Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thank you, Lake Nokomis Church

Every year I struggle to write my "annual report" for church.  This year, it suddenly stopped being hard when I realized I just really wanted to say "Thank you"...


Dear LNPC,

2013 marked my fifth year of sharing life and ministry with Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church.  What a gift it has been to be on this journey together!   Stepping away for a three-month sabbatical gave me a chance to see you anew.  As I reflect on our year, I would like to share some observations and gratitude I have about you.

I am thankful for your bravery.
It’s quite something for a small congregation to send their pastor on a sabbatical and do most everything in-house.  You are a strong and wildly gifted bunch of folks, and a community that isn’t afraid to take risks.  You’re also brave in sharing real life with each other, in dreaming and in trying new things.  I can’t tell you how many times this year, upon hearing about the way we live out worship, hospitality and Sabbath, people have commented to me, with great respect in their voice, what a brave congregation you are.  And I whole-heartedly agree.

I am thankful for the way you welcome.
Young adults, retired adults, tiny babies and teens, busy children, tired parents, doting grandparents – you embrace each person where they are and appreciate the gifts they bring.  Everyone’s voice is respected and contribution is honored and celebrated. This is an incredible thing, and I am profoundly moved by it and grateful for it. 

This year we stood with so many as their journeys took them to new places.  We celebrated our graduates Lindsay (college), Maggie and Ben (high school) and Cyndi (seminary), we confirmed Ben and Andrew, and bid joyful and sorrowful goodbyes to Lee and Barb as they headed to Florida, and to Theresa on her move to Michigan, and blessed Cyndi as she was approved for ordination.  We baptized Soren, Svea and Sigrid, welcomed Andrea, Linnea, Jose and Will (this Sunday!) into membership, and honored the life of Sylvia with wonderful stories, laughter and tears.  And every week I watch you all warmly welcome one another, visitors and friends into this sacred space between us that the Spirit has shaped.  Thank you for receiving each other with an open heart.

I am thankful for your vulnerability.
‘nuff said.  It’s powerful.

I am thankful for your commitment and investment.
You are invest in each other, in this community. You stand by one another and keep showing up.  This is a defining mark of this congregation.

I am thankful for our little people, and the ways you support them.
LNPC continues to grow – we have begun to regularly have a dozen children in worship and Sunday school.  They have invaded our worship with joy and curiosity, and you have welcomed them with open arms. 

This year they have led us in worship by sharing their own learning every week, collecting for the food shelf, writing and leading offering prayers, sharing story on Christmas eve, guiding us through Advent with candle lighting and liturgy.  At LNPC children contribute with their artwork and singing, their prayers brought up and bravely shared right alongside adults’ and their small hands offering us communion.  Their insightful comments and happy contributions, tearful meltdowns and occasional giggly toddler laps around the sanctuary mid-sermon are all held in love by you.

Carolyn and Linnea shape Sunday school lessons that help our kids engage worship and encourage them to embrace their lives as part of God’s love in the world, and we get to hear about that from the children themselves.  For a short time this year we had a Church Nanny who supported parents and children in worship, but we unfortunately lost both Camille and our de facto children’s host Lee to out-of-state moves.   But we continue to adapt and embrace the changing needs and strengths of our congregation, and to be blessed by our children’s participation and leadership, even.  Watch in 2014 as they begin stepping into more roles, including ushering.

I am thankful for the care with which you tend our resources – our space and our gifts – both concrete and tangible, and what we each bring to the table. I spent some time on sabbatical in other church spaces, some of which clearly were filled with love and community like ours, but in need of some TLC.  It made me appreciate this about LNPC – you care for one another well, and take good care of that of we’ve been made stewards. 

In walking through our building, reflecting on our artist Mark’s basement studio, Field Regina Neighborhood Group’s office, the various yoga, women’s and parenting groups that meet in our space, Terry’s spiritual direction office “Storyteller’s Lodge," the times when our sanctuary hosted Trinity choir and orchestra concerts, the surprising number of community parties, and wedding and baby showers that fill Nokomis Hall and the many more incidents and ongoing experiences of offering our space to others, I recognize that sharing is important to us.  All this, and our building looks well cared-for, and looked after. 
Thanks to Kathy for that, and for all the countless volunteer hours people (like Dick and Gary and Aleta and many others) spend putzing on repairs and tidying up.  And to each person who pitches in on dishes or helps the kids’ straighten up, thank you.  We have a church building that feels like home. That’s part of our ministry of hospitality.

