Wednesday, December 30, 2009

January newsletter

From CrossWind Photos
Although the church year technically begins with Advent, January always feels like a time for new beginnings. It’s time to pull out a new calendar, and get used to writing a new date on checks. We have to answer important questions like “is it ‘two thousand ten’ or ‘twenty-ten’?” Arguably, 2010 isn’t just a new year—it’s a new decade, even. And that’s always a great opportunity to look back on what God has done in our lives, and to look ahead to what God is going to do!

As we move into a new calendar year here are some of the things that I am looking forward to:
  • Next summer’s Mission Trip to the Lake Traverse Reservation. We are going a little farther afield this summer to learn about what God is doing in a community that is quite different from ours, but not that far away! (Haven’t signed up yet? Talk to me ASAP!)

  • The after-Christmas return of K.I.C.K., our after-school program, which has blossomed in the past few months.

  • Joint meetings of some of our women’s groups at MLH, to change things up a bit during the winter. Always a delight!

  • The return of the 30 Hour Famine at the end of February.

  • Lent and Easter, 2010!

  • Our post-Lent adult study on the book of Luke. It’s always great to read the Bible together, and Luke is one of my favorites!

  • Presentations from our Confirmation students during worship. (I can’t tell you all the details—it’s a surprise! But they are going to be great!)
What would be on your list? What are you looking forward to in 2010? Perhaps more importantly, what do you think God might be looking forward to? I don’t know exactly what is in store for us…but knowing God, it’s bound to be good!

So…Happy New Year! And Merry Christmas! (12 days, remember?)
~Pastor Sarah

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Breaking news!

Have you seen our synod's new website?

Scroll down to the bottom of the page. The photo in the left-hand corner is from our 2009 mission trip! Isn't it awesome to see our amazing youth showcased like that? Thanks to Lois for pointing this out!

No comment on that other photo.
~Pastor Sarah

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy [insert-day-here]

In keeping with my theme of remembering holidays that occur around this time of year, here is a run-down of the past few days:
  • December 26 is the day for St. Stephen, using the logic that as the first martyr, Stephen deserves to have his heavenly birthday the closest to Jesus' birthday. His day is mostly remembered by American Lutherans only when they happen to be singing "Good King Wenceslas".

  • December 27 is St. John's Day, on which it is traditional to be really confused as to which John is intended. (Okay, not really, but "John" is the masculine equivalent of "Mary" in the New have John, John, and the other John.) Visiting the island of St. John is not a tradition on this day, but it really should be.

  • December 28 is the Holy Innocents, which, no matter how you look at it, is not the most cheerful of feast days.
~Pastor Sarah

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! :) May the news of Christ's Incarnation fill you with his joy and and peace and love. In the midst of all the craziness of this busy season, still he comes into our midst. Sometimes the angels herald his coming...but quite often, he slips in quietly, while we are looking the other way--like a baby born in the middle of the night in a tiny village.

Given the weather, perhaps it is appropriate to offer a prayer for travelers.
Lord Jesus, your parents traveled a long, hard road to get to Bethlehem for your birth! Be with all those who travel in this season--give them safe journeys and happy homecomings, protect them from any dangers along the way, and fill them with your peace when their plans are interrupted or delayed. Bless all those who are unable to be with their families because of weather, or distance, or illness, or broken relationships--and especially those who have no families with whom to celebrate. As we rejoice in your Incarnation, help us to find--and to be--signs of your own gracious presence in the midst of all our confusion and uncertainty. In your holy name we pray. Amen!
~Pastor Sarah

Disclaimer: No, I did not stay up until midnight to post this. I programmed it to post in advance, in keeping with my family's traditional approach to holidays that involve staying up late (i.e. we go to bed anyway).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas surprises

Actually, the snowstorm we are supposed to get this afternoon (which is currently taking a break, I understand) is not much of a surprise, since it has been predicted for several days. What is a surprise--and will continue to be a surprise--is how much that snow will or will not affect our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day service plans.

So far, my guess is that unless it is literally snowing (or blowing) so hard you cannot see across the street, there will be a service at Fron at 4:00. The 10:00 service and services at the country churches are anyone's guess right now. Come if you can, and if it seems safe--and if it isn't safe, then by all means, please stay home! Jesus came into the world 2,000 years ago without us being at church to witness it, and he will continue to do so. It's awesome to celebrate that together as a church family on these festival days...but Jesus will still love us even if we are not able to do that. (Thanks be to God!) And who knows? The weather may not be as bad as they're predicting.

If you are stuck at home because of the snow (even if you're just waiting for the snow plows), here is a fun article from NPR about snowflakes, which pleases my inner science geek. Then you can enjoy tonight's lectionary readings with links to associated art.

