Thursday, January 26, 2023

Time in the Desert

While we were in Arizona for Carl’s funeral, we went to the White Tank Mountains.  At the base of the mountains and right behind the local library there is a short and long hiking trail, through the desert landscape.  As we walked the longer trail, one of the kids pointed out that they could see the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, which is where the super bowl will be played this year.  As I took in the view of the surrounding cities from the base of the White Tank Mountains, I was amazed by how far you could see.   Besides the surrounding cities, you could see the desert landscape for several miles.  It was very open.  The tallest plants around were the tall cactus, no large trees like we have in Northern Illinois.  Our view was blocked only by the mountains.  

As I stood in the desert landscape, I found myself missing the tall trees of Northern Illinois.  Even though I was missing the large, tall trees of the Midwest, I found beauty in God’s creation of the desert.  I relished in the beauty of the desert flowers and the variety of cacti.  It is amazing how these plants can live with very little water.  The tall cactus provides homes for birds.  There was one cactus that was super tall, I was amazed by its size (see our family picture).  It was the largest cactus we encountered on our walk.    

I was grateful that we had an afternoon free to spend time walking through God’s beautiful creation.  It was nice to have sunshine and warm enough weather to take a hike.  It was a good mental health break for my family in the midst of a crazy busy long weekend in Arizona.  I give God thanks for creation and for the time to spend outside exploring the desert.  I pray that you all can find the time and place that will bring you peace in the midst of the craziness of life.  We all need a little peace in our lives. 

God’s Peace, Pastor Katrina Steingraeber   




      

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Sound of Worship

What does worship sound like? You might say it sounds like the organ, or the praise band. Maybe it’s the way all our voices mix together when we sing and pray together. Worship sounds like the lone voices of our pastors and readers, but also the ambient rustling of bulletins and dozens of people shifting in their seats. In the last few years, worship has more regularly begun to sound like children.

With Sunday School happening between services, families are able to worship together year-round, and the dynamic of both services has shifted. Quiet moments get cut by a small voice asking for a crayon. Sometimes one of us pastors may get a little competition during the sermon. The acoustics in our sanctuary are one of life’s great mysteries, and so I rarely hear these moments from my chair in the chancel. What I do hear is the comments from folks after the service, which almost always fall into one of two categories. Parents offer apologies, while a second group of worshippers beam and say, “It’s so nice to hear the kids in worship.”

If you are in that second group, I encourage you to let our young families know. Help those parents and grandparents know that there isn’t anything to apologize for. Thank them for being here. It is no small task to bring kids to a service, keep them occupied for an hour, and also try to worship for yourself. It is so much easier just to stay home, but our families choose to be here because we recognize the value in worship. Speaking as a parent myself, we want our children to know from a young age that this is a place where all God’s children belong, no matter how young or old. So please, do not keep those positive comments to yourselves. Share a word of welcome and encouragement when you can.

Of course, there are occasional comments that provide no such benefit, either because they are negative or they can be misinterpreted as such. I know how some sounds can be distracting, whether it’s a child’s voice, a thunderous sneeze, or a ringing phone. Any self-aware person at the center of a moment like that already feels embarrassed. Talking about it in the Fellowship Hall can only add to those feelings. Some who overhear such talk may take it as the final reason to leave and not come back. Let’s instead approach one another with a heart of welcome, and give our fellow worshippers a reason to return again next Sunday.

As with anything, we can have tidy or we can have kid-friendly. If our congregation is to grow and inspire a new generation to feel like they belong at church, the way we worship together will need to be truly welcoming for everyone. We are a community, after all. Everything we do in worship is done together, united by the love and grace of Jesus Christ. In an era where church is one option of many— even for folks who identify as Christians— I pray that we can continue to learn new ways to encourage each other to choose this unique and beautiful community of ours.

Peace,

Pastor Chad McKenna



Thursday, December 22, 2022

Family Traditions

The Advent devotional began with the genealogy of Christ. It seemed like a never-ending list of ancestors.  During the first week of Advent we learn that “There’s room for every story.”  This includes our story.  Our story has a place, whether it is just beginning or near the end.  We are reminded that “God meets us in our fear.”  The angels who greet Mary and Joseph tell them, “Do not fear.”  This seems to be an unrealistic request.  Of course, they were afraid.  And we are reminded to choose a better way as Joseph did, with the help of Divine intervention, when he did not dismiss Mary and kept his commitment to her.  The choices Jesus’ ancestors made, impacted his life.  Especially, Mary and Joseph saying yes to God. 

As I have read through the Advent Devotional, I got to thinking about my family history.  It also got me thinking about traditions that I share, or have shared, with my children.   

