Consecration and Ordination

It’s New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2016. For many it’s been a year that couldn’t end soon enough. Even so, there has been a lot of great things that have happened this past year. My brother got married to the love of his life in September. My wife Allison was ordained in early November and is now serving as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Nebraska. I was also consecrated as a deacon in early November, and am serving as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod.

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The rostered ministers and leaders gathered at my consecration service on All Saints Sunday at First Lutheran (Poulsbo, WA).

I had originally planned to write and share some thoughts on our ordination and consecration back in November, but given events and news around the time, I just didn’t have the heart to. Well, with some space and the joy of being in the midst of the Twelve Days of Christmas, here’s what I know now.

  • Allison and I had a wonderful weekend. It was such a joy to be able to share a few days with our family, friends, and a number of fellow leaders of faith and the church gathered together in person and through the wonders of cyberspace. To all who were a part of it, near or far, thank you.
  • Having not one, but two, great professors from Luther Seminary be able to make the trip out to Washington to preach at our services was a gift, thank you Dr. Terri Elton and Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis.
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It wouldn’t have been Allison’s ordination without a funny picture of the clergy and rostered ministers/leaders afterward.
  • Allison and I are both greatly blessed by two terrific home congregations, St. Andrew’s Lutheran (Bellevue, WA) and First Lutheran (Poulsbo, WA) whose pastors and congregations celebrated the work of the Holy Spirit with us. Thank you for the hospitality, support, and being the Body of Christ together.
  • Ministry, like most things in life, is not an individual thing. It’s something that is built on and through relationships and community. That was evident throughout the weekend- through our families, through our pastor friends and fellow rostered ministers/leaders of the church, through our long time friends who have been a part of our journeys from birth to high school to college to grad school to seminary, to life post-seminary and everything else in between.

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    Allison’s family photo after the ordination service.
  • God is clearly up to something. Allison and I have been called into our unique vocations, just as I believe all people are called into their unique vocations.
  • When the Holy Spirit moves, it calls us to pay attention. Hence, now we’re in Nebraska, and we are both grateful for the warm welcome here, as well as for all of the love and support in Washington.
  • There are some fantastic bishops in the church. I am excited to serve alongside (and under) Bishop Brian Maas in Nebraska and that he was able to preside at Allison’s ordination and my consecration. I am also grateful for Bishop Rick Jaech from the Southwestern Washington Synod, my home synod, who was able to assist, and who gave me great opportunities to serve over the previous year in the Northwest.
  • Some of the best advice I have ever received about ministry was repeated over this fantastic weekend: “Love the people,” “be good,” and “always say thank you.”
  • No matter what lies ahead in our ministry together, Allison and I believe that we are doing and called to be a part of God’s work in the world, together. That matters. That makes the good days great. It makes the challenging days bearable. It makes the darker days a little brighter. And it makes the bright days overflow.
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Family photo after my consecration service.

Thank you all for being a part of this network.

Thank you for serving faithfully in your vocations.

Thank you for helping me find hope and be positive in the midst of moments of doubt.

And most importantly, thank you for being a part of this work and life together.

God’s peace and blessings to you, and Happy New Year!

Collaboration Ministries

I have mentioned before about how grateful I am for my family of origin. Together over the past few years, they have discerned and created a new organization called “Collaboration Ministries.” Check out the organization’s website for more on the particulars, but in the following post, I share a few things that I am particularly excited about regarding this organization’s vision, mission, and scope. 

It is easy to look around your community, state, country, and the world and be discouraged. You might wonder, how come we can’t work together? Why does it seem impossible to rally around the common good?

In response to such depressing thoughts, and in the hopes of a brighter future, Collaboration Ministries was born.

The organization began through creating “menternships” or gap year experiences for young adults after college and before jumping into the workforce or graduate studies. After a few years of these offerings, it was time to dream. The organization’s first real brainstorming meeting  occurred around a hotel pool in the Twin Cities in Minnesota a few years ago.

