Saturday, December 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--December 2007

Transformation is among us!

Its been nearly a year since we began this process called “Transformation.” Now, you may be wondering when transformation is going to “happen” so we can get on with church life as usual. How are we going to know when we've arrived? When will we be transformed? Or you may even be asking: When can we quit talking about all of this?

In the gospel of Luke similar questions are being asked of Jesus about the kingdom of God: “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’”(Luke 17:20-21) Like the kingdom of God, Transformation is not a destination exactly, not something that comes so you can say “Ok, we've done it” and just hang out. But, also like God's kingdom, you can see hints of Transformation—signs that God is up to something—the Transformation of Bethlehem is among us!

Here are some of the best signs that God is making Transformation happen among us:

Stuart Shawen

Tim Campbell

Ruth McKee

Sandy Rogers

John Slete

Mel Hayes

Linda Hayes

Nathan Clemens

Rebecca Clemens

Elliot Clemens

Ken Baungards

Vicki Baungards

David Holthaus

Erin Holthaus

Jacob Holthaus

Hannah Holthaus

Sienna Holthaus

These are the people who, in the past year, have felt called to participate in the mission of God through Bethlehem Lutheran Church by becoming members. There are 17 people on this list. For a congregation that regularly has 40-50 people in worship on any given Sunday, this is nothing short of a miracle! And two times this fall we have had 80 people in worship—more than we had this past Easter. And there's no reason to think that this won't continue. I don't think that growth for growth's sake is really what being the people of God is all about, but I also know that people don't join dying congregations. People feel called to participate in a congregation that is on its way somewhere, a community that's tuned in to what God is up to in the world and is seeking to be a part of it. We don't transform simply by adding people, but as we are transforming, people will naturally want to join with us in God's work. And through our Transformation, they have. This is cause for us to celebrate.

But in our celebration, we need to be careful not to think that “we've arrived,” that our Transformation is complete and we can just “be the church” now that we've been saved from the brink of disaster. Like the kingdom of God, Transformation is continuous, an ongoing emerging reality that we now live in. It's not about having enough people to pay the bills and being able to afford a pastor. Its not about having a full sanctuary, or lots of programs and activities, or being known as a vibrant congregation. All of these things are simply means to an end: getting us ready to engage in the purpose that God has for us in God's mission in and to the world. And for us, that's the next step. In the coming months we will be working hard on Guiding Principles—those statements that will lead us to that next stage of mission and participation of what God is up to in the world. We'll be developing a purpose statement, and seeking to find some clarity as to what it is we are to do next. God is calling us to do more that just simply “be”—we are called to transform and to keep transforming so that we will be ready to be part of God's mission and purpose for us. Its an exciting time to be a part of Bethlehem Lutheran Church to see where God is leading us next. Transformation is among us!

Pastor Erik

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--November 2007

Over these past months of Transformation, one question has come up again and again: “How do we recognize the call of God?” The creator of the universe is not prone to cell phone or email conversation, and only rarely resorts to inscribing things on stone tablets or giving grand visions where everything is all laid out—and none of these things seem to be happening to us. So how are we supposed to know what God has in mind for us as a community or as individual people?

We’ve been reading the Book of Acts together every Sunday morning. Actually, we’re on our second time through—having come to the end of the book at the beginning of summer and realizing that we need another run at it. It’s a great and thought provoking book—even the second time (maybe even more so). It’s an incredible (and dramatic) story, and those of us who have been delving into it are coming to realize that it has a message for us and what God is calling us to—even if the specifics on that aren’t entirely clear. Acts is itself a story about the call of God and those who respond to it—and it is chock full of transformation. So I think it’s a good place to start in answering the question “How do we recognize the call of God?”

First, we’ve got to start in prayer. Prayer is a constant activity in Acts—and especially as the disciples of Jesus faced hard, difficult, or confusing decisions. And we’re not talking merely memorized recitations here; in Acts the disciples “devote” themselves to prayer. And through prayer, transformation begins.

Next, it’s about telling the story. Again and again, even when faced with persecution or death, the followers of Jesus tell the story. They tell anyone who will listen (and even some who don’t want to hear it) about Jesus, and how he brings forgiveness, and how his message of wholeness is meant for all people. And they tell their own stories, stories of the amazing and often strange ways God has worked in their lives. Through the telling of the story, not only the hearers, but the tellers of the story are transformed.

Then, we’ve got to be sure to listen for the Holy Spirit and be willing to follow where the Spirit leads. Paul, Peter, James, Barnabas, Stephen—they all found themselves in places they never expected to be, telling about Jesus to people they never expected to encounter, and doing things they never thought possible. And when things got difficult, they listened to the Spirit and went about it some other way—and through this, God led them into ministry they never even dreamed of.

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? One could almost write a whole self-help book on these three principles: pray, tell the story, and listen for the Holy Spirit. Just do these three simple steps, and you’ll know for sure where God is calling you. But this morning in Bible study something profound hit me. Most of the time, the disciples in Acts had no idea what was going on. From our perspective it looks so clear: “And the Holy Spirit called Paul to thus and so” but as the things were taking place, I’m pretty convinced they were fumbling around just like we do. Paul got knocked off his horse and spent several days blind before some gracious soul came to tell him what the heck was going on. Peter was released from prison by an angel, but thought he was dreaming until he found himself standing outside by himself. Again and again the disciples of Jesus bumble around until they find the place that the message will take hold—trying and failing again and again until God gives a resounding “You’re on to something!” and things work out.

