Newsletter Contents

Click for Pastor’s article
Click for St. Stephen’s Calendar
Click for Serving Schedule

“Pub Theology” with Pastor Chris, Ash Wednesday, Instead of Me Tree, Building Committee Update, Stewardship Blessing Blurb, The Parish Paper, Conference on Congregational Ministries 2013


“Pub Theology” with Pastor Chris

Where:  Flanagans, 2501 Plainfield Ave., So. Plainfield

When:  Tuesday, February 5, 2013 – 8:00-9:00 PM

Topics:  What is Theology of the Cross?

This is an informal gathering for fellowship, refreshment and discussion. 

It’s open to the public, so bring your friends and neighbors.


Ash Wednesday


Wednesday, February 13, 2013


7:30 PM   Worship

Wednesday Lenten Soup Suppers

Observe Lent this year be attending our Wednesday Soup Suppers

followed by Vespers.

Five Wednesdays,

February 20, February 27, March 6,

March 13 and March 20, at 6:00 PM

followed by a short Vesper service at 7:15 PM

If you can provide soup, salad, bread,

beverage or dessert for any of the suppers,

 a sign-up sheet will be available

in the lobby at church.


Instead of Me Tree

“Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  We read of Mary pondering” at the birth of Jesus and again upon finding the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem.. I can also imagine her pondering at the time of the crucifixion as she watched her son being arrested and tried, and then, at the foot of the cross, watching him die a terrible agonizing death.. Mary, it seems, approached life in a thoughtful manner.  For, “to ponder” means ”to symbolize”, “to kindle the imagination,” almost to be “set on fire” about something.  In other words, to think deeply about the  meaning of something, not just looking at the surface appearance.  We can imagine that the natural result of such pondering would be acting on those thoughts.

In the hustle and bustle of our fast-paced modern-day life, we may not take the opportunity to ponder as much as we might like.  The season of Lent, which is fast approaching, is an ideal time to engage in this beneficial activity.  We can ponder on Scripture (perhaps going over the Sunday readings) or, like Mary, we can think deeply and prayerfully about what is going on in our daily lives and how it fits into God’s plan for us.

I’d like to offer something else to think about this Lent.  In my readings I came across this quote which really intrigued me:  “Wherever there is excess, something is lacking.”  Think about it.  Does that mean that if we overdo on something, we’ve crowded something else out of our lives?  Or does it mean if we crave something (anything) it is because there is something lacking in us, a hole deep inside we are trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to fill (my favorite definition of addiction.)  Or, taking it in a wider context, while many of us have an excess of material goods, so many others lack the basic necessities of life.  Think about it.  What does it mean to you?

In keeping with this theme, we will have a Lenten “Instead of Me Tree” in the narthex.  You are invited to take from the tree a symbol of what you have identified as an excess in your life, and prayerfully consider how you can turn it into something that is lacking.  For example, “Instead of overindulging in sweets for a week, I will give the money I would have spent on them to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal.”  Or, “Instead of playing video games (or watching TV) for an hour a week, I will read the Bible or other devotional book and spend those hours with Jesus.”

We will have some suggestions available, but, more importantly, we will have blank forms for you to write what you have identified as your own personal excesses and to decide what you see as lacking.

When you have acted upon your pondering, when you have accomplished your own little transformation, you are invited to take a flower from the basket and place it on the tree in the spot where you took your symbol from.  As we each work individually, we are really working together to transform this tree (or Body) from the old pre-resurrection tree (Body) of death to the post-resurrection tree (Body) of new Life with our gloriously Risen Lord.

We invite you to join in this Lenten journey.  It will be a mighty adventure indeed!  Then, after Easter, we will meet together one Sunday for what the early church called a “Love Feast,” where we will be able to share our experiences of our Lenten journey and what it meant to us.  Of course, since this is a “Feast” there will be food, just what kind, you’ll have to wait and see.

Suggested Scripture readings to aid in your pondering:

Isaiah 58: 1-11.  Matthew 5-7.  Galations 5:16-26.  Ephesians 4: 25- 5:2

Colossions 3:1-17.  Rev 22:1-2.  Luke 16:19-31



Building Committee Update

We are in the end stages of work, not to exceed $15,000, on a feasibility study by Donnelly Wagner Architects of Cinnaminson, NJ.

Work on the feasibility study is based on the 25 important areas surveyed by the Council’s “Planning Committee”. These 25 needs are the basis for our renovations. We prioritized these into 5 levels hoping to have sufficient funds to do everything, but wanting to do levels 1-3 in phase #1 if we didn’t.

As you know, the main reason for renovations is the deplorable state of our Education Building, the rest rooms, handicapped access, the parking lot and lack of space.

After reviewing everything, Mr. Wagner felt that according to member count, attendance, and usage, we have sufficient building square footage. He stated, “We did not need to add or tear down and build a new building, however, we did need to rearrange to better utilize the space we had”.