My family comes from Sweden and Germany, and perhaps a few other places I am not aware of at this time.  I am proud of my Swedish and German heritage.  When we decorate the tree, we place a pickle ornament on the tree.  This is a German tradition.  The one who finds the pickle first gets a little something extra from St. Nick.  I loved sharing the Saint Lucia tradition with my boys when they were little.  This is a Swedish tradition; Lucia is the bearer of light in the dark Sweden winters.  This tradition was one I cherished growing up.  The fellowship hall at Zion would be decorated beautifully with traditional Swedish decoration.  We listened to many folks’ sing and play music.  I tried singing in Swedish a few times, it is not easy to sing in Swedish.  My boys even dressed like a Tomte and handed out candy during the festival.  I included (with permission) a picture of my boys each dressed like a Tomte, this was probably eleven or twelve years ago.  

Many families have traditions, some last for many years and others may change or stop.  Some new traditions may come to life.  It can be hard to say goodbye to traditions.  As my family grows older and things begin to change, I look forward to starting new traditions with them.  I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year. 

Peace, 

Pastor Katrina Steingraeber  




Thursday, December 8, 2022

All Creation Waits

On cold days like this, with winter storms approaching, most people I know tend to seek out a cozy spot indoors, away from the bitter realities of the season. Of course, some of you may love the weather and the feel of cold air as it enters your lungs on a sunny afternoon run. The rest of us may not even want to sit by a window. With no snow on the ground, the garden beds cleared, and almost all the leaves raked, it can be easy to assume there isn’t much to see besides a drab, lifeless landscape. But there is so much more going on beneath the surface. 

If you have been around St. Mark at all, you have certainly seen all the advent resources that are available this year. For adults and teens, we have a devotional and a color-in calendar full of activity ideas, based on the theme “…From Generation to Generation.” For kids, there is a devotional with a matching paper-chain project titled “The Adverbs of Advent.” There is enough to go on here, but in light of the coming winter chill, I feel the need to direct you to one more resource.  

This year, our own synod of the ELCA has produced a daily video series based on the book, All Creation Waits, by Gayle Boss. Each day, pastors and musicians from the Northern Illinois Synod provide songs, prayers, and a reading from the book. You can find the whole series, including the first 8 days, at this link: https://www.youtube.com/c/NISynodorg 

The book itself is an intriguing read. On first glance, each of the 25 essays appears to be a simple reflection on the wildlife of North America. From bears and foxes to wild turkeys and fireflies, the book slowly dives deep into the surface of the earth to explore how our animal neighbors endure the harsh and difficult season of winter. The whole devotional series is a reminder that though the world outside our windows may seem barren, God’s creation continues to teem with life. 

Winter can make us feel hopeless. The lack of sunlight, the absence of plants and fair-weather creatures, and the harsh weather can easily bring us down. It is even worse when our minds are clouded with worry and our hearts are filled with grief. Whether we hunger for peace or hunger for food, we wait with all creation for something to bring us relief. Sometimes it arrives in the form of sustenance and shelter. And sometimes it arrives as a child, wrapped in swaddling cloths and spending his first night among the animals. 

Explore the video devotional series here: https://www.youtube.com/c/NISynodorg

Peace,

Pastor Chad McKenna




Thursday, November 17, 2022

Coming Together in Prayer

Prayer, for me, is an important part of faith and an interesting part.  There are many ways to pray.  Each of us, I imagine, have a different way of praying and connecting to God.  I have found myself praying in a variety of ways.  There are times when I need to be alone with God, a time where I can connect with God in a deeply personal way with no one else around.  And other times I am praying with a group where we gather to pray for one another and lift up to God the things that are important at that moment.  Both have value.  In fact, any way you pray has value.  It is not how you pray that is important, the important part is that you are praying.  It is in prayer that we connect with God. 

In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus teaches us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer.  In 1 Thessalonians 15:1 we are told to pray without ceasing.  In Hebrews 4:16 we are told to pray with confidence, “to approach the throne of grace with boldness.”  In James 5:16 we hear the power of prayer when we pray for one another. 

Asking for prayers can be hard.  When we ask for prayer we are not showing a sign of weakness.  Instead, we are showing trust in those who we worship with, and confidence in the power of communal prayer.  When my 3rd son was born we quickly learned he has a complex vascular system in his neck and head.  He had his first of many MRI/MRA at six weeks old.  We had no idea how his body would handle the twisted vessels in his neck and head.  The first thing I did was reach out to the prayer chain at church.  And as friends in the community learned about his condition, their church began praying for him.  He was on the St. Mark prayer chain for several weeks.  I can’t tell you how important that was for me and my family knowing so many people were praying for my son and our family.  Thankfully his body has compensated for the twisted vessels and they have not been an issue.

