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September 14, 2017, 3:46 PM

Commemorating the Reformation

On Sunday, September 24th, the Southeast Michigan Synod will have its first of two commemoration services at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Flint (the other is on Saturday, October 28 at Zion Lutheran in Ann Arbor) with the two Roman Catholic diocese that overlap the Synod’s territory.  But what does this really mean, and why is such a commemoration important?

First, it is important to say that this is NOT a celebration.  We are not celebrating division in the church.  Instead, it is a commemoration—an acknowledgment that the church’s past is far from perfect and a hope that we can move past division and toward healing.   And so we gather for prayer together—to listen to the Holy Spirit and pray that God would continue to reform our hearts through the mercy and grace evidenced through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

At the heart of this service are five commitment that come from the Vatican and Lutheran World Federation document, From Conflict to Communion. They are:

1.  Our first commitment: Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the
perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced. (#239).

2.  Our second commitment: Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith. (#240)

3.  Our third commitment: Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal. (#241)

4. Our fourth commitment: Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time. (#242)

5. Our fifth commitment: Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world. (#243).

As you can see, these commitments are not theological statements suggesting one side was right and the other side was wrong—because quite simply, it’s about Jesus, and his love for the world.  That is what reforms us each day—the love and mercy of God.  Indeed, that is reformation at its best.  As From Conflict to Communion says:

The beginnings of the Reformation will be rightly remembered when Lutherans and Catholics hear together the gospel of Jesus Christ and allow themselves to be called anew into community with the Lord. Then they will be united in a common mission which the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification describes: “Lutherans and Catholics share the goal of confessing Christ in all things, who alone is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5f) through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts” (#245).

-Pr. Nathan

**The numbers following each quote are paragraph references to the document, From Conflict to Communion.  It is available online for download here

August 17, 2017, 8:03 PM

"A House of Prayer for All People"

In today’s first lesson, we hear God speaking through the prophet Isaiah, “Maintain justice, and do what is right” and a few verses later, God affirms “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  In the Gospel, Jesus enters into a lively discussion with a Canaanite woman whom other Jewish leaders and even his own disciples look down upon as someone beneath them.  By the end of the passage, however, not only is the woman’s daughter healed, but Jesus commends her for her faith.  These passages, along with many others, provide a scriptural basis as to why the church (including Lutherans, Roman Catholics and every other mainline protestant denomination in the country) stands against racism, hatred and anti-Semitism.  

From the birth of the church at Pentecost in Acts 2, the church has celebrated cultural, ethnic and racial differences as blessings rather than as a justification for oppression and discrimination.  The ELCA’s social statement “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture” states: “Racism—a mix of power, privilege, and prejudice—is sin, a violation of God’s intention for humanity. The resulting racial, ethnic, or cultural barriers deny the truth that all people are God’s creatures and, therefore, persons of dignity. Racism fractures and fragments both church and society.”  The social statement, adopted by the ELCA 1993 Churchwide Assembly, also calls on the church to make confession for complicity, commit to change, advocate and act to confront racism hatred andbigotry.  And as much as we might be tempted to think that such issues do not affect the church in significant ways, history suggests they do.  White supremacist views led Dylann Roof, a member of an ELCA congregation, to kill nine members of Emanuel AME Church in 2015.  His actions are certainly an extreme example of the power of racism to ruin lives, but racism (and as another good example, sexism) is also a systemic problem in our society; we who are historically in the majority benefit at the expense of others.  Intentionally or not, this makes those in the majority a part of the injustice, which as Isaiah 56 reminds us today, is not God’s will for us.

Jesus called his followers to “love your neighbor.” It is clear this key spiritual imperative means all neighbors without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. And, Paul taught that “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions and factions” are among many works of the flesh that are antithetical to the kingdom of God. “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5: 19-23). These works of the Spirit lead to peace-making and the kingdom of God.

As followers of the Prince of Peace, we share collective responsibility to create communities of love and mutual respect from which extremism, hatred and racism cannot grow. We share collective responsibility to create non-violent communities where people with different political and religious views respect each other and work together to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).  Such work always begins from within as we examine our own hearts and confess any attitudes of supremacy, hatred, violence, silence or fear. But it continues with the pronouncement of forgiveness and the promise of God’s holy and transformative Spirit, so that we can live as God’s beloved community and proclaim Christ’s desire to reconcile the world to himself through his death and resurrection.  Indeed, his cross gives us hope that hatred, fear and even death itself cannot overcome the power of God’s love.  Let us live in this love, teaching it and sharing it so that one day, the fullness of God’s Kingdom will come and hatred will be no more.

There are a variety of resources for personal and communal reflection.  Here are just a few:

The ELCA Social Statement on “Race, Ethnicity and Culture” is available for download here:

Bryan Stevenson delivered a TED talk entitled “We need to talk about an injustice”:

PBS created a video series entitled Race the Power of an Illusion. Watch it online:

A supplemental resource to Race the Power of an Illusion: Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race

World Trust prepared a series of short clips in 2015 for a Summer of Justice and Racial Healing: 


August 2, 2017, 12:20 PM

Call the Church When....

