So what does that have to do with us at First? Well, in my opinion, it will be the church, the followers of Jesus that will turn this ship we call society as we seek ways to be kind and to care for one another. A great way to do that is to seek out the great thinkers of our time, to seek ways to expand our own learning and understanding of the world around us, so that we may better serve the world. To that end, I have set for myself an ambitious reading list for the summer months, comprised of books that have been on my “to be read” list for at least a year. I am inviting you to read along with me and then join me in a discussion of the book of the month on the last Saturday of the month at my home. Perhaps we will learn something new about ourselves or our world, perhaps we will grow in our understanding of each other or at the very least, we will enjoy a morning in the sunshine talking about an interesting topic. I hope you consider joining me for one of these reads.
Summer is a wonderful time of year; there are so many ways to connect with people. We can go to outdoor music festivals, parades, music events in the park, farmers markets, area festivals, fairs and the list goes on and on. It’s so much fun to look ahead, plan and then attend these events locally or far away. I’ve always enjoyed going to events, and I also like to plan events, like the volunteer appreciation picnic, where we can connect and say thank you to each other.
Remember the days when, in order to watch a TV show, you had to ‘tune in’ at the one time per week it was ‘on’? If you didn’t catch the movie while it was in the theaters, you missed it! Live sports couldn’t be recorded. And the news could either be consumed through the nightly news or a newspaper. Or by word of mouth. And that was it.
Almost every time I walk into my bank, I’m greeted with “Hi Kathryn, be with you soon.” It’s nice to me be known by name, not having to show my ID to the teller, which sometimes happens when a new teller is working. It’s nice to hear, “Kathryn, I’m ready for you” knowing that I have a work relationship with the teller and we know each other. It’s comforting to be known and to be addressed by your given name. I like to be called by my name and don’t mind being called by any of the many variations of Kathryn.
I spend my life helping people see and know God as a god who loves them beyond a doubt and is always as close as their breath, but I had forgotten that for myself somewhere along the way.
Pottery was the other art form I learned and practiced while in Bozeman. I had the great privilege of learning from Carl Sheehan, a working potter and teacher best known for his work with Yellowstone National Park. He was the most patient teacher I have ever worked with, calmly coaching me as I tried hard not to mess up.
I hope and pray for many things all the time. I hope and pray for my daughters, my husband, my friends, my co-workers, my church, plus many other things. I hope and pray for good spouses for my daughters, a good work environment for my husband, that my friends will have all that they need, my co-workers have energy to do all that God has called them to do and that my church may show the love of Christ to one another and to all who come to visit us. These are just a few of my hopes and prayers; sometimes my prayers are very specific, sometimes general, but my hope is always grounded in God’s will for those I pray for.
We have several grade school children who love to help on Sunday mornings. Almost every Sunday one of these precious children will come up to me and ask if they can help with ushering or acolyting. When I say “yes,” their faces light up with eagerness and joy. When I say “no, we have what we need,” their faces become dejected; a frown and even sometimes a pout, will appear. These young ones love to serve. They have a heart that is willing and able to serve with love and eagerness.
The First Teen Clothes Closet has been overwhelmingly blessed in our new location. We’re getting more gently-used donations than ever, and distributing them to more than 2x as many teens as we previously served. But we are struggling to do so with the same volunteers as prior to our August relocation.
Several years ago, we were given a small notebook at church to write our thanks to God in. The notebooks where green in color with a label saying “Thanks be to God for his great Gifts!” As I was filling the small notebook with my thanks to God and coming closer to the end, I didn’t want this to end. That was when I decided to purchase another notebook and continue to write my thanks to God. Since then I’ve filled several notebooks and to this day continue to write my thanksgivings down.
What an amazing congregation and community we have, serving as the hands of Christ in the world! Last month, we saw a wonderful example of generosity and giving in a time when so many are already being asked for so much.
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.