A Funny Thing Happened on my Way to the Episcopal Church

By Ron Jackelen

As a “cradle Catholic”, I spent much of my adult years as an enthusiastic but somewhat skeptical member of that church. As a man who is a committed feminist, I found that there was a disconnect between my beliefs in the equality of women and the inability for Catholic women to be equal when it came to serving as ordained priests.

Last year I began yet another round of soul-searching about this issue. (This struggle has gone on multiple times over the years.) This time however, for whatever reason, I finally knew that my church home could no longer be the Catholic Church. It was time to stand up for what I believed. After determining that even this wonderful new pope, Pope Francis, considered the ordination of women to be “not an open question”, I knew it was time to find a religion and congregation that would better fit my beliefs.

I never had any issues with my local Catholic Church. That parish had no control over the rules made in Rome. Still, it was time for me to leave the parish that I had been an active member of for 30 years and the fellow parishioners who had meant so much to me.

I always assumed that when I did make the break that I would probably join a local Episcopal Church, since that church and the Catholic Church have much in common, even as the Episcopal Church is more progressive and allows the ordination of women as priests. I had actually bookmarked various Episcopal churches for review on the Internet. However, I had heard that ELCA Lutheran churches were also progressive when it came to the acceptance and full participation of both women and gay people. Although I was pretty sure that I would become Episcopalian, I figured I better take a quick look at the Lutheran Church…just to be sure.

Easter Lutheran on the Hill campusAn Internet search delivered me to various ELCA congregations, including Easter Lutheran Church. As I reviewed the website, I noticed that there was not just one woman pastor but two women pastors. And, one of those women was the senior pastor. Up until viewing the website, I only knew that Easter Lutheran Church was the church with the interesting name that I frequently passed on my way to the library in Eagan.

After attending multiple worship services at both campuses, I contacted the Easter Lutheran office and asked for an appointment with Pastor Kris, letting them know that I was a Catholic looking for a new church home. I figured that if you have questions, you may as well go to the top! For almost an hour, I peppered Pastor Kris with questions, trying to determine whether this congregation and the ELCA Lutheran Synod was the “real deal”. Her answers to my questions made me believe that this was the right church home for me.

After completing my Advent volunteer obligations at my Catholic parish, I transferred my allegiance and my heart to Easter Lutheran in January of this year. And, as an added bonus (and without any prodding from me) my wife, Michelle, joined me as a member at Easter Lutheran Church as well, after many years of her own estrangement from the Catholic Church.

I’m sure that most members of Easter Lutheran are used to all of this by now but when I first saw Pastor Kris preach or saw Pastor Sarah perform the breaking of the bread at the altar, I was absolutely astonished to see women in that role. Months later, I think I’m finally getting used to the wonderful sight of women (and men) equally leading both worship and the congregation.

Pastor Sarah ministering Holy Communion

I want you to know that Easter Lutheran turned out to be far more than just a congregation that affirmed the role of women in leadership. Equally as important I also found a congregation that truly believes that it has an obligation to the community around it, both near and far. In my original meeting with Pastor Kris, she spoke of the changes that were being made at that time to the Easter by the Lake building so that Easter Lutheran would be better prepared to reach out to the community. The Easter Lutheran vision statement says it so well, “We will actively strive to blur the lines between church and community…”

Wall at Easter Lutheran Church 2014

Easter Lutheran Church is a wonderful place, which Michelle and I hope will be our church home for the rest of our lives.

That’s the funny thing that happened on my way to the Episcopal Church… I found a Lutheran congregation that fits me perfectly! I guess you never know for sure where you’re going until you get there!

_____________________________________________________________________

Ron and Michelle Jackelen are enthusiastic new members of Easter Lutheran Church.

 

 

 

Grateful with a Chance of Grump

Autumn Lubin writes: 

It’s a foggy day at the end of October. Thickly plush, the fog envelopes the world like a soft, silky blanket. When I was little, someone told me that fog is how God hugs us. That may be why I find fog so comforting. Wrapped up in the blanket of God, I say a prayer of gratitude for all the physical reminders God places around our world to remind us we are loved.

Foggy hillsides--photo Julie McCarty

(click on photo to enlarge)

Most of the time, I find the prayer of gratitude an easy one to send up. So, so much has been given to me in this world. How could I not be grateful for it all? Well, God made us in this quirky human form, that even when we are surrounded by a bounty of gifts of people, riches, experiences, nature and love, we will find the one thing that is missing or not quite right. That place where curmudgeon and envy live in our souls and snatches away the gratitude, replacing it with a lump of grumpy dissatisfaction.