In the coming months, we will be working hard on developing some guiding principles—praying, telling the story, and listening together to get those hints as to who God is calling us to be. We will seek to figure out and articulate what lies a the core of who we are, those things that make Bethlehem Lutheran Bethlehem Lutheran and will give us a clearer picture of where we may be called to go next. Part of this process will be several “cottage meetings” where we will gather in small groups around food or other activities to talk about what it is that God wants our neighbors and the world to know is true about us. I hope you will make an effort to be a part of one or more of these meetings, and participate in the shaping of our future ministry.

Maybe someday when someone writes “The Acts of Bethlehem Lutheran Church” the unfolding of God’s call will be crystal clear, and we will see what God has been leading us to all along. But in the mean time, we’ve got to bumble around like the disciples in Acts—deep in prayer, continuing to tell the story of Jesus and our own stories, and listening for the Holy Spirit for where we are to go next. If we do this, and seek to live faithfully in the mean time, I believe our calling as a people will begin to get clearer and clearer, like it did in Acts as they discovered that the Good News about Jesus was just too good to keep to themselves. God is calling us to find a place in his vision and mission in the world, too.

Pastor Erik

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--October 2007

Sunday, September 9th started off like any regular Sunday at Bethlehem Lutheran. As people began to fill our sanctuary, we noticed a few unusual decorative elements—colorful cloths and hangings, a globe of flowers representing the world floating in a blue sea beneath the Christ candle, wheat and other plants where we usually see flowers, and the baptismal font directly in front of the altar—hints that something different, something festive was in store for us. When we looked a bit closer, we noticed some drums up by the pulpit and wait, is that a projector? But it wasn’t until the prelude began that we knew we were in for a wholly different worship experience than had ever taken place at Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

Rather than the organ, we heard the beat of drums from our parking lot. “Listen! Listen God is calling!” The voices rang out to our neighborhood. “Hear the invitation, sent forth to all. Let us come and worship, answer God’s call.” And then, the drummers and singers made their way into the sanctuary. “Listen! Listen God is calling through the Word inviting, offering forgiveness, comfort and joy.” And you couldn’t help but listen and be drawn in to the invitation to experience God in this place. In addition to the unusual music, during this Global Mission Festival Service we focused on Global Mission, what God is up to around the world, hearing stories of pain and suffering along side stories of miracles God is doing through people just like us (and including us) and how we can be a part of what God is up to. It was challenging, heart breaking, inspiring, jarring and comforting all at the same time.

But it wasn’t all new and different. Amidst the drums and songs from Africa, Jamaica, Palestine, Brazil, Nicaragua, and other places projected up on the wall, we recognized our liturgy—bits and pieces that were familiar anchors: the Kyrie, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Word and the Sacraments at the center. Through the ancient pattern of worship God kept us connected to Christians throughout time and around the world—while through the unfamiliar parts we received the gifts of Christians in other places, and through these gifts God revealed himself to us in a whole new way. And it was fun! As we left the sanctuary, young and old were energized, dancing down the aisle still singing “Alabare! I will praise my Lord” as we made our way down to a coffee hour with the most incredible spread of desserts from all corners of the earth that we have ever seen. “People really eat that?” we wondered (as we ate it) “Boy, I wouldn’t have put these things together and called it dessert, but this is really good!” The presence of God was clearly among us as we worshiped and ate together—energizing us—and those who were there just can’t stop talking about it. Even little Emma sang “Uyaimose” all the way home.

Since February we have been engaged in a process of Transformation, opening ourselves up to what God is doing in the world and seeing how we can be a part of it. This worship service is a sign that this Transformation is really starting to take root. And the miracles abound. We had drums and a projector in the sanctuary—treasonous acts in some places—and they actually helped us focus on God. We raised over $150 in small change for world hunger. There were 84 people in attendance on Global Mission Sunday, TWELVE MORE than came on Easter Sunday this year. Think about that! And to top it all off, since the Global Mission Sunday nine people have indicated that they want to join Bethlehem. NINE PEOPLE! And almost all of them are under the age of 40.

Kelly Fryer in an article entitled “Traffic Jams and Transformation” reflects on research done in the past decades in the ELCA about what sorts of factors and techniques help churches to grow. She writes: “There was no single ‘technique’ that DID make a difference over the past decade…It didn’t matter what our newsletters looked like or how often we knocked on doors inviting people to church or how much people liked the pastor’s sermons. There was – get ready – only ONE factor that was a good predictor for whether or not a church grew: The ONLY factor that really matters is whether or not a church has a clear enough vision of where God wants it to go that it is open to change. The real issue, you see, isn’t HOW we do things. The real issue is who we ARE. Are we people who are so confident in God’s love and grace that we are able to try new things and welcome new people and embrace new ideas and dream new dreams? …Are we willing to let ourselves be turned upside down and inside out by a God who wants for us, for our congregations, and for our world more than anything we could ask or imagine?”

