April 13, 2021 – What Can We Do?

 

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
—Hebrews 10:23

There’s nothing we can say to ease the shock and grief from Sunday’s news of another Black man killed by a police officer. Heartbreak. Rage. Worry. Grief. Again. Duante Wright should be alive. This pattern of violence persists. With the trial of Derek Chauvin underway our collective level of anxiety is already high, and now the community is swept up in the terror of more trauma. While we can’t know the wounds of others, we are part of a shared humanity and so together we grieve, together we weep, together we ask: what can we do? What will we do?

People of faith, we return to God. We hold space for lament. We give voice to the depth of sorrow and pain. With humility, we come before God just as we are with whatever we’ve got. We name the hard truths of how far we are from the life God intends. We seek God’s presence as we process what’s on our hearts and minds.

The sanctuaries at both campuses will be open for this Thursday, April 15 from 10:00 am–6:00 pm (Prayer In the Sanctuary) for those of you who’d like to use the space for this purpose. There is no sign-up. We ask that you stay home if you’re sick, sign in when you arrive, stay masked, and maintain social distancing.

People of faith, we call to mind the belovedness of the other. Beloved is at the core of our identity. It’s not based on our accomplishments, what people think about us, or what we think of ourselves. Our identity is that we are the beloved children of God who relentlessly pursues us and loves us unconditionally. God’s love extends to all people. We love because God first loved us. In faith, we learn to see the world, each other, and ourselves as God sees us.

Prayer in the Sanctuary - Square

People of God, in faith we live as if God’s reality is the only one that matters and so we act. We practice compassion and work for justice. We use the agency we have for breaking down the systems and cycles that perpetuate violence and injustice. The problems we face are complex. As a congregation, we will continue to do the internal work necessary to move toward justice for all. We will partner with other congregations answering God’s call to help our neighbor in need. We will advocate for equity that all might know God’s peace. God’s call to action is both corporate and individual. We won’t presume to tell you what is yours to do but know you are part of God’s plan. Now is the time for action. Open your heart to the Holy Spirit who will lead you, for God’s kingdom comes on earth as in heaven.

Less than two weeks ago our faith community gathered to retell the story of Christ crucified. At the foot of the cross, we hear Jesus cry out. He breathes his last and dies. But Easter will come. God raised Jesus to new life. The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes the trajectory of our world and our lives. Now there is hope. This is what we profess.

May the good news of Jesus strengthen you in faith and embolden you to act as we share in the work of God’s vision for a healed world.

—Pastors Mary and Ben

April 6, 2021 – In-person Worship

We are ready and excited to welcome people back into our sanctuaries in meaningful numbers on Sundays at 10:15 am. Register on our website and familiarize yourself with protocols to keep each other safe. It will be good to be back together, but let us never forget that we were never apart.

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March 30, 2021 – Join Us this Holy Week

The stories of this week may be familiar, but that doesn’t mean that the holy and the transcendent can’t surprise us. We want to encourage you to join us for these holy three days. Immerse yourself in this story, surround yourself with rich music, and taste and see the goodness of God who gives God’s own life for you. Maundy Thursday at 7:00 pm, Good Friday at 7:00 pm, and Easter Sunday at 6:00 and 10:15 am (two different services, both livestream).

Bless each other with your presence in worship these coming days, so that God may bless you, and open you up to be a gift for others.

—Pastors Ben and Mary

March 26, 2021 – In-person Worship Details

Dear Beloved of God —

Over the past few weeks Bethlehem’s staff and congregational leadership has been working hard to develop a plan for a return to in-person worship. Last Sunday we invited a few leaders to be a part of a test run to ensure that we had adequate plans in place to begin welcoming people back into the sanctuary in meaningful numbers on Sunday morning.

We are ready. We are excited. We will continue to learn along the way and are grateful for patience and grace.

Following Easter you can expect some changes to Bethlehem’s worship schedule. In-person worship limited to 75 will occur at each campus for 10:15 only. We’ll start with one service and adjust the schedule if needed. Wednesday evening worship will be suspended as we dedicate resources to Sunday livestream and in-person worship.

Registrations will be available on the website and we will ask those of you choosing to join us to familiarize yourself with protocols to keep each other safe. Some things will feel different, but we feel these are important steps to set us up for ongoing success and safety.

A subgroup of the congregational council has met to review our plans and support how we are moving into this new phase. Below you will find the committee’s update in full.

