Friday, October 6, 2017

Attending Leadership Institute at Church of the Resurrection

Last week I had the privilege of attending Leadership Institute at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.  Leadership Institute is put on by Church of the Resurrection, the largest Methodist church in the United States.  This church was started in 1990 with four people—Adam Hamilton, his wife and their two young children. 

This is the fifth year I’ve taken a group from Chain of Lakes to the conference, (the tenth time--I think--I've attended myself) and it was the largest group we’ve had from our new congregation.  It was a privilege to attend with Sally Narr, Val Owens, Jonathan Smith, and Pam Van Meter.  Kathy Brevig would have attended, but she had an emergency appendix surgery two days before we were leaving.

This year Leadership Institute was made up of Pre-Institute sessions on Wednesday and then Leadership Institute on Thursday and Friday.  One difference this year was Leadership Institute was made up of five talks or plenary sessions by different leaders instead of a combination of talks and workshops led by people from Church of the Resurrection.  The church had less space to host Leadership Institute this year because of the renovation of one of the buildings.  I would have preferred more workshops during Leadership Institute, but I understand why this happened. 

My favorite Pre-Institute workshop was led by Jim and Jennifer Cowart, founding pastors of Harvest Church, a United Methodist church launched in 2001 near Macon, Georgia.  The church now has an average attendance of 2,000 each weekend.  One part of the workshop I enjoyed was a system of small groups called 3 G’s, grab, grow and gather.  They develop curriculum and then encourage small group leaders to “grab” it.    The small group leader then invites people in his or her neighborhood, work setting, and other networks to join a group.    

I could see Chain of Lakes doing this system during Lent.  Every year our congregation reads through a gospel—next Lent we will read through Mark.  I could see having congregation-wide small groups on Mark.  The groups would meet weekly for six weeks.  I could share six short talks on a different part of Mark and have it put on a DVD or a flash drive; I would add some discussion questions, share the materials and—we have something that a person could grab.  That person would gather their friends, co-workers and perhaps others from Chain of Lakes and have a small group.  If the small group corresponded with a sermon series that I’m sharing on Mark there would be even more incentive for people in the small group to come to worship. 

Adam Hamilton gave two talks and both of them excellent.  He started Leadership Institute by sharing how church architecture is important for Millenials.  She shared how some of the thinking of Church of the Resurrection in designing their new sanctuary.  He also used the metaphor of a restaurant as a way to think of worship.  She shared that ambience, service and the quality of the food make a great restaurant.  Church leaders could think about the quality of the atmosphere of the congregation, hospitality and the quality of worship service. 

Nancy Beach gave a compelling talk about what makes up a healthy church.  She shared that a healthy culture in a church is constructed by individuals.  She then shared and explained eight important parts of that culture.  They are joy, intensity, self-awareness, humility, trust, men & women working together, commitment to speak candidly, and love. 

The best part of time at Leadership Institute is talking to people who attended from Chain of Lakes.  We now have a common experience of learning together.  It’s not as hard to apply new ideas when I come back from this conference because the others who attended with me saw how these new ideas work.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Becoming an organized church--Yay, God!

This past Tuesday evening the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area met at the Presbyterian Church in Red Wing.  For perhaps the last time I set up a table at the entrance to the sanctuary and shared information about Chain of Lakes Church.

The mood of the Presbytery was celebrative.  The Presbytery elected Barbara Lutter as the new Stated Clerk, heard an outstanding presentation on stewardship by Adam Copeland, voted to ordain Hae Ryun Chang as a Teaching Elder.  The Presbytery thanked Bill Davnie for his service as a Stated Clerk and installed Jeff Japinga as the Executive Presbyter.

But the defining memory of the meeting for me will be the unanimous action by the Presbytery to receive Chain of Lakes as a Presbyterian congregation.  Our new church had met the requirements to become a church on Easter 2017.  The Steering Committee soon afterwards alerted Bill Davnie and the wheels were set in motion for this vote.

The vote was quick, almost perfunctory, and marked with celebration.  When I spoke to the motion I shared what a privilege it has been for me to work with the people of Chain of Lakes.  They have literally given their blood, sweat, and tears to establishing this faith community.  I also shared that I hope the Presbytery can review what happened with Chain of Lakes, learn from the successes and disappointments, and soon start more new churches.  At the end of my short talk I shared that becoming a church offers the opportunity of a new relationship between Chain of Lakes and the Presbytery.  Our soon-to-be organized church will soon start praying, thinking about, and working towards putting a building on the church property.  This next season of ministry offers the possibility of exciting collaboration.

