“Hidden Figures” and three more

I had my fill this past month in heartwarming, heartbreaking, inspiring and thought  provoking films.  It began with the wonderful Hidden Figures, the story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served vital roles during the early years of the US space program.  I have two nieces and a nephew who are all mathematicians and I thought of them all, getting a clearer sense of the excitement they must sometimes experience and being thankful that they did not have to bear the prejudices of the extraordinary women at the center of the film.  Octavia Spencer, Taraji Hensen, and Janelle Monae were all wonderful.  The film’s only fault is making Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, a hero for the women as he fights against discrimination.  Reading background information it is clear that Harrison was not a villain but he was never a hero either.  Did the film makers not think I would enjoy the film if there was not a white hero?

I then went to Moonlight, which won this year’s Best Motion Picture-Drama Golden Globe.  Wow!  Three different actors portray African American Chiron, as a child, teenager and young adult.  As if being small for his age and the son of a crack addict mother in Miami is not hard enough, there is even more to this individual’s story.  The actors portraying Chiron could carry the film but they never have to because the supporting cast is equally as talented.  It includes Monae and Mahershala Ali from Hidden Figures and my favorite of the entire ensemble, Andre Holland.

If you love history, this next film is for you.  There had been a lot of buzz among my Lutheran clergy colleagues about the Netflix film 13th, from Ava Duvernay, who directed Selma.  Here is a first rate documentary which traces racial inequality in the United States from the constitutional amendment ending slavery to the prison system of today.  Duvernay is a master of weaving interviews, statistics, and old film footage and the result is an important 1 hour 40 min piece that everyone should see, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.

I noticed that 13th was, unsurprisingly, up for an Academy Award so I went to see what else was nominated for Best Documentary.  This led me to O.J.: Made in America, a multi-part production created by the producers of ESPN’s award winning “30 for 30.”  “It is the defining cultural tale of modern America – a saga of race, celebrity, media, violence, and the criminal justice system. And two decades after its unforgettable climax, it continues to fascinate, polarize, and even, yes, develop new chapters….To most observers, it’s a story that began the night Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were brutally murdered outside her Brentwood apartment. But as “O.J.” lays bare, to truly grasp the significance of what happened not just that night, but the epic chronicle to follow, one has to travel back to a much different, much earlier origin point, at not the end, but the beginning of the 20th century, when African-Americans began migrating to California … Written by ESPN Films

For the last five winters, a small group of Trinity Lutheran members have congregated in a parishioner’s home on Monday evenings in January-February to watch films. Two years ago the suggestion was made to watch uplifting films, not a bad idea during the days with the fewest hours of sunlight in a world that is always experiencing brokenness.  But many people, including those in our congregation, see the complexities of the world’s problems and want venues to learn and discuss and ultimately discern how to act.  The films I have listed above give us plenty of fodder for conversations about how we are to live in the world and how we might be small agents of change and transformation.

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Winter Break Movies

Between Christmas and New Year’s I saw six memorable films: Fences, Jackie, La La Land, Cafe Society, Lion, and Manchester by the Sea, unintenionally saving my favorite two for last.  It is hard to turn a play into a great film (the best example I know of is A Few Good Men).  I wish I had seen Viola Davis and Denzel Washington when they starred in the play on Broadway because their performances on film were powerful.  Especially memorable is Davis’ monologue toward the end of the film.  I learned some history lessons watching Jackie and it was fun to talk about the events portrayed with my mom, who lived through it all, immediately after we saw the film. Natalie Portman’s performance makes the film worth watching, though like Fences, it would have been fine to wait and borrow it from the library.  La La Land was fun with delightful music.  I loved the singing and dancing, wish there had been even more of it, and Ryan Gosling earns the highest praise for doing his own piano playing (and singing and dancing withe Emma Stone).  Later in the evening, after discussing our double-feature day, I checked something on Amazon and saw an ad for Woody Allen’s newest film, Cafe Society, which you can stream on Amazon.  About 30 minutes into the film I started laughing because it felt like I was watching the same story–jazz, Hollywood, and love.  This latest is Allen’s best film since Midnight in Paris.

