Rumor has it that my grandpa, a full-blooded Swede through and through, used to wake up early Christmas morning and sing a traditional Swedish Christmas song (whether he pronounced the words correct, no one really knew or cared☺). When I was a child (and before becoming gluten-free), my mom used to make Rosette cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar. In our home now, we decorate with over ten trees, hundreds of ornaments and a giant Santa that guards our front porch. And most recently my favorite Christmas traditions include going to a Handel’s Sing-a-long Messiah with my dad to belt out the Halleluiah chorus until I can no longer speak.
Traditions are fun and meaningful ways to bond together with others in common interest and celebration. But they are also reminders of who we are, our connection in faith and what we believe.
When the Wisemen presented baby Jesus with precious gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, they were continuing on with a common tradition of gifting a newborn’s family with items they might need (something we do even today). But they also started a new family tradition: that of following their hearts, and the signs from God, to seek and find the one true Messiah. This year, in our family Christmas traditions may we not only remember our personal heritage and the little things that make the holiday so special to our families and friends, but also remember that very first Christmas when determined travelers followed a star, and the voices of angels, to meet their savior.
Yes, now we may only see Christmas stars atop our trees and hear church choirs singing Alleluias, but we can still recreate the Magis’ journey to the newly born Christ child. We can try to reconnect to our God with their same spirit of faith in this advent season, continuing to seek to meet Christ in our lives every day. We can pledge to offer ourselves, and our time, as gifts to Christ in honor of his birth and the salvation He so generously gave through suffering and sacrifice. And we can remember that, regardless of our personal family heritage, the unique ways we celebrate Christmas or go about living our lives, that we are all part of God’s original Christmas family tradition. We were all adopted into God’s clan through grace and Jesus’ birth. May we continue to stand like the Wisemen that night, in reverent awe over the tiny baby in the manger, giving profound thanks for God’s generous gift to our world.
On Saturday, November 18th the ladies of our GLCW displayed a lovely bounty of crafts and yummy baked goods for our holiday shopping pleasure. I personally covet their colorful crocheted dishcloths (and fondly remember our beloved Roxi and myself vying over a basket of them one Night of the Stars – in the end we split it☺). So this year our family restocked our kitchen with them in her remembrance.
After the shopping came a bountiful meal. 23 turkeys were cooked, 4-dozen pies baked, and vats of mashed potatoes and gravy were made for our first annual Roxi Mork memorial Thanksgiving Dinner. Every year this was Roxi’s event and she would coordinate every
detail of our Thanksgiving community meal. In her honor, we continue on with the tradition renaming the event after Roxi and her generous spirit. This year, over 225 people feasted on a warm buffet of holiday deliciousness, served by our community, and enjoyed the company of fellowship together as one family in Christ’s love.
We have so much gratitude for those that donated, prepared and served this year’s meal and set up the room for the event. A special thank you to the GLCW group for their talents making so many treasures and goodies.
What a great kick-off to the holiday season!
On November 24th dozens of bowls (left), crafted and decorated by our community with the generous help of local artisans, were filled with soup donated by local chefs. The Camden Promise made over $1,500 dollars towards its Food Shelf and programming. Thank you to Connie Beckers (left middle) and the generous donators, coordinators, artisans, chefs and participants for your generosity and creativity!
We have thousands of pounds of food that are picked, delivered to Gethsemane, and then sent home with people in need in our community. We were limited by the space in vehicles and occasionally had to leave somethings behind.
Not any more!
Our new refrigerator truck is named Manna Mover (thank you Linda O. for the name!).
If you are interested in volunteering to be a food pick-up person, please contact us!
On Sunday, November 19 , members of our community and neighborhood (of all ages) received coats to help stay warm in the coming brisk winter months. Families came and tried on stylish new and gently used coats donated by generous church members and stores, and found great items to wear home. For those of us who buy coats whenever we’d like, we can take having coats for granted. But to be gifted a new coat is such a wonderful blessing. So remember when the after-Christmas store sales come to stock up on donations for next year’s coat give- away. Then you can help provide more families with the warmth of God’s love through gifts of down and cotton/poly fiber-fill.
