November 2012

Spend Advent Reaching Your Community

Advent is a big season for Lutherans and several other denominations that follow the liturgical year.

Frankly, for a lot of Christians it can be a big letdown. For years, Advent has been playing second or third fiddle to the big “C” (Christmas).

Advent is important to us. Why isn’t it important to everyone? What’s with the celebration of Christmas for five weeks and the meltdown on December 26? Every church goer knows December 25 is the first of 12 days of Christmas! Why are the Christmas trees out in the trash on Day 2!

What can we do about this?

  1. We can wait every Sunday in Advent for the throngs to walk through our doors. We can be ready to welcome them and share our traditions. What are they again? Why do we light those four candles? Who is this Isaiah guy? And John the Baptist? Really!
  2. We can go to the world.
    Our Advent Tweet A Day is an attempt to share what is important to us with people beyond our membership. We’ll see together how that goes. But one thing we can guess. No one will follow us if all we do is talk about ourselves.

Meanwhile, here’s another idea. Instead of waiting for people to come to our congregations, what if we gathered our members and went to them. Try this! Get a group together and attend the local high school, middle school and elementary “winter” festivals. Maybe you have kids attending these schools. Maybe you don’t. That doesn’t matter.

The young people and their teachers worked hard on their music. These days many school groups are performing pretty professionally. Your group is likely to be noticed. You will have a chance to talk to others in the community.

Remember! It’s not about you. Just go and enjoy yourselves. Then write a blog article or two about it and start tweeting about your experience.

Make a habit of such community involvement. Check their web sites and subscribe if you can so that you know what’s happening.

You will start to notice more things about your community . . . and they might start to notice you, too.

Our community school concerts are next week. We can’t wait!

Join Us in Our Advent Social Media Project

A Tweet a Day for Advent—Get Ready!

A week or so ago, we proposed a social media project for the four weeks of Advent.

2×2 started as a blog. It is time to spread our little wings to other realms of social media!

2×2 has been blogging seriously for about 18 months. We started in February 2011.  It took us a few months to get our bearings. Only one person visited our site that month! Our stats show that our readership didn’t break triple digits until July. From our many web visits to other church web sites we figure that’s about when most churches give up on social media. We kept at it!  Patience!

Our best month of 2011 was November with 623 new readers that month.

By this time we were able to see growth patterns and we predicted that we would have 12,000 new readers visiting our blog in 2012. We should exceed that benchmark with ease.

Looking ahead to 2013, we can anticipate doubling 2×2’s reach. We are nearing 1500 new visitors a month and the growth has been steady. 110 people subscribe and have our posts go to their email every day. So that’s an additional 770 views each week! Our reach is truly worldwide.

2×2 achieved this without using any other social media platforms to enhance our SEO numbers. We followed just one strategy: Offer content that will be helpful to our mission audience — seekers and lay leaders.

We continue to be surprised by the many and strong relationships we are forming with other mission-oriented church workers, many of them not Lutheran. These are rewarding and growing. We started to introduce our readers to one another and now they are referring people to us. We look forward to many new things in 2013.

Which brings us back to our Advent project.

Research shows that Twitter is the least understood social media platform with the greatest potential to reach new audiences. Better than Facebook. There are others, too. But let’s tackle one at a time!

The biggest barrier to using Twitter is understanding its potential. That’s why we have chosen December as our month to experiment. We’ll take it step by step and report our progress.

We hope you will follow our experiment and perhaps join us and share your results. We’ll try to make it easy.

How about it!?

Sharing the Gospel—140 characters at a time!

Watch for our official invitation to join the experiment which should be posted Saturday afternoon — just in time for Advent 1.

Step 1: We just opened our account:


This required us to have an email account. We opened a free account with Google.


This process took about 15 minutes.

You can do it! Get cracking! 

Teach Us to Pray

Why do people go out of their way to ask preachers to pray for them?

Pastor Jon Swanson points to 1 Chronicles where David outlines the duties of the Levites. One of the duties is to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord.

OK, it’s their job. But it is our job, too.

Each of us can pray. The littlest toddlers find comfort and empowerment in bowing their heads in pray. (Comfort and empowerment are answers to prayer.)

Over the rocky years of life, we tend to lose confidence in God and confidence in our ability to speak to God. The relationship is broken.

Easy way out: assign the duty to those we feel are especially trained to do this.

When you set aside one group of people to perform a function that each person is capable of doing, the result is predictable. The larger group is going to lose its skills.  Prayer is a pretty important skill—one we don’t want anyone to lose!

