The Vision – October 2017

Dear friends in Christ,

Have you ever heard of a BHAG? It stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
I have a tendency to make BHAGs that are ridiculously big. They can get a little crazy if you don’t limit yourself. Do you have a BHAG for your life? For your home? For your health? For your church? Some people have BHAGs as their new year’s resolutions. Get in shape. Get finances in order. Try new things. Eat less junk. But a BHAG for your faith life or a BHAG for your church could affect more than just your waistline or your wallet. It could affect people. It could mean that the gospel is being made known.

Do you ever think of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal for our church that you think could be something amazing for the kingdom of God? What is it? I want to know. I think you’ve known me long enough now to know that I’m open to crazy ideas. I want to know what you think. What’s the thing that you think could share the love of God with our communities? Who do you think needs to feel God’s love more than anybody else?

Dear friends, you are loved by a loving God. Let’s tell the world. Let’s start making our BHAGs a reality.

Peace and love of crazy ideas,
Pastor Sarah

The Vision – September 2017

Dear friends in Christ,

This month…..I’m going to do something totally crazy. (Some of you are probably thinking that’s not a big change for me, since I usually act a little crazy.) On September 10th, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a nation-wide celebration known as “God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday.” Churches all over the country do service projects in their community.

The ELCA website says this about God’s Work Our Hands Sunday: “We are a church that rolls up our sleeves and gets to work. Whether your congregation prepares and delivers meals to people rendered homeless to thanking emergency responders, your service activities offer an opportunity for us to explore one of our most basic convictions as Lutherans: that all of life in Jesus Christ – every act of service, in every daily calling, in every corner of life –flows freely from a living, daring confidence in God’s grace.”

So, here comes the crazy part. On Saturday, September 9th, I’m going to do two things. First, I’m going to bake a couple batches of cookies. Second, I’m going to make a sign that says something clever about how God loves you. (I haven’t worked out the wording yet, because I can’t think of anything theological that rhymes with “chocolate chip.”) And then after church on Sunday, I’m going to take these items out of my car. I’m going to set up a table somewhere in Shamokin where there’s a lot of foot traffic, and offer cookies to passers-by and tell them that they are loved by a loving God. And that’s it.

**I dare to believe that God’s love is sometimes spoken best through a baked good.
If you feel like spending an hour or two after church with me, bring a bag lunch and a batch of cookies and an open heart. You don’t have to join me if you don’t want to. But it sure would be fun if you did. I think that telling people about God’s love should have some fun involved. We don’t have to be SO serious, do we?

 If you love this idea, please join me.  If you really do not love this idea, please, PLEASE don’t tell me. Tell the mail carrier or the grocery checkout person or anyone who will listen to you complain about your cookie-loving pastor. (But if they hand you a cookie, you might be complaining too much).  If you love this idea, but can’t come that day, no problem. Maybe bake a batch of cookies for someone who could use a little pick-me-up, or maybe we could try it another day.

You are loved by a loving God. Isn’t that good news?!

Love, peace, and chocolate chips, –Pastor Sarah

The Vision – Summer 2017

Dear Friends in Christ,

Happy Summer! (This article would make a great beach-read. Please bring it with you on your vacation, or wherever it is you like to think important thoughts. 

A few years ago, I read a great article in the Lutheran. The author, Michael Rinehart, is the bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast synod. That region that has seen a lot of challenges in the last decade or more, and Bishop Rinehart shared some thoughts about change in the church.

I hear from so many people (in every church that I have served), a deep concern about the Lutheran church’s shrinking numbers. So I want to offer this article to you to address those concerns. I wonder if this article might be a springboard for the churches that I serve. I wonder how we might reach out to our neighborhoods as children of a loving God. So, please read Bishop Rinehart’s words and tell me what you think. Tell me your ideas. Tell me your feelings. I want to know how you’re thinking and feeling about the church—stuff you love and stuff you don’t love. But as you enjoy the rest of summer, let Bishop Rinehart’s words sink in….

Insiders and Outsiders by Michael W. Rinehart
Taken from The Lutheran, February 2012

Here’s my hunch. Everything for me rises or falls on this bet. I’m putting all my eggs in this basket: The turnaround of mainline churches will happen when we in those churches care as much about those outside the church as we do those inside. To embrace relevance, we will have to let go of survival.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. If I’m wrong, fire me now. I’ll die on this hill.

