January 19 – Welcome Pastor Heather!

This Sunday’s worship will include the installation of Pastor Heather Roth Johnson as Bethlehem’s Pastor of Family Ministry. Rev. Craig Pederson from the Minneapolis Area Synod will lead this part of the service in which we make promises to her and to one another about the work we’re called to do together.

The following week, we invite you to meet Pastor Heather via Zoom. Come to a conversation on Wednesday, January 27, 7:00 pm or on Sunday, January 31 following worship to learn more about her. Please register on our website to receive the Zoom link.

Watch the below video to learn something surprising about Pastor Heather. To learn even more be sure to attend one of the meet and greets.

Pastor Mary

January 12 – Finding Moments of Joy

Tomorrow evening at 6:30 pm we’ll be beginning a five-week worship experiment. Each week will be a little different. The format and flow will evolve. The texts and the prayers will shift. The musicians will vary. But one thing that I hope consistently emerges week after week is a sense of joy and delight.

Things are hard and heavy right now. Each new day seems to compound that. I feel it in my heart and in my bones. And yet, there are still moments of joy and beauty and hope. So I’m trying to help fasten our attention on those things so that we can know all the more clearly and certainly that they are worth slogging through everything else to experience.

God is a God of hope and joy. God shows up in the mess and the muck of life to move us from despair to joy, from death to new life. This is our story; this is our song. Join Humbird (Siri Undlin) and me tomorrow night as we search it out together.

Pastor Ben

January 8 – Our House

Dear Bethlehem,

In her book Caste, author Isabel Wilkerson, describes America as an old house with bowed ceilings. She writes: “We in the developed world are like homeowners who inherited a house on a piece of land that is beautiful on the outside, but whose soil is unstable loam and rock, heaving and contracting over generations, cracks patched but the deeper ruptures waved away for decades, centuries even.”

This past week we witnessed the crumbling of our nation’s house. Watching its desecration at the hands of fellow citizens has shaken us to our core in a year that continues to test our fortitude in ways we never imagined. Some are angry. Some are sad. Some are afraid. Some of us are feeling all of those things and more. Know that God holds you and whatever you’re feeling with mercy and grace. Know too, that as God’s beloved we cannot look away or ignore the evil that was on display.

As Jesus said in the gospel in the Gospel of Mark, And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. It is all the more critical in this divided time, that we work together to heal and to steward the home we’ve been given.

As people of faith, we have a responsibility to this place we call home and a duty to love and care for our neighbor–especially the most vulnerable among us. As people who confess that Jesus is Lord, we are called to embody Christ’s love in the world that others might experience through us the way of mercy and goodness.

This way of Love is not easy but God took on flesh and blood to show us how. Christ’s continued presence assures we are never alone.  Jesus walks with us, guides us, lifts us up when we stumble and fall. With his help, we can turn from the powers of sin, hatred, fear, injustice and oppression and be strengthened in our witness to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

May the strong love of Jesus take hold of our world and may God grant us wisdom and courage for the living of this hour. We hope that this prayer will be on your lips today and give your hands, your voice and your feet strength for the difficult work ahead.

Rise up and come to our help, merciful God, for we are in need. Our spirits are weighed down with fear; our bodies feel as fragile as the dust from which we came. All that we have trusted seems hidden from sight. Although this moment has come upon our nation, you have not forgotten us. We do not trust in our own power or strength, but in your steadfast love in every generation. Show us your face in this time of trial, remind us of your faithfulness, and save us for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (All Creation Sings p. 49)

Mary and Ben

January 5 – Who Is Us?

Seth Godin, considered a thought leader by many, has a daily blog whose posts are usually short and thought provoking. I still reflect on a question he posed some time ago: “Who is us?” It comes to mind again at the start of a new year. He writes: “When you build a tribe or a movement, you’re asking people to join you. To become, ‘one of us.’ That means, though, you need to be really clear who ‘us’ is. Not just who am I joining, but what does it mean to be one of you?”

Becoming Together: Sharing in the work of God’s vision for a healed world is how Bethlehem Lutheran Church Twin Cities answers the “who is us” question. We are the church of Jesus who is listening, learning, changing and growing. We are God’s work in progress, forgiven and freed to be agents of God’s healing and wholeness.