We are committed to being a hybrid church. We know that being able to worship at home or at the cabin or on the road has been a huge gift to many of you this past year. We also know that many long to be back in our buildings. We believe that we can do both of these things well. Furthermore, we believe that this is the church God is calling us to become, together. Physical location isn’t a limiting factor to our work as the body of Christ, indeed it never was, but we’ve seen more clearly in this last year just how wide our reach can be. We can be the church across time and space and that’s exciting and holy work. It will be good to be back together, but let us never forget that we were never apart.

In Christ,
Mary and Ben

“For you are called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ …the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires.”
— Galatians 5:13-14, 22-24 NRSV

Ben and Mary,

Thank you for your love of our community and the ways you have reflected that in thoughtful decision-making while navigating the complicated decisions and logistics of closing our facilities and plans for potential reopening. When the COVID Taskforce last met, we suggested several guiding principles for consideration in closing our buildings for public use and for consideration when reopening. In summary, they were:

  • We won’t be more aggressive than MDH and CDC guidelines for meeting,
  • As a faith community, we will defer to the experts on matters of public health where appropriate,
  • As a faith community with an obligation to the most vulnerable, we will not begin reopening for only subsets of our community, but rather to begin reopening when it is safe for all,
  • and, we encourage the leadership of Bethlehem to look for, and make appropriate decisions around, meeting specific physical and in-person needs of our community (smaller groups, funerals, etc.) 

We appreciate the deliberateness, commitment, and focus Bethlehem’s staff have demonstrated over this last year in support of being God’s Church in this time and this place. You’ve made difficult decisions and done so with an eye to meeting a wide variety of needs from the congregation.  

As infection, hospitalization and death rates have fallen; and vaccination rates and access continue to accelerate, you’ve expressed interest in reopening and have shared a roadmap with the Taskforce in response.  We are supportive of your plans and of the care and focus on our most vulnerable that is captured in them. We also believe them to be in line with the guiding principles communicated to you by this Taskforce in 2020.  

As you experiment, adapt and respond through this process, we are grateful for your focus on what our church needs to be in the coming months and years. We appreciate your communicated desire to:

  • Respond with consideration for the safety needs of our most vulnerable, including our staff,
  • Continue to adapt with a worship experience that meets the needs of both in-person and online audiences and staff,
  • And, take data-driven and appropriate levels of risk in responding to the changing risk environment.

We support your desire for a thoughtful and deliberate opening that allows for appropriate consistency of experience, in an effort to minimize the risk of going too far, too fast and needing to dramatically pull back/close down. Your preliminary requirements for reopening appear to be well in line with current public health recommendations from both the CDC and MDH. Given the initial plan’s more conservative approach than is “allowed” by MDH, we encourage the staff to consider opportunities to experiment with humming along with hymns and to monitor our experience with attendance, risk-demographics of in-person worshippers, infection and vaccination rates, etc. to determine when further loosening might be appropriate. We encourage the staff to consider reopening for programming beyond worship services on a case-by-case basis based on similar guiding principles and to ensure participants are communicated with clearly.

While various available infection reporting can be hard to weigh and prioritize, this Taskforce supports your desire to be fluid in Bethlehem’s reopening with flexibility to accelerate or pull back on reopening efforts. We would suggest focusing those decisions on data that:

  • Speaks to the prevalence of concerning COVID variants, 
  • Virus reproduction (R0) rates, 
  • The experiences of similar local congregations, 
  • Local hospitalization and death rates, 
  • and, local vaccination rates and availability – particularly for high-risk groups of individuals. 

We are excited by Bethlehem’s continued effort to respond to our need to be in community, as servants of each other, and we remain available to you as resources in navigating these next steps. 

In Christ,
Caroline Cochran
Joan Flaaten
John Helberg
Andy Kroll

March 23, 2021 – Why the March Minnesota FoodShare Campaign Matters

At a recent Stewardship team meeting, Kathy reflected on how she and a dear friend came to know one another. Kathy and her husband had hosted a dinner in their home years ago. They didn’t know their guests ahead of time. It was an experience organized by Bethlehem to help congregation members make new connections. It was a heartwarming story and a story of generosity too: Kathy and her husband graciously offered their home to host; people willingly gave up their time to connect with strangers; gathered around food they shared life stories and discovered again the gift of community.

Generosity is a hallmark of our faith. Generosity is a response to God’s generous love and mercy. This Sunday is an opportunity for Bethlehem to practice generosity in a very particular way.

Please make every effort to participate in the Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign by bringing food donations to either campus on Sunday, March 28 following worship from 11:30 am–1:00 pm. For an even greater impact, you can make a financial contribution online or drop off a check noting that it is either for CES or ICA Food Shelf. Please go to Bethlehem’s website HERE to learn about specific needs for the collection.