I am thankful for your flexibility and generosity.
These two things go hand in hand, and have to do with truly valuing one another.  You are great at adapting to the situation and the need.  Whether it is pulling out soup and bread for an impromptu meal, taking a baby into your arms to give a dad or mom or grandma a break, watching big sister when little sister gets hurt and needs help, giving each other rides, subbing for Meals on Wheels, offering a helping hand, you are a congregation that is willing to bend preset plans in order to stay true to one another in the moment.

I am thankful for your creativity.
Stunning handmade crafts, jams and banners, music and visual art, delicious food, and an eye for beauty and delight in life shines through at LNPC.  From our Lenten journey to the cross with candles and flowers to our Advent stars hanging from the ceiling, our stylish photo directories (Thanks, Ani!) and the lessons the children gave us in tokens and handouts, creativity enlivened our life together this year.

I am thankful for your resourcefulness.
LNPC operates on a shoestring found for a steal at Savers and spruced up with handmade embroidery.  This year you did great things with great resourcefulness; you specialize in homegrown and elbow grease!  I returned from sabbatical to find a brand new paved area in front of the church with a bike rack and public garbage can, beautifully installed by members and paid for by a grant. 

People contribute from their strengths and joy and generosity – garden planting, snow shoveling, inspiring children, preaching, praying, leading conversations in adult education, number-crunching, making music, listening, feeding kids from St. Joe’s at Movie Camp and people of all ages at Ham and Cherry Pie Dinner, secretly cleaning and organizing the nursery, collecting and sharing food and money for the food shelf or a friend of the congregation, visiting with each other, donating diapers, pitching in to cover unexpected expenses like boiler repair or sidewalk assessment,  leading liturgy, and turning strangers into friends.  You used what you have, and brought who you are, to being church together.   Thank you.

You give to others without knowing it.
The space of QuietWednesdays became a holy gift every week to a friend of the congregation who slipped in and spent hours in peace.  The service of blessing we shaped for twin babies embraced a neighborhood family in love.  I received inquiries about our worship and life together and shared what we’ve learned with congregations in Delaware, New Jersey, California, Georgia and Kansas.  We’ve been asked to share our story at a conference this coming March, to help congregations seeking inspiration and new vitality, and have been written about in several more articles this year.  The sabbatical task force is finding itself a source of encouragement and learning for several congregations on the brink of their own sabbaticals.  I have heard countless comments from visitors about the warmth of their welcome, and the inspiring way children are involved and empowered in our worship.  Our life together is a gift, and God uses it to bless others.

I am thankful for your questions.
For a whole three months this year, you sat in questions.  Where was I surprised by God this week? Where do I need rest?  In Lent you pondered what it is to confess.  We wondered through Advent and sat in the wonder at Christmas.  The children in Sunday school and adults in Adult Ed press into questions again and again without hesitation.  You are honest and willing to engage life thoughtfully and intentionally.  Faith is not a pat answer for LNPC, it’s a real journey of trust, and your questions keep opening us to the Spirit’s activity in our lives and helping us search for and join in God’s mission in the world.  Thank you.

I am thankful for your passion.
This little congregation is filled with people faithfully joining Jesus’ love in the world in inspiring ways.  We support each other in our causes and journeys, from Ben’s work helping congregations become more open and affirming of all and Carolyn’s work supporting women caught in domestic violence to Sue’s fiber and visual art and the amazing grandparenting regularly in our midst.  People at LNPC pour themselves into their lives with enthusiasm and gratitude, and share their passions with all of us, which inspires each of us in our own living.  Whether in adult ed, session meetings or coffee hour, there is no shortage of lively discussion and thought-provoking disagreement, ready laughter and dedicated listening.  PW Christmas party games, donuts with Dick and Jan, starry night walks on retreats, pie at Movie Night, and goodbye blessings all shared LNPC’s spirit of life and joy, and the desire that what we do matter.  I love how passionate you are.