From that, and in the work done since, Collaboration Ministries has become,

“a faith based social innovation consultancy composed of highly trained and skilled practitioners dedicated to facilitating strategic thinking and action of complex issues and problems. We are particularly focused on assisting faith based organizations, non-profits, government agencies and businesses striving to be social entrepreneurs in order to support Community Building, Creation Care, and Global Engagement.”

This vision alone gets me excited, but there are a number of things which I am excited about to watch this organization’s work and future unfold, as a family member, and as someone supportive of the organization at an arm’s length (or more) of distance.**

With the vision understood, here are my top nine other things that get me excited about the organization and its potential.

  1. Whenever my parents get excited and are passionate about something, things happen. Seeing how they are both creating opportunities and pursuing possibilities is exciting to watch from afar.
  2.  The principals combined have experience working on three different continents in a wide range of countries and contexts.
  3. The principals bring a wealth of experience and education to the table to think creatively and strategically. Between the team, there are six bachelors degrees and six masters degrees. Fields of study have ranged from management to social work, from music to religion, from psychology to economics, from theology to urban and regional planning.
  4. In the organization’s early days it provided full year “menternships” for at least three young adults in post-college discernment. From those, one has become a pastor, another a music teacher and professional, and another, a congregational and community director and coordinator.
  5.  Collaboration Ministries is built on the principles of accompaniment, appreciative inquiry, and the potential of world spirit labs, with a great appreciation for the power and importance of vocation.
  6. The strategies and practices have been diagramed in organizational and leadership diagrams which, for a management trained person like myself, are fun to look at and think about.
  7. Collaboration Ministries does not claim to offer easy answers. Rather, it wants to come alongside, discern, journey with, and work together for long-term sustainable growth and change in response to needs in communities and unique contexts.
  8. Project areas have included areas related to: climate stresses & eco-system stresses; congregational problems; economic opportunities; housing; infrastructure and services; juvenile justice; public health & well-being; racism; stakeholder engagement & organization mission achievement; and technology and connectedness.
  9. This organization offers cross-sector experience to respond creatively and sustainably to particular problems and challenges, bringing innovative and entrepreneurial ideas to bear. For example, how might a congregation (nonprofit) partner with a local business to create life supporting jobs and opportunities, housing, and meet other needs to help build a community? These are some of the type of questions that Collaboration Ministries can help explore.

What are your big questions? Might an organization like Collaboration Ministries be able to help you think about them?

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Check out the organization’s website, and see what you think. If you have feedback, ideas, or questions, please send them to the team.

**In the interest of full disclosure, Collaboration Ministries is led by my parents. In addition to them, my siblings, spouse and I are all part-owners. However, because of my role as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, I am currently a partner in name only. In caution for any perceived or potential conflicts of interest, I will not be doing any work or networking in Nebraska as part of Collaboration Ministries while serving in the Nebraska Synod, and most likely I would only be contributing through occasional writing projects and review of other projects from afar. 

Joy

The following is a reflection that I shared in worship on Wednesday December 14th at Salem Lutheran Church in Fontanelle, Nebraska as part of the congregation’s mid-week Advent worship series on “Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.” The focus passage for the evening was Luke 1:47-55

The beautiful words of Mary’s Magnificat ring in our ears. Perhaps the song we’ve been singing on Sundays during offering in Advent is playing in your mind from Holden Evening Prayer?

There’s not much more joy we can experience than rejoicing in God our Savior, recalling all that God has done, continues to do, and will do as God continues to promise and be present, with us, Emmanuel, and for us.

Now, I have a confession. I get to talk, share, teach, and preach about joy a lot as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod. But don’t worry, I’m not entirely preaching about stewardship this evening.

I want to think a little about joy with all of you, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn a little more about each other- other than I’m just the pastor’s spouse who works for the synod in Omaha and drives all around Nebraska a fair amount. So, here’s a tiny bit of my story.

Growing up, nothing brought me more joy this time of year than decorating for Christmas, playing with my grandparents’ and parents’ nativity sets, and sharing the joy of the season through song, hosting Christmas parties, and participating in lots of worship services and concerts. I wonder, where do you find joy this time of year?

