Category Archives: Pastor Thoughts

Take some some time for Outdoor Ministry this summer – Pastor Thoughts

Greetings from Luther Village!

I am sitting in our cabin at at “The Village” writing to you this week. 

As some of you may know, outdoor ministry and camp is something that I have in my background, though not at Luther Village. 

Lutheran Outdoor Ministry has a long and extensive history in Canada and the US. In many parts of the upper mid-western United States, such as Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin, you can hardly throw a rock without it landing on a Lutheran Bible Camp. 

In my home province of Alberta, there are four Lutheran camps. Camp Kuriakos on Sylvan Lake (the old Danish Camp), Hastings Lake Lutheran Bible Camp on Hastings Lake (the old Norwegian Camp), Mulhurst Lutheran Church Camp on Pigeon Lake (the old German camp) and Wilderness Ranch down in the foothills of Southern Alberta near the Livingston Mountain Range. 

For about 30 years now, some combination of the four camps have been doing their 10 days of staff training together (Joint Staff Training or JST), and supporting one another in their common work of outdoor ministry. 

I was lucky enough to work for two summers at Mulhurst, one at Hastings Lake and two at Wilderness Ranch. After that I continued serving on the Alberta Synod’s outdoor ministry committee (LOMAN) and participated in nine JSTs altogether. I also was fortunate enough to meet the then Executive Director of Luther Village back in 2004 at a Lutheran Outdoor Ministry in Canada gathering. I have served on the boards of two camps and have also served as a resource pastor in Alberta, Saskatchewan and now the MNO at 5 different camps. 

Suffice it to say, since I showed up for work my first summer of camp back in 2002, Outdoor Ministry has been an important part of my life. 

While pastors get most of the training, skills and knowledge they need at seminary, I also credit camp with teaching me a lot of the skills and leadership qualities that I still use in parish ministry today. Camp has a way of turning young adults into life long leaders in the church, whether ordained or lay. 

Camps and outdoor ministries are often important places of faith formation for the folk to who attend. Getting away from the hustle of everyday life and out into nature, participating in intentional Christian community, taking the time to worship, to learn, to play and to grow together is rooted in scripture. God commanded the people of Israel to spend two weeks each year living in tents in the wilderness in order to connect with God, as a reminder of their wandering in the wilderness for 40 years – trusting and relying on God to provide. 

These days most camps work hard to provide a relaxing, activity-filled, worship- filled, community environment for campers to come and experience. To make this all happen, camp staff are often running a behind-the-scenes operation with military precision and planning. It takes long days and exhausting work to be on camp staff. And after my summers of working at camp, there was no going back. Camp won’t ever be relaxing and easy for me again, but that isn’t the point. I love seeing how the camp community and experience can receive someone on Sunday and send them home a changed and renewed person by Friday. 

It has been my privilege to work with the LV staff this week as they, too, reset again in this pandemic world. With new Executive Directors (Ad and Lisa Van Dijk!) and a new staff, there is lots to learn after two pandemic summers where things were scaled back dramatically. Being here to provide some of my knowledge and experience to the staff has been a great chance to relive my camp staff days. The callouses on my fingers are getting thicker again playing guitar at Morning Jam and Campfire every day, but thankfully the morning staff meeting is a lot easier to wake up for at 39 year old (and with two small early-rising kids) than it was at 19. Leading daily adult study sessions has been a great change to talk with folks from across the Synod about faith and life. 

As I look forward to the last few days of camp for us, I would encourage you to pray for Luther Village and all outdoor ministries across the ELCIC. And if it is something that still fits into your summer’s plans, I think there are still open spots this summer to attend family camp (whatever your family looks like!) so come on out and be changed too!

See you Sunday!

Church conventions are boring…and vitally important – Pastor Thoughts

As I write to this, I am sitting and watching the ELCIC’s National Convention online. National Church Council decided to hold an online gathering in the 2022 and an in-person gathering in 2023.

The convention this summer will deal only with the items of business that needed to be dealt with according to the constitution (elections and budgets, etc..) Whereas items for discussion and deliberation, important reports from task forces, and other conventions items that are better dealt with in-person will be on the agenda next year.

If I had to guess, even the mention of the words “church convention” would cause most folks to start yawning. The perception of church conventions is that they are pretty boring affairs, with lots of motions, amendments, reports, minutes, points of order and generally people droning on about very uninteresting things.

Certainly, sometimes they can be that.

Church conventions can also be important moments for the church to gather together, to share in worship, discussion and fellowship together, to be one church body together across the country.

