Category Archives: Ministry Matters

Consider the Canna Bulbs

We don’t always know value–or beauty–when we see them. Case in point:

canna bulbs.jpg

Did you know that this pile is a pile of canna flower bulbs? Until today, I certainly did not. If I had walked by Helma’s Garden (the garden at First Lutheran) on my own, I probably wouldn’t have noticed them at all. And if I had, I wouldn’t have known what they were. (Pro Tip: No one has ever mistaken me for a gardener.)

During the summer, the beauty of those cannas was obvious: bold and tall and fiery red, they stood proudly in the back row of the garden for all to see. Now that it’s fall, our gardeners have done their work and a few leaves on the ground are all that remain.

All, except for the bulbs. Small and unassuming, their value and beauty tucked safely within. Store them over the winter and plant them in the spring, my gardening friend assured me, and they will grow tall and fiery and boldly beautiful again.

There is something so comforting and hopeful about this: long months of waiting, then invisible change and growth inside the bulb and under the earth, and then . . . beauty and boldness unfurl. When we want to hurry through seasons of darkness, or ugliness, or pain–or when we feel overwhelmed by these things–let’s remember the canna bulbs.

Let’s rest in the dark.

Let’s wait.

Let’s trust that new life will come.

Image from page 34 of

What darkness are you sitting in right now? What is the new thing that you are waiting for?

P.S. If you would like to take some of this buried beauty home with you, come on over to Helma’s Garden and help yourself.

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Filed under Learning Opportunities, Ministry Matters

Calmed into Quietness

It is an anxious time at First Lutheran Church. We are preparing to say goodbye to my colleague, who has served so faithfully and so well in this place for twenty-one years. This is how it is to be a pastor–you love the people given to your care, but you know that eventually, God will call you to love the people somewhere else. We trust that this is good for all God’s people–the ones who are saying goodbye to a beloved pastor and the ones who are preparing to welcome a new one. But, still: a time of anxiety, of wondering and worrying and change.

It is an anxious time outside the church, too. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this 2016 election season has brought all kinds of ugly out in the open. It’s hard to keep listening to the news.

Film star Helen Twelvetrees, Rutland Gates, Bellevue Hill, Sydney, early 1936 / photograph by Sam Hood

Then there are all the private anxieties we struggle with every day. Continue reading

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Filed under Lord in Your Mercy, Ministry Matters

Let’s Get Nordic

“Pastors have to wear a lot of different hats.”

People say that sometimes. (Not just about pastors, of course.)

Well, today, this pastor is wearing an actual hat. And it is a little different:


Today is the 46th Annual Nordic Bazaar at First Lutheran. That means that all those pies and all that lefse will be sold (pretty quickly–so if you’re in the area, hurry over now!).

It means that lady pastors will join many other women in wearing little red hats, and man pastors will join some other men in wearing red cumberbunds and bow ties.   Continue reading


Filed under Ministry Matters, Thankful Hearts

Shape of My Heart

Sometimes, in the face of grief and loss, we don’t know what to say.

This is part of what makes me grateful for the liturgy–for the shape of worship that holds and carries us when we are too tired or too sad to walk alone. I have leaned into the Sunday morning liturgy in times of uncertainty and worry. The funeral liturgy provides this beautiful comfort and strength, too. Last week, we prayed and we sang and we commended a beloved saint into the arms of Jesus. We were sad, but we were comforted and held by those prayers and songs and words.

But liturgy isn’t the only tool in our toolbox. The day before the funeral, I walked into the church kitchen. This is what I found:


Isn’t it beautiful? There is comfort and strength here, too. We know that there will be orange and strawberry and cherry jello at our funeral lunches. We know that we will be fed.

And, we know that this dark cherry jello with actual cherries in it is the very best. (Pro Tip: If you are the pastor, you might even snag a bowl of this stuff from an empty table. No one at your table will complain about it, because they know you have secured the best jello for them, too.)


What’s your comfort food?


Filed under Ministry Matters, Taste and See

Room at the Table

Interior of the Mayfair Ballroom

Do you ever wonder if what you do matters?

It’s such a cliche it’s practically too boring to write about. But we do wonder, don’t we? For me, this is especially true when I preach a sermon at the nursing home. Some people are not interested in listening. Some people are not able to listen and understand. Some people are asleep or on the verge of drifting off. (Pro Tip: At least two out of three of those things are also true on Sunday morning.)