“And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

Staring into the nativity at the base of our Christmas tree in the living room of the parsonage is like staring into a memory for me. You see, I grew up spending lots of time at my grandparents’ house, and this time of year, that meant lots of time telling stories and playing with the many pieces of the olive wood nativity from the Holy Land they had.

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The nativity from my grandparents at the base of our tree.

I loved that set so much, that for our wedding six years ago, Grandma gave that beautiful nativity set to Allison and me as our wedding present. It is such a vessel of joy- of telling the story of God, the birth of a savior, and the beginning of a great reversal and the uplifting of the lowly. It’s also a thing that brings great joy as I remember the love of my Grandpa and Grandma, and give thanks for them. Perhaps you have something that is near and dear to your heart, a Christmas decoration that tells a story or brings back a flood of memories- perhaps joy or something else of family, loved ones, friends, feelings, Advent or Christmases long, long ago…

Sung as from “Holden Evening Prayer”: “He has brought the mighty down from their thrones, and uplifted the humble of heart…”

I grew up in the choir loft of my church. My mom was the worship and music director- directing the choirs, worship band, and bell choirs. You might say I didn’t have a choice but to love music. So another way that I feel the joy this time of year is through song. Through singing the carols in the pews or out caroling. Through singing and playing on the piano, improvising on the many carols and Christmas melodies old and new.

My first solo ever was on Christmas morning, back in Elementary School singing “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” and for about 15 years straight, my brother, sister, and I (and later Allison with us) would sing and accompany “O Holy Night” each Christmas Eve in worship with our voices and our many instruments. And then singing “Silent Night” by candlelight, and flowing into the light by closing worship and being sent out together singing “Joy to the World.” So many memories. There’s just so much joy that we can express through song together, remembering and celebrating the stories of a God who loves us and is with us.

“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Through the ages, down from Abraham through the prophets, God’s promises were shared. The hope of their realization led the people forward. The wait and trust that the Messiah would come, longed for, prayed for, hoped for… That’s the gift of this story. That God in Christ has come, will come, and is with us.

I said I wasn’t preaching entirely on stewardship tonight, but I didn’t say I wouldn’t touch on stewardship. We know this story. We know the Christmas story from Luke 2. We hear it each year on Christmas Eve. Perhaps we watch it on the TV, listening to Linus recite the old poetic words from the King James version. It’s a beautiful story of God’s love breaking into the world. And we know the rest of the story of a life lived, of the Son of God both human and divine, who lived, walked, taught, preached, proclaimed, ate, suffered, died, was raised and ascended, all for us.

The on-going story though is where we all fit in. It’s where real joy comes, if you ask me. What is our joyful response? How do we live our lives in light of this pure gift of God, that of God’s son, given for us? How are our lives changed because of this?

The answers to these questions are unique to each and every one of us. But they are the starting place of sharing our stories of joy. Of sharing our faith with one another here, with our families, friends, and neighbors we meet at work, the store, on Facebook, or anywhere else. How do you show joy? How do you experience it? And what brings joy to you?

I shared a little about the joy of this time of the year for me, and I wonder, what does that look like for you?

Whatever your answers, may the joy of God born in an itty bitty baby be with you, and may it fill your heart and lead you out this evening to not help but be able to share it with others. Amen.

Returning to “Why,” in Hopes of Getting Off the Consumer Escalator

The following is an excerpt of a post that I wrote for the COMPASS blog in late November, pondering about faith and life in light of the ups and downs of our consumer culture. Please read this if you are interested, and then follow the link to the whole post and join the #faithandfinances conversation with COMPASS.

I want us to dig into the question of “why?” What really matters this time of the year, and how might focusing on that question make for a more faithful response and richer holiday experience?

For a Christian, the why can be found in the heart of the Christmas gospel in Luke 2:1-20, often read every Christmas Eve. Within that rich text, we hear the proclamation from the angel of the Lord,

“Do not be afraid, for see- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
– Luke 2:10-11, NRSV

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In the spirit of Christmas, here’s a picture of a Nativity Scene that I saw outside the Vatican in 2008

It might sound trite to say that this is the “reason for the season.” And I am not exactly trying to say that. But if we remember that this is at the heart of the celebrations, festivities, food, fellowship, and all of the gift giving this time of year; if we remember that it is the fulfillment of the promises of the prophets which guide our journey through the season of Advent to the manger; we might just have a chance to get off the consumer escalator.

