26 May 2019

June Newsletter Article - Church Members and Cattle Prods

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” - Hebrews 10:24-25

23 April 2019

May Newsletter Article - Worship Matters

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Beloved in Christ, in this time of celebration I want to say a word of thanks to all of you. As I reflect on our time together this past Lenten season, I am grateful for the time and attention many of you gave to breaking bread together and gathering in worship. Lent has always had a special place in my heart because it is a time when the Holy Spirit can bring about change and growth in all of us through the extra time and attention we give to the gospel and to receiving it together.

As we move into the celebratory season of Easter I want to draw your attention to a series of workshops held at St. Petri in upcoming months for those of you involved in worship leadership at St. Petri. Worship Matters workshops will help all of us learn more about the different roles we have in worship, where those roles originated, and how to carry them out with great effectiveness and joy. We’ll meet & pray, learn a bit about each of the different elements of worship leadership in our congregation, spend some time considering the “how-to” aspects of those elements, and I’ll do my best to answer any questions or concerns that might arise during each session. We’ll rotate through the different parts of worship leadership as many times as we feel is necessary, so those of you who miss a session will have chances to attend when we work around to it again.

My tentative schedule for upcoming months is as follows:

  • April 27 - Assisting Ministers
  • May 25 - Lectors
  • June 29 - Audio/Video Tech
  • July 27 - No meeting (I have a prior commitment)
  • August 31 - Ushers/Greeters
  • September 28 - Altar Guild
  • October 26 - Acolytes

If we identify other things we’d like to be doing in worship leadership, they can be added to the schedule as needed. Otherwise, I’ll begin the schedule again in November or December with Communion Ministers, since the first of the Worship Matters workshops was held in March with them.

If you’d like more information about any of these worship leadership roles, please let me know. One thing I do want to make clear is that these sessions are for those who want to be added to the roster of worship leaders and for those who are already actively leading in these roles. We can all learn more about leading worship - even a seasoned pro like myself needs to do some continuing education to grow and learn!

I look forward to seeing you at these workshops this year. For all the difficulties of modern schedules and activities, our weekly worship services are still the time when the largest percentage of members and guests gather in one place to receive the proclamation of the gospel. Worship still matters, in other words, and so we pay attention to Worship Matters (see what I did there?).

May the joy of the risen Christ sustain your own joy this Easter season.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Scott

11 March 2019

Text Study - Notes for Lent 2C

Prayer of the Day
God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross you promise everlasting life to the world. gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy, that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 
Amen.

Gospel Reading: Luke 13:1-13, 31-35
1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them — do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." 

6Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' 8He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" 

