Thursday, September 20, 2018

Time for Change

With the beginning of the fall season comes news on several fronts at St. Mark.  First, I’m pleased to report that our new Per Mar security system will be installed in early October.  Construction of the new canopy at the south entrance of the church building will begin by the end of this month, giving us much-needed shelter and visibility as our primary entrance.  Due to the timing of this construction project, the sealing and striping of the parking lot will wait until spring.  We are grateful for the funding of these three projects through our new loan from the ELCA Mission Investment Fund. 

Second, I want to provide an update on Naomi’s current condition. She has been receiving outstanding care at Anam Glen in Rockford since December of last year.  I can’t say enough good things about the excellent, compassionate care she receives from them.  Naomi is now receiving electro convulsive therapy treatments on a weekly basis, which help keep her calm and less restless.  Yet, she continues to decline due to the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s disease.

In light of her diminishing health, the determination has been made to place her under the additional care of Northern Illinois Hospice, who will provide a supplementary level of care to Naomi as she remains at Anam Glen.  This decision was reached in consultation with the staff at Anam Glen and with the three local hospice providers we consulted in the process of selecting a hospice provider to assist Naomi in the coming months.  As you may know, candidates are eligible to receive hospice care once they are assessed to have six months or less to live. While I have no clear sense of how long Naomi has left to live, I believe the rate of her decline merits this welcome assistance.  I will provide you with more updates on Naomi as her condition changes.  We continue to cherish your prayerful support.

As we move into the season of autumn, I am grateful for the comprehensive ministry of St. Mark and for our vital mission to faithfully serve this community and beyond.

Walking this journey of faith with you,
Pastor Mark Hagen

Thursday, September 6, 2018

You Are The Church

I have been thinking a lot lately about the Church and my place within it. I capitalize “Church” here because I mean the whole Christian community throughout time and space. God’s mission through the Church existed before me, and it will handily go on without me. In a way, that can be a source of relief. It takes the pressure off. On the other hand, such a grand scale can make folks like you and me feel wholly insignificant.

In Isaiah 44:24, the prophet writes, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth.” The creator of all things bright and beautiful, of wild plants and pulsing planets, claims you among all the amazements of creation. You, who woke up this morning with weary joints and stiff hope, you are known and loved by Almighty God. In God’s eyes you are significant. In God’s heart you are precious. God doesn’t need you in the way you might need a plumber or a car mechanic. Instead, God desires for you join in what God is doing and use your one, precious life for the sake of Christ-like love.

It is normal to worry about the future and your place in it. Folks come up to me often and wonder about where the church is heading. I am often asked specifically about where our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is heading. Maybe a prominent member of ours recently made headlines for saying something controversial. Or maybe there is discomfort about our ever-changing culture. It’s in these moments of sincere concern that we need to be reminded that the ELCA is not some governing authority that hovers above our faith. It is you and me and all people who call congregations like St. Mark home. Your faithful witness to God’s amazing love is the fertile soil in which the church sprouts and grows. Without you, there is no ELCA. With you and the gifts God has given you, the church can share God’s love all the more.

I am so excited for what we, the Christian community at St. Mark, are able to do because we all come together with our valuable uniqueness to be the body of Christ in our corner of the world. As we approach Rally Sunday on September 9th, as well as the Ministry Fair on September 16th, let us celebrate all that God has given us in our community, and let us continue to welcome all of God’s people to join us in our worship and work together. 

Pastor Chad McKenna

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Blessed Comings & Goings

At St. Mark, we are always looking for new ways to welcome others into our faith community.  Thanks to a generous outreach grant from the St. Mark Endowment, we are hosting a community-wide outreach event on Rally Sunday, September 9, at 10:00 A.M.  Our theme this fall is, “Becoming a Welcoming Church.” We’re encouraging St. Mark members to invite a minimum of two guests to this special outdoor worship service.  We’re including two invitation cards in a separate letter to you this week.  More will be available at the church.

The morning will begin with our usual 8:00 service in the church nave with Holy Communion, followed by coffee and donuts.  However, we are combining the 9:30 and 11:00 services into one large outdoor service at 10:00 under a very large tent (60 X 60 feet), complete with seating for over 300 guests.  This tent will be located at the far east side of the parking lot, just north of the playground.  A combination of our many talented musicians will provide worship leadership, with Pastors Mark and Chad both speaking.  Backyard Grill will provide a catered outdoor meal at 11:00.

By providing two distinct worship experiences at 8:00 (no invitation cards necessary) and 10:00, we hope to accommodate the worship needs of everyone that day.  Regardless of which service you plan to attend, please consider welcoming your “neighbors” to worship at St. Mark.  These neighbors can be anyone with whom you come into contact…whether in your immediate neighborhood or beyond.  Perhaps, by God’s grace, St. Mark can be the renewing community of faith for which these neighbors have been waiting and searching.

