Lent begins on Wednesday, February with an Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday focuses on our sinfulness and our mortality - we’re not perfect, and we’re not immortal, both of which are part of being human. Ashes are a traditional sign of this.
Ash Wednesday is also the beginning of Lent. This is an explanation of Lent from umc.org, the official website of the United Methodist Church:
“Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means "spring." The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.”
We can best prepare ourselves for Lent by making a commitment to a concrete spiritual practice. Here are some examples:
1. Practice the presence of God in your everyday life. This is what prayer is. Tell God what’s on your mind. Seek his help, and expect to receive it. Say short prayers throughout the day, such as “Help me”, “I thank you”, “forgive me”.
2. Give up something for Lent. Typically this is something pleasurable but not helpful. Examples might be alcoholic beverages or some unhealthy food. The point is not that these are sinful things. Rather, giving them up reminds us that Jesus gave up his life for us. The focus is on sacrifice.
3. Add something for Lent. Have a time of grace at mealtime if this is not part of your devotional life. Spend more time with family. Reach out to the poor in some concrete way through giving or volunteering
4. Fast. Pick a meal to give up once a week. Use the time to pray.
5. Read a gospel passage every day. The gospel of John is a great book to read during the week because of its personal focus on our relationship with God.
6. Attend church every week, including the special services of Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday - as you are able.
Any of these practice will help us grow closer to God. The message series during Lent will focus on building our relationship with God. I invite you to participate by committing yourself to Lenten practices and attending weekly worship.
See you in church, Pastor Eric
As we move into the New Year, we celebrate the Epiphany. The Epiphany is better known as the coming of the wise men. It is a separate celebration from Christmas because the wise men didn’t come until much later, about two years after the birth of Jesus. By this time Jesus was living in a house. The wisemen had seen the star of Bethlehem and believed it heralded the birth of a great king. So they organized a journey west to visit him. When they arrived they found the toddler Jesus and gave him expensive gifts of gold and spices. These gifts were given to honor Jesus, but they also served to support Jesus, and pay for travel to Egypt so that Jesus could grow up in safety, protected from Herod.
As we celebrate the New Year, let’s think about how we honor Jesus with our gifts. Part of that gifting is monetary, but on a deeper level, how do we use our talents and abilities for Jesus? The mission of Jesus depends on our willingness to use our talents in the work of the church.
A second thing to think about it is that Jesus spent some of his early childhood as an immigrant in a foreign land. His family took him there for asylum – to be protected from Herod, the unjust and violent leader of Palestine. What might that fact say about our attitudes about immigration? If Jesus’ family became immigrants, perhaps we can open our hearts to those who need the protection of our country from unjust rulers.
We all need each other in the human family. Jesus’ family needed monetary assistance and to be welcomed as strangers. During this Epiphany season, let us consider how we might provide help and welcome to the strangers in our lives.
Blessings on your New Year,
As we move into Advent, God calls his people to prepare. The four weeks of Advent - with hymns, carols and Advent wreaths - is a relatively recent practice. Traditionally, Advent was seven weeks long, and its purpose was penitential - which means looking at our lives, seeing where we fall short of God’s call to holiness of life, and then amending our ways. Advent also gave people time to meditate on the holy mystery of the Incarnation, when God become man.
What’s unique about the Christian Faith is not the Crucifixion, not even the Resurrection (there were Greek and Roman gods that died and rose) but the Incarnation - the belief that God, in all his splendor and majesty, became man in Jesus Christ; and not in a superficial sense - like Joseph donning his many colored dreamcoat - but in an all-the-way to the bones kind of way. Christians believe this so firmly, that in ancient Christian tradition, and still in the Catholic and Orthodox churches today, Mary is called the Mother of God, because she gave birth to Jesus who was truly God.
And yet, Advent is not a somber season. It’s a season of giving, sharing, and generosity. It’s not a season to focus on sins of commission - like breaking one of the Commandments - but rather sins of omission - when we fail to give to our less fortunate neighbors out of hardness of heart; when we fail to be generous out of fear we won’t have enough money; or when we fail to love our family and friends, because we are holding onto grudges that are within our power to release.
During this season of Advent, I challenge all of us to conform ourselves more closely to Jesus, who is the model of generosity. He was not afraid to humble himself, even to the point of death on a cross, so that we could receive the greatest gift of all - forgiveness and the chance to begin again with God and our neighbor.
Blessings on your Advent preparations, Pastor Eric
God owns our lives. That may strike you as intrusive, but it’s true. We are God’s creatures. He made us and gave us the estate we call our lives. We are only temporary managers of that estate. We are called to be good managers: taking risks when necessary for growth, and properly caring for and protecting the assets we already have.
But stewardship is about so much more than money It’s about using our connection to God, our presence in worship, our financial gifts, our service in the church and community, and our stories of faith - for God’s purposes. Stewardship is about going to worship when we don’t feel like going, it’s being inspired to pray for someone we hadn’t thought about in a while, choosing to go on a mission trip for the first time, or sharing our Christian story with someone who hasn’t heard it before.
Stewardship is about managing our human, financial, and physical resources in such a way that we can move toward God’s vision and live out Jesus’ mission. It’s about being inspired and educated by God among the people we call our church family, then moving out into the community to help people and change society according to God’s plans for the world.
