2012: A year in the life of a congregation...

Last week I had one of THOSE kinds of days - several times in a row.  Hard.  Frustrating and discouraging.  I was carrying inside me a knot, tightly wound of several conflicts and situations of sadness which I could not seem to let go of.  One evening I sat down to begin writing my "annual report" - something that feels administrative and dreadful at the beginning, so I inevitably put it off to the last minute.  But once I began, I spent a couple of hours swimming in memory and thankfulness, marveling at God's faithfulness as I reflected back on the year in our life together at LNPC.  
At the end of the night, when I stood and stretched and closed my laptop, I was astonished at how different I felt.  The anxiety I had been gripping had been completely released, and in its place was gratitude.  With joy and peace welling up inside me, I opened back up the computer and posted on Facebook, "Gratitude is a mood-altering substance."  
I am so grateful for this little church community of fearless love and compassionate hope.  And I'm grateful for the chance to keep living together in the unfolding story of God's grace.
 The following is my "2012 annual report" for LNPC - (names have cut for privacy).

LNPC Prayer Candles
I pray…that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love.   (from Ephesians 3:17)
Once upon a time there was this kind and courageous little group of believers, this expression of the Church of Jesus Christ in one time and place, in whom Christ dwelled, and who were joyfully being rooted and grounded in love.  And as they moved through their world in ordinary ways, their lives were part of the Story of God.  When I reflect on 2012 the theme that comes immediately to mind is that of Story – God’s Story in our stories.

Our lives are sacred story.  Being Church is a gift.
Session gathered in January on our annual retreat and began sharing with one another some stories of our faith.  For some faith was a lifelong, unquestioned stability. For others it was ups and downs, doubts and trusting, hope and despair beautifully woven.  For some it was experienced in concrete caring for each other, with not a lot of clarity about God, and for others it was personal, private and holy.  I was struck by the amazing thing it is to be church – where all these expressions and explorations of faith in Christ deepen and grow by complimenting one another and giving window into how God moves in our lives.  Jesus Christ meets us as we meet one another, and we continue to encounter Christ anew as we live our faith together.

We are part of God’s Story.  The biblical story is our story.

2012 continued our journey through the Old Testament, exploring the Story of God in the lives of the Joseph, Moses and the children of Israel, and getting to know the prophets.  We spent Pentecost reliving the whole OT narrative, walking through symbols of our journey from Genesis to John the Baptist, and concluding with a group portrait of this prophetic community whose lives both proclaim the promises of God and cry out the world’s need for salvation. 

The prophetic community on Pentecost
During Lent, we focused on The Lord’s Prayer and five different voices within our congregation preached, leading us through the prayer, and culminating with Easter’s celebration of Resurrection and life.  This summer our Saturday services were “home church”, sharing conversational worship and hymn sings in the Gathering Room.  We spent the Fall in the book of Acts, exploring what it is to be church together, as the people of Christ who are part of God’s Story.

The Lord's Prayer in a dozen languages
Our Story is woven in with others’ stories.  We honor the story of God in others’ lives.

In January, I began meeting for monthly 24-hour retreats, with a small group of clergy through a grant from Austin Seminary.  These retreats have been restorative and faith-deepening, and in October we gathered in Austin, Texas for a four-day conference on storytelling and faith.  Our gatherings are shaped around the themes of belonging and identity in faith, and we have begun doing that through the element of storytelling, as it blossoms in our congregations as well.

In March I had the opportunity to preach in Bergen, Norway, and a few weeks later we welcomed the N. family from Norway into our own worship, as our stories entwine with the Body of Christ near and far.  This summer we worshipped together with Westminster Presbyterian Church one evening on Sabbath-keeping in their summer worship series, and we celebrated our annual outdoor Worship at the Falls in Minnehaha Park with friends and neighbors.  We hosted our third annual Movie Camp with kids from St. Joseph's Home for Children and Dean and Kirsten Seal, which Westminster Presbyterian helps us to fund, and we co-sponsored our the third annual Transforming Conflict conference at Luther Seminary, co-led by our Parish Associate Theresa Latini.

We partnered this year with Dogwood Coffee Company, who imports coffee directly from small farmers (and shares their stories!) and roasts and distributes it here in Minneapolis.  They generously loaned us coffee grinding and brewing equipment...and we are thrilled to be serving their delicious and fresh-roasted coffee regularly now!
Lisa and Amy in conversation on retreat
Our partnerships have broadened; we’ve connected with other churches - sharing Ash Wednesday with Edgcumbe (EPC), and hanging out with Humble Walk Lutheran Church for their monthly Theology Pub, and their Beer and Hymns, (and Pastor Kara preached there once this year as well). In November, thirteen women from LNPC joined six women from Humble Walk and six women from Edgcumbe for a retreat on Story, at beautiful island Bay LakeCamp.  We shared our own life stories and received the stories of others, and celebrated the gift of living with laughter and tears, good food and friends new and old.