Our work in 2020 included developing skills and awareness to be culturally aware community members in the change needed to move toward racial equity and inclusion for all of God’s people. This work is hard, necessary and ongoing. In January there are a couple of ways you can participate.

Beginning Monday, January 11, Pastor Kris will facilitate a 7-week class called, “Dialogues on Race” that will explore the historic relationship between racism and American Christianity. Please see the website to learn more and register.

On Sunday, January 17, Spirit Garage continues with their once-a-month sermon series called, “A Different Lens,” in which we can listen and learn from the voices and wisdom of people of color and/or queer faith leaders. You can watch on Facebook Live at 10:30 am AND you can also watch it as a recording, along with previous speakers.

Doing this work together is a bold witness to who we are as God’s beloved community rooted in the love revealed in Jesus Christ. Thank you for your partnership in our becoming together.

Peace –
Pastor Mary

Dialogues on Race

December 29 – We’re In It Together

One of the peculiar challenges this year is presenting, even in its final days, is that while this virus is impacting us all, the mounting isolation makes the world feel really small. There have been some weeks where I can count on my hand the number of times I’ve left my house. But there are ways that I feel more connected than ever. I have this persistent sense that we are bound together through all of this. It happens when I lead worship in the practically empty sanctuary. I feel you all there with me somehow. It happens when I hear stories of how you are keeping tabs on each other, praying for one another, helping buoy and support each other.

I know we are still the body of Christ, alive and active in this world. These past few weeks members of this community have continued to help our fellow siblings in Christ who are experiencing homelessness through Beacon’s Families Moving Forward program. It’s looked different than in years past, we aren’t hosting folks in our buildings. But we’re still providing meals each day, we’re giving Christmas gifts of Cub Foods cards to help families have a measure of independence. We’re still praying for them, and supporting Beacon’s ongoing work to help families move toward sustainable solutions.

In the coming days our Minnetonka team will take their turn at hosting in this unusual way. It’s not as visible. More of the work happens behind the scenes, but it’s happening. It’s happening because of your generosity, it’s happening because we are church together.

Please join me in giving thanks to God for the work of these two teams and celebrating that even apart we are still the church that God is calling us to be.

Pastor Ben

Beacon Families Moving Forward Update

December 15 – New Advent and Christmas Traditions

Dear Bethlehem — ‘Tis the season for forming new Advent and Christmas traditions! While we grieve the loss of familiar ways of celebrating this time of year, we do have an opportunity to imagine new ways to mark the season. I hope you and yours (think any age and beyond Bethlehem!) will participate in ALL of the following:

Trim the Tree:  Stop by either campus, any day, any time to donate an ornament to hang on the Bethlehem Christmas Tree. It will be a heartwarming sign that in faith we remain forever connected to God and to each other.

Light Your Face!  Send a photo of yourself holding a candle in a dimly lit room, one person per photo. If there’s more than one in your family, take a separate photo for each person. If you’re a solo act, ask a neighbor to take the picture, from six feet away of course. Send a photo by this Sunday December 20. All photos received will be part of our Christmas Eve Service.

Silent Night Sing: In partnership with NPR and Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, your pastors have imagined a nation-wide sing along! Join people across the nation on Thursday, December 24 at 6:30 pm CDT by tuning your radio to the local classical public radio station (99.5 in the Twin Cities). Then step outside your front door, light a candle, and get ready to sing. Invite your neighbors. Be a witness to the Light of Christ who lives among us.

This is a special season in a unique year. These rituals will help us as a community of faith. They will mark this moment in time with meaning and memories. I’m grateful for the blessing of becoming together!

Advent Blessings,
Pastor Mary

December 8 – Staffing Changes

Dear Bethlehem — In a year of change and ongoing uncertainty, we need to share with you two changes to our staff configuration. First is Steve Tjeltveit’s desire to retire early next year. Second is plans to redirect resources from our Sunday evening worship service and Michael McDeid’s departure at the end of this year.

We received the letter below last week from Steve Tjeltveit, Bethlehem’s Director of Administration. He will be missed and we are both deeply grateful for Steve’s leadership, passion and hard work these past two plus years. Please know that we will begin a search process as quickly as possible to ensure that there is as much overlap as possible to help with a smooth transition. A job description will be posted on the church’s website in the coming days.

Steve has promised to not be a stranger, especially when it’s not ski season. Similarly Steve will be helping us through the end of this year and positioning us well to begin 2021. So while we are sad, please join us in thanking Steve for all he’s given to Bethlehem.