In the end, stewardship isn’t about money. It’s about being a unified community under God and inspired by the Spirit to follow Jesus and build God’s kingdom on earth. That’s exciting. And I can’t wait to tell you more.
See you in church.
We hear a lot in the news about “fake news”. These are stories that look like real reporting, but actually are made up or misreported. We all understand how harmful fake news can be for political discourse among citizens. If we don’t have the facts, how can we have intelligent discussion and make wise decisions? We can’t. In the church we sometimes deal with “fake news” too. We don’t call it that, but sometimes, for various reasons, rumors can start that aren’t based on the facts. In this article, I’m going to address a number of rumors that have come my way over the last few months.
1. The front door is always locked. What’s going on? The doors are open during normal office hours and during group activities (youth group, meetings, etc) when more than one person is in the building. After a couple of incidents where people looking for help attempted (unsuccessfully) to intimidate staff, I decided to implement a simple security procedure. Keep the door locked if you’re the only person here. We now have a doorbell. Simply ring the bell and someone will open the door. If we don’t know the person at the door, then the person here alone makes a decision of how to handle - let in, talk to outside, refuse entry, etc.
2. We’re buying metal folding chairs for the new sanctuary. There will be a middle section of chairs, but these will be high quality wooden or metal chairs (not folding) that are used in numerous sanctuaries. They are durable and attractive and will not easily break.
3. The current sanctuary will be torn down once the new building is up. This has not been decided yet. A group of interested lay people are preparing ideas for continued use. The building committee has set the parameters that any proposal must have a purpose compatible with our mission and be self-funding. Any proposal would be voted on by the appropriate decision making body.
4. Once the stained glass is removed, there will be nothing but holes in the wall and the old sanctuary will be condemned. Regular windows are available at reasonable cost. The Trustees will not allow a building without windows to stand on our property.
5. We aren’t paying our apportionments. In 2014 we paid 75% of our apportionments due to limited funds. Since then we have paid 100% in both 2015 and 2016. As of this writing, we are current on our 2017 apportionments.
6. We had to borrow from the building fund to pay our bills. In 2014 we did incur a debt to the Building Fund. This has been gradually reduced, with payments made from the General Fund. This summer, for cash flow reasons, some contributions were not transferred right away to the Building Fund. This transfer has been made, leaving only the old debt from 2014 remaining. Our goal is to completely eliminate this debt before bringing the new building before the congregation for a final vote.
7. We’d be far behind our fundraising goal if it hadn’t been for that large bequest. Our initial fundraising goal was met, after subtracting out the bequest from the Johnson Estate.
Thank you for caring about the well-being of our church. I’m hopeful that these responses will put to rest any “fake news” you may have encountered and allow you to base your opinions on the facts. If you have further questions or concerns, please see me. My door is always open for conversation.
Many blessings, Pastor Eric
As we start the fall season, I am happy to introduce two people who are joining our staff. Michael Lund Ziegler has accepted the position of Music Minister and Tina Johnson, one of our church members, has accepted the position of Administrative Assistant.
Michael previously served as Music Minister several years ago. He brings a wealth of experience to his position. He is an Orchestra Director at Ripon College and the President and Co-Founder of Music for the Sake of Music, a summer community music program in Green Bay. He was also recently hired as Instrumental Music Director at Saint John the Baptist School in Howard.
Michael believes that music is integral to Christian worship. “We need look no farther than the Psalms of David for our evidence,” he says. “Whether the music has words or not, or even if it’s within or outside to context of a worship service, I believe music to be one of God's unique ways of both showing us and helping us find His greater truth. It is an aural and experiential representation of His great mystery.”
Michael looks forward to developing our music program. “I am a firm believer that everyone is a musician. In rejoining many of you and coming to others for the first time, it is my goal to find a musical place for everyone. If you are someone that has even occasionally wondered what it would be like to sing in the choir, or play in the praise team or the bell choir, or you have some other musical idea, please don't hesitate to reach out. We are all musicians, we just might not believe it yet.”
Michael is married to Melissa and they have a baby daughter Abigail. They live in Green Bay. I welcome Michael to his new position and look forward to the many musical and leadership abilities he brings to our congregation.
Tina Johnson has started as our Administrative Assistant. Tina has done administrative work for La Force, Inc. and brings with her creativity, organizational abilities, and people skills. She looks forward to her new position. “I'm excited to be serving our congregation and working with Pastor Eric as we watch our church grow into a new future,” says Tina. I welcome Tina as she brings her gifts to the work of our church.
Cheri Knutson has faithfully served as Administrative Assistant for many years, and I thank her as she moves on to new ventures. “I have very much enjoyed the 12 years I spent serving as the administrative assistant at SUMC,” says Cheri. “Thank you all for your love and support. Please give Tina encouragement, support, and understanding as she learns all that is involved in being your secretary.”
We all owe Cheri a debt of gratitude for her many years of service. Please join me in thanking her for her contributions to the smooth functioning of our church.
Lastly, we are still looking for an accompanist. If you know of anyone interested, or have networking connections, please let us know.
See you in church, Pastor Eric