Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What are your questions about baptism?

One issue over which every preacher grapples is the starting place of their sermons. Do preachers let the questions, needs and interests of the congregation inform the themes of preaching or do preachers take a prescribed set of biblical readings and then apply them to their congregation?

I started out as a Lectionary preacher. I preached through the three year readings at least twice.

Over time I discovered that I was a better preacher when I let the questions, needs and interests of the congregation inform the themes of my preaching. I understand and have heard the arguments about the value of preaching from a pre-set lectionary. However I just think I am more faithful to the task of preaching when I share theme-based sermons—themes that come from the questions of the congregation.

This Sunday, October 3, we are celebrating the first baptism of a child at Chain of Lakes Church. We are focusing worship this Sunday around people’s questions regarding baptism. For the past two weeks I’ve encouraged folks at Chain of Lakes to submit the questions they have about baptism. “What question do you have about baptism that you have always wanted answered? What is a question about baptism that you’ve felt too shy to ask?”

I’ve received a wonderful and challenging set of questions. In the sermon (and if necessary in an enclosed sheet) I plan on sharing responses to every question.

So let me ask you—the reader of this blog—the same questions. What question do you have about baptism that you have always wanted answered? What is a question about baptism that you’ve felt too shy to ask?”

Please share your questions in the comment section of this blog, or send and E-mail to pastor@colpres.org.

To adequately respond to the questions, I need them by noon on Wednesday, September 29.

Don’t be shy—ask some tough questions!

The above picture was of the first baptism we celebrated at Chain of Lakes that took place on Easter Sunday.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Welcoming Joanne Shingledecker as Educator at Chain of Lakes!

This past Tuesday night the Steering Committee hired Joanne Shingledecker to be our Children’s Ministry Director. Joanne will be starting with us on October 1. She currently serves on the staff of Presbyterian Church of the Way—she works 20 hours a week.

In my mind the hiring of Joanne completes our initial staff team. We are blessed at Chain of Lakes to have a top-notch Administrator in Jennifer Huehns, a top-notch Music Director in Kellie Burriss, and now a top-notch Children’s Ministry Director in Joanne Shingledecker.

Our Education team interviewed two quality candidates for the position. Joanne has extensive experience in Christian education. She has received certification as an Associate Christian Educator. She has worked on staff for Presbyterian churches whose memberships range from less than 200 to over 650. Her job at Chain of Lakes will be to continue to develop our Sunday School. The building blocks for our Sunday School were put in place by the work of Gary Wassam. Joanne will continue this work. Her task will not be to do the ministry, but instead will be to equip adults to lead this ministry. Our initial plans are for her to alternate between Church of the Way and Chain of Lakes on Sunday mornings. One Sunday she will be at Chain of Lakes and the next Sunday she will be at Church of the Way.

Besides serving as staff at Presbyterian Church of the Way, Joanne recently served as co-chair for the Special Needs Committee for the 2010 General Assembly and was director of Grand’s Camp for Presbyterian Clearwater Forest. She currently serves on the Disabilities Task Force of our Presbytery. She is very well connected with the Educator community within our Presbytery.

In her application for the job she shared the following:
“A successful church education program is led by volunteers. It is important, therefore, that the Christian Education staff have the ability to identify and encourage the development of abilities and gifts of volunteers. Both volunteer and the church benefit when contributions are made by those who have skills in the areas to which they are contributing. It is important that the staff person provide resources to teachers, program areas, and committee chairpersons in order to facilitate the work of volunteers.”

Having different churches employ the same staff person is one important model for churches to consider in the 21st century. Presbyterian Church of the Way has already been an important contributor to the development of Chain of Lakes Church. When I first started at Chain of Lakes I was willing to live in their parish house for free. Ward Sessing, a member of Church of the Way, currently chairs the Property Task Force—a group looking to secure property for Chain of Lakes Church. I look forward to the day when we at Chain of Lakes will contribute to the ministry and mission of Presbyterian Church of the Way.

