February 21, 2011
here are some photos from the Blessing of Pets we had yesterday! It was a wonderful time!
April 30, 2010
Hospitality: It takes guts
Are we up to the challenge?
By Elizabeth Hunter
Let’s get one thing straight: hospitality isn’t easy. Gospel hospitality is downright gutsy. In an age of polarization, pundits and security concerns, gospel hospitality reveals mission for what it is — an extreme sport. Before leaping out on faith, it’s surprising we aren’t asked to sign a disclaimer. If we did, it might read something like this:
In committing to offer God’s welcome, I am free to engage in gospel hospitality at its relational, eye-opening, life-changing and, yes, risky best.
I hereby indemnify and hold harmless myself, fellow members and newcomers with respect to any loss of comfort zones or damage to previously assumed ideas. I hereby release myself and others to God’s grace, understanding that results are not guaranteed.
I knowingly and freely assume there will be blessings, known and unknown, in offering God’s welcome.”
Your signature here:
Now print it out and sign it. Yes, right now. I dare you.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Amy Oden coaches ELCA congregations and at least one synod (Northwest Washington) as they work on their welcome. She is dean and professor of the history of Christianity at Wesley Seminary, Washington, D.C., which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church (an ELCA full communion partner). Her book,God’s Welcome: Hospitality for a Gospel-Hungry World (Pilgrim Press, 2008), offers a biblical foundation, self-training ideas and study questions for ways groups and individuals can welcome strangers into their congregations and lives — just as God welcomes all of us.
The thing is, Oden said, “hospitality is really hard, and we don’t expect that. We think hospitality is going to be warm and fuzzy and everyone will be really happy. When we hit walls along the way, we think we’re failing. [Hospitality] can challenge what we think about everything.
“It’s not for the fainthearted. Scripture tells us that. And that’s OK because we can trust God to lead us. We don’t need to have it all figured out. We just have to be willing to take some risks.”
Since getting out of the chute — simply beginning — is often the hardest, here are nine ways to become welcoming:
1. Go beyond ‘friendly.’
Gospel hospitality is what Oden calls God’s welcome. Like “radical hospitality” or “kingdom hospitality” — similar wording used by Christians, “this isn’t just cultural gracious living or the serving of refreshments,” she said. “Gospel hospitality says we have something to offer that is good news. It’s not mere friendliness but welcoming people with the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.”
Congregations are called to move beyond the friendliness level, Oden said. “When people come to church and get friendliness but nothing deeper, no real connection, there’s no food for them,” she added. “But [the welcomers and the welcomed] often don’t realize what we need: deep experiences of grace, forgiveness and new life. We want to know that this is a God of grace, not just a God of scolding.”
Oden said it’s especially difficult since Christians are often stereotyped as judgmental and closed-minded in American society. “We often think that a cup of coffee and handshake will do it,” she said. “That’s OK, but it’s not going to feed a person’s hunger for the gospel.”
In Lincoln, Neb., First Lutheran Church serves up the gospel and connects people to other members of the body of Christ. “Hospitality is core to our identity as God’s people, whether Old Testament or New Testament, particularly when our worship is built around the Lord’s table,” said Brian D. Maas, a pastor of the 1,200-member congregation. “What’s more hospitable than sharing a meal?”
The congregation is intentional about having at least one hospitality event each month that includes a group meal. First avoids using acronyms newcomers wouldn’t understand, and includes an invitation and explanation with every event announcement.
But offering a more intentional welcome “takes time,” Maas warned.
“We’re changing….you can see this even in the passing of the peace. Finally, we’re crossing the aisle. One longtime member said that the attitude used to be, ‘We’re Lutheran and we’re here. You can come to us any time you want.’ “
First is still Lutheran, Maas said, and now it invites people intentionally, going out to them as well.
2. Remember your first time.
“What gets an atheist to come to church?” asked Steven P. Schulte, pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church, Thunderbolt, Ga. “Well, he believes the Bible lessons are good, he enjoys the fellowship of people and he sings in the choir. For me, it’s great, because it says we welcome anybody.”
St. Luke‘s members — who’ve been known to jokingly refer to themselves as “the Lutheran Church of the Outcasts” — try to remember what it’s like to be a first-time worshiper, Schulte said.