Then we saw Lion.  Five-year-old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of Kilometers across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home (Rotten Tomatoes).  These wonderful themes have no chance of becoming sentimental with the central cast members: Dev Patal as the older Saroo, Nicole Kidman and David Wenhem as the Australian parents, and an amazing Sunny Pawer as the young Saroo.  I was ready for a grand story in which the landscape became a character, I learned something about another part of the world, and the ending included joy and hope.

Our final film was Manchester by the Sea.  After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking leave of his job, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, a spirited 16-year-old, and is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised. Bonded by the man who held their family together, Lee and Patrick struggle to adjust to a world without him (Rotten Tomatoes).  I have liked Casey Affleck since Ocean’s 11 and in Manchester he gives a performance like those in Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James.  I was a loyal fan of Friday Night Lights, due to the performances by Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler, so it was fun to see Chandler in this perfect role.  I still have some films that I want to see before Oscar night, but I hope and assume that Manchester will pick up some awards.

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Autumn Coming-of-Age Films

It’s cold and snowy outside, a sign of winter and a time to plan for movie nights with families, friends, faith communities.  The Trinity New Hope property manager and I have started planning a movie night for February.  We happen to have many kids and teens living in our 16 homes right now so it seems appropriate to choose a coming-of-age film, especially when there is a good selection of relatively recently released ones.

We probably will not show The Edge of Seventeen at Trinity because it is rated R but I think it would be a great film for teens and adults/mentors to watch together.  We all were or knew the central characters in this story and it has universal themes: friendship, awkwardness, loneliness, self-discovery, and transformation.  What makes this film great is a smart script, Hailee Seinfeld, who rightly received a Golden Globe nomination for playing high school junior Nadine, and a perfectly cast Woody Harrelson, as Nadine’s teacher and reluctant mentor Mr. Bruner.

The film I think should have received more praise this year is Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.  “Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck) has an epic imagination and a slight problem with authority, and these things collide when he transfers to a middle school where students are expected to follow the rules.  This doesn’t sit well with Rafe.  With the help from his friend Leo (Thomas Barbusca), he concocts schemes to drive his principal crazy while also using his charm and wits to impress a girl and battle the bullies” (Rotten Tomatoes).  Gluck, only 16 but with enough experience that you will likely recognize him, and Barbusca made me laugh out loud and then pulled at my heart strings.  Lauren Graham plays Rafe’s mom, a role perfected by her years as a mom on Gilmore Girls and Parenthood.

You know what is next, right?  Yes–it’s Moana, “about an adventurous teenager who is inspired to leave the safety and security of her island on a daring journey to save her people.  Inexplicably drawn to the ocean, Moana convinces the mighty demigod Maui to join her mission, and he reluctantly helps her become a way finder like her ancestors who sailed before her.  Moana fulfills her quest and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity” (Disney).  Music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Disney film with a girl at the center but with no love story, and lots of sunshine (have I mentioned the weather in Idaho) make this worth a trip to the big screen but it’s the identity question that make this a film worth watching with a faith community, and that would be my opinion even if I had not talked this morning about being given our identity as children of God in the waters of Holy Baptism.

A Man Called Ove (En man som hater Ove) is based on Fredrik Backman’s novel and is not exactly a coming-of-age film but I include it here because the story serves as a reminder that turning 17, finishing Middle School, or fulfilling one daring journey should not be the end of an individual’s growth and transformation.  “An isolated retiree with strict principles and a short fuse, who spends his days enforcing block association rules that only he cares about, and visiting his wife’s grave, Ove has given up on life.  Enter a boisterous young family next door who accidentally flattens Ove’s mailbox while moving in and earning his special brand of ire.  Yet from this inauspicious beginning an unlikely friendship forms and we come to understand Ove’s past happiness and heartbreak” (Rotten Tomatoes).  This is a gem and I hope many people see it on the small screen.