I am thrilled that Joanne Shingledecker will be joining our staff team. I anticipate that she will make a dramatic impact on the formation of our educational ministries at Chain of Lakes Church.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A good way to honor a good man

A special thanks to everyone who came to the plaque dedication this past Saturday for Jeff Gravon in front of the Worthington YMCA.

We weren’t able to get a lot of publicity out into Worthington about the event, so I was very pleased that about 30 people showed up. I was especially impressed by the large number of people who came from New Prague. I was touched that some of the players on Jeff’s team, Tim Dittberner, the current coach of the New Prague Boys Basketball team, and the athletic director from New Prague came. Their presence made the event even more special.

Dedicating this plaque was a way to celebrate Jeff’s commitment to youth, and it was a way to let go of the grief that many of us feel about his passing.

Jeff was a very private man. As we were sharing stories this past Saturday, I shared with the group that he would have hated having all of us talk about him in public. I think he would have also been pleased that a group of us were acknowledging the importance of committing ourselves to youth. If he knew that by honoring him we were honoring kids and youth, he would have been satisfied.

I hope that this plaque will inspire many of the adults who pass it to commit ourselves again to the youth and kids.

A special thanks to Any Johnson from the Worthington YMCA , to Wayne Klumper from Worthington, and to Audrey Peters for all they did to make the ceremony happen.
It was a good day to honor a good man.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jeff Gravon Plaque dedication

This Saturday, September 18th I will help dedicate a plaque at noon for Jeff Gravon in front of the Worthington YMCA.

Jeff was a childhood friend. He stood up for me in Amy & my wedding; I officiated his wedding. Jeff was passionate about youth. He passed away from cancer in January 2009. I officiated at both of his funeral services. When he died Jeff was the Boys Basketball coach at New Prague High School. His fight with cancer received some media coverage in the Twin Cities.

At the luncheon after his funeral in Worthington I started talking to some folks about dedicating a tree for Jeff in his memory. Over time the idea of dedicating a tree morphed into dedicating a plaque in front of the Worthington YMCA. Jeff spent much of his childhood at the Y. He spent his summer’s playing baseball on the ball fields at the Y. When he was older he did a lot of umpiring for the Y.

Jeff was one of the most competitive people I ever knew. He fought his cancer to his last breath. I shared the following story at his funeral and on the Jeff Gravon Memorial Facebook page. I remember when we played summer baseball in the YMCA rec league. I was not a good baseball player, but one game I was feeling it. I had three doubles. In the last inning Jeff came in as a relief pitcher for the other team. We had runners on second and third. I was at bat. He promptly beaned me. He beaned one of his friends in a summer baseball game, so that he could win. And they did win the game!!

You can check out some other beautiful stories on the discussion link on the Jeff Gravon Memorial Facebook page.

Jeff was one of the most dedicated fathers that I ever met. He would do anything for his children. One of his greatest sorrows was he didn’t get to see Jason, Danielle, Allison and Jordan grow up.

We’ll share some more stories about Jeff during the dedication on Saturday. A special thanks to the Andy Johnson from the Worthington YMCA, Audrey Parkhurst, Wayne Klumper, and the Gravon family for all they did to help set up this dedication.

If you are in the Worthington area this Saturday, come join us at noon.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reflections on September Presbytery

Yesterday afternoon and evening I joined other Presbyters at the Plymouth Presbyterian Church for the September meeting of the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area. Besides the “train ride” of a special meeting called in July, this was the first time the Presbytery had met since May. With all of the preparations involved in hosting General Assembly in July, I’m glad we didn’t have a regular meeting in July.

After I arrived I found a small space at a table and began hawking the recent newsletter from Chain of Lakes Church. Until our New Church Development charters, I plan on having some sort of display about Chain of Lakes at every Presbytery meeting. I enjoyed meeting and talking to many colleagues, sharing the recent successes we've experienced at Chain of Lakes, and in particular talking to some of the saints from Community Presbyterian in Plainview.

