Friday, November 21, 2008

Moving on - a new blog

Since we are no longer seminary students, we have decided that the blog needs a new name and theme. Come visit us at our new blog -

We hope to continue our blogging, but with an emphasis on ministry rather than the journey through seminary. Come join us!!!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

More Ordination Photos

We are finally getting around to sorting and printing some of the ordination photos. Here are a couple that we particularly like.

This one is where one of us is actually being ordained. There are several pastors here, all involved in the laying on of hands. Some were from close by; some were from far off; some had been our pastors; some had been our supervisors; some were bishops; others had only been ordained a few weeks longer than us. It was wonderful to have all of them there, as had others when they were ordained.

Here we are, fully ordained and having been announced by Bishop Bolick to the congregation.
We have now served a full two months, and are looking forward to many more.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A time of first

We really have not forgotten about blogging, but we have been a little busy. We also cannot agree on a name for a new blog, so here is another post to this one.

Since our ordination, we have been doing a lot of things for the first time - first house we have bought in NC outside of Charlotte; led worship with communion for the first time; taken the confirmation class on a retreat for the first time; gone to our first homecoming at Becks; gone to First Call Theological Education for the first time; confirmed students for the first time; gone to our first BBQ festival; signed our names with the title Rev. for the first time; and many more that I can't even think of now.

If you haven't checked it out yet, Becks has a new website and there are several pictures of us posted there (along with many others, of course).

We have moved into our new house and much of our belongings are unpacked, but there are still several boxes to go - mostly in the office and garage. Smokey is settling in quite well and Sam, the neighbor's dog, has become a good playmate. Here is a picture of our new house.

That is all for now, but at least you know that we are still around and have not dropped off the face of the earth.

Monday, October 06, 2008


We are way behind in posting, or in deciding a direction for the blog, but here are some photos of our ordination. We were ordained September 3, 2008 by Bishop Leonard Bolick of the NC Synod, assisted by Bishop Herman Yoos of the SC Synod, who was also our preacher for the service. Thanks to the many of you who send cards and letters and emails, and especially to those who were able to attend. Your support has meant a lot over the last 4 years.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Well, it’s official. We are no longer seminarians, or even unemployed. We are now called and ordained ministers, pastors of Becks Lutheran Church in Lexington, NC. The worship service last night was an incredible experience. We aren’t entirely moved yet – that’s another story, which is a continuation of Ray’s last post. But for now, we have a temporary home near the church and are settling into life as pastors of this congregation.

While packing up things on my desk in Columbia, I came across a copy of the Final Exam for Ordained Ministry which one of our classmates brought to class during the last week or two of classes last spring. The author is unknown, so I can’t give credit where it is due.

I certainly am glad we didn’t actually have to take that exam, as it was two pages of questions like this: “2,500 riot crazed aborigines are storming the classroom. Calm them. You may use any language except Latin or Greek.”

Here’s another favorite: “Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world. Construct an experiment to test your theory and then defend it.”

Finally, the extra credit question: “Define the universe. Describe your impact on it. Be specific and give three concrete examples.”

These would, of course, be impossible questions to answer. And I know that in the days ahead, we will be faced with questions and tasks and situations that would be impossible if we were left to our own devices.

That is why we give thanks for God’s presence with us on every step of this journey. We know that we have been called to a place which he has already prepared for us, a place where he is already at work among his people. And we know that we will never have to answer troubling or impossible questions like these without his guidance!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Update on the move

You might think that being called as a pastor was the hard part and that moving would be the easy part, but you would be wrong - at least in our case. What has seemed to be a blessing for the past 4 years - owning a house a short walk from campus, is turning out to be a bit of a headache. With the downturn in the housing market, uncertainty in the economy, difficulties in the mortgage market, and everything else that seems to be going on, trying to move and buy a house while still owning a house is turning out to be difficult. Not impossible, but certainly not as smooth as we had hoped.

Today was appraisal day for our bridge loan. Our appraiser may be good at his job, but he spread enough doom and gloom about the current housing market to make one wonder if it is possible to sell a house at any price. We have not seen the appraisal yet, but he indicated that housing appraisals today are much lower than anyone expects. We'll just have to see.

On the other hand, we do have a place to stay, and we have begun moving things into the church office. Things will happen, we will still begin on September 1, but our move is postponed for a little while. In the meantime, we hope and pray that someone buys our house and/or that the appraisal is better than the dashed hopes the appraiser left us with.

In the meantime, Internet access is going to be limited to daytime working hours while we are in the office. Not that we have been posting very regularly lately anyway, but it may get worse before it gets better.

In the meantime, we are wondering about the future of the blog. We are soon to be ex-seminarians (sort of already are) as we will be ordained next week (we will post pictures!). What should the blogging future hold for us? A new blog more closely associated with the church? Individual blogs about ministry? If you have any ideas, let us know. We will be giving this some thought as well. While email is great, Facebook is fun, the blog is still our best way of letting you know what we are up to, as well as providing us an outlet for our thoughts.

We keep all in the path of Gustav in our prayers, and watch its path through the Gulf of Mexico. For all of our friends on the Gulf Coast, our prayers are with you. May God keep you safe.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More signs along the way...

We have been on the road again this past week. From home to Taylorsville, NC where Ray preached and we attended a family reunion; then on to Lexington to move a few books into our new offices and continue house-hunting. Add in a quick side trip to Boone and we have seen lots of highways, back roads, and scenic byways this week.

More travels this week in North and South Carolina meant that we saw many more church signs! One of the first we saw was When things go wrong, don’t go with them.

Another sign that we noticed – just as we almost missed the turn we needed to take at a small crossroad in rural NC – If you are headed the wrong way, God allows U-turns.

I’ll include one more that we discussed for quite awhile after we saw it: God gives special grace when troubles we face. Like many of the signs we have seen, which I didn’t post here, this one presents a view of God and of the world that troubles me. Cute, it rhymes and all; but do we really believe that God will only dole out grace in metered doses just in time to cure specific problems – or do we believe that God has ALREADY given us all that we need and more?

Sorry, but the voice of our ethics professor still rings in my head on this subject. This sign is yet another symptom of a prevailing theology of scarcity in our culture rather than a theology of abundance. We typically want to hoard and guard all that we think we possess, rather than trusting in God’s providence and plan for all of creation and sharing generously with each other.

Seeing this sign makes we wonder all over again how I/we can reach people where they are and help them recognize and experience God’s abundant mercy and amazing grace.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sewing, Babies, and Looking Ahead

Some of my activities lately have brought back memories.

I’ve been doing some sewing recently, even though I hadn’t touched my sewing machine during the past four years at seminary. (Except, of course, to move it from place to place to place!) I’m sewing the crinoline which our daughter will wear under her wedding dress in just a few short weeks. This crinoline is a bouffant creation made of about 20 yards of taffeta and nylon netting. As I worked on it, I was both saddened and relieved that I hadn’t volunteered to create the actual wedding dress. But that would probably have been too stressful this summer amidst everything else that is going on - and a serious strain on my rusty sewing skills!

I couldn’t help but remember other sewing projects for her in years past: numerous costumes, a red flowered dress with lace trim, a navy plaid wool jumper, and a pink gingham sundress, among others. But the project I remember most comes from a summer long past, when between tending a new baby and her three year old brother, I was sewing white eyelet lace into her baptismal gown and matching bonnet.

I’ve also had the great joy this summer of spending time with our twin grandsons and their big sister. I must admit, I’ve never felt quite so outnumbered as when I’ve spent several hours alone with the twins! At 8 weeks old, they still stay where you put them, but they are certainly able to let you know if they aren’t happy about it. They are also starting to be much more alert – recognizing voices and smiling at those who love and care for them. I treasure this time with them, and it also reminds me of days long past, when their daddy and his sister were tiny. I felt just as helpless when they cried as I do now when these two do.