What does this mean? My theory is that mainline churches have ceased to be relevant to the culture because insiders trump outsiders every time. All decisions, even little ones, are made for the benefit of those inside the church. Insiders trump outsiders.

Take hymns, for example. Musical decisions aren’t made considering what will attract spiritually hungry outsiders but what will please the card-carrying, bill-paying membership.

Time and time again church leaders receive heat from insiders upset about this or that because they are trying to re-create a childhood church experience or simply have a rigid idea of church. Leaders cave in to these insiders because they control the purse strings.

Insiders are inherently change-averse. People don’t like change, especially those who have status in the church.

Peter L. Steinke, author of Healthy Congregations (Alban 1996), taught us that every church is an emotional system. Some people benefit from the system as it currently is. Some benefit emotionally. They are revered as church saints. Or everyone seeks their approval for decisions. By receiving recognition, an emotional need is met. Or perhaps they are simply tirelessly defending “the tradition,” regardless of how new or unhelpful that tradition may be.

People in power, who have privileges in the current system, resist change and make life hard for any leader who seeks to be a change agent. Pastors are paid from members’ giving, so there is a potential conflict of interest. If they do the right thing, some leaders will end up losing their job (or up on a cross, to reference an often-told story).

Why is this happening? Church structures were set up to preserve what exists, not change it. These stable structures work well when society is changing slowly, imperceptibly. If something is working, protect it at all costs. But what if it’s not working?: What if the rate of societal change skyrockets and old patterns and structures no longer work?

Management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “When the rate of change outside the organization exceeds the rate of change inside the organization, the organization is doomed.”

What do we do about it? Change. Adapt. The church has adapted, survived and even thrived in times of tectonic change in the past. It can again.

Stable structures are a high value in a stable culture. But in a climate of rapid change, adaptability is the higher value. In a time of stability, experience is crucial. In times of change, experience can be a liability, especially if the experienced make the fatal mistake of assuming that what garnered success in the past guarantees success in the future. What got you where you are now won’t get you where you need to go in the future. Sorry. Leaders who don’t get this are in for some rough sledding.

Let’s face it, change is hard. Change, however is non-negotiable. The only constant in life is change. There is no growth without change. As someone once said, “The only one who likes change is a wet baby.”

Any kind of change creates conflict. Leaders can only tolerate so much discontent. And even a little discontent sounds loud when you’re in the hot seat. So when things heat up, leaders circle the wagons, which is precisely the wrong thing to do. Instead, leaders need to sin boldly. Lead boldly. Look at any successful enterprise and you can be certain that someone, at some point, took a huge risk along the way. Nothing great is accomplished without risk.

An article in Fortune magazine noted: “The trouble with Steve Jobs: Likes to make his own rules, whether the topic is computers, stock options, or even pancreatic cancer. The same traits that make him a great CEO drive him to put his company, and his investors, at risk.”

But risk is risky, and change is simply too difficult and painful. Most organizations won’t change until they’re desperate, like the alcoholic who won’t go to rehab until she or he hits rock bottom.

So what will give us the courage to take those risks? This takes us back to the beginning. Churches won’t adapt to the new realities until they care as much about reaching those outside as appeasing those inside.

The world is hell-bent on destruction in countless ways. It is desperately in need of a church that offers a way of peace, truth, compassion and hope, as opposed to the world’s way of power, materialism, exploitation and violence. It needs a church that looks less like the Pharisees’ religion and more like Jesus’ ministry. It needs a church that will sacrifice everything for those outside: buildings, budgets, sacred cows, traditions, structures. It needs a church that so loves the world, she’d be willing to die for it.

So here’s the plan. New policy. Every decision made by staff, council and committees is made on behalf of those not yet here. Every sermon choice, every hymn or song choice, every building and grounds choice, every spending choice is made with outsiders in mind.

When we become a church for the world, the outsider, when the pain of staying the same (and dying of irrelevance) for those already here exceeds the pain of changing (and sacrificing old ways) for those not yet here, we will be the church for which God incarnate came to this earth and gave his life.

(A big hug to anybody who made it through the whole article. No cheating—no hug until you give me a brief synopsis. HAHA! –SVH)

The Vision – June 2017

Dear friends in Christ,

I don’t know anybody who likes to stay inside more than I do. I love doing crafts, I love baking, I love doing all kinds of things that require copious amounts of time indoors. And in God’s hilarious way, I am paired up in my life journey with a wonderful man who runs a camp. A place which, by its very definition, gets people to be outside more than their normal day would allow. I’ll take a pass at having to look for ticks later on, thank you.

