Adept at adapting

July 1st, 2019

By Pastor Craig Pederson

Two months ago the first of our two children was confirmed in the Lutheran faith. Our son Evan had successfully navigated three years of large-group classes, small-group gatherings, service projects, and the obligatory “faith statement” to complete the requirements for his confirmation program. On a lovely May Sunday morning, Evan then publicly affirmed the promises of his baptism along with 42 other young people in front of friends, family, and the gathered people of God.

Evan would not say that his confirmation experience was “the best ever” or “the worst ever” – as teen exaggeration sometimes goes. When asked on the way home from church that day how he felt about being confirmed, he said, “Alright. … I guess I learned a few things.” (He has also learned the art of the Scandinavian understatement.)

“‘Going it alone’” is out; “‘we’re in this together’” is in!

Ultimately Evan felt his confirmation was not an end point, but a beginning framework for the rest of his life. And I was reminded of his beginnings, and the privilege I had to seal him with the Holy Spirit and mark him with the cross of Christ when I baptized him 15 years ago.

It also got me thinking about how much has changed in the life of the larger church over the past 15 years. For example, the church I served (St. Paul’s in Northeast Minneapolis), in which Evan and our daughter Nora (two years younger) were baptized, is no longer a Lutheran church. The building was sold to a nondenominational church when the former St. Paul’s consolidated with two other Lutheran congregations in our neighborhood and started a new congregation (Grace Northeast). Grace Northeast has since moved twice and has adapted its mission and purpose to fit the assets and needs of its neighborhood.


CHURCHES ARE OFTEN seen as places that are slow to adapt and change. And we need not look very far to see examples of churches that seem “stuck.” But the longer I serve in my current position with the synod, the more I see churches who are honestly and realistically looking at how they might change in order to serve God more faithfully and effectively in their contexts.

Fifteen years ago at the former St. Paul’s, we engaged in about a year and a half of difficult conversations about membership and staffing and building and finances. That was followed by several months of exciting conversations about what we might do together with our neighboring churches. These types of conversations are happening with far greater frequency and speed these days. “Going it alone” is out; “we’re in this together” is in!

In the past six months, two different pairs of churches in our synod culminated their conversations with the sense that God was calling them to consolidate and “be the church” together: Christ English and River of Life in North Minneapolis are now “Christ the River of Life Lutheran Church,” and Prince of Peace and Wooddale in St. Louis Park have joined together and will determine their new name soon. I know of at least two other groups of churches who are discussing their shared futures together.


NOW I DON’T AT ALL MEAN to imply that the ideal for change in the church is consolidation. That is only one outcome of change and adaptation. There are many other examples of churches who have formed invigorating ministry partnerships while retaining and even growing their own identities as faith communities.

The point is that when churches openly and actively explore new ways to do ministry, the Holy Spirit often presents possibilities never considered before.

“When we affirm our baptism, we don’t always know what will happen next!”

When we affirm our baptism, we don’t always know what will happen next; we die with Christ and are raised to new life and new possibilities. That goes for us as individual children of God, and for us as the church together.

My wife Lisa and I were so grateful that Evan stuck with the confirmation program, even during those times when he didn’t fully buy in to the whole faith/Jesus/death/resurrection narrative. Now he’s open to how his faith and understanding might change and adapt in the future.

How is your church open to change and adaptation as you affirm your baptismal call together as the people of God? May the Spirit lead and guide us all into new life and new possibilities!


June 17th, 2019

By Pastor John Hulden 

It seemed like a great idea at the time.

We’d have the Railroad Safety Guy (I don’t remember his name or his organization) visit our summer program for kids. This was more than 30 years ago at my first call congregation on the lower EastSide of Saint Paul — where active railroad tracks criss-crossed the neighborhood where we lived (called Railroad Island). So railroad safety was important.

The railroad safety keychain handed out 30 years ago.

