love for children and her contributions to the life of our congregation have manifested themselves in countless ways over the last three years.
Megan’s good work here has also brought much learning so that she is well prepared to move into full-time ministry with children in a congregation blessed to receiver her.
The personnel committee in consultation with the church council will plan for a time of transition and begin a search for new candidates.
I am happy to share the news that our internship ministry is going strong.
Vicar Alissa was at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago last week and received a recommendation for faculty approval, one of the last couple of steps toward ordination. In addition to submitting her approval essays to the seminary, all her evaluations from St. Paul have been sent with the highest recommendations. She came as an intern and leaves as a pastor.
I am also happy to share the news that a new intern has been assigned to us in Alex Clark, also from the seminary in Chicago and a native of South Dakota. As seminary enrollment is down and interns harder to get, we are blessed to receive Alex at the end of August.
Almost all seminaries, particularly our Lutheran ones, are in a time of transition and transformation which will have significant implications for the church. Here is Bishop Hazelwood’s Easter letter to our synod with his pastoral concerns accompanied by sobering charts and graphs.
I believe that transitions of all kinds are ripe for sensing the transforming work and presence of God.
I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body
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Less than three short months ago we celebrated the birth of Christ. There is no way to tell this story without the physical reality of a mother giving birth to the body of a vulnerable, dependent human being. Incarnation, or becoming flesh, is the point of how God enters into the world and our lives.
Now, in the way the church year unfolds, Jesus is full grown at some 33 years old. And his body is still at the center of the story. He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, shares a meal with his friends, washes their feet with his hands, kneels in a garden, is nailed to a cross and placed in a tomb. His body, and each of ours, matter enormously--now and somehow in the life to come.
The gospel writers went to some lengths to affirm both the mystery of the resurrection and the physicality of it. The risen Christ could be seen and heard, touched and talked to--in a room, on a road, along the shore. They wanted to make sure Jesus resurrection wasn't just a good idea.
It is precisely the bodily-ness of John Updike's poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” that I love. If you’re going to believe, Updike seems to say, then believe. Stop trying to soften the edges of Christian faith or make it more acceptable. And I think he’s right – “modernize” the resurrection – by making it a metaphor or parable or the disciples’ dream or psychological experience – and you lose something essential not just of the story but of the very promise of God to remake everything as real and tangible and alive as God made it in the first place.
Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
I am convinced that there is another dimension to our existence, another way of seeing, another consciousness, and it is not simply beyond death but here and now. As the French poet Paul Eluard put it, “There is another world, and it is in this one.”
Blessed Holy Week and Easter, Ross
Lack of Indifference, Making Our Lives More Difficult
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The Ash Wednesday Confession of Sin enables us to tell the truth about ourselves. One of the acknowledgements, "Our indifference to injustice and cruelty," has stayed with me since then. I am an avid reader of the news and often find that my indifference is a defense mechanism against so much bad/sad news. It can also be an antidote for compassion fatigue. One of the hazards and illusions of living in the United States is that it seems that we are far from the worst of what is happening in the world. The greater the distance the less I need to care about it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss but indifference is indeed deadly. It is a catalyst for numbness and self-absorption. Indifference might be as bad as or worse than the injustice and cruelty about which we are indifferent. Caring takes work, engages the heart and the mind, enlivens the soul, and changes the world near and far.
Today happens to be the saint day of Martin Luther. Saints' days are their death days and Luther had to call it quits 470 years ago. Thirty years before he died he found himself increasingly troubled and even distressed about the state of his church. It seemed oblivious to almost everything we confess on Ash Wednesday: unfaithfulness, pride, hypocrisy, apathy, self-indulgence, indifference, exploitation, negligence, not to mention how many of these sins crystallized in the sale of indulgences. Luther would name them all as he began his protest and the Protestant Reformation. He ushered in a world of trouble and made the lives of those around him exceedingly difficult. He compared the Word of God to a surgeon's scalpel. There is no healing without hurting.
Three hundred years later Søren Kierkegaard would go after the comfortable but corrupt Danish Church with his protests. He often noted that many smart people in his day had blessed others by inventing many labor-saving devices. Kierkegaard felt called to a different path, the way of the cross: he declared himself a preacher devoted to making everyone's life more difficult.
Pope Francis is on to something big when he calls the church to fast from indifference. In his annual Lenten message, the pope writes, “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.” His message is well worth reading! He often quotes the early Christian mystic John Chrysostom who said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” In a world where so much time and effort is spent on enriching ourselves, Francis names one of the greatest issues of our time: the globalization of indifference.
In this season of lent, I pray for much less indifference and more of a troubled spirit so that I might suffer for the sake of others, and raise a voice in protest.
Top Ten Reasons to Come to the Annual Meeting this Sunday!
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from Pastor Ross Goodman and President Maile Hedlund
When I (Ross) was in college I started a new club (SCUBA [Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus] diving). To get official standing (and some money) we needed a constitution, officers, and a faculty advisor. So I wrote one, making me president, and three others officers (V.P., treasurer, secretary). Thankfully, we had six members! It was approved, and off we went for cave diving in Florida on spring break! Our advisor was a Professor and M.D., experienced and enthusiastic about diving (especially in caves). All that boring stuff legitimized us, and that constitution made sure we had leaders and accountability (and some safety, because cave diving is dangerous).
Constitutions are not the most exciting documents one can read but they have the important function of ordering the life of an institution or state. Church constitutions might be the most unexciting of all. Ours tells us to have an annual meeting and elect people to offices and vote on a balanced budget among other things.
Ok, we could not come up with a top ten list of reasons to come. That would be overdoing it. How about five?
- Come because we have much to celebrate as a thriving, joyful community of faith! And there is room to hear thoughts and concerns about our life and ministry.
- Come because we need a quorum of at least 30 confirmed members so that we can legitimately vote on a few important matters, especially a balanced budget which is no small feat.
- Come because we need to elect a few people to leadership positions, including two for church council. Find out who got nominated and accepted! Maybe someday we will have a run off, but not this year.
- Come because there are some good snacks at coffee hour before the meeting and it’s not that hard to stick around for another 30 minutes or so. One worship service at 9:30 means we can all be together and meet afterwards at about 10:45.
- Come because you read the award winning annual report. Many of the writers are offering to sign your copy and pose for a picture.
We look forward to being together this last Sunday in January, grateful that God has provided for our life together for another year.
Faithfully, Ross and Maile
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For the most part, I have come to enjoy interruptions. As much as I cherish the familiar and expected, a supervisor told me long ago when I was an pastoral intern that interruptions in the work of ministry are truly the work of ministry. "Pay attention," he said, "to the interruptions because God is often at work in them." Ministry in the Meantime is now a favorite topic of conversation I often have with our interns.
I've come to love interruptions because they are one of God’s preferred modes of engaging us. The word interruption means, literally, “something that breaks in between.” We often experience interruptions as a nuisance or worse, when it may be that God is trying to break into our lives.
In the Christmas story, it is remarkable how the characters respond to having their lives interrupted. For instance, Mary’s plans to marry are interrupted by an angel who tells her that she is about give birth to the Son of the Most High, even though she is little more than a child herself. How does she respond to this interruption of her plans? She sings a song of praise.
I have held this understanding close in Advent, and especially now as Christmas arrives. Our world and our lives need the intervention of God's interruptions, even if they feel like a disruption or a breaking apart. Either God is in them or can use them to enter in so that new life is born. We would do well to pay closer attention.
As Advent turns into Christmas let us pray, “God, don’t listen to us when we ask not to be interrupted. Break in. Break in.”
May the interrupting God break into our lives in and may we all respond with openness and delight.