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In-Person Trinity Activities Paused Until Further Notice

Dear Siblings in Christ at Trinity Lutheran Church,

We are entering a new phase in our life as a community together. And so I wanted to check in with you to share what is known now, what we expect to come to know soon, and the ministry that continues to be before us.

One of the things I love about this congregation is how responsive we are to the needs of our neighbors, paying particular attention to the most vulnerable or most marginalized among us. When we become aware of a need, we have found ways to reach out and meet that need.

On March 11, Dr. Chris Spitters, interim health officer for the Snohomish Health District, released a public health order severely limiting how public gatherings can occur. This order toward social distancing is an effort at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 Corona virus so that our public health systems are not overwhelmed. (http://www.snohd.org/Blog.aspx?IID=18#item)

What this means is that our neighbors are asking us not to gather together in person, to do our part to ensure that those who need medical care can receive it when they need it. Because Sunday morning (and, during this Lenten season, Wednesday evening) worship has been so central to how we are formed as a community and how we support the ministry work throughout the week, we may feel like this is too much to ask of us. However, I trust that God will find ministry opportunities for us, even in the midst of this turbulent time, that we can adjust our life as a community to find additional ways of staying connected, new ways of living out our daily ministry.

Although the county health order does allow a path for public meetings to occur, it would require a strong effort by staff and volunteers from the congregation. That energy, at this time, is needed for us to support one another and our neighbors in the new reality in which we find ourselves, responding to the fears and sense of isolation that will come with the lack of public gatherings. In the days to come, Trinity Lutheran Church leaders will continue to build our capacity to reach out to you, to provide alternate worship experiences that do not require gathering in person, and to support our neighbors in need. If you have ideas for how this can happen, please call or email me or any council member. If you recognize a need in yourself, in another member of this congregation, or in our community at large but don’t know how to solve it, please call or email me or any council member.

In summary, beginning March 12 and for the foreseeable future, in-person gatherings including worship will not be held at Trinity Lutheran Church. This includes our ministry partners who use our building for their meetings. Because developments have been coming so fast, we are continuing to assess our response to this public health crisis. If we and our ministry partners are able to meet the county’s criteria, we may be able to reopen the building for NA and other community meetings in the future.

We follow a Christ who brought healing and wholeness to all those in need. We have received from God’s grace all that we need to continue this work in ourselves and in the world around us. Let us be good stewards of these gifts during this most unusual of Lenten journeys. May we anticipate the Resurrection joy that will be ours whenever we can again safely gather together in person.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Tim and Greg Benson on behalf of the Trinity Council

The Gift of Darkness

One of the things I cherish about our ministry here at Trinity Lutheran Church is our commitment to being a place of welcome.  Visitors often comment to me how warmly and genuinely welcomed they feel here.  We make sure that our lifts are maintained so that people with mobility challenges can participate in all areas of our sanctuary building.  Our commitment as a Reconciling In Christ congregation compels us to ensure that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions can find their place among us.  We continue to seek ways that our building expresses a welcome on our behalf to the hundreds of people who meet in the church basement each week at Narcotics Anonymous and other community group meetings.  Welcome is very important to how we live out our ministry together.
 
And yet, given the wide diversities within the human family, we know that our ability to welcome will never fully match up with God’s ability to welcome.  Despite our intentions, our welcome is hollow if the other person does not feel truly welcomed for who they are as God created them to be.  And so we strive to become ever more aware of the barriers that people experience in being welcomed into Christian communities in general and into our community specifically.  We work at expanding our readiness to welcome whomever God might send our way.
 
Congregations like ours are increasingly attentive to our ability to welcome folk of a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.  In a 2014 Pew Research Center study, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (our denomination) was one of the least diverse denominations, with 96% of our membership being white.  Our intention to welcome the full breadth of God’s beloved children has not led to actions of being truly welcoming much beyond our church’s historic origins in Germany and Scandinavia.  In many and various ways, we are becoming educated to the dynamics of the sins of racism and white supremacy infecting our denomination.
 
As part of that education, I read the book Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. by Rev. Lenny Duncan, an ELCA pastor in Brooklyn, NY.  Pastor Duncan helped me to see the insidious ways that we unwittingly reinforce messages of racial superiority.  I found myself convicted as I read.  Part of the problem is with our language
 
In scripture, we often read about light and dark, where light=good and dark=bad.  In the original languages of the Old and New Testaments (Hebrew and Greek), the words for light and dark clearly referred to the presence or absence of a source of illumination.  Light=in the presence of the sun or fire; dark=in the night or the shadows.  But in English, those words can also refer to the intensity of color.  Pink can be described as a lighter shade of red.  And we can use those words to describe skin tones as well.
 