It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed! And yet we have come full circle from eyelet to netting; from babies to grandbabies. God has brought many changes into our lives, yet he remains a constant presence! People often ask us why we are entering ministry now, at this stage in our lives. All I can say is that God had other plans for us until now. We had children to raise; places to see; people to meet; and many, many things to do.

Now he has called us into another part of our journey, where I firmly believe there are plenty more things to be done. We look forward to our ministry with God's children in a new place!

Monday, August 11, 2008


You ever have one of those stories that you can't quite tell, but also can't keep it to yourself? In our experience, these are usually "God stories;" times and places where the unexpected and too good to be true intersect. This is one of those stories.

Sunday was a pretty typical summer Sunday for us. One of us (occasionally both) have been preaching somewhere in North Carolina, South Carolina, or Georgia on any given weekend this summer. This Sunday, we were headed south - to Georgia. We had been there several times, sometimes together, a couple of times only one of us as the other preached at another church, so we were familiar with the drive.

We were running just a few minutes behind as we left the house, but we usually had a 15 minute cushion build into our schedule anyway. With high gas prices, we had been leaving a little bit early and driving about 65 mph instead of 72 mph. Even with leaving a few minutes late, we had plenty of time. As we headed around Columbia, traffic was light (as it usually is early on Sunday morning) and we were making good time. As we neared Orangeburg, the usual road noise of the front left tire changed slightly, and the car began pulling a little bit to the left.

We pulled off to the side of the read and saw that the tire seemed to be a little low. I pulled the emergency kit out of the back of the car and used the air compressor to pump the tire back up. Not that 12 volt compressors are very efficient, but in a few minutes the tire looked more normal and I was pretty sure we could get to the next gas station to finish filling it up. Wrong!

We drove about 2 miles down the road, and suddenly it sounded like we were driving on a gravel road - with the rocks bouncing up and hitting the floorboards of the car. What we were actually hearing was the tire disintegrating. Bits of rubber were coming off of the inside sidewall and flying everywhere. Very quickly, the tire went completely flat and starting flapping - just as I was pulling off onto the shoulder - again.

Needless to say, I was not dressed to change a tire. We have AAA, but we also did not have much spare time (not if we wanted to get the preacher to church on time). Fortunately, I did not have on my good suit - I had opted for something a little less formal because of the 90+ degree days we have been having. I took off my clerical shirt, laid a blanket that we carry out beside the front left tire, and starting looking for the necessary tools to change the tire.

I had never changed the tire on a PT Cruiser before, so it took me a couple of minutes to remember that the spare tire I was looking for was underneath the car. Then, it took a couple more minutes to figure out the mechanism that lowered and released the spare. Then came the fun job of breaking the lug nuts loose (with the factory supplied tire tool), removing the tire, installing the spare, and then tightening up the lug nuts so we could drive again. All during this, traffic was blowing by at 70+ mph and no one seemed to care how close they were to the shoulder, how fast they were going, or if there was any danger to the guy trying to change a tire on the side of the road.

I am a little out of practice at changing tires and probably won't have a NASCAR pit crew coming to recruit me any time soon, but I did get the tire changed in about 20 minutes. By the time I had everything back in the trunk, I was not happy with my fellow travelers - all those people who had passed by, not stopped to see if we needed help, or even moved over a line to give us some safe space. No police cars came by, no emergency road help, nobody. I changed the tire and was just glad that it had gone flat while we were both in the car, rather than when one of us was traveling alone.

Finally, back on the road, we arrived just as the organist was beginning the prelude. Since Ruth Ann was preaching, she went to get ready and I went to sit in the first row. All during the service, I alternated between being thankful that the mini-spare got us the rest of the way, wondering where I could get a new tire on Sunday afternoon, and being a bit miffed at all of the uncaring people who had zoomed past us while I was changing the tire.

At the end of the service, one of the couples we have gotten to know came up and said that Charlie would find us a place to get a tire and would take us out for lunch while it was being installed. Charlie and his wife led us to the nearest Wal-Mart (where else do you get a tire on Sunday?) and then took us to lunch. After an enjoyable lunch, we came back to Wal-Mart to find out that the tire they thought they had was defective and that our car was sitting right where we left it - still with the mini-spare on it. Turns out they needed to ask me a question, but that they had not called my cell phone. After a few frustrating minutes of clearing up the fact that I needed and wanted a tire, and whatever they had would work (no - I did not care what the tread pattern looked like), they finally got a tire and started the installation process (again).

All this time, Charlie and his wife insisted on waiting with us, and kept chatting with us about kids, grandkids, and various other things. Finally, we saw them drive our car out of the garage and bring the keys in. Charlie walked with me to the cash register to make sure our car was ready. Once we were assured that it was, and told how much, Charlie whips out his credit card to pay for our new tire. No amount of arguing from me was going to work, so I finally settled for saying "Thank You!"

We then headed for home - with full stomachs and a new tire - all paid for by our new friend, Charlie. And those thoughts about all those drivers who ignored our early morning troubles? Gone - replaced by the generosity of someone who just could not stand to see us have to pay for a new tire because we came to preach for his church that day.

We praise God for people like Charlie, and for those "God moments." And again to Charlie - we say "Thanks!"

Friday, August 08, 2008

Signs Along the Way

We often notice church signs as we drive along. You know the kind with a big space for a temporary message to be added? We’ve been travelling quite a bit on two lane highways and back roads the last few weeks - we’ve been in four states to supply preach, visit family, attend the ordination of friends, continue the call process, and now to prepare to move – and much of that travel has not been by interstate. But there have been lots of churches along the way with these signs.

Sometimes, the messages on these signs make us smile; sometimes they make us think; sometimes the theology is troubling; often they become the topic of our conversation as we drive along. We are actually relieved that Becks Lutheran doesn’t have one of these signs, so we won’t become responsible for creating appropriate messages for one of those signs any time soon.

Some of our favorites recently include: You can’t alter your past but you can take your past to the altar and Even a fish can stay out of trouble if it keeps its mouth closed. Of course a perpetual favorite – which seems especially encouraging at this point in our journey is God won’t lead you anywhere he won’t keep you.

But I must admit, the one that caused us smiles and laughter as well as some more serious thought and conversation this week was one that read: Sign Broken – Message Inside. Clearly the sign wasn’t really broken, as the lettering was visible. But it did beckon to everyone that read it to come inside and hear the word of God proclaimed.

The signs are all there to get our attention, of course, but shouldn't they also invite us inside to hear the Good News? Could we expect any more from a message on a sign outside a church?

What’s your favorite sign message?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ordination Announcement

For all of you who have faithfully followed this four year journey, and for those who have joined in along the way, we have news to report. We have been called! We have been in discussion with Becks Lutheran Church in Lexington, NC since spring, and one week ago today, the congregation of Becks voted to call both of us as their new pastors.

Throughout this journey, you have prayed for us, encouraged us, supported us, and in every way possible, helped us through seminary, moving (multiple times), and in celebrating along the way. We now offer you the opportunity to celebrate with us once again. On September 3, we will be ordained as pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ( and installed at Becks Lutheran Church (

With the counsel of the Holy Spirit,
and in joy and thanksgiving,
the North Carolina Synod of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
invites you to a
Service of Holy Communion
with the Rites of Ordination and Installation.
By the grace of God
and with the consent of God’s people,
Kenneth Raymond Sipe
Ruth Ann Sipe
will be ordained into the
Ministry of Word and Sacrament
in Christ’s holy catholic and apostolic Church
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
seven o’clock in the evening
Becks Lutheran Church
441 Becks Church Road
Lexington, North Carolina 27292
Your prayers and presence are requested.
Rostered leaders are invited to process;
the liturgical color is red.
A reception will follow the service.

