It has been a big year for the First Teen Clothes Closet! We have been in our new location at Trinity Lutheran Church for just over a year, and in that year we have served more than 275 individual teens from at least 24 area middle schools and high schools through our Monday night shopping hours, private appointments and the annual Trinity Lutheran Church block party and shoe distribution. (The shoe distribution alone set more than 170 teens up for the school year with a pair of new shoes).
We Are Church. This is the theme that the Churchwide Assembly gathered under last week as members of each of the 65 synods of the ELCA gathered together in Milwaukee. I was privileged to serve this amazing group of people throughout the week as a volunteer with the worship staff. My primary task was to work in the vestry, where I made sure the 75 communion ministers, the principals and any other people participating in worship were appropriately garbed. That came out to somewhere between 600 and 700 people fitted for albs over the course of the week! That was a lot of people, and I loved every minute of it. It was such a blessing to see different segments of our church gathered together in one room: our bishops, deacons, youth, female clergy, chaplains, voting members, they all came through the vestry.
What’s your favorite part of being a member at First Lutheran? This is a question I ask often. And I have heard a variety of answers ranging from a person’s favorite ministry program, to the work we do together in the world. But the most common, agreed-upon value we share seems to be something we say every week at worship. As a way of inviting everyone to the communion rail, Pastor Karyn or I say, “ALL are welcome, to this the LORD’S table.”
Then Jesus stepped in. I wrote these words as part of my sermon on Sunday and after I wrote them, I just sat back. The truth of this statement, the power it contains, for my life and for the life of church, stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t help but consider the ramifications of this moment when Jesus steps into the argument between the disciples about who would have places of honor, places of power. Like in that story, Jesus steps in and stops all the fighting and power struggles and reminds us of what really matters. We are servants and we will be at our best, our greatest when we serve one another. Period. There are no qualifications to this. There are no boxes to check off, no check list to refer to, no secret handshake or words to say that signifies to followers of Jesus that the one in front of us is the one we are to serve and not that one over there. We are simply to be servants of all, extending the love and grace we have received from God to each and every person we encounter.
Did you know???? In 1993 the ELCA passed a social statement entitled “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope & Leadership”. In it, it’s explains…
The First Teen Clothes Closet is again partnering with the Children’s Clothes Closet at Trinity Lutheran Church to provide back-to-school shoes for children and teens during Trinity’s annual block party in August. For the last two years, we have provided approximately 130 pairs of new athletic shoes in adult sizes 7 through 13 to help ensure teens have the shoes they need for school (including PE classes). If you would like to support this effort, you can purchase NEW athletic shoes, men’s or women’s, in the sizes mentioned, or make a monetary donation to the effort.
This month, my oldest daughter, LeAnn, will have two bridal showers given for her. One given by her fiance’s side of the family, and one by her side of the family. I’m almost certain that at one, if not both, each of us in attendance will receive a gift or a small party favor. It’s always fun to receive these small gift bags when attending a party and being excited to see what each one has inside. I remember giving out goody bags at the girl’s birthday parties when they were much younger, and the children loved them. Most of us are still children at heart and love to receive gift bags.
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!
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.