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Churchwide Assembly Takeaways

  1. New Orleans looks different without 30,000+ youth (see #2).  In particular, restaurant lines are a lot shorter.
  2. New Orleans has a place in my heart because of the 1997 ELCA Youth Gathering when I transitioned from being a participant to a volunteer, a 2007 trip with a small Iowa group who stayed at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in the Garden District and volunteered in the 9th Ward, the 2009 Gathering with four teenage girls from Soldier, IA,  and the 2012 Gathering with youth from Trinity, Nampa.  At the end of this 2016 adventure I finally got to go on a Swap Tour and see some alligators and a Great Blue Heron. IMG_1228
  3. Minneapolis Synod Bishop Anne Svennenson was the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Moorhead, MN, which I attended during my sophomore and junior years at Concordia College.  It was great to finally tell her in person that she is an important character in my call story. IMG_1181
  4. I have new understanding for parishioners who nod off during my sermons.  Worship may be the most calm, quiet, nonjudgmental, safe place during the week when they are simply allowed to sit and be still.  We had a line-up of amazing preachers at CWA and I still found my mind drifting occasionally because I was in a place apart, not getting ready to vote or having a conversation or reading memorials, bios, or amendments.
  5. Friendships from my first-call in the Western Iowa Synod are the kind where we can pick up right where we left off.
  6. To say that I love my current synod, Eastern WA-ID, is not an understatement.  We had one of the smallest voting delegations–eight of us total–but we had so much fun together. (The photo below includes spouses and people who attended the Grace Gathering)IMG_1200
  7. I have been thinking a lot about the role my congregation can play in lifting up the various vocations of women in Nampa, ID.  The ELCA’s new “Women, Sexism and Justice, toward a new social statement” will be a great tool.
  8. Augsburg Fortress has focus.  Maybe it’s because they have not been setting up shop at synod assemblies or fall convocations, so I’ve only been shopping through their website, but I finally saw that the ELCA’s publishing house has chosen to do a few things really well–curriculum (a great deal of which they are doing ecumenically), worship and music and, for now, 500th  Anniversary of the Reformation resources.
  9. Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) is a program the ELCA should continue.  As an alumni of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, which has an international component, and someone who considered applying to the Peace Corps, I was skeptical about the ELCA creating its own program.  On the final evening of CWA I ate a meal with four YAGM alumni who are all working for the ELCA (one in World Hunger, two in YAGM’s Chicago office, and one in the Rocky Mountain Synod’s Colorado Advocacy Office).  What impressed me was not so much their experiences abroad or their current jobs; it was the YAGM alumni network they count on now for support.  Ministering in a region dominated by Mormons, Nazarenes, and Nones, I see that network being so valuable.
  10. I love that the ELCA walks and talks ecumenism, most visible at CWA through the Declaration on the Way document summarizing Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialogue but also through greetings from other denominations and faiths.  At the same time, we are grounded in rich Lutheran theology, of which I was reminded during Timothy Wengert’s wonderful Bible Study and ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s preaching and report to CWA.
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Belonging to a City

The longer I stay in my community, the more I care about the city and the individuals who live here.  I have always wanted everyone to have enough—food, shelter, a place of belonging.  That informs how I vote, where I shop, how I spend time and how I interact with people.  But the old enough is no longer enough.  I want more from and for my local community.  My parishioners encourage me to be out in various communities, learning about new ways Trinity can collaborate with the city, county, businesses, and nonprofits in order to care for the people who are neglected, discriminated against, forgotten, and invisible.  This has led me to participate in networks like the Region 3 Housing Coalition, serve on the Mayor’s Bike-Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and attend Chamber of Commerce events.  No surprise, I now see more clearly both the systemic strengths and growing areas in Nampa and Canyon County.

Something else surprising has changed in me.  I see the bricks and mortar of the city differently and I am becoming more interested in and passionate about community planning.  This is not a completely new interest of mine.  Every time I go back to my hometown of Custer, South Dakota I am curious to see what has changed on main street.  I am elated when old buildings, like the Kleeman House below, have been transformed.