Please continue reading the whole post here

Image Credit: “Why”

My Family- Happy Birthday Dad!

Today is my Dad’s birthday. I have already had a great phone call conversation wishing him a happy day today, and last week we got to celebrate a week early in person with a wonderful steak dinner out in Nebraska. But today, in honor of my Dad’s birthday, I want to share some personal reflections about my family.

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My Dad and Mom, next to Allison and myself after Allison was installed as Pastor at Salem Lutheran Church in Fontanelle, Nebraska. 

As I look proudly and gratefully at my family of origin, I can’t help but notice at least five things:

  • A Deep Sense of Vocation and Calling

Each person in my family (including my wife and myself) have a deep sense of vocation and calling. I am sure that my parents can trace this back to their families of origin, but my brother, sister, and I can certainly trace this back to our parents. We all deeply believe that God is at work and present in the world, calling us all to use whatever has been entrusted to us- our gifts, passions, stories, questions, strengths, capacities, ideas, etc., in service to our neighbors and communities. I live this out in my current role as the Nebraska Synod Director for Stewardship, but I also see this propelling on the rest of my family in the birth and continued growth of Collaboration Ministries.

  •  Passion for Partnership and Relationships

Though there may be some introverts in my family, everyone has a passion for working with others for the sake of the common good. We all might define common good differently, and we certainly all go about our work differently, but we have a passion for working together in relationship with each other, those we agree with most of the time, and some we hardly ever agree with. If there is potential for improving the world in some small way that we can be a part of, we want to be a part of it, accompanying others, because we feel that is part of our call and purpose.

  • We’re Lutheran Christians

This may be obvious to those of you who read this blog often, but I come from a family of Lutheran Christians, particularly those who are members of congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This faith identity and understanding of God’s grace, presence, forgiveness, love, and promises propels us forward as we live our lives in our unique joyful responses to the pure gifts and good news of the gospel.

  • We’re Grateful

I believe that this is true of everyone in my family, but speaking for my brother, sister, and myself, we deeply recognize how privileged we are to have grown up in a family with deep support of pursuing our passions and vocations in service to our neighbors. We are grateful for growing up in a family with the means of supporting our education, and in a home where questioning and processing were always held up as values, even when it might have made daily life a challenge.

We grew up in a family where talking about faith, money, politics, society, and economics (among other potentially conflict inducing topics) was welcomed around the dinner table, in the car on family road trips, and everywhere else. It’s because of this that for me, even on the hardest of days, I know I can’t backdown from asking critical and sometimes unpopular questions in the pursuit of growth and in following my sense of call.

  • Global Appreciation and Accompaniment

My family loves to travel locally, domestically, and internationally to learn, and experience all that the world has to offer. Experiencing cultures, learning from other viewpoints and perspectives, and listening to stories near and far I believe makes us all better people, human beings, and better members and participants in the larger human community. In this ever increasing globally connected world (even in this recent uptick of relative isolationism seen in political elections), it is imperative to have a global appreciation for each other.

It is critical to be willing to listen and come alongside, to serve and learn together; rather than to share an opinion as loud as possible and if someone doesn’t agree go in another direction kicking and screaming. Accompaniment, which means coming alongside, is the way to build relationships. It’s also an example of real leadership, as opposed to some people who seem to believe that leadership is about having the loudest voice in the room or the most blunt criticism in 140 characters on Twitter.

I could go on obviously, but this evening, as I think about my Dad, I am grateful for his leadership, for his and my mom’s passion to raise my brother and sister and I to be faithful people who are part of the larger world with senses tuned to continually discern how we might be called to be a part of God’s work in it.

I wonder, who in your life might be like my dad for you? What do you give thanks for about them and why?

Happy Birthday Dad, I love you!