Thursday, December 2, 2021

Enjoying the ordinary!

One Wednesday morning, my spouse and I were sitting at the kitchen table just like we do almost every morning.  He was eating his breakfast and reading the headlines in the news and I was enjoying a warm cup of coffee.  We had a few moments of small talk, nothing of real importance.  As I took a sip of my coffee, I happened to look out the window and noticed the beautiful sky.  The colors were so vibrant, I was completely taken in. 

I often gaze out the window as I drink my coffee and my spouse eats his breakfast.  Sometimes I watch the birds at our bird feeders, other times I watch the squirrels chase each other up and down the trees.  This morning felt different than other mornings.  It was as if time stood still for a moment as I enjoy God’s beautifully painted sky, filled with vibrant reds, oranges, yellows, pinks, and blues.  I was in awe!

As I sat there in awe, I thought about Thanksgiving and Advent and the changing seasons.  I gave God thanks for the many blessings in my life; my family and friends, my church family, and my call to serve here at St. Mark Lutheran Church, and I thanked God for the ordinary moments in life.  Those ordinary moments are sacred moments.   

As we enter the season of Advent, I am reminded that this is a season of waiting.  As the first Sunday of Advent devotional says, “The coming of our Savior takes time because salvation takes time.  God does not snap God’s fingers or push a button in order to save us.  God sends God’s Son to be with us and love us.  Salvation is a relationship.  This takes time.  This is worth waiting for.” (pg. 3 The Fullness of Time)  

As we wait for the coming of Jesus, I invite you to enjoy those ordinary but sacred simple moments.  Let yourself be taken in by the beauty of those moments.  There is beauty in a warm cup of coffee and watching the birds. There is beauty in sitting at the table with your spouse.  I pray that you find God in those ordinary beautiful moments. 

God’s peace and love to you all,

Pastor Katrina Steingraeber



Thursday, November 4, 2021

Finding God in the Midst of the Holiday Chaos!

I find this time of year can be a bit overwhelming.  We have just finished October with Reformation and Halloween.  And before the Halloween candy is eaten, the stores are filled with decorations for the next two or three holidays.  At times it feels like we are trying to celebrate several holidays all at once.  It is often an extremely busy and overwhelming time of the year. 

In the midst of the chaos of the holidays, it is easy to get caught up in the hype.  When this happens, we may feel disconnected from things that keep us grounded.  What grounds you?  How do you re-energize yourself after a long and exhausting day?  One thing that works for me is a spiritual practice using Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God!” 

Psalm 46:10 as a spiritual practice:  Begin by finding a comfortable, quiet place.  After getting settled, you can say the words of Psalm 46:10 as printed below.

“Be still and know that I am God!

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know that I

Be still and know

Be still…”  (I find it helpful to sit in silence for a little bit before going further.)

“Be still

Be still and know

Be still and know that I

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know that I am God.”  (I find it helpful to take a few deep breaths before moving on with the rest of the day.)

Just taking a moment to be still and focus on God helps me re-energize.  I often feel more grounded and connected to God.  I encourage you to find moments throughout the holidays to spend in prayer, either using the words from Psalm 46:10, a favorite bible verse, or any prayer that is meaningful to you.  May you find peace in little moments of God’s presence!

Peace,

Pastor Katrina Steingraeber 


 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Planning for the Future

 A version of this article was sent in a letter to St. Mark members this week.

Many of us stepped into this year with trepidation, uncertain of what changes and trials we would encounter. The pandemic took its toll on almost every aspect of life. Despite that, we at St. Mark have been able to worship in person since early February, both inside and on our peaceful lawn, and we have been able to continue online services. We had imaginative opportunities for families to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, an all-outdoor Vacation Bible School, and numerous events to celebrate our 60th Anniversary. We welcomed our new Associate Pastor, Katrina Steingraeber, in June. Almost every ministry, small group, and outreach endeavor has returned to bring meaning and hope to our community. As it turns out, 2021 has turned out to be a tremendous blessing.

This time of year beckons us to reflect on the past and look to the future. The upcoming holidays cause us to ponder our values and traditions, as well as our hopes for the new year. October at St. Mark has especially been a time to consider God’s blessings in our lives. For years, we have taken time during worship to discern how we might share those blessings and participate in the mission we share through this congregation. In this place we are reminded of God’s grace, and we are sent to share that same grace with our neighbors. One of the best ways we can ensure that we will continue to grow in faith and share God’s grace is through consistent and generous support of our shared ministries.