There are new houses and businesses going up on the edges of Nampa and throughout the county, all taking over farmland which we will never get back.  I much prefer when new businesses buy and remake old businesses, or level dilapidated buildings and build something with character.  I was so excited when I learned that the ugly corner across from Library Square in Nampa was being transformed into a Boise Fry Company restaurant.

S:Dwg2015 drawings1571 - Knighthill Mult-Family Development -

The Lighthouse Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter for men in Nampa, moved several years ago.  The old building on Caldwell Blvd was torn down and the large lot stood empty.  A few months ago I saw that large cement pads had been poured.  Having learned first-hand about the lack of affordable housing in Nampa, I day dreamed that low income housing would be built.  Next I imagined a new city park.  Finally, I resolved myself to mixed business space—retail, food, offices.  When I asked a friend who works for the city what was going in I was so disappointed—storage units.


I know that housing prices are rising and was recently told that storage rental rates are also increasing.  This makes me very sad, sad that we do not have rules that prohibit prime lots with such potential to be covered with storage units.  I am sad that residents of Nampa have so much stuff.  There are good reasons to have storage units within the city, like people who are temporarily working somewhere else, people moving to a new home but have not yet sold their old home, or people waiting to sell possessions at auction.

What is the role of congregations in this conversation about city planning?

  • We are called first of all to be good stewards of our own property, to keep it spruced up and, when possible, to have it complement its surroundings, sometimes as an attractive anchor and other times as simply one more piece of a neighborhood.
  • Congregations have voices and congregations are made up of many individuals with their own voices.  We can speak and write to our elected officials–asking about zoning rules and encouraging changes.  What should we promote?  Whatever is life giving.  That might mean housing, green spaces, community buildings, businesses who treat their employees justly, local businesses, places that help foster wellness.
  • Most congregations own buildings with meeting spaces.  We can provide a place of hospitality for peaceful dialogues and panels and forums.
  • Periodically there is someone or some group that calls out our obsession with stuff.  Some of my readers may have heard the recent interview on NPR with The Minimalists.  I mention this to admit that people of faith do not have a monopoly on this topic.  We are not the first or last to point out how life-sucking an obsession with stuff can be.  It is not the stuff itself, it is how it can consume us, especially when we are consumed with how we will never have enough.  Christians are not the only faith or the only people who have language to address this illness but we have some experience with it and I hope we invite ourselves into whatever conversations our communities are having about stuff.  In the meantime, I will continue to periodically purge the storage spaces at Trinity Lutheran Church.  We will not be renting any units of Big Storage on Caldwell Boulevard.




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Buildings and Church

“The church is not a building, a committee or a board, it’s not a corporation for the business of our Lord.  We are the church.”  I learned Jay Beech’s song “We are the church” at the 1991 Lutheran Youth Gathering in Dallas the summer I turned 15 and the words have stuck with me.  I rarely use the word church.  I replace it or at most add descriptors because I want to be clear that I am not writing about a building structure: “Welcome to worship” or “Can I tell you about my congregation?” or “Our church building is at the corner of Lone Star and Midland.

Buildings require money—for cleaning and operating and maintaining.  And if routine maintenance is not kept up then buildings fall apart or are saved at the last minute by burdensome expenditures and large donations.


And so, on the afternoon of July 16 when I was at Luther Heights Bible Camp for the Sawtooth Lodge dedication I had mixed feelings about being so excited about a building.  This is the first building project I have lived through as part of a leadership team.  I began my first term on the board of directors right after the feasibility study was completed and the decision was made about how much money we needed to raise.

I have come in at the end or left right before other projects at other camps.  Widgiwagan, the YMCA camp in Northern Minnesota where I canoed out of as a teenager, built a brand new welcome center just before my first summer.  Christikon, where I worked during my college years, expanded its kitchen and built staff housing right before I came on staff.  Shortly after my final summer there, they built a new trails room and a small retreat center.  Lutheran Lakeside Camp, where I served on my first board of directors, finished a brand new dining hall, with offices and storm shelter below, before my first summer in Iowa.

