My warmest memories are of wrapping up one of my girls in a beach towel after they have played in the water and snuggling with them to get them warmed up again so that they can go back in the water to play. Wrapping them up and holding them close to me was one of the things I enjoyed most as my girls where growing up. I still like to wrap my arms around them holding them close to me. Being wrapped in warmth whether in the summer or in the winter, like your hands around a warm cup of coffee or cocoa, is one of the best feelings.
Election Day evokes many emotions: hope, fear, anger, frustration, impatience and so much more. For weeks and months the electorate is subjected to negative ads, character assassinations, a variety of perspectives on the truth and outright lies. I, for one, feel fatigue from elections as they wear me out!
First Lutheran’s Vision & Leadership Team is reading a book this fall, recommended by our Stewardship Team, called Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate written by J. Clif Christopher. Allow me the chance to offer a brief book report on the intro and first chapter…
This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to host my step-mom for a couple of days. I so looked forward to her coming. I made sure the guest room was ready with clean sheets, a new pillow and space in the closet in case she needed to hang anything up. I loved getting the room ready in anticipation of her coming. We had a wonderful time together and not long after her return home, I received a thank you note from her. Because of my preparation we had a great time together, she felt welcomed and loved.
We are off to a fantastic start with 140 students registered! A couple changes to make note of…
The last two Sundays, First has gathered 10-15 high schoolers for a youth group time to eat (5:30–6pm) and meet (6–7:30pm). The desire to meet where they can “have a safe place to talk, like our confirmation small groups were… where all are welcome” came from the high schoolers themselves. It’s pretty fantastic! Teesha Willinger, who helped teach many of them Peer Ministry is their adult leader, but the kids aren’t afraid to take the lead either. I just wanted you to know, in case you didn’t, that this ministry is blooming at First.
When you read this article, I will already be on sabbatical. However, on the day I am writing this, the calendar tells me I have 24 more days before I leave. My head is swimming with details, both of the things to be done at church and at home and those final travel details.
I have been living with the truth of what I have been told time and time again, that is, that I will still be me on sabbatical. Nothing magical happens that first day that transforms me into a better version of myself, able to be “more.” So, I know this: You will be with me. Just as I carry you all in my heart and mind throughout my days, I will carry you during this time away. As I rest those first few weeks and get my hands into some clay and yarn, ideas and prayers and stories will come to me because that is usually what happens. When I am traveling abroad, gorgeous views and art and ancient cities will inspire me in the work that I do, and I will be eager to share it with you. As I explore my home state and enjoy time with family and at the beach, stories of my family and work in this place along the Mississippi will be remembered and shared. That is what it means to be community, to be a part of a people and, for me, what it means to be pastor. We are connected, all of us.
In his book The Book of Forgiving, Desmond Tutu says, “In South Africa, Ubuntu is our way of making sense of the world. The word literally means ‘humanity.’ It is the philosophy and belief that a person is only a person through other people. In other words, we are human only in relation to other humans. Our humanity is bound up in one another and any tear in the fabric of connection between us must be repaired for us all to be made whole. This interconnectedness is the very root of who we are.” Who I am and who you are is defined by the relationships we have, even when we are separated. And, as I type this, I know this sounds somehow wrong because we are taught to be individuals, to stand out, to be able to stand on our own two feet and not really need anyone else. That, however, is not the way humanity works when it thrives. Instead, we are connected to each other and need one another to live our fullest life. My relationship with you has shaped who I am as a person and as a pastor and that will not change while I am away.