31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." 32He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’"
_________________________________________________
TEXT NOTES
  • Glossary Items
    • “Blood mixed with sacrifices”: no other ancient source mentions a specific instance like what Jesus describes here, but “such bloodshed was not uncommon: Pilate’s troops killed a group of Samaritans climbing Mt. Gerizim; Pilate introduced Roman effigies into Jerusalem, causing a riot and a march on Caesarea; Pilate seized Temple treasury funds in order to build an aqueduct.”
    • Siloam: whatever this disaster was, it is only mentioned in the gospel of Luke. There is no mention of a Tower of Siloam anywhere in the Old Testament.
    • Are there other terms/characters/words you don’t understand?
  • The Lutheran “Both/And”
    • Lutherans tend to view theological matters from a place of tension between two viewpoints that can be understood to be mutually exclusive. This story indicates one such tension in Jesus’ ministry:
      • On the one hand, Jesus preached an urgent need for personal repentance/reconciliation because of judgment being imminent (v. 1-5 here).
      • On the other hand, Jesus clearly regarded his own ministry as a postponement of this judgment, a sign of God’s mercy allowing further time for repentance (v. 6-9 here).
  • When Bad Things Happen To Good People
    • The title of Rabbi Kushner’s famous book above shows a central belief that was common in Jesus’ time: calamity was a sign of sin or some sort of unfaithfulness, while success was a sign of righteousness and purity.
    • Jesus doesn’t explicitly name Job as a resource, but his argument appears based on the same point made by the book of Job: life is uncertain, and success and misfortune cannot be reliably assigned to sin or righteousness.
    • “Such a theology is always better in theory than it is in dealing with the tragedies and calamities of life. Nevertheless, these deaths serve as a graphic warning of the coming judgment. Just as these Galileans and Jerusalemites had perished suddenly, so also all of those who heard Jesus would also perish if they did not repent.”
  • The Fig Tree
    • Agricultural imagery was common in the Old Testament - one example was the care expended on the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-2.
    • Leviticus 19:23-25 gives each newly planted tree three years in which its fruit is not to be eaten, and the 4th year is to be left completely to the Lord.
  • Helpful Pharisees?
    • There are 2 schools of thought as to the motives of the Pharisees in v. 31-35:
      • Herod was afraid that Jesus was a religious troublemaker who would destabilize Herod’s kingdom, and this was a threat designed to get him out of Galilee. Herod wouldn’t have actually harmed Jesus because of his growing popularity.
      • The Pharisees were actually trying to protect Jesus from Herod, who had already executed John the Baptist. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus has some other encounters with Pharisees that are not as antagonistic as we expect.
  • Herod the “Fox”
    • In Hebrew, ‘fox’ has a wider range of meaning than in Greek or English. The craftiness of the fox is a shared definition, but a second common use in Hebrew was the inferiority of the fox to a lion or a larger predator. By calling Herod a “fox” Jesus was saying his work was more important than worrying about an inferior predator.
  • The Hen
    • A curious image for protection: the hen can do nothing against a predator but use her body as a shield, even against a fox.
    • “If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world - wings spread, breast exposed - but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand…She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body.” Barbara Brown Taylor, in The Christian Century
  • Questions to Ponder
  • The 24-hour news cycle often tells us of tragedies around the world as they are happening. Does this make tragedy less or more tragic? Less or more anxiety-causing?
  • If you had ‘one more year’ like the fig tree to produce ‘fruit’, would you do anything differently?
  • What other questions do you have?

05 March 2019

Ash Wednesday: Bring Your Kid

I originally wrote this piece four years ago, but it seemed worth revisiting this year.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  For Christians, the Ash Wednesday service marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a penitential period in which we fast, discipline ourselves, and reflect on the life and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a holy time of anticipation and purpose, and for many it is our "favorite" season of the church.

But Ash Wednesday begins with a stark reminder of our mortality.  Ministers dip their thumbs in a bowl of ashes made from the palm branches waved to honor Jesus on Palm Sunday and mark a cross on the foreheads of all participants, while pronouncing a death sentence on us all:  "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

26 February 2019

Lectionary Bible Study - Transfiguration Sunday - Luke 9:28-36

Gospel Reading: Luke 9.28-45
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ 41Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ 42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, 44‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ 45But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
_________________________________________________

TEXT NOTES

  • This text marks the close of the Epiphany season. Between Jesus’ birth and crucifixion, there is arguably no more astonishing epiphany (from the Greek epi phanos meaning “shining upon/through” or “revelation”) than the Transfiguration - an event that graphically reveals who Jesus is and gives a glorious glimpse of who he will be. Yet for all its drama and power, this transfiguring event appears to play a very limited role in the rest of Jesus’ ministry or in the disciples’ immediate perceptions of Jesus. 
  • Transfiguration has a definite connection with Jesus’ baptism - they are the only times that the “voice of God” is heard audibly in the gospel of Luke.
    • The Transfiguration also draws a connection to the epiphany experienced by Moses on Mt. Sinai, the Old Testament reading appointed for the day. When Moses descended from Sinai after his long time with God, “the skin of his face was shining” and he had to wear a veil to cover the brightness of his features. 
    • Moses and Elijah represent the great Jewish traditions of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). Luke is the only gospel to reveal the content of their discussion: Jesus’ impending departure (“exodus”?) from Earth.
  • In addition, the verses preceding this story in the gospel of Luke are about Jesus’ identity. When Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain, Peter has just confessed that Jesus is “the Messiah.” Identity is crucial in all that follows: Jesus is redefining who God is and what it means to be Messiah (“anointed of God”).
  • Peter’s astonished babbling tells the reader that Moses and Elijah were actually there - no hallucination. His offer of shelter is congruent from the tradition of offering hospitality (usually food and drink) to the traveling stranger, evoking not just the Jews in the wilderness but also Abraham and Sarah and their descendants encountering God as sojourners in Genesis.
  • “Why do the disciples not rush down the mountain and share with everyone what they have witnessed? 
    • Hans Conzelmann suggested that secrecy about Jesus’ identity ensures that Jesus will fulfill his divine purpose; if the people knew without a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, they would actively save him from the cross, interrupting the divine plan. This also would explain Jesus’ repeated commands during his public ministry to stay silent about his identity (as he does following Peter’s confession in Luke 9:22).

