Christ's Church, Better Together

Christ's Church, Better Together

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Leaders of the Church

Abiding Hope's High School Youth
When I walked into the sanctuary of Abiding Hope in Littleton, the first thing I saw was 50 smiling teenagers at the front, ready to lead worship. I knew that I was attending the Teen-Lead service, but I was blown away by the passion and confidence of the kids. Each student had role in the worship service, whether it was being a part of the many skits they did, being a part of the music, or being in the liturgical dances that they performed to praise God. Everybody had a chance to share their gifts with the congregation.
To quote a part of the service, “We must trust that God is going to work on us, and we’ll break through the obstacles we face for the sake of life.” The message the youth conveyed is that we have to break through the hard things in life that would lead us away from God, or the false expectations/masks we put on ourselves that separate us from God in order to truly experience our life and our relationship with God.

However, that’s not always easy. One of my favorite parts of the worship was when one of the youth boldly said, “The New Testament is scary.” When I think of scary, or things I don’t really want to delve into because it intimidates me, I usually think of the Old Testament and of the God that destroys entire cities, or wages wars. I don’t really think of Jesus in the New Testament.

But, when the youth explained it, it made perfect sense. The skit that followed was the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. The youth pointed out that Jesus calls Lazarus by name. He doesn’t just say, “hey you” or “dead guy.” He calls him Lazarus. In the same way, Jesus calls us by name to do hard and challenging things, and we are changed and transformed by those things. That is scary.

One of the most powerful things of the service was that these kids didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk. The whole service was centered around being your authentic self that God created you to be, even when that was hard and scary. One of the final skits of the service was a skit where the youth talked about the “cards” that we’re dealt in our life. They spoke about how some of the cards we love, and some of the cards we wish we could get rid of, or cover up with one of our more “desirable” cards (it’s a metaphor you see). But, we don’t have a choice in the cards we’re dealt, and it’s up to us to find a way to use and appreciate all of our cards for the glory of God.

As they spoke, the youth were holding large cards they had made in front of them, but we couldn’t see what they were. In a moment of beautiful vulnerability, the youth turned over their cards to reveal what was written on the other side. Each was a statement about themselves that they were afraid to share, a part of themselves that they try to hide, or don’t talk about. But, as they said, we must tear away our masks, own all the cards we are dealt, and continue forward as a community in order to truly live, and allow others to live as well.

The service ended with communion, the meal for all, which the youth served. After the vulnerability and the truth that the youth of the congregation spoke to us, we were given the greatest gift in the universe (that’s communion) by the youth. When I received communion, both of the teens serving looked me in the eye and confidently proclaimed “The body of Christ, given for you” and “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” They knew that the meal they were serving me was important, and worthy of celebration. How powerful.

Seeing youth owning their power in such a poignant way was beautiful and inspiring. As 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” There is a lot we can learn from the youth of the church, and the youth of Abiding Hope showed that wonderfully.

- Kaari the Intern

First Lutheran Church, Colorado Springs

The Marian House Soup Kitchen
First Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs has a heart for serving. They are connected to a variety of local service ministries in the Colorado Springs area, and have many members from the church that actively volunteer at the different ministry sites. One program that First Lutheran is actively involved with is the Marian House Soup Kitchen. A long term volunteer from First Lutheran wrote the following piece about their service at the Marian House:

First Lutheran Church has been partners with the Marian House since its beginnings in a local church basement in 1970. Pastor Paul Peel (recently retired) encouraged FLC to support the Marian House and Catholic Charities throughout his 48 years’ tenure at the church.

Since 1985, the Marian House Soup Kitchen, under the direction of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, has been serving people who are in need in downtown Colorado Springs. Hot, nutritious meals are provided for 600 or more people most days. Towards the end of the month, the number of meals served can increase to 700 or more. Total meals served per month continue to increase.

Guests include struggling families with children, seniors on a fixed income, the working poor, veterans, people with disabilities, and those who are homeless. On average, 60 percent are working poor; nearly 40% are homeless. Meals for lunch are served Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; breakfast/brunch is served on Sundays, 8:45 a.m. to 10 a.m.