Update 11:45 a.m. As of now, in anticipation of worse weather to come (especially the winds), Christmas Eve services are canceled at St. Johns and Indherred. At Fron, the 4:00 service is still on but the 10:00 is canceled. As for Immanuel's Christmas Day service tomorrow morning, we are still waiting to see what happens.
~Pastor Sarah

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ringing in the holidays...

Bell choir puns should generally be avoided, because:
1-They are entirely too easy, and
2-Bell choirs enjoy them entirely too much.

However, there are not a whole lot of bell choirs around Starbuck, so I think I am fairly safe.

That said, check out this video. It's a local news segment featuring the handbell choir of a church in West Columbia, SC (there area where I went to seminary). They are playing a Christmas tune witha lovely variety of handbell effects. If you have never had the chance to see a handbell choir in action, it's worth checking out just for that--otherwise, you can amuse yourself by trying to figure out which of the guys playing the really big bells is one of my classmates from seminary, who is doing his internship at that congregation, and who has seen my dad's rock band in person (unlike me). (He and his wife are both knitters, as well. Nobody tell Pastor Paul.)*

I have always considered handbells a particularly churchly instrument, because, well, the nature of the choir is that you need everyone working together for it to work. If one person drops out, you have a serious gap--but if one person plays alone, you have no melody. This is a great illustration of life in the Body of Christ! This particular group does a great job--they don't go much into the two-bells-in-one-hand technique or the really exceedingly high treble bells, but they really go for the big bass ones. Be on the lookout for the mallets in the beginning and the martellato** at the end.

~Pastor Sarah

*I kind of hate to admit it, but facebook is actually pretty good for finding out this kind of stuff about people you used to go to school with. And then appropriating their cool links.

**What's a martellato, you ask? Well, it's that thing they do at the end.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy St. Thomas day!

Day Trippin' in Madras
Originally uploaded by Prince Roy
Today is the festival day for St. Thomas, which is hardly ever celebrated by Lutherans, because a-it sounds like something Roman Catholics would do and b-it is entirely too close to Christmas, and we already have enough extra services this week.

We mostly know Thomas for his famous profession of faith in the risen Lord (hey, I can always dream). What you may not know is that, according to tradition, he is also said to have been the first to take the gospel to India--in fact, to this day, there are Indian Christians who trace their roots back to Thomas. In Chennai, India, you can visit St. Thomas Basilica, which is said to be built over the saint's tomb (which you can also see), or St. Thomas Mount, where he may have been martyred. (When I was in Chennai a few years ago, we did not get to see inside the basilica because there was a funeral or a possibly a wedding going on. But the outside is gorgeous.)

Then, of course, there is the island of St. Thomas, which sounds pretty good this time of year, even though their website does auto-play an annoying sound effect.
~Pastor Sarah

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sing, choirs of angels!

Yesterday, it was my privilege to sing Christmas carols* with two very different groups of people: the residents of the Minnewaska Lutheran Home and the kids who come to our after-school program, K.I.C.K.

At the nursing home Christmas service in the morning, the residents' choir sang "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear":
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold
...and "that glorious song of old" never sounded better than when sung by the voices of God's faithful in that place. Women often tell me that they can't sing like they used to--well, I didn't get to hear these women "back then", so I can't compare, but right now, I firmly believe that their songs are as precious and lovely in God's ears as the voices of the angels.

In the afternoon, we went Christmas caroling to the apartments next door with the K.I.C.K. kids. They did a great job (some of them even volunteered to sing "Silent Night" in Spanish), and even got to the third verse of "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful", which goes:
Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
And once again I was struck by the thought that choirs of angels never sounded better! Some of the kids have wonderfully musical voices; others are more enthusiastic than tuneful. Some of them obviously love to sing; some of them would like you to think they would rather be somewhere else. This isn't the kind of music you get on recordings of kids singing Christmas carols: so sweet and adorable and perfect. This is real kids, really singing--and I am convinced that the choirs of angels themselves love to hear them, and maybe even sing along.

After all, the choirs of angels didn't sing for the great musicians of the court--they sang for shepherds, who probably didn't have a lot of musical training. And Jesus didn't come to the powerful elite--he came to ordinary people, in an ordinary town, in an ordinary way--so that we can all join in the song.
~Pastor Sarah

*Okay, so it isn't Christmas yet, but sometimes you have to make an exception.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy Holidays!

It is apparently necessary, at this time of year, for Christians to complain about the use of "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". There are plenty of good reasons for this, not the least of which is that it is annoying to be constantly corrected. But after thinking about it, I'm not really sure if it's worth the fuss.

