Over the past several months during this 500th Anniversary year of the Reformation, I have been reflecting on various aspects of what it means to be Lutheran. So far, we have explored community service (May), Holy Baptism (June), technology and ministry (July), and youth ministry (August). I will return to that series in October, but for this month, I wanted to give you a bit of a road map for our life together as we continue in this 500th Anniversary year!
September will be a busy month for us as we get back in the swing of things following our summer of recharging. I look forward to our educational programs starting up again on the 10th as we celebrate the commissioning of our Sunday School teachers. For that Sunday and the 17th, the Adult Forum class will be joining with the Youth Group and Confirmation class to explore Reformation history with the movie Rick Steves’ Luther and the Reformation. (Any of you Star Wars aficionados out there might be excited to know that I am putting together the two weeks of discussion under the working titles A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back!) On the 10th and 17th, we will also offer signup assistance during coffee for our Church Directory photo sessions that will be held October 5 & 6 (2-9pm) and Oct. 7 (10am-5pm).
The last Sunday of September will kick off our Mission Sundays series, which will run through October 15. During these Sundays, we will celebrate how God’s Welcome, Nurture, Serve mission for Trinity has progressed this year. Along the way, we will also be celebrating at least 4 baptisms (Albin children on Sep. 24, Brackett twins on Oct. 15). Adult Forum will be turning our attention during October toward some important theological developments in Lutheranism.
November will be a month that focuses heavily on the evolution of worship in the Lutheran tradition, with a number of highlights in our Sunday gatherings. We begin that month with Confirmation Sunday on Nov. 5, a day of commissioning six of our youth and launching them on their way to greater ministry in the congregation and community. The next two Sundays will be “Throwback Sundays,” when we pull out our old hymnals and revisit what Trinity’s worship looked like in past years. This will prove quite interesting for me, as Nov. 12 will be my first experience leading worship from the 1925 Augustana Synod Hymnal and the 19th will be my first attempt at the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal. We will then end November with Christ the King Sunday, singing hymns of Martin Luther (and maybe some other Lutheran hymnwriters) that take us through the entire church year in a single service.
December seems a long way away, but for now, it is enough to know that we will be turning our attention to understanding several other Christian denominations that came out of the Reformation. The highlight of December will be the Dec. 10 combined worship service and choir cantata with our neighbors at the Church of the Brethren--it will be a great opportunity for church neighbors to become better friends!
The peace of the Lord be with you all as the busy rhythms of life return this month. From what I have just written here as my to-do list, I will be in just as great need of such peace!
Welcome to the next article in my 500 Years of Lutheranism series! This time, we will explore another topic that may not strike you as particular to Lutherans--youth ministry. Today, youth ministry is an area of emphasis for all kinds of Christian congregations, but Lutherans have made some great contributions over the years to the ways that the church shares faith with young people.
Perhaps the greatest of these came from Martin Luther himself in 1529, when he published his Small Catechism. Our Confirmation class joined the Adult Forum class during Lent this year for a study of this important little book. While it was wonderful to study the Small Catechism in a class format, the real power of the Small Catechism is best experienced beyond the walls of church buildings. Luther clearly intended the book to be used in the home, as he spelled out in his introduction to each portion of the Small Catechism: In a simple way in which the head of a household is to present them to the household. Luther’s Small Catechism, then, was a tool used, from its earliest days, to help parents share their faith with their children.
As time went on, Lutherans would impact the lives of many young people through Confirmation classes and schools. Of the many American Lutheran denominations that would eventually lead to our ELCA, the mostly Swedish Augustana Synod (1860-1962) had an especially strong reputation in the area of youth ministry. Trinity actually began in the Augustana Synod in 1890 under the name Bethlehem Swedish Lutheran Church, so we grew up with youth ministry as part of our congregational DNA. Scarcely a week passes for me as your pastor without someone sharing fond memories of Trinity’s positive impact on young people over the years, ranging from youth-led worship services to Leadership Lab at Augustana College to a rambunctious youth who eventually became a pastor.
These memories are wonderful, but like I said, youth ministry is in our DNA. This means that youth ministry is not just a thing of the past for Trinity, but something about which we continue to be excited! Our great youth leaders, Kathy Clifford and Tricia Davis, are inspiring young people here and building energy in advance of the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston that our youth will be attending next summer. During this month, I invite you to help stoke the Holy Spirit’s fire of youth ministry here by supporting the Trinity Youth’s upcoming fundraisers this month, listed below. Thank you for your support!
This month, I am continuing my article series on important elements of Lutheran theology and history with a topic you might not expect--technology. Technology may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Lutherans over the centuries, but it has been important since the very beginning.