“We all know in our own way what it’s like to not be included in something,” he added. “Last week I had a caller talk to me for 45 minutes about whether she’d be welcome. She’d had an abortion years ago, and many churches condemned her for this. We have gay families, interracial couples and others who know what that’s like. So we go out of our way to include people and help them find the song or their place in the service if they haven’t sat next to someone.”
“Instead of trying to be inclusive, we should try to not be exclusive — and do everything we can to not exclude people from God’s welcome.”
Take Wayne and Nancy Beebe. They first came to Trinity Lutheran Church, Pullman, Wash., 20 years ago bringing with them four young children who were a bit fussy. “Nancy kind-of apologized to a woman, but she said, ‘We just expect it, it’s being part of the family.’ That really sold my wife,” he said.
Now, when “[I] meet new people, I always take the time to introduce them to at least one other member in the congregation,” Beebe said.
But where to start?
Start with Scripture, Oden said, adding: “We all want to begin with being a good host, but we need to back up. Scripture tells us we first have to remember what it’s like to be the one on the outside. The reality is we’ve all been there in jobs, marriages, family relationships and churches. Knowing the ache and hunger to be received fuels our ability to move beyond a surface welcome.
“In Deuteronomy 10:19 … God doesn’t say love the stranger because you’re great people, because you’ll get brownie points in heaven, because you’ll get more members to join your group. God says [do it] because you were strangers.”
Identifying these “first-timer” experiences can be a congregational activity, a sermon series or even an adult education or Sunday school study, Oden said. One of the best experiences, she added, is to “be the outsider. Show up at a congregation where you don’t know anyone and you’re by yourself.”
3. Get connected.
Those hungry for hospitality may even be regular worship attendees, Oden said. “There are lots of folks who go to church who are hungry, folks who’ve gone to church for 20 years and haven’t experienced God’s grace at a relationship level,” she said.
One hard truth, Oden said, is that sometimes congregations “aren’t ready to receive [newcomers] because they haven’t even received each other.”
To help foster those internal connections, Sunni Richardson, ministry coordinator at First, changed the church’s time-and-talent sheet to a “get connected” sheet. “She listed things like ‘I’m a smiler’ and ‘I’m a people person’ to help people identify and use their gifts for hospitality,” Maas said.
During Lent, Richardson and other leaders also made it easier for members to welcome others by preprinting postcards that “people could use to invite neighbors to midweek meals,” Maas said.
4. Listen and care.
“That means calling one another to see how we’re doing,” Oden said. “That means saying, ‘Do you know how cool that was, what you did in the Bible study? I can see Mary is so much more involved.’ Or ‘You’ve got this amazing skill, but I’m concerned because you seem so worn out right now and could you take a break for a while?’ Checking in on each other and waking each other up is not just the pastor’s job.”
5. Take risks.
A true welcome is risky — and risk is a mark of gospel hospitality, Oden said. “If we as a congregation aren’t risking anything, we may be very friendly and warm, but we’re not extending God’s hospitality,” she said.
At Netzer Co-op, an ELCA worshiping community in Austin, Texas, participants aren’t afraid to invite their friends or people they encounter. The average age is 25 and “most people have either been only culturally Christian or really burned by the evangelical church or bored by the mainline denominational church,” said Brianna Morris-Brock, lay minister. “We try to create space for people to experience worship and be part of our community, even if they’re not sure about Christ or Christian community. We see it as our job to make sure they feel part of the group and not just sitters or observers.”
Chelsey Christensen said hospitality is so critical for Luther Place Memorial, Washington, D.C., that the congregation includes a study of it in new-member classes.
“As I went through [the] classes at Luther Place, hospitality was one of the main words [or] qualities that we discussed,” she said. “Luther Place is the home church to individuals from all walks of life. The church supports N Street Village and houses [its] night shelter for women in the church building. Many of the women worship at Luther Place on Sundays.”
Oden said, “Welcome can’t just be a public relations campaign. Then people who were already alienated from church have another shallow experience and say, ‘See, it’s just as hypocritical as I thought it was.’
“The witness of God’s love in the world is bigger and stronger than anything any of us can do to damage it, but I do think that because we are the embodiment of that witness, we can give people the wrong impression about God by having a superficial welcome. We leave them hungry and we squander an opportunity.”
6. Make ‘telling’ time.
Oden said congregations can schedule a “telling time” during worship, council meetings, adult education classes or any group setting.