As I preached in Madelia one day last week, it felt almost self-indulgent. Was anyone but me really getting anything out of this sermon? Impossible to tell.

As always, I treasured the parts of the worship service that invited more obvious participation from those gathered. We sang the good old songs –“This is My Father’s World”, “The Old Rugged Cross”–and we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together.

And then, we shared the meal of Holy Communion. Continue reading


Filed under Ministry Matters

Let It Be Acclaimed

holy huddle

Holy huddle.

It was the first surprise of many: the hands laid on me at my ordination to the ministry of word and sacrament were heavy. 

Seven years ago today, I knelt in the sanctuary of Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church in Milwaukee–the church where I discerned my call to ordained ministry (as we say in the business), where I met and married Mike, where I worshiped and learned and prayed and sang with beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. Continue reading

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Filed under Ministry Matters, Thankful Hearts

Make ‘Em Laugh

Margaret Barr's "Strange Children" [ballet], 1955 / photographer unknown

Did I ever tell you about the time I got kicked out of class?

It was a Spanish language intensive in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I spent the first semester of my senior year. Something was funny–I don’t remember what–and my classmate and I locked eyes and started to laugh. Since we were in class, and our teacher was kind of strict, we immediately looked away and tried to pull ourselves together.

We failed.

Whatever it was, I know it wasn’t that funny, but we could. Not. Stop. We laughed uncontrollably, and when our teacher sent us out of the room to compose ourselves we laughed even harder. It probably took us ten minutes to calm down. A classic case of church giggles.

I mention this because a similar thing happened at Saturday’s wedding. Continue reading


Filed under Marvelous Miscellany, Ministry Matters

Choose Your Own Adventure

Image from page 174 of "The adventures of Peter Peterkin" (1916)

When I was a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. Maybe it was the sense of power they gave me, maybe it was the idea of multiple stories contained in one story, maybe it was just the novelty factor.

Sometimes, I would make a choice that turned out badly. My favorite character would be imperiled; a potentially fascinating door would suddenly close; an unpleasant new situation would present itself. Like many other Choose Your Own Adventurers, I’d flip frantically back through the book, trying to find the place I’d gone wrong. This was never successful. I could never get the story to go exactly how I thought it should. Continue reading


Filed under Ministry Matters, Never Had I Ever, Thankful Hearts

Baptized and Beloved

I got to do one of my very, very favorite things yesterday: a baptism!

Seriously, ask my confirmation students. If the answer isn’t “Jesus”, it’s probably “baptism.” I love talking and teaching about it. I love remembering and celebrating it in worship and at home. I love welcoming a new person into the body of Christ with water and God’s word.

You know who does not always love baptism, though? The person being baptized!

Yesterday, the newly baptized was an eight month old baby. When, all of a sudden, some lady she didn’t know very well started pouring water on her head, this baby gave a startled cry. And then, she took matters into her own hands.

Baby being bathed on the kitchen table, ca. 1918

When I laid my hand on her forehead to pray, bless, and mark her with a cross, she glared. She reached up with her sweet little fingers and grabbed my wrist. She fought my hand and tried to pry my fingers away from her head. She would not be caught off guard again. Continue reading

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Filed under Ministry Matters, Thankful Hearts

The Discipleship of Onions

Image from page 647 of "Health knowledge : a thorough and concise knowledge of the prevention, causes, and treatments of disease, simplified for home use" (1920)


“Martha, Martha,” Jesus said. “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her.”–Luke 10:41-42

I have to admit: I’ve always had a love / hate relationship with the story of Mary and Martha. I love the way Jesus lifts up Mary as a disciple–listening and learning from Jesus, drinking in the word. I hate the way he seems to put Martha down as a doer–focused on cooking and cleaning, hosting and serving.

One of the very best things about Jesus (Pro Tip: There are many) is that he is the Word made flesh. He doesn’t come into the world as an idea or a lesson plan; he comes into the world in a body like ours. Flesh and blood. Emotion and appetite. As Tom Long puts it:

The incarnation means that the place to find God is not in otherworldly thoughts but in the earthy details. Martha was not being hospitable in the abstract and her cooking that meal that day was not trivial; hospitality finally means that somebody has to boil the water and slice the onions.

Continue reading

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Filed under Ministry Matters