In addition, I want to announce the retirement of Dave Blunt as our Finance Manager.  Dave has served in this position for nearly seven years, providing outstanding levels of leadership and management of our church finances.  We are deeply grateful for Dave’s commitment to the church and its mission.  It has been our privilege to work with him these many years.  With Dave’s departure comes the arrival of our new Finance Manager, Karen Osolin.  We’re delighted to welcome Karen as she shares her considerable experience and talents with us.  Dave and Karen will work together in the coming days as Karen learns the ropes around here.  I encourage you to thank Dave for his faithful service and to welcome Karen as she begins her ministry with us.  We continue to be blessed with amazing staff and leaders at St. Mark...thanks be to God!

Walking this journey of faith with you,
Pastor Mark Hagen

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Announcing Newness

As of today, I have been at St. Mark for three whole years. Three isn’t really a precious milestone. I’m told the traditional gift for folks who make it this far is just some paper. Nonetheless, it is a big deal for me. This is officially the longest full-time job I have ever held. These brief years have seen a lot of change here at St. Mark. The sanctuary is brighter and certainly more cozy. Common Grounds CafĂ© is host to many events. We have started a tradition of worshipping once a year under a big tent outside. Communion is celebrated at all our services. We have celebrated at the birth of children and grieved the loss of dear sisters and brothers. 

Like any community, our congregation will never stop changing. People move away and staff members retire, but there is always newness. Like a varied garden, flowers will bloom and fruits will grow in different places throughout the seasons.

As we look to the future together, I want to share with you two recent changes you may have already noticed. They may seem trivial, but they represent the hard work of our council and staff as we strive to make ourselves visible and available to our community.

First, we have a brand new logo! The council worked with a graphic designer to bring us a fresh new brand that captures some of St. Mark’s spirit. The three crosses are there, along with colors inspired by our stained glass.
It remains intentionally open as the lines direct our eyes inward and up through the central cross. The font also matches our outdoor signage. Changing all our printed materials to match this new look is an ongoing process. I am confident that this new logo will become a marker of our identity for the community just as our old logo was.

Second, it is with a huge sigh of relief that I am pleased to announce that we have a brand new website! Jill Davenport and I have worked hard this summer to create a more accessible, organized, and mobile-friendly place for folks to learn about what we are up to. It is at the same address as before: www.stmarklc.comThere are still links to weekly sermon videos, announcements, and blog posts like this one. One new feature that will be useful to both guests and members alike is a calendar of all upcoming events. When you are not sure if a meeting is happening or not, you can now check the website to see for yourself! Online signups for Confirmation and Sunday School are already posted in the Newsstand section.

As we work together to share God’s love with the world, I pray that these two changes, however small, may prove to be signs of welcome for our community.
Pastor Chad


Thursday, July 26, 2018

What Do We Do at St. Mark – In Tough Times?

Come with me to that story called Acts.

As Paul and Silas finish their third missionary journey, The Spirit leads Paul to go to Jerusalem. But Paul knows it’s dangerous there. Lots of people want to destroy the believers. On their way to Jerusalem, they stop in Ephesus. Paul calls the believers together and says in part,
You know how I lived among you, serving the Lord with humility and tears…
I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message, teaching you in the open…
Now I know that none of you…
Will ever see me again…
Keep watch over the flock to shepherd the church
Of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son
…savage wolves will come.
Support the weak…
Remember Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (20:17-38)
These are Paul’s last words to them. They feel his dread of going to Jerusalem.
What do the believers do in this tough, tough time?
Paul kneels down with them and they pray
They are all weeping
They embrace Paul and kiss him
They accompany him to the ship he will take.
So in our life together, how do we support each other in tough times?
Praying – weeping-embracing-accompanying

Look at accompanying. It’s simply…
walking with another
listening with loving openness

We accompany because God in Jesus walked with us and talked with us and told us we are his own – so we would walk with a person in tough times – and tell them they are His own. We accompany – because we were first accompanied.
So - what are examples of accompanying in tough times?

1. Barnabas accompanied Paul and young Mark on that first missionary journey. Mark deserted them, and they went on. At the beginning of the second missionary journey Barnabas insisted that Mark come. Paul wouldn’t have it. They separated, and Barnabas accompanied Mark on their missionary journey. Did Barnabas’ accompanying save Mark for our faith? I thank God Barnabas did accompany him, because Mark went on to write a little book – our Gospel According to St. Mark.

2. On Wednesday I posted on Facebook that I would view Rebekah on Friday at Christensen’s funeral home. My childhood friend Lyle came from Iowa to accompany me. It was so healing. I was so grateful.

3. Finally, in the midst of the busyness Pastor Mark came to our home with a beautiful card on behalf of himself, Pr. Chad, staff, and our church council. He brought a beautiful art pole for our garden – something my wife Anne always wanted, and I didn’t even know – but in some spiritual way, St. Mark knew. How beautifully we were accompanied – by you.

What do we do together – in tough times?
Praying – weeping – embracing – accompanying
For the One – with the One – who first accompanied us.