Work on the study began with the premise of replacing the flat roof over the Education building, redoing the bathrooms (upgrade) and making them handicapped accessible, new double or triple pane windows, and upgrading the utilities as needed. We also looked at creating a fellowship room, rather than building a hall, to accommodate large meetings; and possibly dinners without moving all the pews.

By November we had created a master plan including almost all 25 requirements. It involved reroofing the Ed. Building, new bathrooms, moving Pastor and Kathy’s office to the Ed. Bldg enlarging the narthex by moving the front and rear doors out, and adding glass doors to the rear of the sanctuary. (Lots of other work included)

After working out details, contingency costs, site costs, etc the rough estimate was $1.77 million. At this point we asked the Building Finance committee if they had estimated what we could raise; they have estimated approximately $600,000. With this in mind, we went to Council and presented the proposed plan and financing available.

Council agreed we needed to work in phases and do as much as we could; breaking the project down into at least two or more phases. The committee is presently working with Mr. Wagner based on this estimated budget. We want phase one to include as much work as possible. We would like to see most of the work on the Education building done in phase 1 and hopefully air conditioning in the Sanctuary. Mr. Wagner is presently working on costing as I write this.

We have set up three (3) cottages meetings to be held the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sundays in February.  February 10th and 17th will be immediately following the worship service and the 24th will be at 9:00 AM for the choir and anyone not able to stay after worship. These meetings will be informative with drawings and estimated costing available for you to review and give us feedback. We hope you will get your refreshments (coffee, tea, etc.) and stay for one of these meetings.

I am excited as we work to complete the feasibility study and look forward to the next step.



Stewardship Blessing Blurb

            When my boys were young,  I always told them to look around and look at all the wonderful things they have, and take the time to thank God.  I like to refer to the Psalm 136.  “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.  O give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever.  O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever;”  This psalm goes on about God’s love for all of us.

I feel we need to do for others the same way that God does for us.

A few years ago I worked for a church that had a food box that people could come to and take a few bags of food each month.  I got to know some of the people who were really in need and came every month.  There was one woman who came every month.  And was always grateful and happy when she came.  I found out through time she not only had her family but she also took care of a few grandchildren on a full time basis.  This woman didn’t come for around two months and the next time she came her sister brought her.  Of course, I said to her, I missed talking to her.  When she wasn’t standing by me her sister told me she had a real problem with her kidneys and was in the hospital and now is on a kidney dialysis machine.  But as always she thanked me for helping and was still smiling.  When November came that year, she said to me is there any way the church could get her children and grandchildren some gifts for Christmas.  I told her I would have to talk to the pastor about it, the church had never done that before.  Later that week I saw the pastor, he knew the story since I had told him about the woman.  I told him what the woman had asked me.  He told me he would bring it up at the council meeting the following week and let me know.  When the council met the pastor told them about the woman, they agreed to help for Christmas and asked me to put the information in the newsletter and please announce it in church.  I called the woman and also asked for the sizes of everyone.  She was so shocked that she started to cry.  The members of the church were very giving and there was a number of gifts for everyone in that family.  A few days before Christmas I called the woman and asked her to come with her sister for the gifts.  We put them all in her sister’s car.  The woman and her sister couldn’t thank me enough.  But for days after that I realized that was a gift to me.  Watching that woman and her sister was more of a gift to me that Christmas then anything else.  That was the best Christmas I ever had.  I did share that with the congregation but I know what I felt was the greatest gift for me that Christmas.

I have never forgotten that Christmas.  Whether I give of my time or give material things, I know that our Lord gives me so much more, especially his love every day.  I know I am truly blessed.

Eloise Newton





Coeditors: Herb Miller, Lyle E. Schaller, Cynthia Woolever –
February 2013 – Volume 21, Number 2
Copyright © 2013 by George Bullard

Can You Downsize Staff Without Destroying Your Congregation?

Downsizing hurts not only the person who loses a job but their family, other employees, and even bosses who have a deep, compassionate spirit. When you add the element of a congregation, downsizing also hurts the personal and professional support groups of the staff person. It also damages the health and well-being of the congregation because it can wound the church’s image and witness in its community context.