Our partnership with Westminster is a gift, and we are looking at more ways to live that out, including giving some shape to the “Hospitality House” dream that took root in our imagination last year. We are in conversation with a few churches, including Westminster, about collaborating to make that a reality.

This year we danced our second Christmas Razzle with a trombone quartet and the famous C. Mulled Wine, and we collected diapers and toys for Tapestry Center for Families in our neighborhood. 

With the tangible prayer support of session and the congregation, I began serving on an Administrative Commission appointed by presbytery to a congregation seeking dismissal from our denomination.  Our focus on hospitality as truly seeing and hearing one another is a blessing in this role, and I feel I am doing this difficult work as an extension of the ministry of love and care in Christ that our congregation lives out faithfully.  Truly, I almost tangibly feel your presence with me as a representative of love and acceptance of these brothers and sisters in this difficult process.  And we have discovered that sharing stories of our faith each time we meet is a way to begin our conversations at our common humanity and in the grace of God which holds us all.

Our lives are part of God’s story unfolding in the world.  Praying draws us into redemption and hope where God’s Spirit is hovering in invitation.

As praying people, we share with each other our losses and joys each week in worship and by email and mail prayers, and uphold one another with cards and rides and love, the commitment to stand with and for each other through joy and struggle.  This extended beyond our community in powerful ways this year.  Shared prayers resulted in Barb D. traveling to Kansas to move right into my sister’s house to help her with four foster kids and her son while my sister was on bedrest, and again when the household welcomed their sixth child and my nephew was born.
Duluth work crew!
Because of shared prayers a group of folks (including Alan and Aleta I., Sue G., Ani G., Lindsay H., Maggie, Andrew and Andy C., Ben V.and his friend visiting from Florida, Jose), headed up to Duluth and did several days of maintenance and repair work on Ani G.’s parents’ house, which they could not rent out our sell because of flood damage, though they’d moved on to new jobs in Nebraska.  

When we pray, we feel the Spirit prompting us also to join in what God is doing, and this year we joined in.  We welcomed the L. family into the congregation just before they welcomed their newest member, Sigrid.  So we organized meals for them, and also helped to bring meals to friends of the congregation, the B.s, who welcomed twins, and the D.'s – with whom we rejoiced at the birth of baby Wally. We celebrated with the J. family at the birth of Ben and Rachelle’s daughter, Norah, and in late Spring we took turns bringing food to the W/D's, when little Caroline kicked off the boom of new babies in our corner of the world.  (She expressed her gurgling gratitude by playing our Lord Jesus Christ refusing to lie down in the manger on Christmas Eve).

We also honored the lives of those we’ve loved.  A group gathered with Lois B., sharing prayers and communion with her in the weeks before she passed away, and we celebrated her life together at her memorial service.  In late November several of us gathered at the bedside of Agnes W., for a ceremony of blessing and prayer, declaring her baptism complete, and sharing songs and joy even in the sorrow, with Lee and Agnes’s sister Treslyn, the family, and the lovely community that cared for Agnes for seven years.  We celebrated Agnes’ sacred life and grieved her passing at her memorial service the following week.  We also grieved the sudden loss of Dave E. and continue to hold Pat in prayer.

Confirmation bread bakers!
Our Story is still being written.  God is always moving in our lives.

In July the confirmation students went up to ARC Retreat Center for a retreat with Jeanne R., Andy R. and me, exploring their own faith stories, playing games and baking bread together.  They designed a worship service, which they led for us the following week.  In August we Confirmed Maggie C. in a joyful ceremony remembering her baptism and witnessing her faith, and we sent her off to college with our blessings.

This summer we held a book club on Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, and over homemade peach pie we discussed spiritual disciplines in our everyday lives.  Connections has continued to meet- women from LNPC past and present and future, and friends of friends from time to time as well, gathering monthly at Fireroast Mountain Cafe for coffee and conversation. PW also met monthly with good conversation and great cake, to chat to study the book of Revelation.

Telling the Story on Christmas Eve
Our children’s Sunday school class has continued to grow and deepen, and the kids explore each week the scriptures we share together in worship.  They share with us what they are learning, as well as leading a prayer in worship that they have prepared during Sunday school.  They continue to be our teachers and co-learners, and on Christmas Eve we all told the story of God-with-us, the birth of Christ, through story and song.