Most people who attend ELCIC churches like SPLC might only have a handful of times that they participate in events with other folk from the ELCIC. When the larger church does gather at events like the ordinations of new pastors, or installations of pastors taking new calls, synod conventions and national conventions, there is an opportunity for representatives from our congregation to meet with representatives from other ministries and congregations. These are chances to see what our siblings in faith are doing, to share in one another’s joys and commiserate in our struggles, and know that we are no not alone in the work of ministry. We have others all around us there to support us and who need our support.

As we already know through our shared youth ministry experience, the time of congregations functioning mostly on their own is over. More and more we are going to find ourselves meeting up with and then working intentionally with folks from other congregations. The larger church is going to become a far more interconnected and interdependent environment in the future. We are all coming to learn that we cannot do the work of ministry on our own. Not as congregations, not as Lutherans in Winnipeg or in Manitoba or in Canada.

So yes, National Convention might be something that elicits a few yawns. But it is also a tangible sign that we are not alone as a congregation and the work of ministry will include more siblings of faith working together than ever before.

PS You can follow-up with all the ELCIC’s National Convention things on their Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/CanadianLutherans

Stranger Things and the Good Samaritan – Pastor Thoughts

And now for something completely different…

For the past couple of months or so, I have been watching the Netflix show Stranger Things. It first came out in 2017 and for some reason I didn’t get into it. I really should have been really excited to watch it as it checks a lot of boxes that match my interests. It is set in the mid-80s, the era of my childhood. It focuses on a group of friends who play Dungeons & Dragons together and do other nerdy things. There is a healthy dose of pre-teen and teen angst navigating the challenges of school, relationships and growing up. 

Behind all of this is the fact the there is a government science lab running secret tests that result in some pretty fantastical stuff involving monsters, portals to other dimensions, missing friends and danger that could end the whole world. Of course, the kids who play Dungeons & Dragons who understand the world of fantasy are the only ones who can really figure out what is going on. 

While I can see myself and my childhood in the kids in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, it is the adult characters that I identify with. I understand the sheer panic of Winona Ryder’s character, Joyce, when her son goes missing, and her determination to do anything to save him. 

But it is the Chief of Police Jim Hopper whom I cannot help but identify with. He is a big shabby grump with a tragic back story, who ends up caring about the kids of Hawkins and Joyce more than he ever thinks possible. I can see that without Courtenay, Oscar and Maeve I might have found myself living a similarly grumpy and shabby life. 

Now, what does this all have to do with church? Well, this week we are about to hear one of the most familiar parables of the bible, the Good Samaritan. A parable so common and whose image is so powerful that we encounter it frequently in culture, despite most biblical images falling out of the cultural awareness. (A metaphor that even Stranger things uses in on episode). 

Though the Good Samaritan is story that we often think is about doing good works, caring for our neighbours even when it doesn’t benefit us, it isn’t really about that at all. 

The Good Samaritan a parable Jesus uses to warn against the temptation to save or justify ourselves. To try and be the hero of our own stories, or take control of our lives and world and do it all alone. 

This is where Stranger Things meets the Bible. 

A common theme through the seasons of Stranger Things is that when one character thinks that they have to solve a problem, take on a mission alone or be the sole hero, they ultimately fail. It is always in team work that they succeed. 

This Sunday, this is precisely what we are going to explore. Now how the Good Samaritan is an example of how to care for our neighbour, but in fact why this parable is telling us the truth that we cannot do it alone, that we cannot save ourselves, that we cannot justify ourselves. 

The Good Samaritan is one of my favourite passages from the bible because when it is truly explored, it undoes our first thought about its meaning. And instead reveals to us what God is actually up to in our world and how God meets us right in the moments we are sure we don’t need God anymore. 

Looking forward to Sunday.

Thinking about a future church more than 1, 2, or 5 years from now – Pastor Thoughts

On Monday, the fourth of July I will be remembering an important anniversary in my life and my time in ministry. No, not American Independence Day. Only that I was ordained as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) on July 4th, 2009. 

I was 26 at the time and went from being a full-time student my entire adult life to serving a congregation on my own as “The Pastor.” I was full of enough naive and youthful confidence that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. 

Still, my immediate experience was that my sense of the future church was much different than nearly everyone I was working with.   Most of the church leaders and most of my colleagues were old enough to be my parents or grandparents. It wasn’t long before it became clear that most people when imagining the church were thinking one or two or five years down the road, if they were thinking forward at all. Often times the church of people’s imagining was a church 10, 25 or 50 years prior. 