I’ve been working on prayer that leads me from my lump of grump and back to gratitude. A favorite quote reminds me that being grateful is the only true response.

“You cannot be grateful and bitter. You cannot be grateful and unhappy. You cannot be grateful and without hope. You cannot be grateful and unloving. So just be grateful.” –(Author Unknown)

In Timothy 4:4 – 5, we read:

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”

I pray for these words to enter deeply and become the blood that pumps my heart. Breathe in heaven, breathe out gratitude.

I’ve come to find that gratitude is an intentional place in us. It doesn’t just spring from us. It requires sight and insight. It requires a desire to appreciate all of what is ours, that which we love and that we dislike very intensely and everything in between. It demands something I call painful gratitude – finding the gift in even that which hurts, angers, humiliates, makes us cry and saying a prayer of thanks. Not every gift we are given is one we recognize or understand its value or purpose. But as I was taught as a child, you say thank you even if don’t like it, don’t want it, don’t know what it is or already have it. With a smile.

The sun has set now and the darkness has vanquished the fog from my vision. But I know it remains outside my window. Gently blanketing my home, I lean back in God’s love and say thank you. Thank you for it all. I will remember to take each and every gift with grace and want for nothing more. This is what I pray. And then I pray for the grace I’ll need to honor my promise because I know some other day, maybe tomorrow, I will find myself again with a lump of grump obstructing my view of gratitude.

How do you practice gratitude?

