Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pastor Mark's Sabbatical

Dear friends,

In less than four months, I will embark on a much-anticipated sabbatical.  While I provided the following information in our recent Annual Report, I want to include it here so that everyone has an opportunity to be informed.  I would be delighted to discuss this sabbatical plan in further detail, should you wish to know more.  I am deeply grateful for this purposeful time to step back from the daily demands of ministry in order to reflect and write.

2019 Sabbatical Plan

Theme:  The theme of this sabbatical is one of spiritual discernment: both vocational and personal.  I intend for this sabbatical to allow me to further discern God’s leading and direction in my calling as senior pastor and in my calling as a supportive spouse to Naomi.  A major activity will include the writing of a personal reflection on loving and serving Naomi on her prolonged journey of Alzheimer’s Disease, while at the same time loving and serving the St. Mark community on our exciting journey of renewal and growth.  Specifically, I will reflect on the unique roles that our Christian faith and eschatology play in shaping our personal and communal hopes/expectations.

Rationale:  I have given this sabbatical much thought and prayer.  As a pastor and a husband, I strive to find and maintain a healthy balance of these two enormous responsibilities.  This time away from the rigors of daily pastoral ministry will provide the space and time to engage the Spirit in further discernment of our past, present, and future together.  I also plan to read a limited number of books, but to do so with a light hand so as not to overshadow the other goals of my sabbatical, which include time away from the perpetual demands of ministry for the sake of renewal. 

Plan:  Spiritual discernment will be the underlying activity that provides the crucial rhythm of balance in my work and my rest, my thoughts and my prayers, my time alone and my time with others.  I will provide for this discernment process by setting aside twelve weeks from my pastoral duties.  I will begin by traveling west to Holden Village, a renowned Christian retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state.  I will also stop in Seattle to visit our oldest son, Brett, as well as numerous pastoral colleagues and friends in the Puget Sound area.   I also plan to set aside time for motorcycling and camping to refresh my inner child.  The final portion of my sabbatical will be spent in southwest Colorado.  Throughout this time, I look forward to exploring new opportunities for worship, prayer, and faith conversations.  Each of these endeavors will provide a distinctive setting to read, write my reflections, and to engage in the discernment process with trusted family, friends, and colleagues.  

Benefit:  I pray that the writing of my personal and theological reflections would provide confidence and hope to others in some vital way, especially to those who share in the difficult journey of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease.  This sabbatical will provide an extended opportunity to discern afresh God’s grace-filled presence and leading in the personal and vocational dimensions of my life…providing renewal for the significant work of our shared ministry ahead.  I also look forward to exploring new opportunities for worship and prayer, conversation, recreation and well as coveted time among dear family and friends.

Timeline:  St. Mark provides twelve weeks for pastoral sabbaticals.  The schedule for my sabbatical is July through September, 2019.

Walking this journey of faith with you,
Pastor Mark

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Five Gifts of Discipleship

Dear St. Mark friends,

Winter isn’t the only season of length this time of year.  For the past seven weeks, we’ve immersed ourselves in the full season of Epiphany.  Naturally, this leads to a later date for Easter, as well.  But now, we move into the season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday on March 6, with two services at noon and at 6:45 P.M.

This year, our Wednesday evening Lenten services will center on, “Five Gifts of Discipleship.”  Our scripture readings will come from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  I encourage you to read Philippians in advance as you prepare to join us for Wednesday evening worship this Lenten season.  Here is our mid-week schedule:

March 13         Live among God’s faithful people
                        Philippians 1:3-11
                        Pastor Mark

March 20         Hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper
                        Philippians 3:7-11
                        Pastor Chad

March 27         Proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed
                        Philippians 1:12-20
                        Pastor Chad

April 3              Serve all people, following the example of Jesus    
                        Philippians 2:5-11
                        Pastor Mark

April 10            Strive for justice and peace in all the earth
                        Philippians 4:8-9
                        Pastor Mark

Please join us this Lenten season as we reflect upon these valuable gifts of discipleship.