The Sunday School Christmas Program on January 8th was
a big hit! We were so glad to put on our play after
Christmas. It gave us some time to soak up that Christmas
spirit for a little bit longer. This year we spent a lot of time
talking about the Christmas story and remembering that
Jesus is the reason for celebrating this wonderful time of
year. The kids had so much fun getting ready for the play and practicing the Christmas songs. Their favorite was Go! Tell it on the Mountain. It is always a blessing to see the Christmas story played out by the kids. Thank you so much to all the kids that participated and thank you to the parents for being so flexible! We can’t wait to perform for everyone again next year!
On January 20th we celebrated our country’s peaceful change of power. And whether you agree with the outcome or not, you must admit that this part of our democracy is honorable and worth keeping. There was no violent take over, no forcing in or out of office, and we were allowed the opportunity to write our choices on ballots in the privacy of a public cubical or our own home.
Yet, this election showed us how difficult it can be to find unity when we come from very different life experiences and stories. Still it is important to continue to value the voice of the vote and the right to be heard through elections and collective decision-making. And for me, it was a great experience to once again darken in the tiny ovals of my choices and hand in my ballot to be counted.
Two days after our new president took office we met as a congregation during our annual meeting to vote once again and make important decisions for our church in 2017. While I was compiling the annual report and reading the accomplishments we’ve achieved together this past year, I was astounded by exactly how many things we really did. Our church community and neighborhood is as diverse as our country and together we worked to serve and feed those in need. Together, we worked to create and build a new daycare for our community’s children. Together, we ran multiple ministry programs and provided a multitude of acts of service for hundreds and hundreds of individuals and families.
During last year’s annual meeting, we voted on bold decisions to continue to build and serve in our community, and look at the outcomes our faith provided us all! This year we voted again and took the first steps in new hope for our church in the New Year.
Relative to many churches we may be tiny, but we are truly mighty in our efforts. “Pride goeth before a fall”, so our success in 2016 is not about our own works, but in God’s ability to use our church to do great things when we follow God’s lead. We gave God the glory in all our accomplishments, and we trusted in God’s ability to provide. We remained faithful and open. And, we must do that again.
So, for those who are struggling as to what our country might be facing at the change of leadership, remember: God has this. And for those who are confident with the outcome, remember: God has this, too. Either way, the truth is truth. God has our country, just like God had our church this past year during its time of many transitions, and God will again in 2017. Our task now is to continue to work together to serve in our church, community and country. And, we must continue to work together, despite our differing life experiences and stories, to be true disciples of Christ’s love in our service, following God’s leadership and giving glory to our one and true King and Lord of all.
On Wednesday night, January 4th, our community was treated to an extra-special gastronomical delight with a smorgasbord of soul food favorites! Renita Watkins, the brilliant chef, is our head Wednesday night cook, and also works on our Monday and Friday food distributions. She is a blessing to the food ministry at Gethsemane and The Camden Promise. Renita called the meal The First Annual Roxi Mork Soul Food Dinner, honoring the memory of our beloved friend and fellow disciple of Christ in a very special way – and we are sure Roxi would approve. Thank you Renita for your culinary gifts and generosity. We look forward to next year’s soul food feast!
"We have born our bur-dens in the heat of the day, but we know the Lord has made a way. We've come a long way, Lord, a migh-ty long way." - African-American Spiritual
From Pastor Jeff:
It has been over a year since our last annual meeting and the day when our congregation made a bold decision. The loss of the old New Horizons Daycare meant the loss of over $100,000 a year in our annual budget. We knew we would have to invest with resources that we didn not currently have in order to stay afloat. The decision was daunting and the future unclear. But instead of becoming paralyzed by fear, we stepped out in faith and trust. We voted to venture into the unknown, somehow create our own daycare, and invest even more deeply in our community called the Gethsemane parish.
