Pastor Nelson’s letter

Dear people of God at Christ Our Emmanuel,

I want my life and witness to speak more clearly of the power of resurrection than of the fear of a threat of death. We have far too many voices telling of anxiety and fear and negative possibilities, and need to make better use of opportunities and platforms for sharing our hope and conversion experiences. We have the gift, as Christians, to bear witness to life in places of death, hope in times of despair, and being found by the One who has made us, claimed us, and called us to new life again and again.

When I came here for my first call, nervous and excited and hopeful and wanting so badly to ‘get it right,’ I was as open about my bisexuality as I thought I needed to be for letting people in the community know that we at Christ Our Emmanuel are a welcoming, and a safe, community. Within the safety and welcome of this community, I have also come to understand and accept another part of myself as a Pastor and as a person:  God gave me a female body and a male mind. In some cultures, I would be considered of a third gender, and our culture is stumbling around learning how to process this reality of God’s creativity in our species, but the label we have for this experience, if we must have one, is Transgender, or, in my case, Female-to-Male.

With the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner, this timing is either perfect or horrible, but with this year’s Senior High Camp theme on living boldly, it is according to my call to serve with integrity that I am known there as Pastor Andrew, using he/him/his pronouns, so that the kids can ask questions in a safe and supportive environment. Those of you who have seen me regularly in worship may or may not have noticed the sound of what could be an oncoming cold but is really my voice dropping, and those of you who are only able to join us in person periodically may notice my transition more readily across time. I am still the same person who you called to serve as Pastor here, and it is my intention to continue in this role to the best of my ability, but it seemed good to let you know about this adjustment lest a comment made in the wider community catch you unawares. It is also my intention to be as open about this process, and as visible, as possible, for the sake of proclaiming the grace of God whose welcome and mercy are unceasing.

So now what? This is kind of a big deal, no matter how I want it not to be. We are called to bear witness to life in the midst of death, hope in the midst of conflict and change, and this is a big change. There are a lot of resources to be found at Reconciling Works online, and for talking with kids about being Gender Fluid or Gender Creative, parents can read the blog “Raising My Rainbow,” just for a start. There is no one-size-fits-all guidebook for how to do this transitioning thing together. I do hope you will feel safe in talking with me about questions you have, or at least in talking with the council if you are uncertain about asking me directly. Above all, I thank God for your love and welcome, and for the health of this community where I felt myself safe enough to begin this process while serving among you.

Shalom,

Pastor Nelson and the parish council of Christ Our Emmanuel Lutheran Church

Tag Sale – July 10& 11

It’s that time of year again for our big fund raiser….the Tag Sale!tagSale
This year’s sale will be Friday July 10th & Saturday July 11th starting @ 8am.
Set up will be Thursday July 9th @ 8am &Wednesday July 8th @ 6pm when we will meet at the church to empty out the garage & take everything to the Stalkers house.
We need many helpers each day….this is work but also fellowship & fun!!  Please consider helping with set-up, clean-up, &/or working at the sale. Please respond to this e-mail or let me know when you are available to help! Looking forward to seeing everyone!

A Day in Repentance and Mourning

SPECIAL EDITION
UPSTATE NEW YORK SYNOD
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
June 25, 2015
Bishop Macholz

As a county and a church we continue to mourn following the shootings in Charleston last week and wonder about next steps as well as a path forward in the midst of what is a very challenging conversation and time. Below is a statement from our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton. I encourage you to read what she has to say.

I also want you to know that Bishop Eaton will be present at the funeral service for Pastor Clementa Pinkney at Mother Emmanuel AME Church along with Bishop Herman Yoos of the South Carolina Synod and Bishop Michael Rhyne, Bishop of the Allegheny Synod; a good friend and classmate of Pastor Pinkney.
Please continue to keep the families of those who lost loved ones as well as this country in your prayers in the coming days. We have much work to do and the journey will be long. Yet we have no other option than to pursue justice and reconciliation with one another; that is our calling, our baptismal grounding.  Join with me and countless others who believe this is a unique moment in time that offers the opportunity to begin a conversation around the issue of race that might actually make a difference in our world. It begins with each of us. May our God open our hearts, minds and lives to the possibilities that await by the Spirit’s guidance and direction.

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Bishop Eaton Calls for 
A Day of Repentence and Mourning

It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism. The church was desecrated. The people of that congregation were desecrated. The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated.

Mother Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, associate pastor at Mother Emanuel. The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA congregation. All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.

We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable,the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly. The Rev. Mr. Pinckney leaves a wife and children. The other eight victims leave grieving families. The family of the suspected killer and two congregations are broken. When will this end?

The nine dead in Charleston are not the first innocent victims killed by violence. Our only hope rests in the innocent One, who was violently executed on Good Friday. Emmanuel,God with us, carried our grief and sorrow – the grief and sorrow of Mother Emanuel AME church- and he was wounded for our transgressions – the deadly sin of racism.