Walking this journey of faith with you,

Pastor Mark

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Prayer is a Doorway

When was the last time you prayed? Maybe it was right after you woke up this morning. If you were in church on Sunday, you probably recited the Lord’s Prayer or stood in silence as a whole list of prayers were spoken. Or perhaps it has been years since you last did anything you felt could be considered prayer, forcing a few words in the midst of a crisis that ended in tragedy. It is considered one of the most essential parts to a life of faith, but for many prayer is a practice few are confident in keeping. 

Rarer still are folks like me who consider it work to string a few holy words together before a meeting or a meal. And while I am happy to pray when invited, I revel in the opportunity to make room for others to pray as well. We are a sainthood of all believers, after all, and praying out loud should be something all Christians can feel welcome to do.

Most of us, though, consider this conversation with God a private matter. That may be why so many of us would rather let someone else lead a dinner-time invocation. These are holy moments, where we try to articulate what it is we want, what we are grateful for, and who we are concerned about. And, in these moments we hope with all hope that this is not a one-way conversation of thoughts drifting and evaporating into the air above us. When prayer becomes less like a wish list and more like an interaction between loved ones, those hopeful moments have a better chance of remaining tangible.

Anyone who has a sliver of faith has most likely had moments like these, where the barrier between heaven and earth is thin. For some, it can be an everyday occurrence, and for others, it may happen once or twice ever. We may feel the need to speak with Shakespearean eloquence, laid-back language, or perhaps no words at all. Whatever the case may be, my sincere hope is that you find comfort in the kind of prayer that connects you to God and the world around you, that influences the nature of your being far more than you could ever desire to influence God.

Last week, the poet Mary Oliver died after a long life filled with wonder and words. She was best known for her love of creation and the meaning it imbued into her life. Many times she would reveal the current of her faith, her words like leaves on the river. As you consider the words or silence you use in those holy and hopeful times of your days, take in this poem she wrote, simply titled “Praying.”

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Pastor Chad

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Meet Julie Eshleman, Director of Christian Education

On January 2nd, I joined the St. Mark staff as the Director of Christian Education. I am so excited to be here, taking on this new role in the life of the church.

I grew up here in Rockford, and returned after graduating from Valparaiso University. My husband Dan - another Valpo alum - and I were married at Tabor Lutheran, my childhood church, and we both served on the congregational council there for a few years in the mid-2000s. We came to St. Mark in October of 2009, because we were looking for a congregation with other young families, a strong children’s ministry, and a music program I could participate in. We found all of those things here, and soon convinced my mom, Vickie Pfeilschifter, to join us as well. Both Ben and Oliver were baptized here.

Over the past nine years, I’ve sung in the choir, taught Sunday School, rung handbells, played the oboe, and chaired the Call Committee as we searched for a new Associate Pastor in 2015. I’ve worked and worshiped with so many of you, and have felt welcome since the very beginning.

As Director of Christian Education, my primary focus will be on teaching the children of St. Mark about God’s love for them. We’ll study scripture, hear stories of God’s work in history and in the world today, worship and sing together, and act as God’s hands in the world through service to our community. The excellent team of Sunday School teachers are dedicated to this task and to the children, and I am so grateful to them.

Through programs like VBS, I’ll help bring the Good News of the Gospel to children who do not belong to a church community. For some of them, this will be their first experience with Christ’s life and love in the world, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I will work to ensure that our programs are accessible and welcoming to all, and meet everyone where they are, to the best of my ability.

I will be supporting the continued learning of the adults of St. Mark as well, though less directly. Small Group Bible Studies are a place for adults to read, discuss, and learn together, and can be organized around a particular text or topic. Advent and Lenten devotional booklets are a way for adults to bring focused study into their home lives during the Church’s seasons of preparation. I hope that those who use these resources find them helpful to their spiritual growth.

Thank you so much for welcoming and encouraging me. I am so grateful for this congregation, and for the opportunity to share in the work of teaching God’s Word to the world.

Feel free to contact me at or 815-398-3557 ext. 21.

Julie Eschleman

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the difference between anticipation and celebration. We as a society are particularly bad at being patient. Black Friday, which is in many ways a celebration of impatience, starts on Thanksgiving Thursday. Gender reveal parties for an unborn child can have more theatrics than any birthday party I have ever been to. Did you know you can order a book on Amazon, and instead of waiting two long days for the post office to deliver it, you can immediately read the first chapter in digital form? Waiting is for suckers.

