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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Trivia and Faith

(A newsletter column for Trinity Lutheran Church, Nampa)

Dear Friends in Christ,

Trivia and faith. Many of you have heard me talk about Trivia Night at the Flying M Coffee Garage. This has become a kind of ritual for me, a weekly event I can count on with a second family. Our team is made up of Lutherans, Methodists, Nazarenes, Episcopalians and a Done (someone done with the church). We work in congregations, NNU, and one of us is retired. Does this sound familiar? Often times I hear people describe their faith communities the same way. Both include a place to be refreshed, a people to whom I belong, something I can return to each week, though I won’t be judged if I have to miss occasionally. Each of us brings something to the table (always trivia, sometimes knowledge, rarely wisdom) and we have to work together. We usually place in the top three teams so we often celebrate at the end of the evening. This is your pastor’s newsletter article so you know what’s coming next—what is different between Trivia Night and faith lived out in Christian Community? Yes, there are some absolutes in Christianity but, at least in our tradition, there is a great deal of interpretation (of both scripture and tradition) and we are faced with, and hopefully come to relish, mystery (case in point—the name of our congregation is Trinity—something Christians have been confessing and simultaneously trying to explain for centuries). What’s good about mystery in a culture that likes to separate black and white (metaphorically and literally), right and wrong, inside and outside, holy and unholy? The world outside of Trivia Night holds a lot of ambiguity and questions and it’s freeing to me that when it comes to my faith, I don’t have to figure it all out; it’s not an expectation because it is not possible. At the same time, I am completely loved and forgiven by the Triune God. There are perhaps more and less faithful ways to worship and serve in this broken world but it is enough to keep growing and encouraging one another to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. And in the end, it is the Holy Spirit (another wonderful mystery), not you or me, who is doing the working, the ministry. That is something to celebrate.


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Sue and “Dinosaur 13”

“It was a brilliant story, if you didn’t have to live it like the Larsons did.”  This is my favorite line from the the opening of Dinosaur 13.  Directed by Todd Miller, Dinosaur 13 (13) won the 2015 Science and Technology Programming Emmy and was nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize.  I love the film and I hate that I have to admit it is biased (for a review which acknowledges the bias and praises the film).

DinosaurCover Continue reading

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1st Anniversary of Trinity New Hope Affordable Housing

April 30 is the one year anniversary of Trinity New Hope.  Here are ten things I’ve learned through our affordable housing adventure:

  1. Affordable Housing has more acronyms than the church, which I never anticipated.  Some essentials for us are IHFA (Idaho Housing and Finance Association), LIHTC (Low-Income Housing Tax Credits), AHIT (Affordable Housing Investment Trust), and Idaho AHMA (Affordable Housing Management Association)
  2. Excavation is necessary after 20 years.  When I learned in a board meeting that we would be hiring someone to excavate the 16 homes I was puzzled and then went out and looked at the houses.  Oh my!  I have no idea how much dirt was put around the foundations of each house but it was substantial.
  3. File cabinets that are both fireproof and lockable are expensive.  In order to be part of the team I offered to secure some office stuff.  I love any excuse to go to an office supply store.
  4. Our congregation’s decision to purchase the houses and become affordable housing landlords was a surprise to some people in our community.
  5. The best part of Trivia Night at the Flying M Coffee Garage is that, unlike the statutes guiding property tax exemptions, there is no place for interpretation.  Answers are right or wrong.  Thank you Team Ravenclaw!
  6. I’ve heard and read it many times but I have now witnessed in person the truth of Margaret Mead’s famous quote, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  This is my shout out to the Trinity New Hope Board, Trinity Lutheran Church Council, and entire Trinity Lutheran Church congregation.
  7. The individuals I’ve met through Idaho’s Region III Housing Coalition along with Trinity New Hope’s Property Manager have deep compassion and are tremendous teachers.
  8. There are no stupid questions for pastors trying to grasp the work of affordable housing.  (I was already pretty sure about this but I appreciated it whenever someone told me that I was not a burden).
  9. Paint, Carpet and a new door can transform an office-turned Sunday School Room-turned Storage Room back into a warm and welcoming office.
  10. We need a greater variety of housing in Nampa.
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