Come and Eat!

Sunday, August 3, 2008
Lectionary 18 / Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 (Ps. 145:16)
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Come and eat! It’s free! How often do you hear that? Free food and drink? This is something that is almost unheard of in our society. There is plenty of food and drink, but there are also plenty of people who are trying to make money off of our need for food and drink. For the owners of restaurants or grocery stores, our need for food is their livelihood. We even pay for bottled water – which we can get out of the tap for almost free.

No – the offer of free food and drink in the Isaiah text is not something that we would expect to come across today. There is no free lunch, as the saying goes. In the business world, you pretty much know that when you are invited for a “free meal,” there are strings attached – something to buy and a sales pitch for desert. Even in some homeless shelters, the “free meal” is tied to certain rules – good behavior, attending Bible study or worship service, or giving up personal possessions, space, and sometimes – dignity. In our society today, there is rarely a “free lunch.”

Yet – God says – “come and eat; come and buy without money and without price.” Not only is this banquet free, but it cannot be bought. You cannot buy it – your money is no good - but you can have it. For those in our society that believe that anything is for sale – for the right price - this would come as a shock! You cannot buy this! But - - you can have it – for free – from your loving God.

God, through his prophet, offers – out of his abundant grace – food and drink – without cost. For the exiles that Isaiah is written for, this is like the manna sent from heaven to the Hebrews as they wandered in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. Israel is living in exile because they did not head God’s warning. Now, his prophets bring this offer – come – come and eat – come and eat without cost. God offers the gift of salvation to his chosen people – at no cost. They cannot buy it, they cannot work for it, and they cannot earn it. It is freely offered – to all.

This theme continues in our Gospel text. Jesus had just heard of the death of John the Baptist. On hearing this news, Jesus decided to get away for a little quiet time. Instead of finding a quiet place across the lake, he is faced with a crowd that has followed him from the towns. Jesus really just wants some time alone – a chance, maybe, to grieve for his cousin John. After all, John was there at the beginning of his ministry; John baptized Jesus! Hearing that John was dead had to painful - just as it would be to us to receive a phone call that a close friend - or a cousin that we had grown up with - had died. Jesus just wanted to be by himself; to grieve, to pray, and to rest. But that was not to be.

Here was this crowd – there were sick people among them, wanting to be healed. There were so many, all wanting to be near Jesus, to hear him speak, to be healed by his touch, to be comforted by his words. And Jesus had compassion on them. He healed and taught and comforted – even in the midst of his own sorrow. Instead of telling them to go away, he went among them and consoled them, touched them, offered whatever they needed.

Not only did Jesus heal, teach, and comfort them, he also fed them. Can you imagine 10,000 or so people showing up at your door and wanting dinner? That is what happened here. There were 5,000 men, plus women and children. It could have been closer to 20,000 people - we just don’t know, because they only report how many men were present. However many there were, they were all fed from a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.

In our modern era, our society tends to believe in a theology of scarcity. We cannot imagine feeding 5,000 people; much less the 10,000 or more that were really there. We look at what we have, and think that we need more. We look at what is available, and are afraid there is not enough. We look at our cupboards and think we need more, so we rush out to the store to buy more. We look at our paycheck and think it is too small, so we fight our way up the ladder to a higher paid job where we can work longer hours and be more miserable – for the sake of a larger paycheck. We look at the oil situation and wonder how long it will last, but as long as we get ours, we don’t get too concerned. We believe that whoever has the most – and biggest – toys wins.

We live in a society where we are afraid to share what we have, out of fear of not having enough for ourselves. We do this when a homeless person knocks on our door looking for food. We do this when a panhandler on the street ask for some change. We do this when someone ask us at the gas station if we can help them buy enough gas to get to the next town. We do this in the grocery store when the person in front of us does not have enough money to buy the bread and milk they need for their family. We believe in scarcity – of money, of food, of time. Sharing is hard.

For many of us, just paying this months bills seems like enough of a challenge. Trying to pay someone else’s bills, or even part of it, just does not seem possible. Much less write a check to the church! We are afraid that if we give to someone else out of meager possessions or income, there won’t be enough left when we need it. If we have lunch for one, and someone else has nothing, we are afraid to share ours out of fear that we might go hungry.

But Jesus is giving us a very different message here. It is not about us – it is not about our grief, our desires, our hunger, what we think we need to make our lives better. It is not about scarcity. NO – it is about compassion; it is about doing for others – even when we are empty, and don’t feel that we have anything left to give. It is about abundance – the abundance that God provides to each one of us. Jesus completely disproves the theology of scarcity that motivates our society. He takes some bread and fish, he blesses them, he breaks them, and he gives them for all to eat. And all those people – however many there are – are filled. Not just fed – but filled! And – get this – there are leftovers!

Rather than listening to the disciples, who believed there could never be enough food out there in the middle of nowhere to feed this crowd, Jesus simply takes what they have, gives thanks, and feeds them. We, too, are like the disciples. We never think there is enough money, enough food, enough time. We spend our lives trying to overcome the fear that we might not have enough. And yet – God provides. God says, “come and eat – buy without money, without cost.” Jesus feeds the crowds with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. We come to the table, and we are fed with bread and wine – the body and blood of Christ. There is no shortage, there is no cost. Come – and eat – and be filled with the assurance that Christ died for your sins, and that you will be healed, and that you will be filled and sustained. We are fed; we are given in abundance; so that we too may be compassionate to others who are hungry, in need of healing, who need to be filled with the same love of God which has filled us. Come to the table and be filled. Come and partake of Gods abundant grace. Come – taste and see that the Lord is good.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Contemplating the Kingdom of Heaven

[Jesus] put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." (Matthew 13:31-52 NRSV)

To understand the images in these parables almost requires that we think like first-century Israelites; that we know what they knew...

First the mustard seed and the ‘tree’ it produces: we shouldn’t be mislead by Jesus referring to the mustard plant as a tree – for it never grew to more than a shrub. An annual at that, which would wither and die at the end of the growing season. Those listening to Jesus might have been quite surprised that he would refer to a mustard plant as a tree. The importance of this image is not that a great tree like a mighty oak grew from this tiny seed, but the realization that the kingdom of heaven might not be any more obvious than a garden plant, yet the kingdom will come in God’s power and glory nevertheless!

Then the yeast – not the sanitized powder we know that comes from a packet purchased at the grocery store – but smelly, often moldy, fermenting left-over dough like a sourdough starter – this yeast was a symbol of corruption, something to be avoided by the Jews. Bread which was used in the temple at that time was unleavened – made without the corruption of such leaven. The woman in this text places her leaven in a large quantity of flour – as though she was planning to prepare bread for many, many people – yet the text does not say that she actually finished making that bread. Instead, the yeast is still at work to leaven the flour. In the same way, the kingdom is present now, hidden and working by unexpected and even scandalous means. It is recognized by only a few people, although it will be revealed to everyone in the future.

Both of these images tell something about the kingdom itself. The next two show us two very different ways of discovering it. The hidden treasure is found in a field – probably by someone plowing, intent on doing his regular work, who was not expecting anything special or unusual. He experienced great joy at finding this amazing treasure – and rushed off to do something about it, to claim it for himself.

In contrast, the pearl of great value is found by a merchant who has been searching long and hard for it. He knows what he is looking for, and yet he is still surprised when he finds it! But he too, is willing to give up everything else in order to buy this one pearl.

