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Easter...and what's after

By admin - March 26, 2015, 8:59 am

Every year I find myself saying things like “After Easter…..I’ll get to that project.”  “After Easter….I’ll find time to write those thank you notes.”  “After Easter….”  You can fill in the blank, because we’ve all said it in one way or another.  There are even times in the life of the church when Holy Week and Easter become one more “task” to check off the list in an already too busy schedule.


After the busyness of Lent and Holy Week, and then the final crescendo of Easter morning, we all hope there will be a bit of time to catch our breath and catch up with all those things we’ve set aside in order to attend to this holy (and busy) season.  And I pray that will happen for you!  Soon.

katherine preaching resized


But I also pray that the coming week will be something more than a series of unending “tasks”. This is the week when we come to the center of our faith. We speak the words all year long in creed and liturgy – Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.  This week we, one more time, live this ancient story.


All the sin and sorrow and fear of all the world is gathered up in this coming week – refugees fleeing from Syria, African Americans struggling for the respect that ought to be their birth-right, Jews all over the world standing up in the ugly face of anti-semitism, parents mourning their children and children mourning their parents, children going to bed hungry while the rich struggle with overeating. That list of sin and sorrow goes on and on. Our sin.  Our sorrow. Our fear.  Two thousand years old, and as new as the morning news.


While that’s an important part of the reality of Holy Week, it’s not the only part.  Easter morning dawns, and with it comes the reality that God’s promises are true.  The alleluias ring out! Hope is stronger than despair.  Love is more powerful than fear or hate.  God’s word of resurrection is the last word.  I think it’s why so many people return to the pew on Easter morning.  Resurrection, hope, new life – however you want to name it – it’s real, and we know it. This coming week was a week from hell which ended when God broke the boundary between life and death to show us what real life looks like.  Life eternal in spite of the physical reality of death.  Life abundant no matter what the scarcity in our life is.  Life of belonging even when we live in isolation.  Life of hope in the face of despair.  Life in the presence of death. Life that cannot be overcome by death.


You and I are blessed to live our lives both “Before Easter” AND “After Easter”.  We know this ancient story.  We know the ways that it has been lived out over the centuries in the lives of saints and sinners.  We know how it has been made manifest in our own lives.  Yet we live in a world of busyness and hurry that too often drowns out the glorious truth.


This year “after Easter”, maybe we can all hope for a bit of time to breathe freely – and then something more. Maybe this year when we make our “after Easter” list, we can dream a bit bigger than just finishing a project or sleeping late for a couple of mornings.   Maybe this year we can include dreams like new life, new hope, renewed faith, renewed energy for a life of witness to the living Christ. Or justice and peace in places of turmoil and fear. What’s on your “after Easter” list this year? Resurrection? May it be so.


—Katherine Mulhern, Iowa Conference Program Support/Adjunct for 2030 Iowa (Young Clergy Support)


By admin - March 26, 2015, 8:59 am

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    Boldly Following Jesus in a Cardigan

    By Jonna Jensen - March 19, 2015, 11:50 am

    March 20th is the birthday of the Rev. Fred McFeely Rogers, whom most of us recognize by the familiar, respectful title “Mr. Rogers”.


    I’m too old to have known Mr. Rogers as a child.  I knew of him later, but I’d name the day I met Mr. Rogers as a day in middle age, on a not-all-that-beautiful day in my own neighborhood.  Something bad had happened at church.  I don’t remember any longer what was bad, but I remember coming home early, angry, and sad.  I popped on the TV and Mr. Rogers appeared.  In his bathroom.  I turned up the sound, wondering what this peculiar man was doing in the bathroom.  Something about potty training?  No, it was a different kind of training.  He was sharing with his viewers, whom he called his neighbors, a bit about his childhood fear of bathroom drains.  And he wanted to share an important truth.  It was certainly possible to slip into the potty.  But it was not possible to go down the drain.  That slice of gospel evoked a flood of healing tears, then laughter, then the beginning of a long stretch of years as a member of the Rev. Rogers’ television congregation.


    Just in case these words reach you on a not-all-that-beautiful-day in your neighborhood, I repeat the good news:  Slip into the potty we may, but we can never go down the drain.


    In the years after the Rev. Rogers’ death, traditions have grown up around his birthday (as they have done for many other saints before him).  Folk wear cardigans.  Folk engage in purposeful acts of neighbor love, in deliberate expressions of gospel.


    I commend to you on March 20th a cardigan, if you have one.  I commend to you a gospel-full act of neighbor love.  It’s a good day for stretching in an act of UPDATED jonna svenkindness toward a neighbor whom it’s difficult to like.  It’s a good day for stretching in an act of kindness toward a neighbor who’s new.  It’s a good day for stretching out in an act of a kindness toward a neighbor who’s short on neighbors.  It’s a good day for stretching toward any of the neighbors around us toward whom we need to stretch in order to reach.


    Thank you for letting me know what you may have learned from being one of Mr. Rogers’ neighbors.  Thank you for sharing a stretchy story with me of your March 20th offering of neighbor love.


    Boldly following Jesus.

    Sometimes, in a cardigan.

    Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister


    By Jonna Jensen - March 19, 2015, 11:50 am

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      By Brigit Stevens - March 12, 2015, 3:06 pm

      I hate church committee meetings as much as the next person. Which is weird, because I really love my job and a lot of what I do includes going to UPDATED-Brigitcommittee meetings. But I don’t hate most of the committee meetings that I currently attend. In fact, I’m usually pretty energized and interested in/by/from the committee meetings that I go to and I think it’s because most of the meetings that I attend these days feel like important meetings where STUFF GETS DONE.


      I will spend ALL DAY in a meeting without complaint if we actually accomplish something!


      But sitting through just ten extra minutes of a meeting re-hashing, re-worrying, re-negotiating, re-tabling, and re-talking-through-a-problem-without-actually-solving-it makes me crazy.


      Church committee meetings can often go on for a very long time with very little action and then are repeated again the next month, and the next month, and the next, ad nauseam. Much of the time, when we get stuck in these ruts, it is often because we are afraid of moving forward. We don’t feel ready. We don’t know what we need. We don’t know what others will think. We’re uncertain about who will be happy and who will be angry with the decision. What if we fail? What will others think of us and our decision? What will we think of us and our decision?


      So we meet, and discuss, and pray, and meet again next month.


      But sometimes we just have to act.


      Sometimes, we just have to BOLDLY FOLLOW JESUS.


      After reading a brilliant blog post written for Storyline, by Shauna Niequist, about paddleboarding: http://storylineblog.com/2015/02/05/youre-never-going-to-be-fully-ready/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=Donald+Miller&utm_content=You%27re+Never+Going+to+Be+Fully+Ready


      paddle fallI thought about how brilliant and wise she was about life in general. And then I thought about how the same idea that she wrote about regarding learning to paddleboard applies to living a Christian life: “it’s the paddling that makes you stable, not the other way around. You’ll never stay up unless you start paddling.”paddle wave


      It’s the following Jesus that makes us disciples, not the other way around. You can’t figure it all out on your own first and make sense of it all before moving, you have to just start following. This is true for each of us as individuals, as well as all of us as the Church.


      We have to move, try new things, stretch, and risk making mistakes in order to be faithful and Christian. We won’t know if the new preschool program will bring in new member families, but we do know that loving the little ones of our neighborhood is one of the things Jesus invites us to do. We don’t know if the new Stewardship committee will know exactly how to spend every dime we give to its fullest potential, but Jesus asks us to give until we feel it and some of the feelings might need to be trust and hope, not certainty and safety. We won’t know how upset one family will be if we convert the old archive room into office space for the local domestic abuse hotline. But we do know that boldly following Jesus means sometimes we may upset our family and friends, and we trust we’ll find our community again as we are living and being the Church together.


      Friends, may you never attend another meeting that goes even just ten minutes longer that it needs to. May you boldly follow Jesus well before you feel ill from talking about it! Sometimes you just have to start following and trust that the rest will get worked out along the way.


      Blessings for the Journey,

      Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister





      By Brigit Stevens - March 12, 2015, 3:06 pm

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        Give up?

        By admin - March 5, 2015, 12:52 pm

        I recently attended the Rural Ministry Conference held in Dubuque through Wartburg Seminary of Theology and Land.  The conference this year was geared toward pastoral care and dealing with the growing number of mental health issues that rural congregations are facing with fewer resources to offer adequate help to individuals and families (it’s a great conference that I highly recommend!).  Outside of that topic one of our keynotes touched on caring for the ‘nones’ and ‘dones’ that are in our communities.


        These folks do not consider themselves to be atheist.  In a very limited nutshell ‘nones’ are those that have no background in faith but are pretty sure that there is something holy out there.  ‘Dones’ are those that have been in the faith but for various reasons are done with organized religion, yet still hold the belief that there is something holy out there.


        The question that sits with me in thinking of the growing number of ‘nones’ and ‘dones’ is how, if it’s possible even, is the church relevant?  With so many articles and blogs and statistics showing us the decline of mainline protestant churches, dwindling church membership and even the decrease in folks claiming to be affiliated with a church we are faced with the question: ‘why would folks give up their ‘freedom’ of individualized religion and self scheduling for the Holy by joining a church—or even staying an active member of church?’


        houserTo which I respond with another question– not only because I’m a minister but because I’m a young Christ follower that truly believes in the church—and that question is, ‘give up?’


        We give up nothing when we join the church, remain active in the church, care about the church.  The church is what makes us more than simply a group of folks meddling in the affairs of the world in the name of God.  Or seven groups.  Or fifty.  The church is what holds us together, a stated set of beliefs that bind us all; whether we agree on them all or not.  The church gives us a single thread running through every Christian, living or dead back to the first few that gathered.


        I will be bold here and even say that it’s not God but the church that makes us Christians.


        I say that because anybody can believe in a divine being, a greater power, something that influences the world in ways that we can only imagine.


        But the church turns us toward the unifying goal of making a difference in the world that we live in based on our belief in that divine being.  It is a place for us to learn how to be sacramental in our living because each and every one of us might be the only sacrament that another person we encounter might experience in their life…and that is a powerful thing to be.