First Lutheran Church is responsible for providing volunteer support every Friday. Complete and nutritious meals consisting of (at a minimum) soup, meat entrees, vegetables, fruit salads, green salads, pastries are served to clients. First Lutheran members, a weekly team of six, defrost and bake whole turkeys (over 300 each year) that are transported to the soup kitchen every Friday and transformed into a turkey dinner of bread stuffing and sliced turkey breasts and gravy. Also every week, FLC donates 50 pounds of either ground beef or ground turkey to be used in meat entrees.

Doors open to volunteers for food preparation at 6:30 a.m. on Fridays. On average about 50 volunteers are necessary to prepare, serve, bus tables, and clean up. While guests line up outside before doors open, volunteers and staff gather in a large circle for a special prayer asking God to be with those we are about to serve.

The Friday volunteers make it all work, the majority of whom are dedicated to helping at the Marian House every Friday. They look forward to providing not only food but warm smiles and welcoming conversation that brightens the day of our special guests. Friday volunteers are a close-knit family. We call ourselves the Friday A-Team; we provide nutritious food and also words of compassion, kindness, and understanding to God’s people dining at the Marian House. God has rewarded our volunteers with so many blessings, and we look forward each week to caring for His people by being involved in this special mission at the Marian House.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

You Always Have Your Voice

Peter and Kaari at Senator Gardner's Denver Office
Last week, Peter Severson who serves as the Director for the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Colorado, and I journeyed to downtown Denver to Senator Cory Gardner’s office to speak about the new Senate healthcare bill that was released that morning. Although Peter hadn’t been able to read all 140 pages of the bill that morning (understandably), he had read a variety of summaries that allowed him to have a basic understanding of what the bill proposed. The bill has severe cuts to the Medicaid program, and also puts a cap on the total benefits a person can receive from Medicaid in their lifetime. Once the limit is reached, that person can no longer receive benefits. In short, under the proposed bill, Medicaid would no longer be a guaranteed benefit.

In Peter’s words:

The Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) would cut federal Medicaid spending by half in ten years, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

But the funding cut is not the most alarming part of these policy proposals. The BCRA would also shift Medicaid from a guaranteed benefit to a fixed—and much smaller—pot of money for the people eligible for the program. The overwhelming share of the burden of this change would impact seniors, children and people with disabilities.

Peter speaking to Sen. Garner's Receptionist
This is not reform. This is an effort to undermine a program that serves the most vulnerable Coloradans. Nationwide, Medicaid covers two-thirds of seniors in nursing homes, 39 percent of American children and over ten million people with disabilities. In Colorado alone, 600,000 people rely on Medicaid for health care services and support.

The fate of Medicaid in Colorado—and the seniors, children and people with disabilities who rely on the program—is now in the hands of the Senate. Senator Cory Gardner is one of those who worked to write the Senate proposal, and we urge him and Senator Bennet to reject any proposal that cuts or caps Medicaid funding.

As Lutherans, we believe that health is central to our well-being, vital to relationships, and helps us live out our vocations in family, work, and community. That is why it’s so important to protect health care access among the most vulnerable of our neighbors. Healthy neighbors are what
build healthy communities for everyone.

However, Peter and I weren’t alone in our visit to Senator Gardner’s Office. In fact, there was an initiative to have advocates at all eight of Senator Gardner’s offices in Colorado. Lutherans even showed up at Senator Gardner’s office in Yuma, CO! Shelly Griffith (the CEO of Eben Ezer Lutheran Care Center in Brush) and Deacon Ro Fesser made a trip to Yuma to advocate for people’s health. Pastor Dan Hays and his wife Kelly also made a separate trip.

Deacon Ro Fesser wrote the following about her visit:

Both Shelly and I went to the Yuma office today at 12:30 pm. We had a pleasant visit. Shelly left the Lutheran Services in America information sent to Shelly this week. We are a member of that group.
We provided the information of our actual case numbers who are on Medicaid: 85 skilled nursing, 38 in assisted living, 130 in our home health services (7 counties), and at least a dozen in our HUD housing. We also shared we have a number of young disabled people in their 50's, roughly a dozen to whom we are providing skilled care who have suffered MS, strokes, or accidents. Additionally we talked about the early hospital releases that now require 24 hour IVs.
We were asked about the additional training necessary for nurses or the upgraded nursing levels we must employ to offer that kind of care.