Isn’t it true that we know some people who are just living their lives, walking and working and not aware of anything missing in their lives? And they are joyfully amazed to discover God – as if he had not been there all along. We know other people who are clearly searching for something – for meaning and purpose, for love and a sense of belonging – who are equally surprised to discover that God is there for them, too. Whether we are surprised at our daily work or as a result of a search, these two images describe the response to the discovery of God! For neither the farmer plowing nor the merchant simply returns to their usual way of life after this tremendous discovery. Instead, they give up all that they have; change everything in their lives; in order to claim the treasure.

Jesus uses another image in this text - fish nets. These are often mentioned in the gospels – James and John were mending their nets when Jesus calls them to become disciples (Mark 1), Peter casts out his nets again when the risen Christ instructs him to and brings in a tremendous catch of fish (John 21). But this time, the parable says the net brings in fish of every kind. Only later are the bad ones sorted out from the good.

Jesus asked the disciples “Have you understood all this?” and they answered “Yes.” From the apostles, who often don’t seem to get it – there seems to be complete understanding on this subject! So do we get it?

I won’t claim to have complete understanding of the kingdom of God, but I do have a better understanding after spending time this week with this text (and a whole stack of commentaries!)
I have learned that the kingdom of heaven is revealed - in God’s own perfect time:

+ from the small and insignificant – like a mustard seed and the bush that grows from it;

+ from something regarded as unlikely or unclean – like the fermented leaven;

+ from the unexpected discovery – like the treasure found when we aren’t even looking;

+ from the hidden which has long been searched for – like the pearl of great value ;

+ from the nets full of every kind of fish – both good and evil; to be sorted later.

Tiny seeds, baking leaven, unlikely treasure, a single incredible pearl, fish nets full of fish…

Yes - we can understand this! We too are like the masters of a household who know where our treasure is. We can recall the stories of all that God has already done, marvel at what God is doing now, and trust in what God promises yet to do. You see, these images all point clearly to God's action in the world through Jesus Christ our Savior:

+ Jesus, born as a tiny, apparently insignificant baby in Bethlehem.

+ Jesus, who died a criminal’s death on a cross.

+ Jesus, who was raised to eternal life.

+ Jesus, who ascended to the right hand of God.

+ Jesus, who will come again to judge.

These images do reveal to us what the kingdom of heaven is truly like … new and old treasure indeed!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

God's Timing

So much has been happening so fast that I hardly know where to begin! First, I want to publically announce my excitement that Beth Wrenn from North Carolina has been elected president of the Churchwide Women of the ELCA! Beth is a dear friend and sister in Christ – I have served with her in the past on the North Carolina Women of the ELCA synodical board- and she has been very supportive as Ray and I have travelled this seminary journey. I am confident that she will do a superb job of leading the women’s organization through the next triennium!

Second, I am pleased to report that our call process is continuing to unfold. We met with the congregational council last week and they voted to recommend us to the congregation. We will be meeting with members of the congregation next week and they will be voting on whether or not to call us as their next pastors on Sunday, July 27. We are grateful that the process is proceeding on this path and pray for God’s guidance for the entire congregation and for both of us as this process draws nearer to completion.

Now for more on the topic of God's timing...

I remember – what seems like not so very long ago - telling Ray that I wished I could take a summer off from my business career: to stay home, spend more time with the kids, float in our backyard pool, read, garden a bit, tend the roses, knit, and just relax. It really does seem like a short time ago, but it was probably when our children were 8 and 11. They are now 28 and 31, so quite some time has passed since then!

As you might guess, I never got that long-ago summer off, but we have in many ways had most of this summer of transition “off”! Getting my summer off now includes having time for many of those same things – but now the time at home is spent preparing it to go on the market. Time with my children is spent helping our son and his wife with their daughter and newborn twin sons or helping our daughter plan and prepare for her September wedding.

We no longer have a backyard pool, but I still have plenty of reading to do. The garden consists of two tomato plants and a few flowers in pots that we can move when the time comes. The roses we tend are in the memorial garden on the seminary campus instead of our own backyard. I’ve been knitting and catching up on some sleep, but still not really relaxing.

I’m not sure exactly what all this says about God’s timing – apparently I didn’t need that long ago summer off as much as I thought. And apparently I did need this one to transition between life as a student and life as a parish pastor. Yet it seems that instead of savoring my summer off, I find myself looking forward – trying to imagine and prepare for the next step in our journey. Honestly, I probably would have done much the same thing twenty years ago.

Many of us are familiar with the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV) beginning: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." The verses that follow are ones that we can probably all sing along to a familiar tune.

But now I find myself pondering some other verses in that same chapter. As I read these, I am reminded that it is important for each of us to have things to do, but that we should not forget what God has already done, is doing, and promises yet to do!

"I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him." (Ecclesiastes 3:10-14, NRSV)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

More side trips

Last Sunday, I preached at a lovely country church outside of Guyton, Georgia. Ray and I took advantage of the necessary trip from Columbia to the Savannah area to spend a day or two away from home, relaxing. We had been to Savannah before, so we weren’t sure we wanted to spend much time in the city. Instead, we found a few places to visit that we hadn’t been before.

On Sunday afternoon, we went to Jerusalem Lutheran Church and the museum at New Ebenezer. For those who haven’t had the benefit of a course on the history of Lutheranism in North America at seminary, this was the home of the Salzburgers. These German Lutherans were refugees from their homeland, exiled out by their Catholic ruler, who became very early settlers in Georgia, with the first arriving in Savannah in 1734. The beautiful and amazingly bright and spacious brick church these settlers built near the banks of the Savannah River, in the 1760’s is still in use today. There is an active historical society which will help anyone who may be descendents of this historic colony to track their ancestry. There is also a family retreat center located nearby – all well worth a sidetrip for any history buffs, especially Lutheran ones!

We spent Monday exploring two historic forts in the area: Fort Jackson, on the bank of the Savannah River, near the city; and Fort Pulaski, on Cockspur Island, where the Savannah River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Built as part of the early coastal defense of the United States, both of these brick forts saw action during the Civil War.

We also ate lunch at a prime tourist spot which we saw on our way toward Fort Pulaski – Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House. Only after we were inside did we realize that this is owned by TV chef Paula Deen and her brother, Bubba. Great seafood, in a casual atmosphere, but a bit pricey even at lunch – it was our splurge for the trip. We had each had seafood salads and gumbo or crab stew, and shared a piece of incredible key lime pie.

Tuesday, on our way back to Columbia, we stopped to visit the rose gardens at Edisto Memorial Gardens. This park is located near the Edisto River in Orangeburg.
The rose gardens contain an overwhelming array of different varieties, from minis to tree roses; floribundas to hybrid teas – in every possible color. We really enjoyed our time there and picked out a few we would like to have in our own rose garden in the future.

I can’t help but wonder now that we are home from that sidetrip on our journey. We read in Exodus that the Israelites murmured as they wandered in the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. Did they also enjoy some sidetrips and appreciate the scenery along the way?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Side Trips on the Journey

One of the hobbies I have been able to spend a little more time with this summer has been Ham radio. On Saturday and Sunday (July 29/30) was an event called Field Day. This is an annual event (always the 4th weekend in June) and is a contest for Ham radio enthusiast to see how many radio contacts they can make under field conditions. For details, see the ARRL website here.

Last year, I was in Mobile, AL and had a brand new Ham license and attended my first field day. This year, I I went to field day with a brand new general class license, and as a member of a Columbia area Amataur Radio Club (MJARC). On Saturday morning, the local clubs set up antennas and equipment, and at 2:00 p.m. EDST, the contest began. I was helping with the 80 meter rig, and within the first couple of hours we had over 20 contacts with other contest stations in NC, SC, VA, GA, and TN. This next picture is of the tent where the 80 meter rig was set up and the antenna we used.