For most practical purposes, the Protestant Reformation began on October 31, 1517 when the pastor and university professor Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. As dramatic as that scene sounds, church doors functioned as community bulletin boards since most people worshiped on a daily basis. But the printing press turned Luther’s simple, ordinary action into a landmark event for the history books. Developed and refined by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-1400s, the printing press helped Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses reach many more people in Germany and throughout Europe. And transformed a local academic dispute into a broader conflict that would forever change the church. The power of technology to share ideas was clear, and the sun was rising on technology’s power to share the gospel--the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
Ten years ago, as I was beginning my seminary studies, I wondered what use God could possibly have for all the crazy math classes and all obscure computer programming knowledge I picked up in college. But then I remembered the story of Luther and the printing press. I remembered that technology could be used to share the gospel just as it is used to share so many other ideas (for better or for worse). I realized that God could use all that random technological experience for something after all!
From that time on, I have constantly been on the lookout for ways that technology can help the church share the message of Jesus. This is always a bit of a balancing act, as it is all too easy to technologize everything and let the tool (technology) overshadow the goal (spreading the gospel). Thankfully, God’s Welcome, Nurture, Serve mission for us helps us to discover how technology can be deployed in service to our Lord Jesus. Technology helps us WELCOME guests and new friends through our website and Facebook page. Technology helps us NURTURE people in faith through the sermon podcast and downloadable class materials. And technology helps us SERVE our neighbors by giving us ways to partner with others in our community to respond to important issues and challenges.
These are just a few thoughts about how Trinity is continuing the Lutheran heritage of technology in service of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you have other ideas about how technology could help further God’s mission for us, please let me know!
Last month, I wrote to you about the Lutheran emphasis on community service ministry, sharing my joyous experiences with the Fulton County Social Service Committee. After the fact, it occurred to me that that article would be a great kickoff to Trinity’s celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a celebration that will be at its peak around October 31 (the date on which Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517). My newsletter articles for you in the coming months will each explore a different highlight of our great Lutheran tradition.
This month, I emphasize here God’s great gift to us of Holy Baptism. Now, many of you have probably discovered by now that I talk about Baptism a lot in my sermons, and that is because Baptism is one of the most important things God has given us. We are baptized once--washed once with water and God’s Word--but the effects of Baptism last a lifetime, as we are given forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation through this sacrament.
Baptism is a gift God freely gives us, without any work or particular worthiness of our own, and if you have ever received a truly wonderful gift, you know how difficult it is to ever thank the giver enough for such a gift. Thus, each day of our lives is an exercise in saying “Thank you” to God for the gift of Holy Baptism as we die each day to sin and rise again to new life in Christ (Romans 6:4 & Luther’s Small Catechism).
Here are some ways that you can say “Thank You” to God for your baptism:
So, as our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation gets into high gear over the coming months, let us all daily thank God for the gift of Holy Baptism that unites Jesus’ followers in God’s care--no matter the denomination of Christianity to which we belong.
To all the followers of the risen Christ gathered into Trinity Lutheran Church: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I am writing this to you just after returning to the office from the April meeting of the Fulton County Social Service Committee, a meeting which I attend each month. As I participate in these meetings, I am always encouraged that God is working through some truly amazing people in this community, and I am blessed to be in the company of such a great cloud of witnesses to the power of humble service.
During this particular meeting, however, I was struck by another realization, one beyond my normal appreciation of the community servants. I realized that our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a tremendous force for good in the Canton area. Of course, I know that Trinity has been rooted in this community since 1890...but that meeting was a wonderful visual reminder for me that the ministry of the ELCA in Canton is larger than just the labor of Trinity’s hands.
In that meeting, I saw God’s work in Canton through ELCA hands as our sister Andrea Barbknecht updated us on the community outreach of Spoon River College. I saw God’s work in Canton through ELCA hands as I sat next to two staff members from MOSAIC, an organization founded by the ELCA to provide group and host homes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I did a sort of impromptu “house blessing” for them last month as they opened their third Canton group home). I saw God’s work in Canton through ELCA hands as a family services contractor for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) introduced herself to the group. And (at least hopefully!) I spoke of God’s work in Canton through ELCA hands as I invited people to ride with us in Pedal for a Purpose and updated them on a local 211 help line project I am getting involved in through Chamber of Commerce connections.
I want you to take heart, brothers and sisters in Christ, that God has called us to be part of all these wonderful things in this community. Through your participation in this congregation and faithful support of the ELCA through benevolence to our Central/Southern Illinois Synod, you are at that Social Service Committee table. You are part of community-building events, of the great quality of life at the MOSAIC group homes, and of the transformation of families through LSSI.
God’s work is all around us, and our hands are reaching farther than any of us might have imagined. Let this good news drive us forward as we Welcome, Nurture, and SERVE!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…
I was reminded of these opening words of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and its pairs of extremes by the way that the month of April will unfold as a month of extremes for us in our Christian devotion. April begins with Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead (April 2), drawing the ire of religious authorities who decide that he must die. Then, the Jerusalem crowd’s Palm Sunday shouts of “Hosanna!” (April 9) quickly become “Crucify him!” as Holy Week builds toward Maundy Thursday (April 13, 6:30pm) and Good Friday (April 14, 6:30pm)--the painful extreme of the month, as the innocent Jesus is put to death on a cross.