Another predictable result. The designated pray-ers will accept status and power. Over time, they will get lazy about their responsibilities and the prayers will become corporate in nature. Prayers will be written a year in advance, published, distributed to congregations, and read by the designated pray-ers, who no longer have to know the names and faces of the people they pray for. People will feel further lost and separated from God as their individual needs are grouped with the whole, undefined people of God.

The church must work at restoring people’s relationships — not so much with the Church but with God.

We all feel small before God and in our self-loathing we tend to think that clergy are somehow better. They are not. Clergy are servants just like every other child of God. They are capable of both good and bad. Putting them on a pedestal as the official representative of God results in scandals that grab secular headlines when things get really bad.

Clergy are charged with fostering spirituality. They are not surrogates. That kind of thinking led to the travesties that inspired Martin Luther to risk his life with his 95 Theses. Back then, people were encouraged to pay clergy to pray for them. The more money, the better the prayer. Maybe that’s what we have returned to today without using the word “indulgence.”

The disciples felt inadequate. They came to Jesus. “Teach us to pray.”

The church does not always do a good job of teaching us to pray. The laity is often OK with this. We want to know how to pray, but not if it means practicing. . . in public.

At this point we can learn from musicians. They know that no amount of practice behind closed doors can teach the skills that are easily honed playing in public.

One pastor we heard during our Ambassador visits exhorted her congregation to ration their prayers. Don’t bring your little concerns to God, she admonished. Save God for the big things.

Perhaps she meant to empower the congregation to solve their own problems, but it is definitely short-changing God. God is God. He’s not asking us to save Him time and trouble. God wants us to call upon Him. God can handle little things along with big! Nevertheless, I am sure God smiles with satisfaction when we get up from our knees and help!

There is only one way to change this. Put the responsibility for prayer into the hands of the people. Teach them to pray. Teach by example. Give lots of opportunity for practice.

Instead of glibly promising to pray for people who come to you in distress—as a way of dismissing their concerns—stop in your tracks, take their hands, and pray with them, asking them questions in the prayer so that their answers are a voice directed at God.

Then don’t wait for magic. Prayer provides comfort and empowerment! Roll up your sleeves. Lace up your boots. Put on your gloves. Go to work! Love your neighbor!

See if those prayers aren’t answered!

Teach us to pray.

photo credit: Lel4nd via photopin cc

The Stewardship of Weekends

The concept of “weekend” is a fairly new in the history of the world. The term was first used in the late 1800s and was not commonly used until around 1935—only about 80 years!

The concept of Sabbath and one day of rest is much, much older. Thousands of years older.

Before the late 1800s almost everyone was vocationally tied to the earth. That created its own rhythm. Cows must be milked every day. Everyone worked close to or at home. The Sabbath was a gift!

The weekend came along with the shift to factory and office work.

Weekend, in its first usage, referred to Saturday noon to Monday morning. Today it spans to Friday afternoon to Monday morning and roughly once a month we add an extra day to that!

This helps our multicultural society. Islam has its Friday holy day. Judaism has it Saturday Sabbath and Christianity remembers Easter by worshiping on Sundays.

It’s great that all this time has been cleared from our schedule to relate to God. But now that most of us don’t have to milk the cows, what do we do with it?

We suspect there always has been a temptation to party away the Sabbath gift. God noticed!

Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.

photo credit: kisocci via photopin cc

Adult Object Lesson: Signs of Christmas

Jeremiah 33:14-16  •  Psalm 25:1-10  •
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13  •  Luke 21:25-36

Poinsettias are already for sale. What a perfect object lesson to go with the parable of the fig tree!

You know summer is coming when the fig tree sprouts. You know the celebration of Jesus’ birth is coming when you see poinsettias for sale in the grocery store. Talk about the other signs of Christmas—TV and radio ads using Christmas music to grab your attention, charity solicitations in the mail, and your neighbors Christmas lights brightening your lawn in the evening.

Talk about the prophecies in Jeremiah and the sentiments of the psalmist—how the signs bring both hope and anxiety.

photo credit: RedTail_Panther via photopin cc

Please read this post, if able.

There is a fad in the church first noticed ages ago by one of our ambassadors. We dismissed it as his pet peeve, but he has a point. It is getting annoying. Why do all pastors feel compelled to add the phrase “if able” to every worship instruction?

If people are not able, they won’t do it! And if people don’t want to follow instructions, it calls attention and question to either their disability or their orneriness! Why don’t worship leaders just say, “You are invited to stand.” and leave it at that? Most able people will follow instructions. Those with disabilities will not feel singled out…and ornery people…they will always be with us!

Really, we don’t know what we are “able” to do, until we try.

Please stand, if able.

