“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:3-8)
The quote above is Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, which is found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). This is an interesting parable that illustrates how people receive the “seed”--that is, the gospel--and I think we can also apply it to congregational ministries.
I love the Parable of the Sower because it really sums up my philosophy of ministry: that God calls me as a pastor and us together as a congregation to throw gospel seeds anywhere and everywhere, imitating God’s own scattering of gospel seeds. With congregational participation now seeming to be just another option on the buffet of ways in which folks might spend their time, we can no longer be content to wait for people to come to us. Instead, the Holy Spirit is sending us out to throw gospel seeds everywhere--even on people we might presuppose are the path, the rocky ground, or the thorns.
With this in mind, I am pleased to report a gospel seed that has recently fallen on good soil! That seed is Rejoicing Spirits, as it has so far introduced about 25 new people to Trinity’s heartfelt Welcome, gospel Nurture, and hearts that Serve our Lord Jesus. We are truly meeting a need in our community and wider region, and it would not surprise me in the least if Rejoicing Spirits grew to regularly see 100 or more people at the services within a couple of years because of the many connections we still have to make. These connections could also extend to our Sunday morning worship service as we build relationships with people.
This one gospel seed is developing roots and seems poised to yield thirty and sixty and a hundredfold, and this ministry’s surprising early success means that Trinity is now entering growth mode. Like many ELCA pastors my age, I have little experience working with growing congregations; however, there is one thing I do know for sure: growing congregations require hands--your hands--to join in God’s expanding work. As our Fall Mission Fuel-Up campaign gets going this month, I urge you to prayerfully consider how you might offer your hands for God’s work among us in the coming year. With your help, we can make the most of this opportunity to grow our congregation’s reach and impact in our community, and I invite you to not just come along for the ride but to take a shift in the driver’s seat as well!
This month’s article is a draft of a Mission Mt. Vernon trip recap article that will go to my synod committee for editing and then off to the ELCA’s Living Lutheran magazine for possible publication. This is what I was up to in southern Illinois back in the beginning of September! --Pastor Micah
June 30 loomed large for two pastors on opposite ends of the Peoria, Illinois metro area. On the east side, Pastor Elise Rothfusz, Director of Evangelical Mission for the Central/Southern Illinois Synod, monitored the registrations for “Mission Mt. Vernon”, a synod-wide mission trip scheduled for Labor Day weekend. One county to the west of Peoria, Pastor Micah Garnett, chair of the synod’s New & Renewing Congregations Committee that planned the trip, waited anxiously for the registration headcount. Mission Mt. Vernon would be the first synod-wide mission trip in the synod’s history, at least as far as anyone could recall...but it had to get off the ground first. When the headcount was sent from one side of Peoria to the other, the trip had a grand total of two registrants, not including the four committee members who planned to attend. With the situation looking grim, creativity came into play. The registration deadline was extended to July 31. Additional itinerary options--day-trip and overnight--were added to the planned two-night stay.
Fast-forward to Saturday, August 31, when 35 volunteers, including Bishop John Roth, checked in at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Mt. Vernon, Ill. for the opening devotions of Mission Mt. Vernon. The out-of-town volunteers joined with members of the host congregation to create a workforce of 51 people for the first day’s activities, which began with service projects around Mt. Vernon, a community of 15,000 at the junction of Interstates 57 and 64 in southern Illinois. One group visited a senior living facility, Nature Trail Health Care Center, to share music and games with the residents, while another group cleaned up three city parks. The Prince of Peace building and grounds also began buzzing with activity on Saturday afternoon with work on landscaping and maintenance projects. The first day concluded with a discussion about community ministry, followed by the Evening Prayer service from Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
Sunday began with an education hour led by Pastor Rothfusz, worship at Prince of Peace, and a wonderful potluck lunch. After the meal, the group got right back to its high level of productivity with maintenance projects despite the departure of Saturday’s roughly 20 day-trip volunteers, bolstered by an experienced ten-member mission team from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Champaign, Ill. that has worked together on several Habitat for Humanity mission trips to El Salvador. Good Shepherd team member Dean Olson said that the team was excited to participate in a more local mission, and he further added, “Let us know where the next trip is, and we’ll be there.” As the to-do list dwindled on Sunday afternoon, Prince of Peace council president Merle Hollman remarked that the expanded workforce was able to complete more maintenance work in two days than the congregation could finish in several months. After dinner that night, the group packed “birthday bags” for a local foster care agency--a project powered by a Thrivent Action Team grant--before holding their closing worship service that had been planned for Monday at noon and then giving volunteers an option to head home early due to small crew required for the final day’s projects.
Although little work was left for the group on Monday, some of God’s most important work would take place through the hands of Prince of Peace member Linda Mlot as she gathered the remaining workers into a circle to pray after breakfast. She asked everyone to hold their neighbors’ hands, and then to go around the circle with each person sharing something they were thankful for as the weekend drew to a close. The outpouring of emotion and gratitude In that prayer circle made it clear that this work trip, planned by a synod committee to support and encourage a congregation facing difficult times, had become much more than that. The trip became the embodiment of what it truly means to be a synod: a group that is on the way together, as the word “synod” comes to us from the Greek prefix syn- (meaning “with or together”) combined with the word hodos (meaning “way, path, or road”). While the New & Renewing Congregations Committee is just beginning to process all that they learned from conducting the trip, one thing is certain: the Central/Southern Illinois Synod will be on the way together to another community next year.
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.