While we don’t get to vote on the laws our representatives make, we always have our voice. No matter what your political leaning, I encourage you to reach out to representatives and make your voice heard!

-Kaari the Intern

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Seeds in Good Soil

St. Mark's Park and Community Garden
And Jesus said, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

St. Mark’s in Aurora has been presented with ample opportunity to care for their neighbors in the ways that Jesus calls us to. Their building happens to be in an area that experiences a lot of homelessness and low-income families, and even though not all of those people go to St. Mark’s, St. Mark’s asked themselves how they could be servants for those people. Thus, new programming was born. Every Wednesday night St. Mark’s hosts a hot meal for people experiencing homelessness in their neighborhood. They truly wish to give food to the hungry, and use their resources to help those that have none.

Another way St. Mark’s shows hospitality to the larger community is through their community garden. Each summer, St. Mark’s opens up over a dozen plots in their garden for both church members and community members alike. One of the members of St. Mark’s cares for the garden in the off season and makes sure the soil is ready and fertile to produce new life. And, when the soil is ready and the weather is prime, the garden is planted and cared for by people from all walks of life; not just congregation members, but neighbors as well! They plant their seeds in good soil, the same way that St. Mark’s is planting seeds of hospitality, love, and grace in their community!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Young Adults in Global Mission- Ryan Campbell

The Rocky Mountain Synod is blessed to be sending four Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) abroad this August to engage in an intentional year of service around the world. I reached out to them in hopes that I could share their stories and the amazing ministry that they’re about to start with the rest of the Synod.

Ryan Campbell is one of the YAGMs leaving in August; he will spend the next year in Rwanda. Here is his story:

I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado. I was baptized in a Lutheran church there, but I grew up at First Presbyterian Church. In high school, I went on my second mission trip to Zambia. There I felt called to serve others, and I explored that calling at St. Olaf College. I kinda did the liberal arts thing there, and took a bunch of everything. I settled on Political Science. While there, I felt called to return to Africa, and so went to study in Tanzania for a semester, through the Lutheran Colleges Consortium of Tanzania. I had a blast, learned Swahili, traveled, climbed Kilimanjaro, got malaria, made friends, and learned a lot from my university classes.

It was also very challenging for me. I couldn't tell what God was calling me to do. I felt lost and abandoned. The summer after I got back, I interned at the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota. I was really struck by the synods I visited. There were churches investing in solar panels, turning their lawns into gardens, or offices into food pantries. They took the message to be stewards of the Earth, and feed the hungry on such a direct and active level, I couldn't help but be impressed. I saw rainbow flags that waved and declared, 'Love is love.' I was impressed.

Once I graduated college, I moved back to Colorado to be closer to my family. I started an internship as a grant writer for a non profit in Fort Collins. It didn't work out, but was still a valuable learning experience for me. I started working at Catholic Charities, and was recruited to be a case manager in the veterans program. This past year was my 3 year anniversary in this position and I really enjoy it. It's great to have such a direct connection to the people I serve and live out a life of service.

I still am not sure what I'm called to do, but I finally need to chase down a dream of working abroad in Africa, and sink or swim, find an answer. One of my mentors suggested I apply for YAGM, but I missed the deadline, so I waited a year and applied. I was finally excited to represent my church in my service, and I was really encouraged by the strong emphasis on personal development, companion service, and individual support the program has.

I'm a bit anxious to go, mainly because of the fundraising and the prep work I have to do, but otherwise I can't wait! I'm looking forward to discernment mostly, but learning a new language, and being exposed to a country so focused on development and the future will also be an amazing experience. I think it is quite a neat time to be in Rwanda right now.

My life here is pretty adventurous too! I windsurf, camp, hike, backpack, fish, travel, climb, ice climb, compete in Judo, run, go to the gym, blues dance, compete in the Scottish highland games, and more! It's gonna be a big change in the upcoming year.

