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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Pastor Mark's Motorcycle Trip Out West

Rumor has it that I was away on vacation last week...on a motorcycle, no less!  Yup, it’s true.  Fred Ellenberger and I teamed up for a 7-day, 2,500-mile round trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.  It was another glorious adventure...complete with warm temps, lots of bugs on our windshields, and frequent stops for fuel and ice cream (Fred’s insistence).  Best of all, no rain!  We stayed with friends who live 30 minutes west of Rapid City, up in the beautiful, pine-scented regions.

I’ve decided to share a few photos to give you a better sense of our travels.  The first photo is at Wall Drug in Wall, S.D.  Fred and I have made this trip out west many times, and he always insists on stopping at Wall Drug (it’s the 5-cents coffee and luscious ice cream).  While I do not share his eternal enthusiasm for Wall Drug (poster child for Tourist Trap), he always seems to win this discussion!                         
                                               (click on the pictures to enlarge them)

Our second day of riding took us two hours northwest of the Black Hills to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.  Along the way, we made a noon stop for chocolate malts (my insistence this time).  These hand-crafted malts were made by 12-year-old Carson, whose mother ran the establishment.  Best malts ever!  The more I look at it, Devil’s Tower kind of resembles a super-sized 800-foot-tall malt...yummy!

The next day, we rode south of the Black Hills to Hill City and Keystone, where we discovered root beer floats and hot fudge sundaes (imagine our surprise).  With full bellies, we made our way past Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park (awesome motorcycle roads). 

I’ll skip to the end of our trip and share a photo of our Sunday morning meal at Perkins in Albert Lea, MN, with my dad, Clair.  I was able to celebrate Father’s Day with him a week early!

In summary, I discovered anew how invigorating it is to travel.  Such journeys with good friends truly refresh the soul!  I am grateful for this time to be away, and I am grateful for my return to you, my dear friends at St. Mark.  May these summer months fill you with joy for each new day.

Walking this journey of faith with you,
Pastor Mark

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Value of Routine

Well, Summer is here. This morning, I was with about ten St. Mark people at the Habitat for Humanity build on Island Avenue. Every afternoon this week, we have had volunteers filling the Narthex to paint set pieces for Vacation Bible school. Graduation parties are scattered across the calendar. On a personal level, my daughter has her first swim class this weekend, and my family is gearing up for three straight weeks of travel for vacation, work, and a memorial service.

I don’t know about you, but summer rarely feels like a lighter load these days. In fact, in some ways these months of camps, VBS, travels, and celebrations can be a bit harder to manage. Our programming year has come to an end, but there is still much to do around the church. The routine of the school year is gone, and every week brings its own adventure. If you are like me, after a school year of knowing exactly what happens on a typical Wednesday, you may need to constantly look to the calendar to remind yourself what in the world you need to be doing from day to day.

Routines are one of those highly valued aspects of life which are most appreciated after they are lost or damaged. You may not give a thought to how the traffic pattern on State Street affects your commute time until a construction project shuts down half the lanes for a few weeks. When a longterm illness in the family requires a checklist of appointments or unknown days in the hospital, you might realize how simple life used to be. If you want to appreciate the ease of a nine to five job, talk to a retail associate waiting on next week’s work schedule.

Someone told me recently that Sunday morning worship orders their entire week. The rhythm of prayer, scripture, and song realigns their life on Sunday in order to face whatever chaos might be waiting on Monday. If you have worshipped at St. Mark just two times, you know exactly what to expect on your third visit. It is predictable, and that is precisely the point. Instead of wondering what is coming next in the service, you can instead focus your attention on what God is saying and doing in your life.

As the author of Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. No matter what the world throws your way, God’s love for you will never change. Hope will always remain. I pray our worship together might arrange our communal life around God’s unchanging love for the world.

Pastor Chad

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Another Family Wedding

Dear St. Mark friends,

My wedding invitation did not arrive in the mail, so apparently, I am not invited.  I’m speaking of the majestic royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle this weekend on the “other side of the pond.”  While I often joke about my Norwegian heritage, 25% of my bloodline is actually British; so naturally I feel that I’m due a modicum of recognition from my prominent relatives abroad.  From what I hear, though, I’m not the only one sitting out this event.  Poor me…misery loves company.

One of my favorite movies is, “The King’s Speech,” based on the true story of King George VI and his quest to find his voice.  Throughout the movie, one is made painfully aware of the formal class distinctions between members of the royal family and mere commoners.  Yet, in the end, it is an ordinary man with an extraordinary gift who assists the new king in recognizing and achieving his potential as a leader.  It is a movie that extends hope in the most desperate and challenging of circumstances.

