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.
Connection. This is the theme I hear all around me. How am I connected, or not, in meaningful ways to those around me? How do I get connected? What does it mean to connect with someone: Are we best friends forever or do we just nod to one another from across the way?
Most of us are very familiar with the Christmas story and Jesus being born in a stable because there was no room for them. It’s one of the worst feelings to go into a place and find out there is no room for you. Whether that is a hotel after traveling for hours and hours, a restaurant that has a long wait list, or a church that is filled only on the aisle side leaving the middle open. Having to crawl over people can be uncomfortable and a bit awkward or having to go all the way to the front to find a seat can feel intimidating, especially if you are a visitor.
November was a fun month for the OWLs. Our outing was Tuesday Night at the Movies. A fun-loving group of 18 headed to the local cinema for viewing the animated comedy “The Star.” We followed this with a wonderful dinner. A great time was had by all. Based on feedback from the group, we will probably make this an annual event.
The OWLs will kick off December and the Christmas season with an awesome Christmas concert. We will travel as a group to Christ Episcopal Church, in La Crosse to hear the UWL combined choirs and orchestra “Festival of Carols.” This is an uplifting concert that will get us in the spirit of the season as we prepare for the birth of Christ. The concert is free and will take place on Saturday, December 9. We will leave from the church at 4:00 PM to travel to a local restaurant to enjoy some good food and fellowship before the concert. Dinner is on your own. Following dinner, we will make our way to the church. So we know how much transportation to arrange, please contact Brian Narveson at email@example.com or 608-526-9700 by Friday, December 8, if you plan to attend. This is a great way to kick off the Christmas season.
First Lutheran’s capital campaign, Our Church ☩ Our Time, launched October 15th with a kickoff event that included great food, time to talk with friends and time to listen to our keynote speaker, John McHugh. John shared four stories about what it means to love, what it means to live with gratitude and what it means to be hospitable. We say we want to become more grateful, loving, hospitable people so John’s stories were very welcome. While he spoke, our kids played in the Pertzsch gymnasium, which I heard (from my kids anyway) was great fun! “We should do that more often” was what my 10-year-old son told me. Maybe he’s right.
When my daughter Sarah returned from a semester in school in Scotland. I was overjoyed and so very thankful. As I patiently tried to wait for her to come through the gate, I was a bundle of nervous excited energy. I could hardly wait to hug my youngest daughter once again. She is the best hugger there is! When she finally emerged, we all gathered around her and gave her the warmest welcome with hugs and kisses and even some tears of happiness. We were all abounding in thankfulness that Sarah returned to us safe, having a wonderful semester in Scotland.
The OWLs took great advantage of the nice weather in September. We attended the La Crosse storytelling festival on a wonderful afternoon, heard some great stories and music. We finished the month with a beautiful afternoon on the Narvesons’ deck with good food and wonderful poetry.
What if First Lutheran no longer had a mortgage payment? What if we had a Foundation (endowment) that is able to generate $50,000 per year rather than $12,000 to $15,000? What if we gathered enough financial resources to address all the deferred maintenance issues that have accumulated in the last ten years?
What does it mean to live “By Heart”? This has been the question that has been rolling around my head, framing my experiences for the last few months as we prepare for this 500th anniversary of the reformation. If we are always being re-formed, as is the characteristic of the Lutheran church, how are we doing that? Re-formation requires the heart to be involved, along with the mind and the soul. Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Mark Allen Powell would say if we want to change our heart, change where your treasure is—teach your heart something different. So what does it mean to live “By Heart”? Does it mean that I am a “bleeding heart” or that I have a “hard heart”? Does it mean I give all my money and worldly goods away? Does it mean I am fickle or stubborn? As I ponder these questions that stem from my original question of what this means, I realize that none of these are going to get me to the, pardon the pun, heart of the matter. Instead, I turn to Jesus once again as I consider what it means to live “By Heart”: love. More specifically, love God and love neighbor and love neighbor as you do yourself (which was recently pointed out to me that we leave that part out too often). I know this would shock you that I end up here, not at all. Loving God and loving my neighbor as I do myself have become for me the most challenging and life giving way to consider the commandments. To live “By Heart” is to live a life of love—to follow Jesus in such a way that my life is characterized by the love I show to all people.
I love watching our coffee hour, seeing people interacting with one another, talking, laughing, joking. There’s a table where one group always gathers, with the group members fluctuating throughout the year. We have others who float from table to table talking to almost everyone. We have some who sit quietly by themselves over in the couch area, and, of course, there are our coffee hosts going to each table filling coffee cups and enjoying getting to know those they serve. Our coffee hour is a wonderful time to talk to those you know and to get to know others you don’t know.
Volunteer Hosts Needed
With the new school year upon us, the First Teen Clothes Closet’s schedule is getting busy. We are in need of volunteer hosts, especially for Monday evenings when we shuttle teens from Trinity Lutheran’s Children’s Clothes Closet. Go to 1stlu.org/closethelp to choose a shift you can work. If you have never volunteered before, or need a refresher course, contact Bridget Crave at firstname.lastname@example.org, or another one of the steering committee members. Thank you for helping us reach teens in our community!
First Teen Clothes Closet team,
I am thrilled to be the Young Youth Director at First Lutheran Church! As I am thinking about the first part of my position I think about how busy everyone is at this time of year, school starting and transitions into a new routine. I had the opportunity to meet Lyle Griner who wrote the following… and are my thoughts exactly!
It was great to seeing everyone after our break in July. A group of 22 of us had a wonderful evening in August with dinner and the play “Steel Magnolias” in Lanesboro. Thank you to everyone who helped by driving.
One of the primary functions of the senior pastor at First Lutheran is to address staffing needs. Like many other workplaces, the church is facing different challenges and opportunities today than it did even 10 years ago. Our staff is built to reflect those evolving needs. In 2014 our Strategic Plan cast a vision for what our staff will look by 2019. It was then that we forecasted changes in job descriptions for the senior and associate pastors as well as the director of hospitality. We also named new positions we hoped to add for the sake of providing programs and services that had become expected or needed by our members. The plan led us to create a position for a director of small groups ministry. Bridget Crave was hired in 2015. We also recognized we needed to hire a full-time youth director. So we hired Tina Nelson in 2015. As much as our high schoolers need a youth director, we saw our adults need an ‘adult director’, too. We hoped to add this position by 2016. We hoped to hire a stewardship consultant who led some financial education by 2016 as well. And by 2019 we dreamed of hiring a director of worship & arts. Further descriptions of these roles, by the way, can be found in the 2014 Strategic Plan, which is available in the church office.