        Sure we’ve had a rocky past, we even have a pretty turbulent present but the church is meant to be a place where the most prestigious, the most poor, the most devious, the most unsure, the most of any category of person you can think of can go and be safe, forgiven, loved even and show the world the idea of holiness that we place on God.


        The church is what it is to be Christian, the heart of being Christian.  Throw that on the rubbish heap and we’ll be sand washing away in the tide.  Give up?  No, we gain when we become Christians…Christians that believe in the Church (the people and what we do, not just the building and what we have) is as Curtis Farr states in his article Why the Secular Age is Good for the Church, ‘all about creating community, sensing the sacred, working for justice, and making meaning, but we are also about pointing toward a transcendent reality that sustains and provides grounds for the importance of the whole cosmos.’  So let’s get at being the church already!


        —Pastor Samantha Houser, Waukon Zion UCC, and Iowa Conference Program Support/Adjunct for Youth Ministry

        By admin - March 5, 2015, 12:52 pm

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        Be the Church

        By admin - February 26, 2015, 1:06 pm

        be the churchOn Sunday February 15, members of five faith communities huddled into the warmth of the Decorah Congregational UCC’s sanctuary for a few moments.  The usual church services had been canceled so that together we could walk together in the Walk of Solidarity.  Weaving through our small town, we added folks along the way.  People stepped out from the warmth of their homes or faith community as we passed and joined in.  Others surprised us by being ready and waiting at the Whippy Dip.  Still others would join us at Luther and assemble en masse there.


        The Walk was organized as a part of a continuing Decorah-wide initiative cultivating conversation about race.  It was an opportunity to be a visible testament that we in the Decorah community recognize systemic racism not only exists in places like Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York, but also in every community, including ours.  AND we hoped it would be a visible call for all of us to be a part of bigger conversations that span generations, build relationships, and allow each of us to see the beauty and uniqueness of someone we might call “other.”


        I have continued to think a lot about that morning and what the role of faith and the church may be.  The sign that led us sits in my office right now.  Its mere presence feels like an important reminder and call.  It reads in bold letters, “Be the Church.”  Under that, phrases speak of the church in action: “Forgive Others.  Reject Racism.  Fight for the powerless.  Enjoy Life.  Love God.”


        Folks have continued to ask me why I think the Walk was important or what it was all about.  So here I offer the words I shared that morning as we gathered before the Walk.




        Why walk?  It’s currently -6 degrees.  There’s a chance of a bit of snow.  I’m dressed in so many layers that my long johns are wearing long johns.


        Why walk?  That is the question for this morning.


        Why walk?  For me, because I must.  What I see is people’s well-being in jeopardy, their humanity in question, their very lives taken.  Black people.  Brownfeathers people.  People who do not look white.  And I see that folks are at risk not just in Ferguson or New York or Cleveland, but in our own city, our own churches, our own classrooms, our own circles.


        What I hear in our world and in our community are people being told that they are “less than” either in word or in deed or in depiction, that their experiences of racism “can’t be that bad” or that it’s “all in their head.”  When we refuse to acknowledge that there’s a problem, we stand no chance of repentance, no chance for turning around (that’s what that word repentance literally means), no chance for a new way of life.


        I hear some say, “It’s all just so complicated,” and they throw up their hands either in frustration or dismay.  “It is complicated,” they say.  It is.


        Which is why I must walk.  Because I don’t have the answers but I do have a body.  I may not have all the right words or a seven-step plan on how to end racism, but I can show up and let myself be seen.  And in doing so, convey in my very being that I’m paying attention, that I know there is a problem, that I understand to get to the time and the place where all lives matter, that today we must say, in particular, black lives matter.  I walk because I may not have words, but I will not be silent.  The words of Martin Luther King, Jr., echo in my ears.  He said,  “We will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”


        Why walk?  Because my faith can’t just be an act of my head.  It cannot be just neat theology rattled off in the safety of a pulpit or a newsletter or a familiar pew.  It cannot be just thoughts and questions and doubts and meditations.  It cannot just happen in here (the church), it must be lived out there (outside).


        For, me, faith sinks deep, gaining compassion from my heart, wisdom from my gut, a little flexibility from my hips, a bit of stamina from my knees, until it arrives at my feet.  These feet know the power of standing up, of showing up, of being attuned to who and what and how the Divine One is calling us to be.  Today, faith is in my feet.  That’s why I walk.




        caseyThe Walk of Solidarity may have been in our corner of Iowa, but the need for faith to be our feet continues.  And there are many opportunities for us to speak up, to listen, to be present, to effect change.  Is your church working for racial justice?


        To learn more about what the UCC is doing, visit http://www.ucc.org/justice_racism_index


        —Laura Arnold, Pastor at Decorah Congregational UCC and Iowa Conference Program Support/Adjunct for PATHWAYS (Lay Education)


        By admin - February 26, 2015, 1:06 pm

        • Brigit Stevens says:

          Thank you for your leadership, Laura! I was disappointed to not be able to participate in the walk, but SO happy to see the pictures of the bundled faithful in Decorah! You all rock!!

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