We were so blessed this year to celebrate the milestones and callings of Lisa J. and Cyndi W. this year.  Lisa and Peter shared life with us for a time and moved with our blessing into the next chapter of their lives as Lisa was called to pastor Zumbrota/Oranoco churches and they prepare to welcome twins into their lives.  Cyndi W. became a Candidate for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament under our care, and we sent her off to...Oregon with a meal of Cyndi favorites, a framed portrait of glimpses of LNPC worship she had had helped to shape, and a gift card to help her get settled in her new home, with our prayers, blessings and love.

Cyndi becoming a Candidate at Presbytery in November
Our story is worth telling.  Telling our stories help others embrace and live faithfully in theirs.
We held a workshop on writing our life stories during Advent led by one of our ArtSpace artists this year, Marie Theilen, the highlight of which was hearing from others snippets of their lives and seeing connections and places congruence with our own lives.  God’s faithfulness takes infinite forms!

In the Fall, each week before the offering in worship, a different person shared why they are part of LNPC and why they give money, and our stories were all different and all meaningful.  We’ve seen pledging double since last year, as we take up the joy of being church with one another and see ourselves in this communal story of faith.

Our story has inspired other congregations and organizations this year. I led a day-long Sabbath retreat for Twin Cities Volunteer Coordinators this Fall after they stumbled across our congregation’s story online, and two different researchers (one in Canada!) studied us for their dissertations/thesis on church and change.  This year we were part of the Biblical Preaching Project out of Luther Seminary, where we shared our experiences of worship and preaching, and learned from the stories of other worshiping communities in ways that strengthened our understanding of the biblical Story and helped us live it out in our daily life. 
I wrote an article for the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators’ magazine, the Advocate, telling how we share life and faith as a whole community, including the gifts and voices of all in our community.  I also wrote for Austin Seminary’s Communitas on Storytelling as Sacrament, which, among other things, shared about our annual “stories of Resurrection” service after Easter, in which three members of our community share stories of resurrection and hope from their own lives, and told of how our session uses storytelling with new members and one another as an entrance into this community of shared faith and doubt.
a walk in the woods at Clearwater Forest

We are Stewards of the Story that began long before us and continues long after we’re gone. The time we’ve been given is an invitation to join in.

In 2012 the Presbyterian Women held their 80somethingth Bazaar to raise money for ministries in our local community, and this Fall we elected two brand new first time elders and two brand new first time deacons to begin serving in 2013.  The past continues as the future opens up before us. 

The worship ministry team took our annual retreat to plan for the year, spending time in prayer and creative brainstorming, and a small group from the congregation spent a beautiful weekend in October up at Clearwater Forest, learning and practicing Sabbath rest together. 

planting the garden
We gardened this summer – the children planted vegetables that were watered each day by our neighbor lady Alice (and her little dog), and the veggies were eaten at a few of our Saturday meals, and at various of our dinner tables as well.  We’ve sought little ways and chances to live intentionally in the story we’re in, to treasure the life to which we’ve been called.

We shared our 77th Annual Ham and Cherry Pie Dinner, welcoming people from far and wide whose stories are woven into the life and story of LNPC to eat what we eat every year and initiate new people into this timeless church basement tradition.

Sabbath means we’ve been intentionally practicing saying no, simplifying things and putting people before programs this year, which has resulted in healthier volunteers and fewer commitments. We canceled our summer VBS when we realized it was more than we could do well, and are glad for opportunities to learn and practice balance together, to live well the life and ministry to which we are called.
  a group of picnickers at the 90th Anniversary

This year was LNPC’s 90th Anniversary as a congregation.  We celebrated in a joyous service with lots of extended family and friends, with a timeline stretching around the back of the sanctuary.  People’s stories jotted on the timeline and shared in worship gave us the chance to witness again God’s faithfulness spanned out before us and lived out in so many lives that have been part of this feisty little community of faith and hope.

In Worship we explore our stories inside God’s own Story of wholeness and life. 
In Hospitality we participate in God’s radical welcome and honor each person’s story.  And in the quiet of Sabbath rest we live into the Story by slowing down to reconnect with what matters.  We have done these things well in 2012. 

Once upon a time there was this kind and courageous little group of believers, this expression of the Church of Jesus Christ in one time and place, in whom Christ dwelled, and who were joyfully being rooted and grounded in love. And as we move through our world in ordinary ways, our lives are part of the Story of God. 
What a story we are blessed to be living! 

Amen, and amen! 

Rev. Kara K Root 


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