Minnesota FoodShare envisions a future where all Minnesotans have access to healthy food and no one struggles with food insecurity. That reality would be a glimpse of heaven on earth made possible by God’s grace and the generosity of people like you. Let’s work together to make it so.

Thanks for your partnership—
Pastor Mary

March 16, 2021 – Capital Campaign Update

Stick around after the livestream worship this Sunday, March 21 for an update from Capital Campaign Team. You will hear some exciting updates from Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative about their work and how Bethlehem is helping to make home a reality for some of our neighbors in the Twin Cities.

March 9, 2021 – Prioritize Grace

Dear Bethlehem —

It’s been one year since we worshipped together in-person. Our world has suffered immeasurable loss. The individual and corporate grief is multi-layered and weighs heavy. Yesterday, I delivered a care package to a friend who lives an hour away. It was the second year anniversary of her son’s death. As I drove I listened to a radio show that lifted up stories of people directly impacted by the virus. These stories were interrupted by a news “break” updating me on the Chauvin trial. The reporter interviewed people for whom this moment brings both old and new trauma to the surface. At our most recent drive-thru event, one of you commented to me: “We have been through so much together and we can’t forget that each person’s story is unique.”

This is a season to prioritize grace — toward ourselves, toward one another and toward the world.

I give God thanks to be part of this community of faith bearing witness to God’s goodness and grace. I give God thanks for you and for the work we do together in Jesus’ name for the sake of the world God loves. And I give thanks and praise to God who is gracious and merciful, who is the source of all hope for healing and peace.

“May comfort come to enfold you, not to take away all sorrow but to infuse it with tenderness, with rest, with every grace it has.”
—Jan Richardson, “Blessing in the Turning”

— Pastor Mary

March 2, 2021 – Annual Meeting Videos

A big thank you to all those of you who participated in this past Sunday’s annual meeting.

It was a big experiment and a wonderful celebration of the ways Bethlehem has continued to embody the work of the church even in this challenging time. During the meeting we shared a video produced by Dan Mariska, from the Bethlehem staff. It’s a beautiful witness, be sure to watch that. Also, if you’d like to learn more, you can watch the entire annual meeting here.

March 1, 2021 – Initial Reopening Plans

Dear Bethlehem,

It was Thursday, March 12, 2020. The coronavirus numbers were climbing. There were rumors that the Governor would be issuing stay-at-home orders soon. We reached out to Bethlehem’s council leadership to discuss a plan. We invited other senior pastors to a zoom meeting to discern our next step as leaders in the church. It was a watershed moment. By the end of the day, we made the decision to immediately suspend in-person worship. We remain convinced it was a faithful response.

We’re incredibly grateful for your support of that decision and for all the ways you continued to be God’s church this past year. You remained steadfast in your generosity to support Bethlehem ministries; you responded to the needs of our neighbors impacted by increased economic hardship and civil unrest; you faithfully gathered for livestream worship on Sundays and Wednesdays, giving thanks to God, lifting prayers, singing praises, sharing in the meal, welcoming newly baptized and greeting each other in the chat. Thank you. We thank God for you.

This past winter became increasingly difficult. The grief from missing familiar holiday gatherings and the loss of loved ones added weight to our isolation and uncertainty. With the psalmist, we cry, “How long O Lord, How long?” But there are hopeful signs. The number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths are in decline and the distribution of vaccines continues to expand. We’ve learned that there are actions we can take to slow the spread of the virus. Masking and social distancing make a difference.

We are cautiously optimistic that even though the pandemic continues, there are ways to gather safely. Bethlehem leadership and staff have already started to prepare our buildings as we plan for limited in-person worship beginning Sunday, April 11.

Currently we plan to offer:

  • Continued livestream worship on Sundays at 10:15 am and Wednesdays at 6:30 pm.
  • Limited in-person worship with reservations on Sundays at 8:30 am and 10:15 am at both campuses. Masking and social distancing will be required and there will not be congregational singing.
  • Sunday school will continue with Zoom gathering at 9:30 am. There will also be outdoor Sidewalk Sunday School for families at both campuses from 11:30 am–12:15 pm.

In mid-March, we will communicate details about numbers and the registration process. Updates will be posted regularly on our website. We will work closely with Bethlehem’s COVID task force paying attention to the rate of infection spread and other pertinent medical information to determine if adjustments for gathering need to be made.

We are excited to safely gather together soon and appreciate your patience and trust as we work our way through this next phase. We will get through this together. We give thanks for God’s steadfast love that strengthens us in faith. And we give thanks that by God’s grace we’re empowered to be God’s church, giving witness to God’s love revealed in the good news of Jesus.

