Thursday, February 15, 2024

A Time to Connect with God

Ash Wednesday begins our Lenten journey.  We begin Lent with a reminder that we are dust and we will return to dust. The ashes used during the Ash Wednesday worship service are made from the burnt palms that were used during the Palm Sunday worship service.  The confirmation class, with my guidance, burned the dried palms and sifted them into fine ashes. 

I like using the dried-up palms from the previous years to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.  Not only does it give a new purpose to the dried palms, it connects us to the joy we often feel as we wave the palms during the Palm Sunday procession. There is beauty in those ashes.     

Bishop Dean K. Johnson writes, “Remember you are dust, the substance of the stars, animated with the Breath of Life.  Uniquely formed in the image and likeness of Divine Love.  Authored in hope, forged in joy, very good of very good, no accident we, this beloved quickened dust, knit to love and be loved. Remember you are dust. Amen.” 

Ash Wednesday is more than a reminder of our mortality, it is a reminder that we are loved.  We are formed in the image of Divine Love.  Lent is a time for reflection and renewal.  It’s a time for spiritual growth and a time to bring us closer to God.       

During Lent, I encourage you to find time to connect with God, scripture, and one another.  Reflect on how God is at work in you.  Don’t forget that you are formed in the image and likeness of God.  We are all beloved children of God. 

Yours in Christ, 

Pastor Katrina Steingraeber



Thursday, February 1, 2024

Pastor Chad's Annual Report

Our congregation is good at a lot of things, but as I reflect on this past year, I am starting to see one thing that we don’t do very well. St. Mark Lutheran Church is not great at simply going through the motions. Seasons and holidays come every year, and yet every time we find ways to make them feel new and meaningful. We always feel the need to try new things or tinker with tradition. We have that kind of creativity that helps us thrive and grow. The differences from year to year might be subtle at times, but like years before, we continued to lean into ingenuity in 2023.

Our Uniform Co-Op, which partners with four elementary schools, is already one-of-a-kind. In Advent, our congregation worked together to provide over 700 pairs of socks to those four schools. The Endowment Board also provided a sizable donation to cover the cost of socks, underwear, and other hygiene items. This all happened because the folks in charge of this ministry listened to the needs of the families and faculty, and because our congregation took those needs to heart.

We spent the better part of the year listening, planning, and transitioning into a new phase for our youth ministry. While our partnership with Grace Lutheran Church in Loves Park is still very new, it is grounded in that careful discernment, and we continue to search for the right person to lead that ministry with the same excitement and creativity which has led our youth ministries to this place. I am so grateful for everyone who has been part of this process, including Pastor Katrina, who has faithfully cared for our youth all year.

St. Mark has become quite seasoned in outdoor worship, led by our incredible Praise Band. It’s odd, then, that we had such an amazing Septemberfest inside, on a gorgeous day no less. With a packed sanctuary, a Fellowship Hall brimming with barbecue and community, and a bounce house loaded with kids, the day filled both our souls and our stomachs. 

We had regular Family Fellowship nights, creative worship on Easter Saturday and the Winter Solstice, a Wassail Sunday that felt as fresh and lively as ever. We opened the building to support groups, a Mosaic Hub, and events for the Northern Illinois Synod. We found new ways to partner with LSSI, the Rock River Valley Pantry, and other organizations.

Of course, all of this is merely a snapshot of the last year. This is also true of the church’s full Annual Report for 2023. I hope you will pick one up and take the time to read through it to remember, or learn for the first time, the many new and familiar ways we live as the Body of Christ in the world.

I want to thank our entire staff, including those who were only with us for part of the year. The type of work our staff does can be both life-giving and exhausting on the same day. This amazing and faithful group really showed their dedication this year, filling the gaps when we were short-staffed, connecting with the community, and always doing so with love and optimism for our congregation. 

Our volunteers are no different. Whether you help out for the occasional Sunday or service event, or you are at the church so often you wonder if you might actually be on staff, you make St. Mark what it is in our community. We could not do a single thing without our volunteers.

Thank you to each and every one of you for being a part of this wonderful congregation. It is a blessing to be your pastor.

Pastor Chad McKenna




Thursday, January 11, 2024

Seeing with Carefulness and Love

A new year brings new possibilities and new ways for growth.  As soon as the new year started, my social media was filled with exercise programs and diet recipes to help with New Year’s resolutions.  To be honest, I struggle to keep a New Year’s resolution for very long.  It is not because I don’t want to, I try but I just can’t stay motivated to keep up with the resolution.  Perhaps I need a resolution that is not solely focused on exercise and diets, maybe I need something that also focuses on spiritual health and connection to community?  Perhaps some of you feel that way too?

