Top ministry moments — #3: Flyover

a14When a dear friend and faithful member Rear Admiral Mort Cooley died in 2005, it was at the same time as my mother’s death and two other member of our congregation. It was a busy, emotional, overwhelming and amazing time in my ministry.

Our new sanctuary was complete; we were waiting for the certificate of occupancy from the city of Palm Coast. The season of Lent was about to begin. I had gone to Philadelphia to spend the day with my Mom. And then the phone calls began. Mom died. Mort died. John (Palkovitz) died. It was going to be one of those months. Continue reading

Top ten ministry moments– #4: Fiesta!

fiestaI have so many Vacation Bible School memories that it is hard to pick out a favorite. But the one that always comes to mind is the one where we formed dance lines and sang, ‘Cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-Fiesta!” The theme was something from the southwest and with our hands on the shouldes of the person in front of us, we sang and danced to that song throughout the week.

If there is one thing that our church has done well over the years, it is Vacation Bible School. We may not have the biggest or even the best, but our program generated the most energy for our congregation of anything we do during the year. We would have one hundred children and sixty staff working during the week to bring the good news of Jesus to kids from age 3 to 11. A theme song and word would define the week for us, and it’s hard not to forget the shouts of “Viva!”

Vacation Bible School has always been provided a spark to our congregation, involved more members than any other event, and connected with the community in dynamic ways each year. I am indebted to the many who have made our program happen each year, and privileged to be a part of the week each summer. We had so much fun preparing the artwork, performing the dramas, eating the snacks and singing the songs!

Top ministry moments — #5: When no one came to church

IrAINn September 2004, we had two Sundays when no one came to church! On September 5 and 26 in 2004, hurricanes passed close enough by that everyone had either hunkered down or left town.

I remember September 5 the best. Our new sanctuary was under construction. The steel was up but the steel roof wasn’t yet in place. We were running three Sunday worship services at the time because of our limited space: a traditional, a contemporary and a traditional. Though only a dozen years ago, smart phones didn’t exist, cell phones were kind of new on the scene, so it was hard to contact a whole congregation. So I went to church that morning just in case anyone came.

At 8:15, it wasn’t raining yet and one family showed up. At 9:30, sheets of rain pummled the building and winds ripped some of the tar paper off the new building and no one showed up. I didn’t stay to see if anyone was coming at 10:45. I went home to hunker down with my own family.

On September 26, hurricanes passing through our section of Florida from the Gulf of Mexico one again came close enough that worship just didn’t happen. I can’t even remember if I went to church that day. By God’s grace, the greatest inconvenience was no power for a few hours. After that, everything was back to normal.

Those were the memorable Sundays when no on showed up for church!

Top ministry moments – #6: The big Christmas cantata

setFor many years our church’s music ministry has presented a special musical worship service during the seasons of Advent and Lent. A few years ago (2010), we went all out with a Christmas musical arranged by David Clydesdale “A Baby Changes Everything.” The production includes elaborate hand painted sets, lots of lines for actors and songs for soloists to learn, and a number of challenging pieces for the choir to learn. As part of a multi-age cast that met for many rehearsals, I had two solos of my own to learn, plus a narration. All our work was for just one night. By the grace of God we pulled it off. It was a night far beyond anything we had done before or have done since.

It centered around a world oblivious to the fulfillment of prophecies and birth of a Savior and those who discovered it as the angels appeared, the shepherds came to see and the wise men arrived. It speaks to our time, when we are often oblivious to our Lord and need to discover once again his ever-present gifts of grace.

It felt to me to be the perfect storm of cast, talent, script and song. Some of the cast have moved away, some have grown up, some are no longer involved, some can no longer sing. It won’t happen again, but it will always be a wonderful memory.

Top ministry moments – #7: Teaching preschool Sunday School

In response to a sudden exodus of several Sunday School teachers, I decided to step back from teaching an adult Bible class on Sunday mornings and teach children. The age group we needed to fill was Kindergarten/Preschool, so that’s the class I took on. It was one of the best teaching years I’ve ever had.

I not only love to teach but I love children, so it was a double blessing. From sitting on a little chair at a little table to messy crafts to class trips to the bathroom, it was great. You can read more about my experience in my post “Things I’ve learned teaching preschool Sunday School.

I’m back to teaching adults for now, but I dream of the day I get to get another chance with the little ones. Thank you Riley, Reagan, Owen, Ariana, Savannah, Corbin, Isabelle, and Kiley for a great, top-ten year!