I don’t believe that these nine people (or anybody for that matter) want to join Bethlehem because we put on a good show, or because we had drums and a screen in the sanctuary, or for any other reason related to the Global Mission service except that it showed that we—the people of God who gather together here to be Bethlehem Lutheran Church—are listening to where God wants us to go and because of this we are open to change. The Global Mission service came about not because we thought it would be fun, or because we thought it would draw in more people, or for any reason other than the fact that the Transformation team, the council, and the new Global Mission team discerned a call from God that we should be exposed to what God is up to in other parts of the world—that God was calling us to think outside of ourselves. And through responding to that call, God worked amazing and miraculous things in our midst. We were, and are, willing to let ourselves be turned upside down and inside out by God—and God is already leading us into a future that is more than anything we could ask or imagine. And the people who come and worship with us experience this, and want to be a part of it—to join with us in what God is up to in the world. Our Global Mission Service was a great big sign that God is Transforming us—a little bit of our future right here in the present—that calls us even more deeply into figuring out what God has in mind for us. Isn’t Transformation fun?

Pastor Erik

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--September 2007

Transformation for our Doors!

As part of the Transformation process that we are undergoing, we will be focusing on three things over the next several months: 1) recognizing God’s mission in our neighborhood and in the world, 2) our vision for the part we believe we are called to play in God’s mission (aka our purpose), and 3) the guiding principles we hold that will shape how we seek to live out both of these together. This is not an easy task, and will involve a great deal of prayer, Bible study, and conversation together as we try to discern what God is up to among us and how we are going to participate in it. But thankfully, God does not wait for us to get our act together before transforming us (we call this grace) and I believe God is already putting us to work on what will probably be one of our guiding principles. And we can see it in one of the most mundane things about our life together as the people of God—our old, broken front doors.

The guiding principle I’m talking about is something along the lines of this “Bethlehem Lutheran is a welcoming community.” Now, we may not always live this out as fully as we might, but this principle seems to be central to how we see ourselves as a community, as a church, and as part of God’s mission in our neighborhood and the world. We live this out in various ways, from kind words to newcomers at worship, to bountiful feasts at funerals, to keeping an attractive sanctuary and fellowship hall so that when you step inside our church building you can feel “right at home” and know that we are a welcoming community. This connects to what we have read and heard together in the Bible: that God’s Good News is for everyone, that Christ welcomes all people to his table, and that we are meant to embody this in real ways in service to our neighbors.

Sometime this past winter, when the front doors had once again stuck open in the cold, I heard someone say a prophetic word: “You know, Bethlehem is very welcoming once you get in, but you kind of have to overcome these industrial doors to get there.” And suddenly the truth was before us—not only were the doors broken, they were communicating something to all who entered and also something (maybe even more loudly) to those who never entered. But it wasn’t until we were able to put our doors in conversation with this emerging guiding principle that things actually started to happen. When enough people started to say “Hey, Bethlehem is a welcoming community, and these doors just plain don’t reflect that!” the Holy Spirit grabbed hold of us, and something pretty amazing happened. Rather than a 6 month drone of “the doors are broken, please give more money” to which endless committees added the monotone base note of debate of endless possibilities resulting in yet another winter of not much changing—we saw transformation. People were motivated, visions pursued, doors found, money raised, and (hopefully by the time you read this) new doors installed—in weeks rather than months.

I believe the difference is that we looked at the doors in light of our guiding principles. We, as the people of God in this place, are a welcoming community. These old doors don’t reflect that, and are in the way of God’s work through us here, and so they have to go. When the criteria is “how do we best communicate this” rather than “what do we want, what do we like or dislike, what do we think we need to do for ourselves” we put the project of new doors in another framework. The doors become not about us, but about God’s mission in the world.

I have yet to talk to anyone who has not been utterly astonished at how quickly this has come together—in our experience “church business” usually gets bogged down, discussed and re-discussed, often so long that everyone just gives up. But this project was not just about “church business” it was about “God’s business” and we found ourselves responding to a call and all the pieces (together with a bit of hard work and great generosity) all fell into place. And this is just one project, with one guiding principle. Can you imagine what God will do with us when we are able to figure out a few more? Isn’t Transformation fun?
Pastor Erik