I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities.We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us. We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act. No stereotype or racial slur is justified. Speak out against inequity. Look with newly opened eyes at the many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth. Above all pray – for insight,for forgiveness, for courage.

Kyrie Eleison.

The Rev. Elizabeth A.Eaton PresidingBishop

Evangelical Lutheran Church inAmerica

South Carolina shooting

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South Carolina churchgoer June 20, 2015

There are many ways to respond and react to the shooting  in South Carolina. There are many good sermons out there addressing it. Please take a moment to click on the link below or copy/paste the address into your browser for one of these responses from Pastor Cuttino Alexander, a classmate of Pastor Nelson’s:

http://www.goodshepherdmtholly.org/sermons/into-the-heart-of-the-storm

–Posted for Pastor

“Farewell to Mars,” Ramadaan, and the Benefits of Being ‘Weird’ in Our Culture

I have a habit of grabbing a few books at a time on my Kindle, starting them, and not finishing them until long after I started, forgetting who recommended them to me the first time under what circumstances. Most recently I finished one of these books, called “A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace,” by Brian Zahnd. I don’t recall where I found this title, but it sums up the reason Jesus was killed pretty succinctly: we worship the god of war (Mars) and can not imagine life in a non-violent world. When have we ever not been using ‘us versus them’ to justify violence?

My parents have a sketch hanging in the downstairs bathroom that has two kids on either side of a great hairy Saint Bernard, which reads “You don’t have to understand me, just love me.” And we seem far more ready to love the animals who are so obviously completely different from us than to love the other human animals who are so obviously different. Whether in points of politics, religion, skin color, age, gender, class, country… we have been created in a beautiful diversity of type and experience, and so often find those differences as reasons to fear one another rather than be curious and celebratory. This is the problem of sin. Not that we are different, but that we fear and isolate difference.

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Maybe that’s why we like to blend in, to appear non-threatening, to protect ourselves and not seem too ‘weird,’ for whatever reason. But consider the Mennonites who bought the building in Ghent, and how obviously ‘different’ they are from the neighborhood. And now we have entered the holy month of Ramadan, which moves according to a lunar calendar, just like Passover dictates when we celebrate Easter. Ramadan might be one of the most obvious distinctive holidays for Muslims who fast from sunup to sundown all month, offering prayers and reciting the whole of their sacred text over the course of the month, to draw closer to a God of justice and to serve the poor and hungry in society with increased intention and vigor toward the justice which seeks to serve the outcast. Muslims are clearly identified as ‘other’ especially in this holy season, with or without the head scarves, whatever color their skin. We have much to learn from their piety, I think, from their joy in fasting to draw closer to God, from their five-times-daily prayer in submission to God who is merciful and compassionate (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basmala). How do we stand out, in comparison, as Christians?

Living in a nation which considers itself to be based on Christian values, then watching as we tear each other apart over so many of the differences God delighted to create in us…  How are we standing apart from the masses and being a light to the world? What difference does our faith make in the world, and in our local communities? Small scale conversations can make just as big a difference as larger actions, especially considering Jesus started out with twelve disciples whose witness changed the world well before the invention of the internet or even the wide-spread use of print materials!

First century Christians were the ones who cared for the hungry, poor, widows, orphans, sick, and imprisoned, without payment and often under the threat of death for their faith. Now there are so many social service agencies which perform these tasks, what’s the point of being a Christian when you can just be a ‘good person’? So I ask again: how do we stand out as ones who proclaim life in the face of death, resurrection hope in the face of despair, freedom from oppression in the face of fear and terribly unbalanced power structures? It’s time for us to reclaim our ‘weirdness,’ to stand out as different, to love so radically that the world will know it has met the risen Christ and been forever changed.

–Pastor Angela

creation

A friend of mine recently (or maybe it was something I read somewhere) was talking about the way the old, old stories of Creation came to be. Imagine living in the wilds of Palestine way back before histories were written down, sitting around a fire after a long day of sheep herding. The night air is warm, but the breezes are cool, and stars are clear and bright overhead. In a moment of tired conversation, much like those talks in college that can go on and on late into the morning, someone asks one of the elders a question: “Where did all of this come from? What’s the purpose of it all? Is this all there is?” And so the storytellers weave tales of great battles, of the histories written in the stars, of such nights long ago when the world was not as it is, but was newer, less dusty, less tiring to walk in. Some of these stories catch the imagination more than others, and they remain, told again and again, shaping the way we move in the world.

CreationThis Sunday we have a story in our readings for worship which recounts a portion of one of those creation stories. Often we call it ‘The Fall,’ those events which led to the breaking of God’s heart which had been in perfect harmony in the cosmos. Some refer to it as the way humans received consciousness above the animals. Others consider it a moment of grace where God offers us a reprieve from the pain of knowing good and evil by keeping us from the tree of life (though later stories reshape that tree into the wood of the cross and offer a renewed beginning of life).