On Sunday, October 24th, our worshippers will be invited to reflect on the grace God has given us, and then respond to that grace by making a commitment for the coming year. We will do that during worship by placing “Plan for Giving” cards in the offering plate, or by making an online pledge. Our mission budget for 2022 will be based on the pledges we receive this fall. Our collective hopes for St. Mark’s future rely on how much we all value the ministry we share.

I am thankful for the generous support of so many faithful people through your gifts, time, and prayers. If you find value in what we do together, I ask that you prayerfully consider making a pledge for the coming year. Please keep all of us at St. Mark in your prayers so that we might continue to take positive and communal ownership of this place and our wonderful ministries which increase our faith and equip us all to share God’s grace with the world.

It is my hope that the coming year will bring even more blessings to your faith and to your life. Thank you for all you do to share God’s love with one another, with the greater Rockford area, and with the world. I look forward to what God has in store for us!

Peace,

Pastor Chad McKenna




Thursday, October 7, 2021

Time with God and God's Creation

I love being outside.  I love working in my yard in the spring, summer, and fall and I enjoy being outside in the winter too, even if that means clearing snow from the driveway with the snowblower.  I recently came across a prayer in a book titled “Earth Prayers from Around the World.”  The prayer was written by Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav.  Here is the prayer…

“Grant me the ability to be alone,

May it be my custom to go outdoors each day

Among the trees and grasses,

Among all growing things

And there may I be alone,

And enter into prayer

To talk with the one

That I belong to.”

This prayer reminded me that life can be extremely busy and we may forget to spend some time alone with God.  I have found that it is in these extremely busy times that I need time with God even more.  I find that if I am able to get outside even for just a few minutes, it helps.  I feel more relaxed and at one with nature.  I feel connected to God through God’s creation. 

I invite you to find some time to be alone with God.  If being outside isn’t something you enjoy or something that is difficult for you, I encourage you to find a space where you are comfortable to spend time with God. 

 Peace, Pastor Katrina Steingraeber



Thursday, September 23, 2021

A Wider Welcome at the Table

In my sermon on Sunday, I announced a change we are making to the way we share Communion. For once, the decision has nothing to do with COVID. Instead, the change came from asking the question, Who is allowed to receive communion at St. Mark? 

In the ELCA, we say that all baptized Christians are welcome at the table, but such a wide statement is not reflected in most congregations’ practices. I have worked at or been a member of five different Lutheran churches in my adult life. Each one had different rules about how old a baptized person needed to be in order to receive the bread and the wine. Requirements range from attending three classes in fourth grade, to going through the entire middle-school Confirmation program, to the simple one class in first grade we have had here.

There is a reason for this inconsistency— our scriptures and historical documents simply do not discuss the age of first communion. Jesus never said anything about who can participate in the Lord’s Supper and when, but he did say that to welcome a child is the same as welcoming God’s own self. In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he says that we should consider the the body of Christ— meaning the community— and never exclude any member. Martin Luther makes the case that one doesn’t need to come with knowledge or intellect about what is happening and why, but rather with the trust that Christ is present and that this mercy is for us.

All this is to say that your pastors at St. Mark will no longer put an age requirement on the Lord’s Supper. As soon as a child reaches out their hand in faith, they can receive that bread of life and cup of salvation. Parents and guardians will want to discuss this option with their young children who have yet to receive their first communion. Pastor Katrina and I are both available to talk about this with any families who are ready to take this step.

Of course, we will still have special classes about Communion for our children. Learning about the Eucharist is a life-long endeavor. We do well to find every occasion to teach our children, our youth, and our adults about what this meal is all about, so that we might trust even more that Christ prepares this meal for each of us, for the forgiveness of sin.

All of us rely on God. We are all equal and worthy of this sustaining and holy meal. May we all come to the table trusting that the gift of forgiveness is present and available for every one of us.