One of the premises of this contest is to communicate under "field" conditions, which means portable field antennas and radios operating only on battery power.

This antenna is a 10 meter setup, made from pieces salvaged from a grocery store display.

Field day is not only a chance to get out and spend some time playing with antennas and radios, it is also the annual event where local amateur radio clubs publicize amateur radio. In Columbia, we had several Scout groups (boys and girls) who came to visit, and some of them even got the opportunity to talk on the radio (supervised by a licensed operator). Others came to complete requirements for merit badges and such.

Each club has a public information officer (like Marvin here) whose job it is to help promote amateur radio to the general public. As most of you know, I go involved in amateur radio because of disaster preparedness, which was our internship project with LDR.

During disasters, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires, etc. amateur radio operators provide communications for disaster organizations such as LDR and The Red Cross. After Katrina, there were many areas across the Gulf Coast where cell phones towers and telephone lines were down for weeks. Amateur radio operators provided communications in these areas by relaying shelter information and supply list to relief agencies.

My hope, by being involved in amateur radio, my experience with LDR and the Red Cross, will be to help churches in the ELCA (particularly in the NC Synod) prepare for disasters in their congregations and to have their own amateur radio operators to help with communications during emergencies.

For any Hams that stumble on this page, catch me on Echolink (KI4UDZ) or on D-Star. I don't have an HF rig yet, but I usually am on Echolink a couple of times a week.

For anyone else who reads this, I hope you learn something. If you want more information, the ARRL site is the best place to start and will provide information to help you find a local club. Most clubs would love to help with a Scout program or to get involved with local emergency preparedness plans.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Still wandering

Some time ago, I wrote about our habit of attending Sunday worship in different congregations to experience a variety of worship styles and settings. Well, that has continued, but in a different way.

Since graduation, Ray and I have either preached or led worship in six different churches, in three states. Some Sundays that means one of us preaches and the other does not; some Sundays, we both preach different services in the same place. A couple of Sundays, we have been in two entirely different places. We already have our schedules filled for most of July, continuing in this same pattern. I think we have officially become itinerant preachers!

The benefits of this (aside from some income from supply preaching fees) are that we are still experiencing worship in a variety of settings and we get to meet and worship with God’s people in different places. We gain helpful experience leading worship in a variety of places. We have been in small country churches and large city churches and everything in between. Another benefit for us is simply the practice and discipline of spending time in God’s word each week, so that we can proclaim it faithfully.

The downside of being non-ordained supply preachers is that these worship services do not include the celebration of the Eucharist. Fortunately, we have also been able to attend a number of other worship services in past weeks. We have attended the commissioning of an Associate in Ministry, two ordinations, a wedding in the seminary chapel, and worship at two different synod assemblies (North and South Carolina). Each of these has been truly a festival worship, with marvelous music and proclamation of the word and celebration of the Eucharist, so we have been regularly and joyously fed at the Lord’s Table.

We do hope and pray that we will soon have a call from a congregation, be planning our own ordination(s), and then be able to both preach and preside in our new home congregation. We look forward to the opportunity to settle into that place which God has already prepared. We know that the process continues to unfold according to his plan and perfect timing, but we cannot help but be anxious for this wandering to be over.

In the meantime, I need to get back to work on my sermon for this Sunday!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Opening the Book(s)

There is an opportunity on campus this summer to take part in a reading and discussion group with two theology professors. I must confess that I did not even consider participating in the group! Partly because I didn’t want to commit to a particular schedule for reading, and partly because I couldn’t quite face scholarly discussion on the two commentaries on Romans that the group is reading – by Martin Luther and St. Augustine.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t ready for such heavy fare so soon after graduation, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not reading. I realized this evening that I had a book in progress in nearly every room of the house! Most of these are checked out from the campus library. I’m very grateful for “courtesy borrower” status which is available after graduation!

On the nightstand beside the bed, an Earlene Fowler murder mystery Tumbling Blocks. She’s one of my current favorite authors – each book in this series is named for a quilt pattern, and those quilt patterns or other folk arts are worked into each novel. (Don’t tell Ray – even though we just checked it out from the local public library, I’m already reading it for the second time!)

On my desk in the office, along with a Bible, various hymnals and a daily devotional, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg. I’ve made it through Part One, to page 57. While I don’t agree with everything he writes about the Bible, many of his insights ring true. I’ll keep on reading it, even though I occasionally put it down and walk away in frustration over something he writes!

On the end table in the living room, Doreen McFarlane’s book entitled Funerals with Today’s Families in Mind. I’ve previously read a companion book on weddings – this one also seemed like good preparation for parish ministry. Just started reading it this evening, but I’m nearly a third through. Practical suggestions; straight forward writing; and I’m sure I will find it helpful.

And on the kitchen table, a book from the Lutheran Voices series from Augsburg Fortress, which I’ve been carrying around for ‘waiting room reading’: Speaking of Trust: Conversing with Luther on the Sermon on the Mount, by Martin Marty. It’s a small book, and we own it, so it’s handy to carry in my purse and it doesn’t matter how long it takes me to finish. Besides, how can you go wrong with a book written by two Martins?!

Waiting for me on the bookshelf is a new book in the library Disaster Spiritual Care. I'm anxious to see what is included in this book that we didn't have available during our internship year with Lutheran Disaster Response.

Another book waiting for me is Opening the Book of Faith, which Augsburg Fortress was giving away at the North Carolina Synod Assembly. This is written to help all of us participate in the ELCA’s initiative, Book of Faith, which encourages all of us to open the scriptures and read them for ourselves.

So many options! What are you reading this summer?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Passing on Faith

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26 NRSV
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. 10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." 18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live." 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well." 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came to the leader's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, "Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

Ray and I spent the last few days attending the North Carolina Synod Assembly, along with 774 of our brothers and sisters in Christ from across the state – and even a few from much farther away. The theme for this year’s assembly was: God’s work. Our hands. Passing on faith. There are some wonderful connections between that theme and today’s Gospel text.

We don’t know why Jesus picked right then to call Matthew – there aren’t many clues in the gospel. The chapters before this text, chapters five and six and seven and eight in the Gospel according to Matthew are not a story about how Jesus met Matthew and taught him or was recommended to him by another follower. Instead those chapters are about Jesus ministering to great crowd of people – teaching them in what we know as the Sermon on the Mount – and then performing many miracles; from healing a leper to calming a storm, from healing Peter’s mother-in-law to casting out demons. And the crowds are amazed by all that he has said and done.

Then suddenly, here in chapter 9, as Jesus continues his travels, he calls out to Matthew –a tax collector, a collaborator with the Roman government, an outcast among his own people. I can’t tell you how Matthew knew that he must simply get up and follow, but he did. Now I’ve changed jobs and moved a few times – it usually requires me a bit more conversation and preparation than that – but Matthew simply got up and followed Jesus.

This text doesn’t even tell us where dinner was held, or who the host was, but it does tell us who was on the guest list: all of those people who weren’t normally invited to a party at any of the ‘right homes.’ For this dinner party was a gathering of tax collectors and sinners, sitting right there with Jesus and his disciples.

The crowds had been amazed by what Jesus had said and done. The Pharisees were amazed, too, but not in quite the same way! They were not impressed by Jesus’ miracles, but instead were scandalized by the company he kept. And so Jesus takes the time to answer their questions. Or does he? He sends them back to the holy writings, to the prophet Hosea, to look for the answers to their questions.

Perhaps before that conversation was even completed to their satisfaction, Jesus is interrupted, by a leader of the synagogue, who is seeking his help. Jesus has been talking about how those who are sick need a physician. But the leader’s daughter isn’t sick – she is already dead. The other leaders of the synagogue probably would not approve of him asking Jesus for help, yet he comes to Jesus for help anyway. He is seeking help in a hopeless situation and Jesus simply gets up and follows him, with his disciples (probably Matthew, too) following along.