At the Rotary meeting on Wednesday I was asked by a community member why this vote was important.  This person is not part of Chain of Lakes and had seen the posting of what happened on my Facebook page.  This is a good question.  Chain of Lakes probably won’t feel any different as an organized church than as a New Church Development. 

The vote is important because the people of Chain of Lakes and the Presbytery have accomplished an important goal.  Ever since Chain of Lakes was started as a New Church Development, we’ve wanted to become an organized church.   When seven families gathered in the Rice Lake Professional Building in February 2009, the group came to learn about how to become an organized church.  Now that goal is achieved.  Check that box off as an accomplishment. 

Being an organized church will give allow Chain of Lakes to operate more effectively—we can actually open up a bank account under our own name (wow!)—and will give our church legitimacy with the wider community.

During my devotional time on Wednesday morning I was thanking God for all the people who have helped make this happen.  And as I was praying I received a whisper from God that said, “you need to thank me.”  And my gosh is this true.  As a New Church Development, Chain of Lakes has faced some very tough and challenging situations.  Some of these situations presented problems that didn’t have easy answers.  Every time the people of Chain of Lakes have figured out how to respond successfully to these situations.  God led us through these moments—many times in ways that many of us didn’t realize.  God has always been working behind the scenes helping Chain of Lakes become an organized church.  Yay, God!


Starting this church has been an adventure of a lifetime.  I can’t wait to celebrate!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Joshua Tree at US Bank Stadium?

This past Friday night I surprised my wife, Amy, by taking her to hear U-2 perform at US Bank Stadium.  I had shared with her that I was going to take her on a secret adventure for her birthday, which was a day earlier.

I waited to purchase the tickets all week, but finally on Friday I pulled the trigger.  Buying tickets on-line felt like gambling.  I knew the prices were going down, but how long could I wait?  If I could have stomached waiting until Friday evening I could have saved another twenty percent.

The first time I listened to Joshua Tree was on a drive out west.  A confluence of events set me up to fall in love with the music.  Wide open spaces, spiritual messages that fit my views, and long guitar riffs by Beck—it felt like heaven.  Driving for days and listening to the music over and over and over cemented the lyrics in my mind.

The downloaded tickets said the concert started at 7:30, so like proper Minnesotans we were in our seats and ready to go.  But as inexperienced concert goers we didn’t realize we had a long wait to hear the main attraction.  Beck started out the concert.  I couldn’t understand a word the band shared.  I told Amy that I needed the lyrics to be projected.  When Beck finished we waited—and waited—and waited.  Poetry was flashed on the screen in back of the stage.  I liked reading the poems the first five times.  By the 20th I was mindlessly using my phone.

Finally Larry Mullen walked down the stage, then the Edge, and the Bono and Adam Clayton.  Soon we were all singing “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”  They played their first set of songs on a small stage without any video.  They didn’t need any extra help.  The songs and the music and the singing lifted me back to that drive out west.

When the video choreography started I was wowed.  Scenes of the desert and more wide open spaces.  It felt universal.

The sound was horrible for Beck; slightly better for U-2.  It would be hard for me to go back to US Bank Stadium for a concert.  I have walked through the doors of US Bank Stadium twice—once to watch the Vikings and once to watch the Blaine Bengals.  The stadium worked for me when I watched football.  I went to my seat and cheered.  As I've written before the stadium works differently than Target Field.  At US Bank Stadium the experience works best when I look at the huge windows and take in the sky.

But to spend hundreds of dollars to hear an iconic band and not enjoy a crystal clear sound?  No.  Why not Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium? 

Plenty of reviews have been written about the concert.  And they are worth reading.





For me the symbol of the night was the Joshua Tree.  The shape of the tree reminded the Mormons of when Joshua lifted up his hands in prayer.  Whatever our view of God, U-2 connects us to something deeper and far beyond ourselves.  And despite the cost and the venue having that moment with Amy was beautiful.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Being blessed by our friends at the Blaine Muslim Community Center


Last week I had the opportunity to go to the Blaine Muslim Community Center to share a statement of support from the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes Church.