Grace and peace,
Mary & Ben

February 23, 2021 – Annual Meeting

Join us this Sunday for the Annual Meeting.

Please be sure to register so that you can receive the financial packet as well as the Zoom link to join the meeting. In a year when everything seemed different, Bethlehem continued to show up in bold and wonderful ways for each other and for the world. We’re excited to share those stories with you as we gather on Sunday.

February 16, 2021 – Connections Make All the Difference

Dear Bethlehem,
Many of you are aware that my youngest son lives in Madrid, Spain. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen him in person. That wasn’t the plan when he moved there. He had planned to come home last summer. Then we hoped he’d be home at Christmas. Now we hope for this summer. Thank goodness for technology that keeps us connected. It’s not the same as being together, but it does help ease my pain of being so far from him for so long. Texts, emails and Zoom assure me he’s okay. Hearing his voice and seeing his face keep me focused on the positive nurturing gratitude in my heart. These connections make all the difference.

We’re coming up on one year of staying a part as a congregation. I’m hopeful that vaccine distribution and our continued vigilance around masking, social distancing and hand-washing will afford us ways to gather in the near future. It won’t be the same as pre-COVID but be assured, the day is coming when we will be together again and it’ll do our hearts good. In the meantime, there are opportunities for us to nurture connections as a community of faith. It’s not the same as being in each other’s presence but it helps.

This Wednesday there’ll be another drive-thru event. Please come to the parking lot at either campus between 12:00–1:00 pm or 4:00–6:00 pm. From your car we’ll get to see each other! You’ll receive a bag that includes ashes to participate in the 6:30 pm service, a bible reading plan for the season and a variety of Lent related games and activities to nurture faith, regardless of age. Continue to tune in for worship every Sunday and Wednesday and keep sharing our YouTube link with family and friends. We’ve reached over a 1,000 likes on our YouTube channel — so thanks for the invitations you’ve already extended.

We may not be gathering yet but connecting in these ways keeps our focus on our shared identity as the Body of Christ. This keeps our spirits filled with hope and nurtures our hearts with gratitude. There’s no need to go through this season alone; God blesses us with the gift of community and the presence of Christ. This makes all the difference.

Pastor Mary

February 9, 2021 – Welcome Ryan!

Mary and I are thrilled to announce that we’ve hired Ryan Currens (pictured below) as our next Director of Business Administration. While there is only one Steve Tjeltveit and we remain eternally grateful for all he’s given to this congregation over the last two plus years, we are confident that Ryan will help us to continue to move forward in significant ways. Ryan will officially be starting on March 8, but will be working on some transition items with Steve during the month of February.

I want to extend my thanks to Steve, Angie Philips from our staff, as well as Lisa Johnson and Paul Steen for their assistance during the search and interview process.

Below you will find a brief bio from Ryan. One of the hallmarks of the Bethlehem staff for many years has been the skill and commitment they bring to the work God is calling us to be about at this time and place. Ryan brings a rich set of skills and experiences along with a big heart for the church. We are excited to have him join our team.

Gratefully,
Pastor Ben

Ryan Currens - Square

Ryan comes to us with prior parish administration experience at Assumption Catholic Church in Richfield and Risen Savior Catholic Church in Burnsville. He has a M.A. in Policy and Leadership and Mini-Master in Volunteer Management from the University of St. Thomas along with a certificate in Human resources from BYU.

Prior to parish administration worked in the field of industrial safety with DuPont and as a firefighter and emergency manager for the Tama County government in Iowa. Ryan is an Army veteran and Eagle Scout as well.

February 2, 2021 – Our Shared Longings

Last Sunday some of us gathered on Zoom after worship to meet and greet Pastor Heather Roth Johnson. When Pastor Heather asked to hear about hopes and dreams people had for their children as part of this community of faith, Inga (age 7) enthusiastically raised and waved her hand.

She made her wishes known: “I want there to be more events like Women’s Day of Service — where we all get to be together and do things for others.” Inga’s comment speaks to a shared longing for community and purpose.

I’d like to lift up two opportunities that check both of those boxes:

This Saturday, February 6, you are invited to be part of what Inga gets excited about. The yearly event started as a ministry opportunity for women to gather and create newborn kits for women in Madagascar. It has evolved to include multiple generations making these kits, learning together and lunch! This year the invitation expands to include the entire congregation and shifts to a virtual experience.

