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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Meet Julie Eshleman, Director of Christian Education

On January 2nd, I joined the St. Mark staff as the Director of Christian Education. I am so excited to be here, taking on this new role in the life of the church.

I grew up here in Rockford, and returned after graduating from Valparaiso University. My husband Dan - another Valpo alum - and I were married at Tabor Lutheran, my childhood church, and we both served on the congregational council there for a few years in the mid-2000s. We came to St. Mark in October of 2009, because we were looking for a congregation with other young families, a strong children’s ministry, and a music program I could participate in. We found all of those things here, and soon convinced my mom, Vickie Pfeilschifter, to join us as well. Both Ben and Oliver were baptized here.

Over the past nine years, I’ve sung in the choir, taught Sunday School, rung handbells, played the oboe, and chaired the Call Committee as we searched for a new Associate Pastor in 2015. I’ve worked and worshiped with so many of you, and have felt welcome since the very beginning.

As Director of Christian Education, my primary focus will be on teaching the children of St. Mark about God’s love for them. We’ll study scripture, hear stories of God’s work in history and in the world today, worship and sing together, and act as God’s hands in the world through service to our community. The excellent team of Sunday School teachers are dedicated to this task and to the children, and I am so grateful to them.

Through programs like VBS, I’ll help bring the Good News of the Gospel to children who do not belong to a church community. For some of them, this will be their first experience with Christ’s life and love in the world, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I will work to ensure that our programs are accessible and welcoming to all, and meet everyone where they are, to the best of my ability.

I will be supporting the continued learning of the adults of St. Mark as well, though less directly. Small Group Bible Studies are a place for adults to read, discuss, and learn together, and can be organized around a particular text or topic. Advent and Lenten devotional booklets are a way for adults to bring focused study into their home lives during the Church’s seasons of preparation. I hope that those who use these resources find them helpful to their spiritual growth.

Thank you so much for welcoming and encouraging me. I am so grateful for this congregation, and for the opportunity to share in the work of teaching God’s Word to the world.

Feel free to contact me at or 815-398-3557 ext. 21.

Julie Eschleman

Looking Back

Dear St. Mark friends, 2019 is a year I will never forget.   On January 13 of last year, my second granddaughter, Madlyn Olivia Hagen,...