We had the old-fashioned movie projector ready for Railroad Safety Guy’s short film. All the kids were gathered in front of the screen — the littlest tikes in the front, the bigger kids in the back. After Railroad Safety Guy talked a bit, and he handed out really cool key rings the shape of the yellow RR Crossing signs, the film started. It was a montage of deadly collisions. Trains smashing through cars. Trains obliterating trucks. Trains turning semis into accordions. The eyes of the 4 and 5 year olds in the front row got bigger and bigger. Smart volunteer teachers sprang into action. Soon after the film started, the teachers took their kids by the hand, and quickly ushered them away from the carnage on the screen.

Who was to know that the RR safety film might be a little too much for a 4 year old?


THIS IS THE SEASON of Vacation Bible School (VBS). And the growing buzz this year across our synod and denomination and the larger church is about the lessons of the VBS curriculum by Group called ROAR. From Group’s webpage about ROAR: “This epic African adventure engages the whole herd. At Roar, kids explore God’s goodness and celebrate a ferocious faith that powers them through this wild life.”

Who was to know that a VBS curriculum could be racist?

“The ROAR lessons include children role-playing slaves and mimicking an ‘African’ language using clicking sounds. More than not cool. Terrible.”

The ROAR lessons include children role-playing slaves and mimicking an “African” language using clicking sounds. More than not cool. Terrible. As an old white guy — which means I’m still learning about how deeply racism extends into our infrastructure, our society, our church, and my bones — this seems more than a micro-aggression. Group, the company, apologized, but not right away. It promises to do better, but it offered no specifics about changing their all white staff. (See a statement from Group here.)

The buzz on social media was soon an uproar — with many differing opinions and heated exchanges.

Yes, and, … some CYF (children, youth, and family) leaders I know and respect sprang into action. Just like whisking away young eyes from a carnage-filled railroad safety film, they made changes to ROAR.

Yes, and, … this is nothing new. Curriculums are helpful and difficult to write, and yet, faith formation leaders always need to make changes so the lesson plans work contextually, ethically, and theologically. Why? Because we do this for our precious little kiddos.

I recommend two people’s insightful perspective on this upRoar:

  • local ELCA Pastor Angela Denker’s blog here , and,
  • Irene Cho, Program Administrator for the Fuller Youth Institute, Twitter post here or her Facebook post from June 15 at 1:18 PM



Statement from Group:

Hello, Friends in Ministry! Thank you for calling to our attention some concerns with some experiences in Roar VBS. We are very sorry and apologize for any misunderstanding, insensitivities, or hurt we have unintentionally caused. Your feedback reminds us of the importance of humbly listening to those we serve.

To address these concerns, our team has created modifications and revisions to the curriculum. These are available today for you to download here:

We are committed to redouble our efforts in future programs to create and vet materials that are inclusive, respectful, loving, and focused on Jesus.

Our heart is to immerse your kids in God’s love in a way that sticks with them forever.

If you have any questions or concerns, please email us at, and we’re happy to respond. We appreciate your direct communication and pray that your VBS will impact kids’ lives and bring them closer to Jesus!

–Group Publishing

Facebook post from Irene M. Cho:

June 15 at 1:18 PM ·

Okay final thoughts on the Group VBS curriculum hoopla, in particular for my white friends, colleagues, allies, learners:
A lot of white folks are asking why is this a big deal/problem. Indeed, at the end of the day this isn’t an overt horrid act like police brutality, toxic water in Flint, mass incarceration, etc. However, what happened with Group’s Roar curriculum absolutely IS microaggressive racism and that IS a problem.

GroupVBS incident is a small piece of racial injustice in this country. And here’s the thing, as Scripture says, it’s about being faithful in the small things in order to be faithful in the large ones. If Group won’t employ PoC in leadership, writing staff, publishing, how can it be faithful in accurately representing the Kingdom in such matters as content?

