Hello lovely Trinity people!
Are you a roller coaster kind of person? As a kid I HATED roller coasters. Spinning was not so bad, but any ride that involved loosely strapping myself to a seat that was soon to fall out of the sky . . . No thanks! I’m not sure what I found worse, the slow ascent . . . click, click, clicking away our last seconds before certain death, or the actual dropping part . . . stomach in my throat, butt floating freely, hands gripped to anything within reach.
Even though I was not a huge fan of roller coasters, I found myself at amusement parks quite often growing up. Eventually I got tired of politely tagging along and watching everyone else have fun so I would swallow my fear, grit my teeth, and take deep breaths as we inched along in line. I vividly remember one sunny day at Six flags. My group wanted to ride the coaster that had the highest drop in the park. After hours in line and lots of positive self-talk, I finally stepped into my seat and pulled the lap bar toward my waist. With ample space to spare between my body and the bar, I pushed harder to make it more secure. It didn’t budge. PANICKED, I looked up at the young attendant on the platform and shouted, “this won’t move down any further!” He looked at me and shrugged. SHRUGGED! And then he stepped back as the cars started to move. EVEN MORE PANICKED, I looked at my friend and said, “I’m literally going to fall out of this seat!” She didn’t know what to say.
Click . . . click . . . click . . . I’m feeling faint . . . (probably because I was no longer breathing deep) . . .
Click . . . click . . . click . . . I’m clenching every muscle in my body. . . (maybe my rigidity will save me?) . . . Click . . . click . . . click . . . and we drop . . .
Surprise! I didn’t die . . . physics and that coaster were friends and I lived to ride another day.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a roller coaster, but as I look forward to another year on this planet, I’m strangely feeling drawn to the amusement park. I’ve decided on two goals for my year:
Here’s to a roller coaster of a year. Yee-Haw! (I already feel a little sick 😊)
Happy New Year! As we enter 2020, I’d like to share an article about having deep honest conversations about faith. Enjoy! -Pastor Megan
The Biggest Hindrance to Your Kids’ Faith
Isn’t Doubt. It’s Silence
During a three-year study launched by the Fuller Youth Institute, a parent with three post–high school kids reflected on the changes she’s witnessed over the years: “I think if I were to go back and re-parent,
I actually would allow my kids more freedom in their high school years to explore and express their questions about faith.”
According to our study, which looked at 500 youth group graduates, over 70 percent of churchgoing high schoolers report having serious doubts about faith. Sadly, less than half of those young people shared their doubts and struggles with an adult or friend. Yet these students’ opportunities to express and explore their doubts were actually correlated with greater faith maturity. In other words, it’s not doubt that’s toxic to faith; it’s silence.
Researchers for the National Study for Youth and Religion discovered that young people have become inarticulate about their faith, often lacking the language to express their beliefs and convictions. Further exploration revealed another telling part of this story: so have their parents. Somehow, young people and their parents have lost the ability to speak of faith in real life. Like learning Mandarin as a young person then forgetting it as an adult, Christian adolescents often become less fluent in faith over time. What we call “faithing,” or the ongoing act of faith, depends on practice and use for it to become deeply part of us. It is through faithing that language, behaviors, beliefs, and values are internalized.
As we interact with parents nationwide, they confess that when it comes to discussing spirituality, they’re worried about saying the wrong thing and either messing up or revealing their ignorance. The good news for parents is we don’t need to be theologians or super-Christians to talk with our kids about our faith or theirs. We only need to be willing to go there. Faith in many families has become a lost language, but parents can bring faithing language back into everyday life by finding small ways to speak it again. Like any language, it will seem awkward at first, but consistency will bring fluency.
First, create spaces for faithing to happen.
When my (Steve’s) daughters were in their late teens and early 20's, I made a point to use coffee outings to talk about meaningful topics. It was hard at first. As a parent, you want your kids to come to you and ask you about the meaning of life, but that rarely happens. Instead, they often expected me to bring up important topics, so I learned to take some risks with them by asking them about friends, politics, current events, and God.