Nobody likes to wait around. It’s uncomfortable. There are a lot of uneasy emotions tied up in a long delay. Even if what you are expecting is a sure thing, that little voice of doubt might creep into your thoughts. Or maybe you are in immense pain and quite literally have to watch the clock until the nurse comes with your next round medication. It can be so easy to fast forward to the good part where pain and doubt and despair are a distant memory.

For what other reason do so many people emblazon their homes with light in the darkest month of the year as we await the coming of Christmas? We don’t like to think about how cold it is, or how little sun there is. Anticipation, then, is all but replaced with a months-long celebration, not meant to dispel the darkness but to ignore it even exists.

While I’m not about to grinch away your Christmas lights, I do think we Christians need to pay attention to those negative feelings we can be so good at covering up. That, really, is what the season of Advent is all about. It’s an entire month designed, not simply to celebrate that Jesus is coming soon, but to name exactly why we need God here in the first place. We are broken, grief lingers, and we yearn for a light to shine in the darkness. In our worship, we cry out for Jesus to come quickly to save us as we hear Mary sing about God lifting up the lowly.

Because the truth is, no matter how much we as a society try to avoid discomfort, it doesn’t go away. Why else does Christmas, a holiday about the one who comes to save us from all our despair, bring so much stress over money and time, and feelings that whatever you do, it won’t be enough? Why does it make some of us so sad?

If you are feeling the holiday pressure, or even if you are not, save the celebration for another day. Remember that you are not responsible for the birth of Jesus. Whatever grief or pressure you feel now can only be lifted by the one who is coming soon to save us. But, as composer Paul Manz once wrote: “E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come, and night shall be no more; they need no light nor lamp nor sun, For Christ will be their all.”

Pastor Chad McKenna

Thursday, November 8, 2018

What St. Mark Means to Me . . .

As part of our October 7, 14, and 21 worship experiences, three members provided inspirational temple talks.  Each of them has agreed to share their reflections in this Pastors’ blog so that our entire St. Mark family might benefit from their hopeful perspectives.  While this might seem like a lot to read all at once, just take your time...and enjoy!

My name is Christy Malenchik.  In about six months, I will be celebrating a milestone birthday.  You know, one of those birthdays that gets all the dramatic attention. I think a natural reaction to the buildup to this event is to take a long look at your life: Where have I been? What have I accomplished? Am I happy? And of course, what do I want to accomplish in the next so many years? What are my goals and ambitions?

For the last 17 or so years, a lot of what has made me, me, is this building, you guys, and the grace of God, which has made it all possible.  Mark and I have raised our girls at St. Mark from Baptism to Confirmation, from Sunday School to Summer Intern.  Along the way, I have been involved in several ministries that have helped to shape my faith and everything I do.  When I look back I would say, yep, I like where I have been and what I have been a part of.  Yes, I have made a difference.

Right now (as an empty nester), I enjoy being part of the Altar Guild, youth ministries, and church council.  Being on Council is something different for me.  We have great leadership discussions and it’s helping to make decisions that affect the whole congregation.  I’m getting to work with members that I didn’t know before, and that’s always fun.  If asked if I’m happy in the moment, I would definitely have to say that I am!

Probably the most important part of the reflective questions you ask yourself when you are contemplating your life is the future.  You can’t change the past or dwell on what you could or would have done differently.  Life is so busy in the present that sometimes you don’t have much time to really evaluate; but where you want to go and what you want to accomplish moving forward...well, quite frankly, the sky’s the limit!  

I’m excited about the future of St Mark. I teach Sunday School and am a Confirmation Guide. I am perpetually amazed at the children and youth of our church. They are engaged and ask tough questions. The programming we have for our young people is keeping them curious about their faith and how they use it in their own lives. The leadership of St. Mark is working so hard to constantly build up the ministries of our congregation.  This helps to make a positive impact on us and in our community.

We are building a safer church, a more welcoming church. Our Ministry Fair held a few weeks ago really showed the involvement of our members and is a gauge of the health of our congregation.  We will always have work to do, and I’m thrilled to be a part of continuing to make St. Mark a place that people call home.  So, this birthday that is on its way. I think I will choose to look at it as the best is yet to come! It’s going to be awesome, right?!  Thank you!