Now, does Group making this change impact the larger community? Because Group decides to change and alter their curriculum does it mean police will lessen profiling, brutalizing, and traumatizing black and brown people in their communities? Possibly not. However, this curriculum IS influencing young children. And when language is used to denote slavery as merely unfair and whiny or an adventure to discover, how do you think that influences the forming of children’s minds and perceptions? Especially since a majority of Group’s clientele are white children?

So is this issue as important compared to say clean water in Flint? Perhaps not. Yet… it IS because tiny little seeds are being planted into the minds and faiths of kids who may be mayor, chief, principal, president of an organization or country one day. So yeh, it’s pretty freaking important that profound seeds are planted and kids can develop empathy and love for one another.

So white folks, before responding with a “what’s the big deal?” reaction, maybe take a moment to think:
* Why isn’t this a big deal to you?
* Why is it so important for you to protect an organization instead of listening/hearing the outcries of the marginalized community speaking out?
* What’s compelling you to favor those who are white leaders over people who are black, brown, Asian, Indigenous, etc?
* How can you be a better listener in these moments instead of jumping into defensiveness?

Change happens not just from large scale movements but from the grassroots on small scales. How we perceive the world isn’t something that’s set in stone. We should be malleable and humble in knowing that we all have biases and we’re all learners until the day we pass from this earth.

Poolside prophecy

June 3rd, 2019

By Meghan Olsen Biebighauser

Here we are! This is the week when we transition from our school year schedules and routines to our summer lives. For families like mine, with two kids in school and daycare and a spouse who teaches high school, this is a big change in routine and structure for all of us. School ends on Friday, Sunday school is over for the summer (but worship continues!), and graduation celebrations abound.

As I write this, my kids are out swimming for the second time this weekend, wet swimsuits hang in both bathrooms of the house, there’s a pile of sandals by the front door, the list of yard work chores gets longer by the day (basically taunting us at this point), and we had to make an emergency run for more sunscreen.

It’s still early in the summer season, but children are already returning to the Powderhorn Park public swimming pool.

Summer in this city is magical and we totally deserve it after the winter we endured. After weather that more or less required us to be inside, cut off from even our closest neighbors, aside from the occasional wave of a mitten-ed hand when you both find yourselves shoveling out your car before dawn, now is the time to re-connect.

The opportunities now are endless: street festivals, cultural celebrations, food trucks, visiting the lakes, cycling everywhere, wading pools, playgrounds — so many opportunities to be out in the neighborhood.


FOR OUR FAMILY, LIVING here in the Powderhorn neighborhood, being out in the community means meeting folks from all over the world who also call this neighborhood home. Last night my spouse and I sat on the edge of the wading pool watching our kids play in the crowded water. There were easily four or five different languages being spoken by the families at the pool. (Our kids were definitely the monolingual minority.)

But as we watched all of our kids play together, you’d never know that language could be a barrier. The kids greeted one another when new families arrived, and moved seamlessly from silly made-up game to silly made-up game.  One minute they were swim racing (I mean, as well as you can in two feet of water), then a handstand competition followed by a biggest splash contest. They did it all.

“As we watched all of our kids play together, you’d never know that language could be a barrier.”

I can only imagine what it felt like to be present at Pentecost, the miraculous day that the church was born and barriers of language were torn down as the Holy Spirit became unleashed in the world. But, in moments like yesterday evening by the pool, it feels like a glimpse of Pentecost. Our sons and daughters and children are prophesying.

I hope you catch plenty of glimpses of the Holy Spirit running wild in the world as you’re out in your neighborhood this summer.

Ruined for life

May 21st, 2019

By Bob Hulteen 

Since moving to Minnesota in 1991, it has become my mid-May annual ritual to watch the last moments of the legislative session right up until the gavel is pounded at midnight. (Thank you, TPT, for the long hours of coverage of hearings and debates throughout the session, including its final moments.) While attendance at legislative hearings for me most often is dictated by specific issues being discussed, the last moments of the legislative session includes a curiosity about how the representatives and senators will treat each other in a public space.