And on the way, he is interrupted yet again, this time by a woman who has been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. This condition was not just painful or embarrassing. It made her unclean, an outcast from all of the people of Israel. Just as Jesus called Matthew, we read here that Jesus speaks to this desperate woman, encourages her, heals her, restores her to health, and restores her place in the community. And then he continues on his way, to home of the leader, to raise his daughter from the dead. Restoring her life, restoring her to her family.

Sometimes when I have had a busy week, I think I need to read texts like this and remember how busy Jesus was. He and his disciples sometimes didn’t even have time to eat a meal in peace. And Jesus often had to slip off before daylight to find time to pray.

Jesus was busy – doing God’s work. Remember that synod assembly theme? God’s work. Our hands. Passing on faith. Jesus was busy. Busy doing God’s work; showing God’s love; bringing the kingdom of God near; bringing people to faith in his Father, the Almighty God.

Like Matthew, we are called to follow. We are called to listen to Jesus’ words, and to witness his miracles in our lives and the lives of others. We are called in spite of the questions that we – like the Pharisees – always seem to have in abundance. And there is more – we are called to be his hands, doing his work, bringing the kingdom of God into the world now. In the words of the Great Commission, from Matthew 28, which was the gospel text just a few weeks ago…
8 And Jesus came and said to them…"19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
That sounds to me like a clear command to each of us to do God’s work, with our hands, and to pass on the faith.

In his sermon at the closing worship service on Saturday morning, Bishop Leonard Bolick spoke about this year’s assembly theme. He reminded us that as we have been given the faith, we are to grow in faith, and in turn pass along the faith. As we live out our faith, our faith will grow and will be visible to those around us. This is the best way that we can pass along the faith to others – not just to the next generation, but to everyone we encounter in our daily lives.

This may sound like an overwhelming task – we may struggle with how to accomplish it all. This is why we need to remember that the Great Commission is not just an assignment, something we must accomplish on our own. Listen again to the promise Jesus made to the disciples – and to us: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

What a powerful promise. Jesus is with us always. Jesus is indeed with us. He comes to us in our very own tax booth, our workplaces and classrooms. Jesus is with us when we sit down at dinner. He calls all of us, the loveable and the unloved, to join him at the table. He comes to us in the bread and wine, body and blood, when we gather there.

Jesus is available even when others might be too busy. He will come with us when we need help in the hopeless times, when there is nowhere else to turn. Jesus will be there, to reassure us and restore us when we reach out with trembling fingers to touch the fringe of his cloak. Jesus will raise us up from the dead. Even when others might laugh, He will take our hand and restore us to life.

And just as in Matthew’s gospel, the report of all this will spread. And we will find that in spite of our fears or our questions, we are doing God’s work [with] Our hands. Passing on faith.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Time between the times

It seems that we are indeed living in the time between the times. We are no longer students, yet we aren’t in a call yet. We’ve been reassured by a current seminary student that we are not unemployed. He told us that for the first two months, we are still on vacation – only then should we be concerned about being unemployed. I’m not sure about his definition, but I’ll take it for now.

It’s been a quiet and yet quite busy week. Last Sunday night, when I looked at the calendar for this week, I was a bit dismayed. There weren’t any classes, appointments, deadlines, or even work shifts scheduled! What would a week without any of those feel like?

There were still several books sitting on the shelf waiting to be read, and sermons to write for next week, so we weren't out of things to do, but the usual pace had certainly changed! It has been a good week to catch up some reading and study, and it has actually been pretty exhausting. In addition to picking up a few hours of work on campus, we have spent time tending the rose garden there and have completed – or at least begun - several long-postponed chores here at home. We have now installed the attic exhaust fan we purchased last fall, have a new electrical outlet on the back porch for the freezer, have shredded a couple of years’ worth of old files, and have begun the much dreaded process of painting the railings on our front and back porch and carport. Well, we haven’t actually painted anything yet… but we have been very busy scraping and scrubbing in preparation for the new paint!

The one good thing about hours spent with a putty knife or wire brush in your hands is that you have plenty of time to pray and to think and even begin to prepare a sermon. The bad thing is that you don’t have much to show for your time when you’re done! That sort of sums up how I feel about this whole week – I’ve been plenty busy, and have actually accomplished several tasks, but don’t have much to show for it, since the porch railings still need to be painted. Unless, of course, you count the four trash bags full of shredded paper still sitting in our office!

I am profoundly grateful that we are not judged according to what we are able to accomplish, but that God provides for all our needs - even our need to be busy and feel productive!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Don't Worry

May 25, 2008 (Lectionary 8)
Isaiah 49:8-16a
Psalm 131 (2)1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6:24-34

Matthew 6:24-34
‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

No – I did not preach today, but what a wonderful text it would have been for a sermon – especially as a just graduated seminarian in that “in-between” time from graduation to first call. For most of us recently graduated seminarians, we are in that time where we are coming to the end of budgeted school expenses. Most have probably paid rent through the end of May (or in our case, house payment) and paid most of the monthly bills for May out of the last of the student loan money which is what we have been living on. For June, some of us have reserves to get by and some don’t. Some have to move by the end of May and others don’t. Our lives are unsettled because we don’t know what is in store. We know where we are assigned, but we still have to interview and work our way through the call process. But, for some of us, it feels like time is running out. Money is tight, we face the unknown, and we have too much free time on our hands.

The Gospel text to day is perfect for this time of uncertainty. Why worry? What are we to worry about? God has provided for us, just as He provides for the birds of the air. As the lilies of the field are clothed, so are we. Times are still uncertain, but we need only deal with it one day at a time – “Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

This is good news! We may not know how we are going to buy a tank of gas to drive to our interview, or how we will deal with July – should we still be in the call process, without any income, but we need not worry. Jesus tells us not to worry, tells us all that God has done for us, is doing for us, and promises yet to do for us.

Life for the next several weeks may not be easy, we may not know today how we will pay next months bills, but we know that God will provide – in some way. In conversations with classmates over the last week, it is already obvious that God works in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine. Each day brings wonders, surprises, and even miracles that we do not expect. Even a free meal after church today that was not expected becomes more than just an unexpected pleasure, and much more than a coincidence. Thanks be to God!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Me too!

I know – my response is a bit slow, especially since Ruth Ann responded almost a week ago. In my defense, it has been a busy week and part of it was spent rebuilding our desktop computer, so I have not been doing much blogging or reading of blogs. The only reason I am doing this now is because it is one of those nights where sleep seems to be for everyone else.

The rules for this meme are fairly standard. Simply post the rules at the beginning of your post, answer the questions,, and tag five others to play along. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know that they need to visit yours for the rules, and of course, link back to the one who tagged you, in this case….me!

Ten years ago:

I was trying to remember today exactly where I was about 10 years ago. I guess I would have to check my passport, since in 1998 I was traveling internationally for Siemens and spent about 40 weeks of the year traveling somewhere, much of it to southeast Asia. May was a popular month for a visit down under, as well, so I could have been in Australia or New Zealand.

Five things on today’s “to do” list:

Well, it is 1:00 a.m., so which day? For Saturday, the list includes installing XP Service Pack 3 on a computer (a couple of hours, at least); walking through the campground inviting people to the lakeside church service on Sunday; possibly mowing the grass; ordering a new video card for a computer I am repairing; take Smokey for a walk (which actually happens most days, not just today).