    • Another explanation would be that secrecy about Jesus’ identity allows for a well-paced fulfillment of an important theme: proclaiming salvation to the “ends of the earth.” Jesus begins as a relatively obscure hometown figure, but then becomes a powerful preacher and healer whose fame spreads rapidly into a wide range of social circles. Not only does Jesus’-news reach greater numbers of people -- Jews and Gentiles alike -- but it also reaches all socioeconomic levels of society, from social outcasts to elite rulers (shepherds in Luke 2.17-18, John the Baptist in prison in Luke 7.18, tax collectors and sinners in Luke 15.1). Higher up on the social pyramid, a centurion requests Jesus’ help (Luke 7:3), and news even reaches the royal court, as Herod hears “about it all” (Luke 9:7-9)” (Michal Beth Dinkler. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3005)

Questions to Ponder
  • In the gospel of Luke, prayer is involved whenever something significant happens. After his baptism, Jesus was praying when the divine voice spoke. Jesus prayed before appointing his twelve apostles. In this story, Jesus was praying when the divine voice spoke. What does this tell us about how Luke thinks about prayer?
  • The disciples were overwhelmed by what they experienced, so they said nothing to anyone about what they had seen. Jesus still talks about suffering and death while in his transfigured glory. What kind of a messiah is this, anyway? 
  • Peter’s well-known impulse to build 3 chapels on the peak is usually derided by scholars, theologians, and preachers. “We mustn’t linger on the peaks, but return to the valley of service.” “One can’t live in the rarified atmosphere of a mountaintop; we’re meant to live in the valleys of human experience and suffering.” Is this a fair critique? Why or why not?
  • Think about one of your “transfiguration” experiences. How did it change the way you view God? Yourself? Your life?



Questions to Ponder

18 February 2019

2019 Books: The Battle for Bonhoeffer by Stephen R. Haynes

"I developed a scholarly interest in the churches' role during the Nazi era in part so I could help ensure that Christians would never repeat the mistakes they made under Hitler. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes in part because he was able to resist eh wave of Hitler worship that swept up many German Protestants."
So writes Stephen Haynes in the postscript of The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump. This is a sentiment which I share wholeheartedly with Dr. Haynes. I, too, became fascinated with the story of Bonhoeffer and the Church Struggle of the Nazi era, first as a college student beginning to explore the content and questions of my Lutheran faith as a young adult, then later as a seminarian pondering the deeper questions of the Church, faith, the state/government, and personal responsibility and action in circumstances not easily interpreted into categories such as right/wrong or good/evil. I was just beginning a one year seminary internship in Florida when planes were used as weapons of mass destruction on 11 September 2001; from that moment to today, Bonhoeffer has been one of my constant interpretive companions in navigating an age which does not appear to have a peaceful ending in sight. I am one of many who has been comforted, challenged, and confounded by Bonhoeffer in these years. Haynes makes one point abundantly clear: however wide we think the application of Bonhoeffer has been, our estimations haven't been wide enough to encompass the breadth of the political and religious appropriation of Bonhoeffer, justified or not.

While Bonhoeffer is the main subject of the book, Haynes has divided his text into two main sections: Bonhoeffer before Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, the 2010 biography written by Eric Metaxas, and Bonhoeffer after. True, the official table of contents lists three parts, but Metaxas is the prime meridian here, and deservedly so. 

