At the annual fall conference for pastors in our synod, I had the opportunity to hear from Professor Todd Green of Luther College. He teaches religion and has devoted his life’s work to dismantling Islamophobia in the US and around the world. I was very moved by his passion for this work and his care for our Muslim neighbors who suffer daily assaults, increased hate crimes, and rampant discrimination. His urgency for making change and combating hate toward Muslims in Minnesota has prompted me to take stronger actions in my advocacy.
This month we have a great opportunity to join in fighting back against Islamophobia in our own community.
The Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign is hosting a Faith Over Fear training event in Willmar, MN on November 15 & 16th.
Through Faith Over Fear trainings, participants learn effective strategies to better advocate against a narrative of fear and divisiveness in our country. This training shares up-to-date research, tools, and effective strategies for the work of faith and community members who wish to counter anti-Muslim bias, discrimination, and violence in the United States.
The Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign is a national coalition-based campaign of religious denominations and faith-based organizations and communities that are committed to ending discrimination and violence against Muslims in the US by equipping, connecting, and mobilizing faith leaders and community members to effectively take action. Shoulder to Shoulder trains, provides resources, and empowers people to address anti-Muslim bigotry within their own communities and in American society.
Some may wonder how advocating for people of a different faith background is congruent with living out our Christian faith. I can’t think of a more appropriate way to follow the example of Jesus, who crossed religious, cultural, and social boundaries on a daily basis, showing how God’s love is not hindered by the things that we perceive as dividing us. To be a Christian is to love your neighbor as yourself. Yes, even your Muslim neighbor.
Please join me in attending this valuable training to work together to build a community where all people, no matter their religious or cultural background, are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.
To register visit: https://www.shouldertoshouldercampaign.org/trainings
WHAT: Faith Over Fear Training - Willmar, MN
WHEN: November 15-16, 2019
*Friday, November 15, 2019: 5:00 - 9:00pm | Opening Dinner & Program
*Saturday, November 16, 2019: 9:00 - 5:00pm | Training (snacks & lunch provided)
WHERE: Willmar Community Center
It’s been a few weeks since I returned from maternity leave and I’m so glad to be back in the swing of things with you all. It was really important for me to take time with my family this summer, especially with Emmett having special concerns as a premature baby, but I did miss you all terribly. I missed worship, I missed the community time, and I missed my routine.
Between feedings and diaper changes, I’ve spent quite a bit of time these last few months writing thank you notes. People have been so generous in helping us prepare for Emmett’s birth and future. I’m always overwhelmed by the giving nature of my community. I remember when Erik and I were married, I had a hard time making a wedding registry because I felt guilty asking people to buy me things, but I was reminded again and again that people wanted to be part of our story. Family and friends wanted to show their support as we began a new adventure, a new challenge, and they wanted to give back; I heard stories from aunts, and cousins, and family friends about how much they needed their community when they were at my stage in life, and offering me a set of sheets was one way they could show their gratitude for all the support they received over the years. Beginning this new adventure and challenge into parenthood has been no different. It’s amazing to me that at times of life transition we remember how much we need each other, and how deficient our lives would be if we were to try and do this thing called life all alone.
As I’ve been filling my mailbox with thank you letters going out, I’ve been receiving hospital bills coming in. Modern medicine is quite amazing and I’m so glad we had the option of care in the NICU, but of course the expertise comes at a cost. It can feel overwhelming at times to see our savings rapidly depleting all because we decided to do a pretty normal thing—have a child. I probably worry more about personal finances than I should, but in uncertain times like this, I am especially tempted to draw into myself. I ask myself, “Should I stop my charitable giving for a while? Should I stop giving to the church until our expenses go back to normal? Should I hold back my giving in my community, like to the fire department, this year?” I usually decide to wait until I feel less panic. No decision can be a good one when made in the height of fear, I tell myself. And so I wait—and eventually I come to the conclusion that retreating into myself is really not helpful.
There are plenty of ways to be responsible with my financial resources, but quitting my giving is not one of them. The generosity shown to me breeds confidence that I don’t have to be afraid, I’m not facing the future alone, and it launches me into increased giving. It’s actually quite freeing to lean into gratitude and generosity, giving thanks for the abundance I truly do have, and letting go of the fear of the unknown, letting go of the pressure to buy ALL THE THINGS for my son, letting go of the isolation of putting my wants above all else. I find I’m never more content than when I acknowledge the immense gifts I have been given and then sharing those gifts for the betterment of my community and planet.
This fall, in the midst of much uncertainty, I’m choosing to lean into gratitude. I’m choosing to prioritize sharing. I’m choosing to let go of my fear and my greed. I’m choosing to say thank you and pass the generosity forward.