Things I’d do if I was a billionaire:

I would have to agree with a few things Ruth Ann listed – paying off student loans would be high on the list – ours, our children’s, and our classmates; I would definitely be in favor of establishing a scholarship fund for second career seminarians (no – we don’t come with money in hand to pay for seminary and no – most of us do not/can not cash in retirement funds to pay for seminary); I would work with LDR to establish a way to provide better emergency housing and create volunteer centers that can be self-supporting long-term; and I would establish a fund to help churches set up food pantries and soup kitchens.

Three bad habits:

Staying up too late (I usually get a lot done, but it makes mornings an issue); eating habits (especially the scoop of ice cream during the news); spending too much time on the computer when I should be doing things like sleeping (which I probably could not do right now anyway).

Five places I’ve lived:

For how long? I have lived in Maryland, North Carolina (multiple times/places), South Carolina (Florence and Columbia), Illinois, and Washington D.C. I also have lived in some very fine hotels for up to three weeks at a time, in several countries around the world.

Five jobs I’ve had:

Considering that I have worked in multiple fields, it is hard to decide where to start. I have pumped gas, driven a tractor, managed a restaurant, owned my own business (twice), bagged groceries, welded, driven a tow-truck, flipped burgers, preached a few times, and spent 20+ years testing and designing hardware, writing software, installing systems and training customers – all in the electric utility industry.

I guess that is more than 5, but I would not know how to narrow it down without some parameters. All were interesting experiences, and many of those occasionally find their way into a sermon.

I really don’t have anyone to tag (most of the bloggers I know have already been tagged), but feel free to jump in if you read this and have not been tagged.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I've been tagged!

As soon as I got one post done, I discovered that David had has tagged us with another meme. Here goes:

The rules for this meme are fairly standard. Simply post the rules at the beginning of your post, answer the questions,, and tag five others to play along. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know that they need to visit yours for the rules, and of course, link back to the one who tagged you, in this case….me!

Ten years ago:
I was working full time, completing my bachelor's degree in Business Administration, serving in a leadership role in our home congregation, volunteering as a Girl Scout troop leader and council trainer, preparing for our daughter's high school graduation, unpacking boxes in our new home, and getting very little sleep.

Five things on today’s “to do” list:
Tend the roses in the campus rose garden, go to the bookstore, fill out and submit an application for a part time job, wash dishes, and do laundry. So far they are all done except the laundry!

Things I’d do if I was a billionaire:
Pay off our mortgage and student loans (and our children's, too).
Establish a seminary scholarship specifically for second career seminarians!
Provide funding for a lodge at the camp my Girl Scout troop loved best.
I'm sure that's just a good start, but I'd have to think about what to do next!

Three bad habits:
Procrastinating and then having to finish projects at the last minute.
Eating too much - especially sweets.
Nibbling on my fingernails when I'm nervous.

Five places I’ve lived:
Does the month I spent in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania training for a new job count? I've actually lived in central Illinois and in the Southeast: Chenoa and Mahomet, Illinois among others. In Charlotte, North Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; and Mobile, Alabama.

Five jobs I’ve had:
Wow - where to start? I've worked in several industries and had more job titles than I can count!
Babysitting, then hostess/cashier at my future in-law's restaurant.
Receptionist, then draftsman at a machine tool company.
Construction estimator and project manager for a glass contractor.
From customer service rep to materials manager at a machine tool manufacturer.
Most recently, student worker in the campus library and supply preacher in several congregations.

Now, I just have to figure out who to tag...

Trinity Sunday

Since our approval essay last fall was written on the subject of the Holy Trinity, and mine included a sermon written on the lectionary texts for this year, it was rather ironic to be asked to supply preach this week. For the benefit of those who might have read my essay or heard my laments about writing that essay and sermon, I should report the following: Yes, I did use the exegetical work I had already done on those texts and No, I did not use the same sermon I had written last fall, but I did adapt portions of it.

Ray and I were both asked to supply preach Sunday for the congregation which was our field church during our junior and middler years, so we were familiar with the congregation and it was great fun to be back at Good Shepherd and greet many people we knew. Because they have three worship services – including two held at the same time (a traditional service in the sanctuary and a contemporary service in the fellowship hall) – it actually kept both of us quite busy!

The most unusual part of the day though, was leading worship there while the congregation’s senior pastor was being elected the new bishop of the South Carolina Synod! The fifth and final ballot was actually being held downtown at the assembly about the same time the worship service was taking place.

We are not likely to ever repeat that experience! I’m certainly glad that we included prayers for the Holy Spirit to guide the election process at the synod assembly in our prayers for the church. Please join me in continued prayers for the Bishop-elect of SC, the Rev. Dr. Herman Yoos. He has been an important mentor to us during our seminary process and we are certain that he will serve the synod well as their next bishop. We will also be praying for the entire congregation, as they certainly face many changes in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


We really made it! Friday was graduation and we now have diplomas in hand. As you can see, the weather was perfect, plenty of people showed up (even the overflow room had overflow), and the ceremony was wonderful.

One of the highlights of graduation was hearing Dr. Ridenhour preach again. He had retired last year while we were on internship and we had missed having him on campus and occasionally preaching in Christ Chapel. Our class had decided to have him as our speaker for graduation, and he did not disappoint us. As always, his sermon was to the point, included law, but had clear, unambiguous gospel proclaimed as well. Would that we could always do so well.

There were plenty of photo ops at graduation as well - while we were robing, during the class photo, and then again afterwards. I am still sorting out photos from the last two days. On Thursday, it was Alumni Day here on campus, and so plenty of grads from previous years were here for lectures, workshops, and of course - food. There was an alumni luncheon, and then a picnic in the evening before the Baccalaureate service in Christ Chapel.

One of our activities here on campus has been the choir. The choir sang during the Baccalaureate Service (see photo below) and at graduation.

I think that even harder than knowing we are done with classes and it is time to move on, was the realization on Thursday evening that this would be the last time we would sing together as a choir in this place. It was also the last service in Christ Chapel for Rev. Michael Costello, who has served as an adjunct teacher of liturgical practicums and choirmaster. Michael graduated the spring before we began our internship, so we count him as friend, classmate, and instructor. We will miss our fellow choir members, and especially, hearing Michael on the organ (see right).

Michael leaves LTSS this next week, and we will all miss having him around, just as we will miss singing in the choir.
I suppose that over the next several days, it will sink in that our time here is done. Some classmates are headed off for vacations, some are packing up and heading home, some are hoping that a letter of call will come soon so they can move to a new place to begin their ministry. A few know where they are going and will soon be packing and headed off to new adventures. For all of us, the next time we gather in this place, it will be as alumni rather than as students. We will see each other at synod assemblies, or churchwide events, or maybe just on Facebook, but it will as former classmates, not someone that we will see on Tuesday morning in Lutheranism in North America class, or in choir, or at lunch, or in the library. The context will change, but the memories will remain.
As for us, we are in the hopeful waiting category, with several sermons to write in the next few weeks as we fill in for various pastors who are away on synod assembly or vacation, our out-of-town weddings. Good thing, too! Our A/C unit died this morning. Welcome back to the world of home ownership!

Friday, May 02, 2008

And now we rest

We're done! Believe it or not, this journey that began four years ago is coming to a close, and soon a new one will begin. Today, we attended our last class and turned in our last paper as seminary students. As with our classmate, David, it has not really sunk in that on Monday there will be no classes, there are no more books that have to be read, and no more papers to write.

Instead, next week will be some rest, some yard work and house cleaning to prepare for guests on graduation day, and a few errands. On Thursday, the alumni come to campus for a full day of events (some of which include graduating seniors). Thursday evening is baccalaureate, and then Friday morning will be graduation. A long two days, and at the end of them, we will really be done - degrees in hand and everything.