But as quickly as the gravity of Jesus’ death hits us, we reach a joyous extreme--the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning (April 16 - breakfast at 7:30am, worship at 9:00). We rejoice in Jesus’ demonstrating that God is more powerful than anything...even death! After this, our celebration of the resurrection continues the rest of the month and beyond, as the Easter season lasts for seven Sundays. We will welcome several new members into the congregation at our Celebration of Discipleship on April 23, and round out the month with the beginning of a two-week sermon series explaining why we worship the way we do (April 30 & May 7).
So, we have a lot of extremes this month, but that is just a fact of Christian life. There is no Easter without Good Friday, no empty tomb without an occupied cross, no resurrection without death. Likewise, there is no joy without suffering--we must experience both to establish the contrast between the two. I love that our Lutheran heritage helps us remember and live out these truths, both in the shape of our worship and in our persistent faith in God's grace and forgiveness. Only God can make the cross--the ancient Roman instrument of death--into the symbol of new life for the whole world, pain and defeat walking side by side with renewal and victory.
God calls us to the cross to ponder the mystery of faith--that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. This is the mystery that is revealed to us, little by little, each day as we follow Jesus. And it is in this holy time of the year that the Holy Spirit most powerfully invites us to consider all that Jesus has done for us and for the world. Let us set out together on a journey toward the cross, trusting in our crucified Lord’s strength and looking always with abundant hope on the empty tomb, for Christ is risen!
Jesus said to the disciples: “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” --Matthew 28:19-20a
These words are spoken by the risen Jesus to his disciples at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. They are often referred to as the “Great Commission,” and it describes the central work Jesus sends the church to do. During the season of Lent, then, we take up this essential work as we move into the NURTURE phase of our church year--the way we live out the WELCOME, NURTURE, SERVE mission to which God has called us.
To help us tackle this part of God’s mission, I have developed the CrossWalk Disciple Formation Course, a set of classes based on Luther’s Small Catechism and Bible study that will help people new to Christian faith (or simply new to Trinity) become familiar with the key elements of the faith we share. These classes will provide a focused approach to welcoming new disciples into our congregation, and holding them during Lent goes back to one of the best practices from the first centuries of the church. Historically, Lent developed as a time of education and formation for people who were newly called to faith in Jesus, and they were baptized at Easter.
Our CrossWalk course picks up this ancient practice and brings it into our present time and situation. The 6 sessions will take place during the Adult Forum time (10:15am on Sundays) in Engvall Hall: Ten Commandments (March 5), Creed (March 12), The Lord’s Prayer (March 19), Holy Baptism (March 26), Holy Communion (April 2), and the Passion of Our Lord (April 9). They will be a great review for our Adult Forum and Confirmation classes, in addition to the benefit for new disciples! These classes, in addition to our Lent midweek services and Sunday worship, will be great preparation for our "Celebration of Discipleship" on April 23, when we will celebrate baptisms and officially welcome new members.
I am very excited for our first time through this adult discipleship process! More and more people these days are growing up without a church background, so adult discipleship will continually become more and more essential for our congregation’s ministry. We already have several people planning to join Trinity through CrossWalk, and I am happy to help you reach out to anyone you think may be interested. I enjoy meeting new people and answering (or at least earnestly attempting to answer) any questions they have--just send them my way!
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. --1 Corinthians 10:4-7
It’s February, the month of Valentines and heart-shaped boxes of candy...so what else is a pastor to write about in the newsletter but love? Thanks to the mass commercialization of Valentine’s Day, love is everywhere. Love is all around us!
Is it really, though? I mean, sure, our culture is highly proficient in and dedicated to promoting romance. I’ve lost count of the number of jewelry commercials on TV today, and I tip my cap to the advertising folks.
But while romance is as abundant as ever, it seems that love is a different story at the moment. It seems that love is harder to come by in the public sphere. Violence always leads off the news broadcasts. And public discourse has become hostile to the extent that political differences have even driven wedges between close friends.
But as people united in Christ, we are called by God to love others even if it’s not the most popular thing to do. Fortunately, the Bible is a great resource to help us do this! One of the best descriptions of love in the Bible is the passage I quoted above, written by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church. These words to the Corinthians are some of the most enduring words in the Bible, and are familiar to many people because they are often read at weddings.
Despite that common use, though, the implications of the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 are wide-ranging. Loving with this sort of patience and gentleness invites others into our lives, providing fertile ground for relationships to grow. Strangers we may at first lump into a category become individual people we truly see, know, and appreciate. Love like Paul describes is able to topple the walls of fear and discord that seem to be so effectively separating people right now.
This is the kind of love God calls us to offer to the world this February. Let this love be our Valentine to everyone, showing the love God has for us in Jesus Christ by offering that same love to others.
Pastor Micah Garnett has been our Pastor since July 2016. He grew up in York, PA and graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. He enjoys worship, working with social services in Fulton County, writing hymns, and cycling.