How do you find you way back when your lump of grump is getting in your way?

~~~

Autumn is a writer, educator and a non-profit consultant. More importantly, she is a wife, mom, grandma, cousin, friend, neighbor and owned by a dog and two cats. You can reach her at amlubin@gmail.com.

More on branching out–25 ways to deepen your spiritual life

[Hi Easter People!   The second half of summer often includes preparing for the new school year: buying new clothes, signing up for extra curricular activities, and planning how and when homework will get done. While you are preparing for your academic growth, you might want to ponder whatever ways God is calling you to grow in your life of prayer and Christian service as an adult. I thought you might enjoy this post, adapted from my blog Spiritual Drawing Board. God bless! — Easter member, Julie McCarty]

In my last post, I wrote about branching out, trying new things. I mentioned exploring ways to expand your spiritual life.

Christ the Pantocrator by Marian Zidaru--2002

I believe God wants to be close to each one of us. I believe God is full of compassion and mercy–and that God calls out to us, like a passionate lover longing for quality time with his or her beloved.

Various ways of praying do not earn us “extra credit” with God. God loves us immensely no matter what. However, if you love the Lord, you will want to spend some quality time together. There are various ways of being together, and some specific ways of praying that will enable you to be more present to God, and more aware of God’s presence in your life.

There are many ways to build a deeper relationship with God or a more developed prayer life. Looking for some ideas? Here is a list of 25 ideas of ways to expand your own spiritual time with God:

  1. Say grace–before breakfast. I don’t know why, but I don’t recall doing this even once. Why do I thank God for dinner but not for  breakfast?
  2. Copy a sentence or two from sacred texts (such as the Bible). Place it where you will see it everyday, such as on the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or screen saver.
  3. Walk a labyrinth, such as the one pictured at Easter by the Lake, reflecting on key points in your life as you make the turns. (Read more:  Labyrinth: The Walking PrayerPrayer labyrinth--photo by Julie McCarty
  4. Sign up for a retreat and mark it as high priority on your calendar.
  5. Read a spiritual classic. (Suggestions at Good Reads )
  6. Look for websites that help you learn about prayer–or actually guide you in prayer. For example, the “Daily Disconnect” offers a guided prayer reflection which includes an online timer to allow for some silent time at the end of your reflection.
  7. Visit a different house of worship. Been to church lately? Use the web to look at places of worship in your area, and then just experiment–visit a few in person.
  8. Take a prayer walk–drop everything and walk outside with God. (For more info, visit my post or other Prayer Walking Tips  )
  9. Look for your “spiritual type.”Just for fun, try the “spiritual type” quiz on Beliefnet  .
  10. Attend a bible study, women’s group, or other event offered at your place of worship. Don’t just read about it online. Get in touch with real people.
  11. Deal with your anger. Angry at your church institution? Try talking with a counselor or spiritual director about your confusion. Find a neutral person who will help you sort out the complicated, perhaps mixed feelings about religion, faith, God, and what is best for your life.
  12. Serve the poor at a soup kitchen and think about Jesus being in the midst of that soup line as you hand out the bowls.
  13. Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier each morning, sit up in bed and read the bible or devotional for those 15 minutes before getting dressed.
  14. Find a spiritual director and visit with him or her once a month, exploring your own spiritual dimension in a friendly, confidential, prayerful setting.
  15. Try coffee break prayer. Once a week, during your coffee break or lunch hour, slip into a church or quiet park bench for a few minutes alone with God.
  16. Make a gratefulness list. Write a list of 25 things for which you give thanks–and don’t forget to tell God about it.
  17. Sing a prayerful song. So what if you voice isn’t that great? Sing when you are alone–or play spiritual music during your morning commute.
  18. Keep a prayer journal. Write your thoughts about your religious beliefs, your feelings, your experiences, etc. in prayer form. Write letters to God about your life.
  19. Pray ahead of time. When you look at your calendar each morning, pray about the upcoming day’s events, asking the Holy Spirit to guide your every word and deed, to bless those you will see that day.
  20. Grow your spiritual mind. Want to understand your religion’s teachings at an adult level? Bring your questions to your minister, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader–or audit a class at a college (many religious colleges allow auditing for inexpensive rates, and/or special rates for seniors).
  21. Examine your conscience. During the past week, when were you especially alive to God’s presence? When did you “miss the mark”? Thank God for all that is good, and ask for forgiveness for your sins.
  22. Learn yoga as a way of quieting yourself in the presence of God. If you don’t feel comfortable with ancient yoga foundations, try a “devotional yoga” that combines the healthy body movements with Christian attitudes towards God.
  23. Ask God what things need a new home. Clean out your closet or garage in a prayerful way, seeking to give to others in a Christ-like manner. Pray for those who will receive your gifts.
  24. Common Prayer book coverDo your normal prayer with a different body posture. For example, try reading the psalms in standing position, facing east (place of the sunrise). Or, try kneeling when you ask God to forgive your sins.
  25. Let the last thing you think about before going to sleep be God. Not the news, not Facebook, not your problems, but rather God. How to do this? Start a routine of prayer or spiritual reading just before you nod off at night. (Don’t worry if you fall asleep holding the prayer-book in bed. What better way to sleep, than in the arms of God?)

These are just ideas to get your creative spiritual juices going. Pick one and run with it. I’d love to hear how it goes.

Until next time, Amen!  

P.S. Want little spiritual nuggets in-between blog posts? Visit the Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty” and click on “receive notifications” on the “like” button. 

Branching out–expanding your spiritual life

Spiritual Drawing Board

Jesus said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
          –Matthew 8: 26

Branching out--photo by Julie McCarty

As it was growing, how did this tree know when it was time for the trunk to become two major life lines to the rest of the branches?

I could answer, the DNA in the cells tell it how to grow–but then, how does the DNA know? 