And in a country with a history of racially based slavery with its continuing legacy today, people of color continue to receive the message, subliminally as well as quite explicitly, that their dark skin tones make them less worthy than people with light skin tones.  And those of us with lighter skin tones continue to receive the message, subliminally as well as explicitly, that our light skin tone is better, is closer to God even.  This is sin which goes against the gospel message that ALL people are created in God’s image.  Because the sin of racism is so sneaky, these messages get reinforced even when we don’t intend to send them.  Those of us who are white are so enculturated to these messages as normal that we are often unaware when we are surrounded by them.
 
Pastor Duncan pointed out one place where this message is reinforced in many ELCA churches is in our liturgical garments, particularly the white robes that pastors and other worship leaders wear.  Listen to how Pastor Duncan explains it: “[M]ost pastors wear a white alb or surplice while they lead worship—using whiteness to represent baptism, purity, and closeness to the creation.  We’ve never stopped to ask why we equate the color white to goodness.”  Pastor Duncan explained “So now I wear a black cassock when I lead worship, because whiteness does not equal holiness, and blackness does not equal evil, brokenness, or self-denial.  Black is holy.”
 
We cannot instantly nor perfectly root out all the tendrils of racism within our denomination, within our congregation, and within our individual hearts.  However, we can continue to grow in our awareness.  And that awareness can inspire us to take new actions.  We can repent, and we can be moved to action.
 
And so, having heard Pastor Lenny Duncan challenge my unexamined participation in a symbol system that does damage to the souls of many of God’s beloved children, I have committed to make at least one change.  I purchased a black cassock, a liturgical robe, to expand the options I have for what I wear as I lead worship.  During the season of Advent, you will see me in my black robe.  Because black too is holy.
 
As we continue our march toward the longest night of the year, may we discover all the ways that darkness is a gift to us.  In our language and in our behaviors, may we proclaim to all God’s children that they too are holy, beloved by God who made each of us in all our diversities.  And may our welcome enact that same Gospel message.
 
In Christ,
Pastor Tim
 

Our Youth of Right Now

“Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”  1 Timothy 4:12
 
When I first arrived at Trinity Lutheran Church two years ago, one of the things that I loved about this place was this Bible passage posted in the youth room where I get to meet with our confirmation students.  That passage stood out to me as a signal to Trinity’s youth that they have a valued place within this congregation.  Trinity’s youth are NOT the future of the church.  They are important members of this congregation right here and right now.  Their youth is a gift to us, and they are invited to be leaders in this congregation’s mission and ministry.  As was so clearly seen last month in our Christmas program, this congregation is blessed with an abundance of incredibly gifted young people!
 
That is why it is critical that Trinity Lutheran Church as a community is intentional in our support of the faith lives of our young people.  We know that youth ministry at Trinity must be intergenerational—our youth must be integrated into the full life of this congregation, not siloed off in some separate track.  Youth ministry at Trinity must be child-specific—we must learn about the specific gifts and interests each young person brings and find ways to connect that person with the mission and ministry of the congregation.
 
However, it is too easy to fall into the temptation of comparing our youth program with the youth programs of who we used to be at some point in our storied past.  It is too easy to compare our youth program to congregations much larger than us.  It can be hard to focus simply on who we are at this point in the life of this congregation and to know how God is inviting us to support the youth we have with the resources available to us. 
 
Recently, God has seemed to be sending us a clear and energizing invitation.  We have been connected with several other Lutheran churches in and around northern Snohomish County, all of whom are seeking ways to support their youth ministries in ways that are consistent with our ministries as smaller-sized congregations.  Your congregational council and youth committee are excited about a proposal for Trinity to be one of the founding congregations for a local cooperative youth ministry.  Because this is currently a new and developing proposal, the council members will be looking for ways to share this proposal with you, to seek your input, with the plan to bring a more specific proposal to our congregational meeting on Jan. 28.
 
This will not be an effort to farm out our youth ministry.  Rather, this will create opportunities for our young people to gather regularly with youth of other nearby congregations.  It will also provide us with resources for supporting our parents, our volunteers, and the congregation as a whole in caring for our youth.
 
“The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him.’” Genesis 18:17-19a
 
Trinity Lutheran Church, I truly believe that God has blessed us with a strong youth ministry, not for us to hoard that blessing for ourselves, but to seek out ministry partners that together we may be more effective in the mission we have been given.  I am confident that God is prepared to bless the entire world through us!  Thanks be to God!
 
In Christ,
Pastor Tim
 

 

In Praise of Advent

I wouldn’t say I’m getting cheated.  Not exactly.  But I would have to admit that I feel a little disappointed.  My favorite season of the whole year will be as short as possible this year!
 
