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!
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.
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.
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!)
My daughter Sarah and I watched the movie “Warm Bodies” just before I wrote this. It is a funny romantic movie about a zombie falling in love with a non zombie girl. His heart starts beating again, bringing him back to life, because of the connection he felt toward the girl. Because of his relationship with the girl, even just holding her hand, others began to reconnect, too, bringing their hearts to life. It’s quite humorous, as the storyline develops, but what caught my attention was that to warm one’s heart one must feel connected.
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.