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--August 2007

A Spectacular Failure

For the past several months I have been using this space to talk about the miracles that God has been doing among us, and that we are starting to notice and celebrate as part of our Transformation process. This month, however, I’m not going to highlight a miracle, but rather a spectacular failure. “Oh, come on, Pastor,” you may be saying to yourself, “isn’t this newsletter supposed to be inspirational? Shouldn’t we just focus on the positive?” But part of trying something new, and of trying to figure out who God is calling us to be as a congregation, is failure. In fact, if some of the things that we were doing didn’t fail, it would be a sure sign that we aren’t risking very much, that we aren’t willing to try something really new for the sake of God’s mission. We are called to try and fail, and sometimes to fail spectacularly.
The spectacular failure I’m referring to is our experiment with our weekly Thursday night “Club Akaloo” education event for kids from Kindergarten through 8th grade. The vision was there. Our Sunday School superintendent Christine Colestock had an inspired idea for a high-energy, multi age, educational experience—a dream that was to eventually unite our whole community with age-appropriate education for everyone and a spirit of togetherness as we gathered on Thursday nights to learn, fellowship, and worship together. As if by a miracle, the Lutheran Church put out a new education curriculum, called “Akaloo,” which was designed for exactly this sort of thing. And so Christine led us in this new direction, blazing a new trail, to see if this was where God was calling us. And our congregation cheered her on, remembering a time when our Sunday School flourished, when Bethlehem resounded with the energy and enthusiasm of young people. And, miraculously, youth education at Bethlehem tripled in size in just a few months, from 5 kids to 15, half of whom weren’t otherwise connected to our congregation. And these kids came week after week, and they learned about Jesus, and they experienced the love of God here, and they really enjoyed it.
But after a while, it became more and more work to keep Akaloo going. Christine had hoped that we could all get behind this new thing God was doing among us, that everyone in our congregation could participate in whatever way they could. But despite what seemed like widespread support for work with young people, week after week, Christine was serving alone, with only her pastor there to cheer her on. Like a campfire that refuses to start no matter how much newspaper and matches you throw into it, Akaloo wasn’t able to catch Bethlehem on fire, and slowly smoldered out.
I’m going to be honest with you, I was pretty annoyed by this at first. Christine (and I) poured huge amounts of energy into this project and really wanted it to be a gift to our community—to be a rallying point for us to get behind that would reenergize us for mission. With no one willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved, however, leaders become quickly tired, burned out, and discouraged—and when going it alone, no matter how hard we try, all our hard work leads to failure. And even more frustrating was the fact that it seemed as though everyone was behind it. But as I listened carefully to folks as they remembered the days when the Sunday School was thriving, what they remembered, really, wasn’t just an impressive Sunday School, but the feeling of what it is like to be connected to God’s calling for us. When everyone wants to get on board, and be a part of what God is doing among us and through us—that’s what gives us energy for service. Perhaps this “spectacular failure” is an indication that our calling isn’t to rebuild the Sunday School we had in the past, isn’t to reconstruct our congregation on old blueprints, but to strike out in a new direction. And we wouldn’t have caught this new vision in we hadn’t tried and failed.
When we tap into what God has in mind for us, things take off and fly as if they had a life of their own (we could say “inspired by the Holy Spirit”). That’s one of the ways God show us that we are on the right track. People can’t wait to get involved, all sorts of connections start to happen, we become inspired and energized to work our tails off in service to God (think of the miracles of the last several months). But God also offers course corrections. When things become extremely difficult and people serve only out of a sense of duty, or begrudgingly, or find a way to dodge when the sign up sheet comes around—this could very well be an indication that we are off course a bit, and that God has other things in mind for us. A little bit of resistance is expected, but when roadblocks come up at every intersection, we should pay attention. Even if something worked well in the past, even if it works well at a church across town or across the street, no matter how hard we try, no matter how committed we may be, no matter how great an idea might be, if it’s not what God is calling us to do, no amount of effort on our part can make it happen. This might sound fatalistic, but it’s really good news. Our job is not to create something out of nothing, or to continue to bail out a sinking ship, but to keep asking “Is this what you want from us God?” and giving things a shot. When we hit on what God has in mind for us, we’ll know it.
In the Book of Acts, the religious council is debating whether to let the new “Christians” continue in their work, or to try to get rid of them. The religious leaders were threatened by all the “new stuff” these Christians were up to—what would happen to their old traditions? And (more to the point) what would happen to their power? Gamaliel, a respected teacher, responds in Acts 5:38b-39: “If this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” And yet, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge what is and isn’t of God. The God who raised Jesus from the dead again and again brings new life out of seemingly hopeless situations. Our “spectacular failure,” has inspired a whole new ministry. Three Lutheran churches in our cluster have been looking for something to do together, and heard of our Akaloo experiment. We shared with them our vision, and suddenly our entire cluster of churches is involved—with a seven-church weekly Wednesday Akaloo event starting in September that really has something for all ages. (see the flier elsewhere in this newsletter) Our little Bethlehem dream, and spectacular failure, has evolved into an incredible ministry that we never could have done on our own.
Though we “failed” in what we set out to do, we really were just given a bit of a course correction. It’s as if God said “Try it on your own, and it won’t work. What I have in mind is something that all the churches can do together.” And instead of little Bethlehem Lutheran striking out on its own with little support, we are now part of something bigger than ourselves. Though we thought our calling was for a “Bethlehem Only Akaloo,” in fact God was using us as yeast for a much larger loaf. Will this multi-church Akaloo ministry take off? God only knows. If this plan or undertaking is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is of God, well, we might just see some more miracles. But we’ll only find out it we are willing to roll up our sleeves, get involved, and risk another spectacular failure that just might lead us to wherever God is calling us next. Isn’t transformation fun?
Pastor Erik

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--July 2007

This is what Transformation looks like!

