From the Pastor’s Pen: 2013 in Review

 

By this point you’ve already heard my annual report, read the statistics, and seen the bullet pointed highlights from the last year.

Here’s a more pastoral way of looking at things:

  • In this last year we’ve dealt with a lot of loss.
  • In this last year foundations for renewal began to be put in place throughout the Church, including right here.
  • In the last year our community has continued on faithfully, especially passing that faith on to our young people.

 

We’ve really dealt with lots of loss in 2013. People noted that our All Saints Sunday sheet, where we list the people who’ve died in the last year, was much fuller than most years; Kathy and I wrote out forty names before anyone else had put pen to paper.

For that matter, several people have stepped back from central positions in the church, and several other people have moved away. In fact, I believe I was the last person to see Elsie Ohl before she left South Plainfield.

And, on top of that, we’ve had some really hard deaths this year… not that any death is easy. In fact, when I went back through my records while putting together the parochial report I was astounded to find out that I presided over fewer funerals this year than last year, it certainly didn’t feel that way.

Last year I did a lot of funerals for community members with no church connections. I’m finding there is a genuine difference between burying folk whose families you just met, and burying folk who you’ve brought communion to month in and month out and sat with and prayed with and have known for a while. In case you have any doubts, I want to assure you your pastor cares for you all deeply!

All this to say, if it feels like St. Stephen is emotionally back on our heels, it’s because we are. In our individual families we’ve dealt with more deaths than average, as a church family we’ve seen people leave, and for that matter we’ve buried more than a few pillars of the church this year.

But fear not little flock, there are signs of renewal afoot too!

This year we’ve elected a new Synodical Bishop, Bishop Tracie Bartholomew, as well as a new National Bishop, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton (see Bishops article).

Additionally, in our little corner of the Kingdom, big things are stirring. With the calling of Rev. Krombholz to St. Paul’s Edison, the 4 Lutheran churches in South Plainfield and Edison all have Pastors and are starting to collaborate more fully. The Pastors meet semi-regularly for lunch at Tony’s Pizza here in South Plainfield to coordinate and support one another and our ministries.

Even more importantly, the lay-folk are doing the same, first together at a picnic and pool party and more sustainably through a multi-church communication team (talk to Linda Hansen if you’d like to get involved). This is a big deal!

We four congregations also spent a few months doing asset mapping both as individual church councils and congregations, as well as together as… I don’t know what Lutherans call congregations working together… it doesn’t happen often enough… a Parish perhaps. Yes, we did asset mapping as the South Plainfield Edison Lutheran Parish too!

So, after 12 years of the same Bishop on the national level and 26 years of the same Bishop on the State level (by the way the stepping down of Bishops Hansen and Riley are a form of loss as well), there are fresh faces leading us, and here at home we’re finding new ways to work together to support one another’s ministries.

 

There is something to be said for keeping on keeping on; stability can be under-rated. But we’ve been doing just that, being faithful and passing that faith on.

From Bible Studies and Lenten Soup Suppers to Pub Theology and Women’s Circle, from the Senior Housing Party and the Labor Day Parade to Oktoberfest and support of local, national, and international charities (such as FISH, Cropwalk, the South Plainfield food pantry, ELCA World Hunger, and Lutheran World Relief), we’ve continued to be faithful to our identity as St. Stephen, and more importantly as the Body of Christ.

That identity flows on with the first set of Confirmation students under my tutelage, who are now well into their 2nd year of confirmation—they’ll confirm the faith into which they were baptized come June 8th. Additionally, Brian McCarthy, one of our Youth group members, built a shed for the Parsonage for his Eagle Project, and the youth group went on retreat to the Luther-Inn in Wildwood and learned about “the central things of our faith.”

 

In conclusion, 2013 was loaded pretty heavy with loss, but fresh shoots are arising. We’ve continued to be a place of faith, fellowship, and charity and we’re passing those important values and virtues on, that this will be a people who continues to trust in Jesus Christ.

 

In Christ’s Peace,

Pastor Chris Halverson

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