The meeting got interesting to me when Andy Lindahl, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Austin, shared his experience of serving on the Presbytery's Strategy Task Force—a group on which I also served. He very honestly and tactfully shared his skepticism about serving on the group. He admitted that he had not recently been involved in Presbytery work and was very tired of the infighting within the body. He compared his thoughts about serving to “the last session before a couple divorces.” He then told us that his participation on the Strategy group had connected him to the Presbytery again. He was excited about the document that our group had produced and was looking forward to seeing what came of it.

A little later David Lenz, pastor of Hope Church in Richfield, shared almost the same message. While serving on the Presbytery Council he had participated in a Retreat where the work of the Strategy work was shared. He shared that he felt welcomed into the process. He also honesty and tactfully shared the pain he had experienced from the Presbytery and then shared his hope about the future.

I was moved by both presentations—not “cut to the heart,” but most certainly moved. Experiencing the truth spoken in love with tact at Presbytery is a sign that life within our Presbytery is changing.

After dinner I moderated one of the small groups that discussed some of the Strategy Task Force's work. The one-page document can be found here: http://presbyterytwincities.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/PTCA-Strategic-Plan-08-26-10-PC-Mtg.pdf.

Our group of about 25 generally approved of the document that they read. The document received some push back by folks concerned about the lack of articulation about participating in the world. Some other folks were a bit concerned about the use of the word, “fearlessly” in the New Vision statement that the Strategy Group brought forward. Our statement was, “We fearlessly follow the HolySpirit into a changing world.” The word “fearlessly” is my favorite word in the document. For me it articulates the essential need for the Presbytery to take risks. Risk is something that many religious bodies have difficulty, something I've never understood for our leader, Jesus Christ, was one of the most fearless leaders in the history of the world. Having said that, I could see changing the word, “fearlessly” to “courageously.”

Dr. Cynthia Rigby, professor at Austin Theological Seminary gave the sermon. I missed her Pre-Presbytery talk on Calvin. She very beautifully exegeted Peter's sermon in Acts 2 and shared the nuanced differences between being moved and being “cut to the heart.” I was moved by her sermon, but soon brought back to reality when the business portion of the meeting was resumed right after the sermon was concluded.

How about a prayer, hymn or benedication to conclude worship?

I'm encouraged by the positive energy that is slowly percolating within our Presbytery.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rally Day at Chain of Lakes Church

We have been working hard all week to get ready for our first Rally Day at Chain of Lakes Church. Many people in the Blaine area received the post card that is in this blog’s picture. We sent out 2,000 post cards in the mail yesterday. These post cards are part of our fall Publicity efforts. I am excited to see how these post cards will share the word about Chain of Lakes Church. I've already had a conversation with someone this morning that asked me how we designed such a professionally looking post card. Give kudos to Jennifer Huehns, our Administrative Assistant for designing the post card.

We have all sorts of activities taking place on Rally Day, this Sunday, September 12. Come early at 10:00 a.m. to enjoy fellowship on the patio outside of the Senior Center. We will have music playing, balloons set up and food. Bring your kids early as they are going to help lead the congregation in the Call to Worship during worship-I'll want to practice this with them. During worship special music will be shared by Hannah Moore and Kellie Burriss. We are also announcing three small group opportunities for the fall. I am starting a new sermon series called, "God's desires 4 you." After worship we are going to take our first congregational picture.

If you live in Blaine, Lino Lakes, Lexington, Circle Pines or Centerville, please come and join us on Sunday. We will go out of our way to help you feel welcome! We worship at the Lino Lakes Senior Center, 1189 Main Street—located a half mile east of the intersection of Main and Lake Drive.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Terry Jones and the burning of the Koran

Terry Jones is the pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. He is the pastor who is going to have 200 copies of the Koran burned this Saturday, September 11th. According to news accounts approximately 50 people come to worship every Sunday at the Dove World Outreach Center. The question that has been lost in the media coverage is why is this a story?