When you tap into what God is up to in the world, and (often through trial and error) figure out what part God is calling you to play in it, it’s often amazing what God will do. As Christians we know that God takes ordinary things and does extraordinary things with them. Think Communion and Baptism. As Luther asks (and answers) in the Small Catechism: “How can water do such great things? Clearly the water does not do it, but the Word of God, which is with, in, and among the water, and faith, which trusts this Word of God in the Water.” The same is true for us. How can ordinary people do such great things? Clearly we do not do it, but when we allow God to work through us and act in faith (that is to say, trusting in Christ), God can use us to do his work in the world. More often than not our response to God’s call is “OK, God, I’m not sure you have the right person, and I’m not sure just what you are wanting from me, but I’ll give it a shot.” When we stretch ourselves to follow where we think God is calling us, and trust that God will use us for whatever he has in mind, this is precisely where God takes up our ordinary actions, and transforms them. And when we live lives of service in response to God’s call, God takes our transformed actions and transforms us as well.

An example. There is rather simple ministry that has begun among us, that I believe is the “first fruits” of our Transformation. In March, while the Transformation team was away at training in Issaquah, the Holy Spirit was busy at work at Bethlehem. When we returned, Rose Greiss and Clara Donder responded to an invitation I had issued to accompany me on a communion visit to one of our homebound members. During this visit, I encouraged (they might say tricked) them to assist with distributing Communion, and they agreed. A simple action, surely, but the Holy Spirit grabbed a hold of it. As we drove back to the church, we spoke about how one recognizes God’s call, and these two women recognized that this may in fact be something God was calling them to be a part of. But the Holy Spirit wasn’t done yet. Out of that first visit, suddenly a whole team of folks have risen up to visit and bring Communion to our folks who have trouble getting to worship.
From where I stand this is a major miracle. Once God raised up some leaders who felt called to this ministry, I imagined that it would take a whole year before we could find a team of people that felt called to this ministry, help them feel trained and educated enough to serve as Eucharistic Ministers in people’s homes, and set up a plan so that everyone who was unable to come to worship could receive Communion at least every other week. But within a month, there was suddenly a team of Eucharistic Ministers, our ministers were training and mentoring each other, and sharing with one another the joy that comes from hearing and responding to God’s call. Incredible! Amazing! This can only be God at work!
But the Holy Spirit wasn’t done with us yet. Out of this group came an idea to encourage more of our members to accompany them on visits, so that our folks know that “when you can’t come to church, the church will come to you.” And so last month we held a “spring sing,” like Christmas caroling but in the spring and singing hymns. It was a wonderful afternoon and a powerful witness to those of our church who have trouble getting out that they are still a part of our community, and that we (and God) still care for them. Now instead of one visitor (the pastor), or a couple of people (our Eucharistic Ministers), we suddenly had a small congregation gathered in their homes as we sang hymns, fellowshipped, and shared Communion with them.
But the Holy Spirit wasn’t done with us yet. We were singing at the care home of one of our members, and after we had finished the family members of the man next door thanked us. The man next door was dying, and his family was holding vigil at his bedside. Our singing, quite unbeknownst to us, was for them a gift from God. They spotted my pastor’s collar, and wondered if I wouldn’t mind saying a prayer with them. As I stood around the bedside of a dying man I had never seen before, holding hands with his loved ones, and prayed with them it was clear to me that God was at work. I believe God put us all in that place on that Sunday afternoon to be an answer to prayer. And I also believe that God put us there so that we would get a glimpse of what Transformation looks like. Simple actions, responding to seemingly ordinary callings, and yet being open to the Holy Spirit doing what the Holy Spirit does—transforming everyday, ordinary things and people into the means God uses to proclaim the Good News. It’s miraculous!
Pastor Erik