It has been a long journey. Even though this blog has not existed for all four years, many of you who read this have followed our journey from the beginning; others have followed since we went to the Gulf Coast in December of 2005 and began the blog. It has been hard, it has been rewarding, is has been uplifting, and through it all - we continue to be blessed by God and led by the Holy Spirit.

One of the common questions throughout the seminary journey is, "Do you still feel called to ministry?" I think I can firmly state, that for both of us, this continues to be true and has not diminished over the entire four years. Our faith, your prayers, and God's steadfast love have sustained us over many hurdles and through many dark moments. And now - the day is at hand. On May 9, we will be graduates and waiting a call to be pastors.

Oh -you ask. How is the call process going? About the same. We have had a very busy schedule and not really available to do much. Once graduation is over, maybe things will start to roll along. A few preaching opportunities lie ahead of us, and the North Carolina Synod assembly is coming up, so we will be kept busy at least into June.

And now - time to put our feet up and spoil the dog some (he has missed us the last couple of weeks while we were typing our last papers).

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The path of the labyrinth

First, time for a quick progress report: We have only two more classes left; one tomorrow morning, then one Friday morning. I have four of the five final papers for the semester complete, one left to finish before Friday morning. That translates to 49 pages done, about 5 left to go!

Ray is still finishing one paper as I type this. We also still have to locate about 35 library books in the chaos of our office and get them turned in by Friday. Then we can begin preparations for our graduation celebration in earnest!

I took time out today to walk the prayer labyrinth on campus. The weather was cool, breezy, and sunny this morning, but half of the labyrinth lay in the shade of several large trees. Each time I turned and took a few steps, I moved from sunshine to shade and the breeze alternated between being at my back or on my face. Plus the labyrinth is placed between most of the buildings on campus and Main Street. So, while you are walking silently, you are surrounded by the sounds of birds singing and leaves rustling, and the traffic rushing by, and activity on the campus. Quite an amazing juxtaposition.

(For more information about the Trinity Labyrinth at LTSS, click on the photo!)

All in all, a marvelous and meaningful experience. Each time I do this - which is not as often as I would like - I am reminded of how similar a labyrinth is to our daily walk of faith. After all, in our daily life we are called to be in the world but not of the world. We can’t ever really block out the sounds of nature or other people.

In case you have never walked a labyrinth, a bit of explanation is probably necessary: unlike a maze, a labyrinth contains only one path. You don’t have to make decisions about which direction to walk; you simply follow the twisting path that lies in front of you. This pattern of the path allows you to spend time in prayer, instead of concentrating on where you are going.

What always fascinates me is that even after doing this several times, whenever I try to guess which way the path will turn next, I am rarely right. I'm learning that it doesn’t really pay to guess what is coming around the next turn. It is much simpler to trust that the path has already been planned out to take you to your destination, so that you can relax, follow the path, spend time in God’s presence, and savor the journey.

Also much like life, if I get distracted and raise my eyes away from path, I inevitably take a wrong turn. It is much simpler if I can stay focused on the path before me.

Finally, and also much like my everyday life - it is much easier to walk this stony path in practical, comfortable shoes!

Blessings on each of you in your journeys today. May you feel the sun and the breeze; may you hear the sounds of nature and of those around you, and may you always be wearing the appropriate shoes for the path you travel!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Seminary Meme

No, it is not like we really have time to be posting here, but it does take our minds off of the many papers yet to write.

I have not gotten too involved in meme's (from : –noun - a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes), but this one seemed interesting - especially as it applies to life at seminary. The text below is from (who knew - here I am almost done and I just found this website).

This Seminary Meme is part of a competition sponsored by Going to Seminary and Eisenbrauns. If you’d like to be entered, simply answer the 7 questions below and tag 5 other people. You’ll also need to post this paragraph (links included) with your answers as the links will be tracked back to your blog and will count as your “entry” into the competition. On April 30th, 2008, one blogger will be selected at random to win a $100 gift certificate to the Eisenbrauns online bookstore.

Please feel free to modify the question so as to make it appropriate to your situation as a pre-seminarian, seminarian, or seminary graduate (example given on first question).

1. Where do (will/did) you attend seminary?
2. What class do you think has most impacted your spiritual life?
3. What seminary professor has been the most influential while in seminary?
4. What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in seminary?
5. What has been the greatest reward you’ve experienced in seminary?
6. What are your plans after seminary?
7. How many times have you been asked question #6?

Here are the answers for me:

1. Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS)
2. Ethics
3. Tough question, but probably Dr. Ridenhour (homiletics professor, now retired)
4. Internship - being a student worker after many years in industry
5. Internship - this is what ministry in the parish will be like
6. Plans after seminary - not up to me - except to find the place that God has prepared for me/us to serve Him.
7. Hundreds, if not thousands during 4 years.

Tagging 5 people is a little tougher, since they need to be seminary students - David, Ruth Ann, Nathan, Carolyn, and Annette are the 5 seminary bloggers that I can think of.

I look forward to your answers, and I know that any of the 5 of us would love $100 worth of books!

How much?

This little video was made by some of our classmates, and while made in the spirit of fun, does give you an idea of how much a 4 year seminary education costs.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Seeking the place

Several people have asked us lately about how the call process is proceeding. That is a tricky question to answer, especially in a public forum, but I’ll try. Yes, we have been in conversation with the NC Synodical office; yes, our names and paperwork are with a congregation right now; and yes, this is potentially an opportunity for us to serve in ministry together. We are excited by the possibility of serving in one congregation – and I realized as we travelled – by the opportunity to return home to North Carolina.

I certainly can’t announce where that congregation is, but I can tell you that Ray and I met with their call committee earlier this weekend. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the members of the call committee, in both a formal interview and more casual conversations over meals. We appreciated the opportunity to become acquainted with them, the local community, and their beautiful facility and grounds. The committee members were gracious hosts. We felt truly welcomed and engaged in what I think was a helpful conversation for all of us.

Ray and I have talked about how surprisingly relaxed we felt during our conversations this weekend. I attribute that both to the hospitality we experienced and to our faith that God has already prepared a place for us. Our job now is not to impress a call committee and convince them to hire us (like many job interviews), but rather to engage in honest dialogue so that we can all prayerfully discern together if this is the place where God intends for us to begin our ministry of word and sacrament.

It is far too soon to tell that for certain, but I am glad that the process has begun. The only real problem is that being involved in the call process and anticipating life after graduation makes it even harder to concentrate on the work that needs to be done in the next couple of weeks! Graduation is now less than three weeks away, but all of our homework is due by May 2, so that our grades can be completed before graduation day.

So now, I'd better get back to the books...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Commencement Contemplations

The announcements went in the mail yesterday. It’s official – commencement is only a month away, on May 9!

Our friend and classmate, David, who commutes quite a long drive every day for classes, announced this afternoon that there are only 17 more days of classes – not that he’s counting or anything! (For more on his calculations about commuting, visit his blog.)

For now, I am just amazed how little time is left and how much work still remains to be done. It seems at bit, well, presumptuous to send out announcements about graduating, when I still wonder how we can possibly get everything done in time!

The To-Do list for just next week looks like this:

+ a 1000 word essay for Christian Ethics on offering advice to a parishioner troubled by her career as an engineer for a weapons manufacturer is due on Tuesday;

+ a one page paper written in response to the book Open Secrets is due in Lutheranism in North America – also on Tuesday;

+ a two page paper on the Lutheran doctrines concerning Mary, the mother of Jesus, is due for Ecumenical Theology on Wednesday;

+ the outline for the final research paper in Lutheranism in North America is due Thursday;

+ there are also several articles and two entire books which need to be read BEFORE these papers are written;

+ plus continuing the research and completing the reading for the final papers and book reports in all our courses.

Did I mention that income taxes are due on Tuesday?

It’s going to be a very BUSY 30 days….