That you may have a joyous, generous, and grace filled fall, I pray.
Our denomination, the ELCA, holds a churchwide assembly triennially - to worship, vote on matters of governance and policy, and be church together for the sake of the world. This year’s churchwide assembly was full of important votes and actions, including:
Greetings! This month I’d like to share some updates from our companions in South Africa. ~Pr. Megan
2019 Report from the SW MN Companion Synod Committee
Sometimes churches, like families go through growing pains. For another year our sisters and brothers in the Southeastern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa have has their work interrupted and their ministries slowed because of growing pains caused by difficulties between their churchwide structure and their dioceses. Especially our companion diocese, the South Eastern Diocese has experienced turmoil. A diocese in South Africa is the equivalent to what we call a synod.
While we are pained to see our shared ministries slowed, we are encouraged that their Health and Wellness Committee on the Diocesan level continues to work and share programs between Circuits in the in the Diocese. Work among people living in poverty, many of whom are elderly, where little health care is available, are being helped because of the work of this committee along with help from conferences in our synod who support a salary for the Committee’s Coordinator. Many of our conferences also support the Health and Wellness Committee in their partner Circuit where hot meals are served, and gardens are growing to supplement the pantries of local families.
We also know that the work of parishes in the various circuits continues at the local levels. Sunday School materials shared by Lutheran Churches across southern Africa are available and are being used in parishes that share training for those who teach Sunday School in local congregations. Women’s leagues, Men’s leagues and Youth Leagues continue to meet separately in parishes and within circuits. Scholarships and help with uniforms continue to go to school children at all levels.
We are also very hopeful that ELCSA now has a new Presiding Bishop and their Church Council with the Presiding Bishop recently passed a resolution that they hold an extra meeting to discuss what needs to be done to have elections for a new Bishop in the Southeastern Diocese and to help them proceed to elect their new leadership at all levels. That meeting was scheduled for May 27, 2019. We wait eagerly for news from this meeting and are hopeful that present crisis will pass. We pray that this meeting will set us all on a new path that we may share again getting to know each other and again learn how we can grow in faith together and join in sharing God’s Good News of grace and love for our Lord, each other and our neighbors.
Even as this begins we know we here in SW MN must continue to pray patiently. As happens in many families we will wait for there to be recognition and reorganization. We rely on our Lord who wants only the best for our brothers and sisters in South Africa and our sharing of faith and ministry together. We know we can be God’s hands and feet here in Minnesota and in South Africa.
For the committee- Marie Nelson, Chair
Update on the Bishopstowe Deanery Project in the Umngeni Circuit
You may remember that fundraising project our conference did for the roof on the Bishopstowe Deanery/Circuit Center in our companion circuit in South Africa. The roof has been completed. The work that needs to be completed to make the center usable has been halted due to the problems that are taking place in the church at large in South Africa. Since they also now have doors and windows, they are able to secure the structure.
The South Africans remain grateful for our help and are anxious to move on to the next phase of their project. Please continue to pray for their efforts.
Peg Hatlestad, Crow River Conference Partnership Committee
Over the last few months, I have been spending a lot of my spare time at my house sorting. When we moved into the parsonage two years ago there were plenty of boxes that I just didn’t have the time or energy to sort through and so they got stuck in various closets, in the basement, and the garage. When we learned we were expecting a child this summer, however, I knew it was time to start making decisions about the stuff in those boxes that hadn’t seen the light of day in a long while.
I started in the room that will soon become the nursery. I told myself, “go through one or two boxes each day.” That felt like a manageable goal. But as I started to pull things out of the closet, I got kind of possessed by the process, and I made it through the whole closet in one evening. It was surprising to me as I tend to be quite sentimental about my possessions. All the times my mom made me go through boxes and drawers and bins as a kid, I absolutely despised the process. I just figured it would be no different this time around. After all, I had been dreading it so much that I had opted to drag many of these boxes across the country for various moves over the last decade, instead of sorting their contents.
As I sat on my living room floor and sorted the items into piles—keep, dispose, donate—I was surprised at how good it felt, and by how much I was willing to part with. The sentiment associated with the items was still there. Each notebook brought back exciting memories of college classes, each souvenir t-shirt brought back fond memories of family vacations, each trinket brought back giggly memories of childhood birthday parties, each report card brought back warm memories of beloved teachers. And yet, something was different this time around. Even though those good memories were there, I was able to let go of much of these things that I had been storing for so long.