Haynes does a serviceable job examining the Bonhoeffer legacy prior to Metaxas. However, those who are unfamiliar with Bonhoeffer's story and the ongoing devotion surrounding him might not appreciate the entire picture if Haynes is their first exposure to the topic. Any Bonhoeffer text which only mentions Eberhard Bethge four times is counting on readers already being familiar with Bonhoeffer and knowing the importance of Bethge and other particulars such as the Barmen Declaration, Finkenwalde, and the Abwehr. This is not a biography, nor does it need to be; omitting these particulars leaves Haynes with more room to discuss his main topic, which he does particularly well.

For the majority of the book, Haynes provides a sharp analysis of Bonhoeffer appropriation, particularly in the post-9/11 years and in the rise of electronic media. This is an exhaustively researched book, though the presentation doesn't belabor points or get lost in what I'm certain are some incredibly deep internet rabbit holes. 

Once the Metaxas biography arrives on the scene, however, some of the gloves come off. Haynes addresses some of the numerous inaccuracies, misquotes, and problematic interpretations in Metaxas' book, and reviews from reliable Bonhoeffer scholars which pointed out these issues, with a good balance of economy and clarity to prove his point while keeping the text manageable (I can assure you, the list of problems with Metaxas' appropriation of Bonhoeffer could be very long, indeed). In the last chapters, Haynes paints himself as something of an outsider even among Bonhoeffer scholars,  acknowledging that he often advocated for conversation with Metaxas among Bonhoeffer scholars prior to the 2016 presidential election. That election, however, was the straw which broke Haynes' willingness to suffer Metaxas gladly.

The last two chapters really dig into misappropriations of Bonhoeffer, particularly for evangelicals who joined Metaxas in ascribing support for Donald Trump as something Bonhoeffer would have wholeheartedly endorsed. This argument receives the evisceration it deserves, but Haynes also offers a countering warning to those who misappropriate Bonhoeffer to align themselves against an imagined parallel between Trump and Adolf Hitler. There are similarities, Haynes acknowledges, but our times and contexts do not allow us to simplistically (and lazily) call Trump a Nazi and be done. Perhaps the best argument he presents is a quote from an article written by Victoria J. Barnett in the Washington Post:
"If we can understand Bonhoeffer outside the box - not as saint, not as mythological hero, but as someone who reflected poignantly on evil's consequences for the human conscience and spirit, for an entire culture and country, we may begin to uncover the person behind the mythology: a man who tried to face the darkness of his times. In the process, we may discover someone who can speak more directly to the darknesses and failures of our own."
I wish I could leave this review here. However, a postscript is appended in which Haynes writes a letter to "Christians who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump." I didn't find anything disagreeable in the open letter itself, but it seemed an odd bit of editorializing added on to a book which, to this point, had done an admirable job of avoiding it. Perhaps my discomfort arises from my being largely opposed to most of the Trump agenda, because I'm certainly not the intended audience for such a letter. However, I'm not sure anyone who still supports Trump would have picked up Haynes' book in the first place, and I'm fairly certain anyone who did would have abandoned it long before reaching the postscript Haynes apparently really wanted them to read. But there it is, putting a confusing coda at the end of a good discussion. It doesn't ruin the book, not by any means, but it doesn't measure up to the rest of it, either, and that's a shame. On the whole this is a worthy interpretation of the title: the "battle for Bonhoeffer" is ongoing and needs interpreters like Haynes to help the rest of us navigate a landscape we can't always see clearly.