Even for Christians, we are clearly talking about more than one holiday here--it's not just Christmas. Between now and, say, early January, we have the following occasions:

Even from a strictly Christian perspective–-and even if your particular Christian tradition celebrates only a handful of the above occasions-–it is pretty clear that we are dealing with a whole season full of holy days. So...“Happy Holidays!” is surely a perfectly appropriate Christian greeting. “Happy season that includes Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, the Epiphany, the Baptism of Our Lord, and the commemorations and feast days for St. Thomas, St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents!” just doesn’t have the same ring to it for some reason.

So, the next time you hear "Happy Holidays", don't just get annoyed. Instead, think of the rich opportunities for to celebrate God's love that fill this darkest time of the year--and give thanks.
~Pastor Sarah

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mission trip 2010 update

If you don't already know, we are planning to travel to the Lake Traverse Reservation in Sisseton, SD on the week of June 6, 2010. We are working with an organization called YouthWorks, and we’ll do some fund-raising in the coming year to lessen the cost for families. CrossWind youth should have received at least one mailing about this already (another is coming)--if you didn't get yours (or lost it), just call the Fron office (or let me know) and I'll send you another.

Now is the time to register. Really. Please call the Fron office, or talk to or email me as soon as possible to reserve your space. You can either turn in your deposit or talk to me if you need to make other arrangements. We need you to commit to this trip as soon as possible, preferably in writing, so that we can make sure there is a space for you. If you're still not sure, please let me know what you are thinking! (Going with YouthWorks offers us all sorts of advantages, but it also means that we need to be really firm about the deadlines.) Anyone in 7th through 12th grade is welcome to register—you may also invite your friends from outside of the parish!

Parents and other adults: Please talk to the youth in your lives about this amazing opportunity! If you have any questions, or if you are interested in being an adult participant (we are allowed one for every five youth), please let me know!
~Pastor Sarah

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's snowing again (+larger church news)

But I can't complain like I did in October, because it's supposed to snow in December. (And actually, it's kind of pretty.)

At 4:30 (Central), the ELCA is supposed to put up the video from yesterday's Town Hall Meeting with Bishop Hanson. Some of my seminary classmates saw it, but I was still driving back from the airport and did not get home until it was nearly over. Anybody get to participate live? Even if you disagree with Bishop Hanson (or aren't into this new-fangled technology stuff), it's at least interesting as a first-of-a-kind thing for our larger church. Will there be more? Should there be more? Should the presiding bishop be focusing on other issues, or is this precisely what he ought to be doing?

The Lutheran World Federation is calling on member churches (we're one of them) to ring church bells "or take other symbolic actions for climate justice" on December 13. This is designed to coincide with the talks in Copenhagen. This is a huge issue with theological, ethical, and missional implications for the church, and it's exciting to see Lutherans around the world attempting to address it. And besides, it involves church bells. (If it's got church bells, I'm bound to like it.)

I don't know that we will be doing anything in particular, but as we always ring our church bells on Sundays, and the 13th is a Sunday, we will at least sort of technically be participating (although probably we will not give the suggested 350 rings). Which could be cool, if it makes the news.
~Pastor Sarah

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December newsletter

For those of you following along at home: Yes, I am publishing this post retroactively. Because it's tidier that way. And because I can.

“Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” Philippians 4:13 (The Message)
These were the words that guided our synod’s Junior High Youth Gathering in Willmar, November 20-22. We read them, and sang them, danced along to them, and wore them on our t-shirts. With 1300 other youth (and adult leaders) from around our region, we reflected on how, with God on our side, all things are indeed possible!

Thank you to everyone who supported us on this trip! It was my great privilege to attend with four youth (check out the youth news for a list of names) and one other adult from our parish. Check out our synod’s website at to see photos from the gathering*—our group was small in numbers, but we certainly made our presence known! Going away for an event like this is a great way for us to learn and grow together in our faith. Ask us what we learned! (Also ask us about: laser tag, dodge ball, crazy hairstyles with glitter, and getting to take home drumsticks used by the actual drummer in the actual band.)

The best moment, for me, took place on Sunday morning. Between breakfast and worship, our youth had a little bit of free time. When I went looking for them, though, they were not on the computers in the business center. They were not chatting with their friends in the hallways, or sending text messages on their cell phones. They were not even at the table set up for the band. Instead, they were sitting in the very front row, ready for worship thirty minutes early—because they didn’t want to miss a single thing. And they had saved us seats, so that we wouldn’t miss out, either!

So now we are moving into the season of Advent, proclaiming again the greatest of great news: Jesus is coming! And for the One who came to earth as a tiny baby, all things are indeed possible—and he’s going to come again, and it’s going to be way too good to be missed! So come and worship with us—we’re saving you a seat!
~Pastor Sarah

*Update: You cannot see photos from the gathering on the synod website because they have decided to password-protect them to protect the privacy of our youth. When I get access, I'll find some to share around the parish.