Growth is a mysterious process, highly individualized. God calls us to keep growing in our spiritual lives, no matter what our chronological age.

Is there something in your life that God wants to expand? A new experiment with prayer? A different service to others? A fresh way of looking at life in general?

What stops you from “branching out” in this new way? Is it fear? Exhaustion? Laziness? Something else blocking your path?

Will you pray with me?

Come, Holy Spirit, help…

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The Prayer of Agony

Jesus said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mark 14:36)

In our culture, it can be tempting to think that Jesus’ life was always easy. After all, he was the Son of God.  We tend to think because Jesus had miraculous powers, public popularity, and immense wisdom, that he must have been happy all the time.

However, the gospels paint a picture of a man who also experienced others’ rejection, family misunderstandings, ministry fatigue, and grief.

Easter Church--Hill focal pointFrom the above bible verse, we can see that Jesus felt the awful anticipation that some terrible experience is coming his way. Some believe that Jesus’ divine nature allowed him to know everything about to happen: the arrest, condemnation, beating, carrying the cross, torture, etc. Others point out that Jesus’ human dimension made it impossible for him to know every detail of the future; rather, he merely sensed that things were heating up, his enemies were plotting against him, and perhaps his very life would be demanded. The Holy Spirit may have revealed to Jesus that the end was near.

However we view the situation, Jesus’ prayer the night before he died is hardly an unfeeling, coolly detached type of prayer. Jesus obviously felt intense anguish over what is about to happen. Indeed, the same story in Luke’s gospel expresses this by saying Jesus’ “sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (22:44).

 In our lives, we may have both joyful times, when everything seems to go our way, and trying times, when everything seems to go awry. When we feel sadness, loss, or suffering, it is easy to feel God is far away. However, we can trust that Jesus, who experienced agony, truly understands what we feel. No matter how alone we feel, Christ is still at our sides and in our hearts.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You know what it is like to feel anguish and suffering. We pray today for all those who suffering here and around the world. Help us to lighten their burdens, and to trust that you are with us always, come what may. Amen.

Holden Evening Prayer Service at Easter Lutheran

Last night, I attended the Wednesday Lenten evening prayer service at Easter Lutheran Church (“on the Hill” location). The music we sang is called the Holden Evening Prayer, music written by composer Marty Haugen. (The name comes from Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in Washington State, where Marty Haugen was musician-in-residence when he composed the music.)  

If you have never tried this Lenten tradition at Easter, I highly recommend it.  The candles were lovely in the dark winter night, the music was soothing, and the short message by the pastor was inspiring–a great boost for the middle of the work week. If you are not much of a singer, don’t worry–I’m pretty sure a bunch of choir people were in the congregation, and they carried the song well. I’m convinced even if you just sit and listen, your soul will soak up the beauty of prayer.

Want to hear a sample?  Here’s one of many clips from YouTube of the Holden Evening Prayer. This one was filmed at University Lutheran Church of the Epiphany (ELCA) in St. Cloud, MN (with a child singing one of the leads!):  

After the service last night, I felt so relaxed. That’s the kind of music it was–very consoling and calming. 

Whatever you do this Lent, keep on prayin’

About the writer: Julie McCarty is a freelance writer and spiritual director who attends Easter Lutheran. She also blogs at Spiritual Drawing Board, www.spiritualdrawingboard.com .

Transformation: Learning from Worms during Lent

[Editor’s note: Lent is a word that means “springtime,” the season when the trees and plants around us–which seem to be dead–come back to life again. Below is a Lenten reflection written by Pastor Sarah Clark last year. Her words remind us that God desires to transform all that is sinful, weak or “dead” within us into something better, new, transformed. —JM]

Jesus will take our weak mortal bodies and transform them into glorious bodies like his own… -Philippians 3: 21

I like to tell people that I got worms for my birthday…. because it’s true. I did, just not the gross kind of worms! My husband Brian gave me composting worms for my birthday – a 37 gallon bin of dark dirt and many hundreds of (maybe even a thousand) red worms. And now, these worms are happy to call the north-west corner of my basement ‘home.’

I know that composting worms aren’t a normal birthday present. The guys I share an office with remind me of that every time talk of the worms comes up. But I really like my worms. I like that during the week I save all my coffee grounds, veggie scraps, and egg shells in a big Tupperware container.

Then when Saturday rolls around, I take all of that gross, slimy, smelly stuff and I feed it to the worms. I open the bin’s lid, dig a hole, fill up the hole with the week’s gross collection, cover it all up with dirt again, and then top it off with some brown oak leaves from the tree in my yard. In some very strange way it’s satisfying.

The worms don’t say much. They don’t ever say thank you. They don’t cheer every Saturday when I open the lid. But I know they’re content because every week I see baby worms crawling around… eating the previous weeks’ blueberries, spinach leaves, and carrots. And each week, there’s more rich, black dirt for me to use in my garden this spring. Talk about transformation.

Transformation. From disgusting leftovers to rich, wonderful soil. From moldy refrigerator scraps to fertilizer for this summer’s tomatoes. This time of year is a time of transformation. From dark winter to warm, bright spring. From brown to green. From death to life. Lent is all about transformation… and I’m so glad that Easter [Lutheran Church] is talking about transforming at worship, and church school, and confirmation, and book studies, and Chick Talk [women’s group], etc.

‘Transformation’ means that there’s hope for us. If a bin of worms in my basement can transform slimy onion skins into fantastic soil… how much more hope there is for us… who will be transformed by the promises of Jesus Christ on a sunny Easter morning!

Jesus will take our weak mortal bodies and transform them into glorious bodies like his own… -Philippians 3: 21

Sarah Clark is an ELCA Pastor and works at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN. She graduated from Luther College in 2005 and Luther Seminary in 2010. Sarah seriously loves the Current (a radio station), good food, and the BWCA in northern Minnesota.

Photos of worms by Easter member Julie McCarty.