New Members, New Lights, Greener Church

What a joyful, bright and green Sunday this will be.  It seems that all the trees around the church have issued their leaves (and pollen) in the past week.  I've noticed as if for the first time how many beautiful trees we have around the church, not the least of which are the two white birches out front in all their glory. 

The church will be greener on the inside as well.  Almost all the lights in and around the church have been replaced with the latest energy efficient bulbs, thanks to a phenomenal deal from Eversource (formerly NStar).  We expect to cut our electric use by 30% or more.  Look for the newly illuminated tower cross at night which has been out for over a year as we've waited for a good solution to accessing the top of the tower and replace fixtures. 

Best of all is the new life and new light that comes to St. Paul as Clara Miriam Rura is baptized and we welcome in many new members to this beloved congregation. 

A bright future for Saint Paul indeed.

Faithfully and gratefully yours, Ross

Special Challenges/Tragic Events

Forty years ago today Saigon fell and an evacuation of Americans and South Vietnamese left some 177,000 refugees out at sea. A recent PBS documentary showed individuals and families jumping on boats and helicopters with little more than each other and a small suitcase. Ships for 200 had 2000. Saint Paul helped to resettle one of those families after the war.

Last Sunday we heard from Lisa Brennan, Program Manager of Services for New Americans at Ascentria Care Alliance (formerly Lutheran Social Services), that 700 refugees are welcomed to Massachusetts and New Hampshire every year. Her first point was that they are among the 70,000 slots congress approves each year for the whole country. That means Ascentria works with about 10% of all such refugees! They may feel like they won the lottery, but their government support via Ascentria only lasts 90 days and then they are on their own. Ascentria is searching for ways to support them for another 90 days and beyond. Consider trying to start a new life in a new land in six months after months or years of extreme hardship, war and political turmoil.

Last Sunday 60 Minutes aired a segment on the plight of refugees fleeing war and anarchy from around the Middle East and Northern Africa. Thousands launch from lawless Libya via cold-hearted, greedy smugglers. The Italian Coast Guard searches for and rescues as many as they can. Hundreds recently drown when their ship capsized. Imagine seeking safety, having spent your last dime, aboard a rickety boat with no life preservers and your children can't swim.

Fourteen years ago Saint Paul and LSS welcomed some 40 refugees from Sudan, most still children. We accompanied them on their journey through four years through high school and beyond. They had been languishing in a dry and dusty camp in Kenya for almost a decade. That camp had 70,000 people.

Early this morning, a boy was pulled out of the rubble in Nepal after 5 days. Somehow he lived on butter and drank from a damp rag. Given the destruction of the earthquake it might be a wonder that more did not die but it seems that almost no one can go home. The need for food and shelter will last for months. Perhaps some of them will come here to the United States.

These stories bring to mind the sheer misery of people so devastated or persecuted that they will risk everything to get out of their native countries. As I keep them in my thoughts and prayers, it makes my problems seem so small in comparison. Here are five places you can learn more.

  1. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) - one of the largest agencies in the world dedicated to resettling refugees, children and migrants: http://lirs.org/
  2. Ascentria Care Alliance – resettles 700 or more refugees and unaccompanied minors every year here in New England: http://www.ascentria.org/our-services/services-new-americans
  3. RefugePoint – a Boston based organization that does high risk extractions of those who are not able to get out via traditional agencies: http://www.refugepoint.org/
  4. Lutheran World Relief (LWR)--on the ground in Nepal and the place to give aid for earthquake victims: http://www.lwr.org/
  5. Help for our children when they see and hear about tragic events: http://www.fredrogers.org/parents/special-challenges/tragic-events.php

Fred Rogers said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."  May we be among them. May our minds be challenged and our hearts be broken for these fellow human beings, and may our prayers, compassion and generosity bring healing, restoration and peace.

Yours, Ross

Hope

I consider myself a realist, which is to say somewhere between pessimism and optimism. For all the horror and human achievements of the last century, I’m not convinced—15 years in—that this one will turn out much different. For all that I look forward to in the years ahead, I wonder darkly about what the world will look like to my aging grandchildren in the year 2100. Might the end of civilization be clearly in sight for them, or will breakthroughs in technology, politics and human relations pave a way to greater love and peace, prosperity and harmony?

Is the drought in California another sign of a tipping point approaching after which we may not be able to recover? São Paulo is in worse shape. What will coastal flooding and extreme weather tell us over the next 25 years?

Is it me, or has the news of extremism, racism, exceptionalism, wealth disparity, corruption, violence, persecution, and the seemingly never-ending, often escalating conflict in the Middle-east been especially bad these last many months?

Maybe pessimists call themselves realists because they don’t want to admit it. I have to say that I have my moments of despair and lack of hope.

For my lapses into hopelessness, I remain a person of faith who has journeyed through Lent and have come to Holy Week. Tonight we begin to rehearse the holy drama we know well, that for all the bad news in the story, for all the terrible things that happened to Jesus, kindness, compassion and forgiveness prevail. This trinity of being will confront the world of power and authority. A disproportionate section of each gospel is given to the end of Jesus’ life and we remember that in less than a week Jesus was arrested, tried and executed.

And yet Easter comes. We believe that in spite of all the news and evidence to the contrary, God’s Word and power made manifest in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection will prevail. As impossible as it can seem, I hope and believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was right—that the long arc of history is toward freedom, equality, kindness, justice, and love.