01 July 2018

July Newsletter Article - Riverside Lutheran Bible Camp

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Summer is here, and that means it’s camp season! Riverside Lutheran Bible Camp is yet another of the important ministries we support with our benevolences at St. Petri, both as a congregation and as individuals. July is a great time to talk about the wonderful ministry we support just up the road to the north of Story City.
Riverside has been a camping presence in the Story City community for 75 years. “Riverside was established in 1943 thanks to the extraordinary vision of Pastor A.J. Bringle. Ever since then, Riverside has been a place of worship, rest, community, experiencing the Holy Spirit, and growing in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Tens of thousands of people have been impacted by the ministry here, along the banks of the Skunk River…” In 2017, Riverside welcomed over 2,500 campers, including local kids at day camps throughout the state, and approximately 7,500 people participated in some sort of event, retreat, or camp program hosted by or connected to Riverside throughout the year.
Riverside offers a variety of opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. There will also be a large shift in leadership in 2018 as longtime executive and equestrian directors Dave & Jan McDermott have announced their retirement, effective in October 2018. Riverside has already found its next executive director - Chris Dahl, current program coordinator, will step into that role this fall. Many of you know the years of dedicated service the McDermotts have given to Riverside and the Story City area - I’m sure an extra gift to Riverside in their honor would be appreciated.
As a longtime camper & staff veteran myself, I know firsthand how important camping ministries can be to the life of faith. There is something special about places set apart, like Riverside, where we can be invited to step out of our “boats” and into a new way of thinking or living the faith God has given us. I’m grateful that St. Petri supports Riverside Lutheran Bible Camp, and I look forward to a vibrant future for both our congregation and the camp just outside of town.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Scott

02 April 2018

April 2018 Newsletter Article


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia! So goes the shout of the church in this Easter season. With Christ arisen, we, too, live again in the hope of resurrection and in life that extends far beyond the grave. The question before us, now that death no longer holds us captive, addresses a new hope for the future:  how shall we live? 
One of the marks of Christian life after Easter has always been generosity. In the days of the early church, believers often gathered together for communal meals, and some communities actually created a sort of communal society, where all goods were held in common and all shared freely from what God had entrusted to them. Two millennia later, we Christians of the 21st century still practice this generous sharing of what God has entrusted to us. Here at St. Petri, we share a beautiful, historic congregation with its own building and local ministries. We also share as a congregation to support ministries beyond our local community. Over the next few months, I’m going to share the stories of these ministries with you, so that you will be better informed about what happens to every dollar you return to God in thanksgiving for what God has given to you. 
The largest portion of our giving goes to the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In a newsletter article a few years ago, Pastor Mark Anderson of the NEIA Synod Staff shared a brief glimpse of the many ways the Synod partners with our congregation in the ministry of our church:

This is too short a space to review all the synodical ministries or narrate the budget, but here is a summary of what I think readers will care about the most.
Sharing Jesus and Supporting Congregations
Evangelism
  • Use a strong social media presence to proclaim the Word, call the church to prayer, and lift up and encourage congregations’ witness.
  • Consult with congregations who request assistance in renewal, stewardship, and evangelism.
  • Accompany our new worshiping communities in Farley and Parkersburg.
Passing on the Faith from Our Generation to the Next
Youth, Family, & Young Adult Ministry
  • Provide help for parents to teach the faith to their children.
  • Support youth workers and youth ministry.
  • Offer Christian leadership training for high school students.
  • Support campus ministry.
Raising & Supporting Pastoral Leadership for Congregations
Leadership
  • Walk with candidates through the process of becoming pastors and other rostered leaders.
  • Secure funding to support Seminary Education.
  • Train and coach new pastors.
  • Guide congregations through the call process.
  • Provide continuing education opportunities for rostered leaders.
  • Help church leaders to prepare to retire.
Sharing Daily Bread & Working for Opportunity
Poverty & Justice
  • Domestic Hunger Grants fund community and church gardens to grow food for food shelves, food banks and community meals.
  • Barnabas Uplift provides job training for the unemployed.
  • Provide funding to Lutheran Services in Iowa for the care of children, families, the elderly, and people with special needs.
In addition to undesignated “mission support,” (offerings received from congregations) the members of the Northeastern Iowa Synod last year gave:
  • $177,000 to ELCA World Hunger
  • $55,000 to support Lutheran World Relief
  • $49,000 to support missionaries
  • $48,000 to the ELCA Malaria Campaign
  • $15,500 to Domestic Disaster Response
We give thanks for all those people and congregations who give to support the wider church and for all the ministries these gifts make possible.