In Gunilla Norris’s book “Simple Ways Towards the Sacred” she writes a poem titled To See.  As I read her poem one sentence stuck out to me.  It says, “To see with carefulness and love is a great act of faith.”  As I pondered this sentence I thought about all the things we at St. Mark see within a week.  St. Mark is a busy place where we worship together and serve others.  As people of faith, we are often called into active serving.  But sometimes serving comes in just simply seeing.  Seeing what or who is new.  Seeing what or who is missing.  Seeing who seems to be struggling. 

I encourage you to look around you with care and love.  Take in the beauty of God’s creation.  Take notice of who is sitting next to you at a restaurant, in the library, or at church.  Touch the cold snow or the rough tree.  Talk to folks you encounter in your daily life.  Check in with folks who you have not seen or spoken to in a while.  Spend time in silence listening to the sounds around you. 

January is a time for new possibilities and growth.  I invite you to think about your spiritual life and your community life. I invite you “to see with carefulness and love” for this “is a great act of faith.”  

Yours in Christ, 

Pastor Katrina Steingraeber  


 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Connection, Joy and Comfort

All too often I find that my days fill up pretty fast, especially during the holidays.  When this happens, it can be easy to complain about the long day.  Weariness can set in as the exhaustion intensifies.  It can be difficult to find joy.  Until someone says or does something silly.  Then we all break out laughing and once that starts the house is filled with laugher that warms our hearts and breaks through the exhaustion, even if it is only for a moment.  That moment of laughter can change your mood. 

The focus of the Sanctified Art devotion for the Second Week of Advent is “We find joy in connection.”  Many long for connection, for a place to fit in, and for folks that can be called upon when we need them.  As an extrovert I find great joy in connecting with people, lots of people.  It recharges me and energizes me.  But for many folks, being around a lot of people can be overwhelming.  Whether you enjoy being around many people or just a few, we all need connections. 

Sanctified Art writes, “In community, our joy expands. When we can’t rejoice, we can carry each other’s joy. That is what Elizabeth and Mary do for each other. The good news begins to take shape in Elizabeth’s womb, but scripture tells us that she stays secluded, hiding her pregnancy from others—that is, until Mary arrives at her door, also pregnant. Perhaps Mary’s arrival is the inbreaking that changes everything for Elizabeth, for in that moment, her child leaps in her womb and she is filled with the Spirit. She can’t help but to rejoice. Her joy is contagious and wraps around Mary like a hug. Through the prophet Isaiah, we hear God speak tender words of comfort; this is the comfort we can give to and receive from each other during this season.”

If you are struggling to find joy this holiday season, I encourage you to be in community with others and carry the joy of others.  I pray that you will find comfort when you are in community with others, either at church or at gatherings with family and friends.  I wish you all a Blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas. 

Yours in Christ, 

Pastor Katrina Steingraeber



Thursday, November 9, 2023

From All Saint's Day to Thanksgiving

In some ways, it is hard to believe that we are in the month of November.  October seemed to go by very quickly.  This month is filled with many emotions.  We began November with All Saint’s Day where we remembered those who have died since last year’s All Saint’s Day and we will end the month with a holiday centered around giving thanks.

On All Saint’s Day Pastor Chad and I read the many names of beloved children of God who are no longer with us.  It was a heavy day.  As I have reflected on All Saint’s Day, I find myself thinking of my interactions with many of those saints. I reminisce about the conversations and visits we shared and how they each made an impact on my life.  I am beyond grateful for each one of them.  So, as we continue towards Thanksgiving, I will carry with me those stories and that gratitude for the impact they made in my life and the life of St. Mark. 

I seem to have the phrase, “Give thanks with a grateful heart” stuck in my head.  I have caught myself singing those words or just the phrase popping in my head at what feels like random times throughout the week.  Each time these words pop into my mind I try to figure out why.  After attempting to figure out why for several days, I decided to just sit with those words and I tried not to overthink it.  This is not always an easy thing to do.  However, as I sit with those words’ images have popped into my head.  Images of the many things in my life that I am thankful for.  I have so much to be thankful for and I thank God for the many blessings in my life.  I invite you to sit with the phrase, “Give thanks with a grateful heart.”  What pops into your head?  How has God blessed you today?

If you find yourself struggling with All Saint’s Day, knowing that your loved one is no longer with you, I want you to know that you are loved and prayed for by the pastors, staff, and community of St. Mark.  We are here for you; to love you and support you in times of struggles and times of joy.

Yours in Christ, 

Pastor Katrina Steingraeber     


  

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Committing to the Story

A few weeks ago, I wrote to you about the story of our congregation, with a summary of everything we have been up to this past year. We are a deeply faithful community rooted in worship, with a wide variety of ministries focused on faith formation and outreach. If you haven’t had a chance to read that letter, I hope you take a look and see just how much St. Mark has been up to. All of these ministries are made possible because of the generosity of our members.