As you pray, I encourage you to pray for one another.  I encourage you to pray in a way that works for you.  If you are at a loss for words, remember you can pray as Jesus taught with the Lord’s prayer.  Don’t hesitate to ask for prayers, there is power in prayer when we pray for one another. 

Yours in Christ, 

Pastor Katrina Steingraeber



 

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Using the Whole Pumpkin

One of my favorite restaurants here in Rockford comes up with a brand new dinner menu almost every weekend. They center everything— appetizers, main dishes, desserts and cocktails— around a common theme, depending on what is in season or what holidays are nearby. I’m told that this week the theme is “Eat Our Decorations,” and it came about in a moment of desperation. Simply put, the cooks in their kitchen were struggling for ideas, and as they took down all their festive Halloween decor, inspiration struck. All those pumpkins, gourds, and squash— every edible bit of decor is getting a second life this weekend as soups, pies, and other dishes. While I am sure they will be supplementing with additional veggies from traditional sources, there is something marvelous about how clever this little restaurant is with the resources they have.

That sort of cleverness can carry us further than we can imagine. I’ve seen it in the way farmers in Tanzania rework scrap metal into essential tools. Students experience it whenever their teachers stretch their supplies to last a whole school year. Resourceful people throughout time have discovered ways to use the whole buffalo, live with little waste, and use whatever they have, until what they have can no longer be used. 

This may sound like a philosophy of scarcity, but one doesn’t have to be scraping by in order to discover useful resources in unexpected places. If anything, this is a mindset abundance. When we pay enough attention, we can see how truly blessed we are, with goodness in every corner of our lives.

How can we use this kind of clever, abundant thinking in order to tend to what God has given us? When I think about that restaurant’s repurposed pumpkins, I wonder what aspects of our church can have that same sort of renewed purpose. What do we already have that we can use to help our community grow in faith? What ministries can be given new life to share God’s grace in a changing world?

During this season of stewardship, many of us are evaluating how we can support St. Mark in the coming year, both financially and through gifts of service. What do you have that you can share with others? Let’s pay attention to the pumpkins in our lives as we continue to find new and clever ways to use all that God has given us to share God’s love with one another and the world. We have everything we need, and that includes you.

Peace,

Pastor Chad McKenna








 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Tradition, Worship, Serving and Dreaming

In preparing for a recent bible study, I came across a statement about faith that I had not thought about in a while.  The statement is, “Rooted in tradition, grounded in worship, called to serve, allowed to dream.”  I have been a Lutheran from birth.  I didn’t realize how much of my faith is connected to the Lutheran tradition until I was in seminary.  I discovered how truly Lutheran I am.  I love the creeds.  At the installation service for Bishop Stacie Fidlar we said the Nicene Creed.  It was beautiful to hear the 100-plus rostered leaders and several guests saying the Nicene Creed together.  The creeds proclaim our faith in the Triune God, acknowledging our beliefs in God as our almighty parent and creator of all, Jesus who was truly human who came for us and for our salvation, and the Holy Spirit who works to sustain our faith. 

Worship is an important part of our lives as Lutherans.  Worship is what feeds us each week.  Being grounded in worship helps me throughout the week.  For me, worship is a wonderful way to begin the week.  It is my restart after a difficult week.  It is how I am fed, even when I am leading worship.    When we gather for the Eucharist it is a holy moment where we experience God’s unending grace.  When we praise and worship God in our music and spoken words, my heart, and soul are filled.  When we worship together, we experience God’s mercy, grace, and love that grounds us and helps to sustain us.  How do you feel about tradition and worship? 

Called to serve!  Each of us is called to serve in a different way.  Some are called to be worship leaders and others are called to serve in other areas of ministry.  My call to serve as a pastor was so strong that no matter how much I doubted my ability to be successful in seminary and to be a pastor, God continues to prove to me that God is greater than my doubts.  My call came from God!  I am grateful that God did not and has not given up on me.   How are you called to serve?

I don’t see myself as much of a dreamer, there are times when being allowed to dream is a great gift.   We can dream of what is to come.  These moments of being allowed to dream are sacred moments where we can get lost in our thoughts and our hopes.  What are your hopes and dreams?

“Rooted in tradition, grounded in worship, called to serve, allowed to dream.”  What does this statement say to you?  What does this stir up in you? 

Yours in Christ, 

Pastor Katrina Steingraeber 



Time in the Desert

While we were in Arizona for Carl’s funeral, we went to the White Tank Mountains.  At the base of the mountains and right behind the local l...