Friday, June 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--June 2007

Stop…Look…and Listen

A number of years ago there was a popular book called “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten.” Along with such sage advice as “share everything,” “hold hands and stick together,” and “take a nap every afternoon” was this little bit of wisdom to prepare you to take a leap of faith, step off of a familiar curb, navigate dangerous traffic, arrive safely on the other side and be on your way to somewhere new: Stop…look…and listen. To leap off the curb too quickly means running headlong into oncoming traffic. To stay where you are comfortable for too long means to miss out on all the wonderful things on the other side. But how is a kindergartener to have the courage to cross over to the other side? And how are we, as the people of God, to have the courage to go in the new directions God has in store for us, when the road ahead is full of unknowns? Maybe Stop...Look…and Listen is good advice after all.
And so we “Stop”, and in prayer take stock of where we are. Who are we? Where have we been? What has led us to the place we are now? Where has God called us in the past? In which direction are we headed? What are we afraid of? What dreams do we have? What miracles has God done among and through us? As part of our congregation’s transformation, we have been prayerfully asking these questions for the past several months, seeking to get a picture of who we are and what we are all about.
The next step, “Look,” may be one of the hardest. We are called to look around and see what God is already doing. What gifts do we have already? What is God up to in our congregation? What things is God already doing in our neighborhood? In our city? In our world? Seeing God at work in our lives is not always easy, but once we train ourselves a bit, once we start to see with a new set of eyes, it becomes difficult NOT to see what God is doing, and how God is already actively working to transform us.
Then we “Listen,” listen for where God might be calling us to go. Through prayer and reading the Bible together in community, we can start to hear that “still small voice” of God, gently leading us. But like seeing what God is doing, listening for God’s call takes practice and patience, and sometimes just giving something a try. By trying something new (and maybe failing) we can start to see where we are being led. And who knows, perhaps we’ll latch on to something God has in mind for us, and when this happens, there’s no telling where it will lead.
One of the principles of transformational ministry is that God has already given us the gifts we need to accomplish what we are being called to do. There are many example of this, and of the working of the Holy Spirit among us. I’ll share one example that happened in our own congregation this past month. Several months ago, I received in the mail a magazine and report from Lutheran World Relief, describing the work that God is already doing in the world through us through the ELCA. I read it, and instead of throwing it away, I passed it on to Jan Moorefield because I remembered a conversation she and I had about her passion for Global Mission. I had been praying that God would put something in my way that would help Jan find a way to put this gift into service at Bethlehem. Jan read it, and was inspired (by the Holy Spirit, I believe) with an idea for a Global Mission Sunday for Bethlehem this fall.
When the idea was presented to the council, not only was it given a strong word of support, but three more people felt called to participate, bringing their various gifts and ideas. When I got home that night, and relayed to my wife the miracle that people were not only volunteering for a new committee (amazing!) but were actually excited about it (double amazing!) her response was, “That sounds like fun, can I be a part of it too?” Now this little idea about “something to do with global mission” has turned into a plan for a festival worship, a “fair trade” fair, a global foods potluck, an event to invite our neighborhood to, an education event about our companion synod in Tanzania, and all sorts of other things that God is inspiring us to do (and some we haven’t even seen yet). Pay attention, folks, this is what Transformation looks like—God working through us to lead us in new directions, putting to use our gifts, raising up leaders, inspiring us to new ministry, and giving us the energy and willingness to do something new. And it’s fun!
Stop…Look…and Listen. Where is God calling you?

Pastor Erik

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--May 2007

Miracles and Ministries Among Us

Transformational ministry, by definition, involves change. But that is not all that this new way of seeking to live out God’s call means for us. Another part, a big part, is recognizing the things that God is already doing among us. God is active in the lives of the people who gather to become Bethlehem Lutheran Church. God is active in the ministries we share, in the conversations we have, in the neighborhood in which our church building stands. And yet, for a whole range of reasons, we aren’t always aware of what God is doing, or aware that what we see as nothing special might just be God at work. Because of this, for the next several months (maybe longer) I’m going to be highlighting some of the ways in which I see God active, already, in our congregation. I hope this helps you to see what God is doing, how God is transforming us, and that you will begin to share the ways in which you see God working as well.

A year ago when I was interviewing at Bethlehem, I was informed, on several occasions, that this is a congregation that likes to eat. Part of my interview was a stellar potluck, and it was promised that if I took the call, there would be many more where this came from. As a lover of potlucks (and food in general) I joked that this was the deciding factor in accepting the call to Bethlehem. In the year since, you have not let me down on your promise, the potlucks have been incredible and it’s clear that this is a congregation that loves to gather for friendship and fellowship around food. But have you ever thought of your gift of putting on magnificent potlucks as ministry? What about evangelism? What on earth could tuna noodle casserole have to do with the Good News of Jesus Christ?

Fun is not the only motivation for potluck dinners at Bethlehem. In fact, some of the best meals that we have shared together have been for funerals. When one of our members—or anyone even remotely connected to our community—dies, a team of volunteers springs into action. With the shortest of notice, phone calls are made, suddenly tables are set up, salads, casseroles, and deserts appear in our fellowship hall. In an incredible act of hospitality, Bethlehem Lutheran Church welcomes and feeds not only our own people, but all who come. In the darkness of grief following the loss of a loved one, our fellowship hall becomes a beacon of light, a place of warmth and welcome, where we gather to eat with one another—friends and strangers—and to comfort each other in a way that goes beyond mere words.

When I’ve asked some of those who participate in this ministry why they do it, the answer is some form of “That’s just what we do here.” Funeral meals have become just part of the fabric of our community, part of our DNA. It’s normal, ordinary, nothing to make too much of a fuss over. But I believe that the real reason that our congregation responds in this way lies much deeper than “it’s just what we do” and has everything to do with responding to the call of Jesus Christ. And, far from ordinary, this ministry is one of the ways that God is active among us.

This was brought to my attention particularly during a funeral held this last week. It was reported to me that one of the people attending made a comment along the lines of “I didn’t know churches did this sort of thing,” obviously struck by the strangeness of our kindness and hospitality in a “fend for yourself” world. We live in a world where more and more people have no idea what goes on behind the doors of our churches. And yet, from time to time, for a funeral, wedding, holiday or some other non threatening event held in a building marked “Church” they might find themselves here. What do they experience? At Bethlehem, through this simple ministry of food, people experienced a bit of the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes the stranger, comforts the grieving, feeds the hungry, forms people into community, brings hope in the face of death.