This is one of those helpful reminder posts that came to mind when my father had some surgery recently. I was not able to be with my parents the day of the surgery so leading up to it, I wanted to make sure that they were as prepared as they could be, which led me to ask them if they had contacted their pastor or the church office.  Thankfully, they had.  But I certainly understand when,  in the midsts of major (or sudden) medical procedures when people are stressed or worried about a wide variety of things, they can sometimes forget to let the church office know so that the pastor and/or prayer team can offer prayers and support to them.  And, it's not just in the midst of crisis, but also in the midst of joy or transition that we should keep in contact with the church!  (Sometimes, we forget to share the good news more often than the difficult news!)  So with that in mind, here is a short list of when to call (or email) the church:  

· you or someone you love is in the hospital, and you would like a visit from me or if may need help with a meal
· there’s a death in the family for which you might need pastoral care
· there’s a wedding, birth, graduation, new home, new job or other reason to celebrate & bless
· you would like to share an announcement in the weekly announcements - it isn't a guarantee that it will make it in, but it could be added to the slideshow in the narthex, or the emailed version sent out on Monday mornings
· you are homebound and want to have communion brought to you
· you are unable to drive and need a ride to church
· you need prayer or anointing (especially if you do not remember who the prayer team coordinator for the month is)
· you are moving or need to update your address for the church directory.  Remember, if you are still in the area, I am also happy to schedule a time to do a home blessing litany!
· your email address or cell phone changes... And just in case you need it in a “pinch”, please put the church office number in your cell phone: 810-424-6707.
· you don't want to be on an email list or in a group, or do want to be on a list or in a group.  
· your birthday or anniversary does not appear in the weekly announcements and you want it to--our database could be incorrect.

Whatever you want or need may not always be available or happen, but it's always better to be proactive about communicating because it not only reminds us of the grace of God that can come through our relationships, it helps us support one another as the body of Christ in joyful and difficult times.

June 15, 2017, 2:26 PM

First Impressions

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”  So says Will Rogers.  Indeed, first impressions are important.  Based on hundreds of consultations with a wide variety of congregations, church consultant Will Mancini suggests that most visitors will decide whether or not they are coming back for a second visit within the first 11 minutes of their visit.  So what are visitors looking for in those first 11 minutes?

First and foremost, they are looking for friendly and engaging people.  Thankfully we have a lot of them at Holy Spirit!  So keep inviting and welcoming guests as they come to Holy Spirit for events—not just Sunday morning worship, but to other events as well.

However, guests are also looking for information—primarily information about the congregation’s ministries, mission and values.  That is a little less obvious in our current narthex (entryway) arrangement at Holy Spirit.  So with the help of a help of a design consultant, we have developed a layout which includes:

  • organizing information in areas,
  • building some cabinets to hide necessary worship supplies,
  • replacing worn-out furniture
  • additional signage/displays

Specific drawings are on display as you come into the church.  Take a look at them because in this case, "a picture is worth a thousand words." One custom cabinet will create a place for our name tags; another area will be a place for brochures and other church information to be displayed.  

Our target goal for this campaign is to raise an additional $5000 toward this special appeal.  As you may remember from our fall annual appeal, we identified three specific emphases for 2017:

  1. “Maintaining Ministry Excellence” (addressing rising costs to maintain our current ministry)
  2. “Creating a Welcome Center” (this project)
  3. “Transitioning Funding Support from More Space for God’s Grace” (paying down existing mortgage debt from the original building and the More Space for God’s Grace Campaign)

Because this is a special appeal, we will not run it forever--instead, our goal is to begin implementing this design in the summer months--as funding becomes available.  To date, we are already half-way to our goal.  Even so, any gift helps.  You can give on Sundays, or use our new online giving tool to contribute toward the campaign. Thank you in advance for your support!

May 27, 2017, 9:31 PM

A Flint Water Crisis Update - From Africa

Every six years, representatives from each of the different Lutheran church bodies in the Lutheran World Federation gather together for the LWF General Assembly.  This past week, members of the LWF met in Windhoek, Namibia for the twelfth such Assembly around the theme “Liberated by God’s Grace.” There were three sub-themes:

· Salvation – Not for Sale

· Human Beings – Not for Sale

· Creation – Not for Sale

As one of the Assembly workshops, Pr. Monica Villarreal shared an update on the work Salem Lutheran and members of our Synod are doing to respond to the Flint water crisis.  I think it is important to note that Assembly planners asked for this update, and that leaders of the 74 million Lutherans in the member churches (yes, that number is correct) offered their prayers and support for the people of Flint.  As Bishop Eaton would say, "we are church together" and now Lutherans from around the world are witnessing to that fact in their prayers for the people of Flint.   Below is an excerpt from the LWF article by Trina Gallop on Pr. Monica's Workshop:

"One of the things as a church we are doing is advocating and drawing awareness,” [Pr. Monica Villarreal] says.
Salem is currently working ecumenically with the United Methodist and Roman Catholic churches in the city to
provide direct services to the people in Flint who are in need.

In 2016, Salem distributed four million pounds of water. All of the churches have water sites for people to come get water. Only the United Methodist church and Salem offer door to door.

“We take water and food and deliver it to people in need,” said Villarreal. “We know that proper nutrition helps
mitigate the effects of the lead. We take water and food to those that are elderly, those that have small children.” With the significant poverty levels in the city, many people don’t have transportation to access clean water.

In the area of advocacy, Salem is working to help people impacted by crippling water rates. “We pay one of the highest rates in the country,” says Villarreal.

The church is organizing ecumenically to give people tools of advocacy so they can express their thoughts emotions and feelings in ways that are nonviolent.

“We want to prepare the people to be educated and to know their rights. And to do so in peaceful ways,” says Villarreal. “We want to work with the government and quite frankly, we need the government, so we can change policies that created this disaster in the first place.”

Villarreal believes there is a significant role for the church in responding to this crisis, “both in political advocacy but also in compassionate ministry. I think about the ministry of mercy – the compassion, the direct service – we deliver water to people in need. But there is also the ministry of justice, and the justice side is what changes the systems that keep people oppressed.”

“As we enter the phase where we are working on justice, I see the need for mercy coming back again,” she says. “We are going to need the church, people of faith, Lutherans – to continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Flint.”

LWF/Trina Gallop" for the full article, go to:


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