One question that I regularly brought up with them was, “What is something you don’t believe that you think I still believe?” I also turned the question around: “What is something you believe that you don’t think I believe?” Sometimes the answer would be, “I can’t think of anything,” and sometimes they had a list. I held my breath each time wondering what they might say, but what gave me courage was knowing that faithing is a process best fueled by honest, regular conversation.
Every once in a while, I (Kara) ask my kids this question: “When do you feel closest to God?” My son, Nathan’s answer: “During worship.” He has felt close to God through worship music since fourth grade. He now plays guitar and regularly leads worship at our high school ministry. Krista tells me she feels closest to God when she’s at church with her friends. She’s always been social, and she comes alive when she’s with people who get her. For Jessica, our most introverted child, it’s in our backyard by herself. She loves nature and experiencing God’s creation.
Second, bring faithing to their big questions and dilemmas.
Encourage your teenager or young adult to articulate their doubts so that both of you can better understand what they might be working through. For example, when your kid says, “I don’t believe in God anymore,” you might respond, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in anymore.” Acknowledge that their confession is courageous. You might even say, “I don’t believe in that kind of God, either” and then articulate what you believe. Compliment them for noticing the contradictions and ask them how they would live differently. Recognize, too, that intellectual dissent or questions often are evoked because of new and broadening relationships and experiences. Simplistic faith responses to issues of equality, science, and politics now feel unsatisfying. Acknowledge these new complexities. Invite other adults to join your family conversation who will listen, honor, and respond well to your kids’ questions. Avoid offering either-or solutions that constrain them to only two options when there may be more. And work toward considering new, creative ways that honor their experiences and faith journeys.
Third, tell your own faithing story. (It’s part of their story, too).
Somewhere along my parenting journey, I (Steve) realized I had not told my girls my spiritual story. So with each of them, I tried to find moments to ask, “Have you ever wondered why or how I found a connection with Jesus and his story?” When I asked them if I could share my story, each one graciously responded, “Yes.”
In the same spirit, tell your story to your young adult kids. It doesn’t have to be told perfectly. And if you told them once long ago, tell it again. Tell them about times when God’s grace has sustained you. Share how you are experiencing God in your daily living. Our kids need a starting point, and articulating our own stories is a great way to begin.
Finally, support your kids in their unique faith stage.
To best grow in faith with our families, we need to develop unique postures that match the key struggles and questions of what we call the learner, explorer, and focuser stages. As high school students, learners make sense of their faith through the modeling of others. Parents can help their learner kids’ faithing by:
Since explorers are journeying through the first half of emerging adulthood, they make sense of their relationship with God by asking more critical questions, often comparing and contrasting what they have been taught by their families and faith communities with their new encounters with diverse people, experiences, and worldviews. Parents as guides can help their explorer kids’ faithing by:
As focusers move from emerging adulthood toward adulthood, they are likely gaining clarity in their careers, relationships, and beliefs. They are becoming more comfortable with their own relationship with God and searching to find common ground—even with those who hold differing perspectives. Parents as resourcers can help their focuser kids’ faithing by:
As we seek to communicate openly with our kids about matters of the heart, we sometimes assume that their faith journeys are so influenced by our attitudes and actions that we have to do it all. What we do matters, yes, but nonetheless there is no formula that can perfectly predict our kids’ relationship with Jesus. Instead, we need the peace and strength that come from knowing that God loves each of us, is pursuing us, and desires to give us a full life. We can rest in knowing that, while we want our kids to believe in God, God always believes in them. And in us.
Kara Powell, PhD, is the executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. Steven Argue, PhD, is the applied research strategist for the Fuller Youth Institute and associate professor of youth, family, and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. This excerpt was adapted from Growing With by Kara Powell and Steven Argue. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2019. Used by permission. BakerPublishingGroup.com
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.
Pastor Megan finds that she rarely has all the right answers, but tries to help her community ask better questions.