I am thankful for the space you gave me.
It was incredibly difficult to step away from you for three months. The first ten days were easy – a breeze, really! - but after that it was hard.  You respected the space we had set up – I didn’t get a phone call, an email, a message of any kind for three months.  For twelve weeks I imagined you bobbing on a boat far out in the sea, sails open, merrily on your own, held by God and holding me in prayer.  For twelve weeks I sat in the expansive space held by God and you, and grew in trust, strength and peace.  I felt myself filling back up, rejuvenating, exploring my creative side, feeding my intellectual side, stretching my spontaneity muscles and letting them lead.  I got to rediscover presence –with my children, with Andy, with myself and with God.  I slowed way down, and came back to you awake and present.   I might have caved had you not been so gracious and firm about the boundaries of sabbatical.  Thank you.

I am thankful for your wisdom and realism.
This year LNPC has been facing facts about finances, seeking with transparency and practical approaches (cutting expenses and beginning to explore alternate forms of funding) to move into the future faithfully.  We begin 2014 with a strong commitment to strengthening our financial life. 

You’re good at knowing when to say yes, and ok with saying no.  This year we recognized the gift Saturday meals had been to the congregation under Cyndi’s leadership, and for a time many others stepped in to make meals to be shared.  We also recognized when they had run their course and that it was ok to let them go.  Then we were able to make meals on Saturdays for special events and as specific times of hospitality- a guest preacher, a goodbye party, a welcoming back of old friends. 

It is not easy staying in touch with where things are and being willing to respond in the present- far easier to fall back on “tradition” or be compelled by obligation.  You are honest and willing to talk about hard things, and it makes what we do continue to have meaning and significance. Thank you.

You understand God’s ministry and God’s Church to be far broader than ourselves.
This year we invited the possibility of sharing space and worship with Familia de Fe, and this opened up rich and challenging discussion about who we are, how we can best share what we have, and what it means to be church. Ultimately, they decided to nest elsewhere, but I was grateful for the discernment and intentionality that went into the beginning of that conversation.

We shared Family Camp this summer with Humble Walk Church at Bay Lake Camp.  The LNPC contingent was outnumbered three-to-one children-to-adults, and we had a wonderful long weekend with grandparents, parents and children, playing, praying, singing and swimming (with Barb Day leading the fishing crew). S’mores were consumed and skits were performed and it was the beginning of a much-anticipated annual summer tradition.

Four times a year we share worship at St. Joseph’s Home for Children.  Every time we go, we come away in gratitude and awe for the ways we experience God in sharing worship with them.  Most notably this last time, two young people asked for one on one prayer and conversation, and we frequently hear from staff how meaningful it is to them as well.  Our annual Movie Camp experience – led by Dean and Kirsten Seal and assisted by Westminster- has continued to be a simple and powerful way God uses LNPC in people’s lives.

I have served this year on an Administrative Commission to a congregation seeking to leave our denomination.  It is our life together that has given me words and prayers to shape our time in these sometimes very difficult meetings.  Despite differences that will ultimately divide us, we have found common faith and hope and the ability to appreciate each other’s humanity and faith in Christ.  It was a profound gift when the team from the departing church asked if they could lay hands on me and bless me as I set out on my sabbatical.  I have felt strengthened by our work together in compassionate communication at LNPC and the mission of hospitality that compels us to truly seek to know and be known.  It has shone a light into this conflict and kept us connected with these sisters and brothers in Christ.

This year I led two workshops on Sabbath at Luther Seminary’s Convocation in February, and Sue and Carolyn helped me set the space and share the story of our journey in tangible ways.  I also shared about Sabbath rest with a group of MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) in Owatanna and a Women’s group at Knox Church just up the street.  We continued our (now) tradition of a joint Ash Wednesday service with Edgcumbe Church, practiced writing and sharing our stories in a Lenten writing workshop with Marie Theilen, cooked and served meals at Our Saviour’s Housing, welcomed Boy Scouts from Texas and North Carolina to camp out in our building, and welcomed a new generation of servers and kitchen assistants to our 78th Annual Ham & Cherry Pie Dinner. 

From supporting ARCretreat center and Tapestry Family Center to welcoming the baptismal class of Judson Memorial Baptist Church to talk faith with our confirmands, Diane walking in the TRUST Parish Nursing Fundraiser to Dee walking neighbors’ dogs- the ministry of God is relentlessly drawing us into the world in love and service to others, and LNPC helps us see and participate in God’s call – both together as a community and individually in all the many ways we are beckoned.  We are connected to all that God is doing in the world, and get to see that unfold in each other’s lives.  You live this out faithfully.  That is a true gift!

Thank you for a great year of worship, hospitality and sabbath together!

Kara





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