Though we may not be conscious of it, I believe that this is something we do because of what God has done for us in Jesus. When we respond to God’s grace in such a way, we are sharing the Good News, proclaiming through our hospitality the abundant hospitality of God who welcomes everyone, who forgives everyone, who loves everyone. This is ministry, and when we engage in this ministry with those who are outside of our community, it is evangelism too. The transformation part comes when we recognize that this sort of hospitality is not normal, it’s not expected, but rather is something the Holy Spirit is doing among us. When we begin to recognize this, and celebrate God’s work through us, and someone asks “Why do you folks do this?” we can respond “Because of Jesus Christ,” opening a conversation about how God has worked in our lives, and how we feel called to respond. Ministry and evangelism are not just about preaching and door-knocking, but are about engaging in the work that God is calling us to, proclaiming in word and deed the Good News of Jesus, and helping others to be a part of it too. As we cook and share a meal, we enact, if only for a few hours, that great, abundant, free Grace of Jesus Christ for all in a way that others can experience it. This is God’s work!

Pastor Erik

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--April 2007

God is loose at Bethlehem!

One of my favorite musicians, Peter Mayer, has a song called “Loose in the world” that has been stuck in my head ever since the Transformational Ministry training event a few weeks ago. “Hey, hey, this mercy moves. Hey, hey, God is loose in the world.” It was just those two lines, over and over, as I worked and visited, as I spent time in our neighborhood, as prayed and preached. “Hey, hey, God is loose in the world.”

To be honest, I thought the Transformation process was going to be a tough sell. That somehow those of us passionate about seeking where God was calling us to go, and trying to figure out what God wants of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, would have to convince the rest of y’all that this was a good thing to be spending time and energy on. But I was forgetting that this church isn’t our church, it’s God’s church. The ministry and service we do here isn’t our ministry and service, but it’s God’s. “Hey, hey, God is loose in the world” like a voice from heaven, God is calling us to remember why we are here, and what we’re really about. Rather than a lot of convincing, when the Transformation Team got back from being trained, we found God has already been working on us all, preparing us for where we are being led.

It’s been amazing to me to watch what the Holy Spirit is already doing among us, the way that we are already being transformed by God, and shaped more and more into disciples of Christ. In the Book of Acts, the apostle Peter preaches to the crowds of the newly formed Church, saying when the Spirit is poured out upon you the young will see visions and the old will dream dreams. I’ve seen the Holy Spirit transform Bethlehem into a place where young and old together are dreaming about God’s future for us. We have been openly sharing our fears and anxieties, while at the same time being bold about what it might be that God has in store for us.

In a short two weeks, I’ve seen people in this place praying together, reading the Bible together, sharing stories of the way God has been working in their lives. I’ve seen quiet lives of faith opened up, perhaps for the first time, and others drinking deeply from these wells. I’ve seen the Holy Spirit opening up people’s minds to gifts that they didn’t even know they had, and calling them to use those gifts in ministry. I’ve seen people thinking of new ways to connect to what God is doing in the world, stepping outside of the walls of our church and into the world that God loves so deeply. “Hey, hey, God is loose in the world!”

My favorite verse in Peter Mayer’s song goes like this: “The word went leaping off the pages. Breaking in the windows and leaping over walls. All you asked for was a cool glass of water. And you got a waterfall.” God is doing amazing things among us, transforming us into a new people, giving us depth of prayer, immersing us in his Word, and sending us out to be ambassadors of what God is up to in the world. We ask for a sip of new life, and God gives an overflowing cup. And I don’t think we are going to be able to stop it even if we wanted to. We’ve let the Holy Spirit loose among us, so hang on folks, I have a feeling this is going to be an amazing ride

Pastor Erik

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--March 2007

Let Us Pray

The season of Lent is once again upon us. This 40 day period of solemnity (we don't count Sundays, they're always feast days) was once a time of preparation, fasting, and prayer for those preparing for Baptism. The season of Lent would end with these candidates for Baptism (called "catechumens," from the Greek and Latin word for "to instruct") participating in the Sacrament of Baptism at the Easter Vigil on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. With shouts of Alleluia and much fanfare, these new Christians would be welcomed into the community of faith and together the entire Church would shake off the darkness of Lent and celebrate Christ's resurrection.

As the centuries have passed, the focus of Lenten practices has shifted away from the catechumens and on to all Christians (perhaps because we no longer have so many catechumens--what will we do about that?). Many of us are familiar with the tradition of giving up something for Lent. Chocolate and coffee seem to often top people's lists (although folks in my generation might think of the movie "40 Days and 40 Nights"). If giving up something is part of your tradition, I don't intend to put you off of it, but I wonder if you might join me in another Lenten discipline this year: prayer.

All Christians are called to lives of prayer, but if you are like me, at times this can seem more like a dream than a reality. My parents have a poem hanging in their house that begins: "I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day. I had so much to accomplish that I didn't have time to pray." Especially in our technological and busy world, finding even a few minutes to pause and center on God can seem impossible. The poem goes on to describe a chaotic and difficult day, in which it seems as if God is not paying attention, but by the end the poet realizes where the communication has broken down (it wasn't on God's end) and concludes: " I woke up early this morning and paused before entering the day. I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray."