Please sit, if able.

Please read, if able.

Please think, if able.

Confess, if able.

Repent, if able.

Forgive, if able.

Reconcile, if able.

Love, if able.

Redeemer Ambassadors Visit St. John’s, Mayfair-Nov. 25

Two of the three ambassadors who visited St. John’s, Mayfair, Philadelphia.

St. John’s: a beautiful church in “transition”

Redeemer’s Ambassadors visited St. John’s, Mayfair, Philadelphia this morning.

The beauty of this church is unsurpassed. Modest brick and marble or granite (low maintenance) walls and columns frame exquisite stained glass windows depicting the life of Christ.

Attendance at the 11 o’clock service was upwards of 80 but shy of 100. It was difficult to count as there was movement among worshipers, playing different roles in the church service.

The service itself was similar to a Redeemer service, mixing modern praise songs with various elements of the liturgy. We noticed that they haven’t bothered purchasing rack editions of the ELCA’s new worship book, and we don’t blame them. They had a 20-page bulletin and 12 additional pages of announcements. One of our Ambassadors was grateful for the help of a member in finding the hymns which were reprinted from various sources in the back of the bulletin. You would have had to read through the whole bulletin to discover this, though. Singing was strong. They skipped the epistle reading.

A four-member children’s choir sang a Thanksgiving hymn. A larger adult choir sang an Offertory. This followed an extended “passing of the peace” which continued through much of the anthem. The people sitting near us were heavily involved in loud conversations throughout the anthem.

Liturgically, there always seems to be a problem transitioning from the passing of the peace to refocusing on worship. At Redeemer, we solved the problem by having a musical call to prayer ending the passing of the peace free-for-all. This works very well.

There were about a dozen children, far fewer youth and a couple of infants. There were about ten people sitting in the chancel.

This is a program-sized church and suitably the bulletin listed many programs. We noted that the pastor encouraged creating some respite time during Advent. Not a bad idea.

On this Sunday morning we found St. John’s in “transition.” Their pastor of ten years left at the end of October.

We were aware that this was the church of The Rev. Lee Miller III, the lead “trustee” who came to Redeemer in the summer of 2007 and told us he was there as a “fact finder” who “wanted to help.” He then did very little fact-finding nor did he ever offer any help. He did not reveal to us at his first encounter with our leaders that he actually was a “trustee.” We learned of his deception five months later. He explained, without apology, that he lied because he didn’t want trouble.

Well, there has been nothing but trouble ever since. Oh, what a tangled web we weave. . .

His involvement in our community was confusing. He seemed to be in favor of supporting our ministry, but changed his tune (never in discussion with us) sometime during months of silence. We suspect that his position as head of the trustees was an exercise in brown-nosing and personal career advancement.

Having received just 15 votes at the last Synod Assembly election for bishop, he has abandoned the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for fairer pastures, leaving us to deal with the substantial mess he created.

The Rev. Lee Miller III was the person who first suggested that Redeemer “wanted to have the bishop arrested”—an impression we corrected immediately, but which nevertheless found its way into the trustees “report” and all subsequent court documents — even after we asked that this and many other false statements be corrected as long ago as May 2008—four and one half years ago!

No one at Redeemer EVER tried to have anyone arrested.

Oh, well, the Rev. Lee Miller III is gone, if not forgotten. Philadelphia’s loss is Buffalo’s gain.

“Transition” is an odd term. This is not to be confused with “transformation.” Transformation, in Synod-speak, occurs only after transition and ideally under their watchful eye. It can easily go unrecognized if it happened when they weren’t watching.

Church communities are always in transition. When SEPA uses this term, it refers to a time between pastors. As a congregation that existed without a pastor for most of the decade before Lee Miller intruded and four years after he came with the bishop and a locksmith, we at Redeemer find this official designation to be curious.

SEPA thinks congregations fall apart when a pastor leaves. The seeds of this thinking were in all this morning’s talk about vulnerability. The congregation was told repeatedly, “We are vulnerable. You are vulnerable. I am vulnerable.” Maybe they are. Perhaps the synod was creating fear and need to make it easier to reach their version of “mutual discernment.”

There were no obvious signs that St. John’s was falling apart because Pastor Miller left. That’s a compliment to both pastor and congregation.

In clergy’s view, lay people need their oversight to do anything constructive. This view, which reflects clergy vulnerability more than lay, creates an uncomfortable period of limbo. Laity will live lives on eggshells as they are questioned, observed, rated, evaluated,  defined, assessed . . .

Our Ambassadors reveal just how confusing this process is for lay people. Our account, Undercover Bishop, is drawn from our observations of congregations in “transition.”