I was the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview, Minnesota. When I started there in 1993 our worship attendance was 54; we grew to 98 in worship and then settled at 84. Our congregation was larger than the congregation at Dove World Outreach Center. No member of the media every came to worship to report on the sermons I gave. The message I shared that God loves us, Jesus Christ is risen, the Holy Spirit is present never made the national news.

Not surprisingly I don’t think my sermons in Plainview should have made the national news. Just as I don’t think that Terry Jones’ message should make the national news.
When I was a kid I was taught that if someone makes a bullying comment, the best thing to do was to ignore the person. The more I paid attention to a bully, the more caustic the bully would become. The same principle applies to Terry Jones. The more the media pays attention to him the more outrageous his statements he will make.

Do I think the Koran should be burned? Of course not.
Do I think that Islam was part of murdering over 3,000 people on September 11, 2001? No
Do I think that Osama Bin Laden represents Islam? No way
Am I bothered that Tony Jones wants to burn the Koran? Yes, but I wouldn’t let him know. Why would I want to encourage a man with such extreme views?

This Sunday during worship I’ll pray that this situation will renew relationships between Christians and Muslims. I doubt anyone will from the media will write about my prayer.

This story is more about the immaturity of the media than it is about a angry man with a small flock in Florida.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Day of School

Today is a special day for the red heads with whom I share my life. One is celebrating her entrance into the world and the other is going to her first day of 4th grade.

Hannah was as ready as she could be for the first day of school. She was certainly organized. Shortly after we met her teacher last Wednesday she took home the lunch schedule and quickly decided which days she will be eating hot lunch and what days she will be eating cold lunch. The lunch calendar is now dotted with “h’s,” and “c’s.” Her backpack and supplies were purchased almost a month ago, and if Hannah had her way the purchase would have been made earlier. She kissed me good night last night and made me promise that I wouldn’t let her oversleep.

She didn’t need to worry. She was up shortly after seven, and we started the wonderful morning of seeing her off on the first day of school.

Yesterday afternoon Amy and I sat down and shared with Hannah our expectations for her this school year. It didn’t take too long for the three of us to get on the same page. Hannah wrote the expectations down, and I hope they’ll end up on our refrigerator door.

Last night some neighbors came over and we talked about education. Both of our neighbors earn their living through teaching and education. All of us shared our frustration with the focus on testing in our schools. As a parent I want my daughter to learn how to think. This is more important to me than a score she receives on a standardized test. I believe educational leaders have confused “means” and “ends.” I have no problem that kids take standardized tests and that we have national standards for different grades. But the obsession with testing has gone too far. Some schools in Minnesota are now starting two weeks before Labor Day they they can have more time to prepare kids for spring tests. Some want teachers to receive extra pay depending on how their students do on tests.

Hannah knows the traditions of the first day of school around our household better than me. As we were eating breakfast she asked me if we were going to take a video of the day. Oops—forgot that tradition. So I found the video camera, charged the battery, and took five minutes of video. Somewhere in our collection of video tapes we have five years of tapes that have 1st day of school recordings. If I could find the tapes and play them I would guess the length would go in decreasing order--on Hannah's first day of Kindergarten we took at least a half hour of video.

Soon after we took the obligatory first day of picture and then the neighborhood kids and parents gathered at the bus stop—which is on the corner of our front yard. I hadn’t seen a few kids since last spring, and we have a few new kids going to school. We quickly got the kids together to take a picture, the bus came, and off they went. We had some tears and one girl was running a fever so couldn’t go to school. Then they left. Watching the bus drive away on the first day of school is always a powerful moment—deeply spiritual.

Say a prayer today for the new journey our precious kids are taking today in Minnesota.