Pastors’ Corner

Thankful for New Beginnings

Dear People of Bethlehem,

Fall is always a season of new adventures, a new school year, a new job or the beginning again of routines that have been relaxed during the summer months.  Fall is also a season of thanksgiving.  It is a time of harvest of the seeds sown, and our national thanksgiving day as well.  I would like to speak to you personally about both. 

I do not have enough words of gratitude to you, the people of Bethlehem, for the gifts and grace and joy of my 25th anniversary of ordination celebration.  Thank you for the plaque, the stole, the monetary gift, the slide show, the donuts, cupcakes and the memory book.  All are deeply appreciated.  Yet even more so, thank you for every kind word and heartfelt text, every hug and every gracious word.  Thank you for being part of the celebration last Sunday and thank you for who you are.  You cannot know how deeply your words and your grace have touched my heart.  It is my privilege, my blessing, and my joy to serve as your pastor.  It is my honor to know the gift of ministry among you, both now and in all that lies ahead.

I also want to make you aware of an opportunity that is before me.  This fall, I will be taking on a new role in the Pacifica Synod.  To be clear, my call as lead pastor here at Bethlehem will not change in any way.  I will, however, be adding 10 hours a week of work for the synod.  As you know, I have a passion for the work of the wider church.  Bishop Dave Nagler, the newly elected bishop of the Pacifica Synod, has asked me to serve as “Regional Assistant to the Bishop” for the San Diego area.  He has taken one full time staff position and divided it into four part time positions.  I will fill one of the four new positions created on synod staff, in order to meet the needs of the Church that is emerging post pandemic.  This is a new vision for the synod and I am very excited to be a part of it.  Though the role is not yet completely defined, I will be responsible for mobility (congregations in transition seeking new pastors or deacons) in the San Diego area and candidacy (seminary students working toward ordination and call).  Working with seminary students is particularly important to me.

I am very excited to help craft a new way forward for the synod and to use my gifts to help the wider church.  Perhaps the Pacifica Synod might serve as a model for whole church as we live into this new day together.  Having served in many synod roles in the past, I am keenly aware that my synod work will benefit the congregation, as I bring new ideas, new vision, and best practices for the work we do together.  The council is in unanimous support of this new role for me.  I was heartened by their enthusiasm at the last council meeting, when all replied by saying, “Congratulations!  This will be great for you, and for Bethlehem.”

And so, I return to gratitude.  Gratitude for you as a congregation and for your faithful, thoughtful and wide vision of who we are as church together.  I am so proud of our work here, and of our place in the Pacifica Synod.  Bethlehem is the kind of congregation that leans into the future with joy and always has the depth and breadth and heart to seek the wind of the Spirit. 

If you have any questions I can answer, please feel free to call or text me.  I cherish every conversation over coffee, and every opportunity to hear from you.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Laura                

Taking Time to be Present

In the process of writing a sermon for Sunday morning there is often quite a bit that ends up on the cutting room floor.  Whether it’s cut for time, or because the sermon ended up going in a slightly different direction (they have a way of developing and changing even as you are writing them), or you just can’t quite make that particular story/idea work, I will often end up with a document in the same folder as my sermon for that week that has the same title as the sermon with the word “trimmings” added to the end.  Sometimes those trimmings become the seed for my next sermon on that particular text/story.  Sometimes they languish in digital purgatory on my computer.  And sometimes they become a newsletter article! 

A few weeks ago, I preached on the story of Mary and Martha hosting Jesus in their home, and I shared that, as a life-long Martha, I really struggle with this story.  I am so quick to come to her defense (and thus defend myself as well) that I often miss what Jesus is really getting at – the importance of slowing down, of taking time to be present, and of not letting our to-do lists run us ragged.

When I was in seminary, the summer before I went on internship, I was a part of a group called the ELCA Global Youth Plunge (thankfully you just had to be under 30 to qualify as a “youth”) and we visited the Taizé monastery in France.  Their community holds three worship services a day (morning, midday, and evening), and during each service there is a period of 10 minutes of silence where you are asked to sit in reflective meditation.  Our group was there for a week, and the first day or two we would be squirming in our seats by minute four or five – just dying for it to be over.  But by the end of the week, we came to crave that 10-minute escape, that respite from the world.  It was a chance empty our minds, to let go of any worries or preoccupations for just a moment, and simply be.  Afterwards, we felt revitalized and renewed as we resumed our daily tasks and responsibilities. 

I’ve found the same to be true with the meditation practice that Alissa and I do before bed every night.  We do a 10-minute guided meditation using the Headspace app on her phone.  Pro-tip: They offer free subscriptions for teachers, and I would highly recommend checking it out!  It’s a way of clearing our heads before bed.  It sort of acts as this threshold between sleep and the rest of our day.  But when Alissa went out of town the other week, I decided that I would give myself the night off and skip it.  I am here to tell you; I had the absolute worst time falling asleep that night.  My mind just would not shut up.  You forgot to text so and so.  You need to write this email.  You need to remember to make that change to the bulletin.  Remember to do this when you set up for VBS tomorrow.  What if you talked about x, y, or z in your sermon?  Remember that time the teacher yelled at you in 3rd grade, and you were embarrassed?  On and on and on.  Lesson learned.  The next night I asked for her log in and started up our practice again by myself.

Now yes, I know that many of you are so overworked and overextended that the idea of finding time to do this is laughable.  And I’ve said before that God doesn’t just come to us in the peaceful, serene moments of our lives, but in the chaos and noise as well.  So, if this stresses you out, please just keep scrolling.  But I will also say that I have rarely ever just “found” time in my schedule for self-care.  There is always something else that I could be doing, some other task that I’ve forgotten.  And when it comes down to it, I need to make that time for myself.  We need to make time for our own personal well-being.  Because God created us so that we might have abundant life, and that we might flourish, and that has more to do with the quality of our lives, than it does with the quantity of our output.

In peace, Pastor Sam