The associate pastor, the Rev. Patricia Neale, confessed as a Synod representative looked on that she is in a vulnerable position during this process. Church “rules” require that an associate pastor leave at the same time a “lead” pastor leaves. Rules are made to be broken and in SEPA they are rewritten for convenience. Wait and see!

Rev. Patricia Neale, was called to St. John’s upon graduation from Philadelphia Seminary in 2007.  That means she has identical parish experience as Bishop Claire Burkat who served just five years as associate pastor of Holy Trinity, Abington, before joining SEPA Synod staff.

Pastor Neale’s sermon talked about Pilate and his need to control the situation festering among the Jews, Jesus and civil authorities. Doing the right thing in regard to the troublesome Jesus was less important than doing the thing that protected his power. Some things never change.

Control is similarly part of the “transition” process, although it is never presented this way.

Pastor Neale probably knows the congregation well. She gave both a good sermon and children’s sermon. Since SEPA has their interim person coming once a month and not every week, we suspect the decision has already been made about St. John’s future.

Did You Survive Black Friday?

It’s Thanksgiving time.

Hurry! Gobble down the dinner some thoughtful matriarch spent days preparing. Break out the camping equipment and claim your spot on the Big Box Store parking lot.

The United States is a blessed nation in that we ever thought to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving. Proclaimed to be held on a Thursday, at a time in history when the concept of “weekend” meant little, it is one of few holidays that seems safe from the corporate need for Monday holidays.

That Thursday timing is a great opportunity. Many people don’t mind taking Friday, too. Plenty of time to celebrate with all branches of the complex American family. Enough time to join with the neighborhood. A wonderful four-day pause to show appreciation.

It is a time to count our blessings as a people: our survival of hardship, our struggles for freedom, our battles for justice and the blessings that we call prosperity and opportunity.

Oddly, it has become a time when our churches are empty and our malls are filled.

If you don’t believe in God, whom are you thanking on Thanksgiving?

Answer: the great American marketer.

Plant It, Water It, Watch It Grow!

Last Sunday, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod (SEPA) of the Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) held a gathering they called

“Plant It, Water It, Watch it Grow.”

It was supposed to be a presentation on SEPA’s mission work.

Redeemer wasn’t invited. We are the weed, we suppose, in the SEPA garden.

SEPA Synod evicted a vibrant, growing congregation, locked everyone in town out of God’s House, and sent a caretaker to rake the leaves and shovel the snow. He does a good job, the neighbors tell us.

But GROW! That’s the part SEPA Synod has trouble with. Almost all of its congregations are in decline or flat-lined. In fact,  Rev. Hilgendorf of St. David’s, dean of the NE Conference, addressed the Plant It, Water It, Watch It Grow concept and talked mostly of helping congregations save money by consolidating purchasing. This really has nothing to do with planting, watering or growth.

Botanists describe weeds as flowers that are reproductively successful.

What SEPA Synod needs is more weeds — like Redeemer.

They wouldn’t know what to do if they had a garden filled with them.

That’s why Redeemer is about to celebrate its FOURTH Christmas locked out of the church. And none of the people who attended Sunday’s “Plant It, Water It, Watch It Grow” conference have demonstrated that they care.

While all those church leaders were together talking about mission, we wonder:

“Did anyone ask about East Falls?”

We’re guessing not.

When Thanking God Might Seem Impossible . . .

Write a hymn!

The story of the Rev. Martin Rinckart inspires us each Thanksgiving.

Let me tell it one more time.

Pastor Rinckart was one of four pastors in the walled city of Eilenburg, Germany, in 1637. The city was a refuge from the devastation of the Thirty Years War. Its over-crowded streets became a breeding ground for the Great Plague.

Death was all around. There were four pastors. They were called upon to perform as many as 40 funerals a day. One pastor fled. Rinckart  conducted the funerals of two others and that of his wife. All but three government officials died. Children were hit particularly hard. Rinckart conducted nearly 4,500 funerals before the dead began to be buried without ceremony in trenches.

Famine followed pestilence and Rinckart helped keep the peace when fights broke out over food. He gave away as much as he could without starving his own family.

He mortgaged his future income to help feed the destitute who gathered at his door.

The Swedish occupying forces demanded tribute from the people of Eilenburg in excess to anything that could possibly be paid. Rinckart attempted to negotiate with the occupying forces to no avail.

He gathered his followers and said, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.”

His earnest devotion impressed The Swedish general and the tribute demand was greatly reduced.

From this man of God, who knew little but duty amidst profound suffering came the words we sing at Thanksgiving.

Memorize them!

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.