It will be a big change, but Ryan will be ready for it! We, the Rocky Mountain Synod, are all blessed to have servant leaders like Ryan working to spread God’s love and grace in the world. Going abroad for a year isn’t an easy task, and as Ryan said, he has a lot of prep work to do. The greatest gift you can give Ryan as he prepares to leave for Rwanda is the gift of prayer. However, he also needs to fundraise $5,000 of the over $15,000 it costs for him to be in Rwanda for the year. If you’d like to support Ryan financially, you can do so at the link below.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

When Church Leaves the Building

“God’s Work, Our Hands” and “Christ’s Church, Better Together” are slogans that I’m sure many of the people in the Rocky Mountain Synod have heard before, which makes sense as they are the ELCA and RMS slogans. The Aurora Church Together Strategy (ACTS), composed of St. Matthew, St. Marks, Bethel, All Saints, and HKBP Montclair congregations, has taken these slogans to heart.

Acts is an Area Ministry Strategy. What's an Area Ministry Strategy, you say? Well, an Area Ministry Strategy is a group of churches that come together with three goals in mind: individual spiritual growth of the members, congregational renewal of the participating congregations, and collective impact in the community.

What makes  ACTS’ work unique is that they don’t just aim to help people in their community through charity, they try to get at the root causes of what is causing problems for people in their community. Within their community work, they found that their community was most affected by  poverty, hunger, and social justice.

Battling the root causes of poverty and hunger can seem like an insurmountable task, but ACTS has been working at it piece by piece. Deacon Cindy Robles serves as the Area Ministry Strategy Coordinator, and she describes their work as accompaniment. When working with the community, they ask how they can walk with their neighbors in a loving way.

In order to engage with the community, ACTS has started doing what they call Block Parties. ACTS will be hosting block parties in the parking lots of the congregations, and they will have lots of games, mobile playgrounds, and other fun activities for families to engage in. Even more importantly, they also host many different non-profits such as the Aurora Time Bank, the Salvation Army, non-profit health groups that have mobile blood pressure and blood sugar tests, and many more, the goal being to connect people in their neighborhood to resources they need. ACTS last block party, hosted by St. Mark's, had 300 people from the surrounding neighborhood attend.

But, why does this matter? Aurora has an extremely high immigrant and refugee population. Well over 100 different languages are spoken in the Aurora public school system. There is a great need in the community for help. There is a great need for assistance with food and clothing because some families can only afford to pay rent each month. There is a great need for English classes (which two churches in ACTS already offer) so that people can communicate with their neighbors as well as find jobs that require speaking English.

And, most importantly, ACTS is focused on building relationships and creating community in the neighborhoods that they are in. Each act of service is also designed to allow the people of the congregations to meet the people in the neighborhoods and to interact and hear each other’s stories. Accompaniment isn’t just charity work, it’s walking with the people of the community, and living life with them. It’s relationships.  

The Aurora Church Together Strategy has only been in existence for 18 months, and yet their work is tangible and already making a difference in their community. They continue to grow and develop and make new connections with different people and non-profits. The future looks bright for ACTS and the Aurora community. As Deacon Cindy Robles said, “We’re here to love God and to love our neighbor.” And that is exactly what they’re doing! For the people of ACTS, church expands beyond the confines of their church walls.

God’s Work. Our Hands. What are the needs in your community? What can your church do or what is your church already doing to meet those needs? How can you walk with the people in your community? May we all find ways that we can do God’s work and share God’s love in our lives!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Young Adults in Global Mission- Katharine Jones!

The Rocky Mountain Synod is blessed to be sending four Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) abroad this August to engage in an intentional year of service around the world. I reached out to them in hopes that I could share their stories and the amazing ministry that they’re about to start with the rest of the Synod.

Katharine Jones is one of the YAGMs leaving in August; she will be serving in Jerusalem/West Bank for a year. Here is her story:

Hello!! My name is Katharine Jones and I am a Colorado native who is passionate about deeply understanding and caring for other people. I was baptized and confirmed at Trinity Lutheran Church in Boulder, which became a second home for me. I was very involved at Trinity, as well as with the synod Junior High and Senior High Youth Gatherings, the National Youth Gathering in New Orleans in 2012, and Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp, as a camper and staff. All of these experiences were important to my spiritual development and my growth as a leader, and also cultivated my care for other people and desire to fight injustice. However, most importantly, the people that I met through my experiences with the ELCA serve as mentors and friends to this day.

I attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA, where I graduated this May with a degree in International Studies and a degree in Biology. I knew that I wanted to commit to at least one year of postgraduate service and applied to a variety of programs, but discerned that Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) was where I felt the most called. YAGM intends for missionaries to grow in their faith, become globally informed, and receive and share the gifts of the global church throughout a year of service. I feel the mission of the YAGM program very closely aligns with my own personal passions and goals and I was selected to be a missionary in the Jerusalem program next year.

The white section in Israel (the red section) is where Katharine will be.
I have long been interested in traveling to the Holy Land, because like many others I feel a draw there for spiritual reasons. Throughout college this call grew beyond a personal longing. I became drawn to inter-religious issues during college because of friendships I made and classes I took. These experiences fueled my desire to immerse myself in the Holy Land, which is central to multiple religions. Last summer I took a class about the Arab-Israeli conflict and learned in-depth about the experiences of those on both sides in the area. This year I completed a fellowship through Gonzaga with the Spokane Interfaith Council whose mission is to increase interfaith literacy across college campuses in Spokane and create safe spaces for people of all faiths to share. I am excited to go to the Israel/Palestine region and form relationships with both Israelis and Palestinians there, in order to better understand the human-side of a polarizing and heartbreaking conflict. My call to the Holy Land is now multifaceted, with components of spiritual curiosity and feelings that I can best serve God by living out Christ’s reconciliation through relationship with the people living in Jerusalem.

As always, prayer is one of the best ways you can support Katharine in the next year! However, she does have to fundraise $5,000 out of the over $15,000 it takes for her to serve a year in Jerusalem. If you would like to support Katharine financially, click the link below! Every penny counts.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hello! Intern Here!

Easter Sunday at Red Rocks
Hearing Bishop Jim Preach
Hello readers of the Rocky Mountain Synod! My name is Kaari von Bernuth and I am serving as the Synodical Life Intern at the Office of the Bishop this summer. One of my main tasks is to find out the cool and amazing ways that you (yes, you) are doing God’s work in the world, and to share that with the rest of the synod!

As a college student there were times when I feel really disconnected from the world and the church. I’m very involved in the Lutheran Campus Ministry (LuMin) at Colorado State University (Go Rams!), but even that felt somewhat separated from the rest of the church. As I began the process of becoming an Intern at the Office of the Bishop I began to think of how this position could be a position of connection. How could I help make the connection of Campus Ministry to the rest of the church more apparent? And even bigger than that, how could I help connect congregations and ministries around the Synod to each other? El Paso is very far away from Fort Collins, but we’re still a part of the same Synod. How can we be connected to each other?

As an English major, the answer was pretty obvious to me: stories. Our stories are what define us and what connect us. If I could share the stories of amazing things happening in our synod, the stories that define us, that could help connect us and also inspire us to try new amazing ministries.

So, this summer I’ll be traveling around to different places to hear your stories and learn about the amazing things that are happening in our Synod. This includes an eight day roadtrip with the Youth Discipleship Team (don’t know what that is? Go to this link! to all five states in the Rocky Mountain Synod. We’ll be making stops in Broomfield, Cheyenne, Casper, Salt Lake, Grand Junction, Albuquerque, El Paso, and Colorado Springs. Are you from there and have a cool story of ministry happening in your community? Email me and we can try to arrange a meeting! Not from one of those places but still have a cool story of God’s work happening? Still email me and we can still make something work. I want to be able to hear all of the amazing things that are happening around our synod.

And, be checking back to this blog to hear all of these stories! My hope is that these stories of congregations doing amazing ministry can help us to learn from each other, and grow as a church. Hearing other people’s stories can inspire us to do more, maybe start something new, and most importantly, the stories of amazing ministry can inspire us to share God’s love and grace in our communities in new ways. Remember: We are church, better together! Let’s use our connections to do God’s work.