Why Does Staff Downsizing Happen?
When your congregational budget becomes a straitjacket, one issue that you will likely consider is the possibility of downsizing staff. The two most common reasons for staff downsizing are economic necessity and a decline in church participation (membership and/or worship attendance). A few other reasons may also prompt a staff reduction: a new pastor drives a major new strategy that requires a different staffing pattern than the current one, a major shift in the congregation’s context necessitates a shift in its mission, or a conflict leads to change that affects staffing priorities.
Staff downsizing happens when other attempts to balance the congregation’s budget are already in place or have failed. In general, cuts have already been made in missions and programs. Routine and preventative maintenance on buildings have already been delayed. Even with these preventative measures to avoid downsizing, the effects are still far-reaching. Because a congregation is an emotional system, what impacts one part often affects the whole system. When churches downsize staff, the system itself is susceptible to being wounded or even destroyed. For initiators of a staff downsizing strategy the emotional loss may be low. For defenders of downsized staff persons the emotional loss may be high.
One difficulty is understanding the motives that influential people and groups in a congregation have for downsizing specific staff persons. Typically, the staff person that they want to downsize is one who is
not their favorite and is therefore, to them, expendable. Staff persons who are the favorite of influential people and groups are often untouchable. Their sup-port groups see no rationale for downsizing them.
Whether based on strategic principles or spiritual discernment, it is unfortunate that staff reductions are almost always based on subjective perceptions, the personality of staff persons, and the size and passion of their support groups. Further, the life and ministry approach of affected staff members influences their personal openness to downsizing efforts. This has a direct impact on whether they go quietly or seek to disrupt the fellowship of the congregation.

What Questions Arise When Downsizing?
Different people will have different questions about what’s important when downsizing staff members. Some will focus on questions that interrogate what is best for the current financial and organizational structure of the church such as How vital is the role of individual staff members to the ministry and fellowship of the congregation? Others will focus on how the downsizing will affect
each staff member and will ask questions such as What is going on in the staff member’s personal life that may be negatively affected by downsizing?
When your congregation has assembled the group that will be involved in the decision-making process, it will be important to let everyone know that neither of these approaches is incorrect. A healthy balance of those who are focused on what is best for the congregation as a whole and those who are focused on the impact on each individual staff member is most helpful. When discernment groups are formed (see step 1 below), leadership will want to have members in each group who represent both perspectives.
Warning! A lot of questions are not legal criteria for who is downsized. Please consult with legal and human resource professionals.

Why Not Use the Business World Approach?
Downsizing in congregations—because they are an interconnected and complex spiritual organism and not an organization of separate individuals—needs to be done differently than it is in corporations. In organizations, secrecy, surprise, and swiftness are often the tools of the process. Legal and human resource advisors may recommend this methodology.
In the congregational organism, openness, trust, and healthy transition are the tools of the process. When a congregation must downsize staff, a process for reducing staff must be designed; shared with the staff first, then with the congregation; and voted on as needed or required by church policies. Everyone knows what process is being followed and the steps involved in the process. This approach of open process will foster a sense of trust among congregational staff and members. It creates a healthy environment that can build a foundation for a healthy transition even in this time of stress.

Is There a Healthy Approach to Downsizing?
Yes. A healthy strategy involves seven steps and takes up to 120 days. Here are some details.
Step 1—Build a climate for making tough decisions. Begin and lead 100 days of discernment that involves dialogue and prayer triplets. Divide the willing congregational participants into groups of three people with various perspectives on church life and ministry. In addition to prayers for the church, conversations should include open discernment dialogues and brainstorming innovative ideas for staffing the congregation. Steps 2–6 are enacted during these 100 days.
Step 2—Develop multiple scenarios for future staff. Continue the open discernment dialogue and
prayer around multiple scenarios for the future staffing of the congregation. A consideration of three possible strategies works well and can help focus the dialogue at this stage.
Step 3—Choose a pathway. After prayer and dialogue, focus on one scenario as the strategic frame-work for future staffing. Using a consensus method, have open discernment dialogue around the chosen pathway and how it can best benefit everyone affected by the staff downsizing. Only if discernment is still unclear should the congregation vote on which pathway to use.
Step 4—Formally develop the chosen pathway. Church leaders need to write a downsizing plan that takes into account the church as an organism and the new and emerging emotional and spiritual climate. Continue having open discernment dialogue around the downsizing plan.
Step 5—Implement the chosen pathway. At this point, church leaders take downsizing actions. Although it may be tough, the process followed to this point should have prepared the congregation for what is happening. Open discernment dialogue around downsizing actions will be very important at this step as well.
Step 6—Transition to the new reality. The staff reductions and transitions to new positions have happened. Begin to talk and act on the new reality. Having open discernment dialogue around these forward actions continues to be important at this step.
Step 7—Craft prevention processes. Plan for future staffing processes that are not likely to produce the kind of downsizing crisis the church has just experienced. Commit to a staffing plan that is flexible and agile. Have a job performance and relationship covenant with each staff person.

The Bottom Line
The staff persons being downsized, the staff per-sons remaining, and the leadership of the congregation are at all times persons of worth created in the image of God to live and to love. Expressions of unconditional love are always in order. The Golden Rule always applies.
About the Writer: George Bullard serves as a congregational and denominational leadership coach with The Columbia Partnership (
Copyright © 2013 by George Bullard


                                                                                                                                                                             Conference on Congregational Ministries 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Saturday, April 20, 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                       Steinert High School, Hamilton Twp, NJ

Keynote Speaker:  The Rev. E. Roy Riley, Bishop