My first pension plan statement really brought home the difference for me. My expected retirement was in 2048 – 39 years from my starting date. 

Well, this year I am about one third of the way into those 39 years, and if you did the math based on my ordination date and age, you will know that there is a milestone birthday coming up for me. 

With my 13th anniversary of ordination on the horizon, I have to say that things aren’t much changed. I still spend a lot of my time speculating about what the church will look like between now and 2048. Not just because it is my retirement year. Now, I often think about the church of my children’s future, and what it will look like for them. 

I think a lot of people in church leadership these days, whether lay or ordained, might think I am still naive for imagining a church that exists that far into the future. For a lot of people, imagining a church that is NOT closed one, two, five or ten years from now is really hard. 

In fact, a lot of the big questions that loomed in the background in the past decade or two have been pushed to the forefront. Questions are on our minds more than ever about whether or not the church that many have known for the past 50, or 60 or 70 years can survive into the future.

Certainly it is on my mind. 

But let me say this, even though there are big questions demanding to be answered just ahead of us, I don’t think I have ever felt less concerned about the church’s survival than I am now in 2022. I think the church needs to change and the way we do ministry together needs continued adaptation, but I can picture the church of 2048 as clearly as I ever have been able to. 

Thirteen years ago I was often planning for the church of the future, and that hasn’t changed for me. 

As I have been musing about visioning for the past three weeks, I hope it has been clear that I think God is calling us into the future. A future already prepared by God, a future that will stretch and challenge us, a future that will make the church look even more different than it has since the 1950s. It will be hard, and it will be exciting. 

But most of all, I believe that God will carry us through. Even when we are sure that the end has come for us, or think that it isn’t worth the effort anymore, God will show us the way. 

In fact, if there is something I learned in 13 years of ministry, God is already showing us the way to the next thing. The question is whether we are ready to go along for the journey.  

Finally looking forward after 2 years of pandemic immediacy – Pastor Thoughts

At some point this winter, as we came out of the Omicron shutdown, I realized that I had been planning only from week to week for two years. For two years we had all been planning our lives only a few days, or a few weeks ahead. Last Christmas Eve was the harshest reminder of that, as we made plans that ended up being cancelled at the last minute.

When we began planning our family trip out west months ahead, I had to come to terms with imagining how something three months away might go. I had to force myself to be okay with looking into the future and believing that things wouldn’t be upended by a last minute pandemic development.

As it happens, planning for that trip was my gateway to thinking about the future again, both in my family life and at church.

Back in the “before times”(pre-pandemic), I had become a future planner. It took me a few years of ministry, but I eventually learned to plan for fall programs in late spring, to begin Christmas planning in September/October, to start thinking about Lent and Easter in Advent, to begin thinking about late spring and summer after Christmas.

But even more than that, our somewhat predictable “before times” world allowed us to plan years ahead. I have been writing my Council reports with my successor in ministry in mind, even as I began new calls in new congregations with no intention to going anywhere. When I was in the Interlake, the view of our future that we adopted for shared ministry was a one-year, two-year, five-year, 10-year and 25-year outlook. Our hope was to create a ministry that had long-term generational viability, not just extending the runway by a year or two.

This spring my one-year, two-year, five-year, 10-year, and 25-year thinking has resumed for the church. Even though most of my three-and-a-half years here have been focused on week-to-week decision making, I know that it is time to begin thinking about the longer term.

That doesn’t mean the pandemic is over or the next variant won’t send us into another season of adapting to restrictions. This doesn’t mean that unforeseen realities like the war in Ukraine, inflation and recession, the climate crisis or other things won’t sideswipe us.

But it does mean that we have a future to meet, and so it is time we start planning for it.

Our Congregational Council invited the Assistant to the Bishop from our Synod to come and meet with us, to help walk us through the first step of this future-planning conversation.

I have done these kinds of events before and I have led these kinds of events before. But the difference this time is that the world has changed and the challenges that we are facing have changed.

Over the next few weeks my hope is to reflect on some of the things that I took from that visioning session and to get us thinking about having the visioning conversation as a whole congregation.

We were reminded often that Assisstant to the Bishop wasn’t there to give us all the answers and that one conversation wouldn’t figure much out. But she did say that she hoped that, by the end of the day, we would know that our next step was to have more conversation about who we are as a community, about what and how we want to be together and about where God is calling us to go.

And in the end, that was what we needed more than any five-step, foolproof plan to make all of our problems go away.

I am ready to start planning for the future again. I hope you are, too. Because God is calling us to move into the next step, for us, for the Church and beyond.