Well, last night I watched as Rep. Connie Bernardo (a Lutheran from New Brighton, by the way) carried the higher ed omnibus bill; Rep. Liz Olson from Duluth (and a Luther Seminary graduate) led the debate with Rep. David Baker on a conference committee bill responding to opioid addiction in Minnesota; and Sen. David Senjem (a Rochester Lutheran) called to account unanticipated spending on a bonding bill. Sure, some legislators whined that they hadn’t been included in discussions in ways they would have wanted, and others preferred to blame the victims than look for solutions. But, all in all, they accomplished some important goals, even if it will take another day or two in special session to make sure every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed.

My examples above aren’t to imply that only Lutherans care about the common good. But it is valuable to be reminded that there are Lutherans who do feel called to the public square.

While listening to the debate in the Senate on TV last night, I could also hear chanting from outside the chambers in the cap rotunda. And, I am certain there were Lutheran friends there too, demonstrating through their presence a concern for undocumented people, unhealthy medical practices, underfunded schools, or declining farm supports. But they were present; they were motivated by faith to engage issues that affect people’s real lives.


BEFORE I COULD GET myself in front of the television on Monday evening, I attended a fundraiser celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), a national organization founded through the vision of one Washington, D.C., congregation. Literally, thousands of young people have been “ruined for life” by LVC. By coming into contact through their work of healing the nation, their communal living, or their commitment to sustainability, these young adults’ lives have been changed.

“Thousands of young people have been ‘ruined for life’ by the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.”

The gospel does that. LVC participants touch people’s wounds and they believe anew. They experience the struggles of vulnerable people and they can no longer live as if these folks’ lives aren’t valuable. Vocations have changed, thanks to LVC and organizations like it. For example, Jeremy Schroeder, an LVC alum, is now a city councilmember in Minneapolis and Ben Whalen, another alum, is on Richfield’s council. (Jeremy is currently a member of my congregation and Ben previously was active there.)

In the end, the test of our faith is how we treat each other. Like the elected officials, sometimes we do well; sometimes not. But we could all do better.

Thank God there are organizations like LVC that point us toward a gospel lifestyle. During its 40th anniversary, you might want to take a look at its impressive legacy.

Holding on to New Life

May 6th, 2019

By Deb Stehlin

In the last two months, if you’ve asked me, “What’s new?,” I’ve exclaimed, “I’m a grandma!” And then, I probably whisked out my phone to show you a photo. Last weekend, we got to host an open house so that people in my daughter’s and son-in-law’s networks could come and meet this tiny, new life.

Each person I greeted at the door offered a quick hello and then looked past me to survey the room. They had arrived with one goal: They needed to find the baby and hold him.

What is it about holding a new human life? Time stops. The vast universe collapses into this freshly created face. Before you know it, your breathing and the baby’s breathing take on the same cadence.


THE WAY MATTHEW tells it, after Jesus rose from the dead, some of the women who were closest to him had a similar goal as the guests at our house. When they encountered the resurrected Jesus, their instinctive response was “I have to hold him.” Without even thinking, they took hold of his feet and worshiped him.

Allie Carlson-Stehlin with her former daycare provider, Debby Shepard, and Deb’s grandson Axel.

I imagine that time stopped for them, too, and that the vast universe collapsed into these now-alive feet. These feet carried the one who is New Life. These feet still carried wounds.

“Each person had arrived with one goal: They needed to find the baby and hold him.”

Before you know it, Jesus breathes into them and their lives take on a new cadence. They now have power to carry the news about this New Life to all who will listen. They all have the vision needed to order life and community in a way that reflects God’s love and justice. The Apostle Paul describes it this way: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come!”

I’ve been lucky enough to tell about Jesus to people who hadn’t heard it before. I’ve witnessed New Life be born in people as they take hold of this liberating story. Time stops. The vast universe collapses into the fresh creation that will become their life.

I know, because that’s what happened when someone told me. Maybe it’s happened to you, too.

Remember that moment the next time you hold a baby.