Peace, 

Pastor Chad McKenna



Thursday, September 9, 2021

Ordination Reflections

The day of my ordination was a bit of a whirlwind day.  I was excited and nervous.  When I walked into Zion Lutheran Church, my home congregation, I was hit with memories from Sunday School, VBS, Confirmation, Scott’s and my wedding, the Baptisms and First Communion of my boys, and my older two boy’s Confirmation. It felt a bit like my life (at least my Zion life) was flashing before me.  And now I have the memory of my ordination.  The worship service was wonderful and I was overjoyed to see so many people in person and I was overjoyed knowing many were watching from home.  What a gift it is to be able to go back and watch my ordination service.  Which I did a few days later. 

After all the celebrating that day and after I was home and I was able to sit still for a moment in the quiet of my house it hit me that I am a pastor.  A pastor friend of mine told me it would happen, she had the same feeling the day after her ordination.  So, I sent her a text says, “I am a Pastor! It sunk in this afternoon after coming home.”  Her response was, “Yes, Ma’am!  You are! No turning back!!”  The same pastor friend asked me about a week later how it feels to be an official pastor.  My response was, it feels a bit surreal, a bit overwhelming, and a bit normal.  She said, “that sounds about right.” 

Fast forward a few Sundays to the first time I lead the Confession and Forgiveness during worship since my ordination and it hit me again, I am a pastor.  I imagine this may happen from time to time, perhaps even for the rest of my life.  It is a humbling experience.  I recently read through the ordination rite and one part of the rite stuck out to me.  It was the words Bishop Clements said as the stole was placed on my shoulders, “Receive this stole as a sign of your work, and live in obedience to the Lord Jesus, serving his people and remembering his promise: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-10)” Each time I place a stole on my shoulders, I will remember these words. 

I am blessed to be your pastor and I look forward to doing God’s work with you all. 

Yours in Christ, Pastor Katrina Steingraeber      



Thursday, August 26, 2021

Spending Sundays Together

This summer, it has been a tremendous joy to come here every Sunday and witness the return of our present and embodied community. After a year of worshipping by myself or with a handful of folks under a tight capacity limit, being with so many of you every week has been a balm for my soul. You may not know this, but we are one of the few ELCA congregations to have had multiple in-person services on Sundays, and I am grateful to everyone who has made it possible for so many of us to be together both in the sanctuary and on the lawn.

When we added a second service, the timing we chose gave all our leaders and volunteers ample time to set up our outdoor worship space. Every Sunday, the band had the hard work of carting all their equipment and instruments across the parking lot, leading worship, and then carting it all back. That full hour between services was a necessity, and it went by fast. That need was one reason we began our first service at 9:00am

Having one traditional service at 9:00am was also an attempt to find some middle ground between our original 8:00am and 9:30am folks, so that no one felt as if their favored service was cancelled. If you were used to worship in the sanctuary before and you have returned to it this summer, I imagine you have encountered other St. Mark folks you rarely or never saw before the pandemic. It has been so wonderful to see the unity that has come from this combined traditional service. In the past, except for a few folks who bounced between our three service times, we were a congregation divided into three. 

During the school year, in a sense we were divided into four. Since Sunday School was at the same time as worship, our youngest members worshipped downstairs, hearing a children’s sermon from one of the pastors and celebrating a brief communion service with their teachers. For most of the year, our children did not have the opportunity to experience the wonder and welcome of worship.

You may have figured out where I am going with all of this. The two-service Sunday is here to stay. Beginning on September 19th we will have Traditional Worship at 9:00am, a Learning Hour at 10:10am, and a Praise Service at 11:00am. During that learning hour we will have Sunday School downstairs, Fellowship over coffee and donuts in both the café and Fellowship Hall, and a brand new Adult Forum in the Adult Ministry Room. This fall, the content of the Adult Forum will change from week to week, and you can expect to see opportunities for Bible studies, book studies, presentations from local agencies, and group discussions.

This new schedule will give everyone, children and adults alike, the opportunity to both worship and learn every Sunday of the school year. It is my dearest hope that this new schedule will bring us together after so many months apart. We have the opportunity to spend our Sunday mornings praising God together as individuals, families, and community. We have more time to reconnect and grow in faith. And we will be able to welcome people of all ages to come and find comfort in a community of worship. 

Peace,

Pastor Chad McKenna





Enjoying the ordinary!

One Wednesday morning, my spouse and I were sitting at the kitchen table just like we do almost every morning.  He was eating his breakfast ...