This is just a snapshot of the many ways we congregations of the Northeastern Iowa Synod provide support to one another through the offerings we pass on in mission support. Individual congregations could not do this on their own, but together we support and encourage one another, and the sum of what we can do together is much larger than the parts each individual church offers. I join Pastor Anderson in thanking you for your generous support of our ministries, and I encourage you to grow in that generosity in 2018!

Yours in Christ, 
Pastor Scott

26 March 2018

Pop Culture Monday: Living Biblically


Beloved is a fan of a lot of CBS shows: NCIS, Madam Secretary, and Hawaii Five-O being her big favorites. I've trended recently more toward the sci-fi/horror genre since there's been a ton of quality offerings over the past few years: The Walking Dead, The Expanse, Taboo, Into the Badlands, Game of Thrones, American Gods, etc. So we haven't been watching a lot of television together over the past few years. Recently this changed because of two shows: Star Trek: Discovery and Living Biblically. I'm not going to do a review of ST:D until the 2nd season drops, but given that Living Biblically is a recent addition, this seemed a good opportunity to critique something with which I'm familiar: a show about religion.

25 January 2018

February 2018 Newsletter Article

The new year has come and gone and most of us, for better or for worse, have discovered which resolutions we’ll keep and which ones were just wishful thinking (almost all of mine fall in the latter category every year). I’d like to invite you to add a resolution to your list that should be a lot easier to keep than a gym schedule. I invite you to reshape the way you think about the ministry of St. Petri Lutheran Church. Give me a minute to explain what I’m proposing.

As a congregation, we are really, really good at special offerings, and that’s something to celebrate. When our youth are raising funds to pay for their mission trips, they don’t have to beg and plead. When the Council decided it was time to finally replace that worn out carpet in the Fellowship Hall, the committee in charge of overseeing the project had what we needed in just a few weeks. Even when you determined it was time for a major renovation of the parsonage, a project which required a significant investment of time and resources by a lot of St. Petri members, it was done in plenty of time for us to move in and feel cherished by this congregation (which we do - we’ve told churches around the synod that St. Petri is a model congregation when it comes to maintaining and managing a parsonage). 

At the same time, our general operating budget at St. Petri has consistently been a source of concern for the Council over these past five years. In 2017, we’ve been in a deficit at the end of every month, even though our actual spending as a congregation has been below budget, finishing the year just over 96% of what we projected at the annual meeting last January. Financially, St. Petri runs a very tight ship which is well-managed and properly overseen by our Council and through an annual Audit Committee. For 2018, the Property and Trustees Committee is proposing a general budget which is actually lower than 2017, but includes salary raises for staff which are in line with the minimum guidelines established by the Northeastern Iowa Synod every year. 

My proposal in relation to all this is quite simple: everything is special. It’s wonderful to be able to see our special gifts installing new carpet in the Fellowship Hall, but the Bible Study which meets in that Fellowship Hall is also special, right? How about the electricity which allows us to run the lights for social hour after worship every Sunday morning? The heat which keeps the building warm in the winter? The piano tuner who keeps our instruments sounding good all year round? The cleaning supplies our custodians use to keep the building looking nice every week? The copier which prints the weekly bulletin? The internet connection that helps us stay connected in a digital age? All these things are indeed a special part of the ministry of St. Petri Evangelical Lutheran Church, and without your support of the general operating fund, those special parts of who we are and what we do will be limited. Sure, fixing a toilet or making sure all the light fixtures have bulbs that work might not feel as special as sending a kid to Puerto Rico for a mission trip or building a new sign out front of the building, but if it’s part of what we do as a church, you know it’s special and it’s critical that we support it with our prayers and our offerings. 

So that’s my proposal for a new resolution for you, members of St. Petri Lutheran Church: everything is special. I’m asking you to support the special work our church is doing in the Story City area with the sort of generosity you’ve given the other special offerings in the past. I’m asking you to help us move forward as a congregation in 2018 and unleash a bit more of the special potential this congregation has to be a force for God’s kingdom this year. I hope to do more of it myself, and I invite you to join me on that journey. God bless you all in this new year. 

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Scott