On Sunday, October 22nd, we officially kicked off our annual season of stewardship. Every October, all members of St. Mark are encouraged to make a plan for giving in the upcoming year. We do this so that our council and leadership can prepare a budget that represents the commitment of our congregation to our ministries. In order to continue the story of our mission, we hope to meet a goal of $710,000 in committed giving for the coming year. 

To be to the point, we did not meet our goal last year. Even though this year’s goal is slightly lower, we will not meet it either, unless members like you pledge to increase your giving by a small percentage. If giving were to increase by even 7%, we could get there. Not everyone is able to make such an increase. If you are, though, I hope you will prayerfully consider how you could help us meet our goal and allow us to continue all we are able to do in our congregation and with the community.

Take a look at the table on the back of a pledge card, or on the online Plan for Giving form, and see how much you might be able to give to these ministries of ours in 2024. After some reflection and prayer, please complete your pledge and return it. You can use the enclosed envelope or bring it with you the next time you come to worship. You can also complete your plan for giving online by going to www.stmarklc.com/give or by scanning the QR code below.

No matter how much you pledge, thank you for your commitment to St. Mark and our unique story of how we grow in faith and share God’s grace. All gifts, large and small, are what allow us to share the story of Jesus Christ. You are part of this story, and it is an absolute joy to be with you in this wonderful ministry we share.

Peace,

Pastor Chad McKenna




Telling the Story

 Dear St. Mark Member,

It is time for us to reevaluate how we talk about our budget. If you have ever been to an annual meeting, you know how the conversation typically goes. We look at lines with labels like “Outreach” or “Christian Education” which are fairly self-explanatory and always overshadowed by lines like “Property." Someone always stands up and asks what “Stewardship & Finance” means. While these categories are necessary for our leadership, they don’t exactly paint a picture of how much we actually value the primary ministries of St. Mark.

Take Outreach for example. Our congregation operates school uniform co-ops at four elementary schools on the west side of the city. We are able to provide regular meals to places like Rock House Kids and Carpenter’s Place. We give directly to local agencies and charities through both the budget and our endowment. The Sew & Sews meet twice a month to make blankets, quilts, and medical port pillows for people in need. We host four support groups, two bridge clubs, a Mosaic Hub, and other outside organizations. Recently, we began providing pre-packaged foods and other essential items in the St. Market cabinet by the kitchen entrance. I would even include our weekly coffee and donut hospitality as a form of outreach.

While much of what we do relies on volunteers, everything also relies on our pastors, staff, and property. The parking lot is plowed in winter to provide space for outside groups and volunteers who rely on a heated and well-lit building. All those behind-the-scenes expenses exist to support the ministries of our congregation. In fact, for every dollar we spent this year, 26 cents went to ministries that care for our community and welcome our neighbors.

Another 24 cents per dollar went to our ministries of Faith Formation. Mainstays like Sunday School and Vacation Bible School are strengthened by regular family fellowship events. Adult Forum on Sundays, as well as the Wednesday morning bible studies, provide learning opportunities for adults. And, we are excited to be partnering with Grace Lutheran in Loves Park for our new shared youth ministry. Growing in faith is a life-long process, and we are blessed to be able to provide opportunities for faithful people of every age.

We are also blessed to have such vibrant and varied worship. New members often cite our music ministry and choirs as a main factor in their decision to join our congregation. Life-long members can be seen lingering in their seats after worship to enjoy the full breadth of the postlude. Our praise band diligently leads worship every week, both inside and on the lawn. With two services every Sunday, evening prayer in Lent, and worship on major holidays, it’s no surprise that the largest ministry at St. Mark is Worship. It accounts for 33% of our budget because it’s what we do. Worship is where our community gathers to grow in faith together, as the love of Jesus unites us into the Body of Christ.

What I have been describing is not simply an overview of our congregation, but a narrative budget. When you donate to St. Mark, this is what you support. When we talk about our expenses, we are talking about ministry. An increase in giving allows us to do even more. Almost all of our budget can be attributed to those three areas of Outreach, Faith Formation, and Worship. The remaining 17% covers our mortgage, insurance, and other administrative costs.

Our staff and council are beginning to prepare the ministry budget for 2024, and you are a vital part of the process. On Sunday, October 22nd, everyone will have the opportunity to make a commitment for giving in 2024. It can be an act of worship to declare how much we will give toward the ministries of this unique and wonderful community of faith. If you are able, I would invite you to consider increasing your pledge for the coming year. Whatever amount you decide to give, though, I wholeheartedly thank you for supporting all the wonderful ministries that we share.

Peace,
Pastor Chad McKenna 




A Time to Connect with God

Ash Wednesday begins our Lenten journey.  We begin Lent with a reminder that we are dust and we will return to dust. The ashes used during t...