The closest experience I had to the Sawtooth Lodge project was when I was in fourth grade.  My father had just become the director of Outlaw and Atlantic Mountain Ranches, part of Lutheran Outdoors in South Dakota, when a fire burned down the original lodge.  I sat on the dirt and talked with the contractors, raised my eyebrows when the guest rooms were painted pastel colors, and felt sorry for everyone when someone told them the railing height was not up to code and they would have to build an extension.

Churches and camps are not buildings but buildings are important and I am thrilled about the Sawtooth Lodge.  The kitchen is bigger and safer, light pine and paint make the space feel bright and expansive and the many windows help us remember that we are in the wilderness and the screens keep out the mosquitos.  This space is more welcoming than the old White Cloud Lodge.  More people will come to Luther Heights because of our new lodge and with two meeting places we will be able to accommodate more people.

When someone commented on the beauty of the building on the day of the dedication I responded, “Now we need to fill it up!”  He asked what more was needed, what were the wish-list items that had not yet been purchased.  I clarified that we need to fill the lodge with the people who are the church, the people who are looking for a church, and those who need the church to be instruments of God’s love and mercy.

Perhaps the most wonderful part of the dedication day was the number of people present and the program which contained the names of so many donors.  This project brought individuals and congregations from across Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming together in a powerful way.  And we all know that now that the building is standing we are called to be stewards of this facility.

In a conversation with other volunteers and summer staff, we all listed the reasons new lodges should be built, chief among them the ability to provide better hospitality.  Luther Heights Program Director Jon Davidson added, “plus they look cool.”  Thanks to architect Martin Hale and contractor Ralph Williams, the association of Luther Heights is able to say that is most certainly true of the Sawtooth Loge.


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Ecumenism In Idaho

I believe that ecumenism has intrinsic value and that it can bear fruit.  I’m not sure about the source of these beliefs.  I grew up in a Lutheran home, graduated from a Lutheran college, worked at a Lutheran camp, interned at two Lutheran congregations, and served as pastor of a Lutheran church in Soldier, Iowa, a town served only by a Lutheran church because it was settled almost exclusively by Norwegian Lutherans.  In all of those settings collegiality among Lutherans was modeled and practiced.


ELCA Lutherans share ministries across the Treasure Valley (from the Oregon border over to Mountain Home, ID)–weekly lectionary text study, monthly high school youth events and Confirmation Classes, women’s gatherings, and Luther Heights Bible Camp.  But I serve the only ELCA Lutheran congregation in Nampa, a city of 90,000.  My congregation and I do not want me to hibernate in the church building or limit my relationships to those with ELCA colleagues in the Treasure Vally.  It would be easy for us to keep to ourselves but that is not who we are.

Who are out neighbors?  The LDS (Mormons) and Roman Catholic communities dominate the landscape, both the population and skyline.  Non-denominational congregations are everywhere.  Nampa is the home of Northwest Nazarene University so there are many Nazarene congregations.  The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregations are bigger and more influential than I have experienced them anywhere else.

Part of my eagerness for ecumenical and interfaith relationships may simply be my personality.  I love learning and even though I will not become a Mormon, non-denominational or Missouri Synod pastor, I am still interested in what those faiths can teach me and my congregation.

I have also always believed that the call of pastor is a call to the congregation but also to the denomination and entire Christian Church, which means intentionally spending time with other pastors, learning and growing together.  So perhaps, with no other ELCA pastors in town, I simply turned to anyone else who wanted to talk with me and provide mutual support.  Attending the monthly Nampa ministerial gatherings is simply what I should do, right?

Ecumenism-logo-color (Symbol for Ecumenism)

At gatherings in Iowa, someone would inevitably remind us that the ELCA is in more full-communion relationships than any other denomination and I would think, do we really need to hear this again? What’s the big deal?  (the most visible outcome being that our pastors can preside over Holy Communion at church’s belonging to a full-communion denomination)  Now I take pride in our full-communion relationships.  It is a physical sign that we believe there is more that unites us than divides us.