“Let people share, in pairs, for two minutes each, a time when they were strangers and someone reached out to them,” she said. “Share what it was like to come to your congregation for the first time. People don’t have to talk to a big group or report. Practice every week, and after three or four weeks, people start actively looking for and seeing God’s work and God’s welcome all around them.”
7. Throw ‘bread on the water.’
One Sunday, newcomer Anne Tews held the heavy church door open for Mardell Johnson at Pilgrim Lutheran, St. Paul, Minn. Johnson said, “Bread on the water,” a reference to Ecclesiastes 11:1 and not being afraid to give generously without hope of gain, Tews said.
Tews said she had tried visiting another church “but they froze me out.The only ones to say hi were the ushers when they handed me a bulletin. That was the extent of anyone approaching me though I gave them three Sundays’ worth of chances.”
But Johnson “said she noticed I was new and did I want to sit with her so she could answer any questions, etc.,” Tews said. “I did and never needed to check out another church. After six years this is my home.”
8. Learn from failure.
Three years ago, First began an ambassadors ministry, where members were trained to welcome people they didn’t know. They wore badges and carried information about the congregation.
“It worked pretty well until so many were trained that people weren’t taking responsibility anymore, thinking there were so many other ambassadors that someone else could do the welcoming,” Maas said.
So the congregation encouraged every member to welcome new people and retooled the program into a “Friendly Faces” ministry, this time with no badges.
9. Live in God’s welcome.
Unfasten your seat belts, or whatever may keep you from reaching out far beyond your pew. Let go, and let God, as the saying goes. Let God’s welcome for you be a source of strength and gratitude.
“We live as children of God,” Oden said. “We’ve been welcomed into God’s own life. The more we live in that reality every day, the more we’re able to say, ‘Isn’t it great to be here?’
The way it came about: the person who wrote the article read our church’s twitter account and saw that we regularly invite #Savannah to worship with us. She was really impressed that we invited “all of Savannah to come and worship with us.”
February 4, 2010
It’s about time!! We’ve been working on our facility for over a year and a half. But we didn’t start working on it full time until this past September (actually July, but we had a 2 month delay).
So what is left? We need to get the Certificate of Occupancy. And we need to paint the outside (at least the front portion) and we need to landscape. That’s it!! Yeah!
Now we need to set a date for dedication and open house for the local community and the wedding community!
One of the great advantages that we have is that we now have restrooms!!! Not only that, but a kitchen sink as well!! We also have a handicap ramp.
Come check us out!
January 14, 2010
Please copy and paste this into an email, then forward it with your name on the list. Once it gets to 100 people, will the 100th person email it to EmailToHaiti@gmail.com to have it distributed to numerous people and organization of Haiti.
Dear People of Haiti,
We are terribly saddened to hear of the horrific damage that the earthquake has caused. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
We are encouraging our local community and our government to send help through people and supplies.
A collaborative effort of the people of
Savannah Wedding Professionals and St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Savannah.
Along with the following:
1. Donna Von Bruening, Savannah , GA
2. Rev. Steve Schulte, Savannah, GA
3. Chad Baker, Savannah, GA
January 10, 2010
Well, we did. Why? Lack of heat! The outside temp was 24. the inside temp in the sanctuary was 44, and the kitchen pipes were frozen when I arrived this morning at 7:30am!!
After turning on the faucets and the water dribbled out, then stopped, then barely started again, then stopped, then slowly started, after about 30 minutes I got the water flowing in the church!! (Is that a great bapism connection!?)
Hopefully tonight will be the coldest night for a while! It’s suppose to get down to 19 degrees! I hope leaving the faucets on for tonight will be okay!! Not only the faucets but that the drains don’t freeze!!
Share your thoughts!!
Blessings! And keep telling the story of Jesus.
January 3, 2010
We believe the Holy Bible to be the Inspired Word of God. Do we interpret the Bible literally? Some Lutherans do, some don’t. We’re part of the “some don’t.”
Do all Christians take the Bible literally? No. It is an impossibility to take the entirety of the Bible literally. So does that mean we shouldn’t take any of it literally? No! Do we think that there was a secretary who took notes and wrote down word for word what God was saying in each book of the Bible? No.
How do you we know which parts of the Bible to take literally and which parts not to take literally? That’s a great question with a great answer!! A lot of churches/pastors/members of the church are very selective about which parts of the bible they follow literally. Most of the time it is the portion which helps support their thoughts or actions. And sometimes, it is the parts of the Bible which is the current hot topic or which might bring more people.