What do you think of when you think of the Creation and our leaving the Garden of Eden? How would you look at the world today and answer those questions of where we come from, what our purpose is, what else might exist beyond what we see and know? Considering the stories we have in the world around us that try to tell us who we are and what we’re meant for, how do the creation narratives in Genesis re-direct us?

Israel’s neighbors had stories of a great battle in the heavens, where one god split another god in half to form the sky and the ground, and the blood became the seas, and the humans were created as slaves for the gods. Enuma Elish, it is called, and you can search that online for a fuller account. When the world all around is violent, it makes sense to say we came from violence and are destined for violence.

But the people of our God had a different story to tell.

In the beginning we were created by the voice of God, they say, because stories have the power to create and recreate us. We know this from the way the media can warp our attention and take control of our moods and emotions when we get sucked into a news story or find ourselves wishing we had the shiny thing or the photoshopped body we see in the magazines.

In the beginning we were created as part of creation, they say, because we observe that we are mortal and require the same environment as every other living thing in order to survive. We care for the sheep and the land because they have been given to us to care for, and we are part of them, which we know from the basic cycles of living.

In the beginning we were created good, they say. Very good, indeed, and naked and unashamed. Our bodies are good and holy the way they are created, which means they are not made to be abused or shamed, but lived in, with all of the joy and freedom that entails.

But after that good beginning, we doubted the word of our creator and decided to take fate into our own hands, and that is when fear entered the story. If only we had trusted God to love us as God has always loved us! The StoryTellers knew what sort of force fear can be, how it divides us one from another, against the rest of creation, and even against our very family. So our Story reflects this reality we already know, that fear and distrust tear us out of paradise and make life difficult for everyone. In the portion for Sunday, Genesis chapter 3, verses 8-15, we hear how God seeks after the people, and the people are afraid for we recognize we are vulnerable and we begin to blame one another for our own actions. The one first made of dust, called ‘Adam,’ which is a word meaning ‘dust,’ blames God for giving him the woman who gave him the fruit he ate. The woman points at the serpent who deceived her. This beginning of hiding continues, deeper and deeper, as we hide behind each other, hide behind blame, hide from the one who made us and loves us, in an anxious attempt to cover our shame.

The way the Story is told, it is clear that shame is not the intended outcome for creation. Shame is not where we are meant to live. We are meant to live, goes the Story, in relationship with creation and with each other and with God who once walked with us in the Garden, God who has walked with us in Jesus, God who continues to walk with us by the Holy Spirit.

Unafraid. Unashamed. That is where we come from. That is why we are here. That is where we are headed. So say the StoryTellers of old. So what say you to this Story?

–Pastor Angela

Summer reading

My ideal vacation involves a comfy couch and a stack of novels. To have the time free to spend an entire day just reading through a novel is one of my favorite things. I remember a particularly full week on Internship where I just needed a break and took a day to read the final book of the Harry Potter series. Then there was December 31 a few years ago where I actually met my New Year’s resolution to read The Hobbit, all in a Starbucks afternoon. With all of the running around and constant distractions of Internet and smart phones, to have the time and stillness just to focus on one thing is a breath of fresh air. I’ve done this also with the book of Job, and with one or two of Paul’s letters in the Bible, as well as a couple of the Apocryphal books (included in the Catholic Bible but not often in other translations, more on that in another post), not to mention reading through the entire Gospel of Mark during Holy Week and getting a feel for how the shorter episodes we get on Sunday mornings fit together.

summerSummer is also a time when we share stories of summers past and make new stories together. Beach time, camping trips, travel mishaps, family get-togethers, are all sorts of possibilities for exploring the world God has made within and around us. Whether its revisiting a traditional ‘every summer’ sort of place, or a brand new thing we’ve always wanted to try and finally have the resources to get to this year, summer seems a good time for living. Winter slows us down and keeps us indoors for thinking and introspection, but summer opens up wide for gardening and growth and everything seems to fly by all the more quickly, despite the days actually being longer this time of year.

Summer can also be a time of reflecting, though, especially if those we used to celebrate those annual gatherings with aren’t around any more. Do you ever get to those over-full schedules and think “What’s the point? What difference do I make? Why does this matter in the long run? What am I doing with my one precious life?” The circle comes around again, season to season, year to year, and those questions might crop up once in awhile, so we hold one another in prayer and we gather when and how we can and we live the best we know how. Living the questions grounds us in something deeper and connects us to what we need to grow even while we celebrate, and holding the balance is not always easy.

So this summer, my reading will include the usual theology and fiction, and I’m adding a book to the stack by my reading nook, called “Searching for Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans. It has gotten some good reviews and appears to ask some good questions, and I look forward to chewing on it while I travel from Senior High Camp to a worship conference in Atlanta to maybe even a weekend vacation. You are invited to read it this summer, too, and chew on it a bit, and gather to discuss it at the first Theology on Tap of the fall, probably in September or August at the Peint O Gwrw. Let’s dig a bit deeper together into what questions we have, how we live them together, and where God has connected with us in our daily lives.

Shalom,
Pastor Nelson

Seeking & serving with hope, love and faith in Chatham, New York