Let me back up.  In early August the Dar Al Farouq Center in Bloomington was bombed.  At about 5:00 in the morning someone threw an “improvised explosive device” into that place of worship.  The office of the Inman was damaged.  A witness said that the device was thrown from a pickup truck.

No matter how many times a place of worship is bombed, we are called to speak up and ultimately resist.  Every…single…time this happens in the Twin Cities we are called to resist and share that this action will never be acceptable.

The Blaine Muslim Community Center is located about a mile north from where Chain of Lakes Church worships.  Last spring at the lobby day for the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition I had the opportunity to sit around a table with many leaders from the Blaine Muslim Community Center to talk about important issues that the Minnesota Legislature was facing.  After that event the leaders of that community invited people from Chain of Lakes to an event where our friends were breaking the fast during Ramadan.

Shortly after the bombing of the Dar Al Farouq Center in Bloomington I wrote a statement of support for our friends at the Blaine Community Muslim Center.  The Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes edited the statement at our August meeting.  The Sunday after that meeting the Steering Committee stood behind me as I read the statement during worship at Chain of Lakes.

Last Thursday I dropped the statement off at the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  I got there about 8:00 and the parking lot was full.  I walked into the building and shared that I wanted to talk to share the statement with Waleed Shady, the Inman of the Community. 

When I arrived he was praying with others.  When he was done praying he greeted me warmly.  I shared with him the letter of support and other notes of support that people from Chain of Lakes had written on index cards.  He put them all on a bulletin board.  Then he invited me to dinner.

The community was breaking a fast that day.  Over two hundred people had gathered for dinner.  Food was strewn on a table that was must have been thirty feet long.  A man who was my guide told me about all of the different foods on the table.  He wanted to make sure I had the food I wanted.  He practically filled my plate with food.  When the two of us sat down to talk I asked my new friend if it was hard to fast.  He smiled and said he was used to it.  He lives in Blaine.  He has a daughter who is in 11th grade in Blaine High School.  He teaches in Minneapolis. 

He was willing to spend time with me—a white Christian instead of spending time with the people he knew.  He got out of his comfort zone.  Even though I walked into the Blaine Community Muslim Center with the intention of sharing a blessing, I was the one who walked out feeling blessed.  I was blessed because the leaders at the Blaine Muslim Community Center were willing to get out of their comfort zone and share hospitality with me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Learning from the eclipse--our place in the universe

The above picture was taken by a friend of mine who lives in Salem, Oregon.  “The Great American Eclipse” started on the Oregon Coast and cut a southeasterly swath across the United States.  This was the first time since February 1979 that a full eclipse was seen from the contiguous United Stated, but then only five states in the Northwest experienced total darkness.  The moon hasn’t covered this much of the sun as seen in the United States since 1918.  My friend shared that it felt like a snow day in Salem.  Shops were closed, people didn’t go to work, and a lot of special activities took place.    

We weren’t so fortunate in Blaine, Minnesota.  We were told that we could enjoy 87 percent of eclipse.  At 12:30 Sally Narr and I decided to sit outside for our weekly meeting.  The sky was cloudy—no chance to see the moon go in front of the sun.  But it got darker—or did it?  I wasn't sure if this was my imagination.  Sally and I kept saying to each other—it’s getting darker, right?  Some part of us wanted it to get darker as if we were rooting for the eclipse to take place.  Most of the cars driving by our church had their lights on.  Was this intentional or did the something in the car car recognize that it was darker and automatically turn the lights on.  If I hadn’t known that an eclipse was happening I would have thought that the clouds were extra heavy for the day.

I ended up watching videos of people watching the eclipse.  I can still hear the “oohs" and "ahs" in people’s voices when the moon went over the sun.  Their voices expressed a childhood delight. 

We had people from our congregation who traveled to be in the zone of totality.  If I wasn’t working I might have too.  Even if eclipses happen frequently all around the world, I could imagine feeling that something happened when the sun was blocked by the moon. 

For one day I was reminded that we on the earth are not the center of the universe.  We are one small speck in a huge galaxy of time, matter, and space.  Given the our place in the universe, it makes any current troubles that I have quite small. 

