I’m so excited! I’m dust, and to dust I shall return. Every year in the life of the church, we observe a Holy Day called Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day this year, so I hope to see you at church at 7pm on February 14. Somehow, we’ll include Love in all this.
Ash Wednesday is the day that starts us on a path to Easter. This service begins the church season of Lent, the six weeks we use to prepare for Easter. At this service, I will draw crosses on each person’s forehead while they kneel around the altar.
Although some find this service “too real” and “too focused on death”, I find great meaning, great joy, and great life in it. For it communicates so many things. It lets me know that I belong to God, no matter what. If I’m a tiny infant, or near death, we all have the same cross on our heads, and we all belong to God the same. It equalizes the playing field to know that we are all going to die, and I love knowing that even though each of us are sinners (do things that cause separation and hurt), we are all in it together. We are all made from the same dust, and we will return to the same dust, and we belong to the same God who sees us, knows us, and saves us anyway.
There is a healing aspect to this service, for it brings us together as a community. We start our journey of six weeks knowing that we belong to God, that God made us, and that we’re all equally guilty, equally messy equally death-dealing, and equally saved.
This is a day when we get real about death, real about the pain we cause each other, God, ourselves, and the planet. We acknowledge how much the same we are, how much God loves us, and how we are all in it together.
This is my basic theology of life:
“Life is hard, we’re all in it together, Yay Jesus!”
Another thing I love about Ash Wednesday is the journey that it begins. At the end of six weeks, we’ll end up at the Last Supper, Good Friday, and finally, Easter! (I’ll explain more about those in March newsletter.) Welcome to the Journey!
This year, for Lent, we’re having classes on Thursday nights beginning Feb. 22 from 4pm-5pm. We’ll go over the stories of the Christian faith, why they matter, how we live them, how we celebrate them, with a focus on the last meal Jesus shares with his disciples in Matthew 26:17-30. People of all ages are welcome; please let me know if you plan to attend. Please also bring your Bible; if you need one, let me know. Then, on Maundy Thursday (March 29, 7pm), we’ll celebrate First Communion for those who complete the classes and have not yet communed.
See you on Valentines Day! I can hardly wait!
Love, Pastor Jess
Sept. Newsletter aRticle
First, let me say that I love this congregation, and I love being your Pastor. I am so excited to see all the new ways we can do ministry together. As part of our renewal efforts, this month I’m going to invite us into learning how to recognize bullies and how to hold them accountable, and how to stand up to them. If we want to invite new people, especially children, into our place, we need to be sure that we are working on having a good culture that is full of emotional safety for everything.
Although learning a new way of doing things and culture change is hard, I know that we can do it for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of being a place where the Good News of Jesus is communicated to all those around us and all those who walk through our doors. I also know that when we start talking about culture change some people think that they must leave. Sometimes people can feel nervous or anxious, or try to control other things about the group when culture change happens. If you are having a hard time with this, or thinking about this, or even talking about this kind of thing, please, please come and talk to me. I’m always here for you to listen to your ideas and thoughts, and worries about what will happen with Calvary in the future. I know from reading and studying other churches in renewal efforts that having open and honest conversation is important, and that so is culture change.
Many of us were taught as children that to be Christian means to “be nice”. In some churches, that has meant not challenging people who are constantly bringing negativity, speaking meanly to others, using overly harsh or intimidating words, or are looking to blame “out there” and “the secular” for what’s happening inside our churches. I can’t do anything about out there, or parents these days. All we can do together is create a culture of physical and emotional safety inside our doors, and invite people to come. This is a topic that is coming up in a lot of churches this September, so I’d like to invite us into the topic, too. Remember, sometimes the best way to communicate the love of God is to help others understand when they are not communicating that way. A community that is centered on Jesus can help us grow, forgive us when we mess up, and teach us to be in healthy relationships with one another. Boundaries are loving, and they are nice, even if they can bring more challenges in the moment, in the long term, they bring about health and wholeness, along with honesty. Will you please take a moment to read the outline I shared with council and work together with me on this culture change? Thanks! I know from both research, by Bible, and my heart, that learning healthy communication and how to have healthy conflict with boundaries around bullying are one of the best ways churches can grow. Let me know how you’re doing with this. Let’s all keep working together as the community of love that God has created us to be. Thanks for being in this ministry with me!
School is starting and lot is coming out about bullying culture. It hurts people, can sometimes lead to death and mental illness, and leave permanent trauma scars in people’s brains and bodies.
