Beloved Friends in Christ,
At least half our nation was going to be anxious no matter what the outcome of this presidential election. So today there are many anxious people. Gift of Grace is located in a “blue” state and we are located in the the bluest part of this blue state, so there is no doubt many of you who are anxious. I am myself. It is understandable.
Keep this firmly in mind: the church of Jesus Christ is not a red church or a blue church or a green church or democrat church or a republican church or an American church. Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). This is not a stupid Christian platitude. This is not the Christian way of saying “its all good’ or “it doesn’t really matter”. This does NOT mean we disengage from worldly politics. We are absolutely called by God to engage with this world, in every messy, ambiguous facet of it. But, we engage for the sake of others not for our own sake.
Our mission as individual Christians and as a church is to bear witness to Christ regardless of the political climate (2 Timothy 4:2). We do not do this to be right. We do not do it to stay our of harm’s way or keep our heads down. We do it in obedience to the God of love and justice Who sides with the vulnerable. The landscape changes but our concern for justice, in power and race relationships, remains equally urgent.
We cannot manage the world but, we can learn to manage ourselves. Self management is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). Each of us can and must engage our neighbors (especially our Christian sisters and brothers) thoughtfully, truthfully and lovingly rather than from a place of anxious reaction (even if one feels anxious). It is our job to keep the main thing the main thing for the sake of the world. We are not confused about the main thing; it is Jesus Christ, our Savior, who died for the justification of the ungodly and who reconciles all creation to God. Our allegiance is to him alone. That’s what we mean when we say our citizenship is in heaven.
Peace and power to you from Christ,
Pastor Jami Fecher
Beloved in Christ,
I have two pieces of information for you for this Sunday.
1) Luke Arthur Israel Linnemann will be baptized into Christ. He is the son of Tim Linnemann and Jocelyn Skillman. Come rejoice with all the saints!
2) at 12:15ish, following GraceFeast, you can join with others who are watching the movie, Jesus of Nazareth (Zeffirelli’s 1977 version). It is a 6 hour movie, that is being divided up into three 2 hour segments and shown for the next 3 Sundays. Popcorn provided!
Peace and power to you from Christ,
Pastor Jami Fecher
I had to laugh out loud at Luther’s masterful and confident view on mortal sin. I was studying 1 John 5:13-18, in which it speaks of mortal sins and not mortal sins. Luther criticizes the devil for making more out of sin than should be made. It is nearly Luther’s definition of the devil, that the devil is that vicious voice that attacks tender consciences (toxic shame voice). I found it powerful that in addressing the concern many of you have expressed to me over the years, which I also have, the toxic shame voice that accuses me that I do not believe enough! Here is what Luther says, “At times the Spirit overcomes unbelief and the emotions, and thus [one] does not sin.” In other words, my shame filled (therefore arrogant) expectations need to be adjusted, so that I praise God for the times I DO BELIEVE rather than criticizing myself (with the voice of the devil) for the times (I think) I do not!
Peace and power to you from Christ,
Pastor Jami Fecher
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, p. 326). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
I do not preach politics or sociology because it is not the Gospel. It is the context for the Gospel. The reason Christ created the church & sent it into the world is to carry God’s good news into the world. The circumstances of the world are the context into which Christ comes with his mercy, forgiveness & reconciliation.
All your paths, O Lord, are steadfast love and faithfulness Psalm 25:10
In other words, everything about you O Lord is steadfast love & utterly reliable faithfulness. Regardless of context!
The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s steadfast love & utterly reliable faithfulness.
And it is exactly FOR the context of this world.
The church’s job; my job as a Christian; your job as a Christian is to BRING the good news of Christ’s cross, — bodily, personally- into every circumstance of the world.
If you do not know what that means or how to understand it, don’t panic & don’t give up.
Rev. Gretchen Luoma Cohan
I had completed—graduated from—seminary when I encountered the community which was to become Gift of Grace. But I was struggling with the idea of vocation, the shape of “call” in ministry and how it all could fit with family life. I began to work a few hours a week to help support this new-cast community with communications and visibility. I loved this work—though it was very different from what I had expected I would be doing—because the community’s mission “making Christ known here on the corner of 40th and Meridian” flavored every detail and decision.
We hung large colorful banners, offered encouragement and hospitality to the neighborhood. We posted pithy sayings on the new readerboard. The worship style was casual, creative and energetic. Folk/rock/blues style worship music, scripture studies and Pastor Jami’s frank preaching style set a tone for exploration and deepening of faith. The community threw parties and delivered daffodils to neighbors. It hosted a live nativity in which one of the sheep nearly escaped across 40th Ave. Musicians regularly generated new compositions and arrangements. We stocked up on toilet paper and opened the doors to be a pit stop for heavy foot traffic during festivals at Gasworks.