With the hymns of Easter still fresh in our ears and on our tongues, I’m reminded that the royal bloodline of King David has been extended to each of us by the Son of David, the Son of God.  Jesus is indeed the heir to God’s throne…witnessed at his resurrection and ascension.  Our New King, however, is also our brother…meaning that no one is left out; no one is dismissed for lack of a proper bloodline. Each of us has direct access to this King…each of us has been invited to the resurrection party!

As we conclude the seven weeks of Easter in anticipation of Pentecost, I encourage you to share in this celebration of inclusivity and new life.  God has raised Jesus from death so that we, too, might one day be raised to new and eternal lives with Christ our King.  With God, the playing field is made even; sin and death have been conquered once and for all in his Son.  Whatever disparities and prejudices we face today will fade at his second coming and the life to come.

So, do not despair, good friends…there are more wedding invitations right around the corner.  The best invitation includes us all: “the marriage feast of Christ, which has no end!”

Walking this journey of faith with you,
Pastor Mark Hagen

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Building Faith

This past Sunday during worship, we introduced a project that is sure to frame the summer here at St. Mark. In partnership with Thrivent Financial and other area churches, we will be helping Habitat for Humanity build an additional home for a family here in Rockford. We have signed up for four work days in May and June, and soon we will be raising money to ensure the house is completed.

Maybe your experience with Habitat is a bit like mine. I have known about the organization for a long time. The churches I have called home have been involved in various ways. Though I have never swung a hammer for Habitat, I have friends and acquaintances who have. I have always wanted to do more.

Building a house is no small feat. Even on a team of experienced framers and roofers, it can seem incredibly intimidating. But when we have all summer to finish a single-story home for a deserving family, the task becomes a bit more bearable. This Saturday is the first major construction day for the houses here in Rockford. Our first day to work is exactly one week later. Do you know what you can expect to be doing, should you volunteer on March 12th? Most likely, it will involve vinyl siding. Before we even step foot onto the construction site, the framework will already be up and ready to start looking like a home.

Even if you have zero experience, your help is still valued. Even if you cannot come to a work day, there will be more opportunities this summer to lend a hand toward this build. The family that will work alongside us and later purchase the home will be forever changed by what we, the people of God, are about to do.

There is still room for volunteers at all four of our work days. You can sign up at a clipboard in the Fellowship Hall or email me ( to get your name on the list. Anyone 16 and up is eligible to be onsite, and you can volunteer on one or more days. They are:
Saturday, May 12
Thursday, May 31
Saturday, June 16
Tuesday, June 26

I pray this endeavor will strengthen our commitment to God, our community, and one another as we use our hands to do God’s work.

Pastor Chad

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Not Your Typical Wedding

Dear St. Mark friends,

Like many of you, my role in the family carries multiple titles.  I am a husband, a father, a grand-father, a son, and a soon-to-be father-in-law.  On Saturday, April 28, our youngest son, David, will be married to his fiancĂ©, Maureen.  I am privileged to perform the wedding ceremony at the outdoor pavilion at Anderson Gardens.  The current weather forecast predicts a cloudy but acceptable temperature in the mid-60s.  Whew…we’ll take it!

David’s and Maureen’s wedding bears remarkable similarities to Naomi’s and my wedding in Woodinville, WA, on June 7, 1980.  First, Naomi’s father, Eldon Lyso, (a Lutheran pastor) likewise performed our ceremony.  I was more than a little nervous as to what he might do and say.  Eldon was a prolific jokester, and I wasn’t going to put anything past him.  Thankfully, he was both serious and humorous at all the crucial moments.  It was a glorious wedding ceremony!  I am eager to carry on this paternal tradition with David and Maureen.  Still, I want to keep them guessing just a bit.  I have plenty of fun “material “on David I could share!

Second, in preparation for our wedding in 1980, I wrote a song for Naomi five days before the ceremony.  It was a bold move, but I really wanted to do this.  Immediately following our marriage vows, I sang my song to her while playing my guitar.  Truth be told, I was more nervous about messing up that song than I was getting married!  Thank God, the song came off perfectly.  David has likewise written a beautiful song for Maureen and will sing it to her at their wedding, accompanying himself on his guitar.  Like father, like son!  It will be quite moving, I’m sure.

Jesus loved weddings, performing his first miracle at a wedding in Cana.  There will be no need to turn water into wine at this wedding reception, however.  Franchesco’s Ristorante is well-stocked!  None-the-less, Jesus will be present with us as we celebrate their marriage in the presence of God, family, and friends.  Like all proud parents, Naomi and I rejoice in their marriage.  We trust that you share in our joy!  

By the way, don’t bother looking for me at worship the next morning…I’ll be sleeping in.

Walking this journey of faith with you,

Pastor Mark

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 pr...