My name is Kraig Reichwald.  I have been a member here for about 10 years.  A few weeks ago, Pastor Mark called me and asked if I would consider serving as a member of the Executive Committee on Council.  Thoughts started rushing through my head; I am a husband, father, and businessman.  I am a busy guy!

I grew up on a dairy farm north of Green Bay.  My parents were hard working people who were committed to the dairy farm routine, but on Sundays we were in church.  When I grew older, I didn’t go to church very often, and I struggled to find my way.  I wasn’t happy and I struggled to make any good decisions.  I moved off the farm and decided to move south.  I ended up finding some work in Rockford.  It was a nice change from the town I grew up in, as far as the amount of things going on.  I met my wife and we married in 2006.  Life was going great.

One year during Christmas, my dad asked if I had a New Year’s resolution.  He challenged me to find a church.  I accepted his challenge...much like what our pastors have been talking about over the past few Sundays.  I started looking for a church.  I wanted to be part of a church that was busy.  I wanted to see a full parking lot!  I didn’t want to be in a church that was so big that I became lost in the crowd.  I did visit a few churches, but it didn’t take long for me to find St. Mark.  I didn’t look any further.  I feel the warmth of the congregation every Sunday we come.  I find the pastors to have good rapport, and they even fought with light sabers one Christmas Eve!  My family enjoys the many things going on here...the music, the decorations during the Christmas and Easter holiday, and Rally Sunday, just to name a few.  Sometimes, when I am praying, I feel like I am sitting next to mom and dad in the church I grew up in.  I am a Lutheran, and that is something I didn’t want to change.

I attended the new member’s class and became a member of the congregation.  I attend the 9:30 service, so you may see me ushering sometimes. And when my daughters were born, I brought them to church as babies.  They are now in Sunday School.  Emma is 7 and Nancy is 4.  It is one of my goals to bring my daughters to Sunday School to get attendance awards for every year.  About four years ago, we bought a house in Roscoe.   I considered for a short time changing our church.  We didn’t know anyone in the area, and I thought that might help me find some people in my community.  I only talked about it; I couldn’t leave the warmth of this church.

My wife has worked for Janet Waddles/ Rosecrance since getting her degree from the University of Michigan and returning to Rockford (17 years).   I work for her family’s manufacturing business.  I started in the shop, then joined a sales team for a new product line they were starting.  I worked in that area for about 6 years and went into plant management.  About a year and a half ago, we purchased Custom Metal Products, and I manage that.  I have many challenges, but love taking all my life experience and applying it on a daily basis.

All that rushed through my head the night Pastor Mark called me.  I couldn’t refuse.  After talking it over with my wife, I accepted.  I look forward to joining the Council.  I am excited to see how I can help this church grow, and how we can continue to make the church a place people want to be.  Thank you for your time, and I look forward to serving you.  Please pull me aside if you ever need to talk.  I might be a shy public speaker, but I am never too busy for a conversation.  In leaving, I would like to say:  I can’t brag about my love for God, because I fail him daily; but I can brag about Gods love for me, because it never fails.


I’m Maureen Hargrove and I currently serve as Secretary of the Congregation Council. I have been a member of St. Mark for 24 years. In that time, I have served 8 years on Council as secretary, vice president, and president.  I mention that only because I want you to know that for many stewardship drives, I was sitting in the sanctuary like you are this morning.  And for many other stewardship drives, I’ve been more involved in the actual development of the budget being presented. I have never felt more positive and confident about the position we find ourselves in this year.  There are 3 things that provide me this optimistic feeling.
First, I’m encouraged because you all knew this was pledge Sunday and you showed up anyway.
Second, the budget that we are presenting this year is one of the most responsible we’ve ever been able to present. This year, thanks to a lot of hours invested by our (former) finance manager, Dave Blunt, we were able to re-finance our mortgage at a low interest rate, while still being able to continue with the building improvements that we feel position us for the future. The upgraded security system will be in place soon; steps have been taken to begin work on the portico; and the mandatory and costly parking lot maintenance will be completed in the spring.

We were also able to switch insurance carriers which will save us $9000 this year. Thanks to Brian Venstrom, our property manager, many routine building repairs have been done by him, saving us thousands in outside costs. This year, the Council has done extensive research on job descriptions and pay scales throughout the ELCA to make certain our payroll and staffing reflects current trends. And I know every ministry, employee, and volunteer, has taken a lot of time to carefully evaluate their budget requests for 2019. They are all very conscientious stewards of your money.