Churchy leadership

April 22nd, 2019

By Pr. John Hulden

Ah! It’s the day after Easter Sunday.

For you churchy people – just accept that you are a churchy person since you are reading this churchy blog – this week after Lent/Holy Week/Easter Sunday is a time to catch our breath. It’s respite at least for a little while, before we start looking ahead to the rest of April, the many festivities in May, and then summer.

Isn’t that the way it goes? We get to one spot on the calendar and, as soon as we arrive, we begin looking ahead to the next stuff on the calendar.

Here is something to ponder while you catch your breath. Now is the time to set aside days in your summer calendar, not just for vacation, but for time for continued education, continued reflection, continued reading, continued wellness.


LAST WEEK I WAS on a 24-hour retreat at a bible camp with my colleagues from eight other synods in our region for who work with candidacy. We walk with folks who are following a call to serve as a deacon or a pastor in our church. What a rich privilege it is for me and your synodical candidacy committee to accompany our candidates. (Thank you, members of the hard-working MAS candidacy committee!)

I suppose it is fitting that we synod candidacy folks met at a bible camp. Bible camps help young people develop and discover their gifts for ministry. Bible camps are also where many young people deepen their call to Christian public leadership.

In walking with our candidates in our synod, we hear wonderful stories about the many people in their lives who have pointed out their gifts for ministry. Many times the candidates themselves seem to be the last people to realize that God is calling them to be a deacon or a pastor.

I imagine you have been the Sunday school teacher or choir director or youth leader or confirmation small group mentor or pastor or deacon or friend down the pew to encourage and cajole a potential candidate into rostered ministry. Candidacy committees across the ELCA keep asking, “What makes for a good deacon or pastor?”

At the Bible camp last week, we pondered four important competencies for Rostered Ministers in the ELCA:

  1. Leadership Competencies
  2. Theological Competencies
  3. Ministry Competencies
  4. Wellness Competencies

How do we help form leaders to be mission-minded and adaptive in the way they approach ministry situations? Do we shape and organize instead of just fix? Will we be life-long learners with a faith seeking understanding? Do we walk and preach the way of the cross? How can we get better at the nuts and bolts of parish ministry? How do we attend our well-being as a leader in the church?


SO, CONGRATULATIONS, you have navigated through Holy Week and Easter Sunday celebrations (in addition to the pancake breakfast, Easter egg hunts, altar guild duties, decorating, un-decorating, redecorating, and bulletin prep)! Now as you look ahead, what is your best way to regroup/refresh/recreate/realize new and better ways to lead in this changing world? Might it be a silent retreat or spending a week with hundreds and hundreds of preachers at the Festival of Homiletics?

When you find the time in your calendar, perhaps you could use those four competences as a guide.

Thank you, churchy people, for your leadership in God’s Church!

Candidacy staff from the ELCA Synods in states that end in “ota” at Luther Crest Bible Camp, Alexandria, Minnesota. (It’s good to get together with other people with the same weird job. Yes, John is just making another shameless plug for churchy leaders to be in peer groups!)

Everyone has a moment

April 8th, 2019

By Brenda Blackhawk

As humans we have this incredible ability to move. By move I mean not remain stagnant. We can grow. We are forever making or facing transitions in our lives that will shape who we are going forward. When we are faced with such defining moments – holy occasions that guide us down one path or another – I think it is a good idea to listen. Sometimes God is calling us to serve.

I grew up in North Minneapolis in a mixed-race, multi-cultural family. Nothing about my personal life was monotone. My family, my friends, the people I dated, and my adopted brothers and sisters ranged far and wide in race, ethnicity, and culture. I didn’t know I was living a sheltered life until I went to Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

“I grew up in North Minneapolis in a mixed-race, multi-cultural family. Nothing about my personal life was monotone.”