I realized what was different—me. This time I wasn’t just sorting to make my life lighter, or to fit into a smaller space, or to appease my mother, or to purge things that no longer had a use to me. This time I was sorting to make space for someone else—someone new—to physically accommodate this huge change that was about to occur. These things I had been storing—they were all about me. Yes, they were important things about me, part of the story that shaped me, relics of the things I was taught to value, influential in my identity, part of what made me, me. But as I pulled items out of boxes and thought about this new life that would be joining our family, it didn’t feel so necessary to keep those items around anymore. Suddenly I was able to acknowledge the goodness of these things, understand that my identity was not going to vanish if this stuff was no loner stacked in my closet, and feel joyful about creating space for something—someone—more than me.
Change is hard no matter what the circumstances, but I’m finding that it’s easier to let go of the past, even the beautiful, meaningful, identity defining things – when I realize it’s to make space for new life. I think this is true in the church too. It’s sad to see the events for which we have fond memories fade away. It’s scary to let go of ministries for which we have worked long and hard. It’s tough to remember that our purpose won’t vanish and our identity won’t become untethered as we change and physically make space for the Spirit to do something new, to bring in someone new, to continue to fill us with joy as space is being created for more than us.
With spring finally here and the 50 days of the Easter Season in full swing, I thought I would share a fun activity for you to enjoy on your own or as a family. Often we think of spiritual disciplines as a Lenten practice, but I’d like to encourage you to practice becoming more aware of God’s work in your everyday, even beyond Lent. Have some fun with this BINGO card this month. Each day ask yourself the question, “Where have I seen God at work in the world?” If you manage to get a BINGO, stop on by my office for an undeniably awesome high-five and a little spring surprise 😊 Happy May!! ~ Pr. Megan
Ever since I was in high school, I have tried to participate in some kind of Lenten discipline. I remember first giving up pop for the season. I didn’t drink much to start, so it wasn’t too tough, but it was a nice little reminder in my week that something was different about this season in my faith life. I eventually moved to giving up all sweets for the season. This was much harder. No more stopping at the candy dish, no hot chocolate while studying, no dessert. It was a discipline not only in restraint, but one that heightened my sense of how much I take for granted in my day to day. It’s amazing how making one switch for a period of time like that can really begin to alter your perception.
I realized, however, after a number of years, this practice of giving up some type of food was no longer as meaningful as it had begun. Maybe it was because I am easily bored with things and need variety in my life, or maybe it was because I was being forced to give up many more foods as my allergies became more severe. Whatever the case, in seminary I decided to switch things up. Instead of giving something up, I tried to add a spiritual practice into my daily life. I found a short daily devotion book to read each morning or evening before bed. It’s not a practice I have been able to sustain throughout the whole year, but I look forward to each Lenten season and finding a new book with simple centering passages and reflections to guide my journey to the cross. This year I am reading, 40 Day Journey with Parker Palmer.
The other discipline I have chosen to pay more attention to this Lent, along with my husband, is my plastic consumption. This may sound a bit cliché, it seems like we see articles about banning plastic straws and plastic grocery bags all over these days, but I have become increasingly distressed by how fast my recycling bin fills up each week. I’m noticing more and more just how much my grocery items, even produce, are wrapped, or boxed, or bagged in plastic. Every time I head to Target or Home Depot, I feel like I end up with more packaging trash by volume than goods. And it’s so easy just to fill the bin, let it be taken away, and never give it a second thought. When I visited Namibia in 2015, I was struck by how much plastic waste was strewn along every road, piled up behind every house and business, and generally blowing across the landscape. It made me realize, in my community, we have just as much plastic waste, if not more, but we have a centralized system for taking it away. Namibia did not. The sheer volume of this pollutant is somewhat hidden from me and I willingly choose not to look very hard to see my impact.
As I think about all God has given to me for my life, and all God has entrusted to me to care for, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of all others I share this planet with, and those who will one day call this place home, this season of Lent I choose to recommit myself to paying attention to what I consume, how I consume it, how it’s packaged, and whether or not I really need it. I’m starting small, kind of like I started small with giving up pop in high school, by looking closer at my groceries. Is there a way I can avoid purchasing that in a bottle? What kind of reusable glass container do I own so I can get bulk items? Is this item a necessity or simply a convenience? What clever ways have you cut down on your plastic waste that you could share with me?
My prayers to you as you find meaningful ways to journey to the cross this Lent, living in Christ’s freedom for you, sharing amazing grace with your neighbors, and leaning into resurrection joy.
This month I would like to highlight a ministry of our Southwestern Minnesota Synod. In recent years applications for 4 types of grants have been made available to pastors and rostered leaders. One of these grants helps to retire student debt. The last two years (2018 & 2019) I have received grants from this program. I was very fortunate to graduate with my bachelor’s degree with no student debt, but I did have to take out loans in order to complete my four years of seminary studies. Increasingly, student debt is negatively affecting our pastors and our congregations. High levels of student debt limits following God’s call and creates much stress. I am very grateful to this grant program for helping me pay down my seminary debt at a more rapid pace than I would be able to accomplish on my own. It helps me feel more confident in my decision making regarding my personal finances, allows me to be more generous with my giving, and helps me remember that I am not alone in this ministry. I also want to thank Trinity for generously contributing monthly toward paying down my student loans. This was part of my financial package you offered. It shows that this congregation cares about its leaders, sustainable ministry, and partnership.