Tune in to Bethlehem’s YouTube channel from the comfort of your own home at 10:00 am and hear the compelling stories of Pastor Ingrid Rasmussen (pictured) as she reflects on the experience of leading a congregation at the epicenter of demonstrations and social unrest following the killing of George Floyd, the healing power of community, and the acts of mutual aid that transform us.

Last fall, 150 Bethlehemites participated in a small group initiative based on content written by Pastor Meta. I participated in one of those groups and found the experience to be life-giving. If you missed out, we’re launching a second round in a couple of weeks. Register here. And know that this seven-week series is a great way to meet and connect with other members of this community, deepening relationships that remembers we are always becoming together.

Pastor Mary

Small group online

January 27, 2021 – With Malice Toward None

In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, he builds on some of the same themes and addresses some of the same challenges that he addressed in his first letter. The church is divided. People were having difficulty seeing each other, working together, being the people that God called them to be. So he wrote this to them:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Reconciliation isn’t easy work. In fact it’s incredibly hard work. As Paul outlines it involves death. It involves becoming new. It requires change. Over the past few years, Bethlehem member Bruce MacKenzie has been working with the organization Braver Angels to bring about change in how we engage with one another around the difficult and contentious work of being citizens. Braver Angels has been working on a newer initiative called With Malice Toward None (WMTN) initiative.

Bruce writes: 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 Holding America Together, recognizing the importance of our shared civil life; and seeking 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 in this initiative, regardless of the election’s outcome, they will not hold hate, disdain, or ridicule for those who may have voted differently.

With Bruce’s help, Braver Angels will be facilitating digital workshops at Bethlehem that will focus on promoting the initiative’s call to a higher partisanship. The first workshops will be separate gatherings. One on February 2 for those who are pleased with the election’s outcome, and one on February 4 for those who are distressed and preferred a different outcome.

A second workshop will be offered following these initial meetings. This workshop, at a date to be determined, will feature a gathering that brings both groups together to seek understanding of each other’s views and focusing on how we can move forward working together as members of a beloved community and citizens to address the problems facing our country.

For more information about With Malice Toward None and how Bethlehem will be working with Braver Angels on this initiative, you can contact either me or Bruce.

Pastor Ben

2021 Candidate Slates

Bethlehem’s Leadership Development Team has proposed two slates of candidates; one to serve on the 2021 Church Council and a second to serve on the 2021 Minnetonka Perpetual Trust. In accordance with our bylaws, the full slates of candidates have been posted outside the office area of both the Minneapolis and the Minnetonka campuses and are also listed below.

Church Council

By email vote between January 12–14, 2021, nine current Council members voted to approve the above slate with 0 no votes. All those on the slate have expressed a willingness to serve. 

The Leadership Development Team recommended the following slate for the Bethlehem Lutheran Church Twin Cities Church Council for 2021: 

  1. * John Helberg (President)
  2. * Lisa Hedden (Past President)
  3. * Lisa Johnson (Secretary) – Accepted second 2-year term
  4. Joe McCrae (Treasurer)
  5. Andrew Witt
  6. Val Johnson
  7. Nikki Sorem
  8. Lamar Newburn
  9. * Andy Kroll – Accepted second 2-year term
  10. * Nan Grube – Accepted, 2-year term
  11. * Elizabeth Appel – Accepted, 2-year term
  12. * Chris Hughes – Accepted, 2-year term
  13. * Joanne Ortendahl Lucas – Accepted, 2-year term

Minnetonka Perpetual Trust

By email vote between January 12–14, 2021, 10 Council members voted to approve seven candidates with 0 no votes. All those on the slate have expressed a willingness to serve. 

The Leadership Development Team also proposed the following slate of candidates for the Bethlehem Lutheran Church Twin Cities Minnetonka Perpetual Trust for 2021:

  1. Peter Haugen – Agreed to second term 
  2. Sandra Reiland – Agreed to a second term 
  3. Joe McRae 
  4. Steve Zelinski 
  5. Nancy Sorebo 
  6. Nan Peterson 
  7. Meta Herrick Carlson

* These candidates will be proposed for election at the February 28 annual meeting that will occur following the 10:15 am service.

Any questions should be directed to a member of the Council. We are grateful to these candidates for their willingness to serve on these respective governing bodies if elected!

January 19, 2021 – 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, 2021 – 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, 2021 – 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)

Sincerely,
Mary and Ben

January 5, 2021 – 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, 2020 – 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, 2020 – 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, 2020 – 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, 2020 – 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, 2020 – 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, 2020 – Advent video message from Pastor Mary

November 10, 2020 – 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, 2020 – 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, 2020 – 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