My current favorite song, the song that would be my “walk on” music if I ever needed any, is Rise Up by Andra Day. I love this song because it is a powerful song about the resilience of the human spirit. “And I’ll rise up. I’ll rise like the day. I’ll rise up. I’ll rise unafraid. I’ll rise up and I’ll do it a thousand times again. And I’ll rise up, high like the waves. I’ll rise up, in spite of the ache. I’ll rise up and I’ll do it a thousand times again.” Those words convey beauty enough, but that isn’t the whole of the song. Most of the song is about how we Rise Up together, “You’re broken down and tired of living life on a merry-go-round. And you can’t find the fighter, but I see it in you so we gonna walk it out and move mountains…When the silence isn’t quiet and it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe and I know you feel like dying, but I promise we’ll take the world to its feet and move mountains.” In those moments of deepest despair, it is the relationships in our lives that help us out, those people who are willing to walk with us that remind us that we can walk and we can move mountains. The best part of this song though is the bridge:
All we need all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other
And we will rise
We will rise
Friends, we rise and fall together, bound to one another by our shared humanity and that means something, especially for those of us who profess to follow Jesus. We are a people of hope, and hope is the strongest when we share it together. We give each other hope and encouragement. That is what I have experienced with you in the gifting of this sabbatical: Encouragement and hope. I am often overwhelmed by the extravagance of this time away, of the time and energy put into the grant by so many people that made all of this possible, by the grace and joy with which it was given and the support of our amazing staff.
The verse that defines how I live my life, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind and with all your strength… And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31), is about our shared humanity lived out in the love of God. Together, we embark on this journey of sabbatical, exploring our shared stories of God’s work in our lives and what it means that we are community as we travel different roads for a while. I look forward to when I return and we share stories together. You will be in my prayers, and I covet your prayers that this time away will be all it needs to be.
The greatest joy I receive on a Sunday is seeing families serving together in a ministry. I love seeing families help with coffee together, little and not so little ones getting the the cups, napkins, creamers and sugar packets out on the table. It’s wonderful to see older children going around filling coffee cups and talking to the adults at the tables. I love seeing families usher together, welcoming people into the sanctuary and gathering the offering. When families serve together, it brings joy not only to me but to others seeing it and to the children participating. I love to see young ones’ faces light up when they can help out in church. Their attitude changes, and they walk a little taller taking pride in what they can do.
First Teen Clothes Closet has a new home!
Thank you to the many volunteers who have helped in the relocation of the First Teen Clothes Closet to its new home, sharing a building with the Children’s Clothes Closet at Trinity Lutheran Church in La Crosse. We are excited about the opportunity to serve more teens in a location that is more accessible to the area of our community with the greatest concentration of need.
My calendar tells me there are 38 days until I start my sabbatical. I am both excited and terrified. Excited because this is such an incredible gift to be given and the Lilly Grant makes it feel like a once in a lifetime experience. Terrified because there is still much to do before those 38 days are up and because I have never really done anything like this before. Here’s what I hold on to: I am still Karyn and still a child of God so I know there will be joy and grace all along the way sprinkled generously with wonder and gratitude as I explore our world.
I have a friend who, when she knows I be over, leaves her front door wide open for me. I knock on the screen door and walk in calling her name and she welcomes me into her home with a welcoming hug. My friend promotes hospitality as she welcomes me into her home. She is a wonderful hostess to all who visit her.
I remember learning in high school about John D. Rockefeller and how he created a monopoly in the oil business through “vertical integration.” Vertical integration is one of those phrases you have to learn for a vocabulary test and then never have to know again, but I think it’s worth knowing about as we think about where our church has been and where we’re trying to go.
I have a wonderful friend who loves connecting people to one another. Whenever she gathers people, she will introduce everyone to everyone. I come into her house and she asks me right away “do you know everyone?” I usually say yes, because I usually do, but she still goes around introducing me to her family and friends. She wants us to feel connected with one another. It would be wonderful if we had people like my friend, here at church who wanted everyone to feel connected.
We’re moving! While the current location has served us well, the steering committee has felt for some time now that it doesn’t serve our guests as well as we wish it would. Our location in Onalaska is convenient for us, but not as convenient for the majority of the region’s teens in need, many of whom live on the north side of La Crosse with limited access to transportation, making it difficult to get to downtown Onalaska on weekends and evenings. While we have had success with our shuttle from the Children’s Clothes Closet at Trinity Lutheran Church, we believe there are many more teens we should be serving, so we are taking that collaboration to the next level.
The First Teen Clothes Closet is relocating to space available at Trinity Lutheran, so we can provide families with a single stop for clothing for both children and teens in a location that they can more easily access. We hope to be in place before the Aug. 13 shoe distribution and block party at Trinity.
Here’s how you can help:
- Pray for a smooth transition to our new location over the summer.