Every year, on the day after Memorial Day, we have a ritual. Chad gets up on that Tuesday morning, and heads off to work to start staff training with the energetic bunch of college kids that he will work with all summer long. And before he leaves, I give him a kiss and then I sing “See you in September” (that song from the 60’s by the Happenings). Because I know that while he will come home at night and sleep, and we’ll see each other at lunch every day, from that moment on, he is mentally at camp all summer. And every year, by about day three of staff training, Chad comes home and says something like “I am really not in my 20’s anymore. I just don’t have the same energy I had when I was their age!”

There are some really wonderful things about the summer season as the wife of a camp director. My kids get a daily dose of camp songs. They feel more and more comfortable each year with the big kids, with kids their own age, and with being outside in the fresh air. The summer season brings with it certain predictable things and certain surprises. But each year, it calls to mind more and more clearly the words of Psalm 121:

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

I know that summertime brings its own kind of busy goings-on. I know that lots of you will travel and be on your way hither, thither, and yon. But in your coming and going, I know that “He who keeps you will not slumber….He will keep your going out and your coming in.” I pray that your summer is full of joyful sunshine, of restful sleeping, and most of all, a reminder of God’s abundant love for you!

Peace,
Pastor Sarah

The Vision – May 2017

Mayday! Mayday!

Every year around this time, I remember celebrating Mayday as a kid. My mom, my sisters and I would get up in the wee small hours of the morning and hop in the car before the sun was up. The plan was to deliver a little potted plant to both sets of grandparents and anybody else we could squeeze in before it was time for school. We were vigilant in our attempts to be awake before the grandparents so that the May basket could truly be a surprise.

But every year (Every. Year!) these beloved people who are part of my DNA were awake before we got there and typically greeted us at the door. We’d have a good laugh over not surprising them yet again. In fact, not surprising them became part of the tradition. (“Let’s get up at the crack of dawn so Grandma can take her May basket in person…..or maybe we could sleep in and bring it in the afternoon??”)

May baskets are the memory that comes most quickly to mind when I think about springtime.

This month of the year seems to be even busier than December with all of the graduations and celebrations that go on. No matter how organized a calendar can be, somehow May starts to run at break-neck speed. And more often than not, we can start to feel like that busy calendar is complaint-worthy. We’re running too fast, we’ve got too much to do.

But I wonder if we can find a kind of surprise May basket in that crazy schedule. Not an actual begonia left on your doorstep by a mischievous neighbor, but a joyful surprise in your spirit.

One of my favorite things to listen to right now is the musical “Hamilton.” A particularly favorite line in one of the early songs is “look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

You might be looking over your schedule or your calendar and feeling a little stressed or frustrated. But I think it’s possible that in this coming month, rather than yelling “Mayday! Mayday!” as a distress signal, you might see the beginning of this month as a joyful surprise. Our creator wants us to “look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” There may be all kinds of things that you could see as negative….but blessings abound and God is alive. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Happy Spring, friends. May your May be full of joyful surprises. Pastor Sarah

The Vision – April 2017

Back when Dave Letterman was on TV, I always enjoyed his top ten lists. The top ten list is so useful! It is so often one of the best ways I can think of to write down ideas or thoughts. So, it occurs to me that since most of you don’t know me very well, I might offer a “getting to know you” edition of this month’s newsletter article. Here are a few handy things to know about me as we start in this season of ministry together.

1. I’m 42 years old. Just so you don’t have to guess.
2. Chad and I are coming up on our ten-year anniversary in September.
3. I am the mother of Claire, (age 7), and Aaron (age 4). They are delightful.
4. One of my favorite words in the whole world is “delightful.”
5. I am forgetful, so please remind me of prayer requests that you’ve mentioned, visits that might be needed, or other concerns that are on your mind.
6. I’ve lived in seven states, most of which are in the Midwest. I’m a relative newcomer to central Pennsylvania. I’m still getting used to some of the vocabulary. 
7. I am forgetful, so if you tell me something on the way out of church, there’s a good chance it will slip out of my brain before I’ve left the parking lot.
8. I love to laugh. And I am very often trying to make others laugh. Because in the book of Proverbs, I once read “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” and took it as a direct order. 
9. It seems important to me to mention that I’m forgetful.
10. I will do my very best to serve as your interim pastor. I am already enjoying the people here so much! But it’s no secret that I am not perfect and prone to some of the same character flaws that I’ve had since the fifth grade. (But that’s probably its own top ten list.)