What's below is my August newsletter article to my congregation. I'm really curious to see how the conversation goes since I've only been here a couple of months. What do you think? Is this a message your congregation needs to hear? I'm sharing in case others have need of another person far away saying the hard things and asking the hard questions.
Hey, ya’ll. Pastor Jess here. First, let me say how happy I am to be here and to be your pastor. I love it here, and I so appreciate the honest conversations people are having with me. I’d like to share some of those things now, and then invite you to reflect with me. Also, this is a huge invitation to make time to stay for fellowship hour after church on Sundays. Lots of important conversations about the future of the church are being had, sometimes in response to the sermons, so please make time to stay and chat with us. The community best discerns (prays, thinks, talks, seeks the will of God) when every voice is heard. I want your voice and input on our renewal efforts.
I’ll be honest, since we’re trying to create a culture of honesty. Part of why we have our covenant is because I have experienced, as have many of my friends, churches who say they want to change and grow, but are unwilling to actually do it. What they mean is that they want people to come because we invited them with flyers or parties, and to be just like us. To worship like us, to think about the Bible like us, to be with us doing it our way. In this congregation, we seem to be comfortable facing the reality, as hard as it is, and as much as it might hurt us, that the old way of being church just doesn’t work. It seems that Calvary is at a point of knowing that we must do something in a radically different way than we’ve ever done it before. We will do it together, and with God as our guide. If our model for discipleship is Jesus, then we have all we need to radically change things, because that is what Jesus did, for the whole world.
It seems that we are willing to focus on the mission of proclaiming God’s love and blessings to the world through our congregation, even if it means things won’t be our way anymore. If this seems wrong to you, please let me know. I’m writing to you today to test what I think I’m hearing and understanding. You’ll have to let me know if I got it right, kind of close, or wrong.
I’m wondering if we might like to try adding a mission community to our congregation. This mission community would be supported by everyone who is already here, and everyone would have a role in supporting it. Your role might be to make food for it. It might be to carry around flyers and invite everyone you meet – at the gas station, grocery store, library. Giving them out wherever you are. It might be simply not complaining about things being different, the church being fuller and therefore messier, and the ways that forming honest and mutual relationships with new people change us. Are you willing to invite those from the mission community to share meals with you? Are you willing to get to know any children who come, and spend time with them outside of church? Even if you don’t like, understand, or get the ways the mission community does things, are you willing to financially, emotionally, and spiritually support it as the mission of Calvary? Will you come sometimes to events the mission community holds, and invite them to come to your events, too? Would you rather the church be the way you like it, understand it, and it has always been, but maybe close in a few years, or open, but different? Different congregations make different choices.
If we really believe in our Christian story of death and resurrection, then closing is a faithful choice. Because we’re able to trust that Jesus, through the church, can use the resources to bring New Life somewhere else. It is better to let things go than to hold onto them until we hurt ourselves and others. It is a radical choice to close and trust that Jesus will find a way to bring each person and the resources of the congregation New Life.
We can also decide that our faithful choice is to be radical in our proclamation of the Gospel while open. If we want to do this, as I believe we have the desire and attitude to do, here is what I don’t know: Do we have the energy? Do we have the capacity? Is each person here willing to find their role in forming and supporting the addition of a new community? Is there room for adding something new, and focusing our energy there, while staying grounded in our traditions, our Lutheran heritage, and Sunday Morning worship? With the formation of a new community attached to our congregation, Sunday morning worship would change very little. There would be a solid base from which to live out your faith and the proclamation of the Gospel. Are you ready? How will you help?
Please let me know. Like I said, I’m testing the ideas to see what works and what people think. Also, many of the things I’ve written here I’ve been saying to people at fellowship hour, and I don’t want anyone to feel left out of the conversation. Your voice matters. Your support matters. If most of the people here are willing to name one or two ways they would be willing to support a new mission community, we may have the energy to make it happen. It might be too soon for this conversation for some of us, but some of us are already having it, and every voice matters. Share your thoughts with me and let me know!
Love, Pr. Jess
On May 15th, I will begin a new call at Calvary Lutheran Church in Chicago. It is a part time, one-year term call. The goal is to figure out the possibilities for Calvary as a Mission Redevelopment. To do this, we are engaging in a one-year process of discernment together.
At the call meeting, the congregation and I signed a discernment covenant together. You can download it here if you are interested in setting up a covenant like this for your struggling congregation.
Pastor Jess is all about sharing the life-saving love of Jesus with the world. How she does it is up to the Holy Spirit.
This work is licensed by Rev. Jessica A. Harren under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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