Ben and Mary,
I’m writing to let you know that it’s time to make my life’s next transition. I’ve greatly enjoyed and been honored to be able to work with both of you, the staff and this congregation these last two plus years on staff and many more before that sitting out in the pew. That said, I have come to the realization over these past few months that it’s time for me to retire so that I can pursue some other things I’m passionate about and some yet to be discovered.

There are so many incredibly dedicated staff and members in this congregation who give so much to each other, the community and world. They will continue to inspire me to serve, learn and worship after some much needed time away.

I found a bumper sticker in my beloved Montana last year that says, “Lost in the Beartooths. Don’t Find Me”. I’m going to be doing a little more getting lost out west (figuratively, not literally) and in MN after my last day on 2/26/21. When I return, I know I will find my way back to this great community that I love.
— Steve Tjeltveit, Director of Administration

2020 will be remembered as a year of great loss. We’ve had to reimagine all that we do and how we do it. The pandemic has necessitated a season of trying things, learning, adjusting and trying again. We remain committed to directing the congregation’s generosity toward those things with the most potential for impact.

These last several months we’ve been paying attention to how many devices are tuning in for livestream worship and the average view length. The numbers remain consistently strong for the Sunday morning experience but since September the numbers for the 7:00 pm evening service have been on a steady decline. This reality has led us to the difficult decision to end the 7:00 pm worship experience. The last service will be on Sunday, December 20.

We grieve the impact this decision will have on the few who were part of the 7:00 pm worshipping community. We are sorry for the impact this decision has on Michael McDeid, worship leader, and the musicians who created a beautiful contemplative service. We will include a thank you, blessing and God speed for Michael as part of the service on the 20th, and we encourage individuals to reach out to him personally with their gratitude.

We pray for God’s continued presence in this season of hope amidst great uncertainty.

In Christ,
Mary and Ben

December 1 – Unexpected Gifts

Last week, I joined my husband at our cabin for a couple of days. One morning I awoke to an unusual, disturbing sound. It came from outside. I thought it was an animal in distress. I was surprised to discover something beautiful instead: seven Trumpeter swans swimming (I’m not kidding!) and singing in and among a gaggle of geese and an asylum of loons. Evidently our lake was a pit stop as they migrated south. Their presence was an unexpected gift to start my day. I was blessed.

On Sunday, Pastor Matt’s sermon reminded us that Advent is a season for waiting and watching. Traditionally, it’s also a season for giving. Inspired by the extravagant generosity of God who gave his son Jesus to the world, that all might be saved through him, we offer unexpected gifts that others might be blessed.

There is much about 2020 that’s been unusual and disturbing but opportunities for unexpected generosity always exist. This coming week I hope you’ll consider two in particular: Toys for Tots, an effort of our 5th & 6th grade Sunday School students to raise money to buy toys for kids who might not otherwise receive them for Christmas; and Families Moving Forward, a program that offers emergency shelter and a path to more stable housing. This year the Bethlehem community is providing financial support for meals, cleaning supplies and holiday gifts for two weeks in December and in January. Please go here to make your gift to these efforts that pool our resources and increase Bethlehem’s impact for good.

I’m incredibly grateful for all the ways you add beauty to the world. Through Bethlehem’s long history of generosity God blesses the world in more ways than we can know.

Advent Blessings,
Pastor Mary

November 24 – We’re grateful for you

Over 250 cars full of Bethlehem folks drove through our parking lots on Sunday afternoon. You brought food and money to share with our food shelves. You brought stories of survival and thriving during the pandemic. You brought tears and love for your church and for one another. It was good to see you. In this season of gratitude I am grateful for Bethlehem. I’m grateful for your emails and calls. I’m grateful for the ways the chat section on our YouTube channel has become a place of welcome and hospitality. I’m grateful that you are remembering your church and the work we’re called to be about.

Thank you, Bethlehem, for being a steadfast source of strength and encouragement during this tumultuous year. You continue to show up for me and for another as the church and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for you.

—Pastor Ben

November 17 – Advent video message from Pastor Mary

November 10 – Where in the World is Church?

In 1969, “Sesame Street” changed the rules of children’s television. It instantly became a sensation and has continued to educate and entertain children for generations. Back when I needed to monitor my kids’ screen time, this was the show that always made the short list of what my kids watched.