The Psalmist had it right.  What are humans in the vast cosmic galaxy of space?  (Psalm 8)  We really are nothing.  Watching an event that we could predict but not control was a helpful reminder of our place in the universe. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Connecting the dots

While driving on Radisson Road in Blaine on a Saturday earlier this year, I pulled out my phone to make a call.  The day was very busy.  I was trying to reach a family who were experiencing serious problems.  I rarely initiate calls while driving; however my own time pressures and my desire to reach this family prompted me to make the call.  As I was driving, the window of a large pickup truck that was traveling besides me was rolled down; the pickup truck decreased speed and veered a bit into my lane.  My initial thought was something was wrong with my car and the driver of the pickup was trying to help me.  I rolled down my window.  When I did the driver of the pickup—a Caucasian male in his 40’s—pointed his finger at me and yelled, “Get off the !@## phone.”  It took every piece of inner strength within me not to flip him the bird.  And let me be clear—I haven’t pulled out my middle finger in decades.  The experience felt like a male mammal marking his territory.

On Saturday, August 5 an “improvised explosive” device was thrown into the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington.  The blast heavily damaged the office of Mohamed Omar, the center’s executive director.  Windows were shattered in the building.  The blast was reported at 5:05 am when about a dozen people had gathered in a room for morning prayers.  The Star Tribune reported that Omar, who was in the building when the explosion erupted, said one worshiper saw a pickup truck speed out of the parking lot after the blast.

Last Saturday, August 12 white supremacists, neo-nazis, and their allies marched through Charlottesville, Virginia.  James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove a car through a group of counter-protestors.  Heather D. Heyer was killed and many more were injured.  As I shared on my own Facebook page yesterday I highly commend Brian McLaren’s description of the events that he wrote on his blog (brianmclaren.net).  McLaren shared a trilogy of blogs where he explained why he was participating in the counter-protests, what happened in Charlottesville, and ways to respond.

To me these three incidents are dots on a cultural landscape that seems to be changing.  As a pastor I’m trained to connect the dots.  And I’m trained to help people in faith communities respond to what we see in the wider world.

Last Thursday evening the Steering Committee wrestled with a statement about what happened at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center and how to respond in solidarity to the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  We know that what happened in Bloomington could happen in Blaine.  We took the first draft that I wrote and thought hard about whether it reflected the Purpose Statement and Core Values of Chain of Lakes.  The Steering Committee made suggestions to that first draft.  The final statement was approved unanimously.  The Steering Committee stood in front of the crowd that gathered for worship at Chain of Lakes this past Sunday and read the statement.  After worship everyone was given a card on which a person could write his or her own personal statement of support to the people of the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  I will be hand-delivering this statement and these cards to the Blaine Muslim Community Center this week.

President Trump’s changing response to Charlottesville is a reflection of a multitude of similar dots that seem to be coming to the surface in America.  He is the result of something much deeper. 

I believe that people of faith and communities of faith must respond prayerfully, strategically, courageously and non-violently to this cultural landscape.  Dr. King Jr. is my own role model for resisting injustice.  And we must go out of our way to create multi-racial communities (when possible) whose values reflect the Prince of Peace. 


It’s painful to connect these dots.  The best response I can do is to pray longer and more fervently.  My prayers don’t preclude future action.  But these dots necessitate being connected to the ultimate source of life.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Solidarity with the Muslim community


The following statement was approved by the Chain of Lakes Steering Committee this past Thursday evening.  We will read it in worship tomorrow, August 13, at Chain of Lakes.  We will ask people present to write individual notes of support to the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  Please join us in worship at Chain of Lakes to express solidarity for the Muslim community!

Violence that intentionally targets the people of any religion is unacceptable.  The people of Chain of Lakes are horrified about the recent bombing of the Dar Al Farooq Center in Bloomington and the vandalism of the Al Maghfirah cemetery in Dakota County.  We affirm the comments made by Rev. Curtiss De Young, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches who said, “An attack on a mosque is an attack on a synagogue is an attack on a church is an attack on all faith communities.”

Unfortunately, what happened in Bloomington and Dakota Country could happen in Blaine. 

The people of Chain of Lakes Church support our friends at the Blaine Muslim Community Center (BCC).  We recognize you as an important part of the community.  Your roots and our roots go back to the prophet, Abraham.  .

We are grateful that we live in a country where all religions are free to express faith.  Freedom of religion is a foundation of this country.   Chain of Lakes affirms and supports freedom for all religions.

Most of all Chain of Lakes wants to reach out in sympathy.  We cannot imagine the emotions that are going through the people who worship at the Blaine Muslim Community Center.     

As we move forward please know that the people of Chain of Lakes stands with you during this time and will continue to stand with you in the future.