Worship Jubilee

Wow, what a wonderful, full, exhausting, creative, inspiring, musical week here in Atlanta! Eight hundred music ministers, synod staff, clergy, and friends gathered to sing and pray and share the energy of our excitement about Evangelical Lutheran worship. Eight hundred voices raised in song, eight hundred from across the country (and even a few international guests), eight hundred from a variety of churches in our ELCA who are big and small and multicultural and historic and new, eight hundred who love the church and love finding ways to beautifully and strongly communicate the Good News of Jesus through worship which centers, grounds, and feeds us for mission and deeper love in the world. It has been a lot to digest, and I look forward to joining with other Upstate New York Synod people to empower a worship staff who can enrich and educate us in our worship across the synod.

windowSo, what else is there to say about this past week? We are not alone. That is primary. Every one of these major church events I attend is a huge reminder that we are so much bigger, so much more, so much older and more diverse and more gifted than we realize when we get stuck on expectations for how many people we think ought to be in our Sunday worship. It’s true that we miss the faces and voices of our community when we are not all there, either on vacation or away for other events or gone to the church eternal, but how good it is that we who gather are together! We are a church connected to the saints, as we remember every time we pray the Eucharistic prayer at the Table for communion. We are a church connected to each other, every time we read Scriptures chosen for the Revised Common Lectionary, used not only by all of our denomination but by Anglicans, United Church of Christ, Methodists, Presbyterians, Reformed Churches, Roman Catholics, the Polish National Catholic Church, Disciples of Christ…

The Presiding Bishop spoke to us this week while we gathered, too, with humor and joy and passion and deep dedication to our Evangelical Lutheran identity which is not defined by culture (think potlucks and jokes about Jell-O), but by the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We have a particular witness to offer as Lutheran Christians, and the more clear we are about what that means, the better we can engage in ecumenical dialogues with those who hold different emphases in their faith confessions.
We shared creative ideas for using the arts in worship, we celebrated the ongoing work of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, we look forward to the 500th anniversary of the kick-off of the ongoing Reformation of the church, and we lifted up the work of our musicians who offer so much skill and dedication to this ministry from which flows all of our mission in the world.

Atlanta truly was a Jubilee gathering, hot on the heels of the National Youth Gathering in Detroit (some participants came directly here from there!). It is an exciting time to be church. We are free, we are gifted, we are gathered, claimed, fed, sent, together into the great wide world where God is already working to give us all the love and grace and forgiveness and new life that we so desperately need. And we get to be part of this work of renewal. How cool is that?

–Pastor Nelson

“Don’t forget to hydrate!”

As a summercamp counselor for a handful of years, I’ve reminded kids over and over again that “by the time you’re thirsty you’re already dehydrated.” It’s easy to forget to drink water when you’re out playing soccer, or grilling on the back deck, or swimming at the beach, or hiking through the woods (where you also need to watch out for ticks!). Sometimes it’s easier to remember to take care of the kids we’re watching than to keep ourselves covered in sunblock at the pool, but every body needs water to survive, needs protection from the elements, even while we’re having fun.

Water is necessary to keep our bodies functioning well on a cellular level. Water is necessary to crops that grow. Water is also dangerous – it only takes an inch of water for someone to drown; floods or sudden storms in parched areas can erode away precious topsoil; the cost of bottled water in areas struggling under drought conditions can drain dry tight budgets of those already living under strained economic conditions.

Water is the element which makes life possible on this planet. Water is what we look for on other planets when looking for signs of life. One of the most exciting things about those images of Pluto that are coming in through NASA’s New Horizons is that Pluto is covered in mountains of ice – which means there is water – which means there could be life there, too.

waterfalls-skyWater falls from the sky, freely, yet there are places which have banned the collection of rainwater because they make a profit selling water. This is like the ways we tell each other we will be worthy of love if we follow certain rules first. If the love of God is big enough for all of us, then it’s big enough for all of us. In the first creation story in Genesis, the wind of God moved over the waters, called over the deep, and pronounced creation ‘good’ at every step of the creative process.

Water surrounds us in the womb. Water washes over us in baptism. Water keeps our organs safe and our blood flowing. It’s in the humid air of summer and the ice pops we devour to stay cool. It’s the element God has connected to the Sacrament of baptism and it is everywhere. We bottle it, we wash with it, and when it rains or when hurricanes come, we know we can not always control it. So it is with God’s love. Sometimes we hang on for dear life, sometimes we thirst, sometimes we remind others they are loved but forget to rest in that love ourselves.

Where is God’s love refreshing you this summer like water? Where is God spilling over in your vacations and in your work days? Where are you thirsty? God has connected water to a life-long loving embrace and belonging which we cannot get away from, with the command and promises of Baptism. These promises, this embrace, all for you, for your family, friends, neighbors, and enemies.
Don’t forget to hydrate!

–Pastor Nelson

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

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