 

 

Top ministry moments – #8: Kenya (and other mission trips)

kenya

Crowds waiting to see the doctors in Kenya

Even though I’ve been to numerous domestic mission destinations with the youth group, have traveled to Haiti three times and later went to Madagascar, the mercy medical team trip to Kenya in 2013 stands out for me. First, it was our first trip to Africa. Second, I was immersed in a much different culture that expanded my view of the world and its people.

We received a very good orientation in the culture of Kenya when we arrived. One lesson was about public displays of affection. Men and women, even married couples, would not walk hand-in-hand in that culture. However, two men who were good friends would. I didn’t think much about this dynamic until I began working closely with the local bishop of the church where our mercy medical clinic was. As we walked around the church grounds and talked about the masses of people lined up to see the doctors, we held hands, something I hadn’t exactly pictured myself doing in my pre-trip preparation.

As the week went by, the growing number of people who came for care became unruly. For example, when I simply wanted to hand out the toothbrushes and toothpaste we had brought with us, a mob of men, women and children rushed up, grabbed everything out of my hands and ran off. As the bishop and and I talked and watched the crowds, he said, “This is terrible. We can’t have this.” And then he turned to me and said, “Let’s go have some sugar cane.” He had brought some with him from his brother’s farm. He skillfully used a large machete to chop up some pieces for us to chew on under the shade of a nearby tree. I learned a valuable lesson that day. When life seems out of control, you don’t have to step in and fix it. You might just need a break and a little sugar cane to gnaw. (I seem to remember Jesus also taking breaks when the crowds following him became overwhelming.)

I had the opportunity to preach in Kenya the Sunday I was there. It was the first time I had ever preached with an interpreter. We visited an elephant orphanage, got to go on safari and saw hippos in the wild. It was a memorable ministry moment in so many ways.

Top ministry moments – #9: No heat

heaterIt was a cold winter day at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Coventry, CT, when I opened up the church on a Sunday morning and discovered that the heating system was dead. It was just about as cold inside the little sanctuary as it was outside in the snow.

It was one of my first years in my first parish, so I wondered, “Now what do I do?” As it turned out, we had a little kerosene heater that had saved us from freezing to death in our little Ft. Wayne house when I was in my last year at the seminary. I brought it over and fired it up in the center of the homemade pews that furnished our church. It didn’t really heat up the room all that much, but we worshiped together that day, even though most of us kept our coats and gloves on the entire time.

One of the church leaders got a repairman out there on a Sunday morning. We could hear him at work throughout the sermon. By the time it was ready for Bible class, the heat was back on.

I haven’t had to worry about being too cold the past twenty years here in Florida. The one Sunday the AC wasn’t working too well, I think I was in Haiti, where it was a whole lot hotter. We all survived and God was glorified.

Top ministry moments – #10: 1989 LCMS National Youth Gathering, Denver, CO

1989In a few weeks I will observe the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination. Thirty years! Where did that time go? Anyway, I thought I would write about my top ten ministry moments and memories from the past thirty years, beginning with the first LCMS national youth gathering I attended in 1989.

I had only one youth from my church (Prince of Peace, Coventry, CT) ready to attend that year, Jason Garay. Since you couldn’t attend with just one leader and one youth, I “adopted” a group from a church in Danbury, CT, and we flew to Denver with the rest of the New England District.

The mass events were held at McNichol Arena in Denver, the old home arena of the Denver Nuggets. The gatherings weren’t as big as they are today, so we could fit everyone in an 17,000 seat arena. Even so, it was unbelievable to walk into that venue for the first time and see so many other LCMS youth groups in one place! Even so, I remember actually finding my brother Jim, who was chaperoning another youth group, on the floor in the middle of that crowd.

Not long before, the leader of the gathering band, Jim Woodruff, had been at a New England District youth event, so we got to go up on stage with him. When a person playing the part of Christ rode into the arena on a donkey, to reenact Palm Sunday, the five-minute roar was deafening. At an outdoor concert event at Red rocks, we were among those who got caught in a sudden violent and torrential thunderstorm. Our group became separated and we had to wait for hours before the busses came back to get us. We all were famous for about fifteen minutes because we survived Red Rocks!

I’ve taken youth to five other national gatherings, but none are as memorable for me as that first one in 1989.

Who did you see in church today?

pulpitA preacher (like me) has a unique perspective on Sunday morning. While you are sitting watching and listening to me, just one person, I am looking at you, a whole congregation. You may notice a few of the people and your friends around you, but I get to see all of God’s people gathered together to hear His word and receive His gifts of grace.

Do you know who I saw this morning? Continue reading