 Pastor Chuck Olson

Take to Heart
The Ideal Spiritual Life Together-in Tough Times
Acts 20:36-38/July 22nd 2018

The Spirit

Moves Paul to go to Jerusalem – he knows the danger

He tells believers in Ephesus they will not see him again

They pray, weep, embrace – and accompany Paul to his ship

Accompanying – the key to caring

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Our Hands at Work

Have you seen the gold tee shirts that say, GOD’S WORK, OUR HANDS?  Let us tell you about the St. Mark Outreach Uniform Project.  This project is Our Hands at work.  After identifying the problem: Low-income parents struggling to afford required school uniforms, we searched for a solution. Based on thirty years’ experience in Atlanta’s inner city, Robert Lupton’s book, Toxic Charity, How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help discourages out right giving of needed items except in an emergency (example: hurricane or flood). He encourages helping in ways that preserve the dignity of the receiver.  For example: sell needed items at a minimal price or in exchange for work. There was our solution—sell uniforms at a price parents could afford.

With the help of funds from St. Mark’s Outreach budget, United Way of Rock River Valley, Alpine Kiwanis, Kiwanis Club of Rockford, and Thrivent Financial, we purchased navy and khaki uniform pants and light blue and navy polo shirts.
As a church, we sold uniforms at Beyer School for three years. The Uniform Co-op Store received the United Way 2017 Strong Neighborhood Award for its work there.  Beyer has transitioned from Elementary to Early Childhood Education, so we moved the uniform project to two schools in the Ellis Heights area which has been identified by United Way as an area of great need.  Ellis Elementary has 478 students and Lewis Lemon Elementary has 395 students. New pants will be sold for $4, new shirts for $3, and anything used for $1.  Uniform trade-ins are encouraged and receive $1 credit for each used piece. Only cash is accepted, and purchases are limited to two outfits per student.  All money received from the sale of uniforms is used to purchase more.

Selling uniforms has been hard work but an uplifting experience.  Parents have been very grateful to be able to afford new clothes for their children. The children have been excited to go shopping with their parents.  No one has asked for anything free. After their shopping is completed, we encourage students to each pick out a new toothbrush (donated by dentists who are St. Mark members). Wish you could see the jaunty walk of a student carrying new clothes that his parents purchased – no standing in line for a free give away! The Uniform Co-op Store is a Hand UP, not a Hand OUT.

The Uniform Co-op Store which has been a partnership from the beginning, stepped up a notch this year when another church came onboard. Two new lead volunteers who are members of First Free Rockford joined us and were able to access money from the Jeremiah Project available to First Free Rockford members who volunteer with a not-for-profit.  God’s Work is always full of surprises!                             

How can you lend a hand?
·         Donate new and used (no stains or tears) school uniforms.
·         Donate money so we can purchase uniforms.
·         Help sell uniforms on Registration Days August 6 and 7 and at Parent-Teacher Conferences.
·         Include teacher, students and their parents in your daily prayers.

~ Stella Schroeder and Maureen Hargrove, Uniform co-chairs

Ellis Elementary Lead Volunteers– Stella and Chuck Schroeder and Maureen and John Hargrove.  Lewis Lemon Lead Volunteers– Chuck and Vickie Allton and Jerry and Carolyn Norquist

Friday, June 29, 2018

Greetings from Houston!

It took two full days of travel, but St. Mark made it to Houston! Let me give you the numbers. Ten of our high school students joined five other Rockford churches to travel down here in six large vans driven by 13 adult leaders. Our drive time was around 17 hours, and on Monday night we slept on the floor of Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. That’s quite the journey, wouldn’t you say? Our amazing crew of adults leaders all deserve a year’s supply of coffee as far as I’m concerned.

We are here for the triennial ELCA Youth Gathering, where high schoolers from all over the country converge for five days of worship, service, and learning. Yesterday was our first full day at the gathering. Some of the folks here spent the day at the Interactive Learning area, immersing themselves in a variety of activities as they learned about the church’s vital role in our world. Another third of the participants gathered with their synods to worship and learn. The rest of us donned bright orange shirts, hopped on the bus, and traveled to all parts of this city to serve the community alongside its citizens. At the end of the day, all 31,000 of us packed into the NRG Stadium for a night of music, stories, dance, and worship. 

There is a lot to take in. It can be overwhelming. The humid heat in Houston is stifling. Nobody particularly likes the crowded lines that push us in and out of every activity. But as some of our high schoolers told me, this experience is absolutely worth it. We have heard stories from a songwriter who has thrived in spite of her disability, a Navy chaplain who serves soldiers returning home, a lawyer working to bring hopeful justice to the poor and imprisoned, and so many others who have been sustained by God’s sustaining love. At the heart of it all, our students are learning about how God changes everything. God calls us in unexpected places. God pours love into broken people. God restores each and every one of us.

God changes everything. I would suspect that by the time our little group from St. Mark will return to Rockford on Monday, many of us will have changed a bit. That is what happens when people encounter God and witness what God is up to in our world. Please continue to pray for us and all of the Lutherans in Houston this week, that we might be uplifted and inspired, and that we may return home safely restored.

Pastor Chad McKenna

Time for Change

With the beginning of the fall season comes news on several fronts at St. Mark.  First, I’m pleased to report that our new Per Mar security...