Thursday, May 9, 2019

Welcome, Wendy Iversen and Karen Osolin, as New Office Staff!

Dear friends,

As you know, we are blessed with a multitude of talented church staff members.  In the past year, we have seen the departure of three of these staff members: Karen Kammer, Dave Blunt and Marsha Scott.  Julie Eshleman began her work as Director of Christian Education on January 2 and is off to a fantastic start.  Karen Osolin has worked alongside Dave Blunt many months now as the search continued for a replacement of the Finance Manager.  They’ve done a marvelous job of keeping the finance responsibilities running smoothly.

Wendy Iversen
Today, I am excited to announce the hiring of Wendy Iversen as our new Finance Manager.  Wendy is a member of the Rockford community and is actively involved in her own church.  She comes with a Bachelor of Science in Accountancy from NIU and has passed the Certified Public Accountant Exam.  Wendy will be in the office Monday through Thursday mornings.  Dave Blunt will provide orientation to Wendy as she begins her work with us.  This transition means Dave Blunt will soon be fully retired!  I encourage you to greet Wendy when you stop by the office.

Karen Osolin
Meanwhile, Karen Osolin has graciously agreed to accept the position of Office Receptionist, previously served by Marsha Scott.  Karen is perfectly suited to this position, and we are delighted to see Karen shift office spaces as she continues to eagerly serve St. Mark.

As you can imagine, these have not been easy positions to fill.  They require highly qualified individuals, eager to serve the church and to be committed to our greater mission.  God has been incredibly faithful to us in providing a continuity of dedicated, hard-working staff members!

Walking this journey of faith with you,

Pastor Mark

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Welcome, Carson!

Summer is fast approaching! Just as soon as you get used to warm afternoons and comfortably cool nights, the heat will hit so hard that you will want to go jump in the nearest pool. Summers here at St. Mark can seem pretty quiet, but they are not without excitement. Every year, Vacation Bible School is an incredible achievement for staff and volunteers alike. Teenage students often take trips to places as near as the Dairy Depot in Loves Park and as far as Houston, Texas. And whenever summer fun is afoot, you can bet the Summer Intern is responsible.

This year, we are thrilled to have Carson Davenport join the staff for ten short weeks as our Summer Intern. Carson is finishing up his sophomore year at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where he is a history major and a member of the soccer team. He enjoys coaching kids’ soccer and has spent the last two summers working in the Rockford Park District’s summer program. He grew up here at St. Mark and was active both in the youth ministry and as a VBS volunteer. It is a good thing he enjoys hiking and kayaking because he will be leading the high school youth on their trip to Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands in June. Carson will begin his tenure in late May, and you will have a chance to formally welcome him on Sunday, June 2nd.

The Summer Intern program has been a fixture at St. Mark for over 20 years. This paid position is designed to strengthen our youth and children’s ministries while teaching valuable skills to young leaders of the church. It is funded entirely by the St. Mark Endowment. Any church member enrolled in college during the preceding school year is eligible for the internship. Please see Pastor Chad for more details.

Pastor Chad McKenna

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Will You Walk With Me?

Dear friends,

As you receive this edition of our Memos, Easter is a little over a week away.  What might we do with these days leading up to the Resurrection of our Lord?  How can we prepare our hearts and minds to engage in the dramatic narrative that takes us through Holy Week? 

In his book, Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson provides some food for thought:

Jesus knew he was dying long before he actually died.  He deliberately set out for Jerusalem, knowing that death by crucifixion was being prepared for him…a slow death, full of pain.  All the while he was doing that he exhibited in word and presence a wonderful vitality, beauty, and faith. 

There were celebrations with hosannas, conversations full of hope and promise, painful confrontations, tender acts of sacrificial love.  The imminence of death didn’t cancel out the revelation of God in Jesus, but rather gave it added poignancy and power.  And resurrection confirmed it.

The recurring challenge for each of us this time of year is one of perspective. 

  • How deep am I willing to go to immerse myself in this tragic, yet glorious story of death and resurrection? 

  • Will I be a casual observer like so many in our culture?

  • Or, will I elect to be an active participant in the events of Holy Week and Easter? 

  • To put it even more directly, will I let Jesus touch my heart once again?

Whatever mode of engagement you choose, I urge you to be intentional in your spiritual reflections these days leading up to Easter.   Join us in worship, join us in prayer, and join us in the celebration of our risen Lord!

Walking this journey of faith with you,
Pastor Mark Hagen

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Hospitality in Introductions

The other day I drove past a bulky SUV with a prominent bumper-sticker that said “Pro God. Pro Life. Pro Gun.” That is quite an eye-catching introduction. Now that you know where this person stands on three big topics, I imagine you could fill in the gaps on their other interests and opinions. You probably already know if you would get along with the owner of this hulking vehicle.

By the mere fact that you’re reading this blog, I can probably guess where you stand on the first of those three statements. The other two are a different story. You may agree with all three, or disagree, or allow room for a little more nuance. But if you had the choice, would you introduce yourself with these exact three phrases? The whole thing rings with so much dissonance and overtone that there is no doubt in my mind the driver hopes to not only make themself known but also unsettle a few folks in the process. These are not benign interests but bold proclamations. I, for one, cannot imagine shaking someone’s hand and saying “Hi, I’m Chad. I love Jesus, and here’s what I think about gun control.”

Introductions are vital to hospitality. They can either be an invitation to relationship or a gate to divide. We can screen someone to see if they are someone we agree with, or we can meet one another with genuine curiosity in each other’s lives. I would like to think that when first-time guests come through the doors of St. Mark, they feel that open welcome which won’t turn them away because of their beliefs or their history or the way they look. Bumper-sticker introductions, on the other hand, might as well be locks on the doors.

These days, it can be hard to find common ground with those who hold differing political convictions. And yet, I see so many do that very thing every Sunday. There is more to your identity than the stances you take on the current political climate. That is especially true for us Christians who are to hold Christ above all other things in every aspect of life.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul talks about dealing with a hot-button issue of the day, specifically eating meat from the pagan temples. It’s a complicated situation, and he basically says that no matter what side you stand on to consider how your actions affect others. If our convictions in worldly things harm and divide, he says we are essentially harming Christ himself.

You may have convictions that are deeply rooted in your faith. And I am sure you have opinions about worldly affairs as well. We do not always need to agree in order to have authentic relationships. In all these things, Christ is best served when are slow to voice our views and quick to listen with care to those who think differently than us. As Paul writes in another letter, this time to the Philippians, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Pastor Chad McKenna

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

Welcome, Wendy Iversen and Karen Osolin, as New Office Staff!

Dear friends, As you know, we are blessed with a multitude of talented church staff members.  In the past year, we have seen the depa...