If a person takes the Bible literally, they need to be consistent, rather than a pick and choose approach. If a person takes the Bible as the Inspired Word of God, it opens so many more doors and allows for so much more grow in the Christian faith.
Let me give some examples of the literal approach. Leviticus, chapter 11, in part reads:
7The pig, for even though it has divided hoofs and is cloven-footed, it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. 8Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean for you.
What this is clearly, and without a doubt saying, “don’t eat pig” or we would say, “don’t eat pork.” In fact it goes beyond that and does don’t touch it once it is dead. So if you are out and about and run into a pig, you can pet it. But you can’t eat it, no bacon bits, no bacon, no pork chops, no roasts, and no ham. You can’t eat pork, but you can eat locus and crickets (vs. 20)!!
The next time you go to the store walk past the pork roast and grab a container of locus and crickets!!
Okay so now you say, well it’s the old testament. We follow the New Testament. Here’s a great simple example of being a literalist over being the inspired Word of God. At Christmas when you have a nativity scene, who are the people/animals there? Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Shepherds, sheep, Wisemen, and camels, correct? I’m sure you’ve scene Christmas plays having all of those people. If you’d seen them all there when Jesus was born, the Bible was not followed!! How can that be? I mean each time you’ve heard the story told you hear it read from the Bible.
The Gospel of Luke contains the story of Jesus being born in a manger, having the shepherds appear. Yet, no where in Luke will you find any mention of Magi/Wisemen. So when do the Magi appear? They appear in the Gospel of Matthew. (One of the ways I remember which story has which is that Luke has the lambs (L and L) and Matthew has the Magi (M and M).
When you’ve seen the nativity scene with all of the above, you’ve seen people take two different parts of the bible and merge them together as one!
Those of us who believe the Bible is the Inspired Word of God can take the differences/discrepancies and say, “what does that mean, today, here and now?”
I’ll be writing more on this in the coming days.
Until then, share your thoughts!!
The day before Christmas Eve a colleague of mine in Nebraska cancelled the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day worship services at the church where he is pastor due to the blizzard they were having. He wrote on his facebook, “go ahead and blame me for canceling Christmas.” I joked with him about being from the Ebenezer bunch of Lutherans in Effingham County, GA. And I called him an “Ebenezer Scrooge.”
Well today, I cancelled worship services at St. Luke’s. Not because of snow, which would have been awesome (I haven’t seen it snow it almost 15 years). But because of the cold. This morning on the way to check on the church heat, the outside temperature was 27 degrees and once I arrived at the church the inside of the church temperature was 47 degrees!!
So instead of worshiping at St. Luke’s, I put a sign on the door and we went to Starbucks instead!!
Share your thoughts!!!
January 2, 2010
Lutherans have been around for about 450 years! Even though here in the south, we are sparse, up north there are plenty of Lutherans. For example, within an hour or so of Detroit, Michigan, you’ll find about 150 Lutheran churches. To find that same number of Lutheran churches here in the south it takes all of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi!!
There are a few different denominations of Lutherans, we belong to the largest “bunch” of Lutherans, the ELCA. The ELCA is then divided up into synods (districts, divisions, dioceses, etc.) we are part of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA.
Each of the 65 synods has a Bishop, and then we have one Presiding Bishop over the ELCA. It’s not like the Catholic Church which has a Pope and the orders go down hill. Ours is a grass roots approach.
So who are Lutherans? We are as diverse as any religious group. We have conservatives and liberals. We have fundamentalists. We have married couples, we have singles, we have families, we have blended families, we have families of choice, we have straight people and gay people, we have every nationality known to humanity to name just a few!
What do we believe? How do we worship? Do we have doctrines? How do we interpret the Bible? Those and more are for up coming blogs!!
We think that it’s a great place to share and learn more about Jesus and to share your thoughts, along with asking questions!
Some of the topics we’d like to explore over the coming months are: what are Lutherans?; are Lutherans Christian?; What do Lutherans believe? How do we baptize?; What is Communion?; Are we like Catholics?; Do we practice what we preach?; how many Lutherans are there?; What is liturgy?; What is the ELCA?
If there are other questions or topics you’d like to learn about, please express your thoughts here. We love to tell the story of Jesus in as many ways as we can!
Look forward to more posts!!
Find God’s blessings for you today and every day!
Pastor Steve Schulte