Gift of Grace as a new worshipping community benefited from the gifts of grace of its older members. Anna, Signe, Hilda, Mary, Thor and Amy, among others jumped into the efforts of the new community with surprising verve. Sometimes they shared their apprehensiveness with me about their new pastor-with-a-pony-tail and how the music was not what they were used to, but they clapped and sang along, learned new things, and offered their support in all sorts of meaningful ways.
Personally, being involved at Gift of Grace helped me come to terms with the challenges of parenting small kids, and challenging questions of earning, gender roles, work and vocation—all in a rapidly changing cultural landscape. Questions were expected, doubts welcomed, relationships fostered and no idea was too wacky to be considered by the leadership team.
The time I spent in this community ignited my confidence in Christian faith communities and especially that they could be relevant (one of my favorite words at the time). But the insight I needed and that Pastor Jami provided in his preaching and teaching is to be relevant! To be a disciple of Jesus is to align my life to the things that are relevant as Jesus tirelessly points out—which is both continual challenge and source of joy. After about 5 years of active leadership and participation at GoG, I joined a staff of a large suburban-parish and brought many of the things I had learned. For the last ten years or so, I continue to try to live out this “relevant” insight in my current call in healthcare chaplaincy.
In 1996 Gift of Grace (then named Zion American Lutheran Church) became a Fresh Start Congregation. This is what launched us on our way. At that time the ELCA was having much better success with new starts than redevelopments. In the interest of good stewardship the ELCA was reluctant to invest time and money in redevelopments, investing instead in new starts. The North West Washington Synod took a hybrid approach. The thinking was since God called a congregation to do ministry where it was located perhaps the synod could create the conditions to make a redevelopment more like a new start. To that end they were willing to invest time and money toward a very specialized redevelopment, Fresh Start.
Gift of Grace was one of four Fresh Start congregations. Two of the other congregations were in places (suburbs) where the population was exploding. These congregations were relatively new (10-20 years old, I think). They congregations simply needed an energetic pastor dedicated to outreach whose path was cleared so that her or his efforts would not be thwarted by the typical risk-averse habits of congregational leadership. They were bound to grow. And they did.
The remaining congregation was like us: a faithful elderly congregation with few in attendance, located in a landlocked, urban setting, with a large building on which maintenance had been long deferred. The other congregation decided after a year that even with new pastoral leadership they did not have the will to continue. So they closed. They were one of the few congregations I had ever heard of closing at the time.
The Fresh Start program had several features intended to set us up for success.
1) The pastors were called to a three year term call by the synod, overseen directly by the Bishop (then, Rev. Don Meier) rather than receiving the usual open-ended call from the congregation itself. At the end of three years Fresh Start would end and the congregation could decide what it wanted to do about pastoral leadership.
2) It was stated from the beginning that the pastor would spend about 50% of the time in evangelism, which certainly included outreach.
3) The congregation leadership was expected to cooperate with the innovations the pastor might suggest.
4) The pastors would participate in continuing education emphasizing evangelism, and the synod would pay for it.
5) The pastors would be a cohort that met together monthly with the bishop.
This worked well for Gift of Grace. We received tremendous support from the synod, the bishop, and the Region 1, Director of Outreach. The meetings of our pastor cohort helped us glean best practices. The continuing education pushed me to be more daring. The directors of outreach for Region 1, first Dick Wendt, and then Red Birchfield, were extremely good coaches for me, especially supporting and challenging me in taking risks. Of all the things pastors need I think collegial support and challenge is among the most important. Few pastors are willing to accept it. It is time consuming and it means competition must be set aside, but it is vital.
In 1999, my synod call as a Fresh Start pastor ended and Gift of Grace officially called me as their own pastor. We give thanks to God for three years of support we received through the Fresh Start program. That program set us up for the 20 years of mission in Wallingford we are now celebrating
In the last 20 years God blessed this congregation by raising up powerful leaders for the wider church through the ministry at 40th and Meridian. Pastor Fecher emailed these leaders and asked them to briefly answer the question: What role did Gift of Grace play for you as you became a pastor?
Through the years, Gift of Grace has been blessed by many people who have shown particular aptitude for public leadership of Word and Sacrament ministry. We have been the “sending congregation” for 5 such people who went to seminary. We have also been the temporary home to several pastors on their way to serve else where. In every single case we have been and still are greatly encouraged and enriched by their participation.
Introduction to the all the photos. These photos were picked by me, Pastor Jami Fecher from among the photos we had on hand. We do not have photos from all 20 years. Most of the photos we have were taken when Kari Reiten was acting as parish administrator. She was careful to document our main events. The descriptions of the photos are told from the faulty memory of Pastor Fecher.