Here is more information about the synod’s grant program which has been re-named Gifts of Grace.
“The grant we received from the Lilly Endowment was to help us develop ways to improve the financial stress of our rostered leaders. The Ministerial Excellence Fund through Gifts of Grace is a key part of this, but so also are education resources for financial literacy, stewardship, and generosity. We believe that less strained pastors will make them better able to serve their congregations well. So this is not just about pastors, but about the congregations they serve. We are hearing that pastors who receive help for education loans not only feel blessed, but feel cared for by their synod. All of this may help us retain pastors in rural areas.
One of the key questions we need to ask as a church is this … Whose issue is it that pastors who seek to serve the church are coming out of seminary with the burden of $40,000 or $50,000 in educational debt (plus the other usual loans we face)? If we think each individual is responsible for their own education, then pastors will remain silent about the strain they are bearing. But what if this is a systemic problem that the whole church needs to address? We see congregations who are understanding that the cost of education has shifted too much away from a denomination responsibility to the individual. We can share in this together.
In January 2019 we distributed the MEF’s Grant for Educational Loan Reduction. Fifty pastors received help to reduce their educational debt. We have begun a new three-year period of work with the Lilly Endowment Inc. Our first three-year term was 2016-2018. We applied for a second three-year term, and will now be working with them through 2021. With this new term comes a new infusion of money for our work with the requirement that we match the money they give us. Lilly will provide $250,000 and we will be raising another $250,000 from individual and congregational donations. Given the generosity shown 2016-2018 in raising matching funds, we know we can do this.”
If you would like to support the work of Gifts of Grace and have your gift matched by the Lilly Endowment Inc., here is how you can give:
This month I want to lift up some great work being done by our synod youth, including our very own Dawson Miller. Below you will find information about The Lutheran Youth Organization as well as an interview with Dawson about his own experiences as a member of our synod’s board. ~ Pr. Megan
The Lutheran Youth Organization (LYO) is an organization of high-school age young people who are members of the ELCA. There are nearly 100,000 ELCA youth across the United States and the Caribbean. The LYO is a place where the voices of young people are lifted up in the church. This ministry happens through young people discussing and advocating issues of importance to them concerning faith, youth ministry, the ELCA, local communities, and the world.
The LYO Board is made up of 15 youth and 10 adults from our synod. They plan and coordinate the synod’s Jr. and Sr. High Youth Gatherings and raise up the voice of youth on a synod level. Youth who serve on the LYO board are in grades 9-12 and are elected at the Sr. High Youth Gathering. Each conference has an adult representative on the LYO board that is elected or appointed by the conference. Youth Ministry Coordinator, Sarah Hausken advises the LYO board.
Dawson, what is LYO?
“Well the first thing I would say is that it is like my second family. We always have a group chat going and we see each other a lot. It’s been my favorite way to learn about God with people my own age. It helps me understand what God is doing through my community.“
When did you get involved and what is your role on the board?
“I got involved early last year, right after the Sr High Youth Gathering. A friend of mine from school was applying to be on the board and she said I should apply. I really enjoyed the Sr High gathering, so I thought, why not? I applied and I was board appointed. I’m the treasurer so I handle the money. I am also on Servant Team #5. We handle registration and service projects for the gatherings. We create ideas for the gatherings.”
What has been the best part of LYO?
“The best part is meeting new friends. These are some of the closest friends I have now. I get to see God through their eyes. They have such a different view than I do. They have experiences I don’t have. It’s been awesome to create new memories.”
What has been the most challenging part?
“Coming up with new ideas! And keeping everyone on the same level. Keeping ideas flowing and keeping everyone as happy as possible.”
What do you want people to know about the upcoming Sr High Youth Gathering in April?
“I think it’s going to be even better than last year. We have a super cool theme, ‘Walk Humbly’. Last year was great, but there are so many more ideas that can come through this year’s theme because we are always walking with God.”
Anything else you want to share?
“Just that people need to go and experience what this does for people. People ask me, ‘Is this just like any church group?’ And it’s not. It’s so much more than an average church group. This is one of the coolest church things I have ever done. You have to be there to experience it and to know what it’s like.”
Stay up to date with SW MN LYO. Like them on Facebook. Follow them on Instagram @swmnlyo.
Pastor Megan finds that she rarely has all the right answers, but tries to help her community ask better questions.