We’ve had to change all kinds of rules this past year. There’s grief in losing familiar ways of doing things. There’s also joy in discovering new ways of learning, connecting and gathering. I desperately miss the buzz in our buildings on Sunday mornings. I look forward to when that happens again. In the meantime, I’m excited by how Bethlehem’s Sunday School is evolving even as its purpose of passing on the faith to our children remains the same.

If you haven’t seen “Where in the world is church?” I encourage you to watch last week’s episode. It’s created to educate and entertain our children but the lessons and format nurtures adult faith too. Reporter Ron shows up every time asking a question that relates to who we are as church. To find the answer, he gets help from others in the community. You’ll delight in how all ages discover together important facets of our faith. I encourage you to make these weekly 15-minute episodes part of your short list for staying connected to church. The link for the current episode is always included in Bethlehem’s Saturday email. I hope you’ll also share the link with your children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends.

We may not be able to gather in our sanctuaries but our calling to invite and welcome others into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ continues.

Thanks for being church!
Pastor Mary

November 3 – Election Day

Hopefully by the time you receive this email, you will have voted. If you haven’t yet, there is likely still time so please do. Now, having done our civic duty, we wait. It’s the one thing that we will all do, regardless for whom we cast our vote. And in that time of waiting, and oneness, I’d encourage us to remember that we are one people. Regardless of the forces and people that try to divide us, we are one.

In the beatitudes from Luke’s gospel, Jesus said, “But I say to you who are listening, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who are cruel to you.”

Love and blessing and prayer help us to refrain from seeing one another as us and them. It’s why we’re inviting you to join us for a time of reflection, scripture, song and prayer after the vote. This worship experience will be shared on Wednesday at 7:00 pm. You can find details below.

On Thursday, there is another installment of Bold Conversations, where we will have a post-vote debrief called, Making Sense and Making Peace: How our reactions impact diversity, equity, and inclusion. Details and registration can be found below.

Then finally, in the coming weeks Bethlehem will be participating in the Braver Angels With Malice Toward None (“WMTN”) initiative. This initiative is an effort to address these temptations and the dangers of further divisions and polarization within America. WMTN asks its participants to commit to a higher partisanship of maintaining our Union, recognizing the importance of our shared civil life; and seeks to promote those feelings of goodwill that Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature.”

The goal is to humanize “the other side,” and call us back to our basic creeds to love one another and that our country was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are equal. This is expressed in the pledge that asks all who participate that regardless of the election’s outcome, they will not hold hate, disdain, or ridicule those who may have voted differently. Please consider signing the pledge available at Braver Angels website.

Braver Angels will be facilitating workshops at Bethlehem after Election Day once the outcome is clear. We will update our website as details become available. For more information on this initiative you can contact me or Bruce MacKenzie.

Thanks and God be close,
Pastor Ben

October 27 – Are We There Yet?

When our kids were young we made yearly trips to Montana to visit family. The kids’ litany for the 16hr drive was predictable: “Are we there yet?” The record for shortest time on the road before these words were uttered? 13 minutes. The trip was always long and also worth the effort.

As we get ready to turn the page on October, we’re almost “there” for 2020. Can I get a hallelujah! We recently sent giving statements. Let us know if you haven’t received it. Giving remained very strong throughout the summer. We’re incredibly grateful.

The fall has been very different from our usual patterns and we’ve noticed the impact on usual giving patterns too. Please know that your generosity allows Bethlehem to keep its commitments to mission partners, our neighborhoods and congregants. Your continued financial commitment is needed for us to end the year strong.

On September 13, we launched two campaigns at once: Reach Forward in Faith (annual) to Build a Future with Hope (3-year capital). We’re excited to share that we’re halfway to our goal of $2 million for the capital campaign and 35% for the annual campaign. We’ve made great progress. We still have some distance to go. We know meeting the goal will be worth the effort. If you haven’t yet joined the adventure, there’s room for you. Know that your gift makes a difference.

God calls Bethlehem to think big and act boldly in Jesus’ name. Because of your investment in Bethlehem’s mission we’re able to say “yes” to God’s invitation and share in the work of God’s vision for a healed world, accomplishing more together than any one person can accomplish alone.

Thanks for your partnership!

Pastor Mary