I am looking forward to getting to know all of you more!! Thank you for already being so welcoming and friendly.

In the meantime, may the joy of the resurrection come alive for you as we move from Lent into Easter this month.

God’s peace,
Pastor Sarah

The Vision – November 2016

An Opportunity

How would you like to reach out to some folks who are deployed overseas? Our very own Captain Joseph Hardin is offering to distribute care packages to the Marines in his unit. He wrote that they especially like beef jerky, Dunkin’ Donuts K cups, and protein bars. You can send these items and other surprises to:

Capt Hardin, Joseph
S-3/H&S Co
SPMAGTF-BSRF 2/8 16.2
FPO AE 09508

Include a card for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and let those Marines know that Grace and St. Paul Lutheran churches in Shamokin and Gowen City, PA are thinking of them!

In Christ’s service,
Pastor David Byerly

The Vision – October 2016

We are having a Book Fair!

Promotional blurb from Augsburg Fortress: “Are you looking for that perfect Christmas gift for the children in your family? Stop by our book fair and shop award-winning Bibles, books and videos for babies to twelve-year-olds. Save up to 40% PLUS free shipping on all book fair titles.

Stop by Grace Lutheran Church parlor on:

Sunday, October 23 from 11:30 to 12 noon
Sunday, October 30 from 11:30 to 12 noon
Thursday, November 3 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday, November 6 from 11:30 to 12 noon.

Our book fair, sponsored by Sparkhouse Family, will feature a wide variety of new resources based on the beloved Spark Story Bible, including a family devotional, a collection of prayers for kids based on the Psalms, a picture book about Noah’s ark, the first-ever animated Spark video (starring Squiggles the caterpillar!) and a new line of Spark Play and Learn Books to help make family faith formation easy and fun. Other noteworthy titles included in the upcoming book fair are a new Christmas picture book from the Frolic series and a gorgeous Advent pop-up book that will make a delightful gift.

Each book and video is designed to help parents instill an open-hearted, transformational, lifelong Christian faith in their children at every age and stage.”

God’s peace,

Pastor David Byerly

The Vision – September 2016

From Summer Into Fall

Thanks be to God for our congregations and how we have been engaged in our ministries throughout the summer. We have had fruitful meetings and accomplished much in the midst of vacations and other summer activities. Our worship attendance has held steady this summer, and I give thanks for all of you as you faithfully come to worship and hear God’s Word and receive the Holy Sacrament. We have had a fun and successful Sunday School picnic and a very well attended parish picnic (even in the rain!). Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make these events meaningful and fun and delicious!

Now we are moving into our fall activities. Please continue to make an effort to attend worship regularly, even as sports and other activities can clash with our call and mandate to come and worship God and keep the Sabbath holy. We are planning many other ways to be involved in church. Here are some of what will happen: 

A book fair from Augsburg Fortress will be targeted for children ages 0 – 10.
 Sunday School on Thursday will meet on the first Thursday of the month, starting September 1.
 There will be numerous opportunities to learn more about Lutheranism as we move toward the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
 We will have a study of the proposed social statement on women and justice issues.

Stay tuned for more information as these programs are launched. See you in church!

In Christ’s service,
David M. Byerly Pastor

The Vision – Summer 2016

Our Partnership in Ministry

The councils of both Grace and St. Paul are in conversations about what our partnership means and how that is defined in our thinking and on paper. These are good discussions, as we are called to discern how we do the mission and ministry of Christ’s Church in our communities. As your pastor, I am also called to walk with you in our mutual ministry. It is the task of pastors to keep the places we serve focused on what is important and how we are led by God through the Holy Scriptures to be the church in our particular time and place. Our culture presents many challenges for the Church, and we trust that God will continue to equip us for ministry and provide the resources and talents we need to do what God calls us to do.

I give thanks for all of you, and for the many gifts you bring to the Lord’s table in time, talents and treasure I give thanks. On June 9 I celebrated 15 years of ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and I thank all of you for the gifts you presented to me:

St. Paul Lutheran pulled off a surprise dinner for MaryLou and me at OIP, and, at first, I wondered what all those St. Paul members were doing eating at OIP on a night when MaryLou and I decided to go out to eat!
Grace Lutheran presented a very nice card and a gift of two goats and a sheep through “God’s Global Barnyard” to be presented to farmers in developing countries. What a wonderful gift!

Thank you for your generosity and your faithfulness!
In Christ’s service,

David M. Byerly
Pastor