And so we become fools for Christ because Jesus was still loving and forgiving even as fellow human beings did their worst. Because of Easter we dare to trust that the resurrection declares God’s ultimate authority and power. Death did not have the last word. The control of empire, hatred, cruelty, and bigotry cracked on that dark Friday because three days later, there was Easter.

Congregational meeting this Sunday

It's Our Church 

When you come to church on a Sunday for worship, perhaps the last think you about is property ownership. I remember some research from the Alban Institute that found that there is a kind of wall that separates members' experience of church and the condition of the church facilities. Years ago my family visited Resurrection Lutheran Church in Roxbury on a Sunday. The congregation was full, with lively worship, a great sermon and buoyant, loving fellowship. The passing of peace is by hugs and lasts ten minutes. The building was leaking and falling down around them. Plaster from the ceiling would sometimes drop in to the communion chalice. One does not contaminate the other. Or, necessarily enhance the other. Another church might have a new multi-million dollar sanctuary but be full of conflict and anger over some controversy.

We are blessed with a congregation and a building on the same page. We have sound, well-maintained buildings that get an extraordinary amount of use. For all the blessings of life together here, it certainly helps to maintain our property and finances--to be good managers or stewards of what God has given us to use.

Church staff and leaders spend a fair amount of time exercising this good stewardship on our behalf so that we can park and pray, meet and worship, eat and sing.

At our last annual meeting on January 25 the congregation passed a balanced budget which included plans for refinancing our mortgage. The basic idea was that this would lower our monthly payments enough to cover the loss of a cell phone contract that suddenly terminated at the end of 2014. The congregation endorsed this plan which now must be executed. The church council has called a congregational meeting for this Sunday to vote on refinancing our mortgage. For the sake of good order our bylaws require this meeting because we own the building (not the synod or other entity), and we must collectively decide about any encumbrances on the property.

Our two greatest expenses are staff and mortgage. Voting on a longer term and lower rate will certainly help with our financial and program stability in the short term. It's important to know, however, that this decision is linked to one of the goals from our 2013 strategic plan which directed us to explore a debt-reduction campaign within three years in order to provide us with greater freedom to do our mission and ministry. This exploration, including the feasibility of such a campaign, is part of the church council's agenda this spring. While a campaign is part of the thinking behind the refinance, it's not anything we are voting on at this meeting.  

I hope and trust it will be a short meeting, but we will take all the time we need to complete the plans announced at the annual meeting.

In other news: the church house is finally ready for inspections after a difficult winter of outside lead abatement, and a family has patiently waited to move into what will officially be "affordable housing." Look for news of an house tour soon. AT&T wireless is sending us a new 30 year lease with higher monthly payments and we continue to hear that Verizon wireless still has us on their list as a future site. Will our devices still use cell sites in 30 years? You never know what can happen with some of these outside income stream we enjoy. Another reason to pay down our debt! Does anyone know anything about church satellites?

Yours, Ross

Remembering the Poor and More

Remember the Poor"Go in peace, remember the poor."

Those are the concluding words of worship each Sunday that send us on our way.

But who are the poor? How do we remember them? We might encounter a homeless person holding a sign at the Alewife intersection, looking for handouts. We might think of poverty mostly in economic terms, like those struggling to get by on minimum wage. But poverty is a complex and massive reality in our world and comes in a multitude of forms.

Mother Teresa said, "There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” Indeed, some of the poorest people I have ever met have been quite wealthy.

One of the greatest riches and joys in my life is belonging to Christian community. Here I hear Good News, remember that I belong to God and have a calling. I can count on one hand the number of times I have left this place on a Sunday feeling discouraged. Five out of almost a thousand isn't bad! I give thanks for those who started this congregation over ninety years ago, for the remaining few who've been here nearly that whole time, and the almost weekly opportunity to welcome someone new. What riches of grace are here.

I give thanks that we have consistently been a generous congregation, not only in spirit but also in sharing our resources with the wider church and community.

I recently found our former Bishop Margaret Payne (not that she was lost) on YouTube, of all places. No she didn't jump out of a window but has been called to a new ministry as our denomination's director of mission support. Mission support might seem like a big, vague, churchy term so I thought it would be helpful to define it from a few angles.

In terms of numbers and dollars, we give away ten percent or more of all our money. Most of this goes to the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), about $40,000. The synod sends a little more than half of that to the ELCA. But what happens to that money? In a YouTube video featuring Bishop Payne she tells the story of a congregation in the Nebraska State Penitentiary, a memory care center in Tennessee and tiny, but thriving congregation in Milwaukee, WI. None of them would exist without mission support. We as a denomination are able to do amazing things together that we could not do alone. Go to this site and read a paragraph describing how this works and at the bottom you can click on the words "watching this message" to see our former bishop and learn about what mission support does.

Closer to home, some of that mission support we send off comes back here to New England to help start new congregations. There are three in the Boston area. I've been inspired and encouraged to see the good work going on in at Sanctuary church in Marshfield, MA, The Intersection in Dorchester, and Good Neighbor Lutheran Church in North Quincy. You'll notice that last website is mostly in Chinese.

These are some of the ways we go in peace and remember the poor.

Worship

Sunday services with Holy Communion

  8:15 Worship
  9:15 Education Hour
  10:30 Worship

Advent for the Weary Soul

  Thursday, December 19 6:30pm - 7:30pm

Christmas Eve Services with Holy Communion

  4pm Worship
  9pm Candlelight Worship

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