I invite you for these 40 days of Lent to spend some time each day in prayer. How you pray is not as important as that you pray. You can pray first thing in the morning or at night, before meals, over your coffee, in the car, with others or by your self, silently or out loud, structured or free, speaking to God or listening. Some of my best prayer time is swimming laps at the YMCA (I think it has something to do with Baptism, don't you?). If you're new to prayer, out of practice, or just need help just holler, I know of several veteran pray-ers in our congregation, there are guides to prayer by our front door, check out our Wednesday night Taizé prayer at 7pm, or download the daily podcast at

And then lets talk to one another about how our prayer is going. That's one of the main reasons we gather as a congregation, you know, to encourage and support each other in our Christian lives. Ask someone how they pray, or offer to pray with them. Invite someone to pray for you, it can be a powerful experience. And please include our congregation in your prayers. We are now one month into a five year process of Transformation. This will be a time in which we spend a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out what sort of congregation God is calling us to become. Transformation is not something that we can do, it's something God does in and through us. Prayer is central to listening and responding to the call of God. And after all, isn't that what we're all about? Let us pray...

Pastor Erik

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--Feb 2008

Worship Matters

In November, several members of Bethlehem attended a conference at Messiah Lutheran Church that introduced the new hymnal of the ELCA. Together with hundreds of Lutherans from Spokane and the surrounding area, we sang hymns and liturgies from the hymnal entitled “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” (ELW). To be honest, all of us that went really like the old green LBW hymnal, and were pretty suspicious of this new red one. As we learned and sang, however, we began to come around, and by the end of the day were excited about the renewed worship possibilities of this new hymnal. The worship committee has decided to try out one of these new liturgies (the one we liked the best) during the season of Lent which begins at the end of this month. If you would like to take a look at all that is in the new hymnal (it includes 10 settings of Holy Communion including two from the LBW), talk to Jan McKee or me and we can point you to one of the copies that are floating around Bethlehem. Those of us that plan worship are looking forward to getting to use this new resource and we hope that it enriches your worship life this Lent.

This Lent we will also be holding mid-week services. Lent is historically the time when new Christians undertook a 40 day period of study, fasting, and prayer in preparation for baptism which would have happened on Easter Vigil, the night before Easter Sunday. Longtime Christians have also observed Lent as a time for study, fasting, and prayer and to reconnect to their Christian faith. Some people give up something for the 40 days of Lent (chocolate, coffee, and cigarettes always seem to top the list) while others make a commitment to take on some sort of spiritual practice, perhaps prayer, a simple meal, or a mid-week worship service. The service of Ash Wednesday jump starts Lent with a 7pm service on Wednesday, Feb 21st. Our Wednesday night Lent services this year will begin on Feb 28th with a soup supper at 5:30pm and a prayer service at 6:15pm. The prayer service will use the songs and style of prayer that come from the Taizé Community in France. The simple meditative service of chant and silence developed as a way to invite young people into prayer, and hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world have flocked to Taizé ever since. I hope that you will find it a helpful addition to your spiritual journey, and a time of rest and reflection in the middle of your week. To learn more about Taizé visit

Pastor Erik

Monday, January 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--January 2007


As we mark the arrival of 2007 there is more to celebrate than simply a New Year. This year, Bethlehem begins a process of transformation. During the time Pastor Jeremiah was here, you as a congregation and your leaders on the church council spent a great deal of time and energy reflecting on the identity of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, and where it might be that God is calling us. A big part of that was in the call process, making the leap of faith to call a new pastor rather than some of the other (and frankly, cheaper) options that were before you. Listening to you all talk about this over the past several months, I hear in this decision a deep trust that God is calling Bethlehem to a new ministry, to be the Church in a new way, and that a bold step in faith was needed.

But you also knew that a new pastor was not going to be a fix-all, and so Bethlehem took another bold step in faith, linking itself to the division for Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Through this branch of our wider Church, the ELCA assists congregations in re-centering their congregational lives and ministries into mission. It does this in part financially—we will receive $30,000 over the next three years to aid in our mission—but also through training, support, and by holding us accountable. The ELCA has structured this assistance into what it calls “Transformational Ministry.”

Transformation begins by the recognition by the congregation that the future that “business as usual” is ultimately leading is the death of the congregation. This is a difficult thing to recognize and come to terms with, but is essential to the process of renewed life and mission. Some sort of radical change needs to take place—new leadership (both pastor and lay leaders), a new vision, a new sense of ministry, a new way of being the Church in our time and place—so that we can participate in the mission into which God is calling us.

This is where we as a community are right now. We’re aware that something needs to change, that we need to listen to the call of God and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into something new. Just where it is that God is calling us, or who it is God wishes us to be, is not so clear—but we trust that God has an amazing transformation in store for us.

A part of this transformation process is a “Transformational Ministry” training in Seattle that a delegation of leaders from our congregation will be attending in March. During this four day training we will learn the skills and concepts that have helped many other congregations transform from a focus on “maintenance” and move into “mission”—and thereby transform from shrinking congregations with a lack of community into healthy and growing congregations empowered with a sense of God’s call and sent out into the world. They have found that churches focused on survival tend to struggle and turn inward, churches focused on mission find renewed purpose and turn outward, and find that people are drawn to be a part of the mission God is calling them to. The call of transformation is to become a community in mission.

These are exciting times to be a part of Bethlehem Lutheran Church and I hope that you too will take up God’s call to be a part of this transformation. Please pray diligently for our leaders and for our whole congregation as we enter into this time of transformation. Happy New Year!

Pastor Erik