Paul Carlson, Intentional Interim Pastor
American Lutheran Church
As our year of transition comes to a close I realize that this is the last chance I will have to communicate with you through a newsletter. Let me begin by saying that I cannot find adequate words to thank you for your hospitality and support over the past year. From the moment I arrived and found myself down and out with a bout of bronchitis (acute, they told me at St. Mary’s) you have greeted me with smiles, understanding, love and good humor. As I look back on the year it seems to me that it has been a time of real progress towards greater focus on mission and a new vision for the future. I am aware, and understand, that for some of you this process has gone on a bit too long, but I assure you that you are on track, the Call Committee is interviewing candidates and apart from what I believe is a serious but temporary financial concern, the future is bright for American Lutheran Church.
St. Paul, whom I like to quote, has some words of wisdom for a time like this. The communities of faith he was writing to were often full of anxiety and easily distracted by one thing or another. They were trying to build communities centered in Christ but they would lose their focus. So he said to them, the only thing that counts is faith working through love. In the same letter to the struggling Galatian churches he wrote nothing else really matters because a new creation is everything! These statements flowed directly from his affirmation that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free! Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the ELCA wrote once that it is important that we keep the main thing as the main thing. The main thing is grace, it is love and it is freedom in Christ to serve others. The issues that seem so very important to us pale in comparison to love, without which, Paul writes, we are nothing but clanging bells or cymbals crashing at the wrong time in the music, something I almost did once! Simply terrifying.
I have observed many things during my time here and one of them is that you are still growing into your relatively new building. You are learning how you want to use it and live in it and around it. You have worked with worship space this year with good results. I have seen coffee appearing in the narthex outside the Fellowship Hall for those who may want to socialize or sit in that area. There are serious conversations now about ways to use the 2 ½ currently empty acres. Perhaps it’s just my perception, but I see more members talking charge of the work of the church. The choir grew last year! The Worship and Music ministry has been very active this year and continues to be engaged in creative ways to do worship. The Contemporary Service is becoming more and more family friendly. The council is extremely active with a backlog of agenda items that will help the church move forward, including a new approach to stewardship and establishing long-term financial stability for ALC. Your new youth director, Adam Martin, is bringing new ideas and enthusiasm to youth ministry. Trina is full of great ideas for Early Childhood ministry and both Adam and Trina have committed to continuing education. I am always interested in how the changing church seasons bring new artwork, color and wall hangings to the sanctuary, thanks to the liturgical arts folks. We now have a position that is funded to expand our audio experience during church, not just to hear better but to use the screens in increasingly creative ways. These are just a few of the things I have observed this year and there is more that I could talk about.
As you see I am optimistic and hopeful for the future of ALC. I will close by reminding you about a vision statement I proposed and the council is considering: We are an inter-generational community of Christian faith seeking to be a church that. . . From here we will have to consider our needs and wants as a community. To what do we truly aspire? What kind of community do we want to become? The key point is that we aspire to be something rather than pretending that we have already arrived, as some vision statements assume. Growing into mission is a dynamic and Spirit-led path to follow as we seek to become the hands and feet of God in Grand Junction.
My heartfelt thanks to you for your partnership in ministry over the past year. I have enjoyed my time with you and I have also learned a good deal from you. Thank you for indulging my humor, for respecting the office of pastor and for making Nancie and I feel so very welcome and loved through her cancer journey. I know that you will welcome and love your new pastor with equal consideration and respect. My thanks as well to Pastor Lee, who has been a remarkable colleague and a great help this year to me and to the church. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the amazing and talented Melanie, our building and business manager. She literally does just about everything here with skill and passion. It is hard to imagine anyone else in her position. Thank you, Melanie (and the office volunteers)! There are too many others of importance to list or I would try to mention every one of them.
My plan going forward is to remain with you through September 30. I would like to reprise the liturgy created and do it again on September 23, if possible. I will see if that can happen. I am writing this in August, so it is possible that things can change after the newsletter comes out. All things in faith!
Blessings to you all, Pr Paul (and Nancie)
We are Blessed
Starting a New Conversation About . . .
I have recently been binge-reading and binge-thinking about stewardship. It happened after Mike Murphy gave an important alert to the congregation about our finances, what we might call our annual summer financial panic. It felt to me like déjàà vu all over again. In the course of conversations about the topic, it was suggested to me that stewardship isn’t a very welcome term for many people. There is a good reason for this. Every fall during the annual stewardship drive we learn to associate stewardship with money, and of course the request is always for more. Our first instincts are to run or hide.
We need to reframe the conversation and, if possible, reclaim the term stewardship as a central part of our Christian identity. The term is supposed to be holistic, encompassing all of life. So I was surprised to learn that the Bible doesn’t really emphasize the term stewardship very directly. It makes me think that we need to consider a new vocabulary. In that spirit I will ask you to lay aside your current notions of stewardship and start anew by rethinking the whole topic from the beginning.
The roots of this vocabulary are found in the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. We all know that the Hebrew people were given land by God, a story that begins with Abraham and Sarah heading north from Ur in modern Turkey. The land that became ancient Israel was a gift to them and was therefore a blessing to the people. When Moses brought the people the law, or Torah, the message was that this is how they were to live in the land they were given. They were “blessed to be a blessing.” They were to be a light to the nations, living in such a way that other nations would want to emulate them. “To be a blessing” meant many things: to give the land periodic Sabbath; make of it a place of refuge and safety for foreigners; allow the hungry to glean unused grain from the fields; be sure widows and orphans were protected and cared for; and offer 10% of every harvest from the land to God, the first-fruits, as it says.
The notion that we are “blessed to be a blessing” is the foundational principle of gratitude. Many would argue that this is the basis of all spirituality. We are first receivers of blessing and abundance, well before we are givers and sharers of that abundance. This includes everything that makes up the fabric of our lives. This is the way we are called to relate to God, ourselves and to the world.