There are non-denominational congregations in the Treasure Valley that are starting to collaborate in exciting ways.  I still get frustrated that they do not make the ministerial meetings a priority and I scratch my forehead trying to figure it out but I am trying to celebrate that they have discovered the joy and fruit of being together.  For those of us whose denominational histories include the work of the National Council of Churches during the Civil Rights Movement, it may simply be more natural to cary that history into the present.  We do not have to invent partnerships.  We simply need to receive and adapt them.

Those partnerships have been so important for me during the past year on the local level, in ways no one could have anticipated.  When Trinity’s leadership had to attend hearings with the Canyon County Commissioners about our tax exempt status, after creating Trinity New Hope (low-income housing), one pastor came to my office to help me process, another pastor sent encouraging emails, four pastors actually came to the hearings and signed in for the record.

So I am curious about other denominations and I value collegiality, but for me the most important reasons to build ecumenical and interfaith relationships are summed up in one of Trinity’s guiding principles: share the good news through words and actions.  When churches work together, our actions can accomplish more.  We have more resources to care for the least among us, those shut out by everyone else.  We can also find ways to speak with a unified voice, which is good PR in a time and place when people often see Christians fighting against one another.

Local ecumenical relationships have made national ones even more natural for me.  Last week I spent a morning in Chicago at the ELCA Churchwide Office with a group of people convened to create a training for interim outdoor ministry executive directors.  There has been a need for this training for some time but what finally kickstarted the process was a meeting last October of people from the Outdoor Ministry Connection (OMC).  (The National Council of Churches had an outdoor ministry sub-group for decades but it recently absolved.  OMC has taken its place.)  The thought was, why should a Lutheran camp in Washington hire a Lutheran interim director from Iowa if there is a qualified Presbyterian director down the road.  So LOM took the lead but it has been an ecumenical venture.  And having the director of the Episcopal Camp and Conference Center network in the room in Chicago was a reminder of that.  Why would we try to do this in a silo?

Next week something kind of crazy is happening because of the local relationships.  Marie Osmond is going to worship at Trinity Lutheran Church.  Why was Trinity selected?  Because LDS leaders who are bringing Marie to Nampa for the Tribute Concert (benefiting  Idaho Food Banks) respect and like Trinity’s community garden and low-income housing ministries and they appreciate how we are part of ecumenical/interfaith relationships.  Marie is not going to sing or speak during the service but she will stay for conversations after worship–more dialogue.

Part of the dialogue with other denominations and faiths is listening.  I have learned so much by listening to people from other denominations and faiths.  Sometimes I learn new practices but just as often, I find myself examining with new lenses aspects of my faith and tradition: preaching, testimony, social justice, prayer, music, sacraments, and ethics.

The other part of dialogue is speaking, using our words.  Trinity is committed to sharing the good news through our actions but also through our words.  Lutheranism brings several gifts to ecumenical relationships.  Living and ministering in Nampa, I have begun to see as gifts several things I have taken for granted: the order of worship (which we share to some extent with other mainline brothers and sisters) and our proclamation of the gospel.

It is this proclamation that leads and directs us to do all of our acting and serving and giving.   But something else sets the stage for the proclamation.  It begins at the very beginning of our worship service, during which we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness.  Every week we do this!  A college student from another denomination told me, in a conversation about theology and worship, that my congregation is probably less susceptible to cheap grace (I’m forgiven so I can do whatever I want) because we practice confession and forgiveness during every worship service.  After staring at her for a few seconds I think I said, “Oh, right.  Not everyone does that.”  Then, and this is something that I think we do particularly well, we look into the scripture passages to see what is broken in us, yes–we look at our sin again, and then we look again to see how God is healing us.  Finally, back to our order of worship, we gather around the altar, receiving forgiveness once again, this time through bread and wine and the words “Given for you, for the forgiveness of sin.”

I am so very thankful for the ecumenical and interfaith relationships nurtured in Nampa.  I hope that more and more people will come to the table to learn from one another and to find ways to care for every single person in our community.





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