- Help with the transition itself—we will need volunteers to assist with taking clothes off the racks & shelves at the current location; disassembling & reassembling racks & shelves in our new location; and moving clothes to the new location to get everything set up.
All of these tasks will be done from mid-July through early August.
We’ll need willing hands and legs to relocate clothes from the second floor of the house to the downstairs so that the shelves can be taken down—this could be a great volunteer opportunity for teens!
We need a few mechanically-minded individuals to disassemble, move and reassemble all of the shelving and racks.
And then we’ll need more “movers” to get the clothes to Trinity and onto racks and shelves in our new location.
Specific dates and times are still being nailed down, so watch for information on the church and Clothes Closet Facebook pages or in the bulletin and additional emails. If you can help with one of these tasks, please contact a committee member or the church office so we can notify you directly when we have more specifics.
We will continue to use space at the house for sorting donations and having teens approve the clothes before offering them to our guests.
We hope the congregation will join us in our excitement about the potential we have to serve more teens in need by taking the clothes to where they live, rather than expecting them all to come to us.
First Teen Clothes Closet team: Lori Lunney, Shari Hegland, Bridget Crave, Patty Shepard
On Friday, March 23, our Young Youth group: Kindergartners—2nd grade from 5–7pm and our 3rd-5th graders from 6:30–8pm—will eat together and “take a walk through Holy Week”. I love how this event will help these kids and their families anticipate the amazing story of Jesus being celebrated on Palm Sunday all the way to dying on Good Friday and rising on Easter Sunday. I hope our Young Youth Director, Beth Miller, is overwhelmed with the great number of families who choose to make this evening a part of their Holy Week celebration. (You could ease her overwhelming feelings by ‘signing up’ ahead of time, but that isn’t necessary, either.)
It was the morning after Christmas before the sun rose, and, as is my habit, I had been reading. Nothing of note as I was giving my brain a rest after a full week. As the sun rose over the bluffs, I found myself in a pondering mood. It isn’t unusual for me after Christmas to turn my thoughts toward reflection and planning. This particular morning I was thankful for this early-morning routine that opened a door to watching the sun rise because it gave pause to consider where light and life is in my world and maybe where I wanted to see more. I found my mind turning toward companionship and love.
The winter cold did not keep the OWLs at home in February. A lively group of 21 ventured to the Outback for a delicious dinner followed by grooving at a Simon and Garfunkel tribute band concert at the Heider Center. A good time was had by all!
Lent begins Ash Wednesday, February 14. That’s the perfect amount of time to come up with an idea for what you may fast from / or what you may add to your life as a spiritual discipline. First Lutheran enjoys a membership with many Christian backgrounds who participated in a variety of spiritual practices. Some of our brothers and sisters who grew up Roman Catholic have asked me over the years whether Lutherans eat fish on Fridays during Lent. My answer is something like, “it depends whether the chef of the house feels like cooking, or going out for fish that Friday, I guess.” Although some churches enter into a communal fast—like fasting from all meat but fish on Fridays—other churches leave it to the individuals. I was serving a congregation in Columbia, SC during seminary that had the whole church fast from ‘sweets’ during Lent (that one was tough!)
December is a busy month for us all! Why choose to be a part of all of the events here?... Build more friendships and connection through our community. Along with having memories that last a lifetime! The biggest game-changer for me is that when I see children interact here, they have sought out those relationships in other areas (school, dance, sporting event, etc.). Looking forward to growing together, serving others and knowing God!
- January: Sledding!
- February: Movie Night!
Since October 15, First Lutheran has been in an ‘every-member-visit’ mode. Thirty visitors have made their way to almost 150 families thus far. The conversations our visitors are having are priceless.
Last week I talked with a longtime member who is far less engaged with First than he used to be, “for no good reason”, he said. Through the course of our 45-minute conversation, I heard about the challenges his family has faced over the last year including a retirement, two elder deaths and three imminent graduations. What is so incredible to me is that most of my visits are like this. So much is happening in the lives of each and every family at First as parents age, kids grow, jobs change and life goes from one stage to another. Every time I leave one of these visits, I feel so much better about the health of our church as I know a little bit more about what my prayers should include and I understand how interconnected we already are. The ways I preach and the programs we offer take shape from these conversations. The vitality of our fellowship comes from knowing each other.