The third area that brings me optimism, and perhaps the most exciting, is the people power that I’ve witnessed this past year. You’ve heard the saying that 10% of the people do 90% of the work. Well, St. Mark has proven that statement wrong, over and over. I find the involvement of so many members in so many areas truly inspiring.

Yes, we have a talented and dedicated staff. They do their jobs well and keep things going smoothly throughout the year. However, they will be the first to tell you that they could not achieve that success without the support of many volunteers. Consider the participation in our amazing choir, the Bells choir and the Praise Band. Consider the Altar Guild, who readies the sanctuary and prepares for every Sunday service. Consider the Worship and Music people who do seasonal decorations, special events, and the Concert Series. Consider the people who put together and conduct the New Member Classes.

Consider the many Sunday School teachers who work with our children in a program that has grown greatly in attendance this year. I assure you, Sunday School numbers are not growing in many Christian churches. Consider the Confirmation Program, Middle School and High school youth programs that have reached out to include other churches in our area. Consider the Barnabas Ministry reaching out with care and support to our members in need. Consider all of our members who gather for Bible Studies and Circles.  And I’m sure you are thinking of other groups right now that I have failed to mention.

Equally as inspirational to me are all the people who participate in programs outside our walls to share God’s love with our community. Coming from St. Mark, we make monthly meals for over 125 children at Rock House Kids. We serve lunches at Carpenters Place. We provide 120 sack lunches for Habitat for Humanity and have crews of people helping with the new builds and at the Restore. We started a uniform co-op that provides affordable uniforms to the families of students at Ellis and Lewis Lemon Elementary School in inner city Rockford.

We have volunteers participating in the IREAD Program sponsored by the Literacy Council and the United Way. In fact, we have more volunteers in the IREAD Program than any other church in the area. We support RALM with volunteers at Becca’s Closet and by working with Laundry Love. Our quilters share their talents with Habitat families, the residents of Rockford Rescue Mission as well as provided beautiful quilts for fundraisers. And again, I know I have not mentioned everyone’s efforts. I have never been prouder to be a member of St. Mark. In a busy, fast paced world with many pulls on your time and your money, I know you, too, make your church and your faith a priority. I know that because you are here today!

So, ask yourself: What does St. Mark mean to you? What do you mean to each other in the church? What do we mean to the community? Annual Stewardship drives are necessary. For 2019, our budget goal is $825,800. That’s an increase of only $661 from last year. The campaign will remain open until this goal is met, and we will update you every week as the pledges come in. Today, it’s about prayerfully and realistically offering the best you possibly can.

No, 10% of the people can’t do 90% of the contributing to be successful in this campaign. But you have long proved you’re better than that. If 100% of us just did what we could, our budget will be met, and, even better, we will continue to be that welcoming and dynamic church for ourselves, for each other, and for our community. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Affirmation of Baptism 2018

Teaching Confirmation is one of my greatest joys at St. Mark. It can be fun to lead silly games or go on a retreat, but the best part for me is to watch how our middle schoolers mature over the course of two years. Between that first Wednesday night and the day they affirm their faith, some of these kids may grow a foot or two, and all of them increase exponentially in their faith. This Sunday, eight of our teenagers will affirm their faith. And while this moment in their lives is just a snapshot, the Bible verses they have chosen to represent that faith speak volumes of the people they have become. Take some time to read these and pray that God continues to dwell richly in their hearts throughout their vibrant lives.
Pastor Chad McKenna

Alexander Thomas Ferry
1 Corinthians 10:13
God is faithful, and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Logan John Gehrke
John 20:29
Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Jamison Lee Graber
Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Brooke Nicole Hamann
Colossians 3:12
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive.

Emily Anne Johnson
Psalm 139:13-14
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

Mason Andrew Martin
John 20:29
Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Maggie Layne O’Brien
1 Timothy 4:12
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.

Mason Alexander Westerberg
Psalm 25:4-5
Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

Pastor Mark's Sabbatical

Dear friends, In less than four months, I will embark on a much-anticipated sabbatical.  While I provided the following information ...