Now, Minnesota is not known for being particularly racially varied, though some areas do have quite a bit of diversity. Moving to Iowa, experiencing the culture shock, and witnessing blatant racism and deeply privileged ignorance contributed significantly to shaping who I am. I learned the terminology to talk about justice in productive ways. I joined an honor society dedicated to intersectional gender justice. I started participating in vigils and protests. The decision to move to Iowa ultimately changed my life.

I graduated in May of 2016. The plan was to be a writer and an editor — to make a good living doing two of my favorite things: reading and correcting people. But two weeks before I moved home to Minnesota, another one of my defining moments occurred and I listened to God.


THAT DAY I WAS working with my friend Karissa, both of us restaurant servers with the spirits of social justice activists. As soon as the lunch rush died down, she pulled me aside to tell me that a Black man in the Twin Cities was murdered by the police.

I started panicking. “What was his name? Where was he? Who was it?”

After several minutes of research on our phones, we discovered that his name was Philando Castile. I lived in desperate fear for the minutes leading up to that discovery. Karissa and I held on to each other and we cried for his loss. But, if I’m honest, I also cried out of relief that he was a stranger to me and not one of those young men that I already loved.

“After that moment, I knew I would never be fully satisfied with a career as a writer and editor.”

After that moment, I knew I would never be fully satisfied with a career as a writer and editor. In whatever direction I went, a justice component would be essential. I listened to God, who I believe was encouraging me to use my gifts and experience to fight for a more just world.

When will our congregations have a defining moment around justice? When will we see our collective power as a tool to do as Jesus did and care for the poor, defend the oppressed, call for justice? Can we do so today? Are we listening to “the still, small voice of God”?

The Magic of Gathering

March 26th, 2019

By Pastor Kelly Chatman

Albert Einstein has been quoted to have said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” The congregation I serve is more than 100 years old and 50 years ago it was thriving, with neighborhood residents walking to worship on Sunday mornings.

The congregation was said to have had so many children that one of the classes was actually held in the boiler room. More recently we had reached a time when few people walked to church and few children attended Sunday school; the boiler room had become a quiet, seldom-entered space.

“Have we lost imagination for how and where God might show up.”

In spite of the changing circumstances, this congregation continued to do the same old things hoping and expecting a different result. In reality, people were not coming. The sanctuary remained beautiful, but seating space was readily available on Sunday mornings.

Desperate times demand desperate measures. I know this may sound shocking, but we tried something different.


REALIZING THAT CHILDREN WERE NOT flocking to participate in our after-school program, we noticed that a popcorn shop across the street had been closed for some time. The inside of the shop was in great shape and we began to wonder about that space as a possible location for our after-school program. We gathered enough resources to commit to renting the shop for a year and we launched our after-school outreach in the popcorn shop.

Three little girls who were sisters in family foster care began attending the after-school program. One of the girls asked our youth director, “Is [the after-school program] a church or a magical place?” It gets better. At the end of the year, the shop owner, who had been critical of the church, not only returned half the year’s rent, he had his son baptized at the church.

Not all the good stuff happens in the church building!

Sometimes our blessings come when we try new things. Sometimes magic happens in the boiler room. Sometimes it happens when we dare to encounter people who have given up on the church. Sometimes I wonder if God isn’t waiting for the church to show up outside the walls of our buildings.

“Sometimes magic happens in the boiler room.”

I wonder not because something inside is lacking, but because we have lost imagination for how and where God might show up. I mean, really, if Sunday school can happen in a boiler room and a popcorn shop can lead to baptism, maybe that little girl’s question is not such a stretch. Can the church also be a magical place?

So friends, let’s look around our church buildings and our neighborhoods. Where might there be opportunity to try something new as an outreach and service in your community? What opportunity might be waiting for our congregations and for us to become God’s imaginative people.

An Ode to Toast and the Limits of Winter

March 18th, 2019

By Emilie Bouvier

Wednesday, February 6, was the day that Charo was taken away. Who is Charo (other than a famous flamenco guitarist), you ask? Charo is the name of the large, delightfully warm, conveyor toaster that graces the dining hall of Holden Village. That is, when there’s enough power to keep her plugged in.