And the Lord found a way. We were approved for a building loan from the ELCA Mission Investment Fund. With the help of mission partners and individual donors, we raised over $110,000 in revenue support in 2016 to cover our budget and leave us financially in the black. Through creative vision, faithful prayer, and a multitude of volunteer hours, our daycare, names Camden Kids, opened its doors in September 2016. After only four months of business, Camden Kids now has 24 children enrolled, a wonderful staff, a quality faith-based program, and a great director in Carrie Asanji If we continue along this trajectory, we will reach our target enrollment of 60 kids before the close of 2017 and once again have a stable revenue stream to support the ministry here at Gethsemane from 2018 and beyond. Not only are we grateful for the renewed financial security, but for the ability to once again minister to our parish's children.
Our community footprint deepened considerably this year in other ways. Gethsemane, along with NuWay Missionary Baptist and Living Word, gave away over 2000 toys to 480 families in December. Our partnerships with Second Harvest Heartland, The MN Food Group, The Camden Promise, and sister churches now support food distributions four days a week and community meals twice a week. We gave out over 30,000 pounds of food and made over 600 meals in December alone! Our Thanksgiving meal was again huge and a well-attended event. Our youth served the community across our nation on their "Random Acts of Kindness" Mission Trip to Florida, handing out cold bottles of water and blessings to people at rest stops along the way.
In November, our dear friend and my colleague Roxi Mork died unexpectedly of a rare and fatal illness. We are still grieving her loss in our lives as wife, mom, fiend, youth director, and in the myriad of hats she wore in our congregation. While we consign her to the grace and love of God, her presence seems to linger here in the huge influx of community members stepping up to use their gifts in service. I also find myself, in moments of doubt, hearing Roxi say to me what she often said, "God has got this."
Though we have borne our burdens during this time of uncertainty at Gethsemane, God still is finding a way with his "church on the corner" and our community. From a dire situation, we were called to look outside of the box, to adapt and try new things in order to expand our boundaries and fully embrace God's people. We ask God to continue to stir in us the desire to serve, to follow God's lead, and to use each of our unique gifts within our church and community. We thank God for weathering the storm with us in 2016 and honing our discipleship skills as we look forward to the year ahead with hope and new purpose.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Everyday they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
The church council acted in an amazing way in May of last year. Gathered together in the yourh, thinking about all the positive changes in the past few years and seeing the influx of many new people coming into the church, we asked out loud, is the Lord adding to our number daily those who are being saved? How do we open ourselves to receiving those whom God is adding to our number?
We have seen great numbers of people coming into Gethsemane looking for food, meals, help with children and employment. We have watched with wonder how someone coming into the church looking for help turns into a volunteer who helps others. Neighbors are getting to know neighbors. We are beginning to recognize the children on our blocks and behold with great joy how successful they are in bringing their parents in tow. And now Gethsemane is beginning to be known as THAT church. Or in the words of a neighbor, "The big footprint for a little church church."
And as people who came to us asking for food now ask us to be fed on the word of God, we find ourselves as a congregation in the exciting position of walking more intimately with our community in the formation of a relationship between God's people and the God who loves us so in Jesus Christ. Beyond loaves of bread and bags of groceries, we now have an opportunity to engage with our neighbors in an even more meaningful way. We have an opportunity to talk with our community about God who loves us more than we can imagine, gives us more than we need, and awakens us to a richness of life beyond our awareness.
We are now a year into our 3 to 100 campaign, an initiative that boldly claims that God is bringing people not only for food and help, but also to become disciples. The council leadership believes that in three years we can grow our worshiping community to an average weekly attendance of 100! And if the past few weeks have been any indication, we are moving boldly toward that number.
This initiative will require the efforts of all our current disciples working together to reshape our worship life and community. Now we will want to add more Bible studies and small groups. Build our music and worship leadership. And we continue to commit to being more intentionally hospitable, welcoming, and nurturing to those whom God is bringing us to participate in the life of God's mission on our blocks.
All while praying for God's providence and generosity in keeping our doors open...