February is an interesting month at Holden Village, the remote intentional community where I’m spending this year pursuing my art practice. It’s the month when the sun finally begins to rise higher than Buckskin peak, meaning suddenly we get more than just two hours of direct sunlight a day in the valley (celebrated in the obscure Holden holiday dubbed “Sun Over Buckskin”). But it’s also the month when colder temperatures and a growing snow pack begin to significantly slow the creek that supplies our hydro power.

“We get so used to everything being immediate and at our convenience.”

It’s re-shaping, really, to be living in direct relationship with what the land allows for you. On days that are cold or that an avalanche clogs the stream and the power goes out, you adjust. On cold days you add more wood to the boiler and take shifts waking during the night to keep it running. When the power goes out you work by the light of a headlamp and do another task that doesn’t require that tool (be it a miter saw or printer).

We get so used to everything being immediate and at our convenience. We get used to thinking we have enough control and technology to manage whatever weather or nature throw at us, keeping all systems running smoothly.

“It’s re-shaping, really, to be living in direct relationship with what the land allows for you.”

Occasional logins to Facebook have informed me that you all in the Twin Cities area have been experiencing this in your own way – as evidenced by the posts of parents with young kiddos or of friends struggling to drive to and from work on the dangerous roads. I know you have been experiencing your own unique agony of interruption and inconvenience in these past weeks.

Every once in a while, we get that painful and viscerally felt reminder from our dear environment that we are not in control and would do well to live within her bounds.


FOR THESE NEXT COUPLE of months, I know I’ll be learning a lot about my own consumption of electricity, and learning (sometimes painfully) what I can better do without. I’ll charge my electronics only at night, use hot water sparingly, only use the lights and equipment that I absolutely need, and have patience with my laundry as I hang it to dry.

As much as I’ve thought about these things before (hello, EcoFaith energy team), I’m definitely experiencing electricity differently when caving to my longing for a second (or third) cup of pour-over coffee could be the ill-timed power surge that causes of an outage for the whole village. Yet even when it’s uncomfortable to live with less, I’m also finding out what’s actually fairly easy to let go of and how much I really don’t need. In the end I’m grateful for the ways I’m learning and being shaped by the landscape and the limitations of the winter – even when I really miss the toast.

The great give away

March 4th, 2019

By Pastor Deb Stehlin

It feels like grace

As I write this post, there is yet another windchill warning, and more snow is expected later this week. As a traveling preacher, I had kind of hoped that getting where I need to go would become easier now that it’s March. But I have to tell you that I’m really grateful for the blizzard last weekend.

I was scheduled to preach at Holy Trinity Lutheran in New Prague. When it was announced that Sunday morning travel was “not advised,” I decided to drive there on Saturday and stay at a hotel. Pastors Ben and Alicia Hilding insisted on making the arrangements for me. That was kind.

When I got to my room, a gift was waiting for me. Wow! Kindness upon unexpected kindness. Then, I was told that the staff and their families wanted me to come to dinner with them at the Fishtale Restaurant. “As long as we’ve been thrown a curveball, we might as well turn it into a party,” said Pastor Ben. It felt like grace.


THAT’S WHEN IT BECAME clear to me: This congregation knows how to embody God’s love. We are pretty good at telling people that God loves them, but it’s really when we provide an experience of God’s surprising, unexpected, undeserved love that it really sinks in.

“When we provide an experience of God’s surprising, unexpected, undeserved love, it really sinks in.”

God did the same thing for us. Rather than using only words, God came to us in Jesus, who embodied a radical, self-giving, undeserved love. And then, Jesus told us to love others the way he loves us.

I have two days to decide what my Lenten discipline will be. Right now, I’m thinking that I’m going to look for ways to demonstrate God’s surprising grace whenever I can. Because when you’ve received it, it’s not something you can keep to yourself. God’s grace is something you just have to give away.