I love Advent!  I really do.  After more than five months of the liturgical season of
Pentecost, we finally reach the start of a new church year with Advent, a season of
waiting.  A season of preparation.  A season of some of the best hymns in the entire
hymnal!
 
Advent is already a short time.  It is only four Sundays long.  It is always four Sundays long.  It will be four Sundays long again this year.  So, how can I say that Advent will be shorter this year?  Advent officially begins on the first Sunday after Christ the King
Sunday, four Sundays before Christmas Day.  And that usually means that Advent starts on the last Sunday in November.  And there are usually at least a couple of days between the last Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve.
 
But this year, Christmas Day is a Monday.  So the Sunday before Christmas Day is the day before.  So, our Christmas celebrations officially begin on the evening of the last Sunday of Advent.  It is a confusing thing, what these calendars do.
 
“Then they will see the Promised One coming in the clouds with great power and glory . . . But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it—neither the angels of heaven, nor the Only Begotten—no one but Abba God.  Be constantly on the watch!  Stay awake!  You do not know when the appointed time will come.” (Mark 13:26,32-33)
 
But the time we have is sufficient.  We are held in God’s time.  And so, during this
Advent season, we will prepare, not simply for another celebration of Christmas, but for the time when God’s vision for this world will be made whole.  We will listen to the scripture, to one another, and to the world around us for the signs of God’s favor, God’s incarnational love.
 
“Come now and set us free, O God, our Savior.  Come, O Lord Jesus, reconcile all
nations.”  Hymn 247 Come Now, O Prince of Peace verse 3
 
In Christ,
Pastor Tim

Gathered Together

“I believe in . . . the communion of saints. . . .” (Third article of the Apostles’ Creed)
“If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you may be in an abusive relationship.  You are not alone.  Please call a number below to talk with someone.” (Resource poster in each of Trinity’s bathrooms)
“Neighbors in Faith Strategy: To encourage and celebrate relationships between Muslims and other faith/non-faith communities . . . With the following activities: . . . Building stronger communities together; Engaging in public issues in promotion of a peaceful world.” (“Faith Over Fear” event handout)
“O God, we remember with thanksgiving those who have loved and served you on earth, who now rest from their labors.” (All Saints Day prayer petition)
 

The transition from October into November is a particularly rich time in the life of Christian communities.  That is especially true this year, and especially for Trinity Lutheran Church.  The quotes above are each a sign of how God has gathered us together, how God invites us to gather others, and how God’s grace comes to us through those who surround us.
As was noted in last month’s Tidings, we have been honoring October as Domestic Violence Awareness month.  In worship on October 8, we blessed resource posters for each of our bathrooms to provide help to those trapped in abusive relationships.  Each time I see those posters now, I envision God’s love reaching out to those who have felt alone in their struggle.  We are gathered with those who are hurting in this way.
On October 24, Trinity in partnership with Everett United Church of Christ hosted an event “Faith Over Fear” to hear from an American Muslim woman about how Christians and Muslims are connected to one another, how attempts to vilify and persecute Muslims harms all Americans, and ways that we can foster a spirit of community across religious barriers.  When the congregation affirms that God loves everyone—no exceptions, we know that our Muslim neighbors have been gathered under the arms of that same loving God.
On Reformation Sunday, October 29, Lutherans around the world honored the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant revolution through Martin Luther’s 95 theses (a public call to dialogue about how to reform the Church to ensure that God’s grace is freely offered).  As has been our practice, that is the day that we hear our confirmand affirm his faith as we recite together the Apostles’ Creed, one of the spiritual writings around which Christians have gathered for centuries.
The following Sunday, November 5, we will celebrate All Saints Sunday, when we acknowledge the great cloud of witnesses, the saints of God who have gone before us.  We gather to lift our grief before God, to celebrate the ways these witnesses continue to influence us, and to affirm our hope that we will be reunited with them in God’s loving embrace when our work on earth is through.
Thank you, gracious God, for gathering us in your love here in the world which you created which you continue to hold near to your heart.  As we have been gathered by you, may we seek the lost and hurting that they too may feel the comfort of your presence.  Amen.

In Christ,
Pastor Tim
 
 

Being in Good Shape for the Shape We're In

I wish I could give proper credit to whoever first answered the question “How’re you doing?” with the answer, “Well, I’m in pretty good shape for the shape that I’m in.”  So, Trinity Lutheran Church, how’s our youth ministry doing?  Well, I think it’s in great shape, actually, for the shape that we’re in.
 
First, I should explain what I mean by “the shape that we’re in.”  We are a congregation of about 150 members.  We worship an average of about 50 people on a Sunday.  That is our shape.  That is who we presently are.  And how youth ministry happens in this congregation will reflect that shape.
 
When you think of “youth ministry,” what images come to mind?  Are you thinking about the church of yesteryear, when Sunday School classrooms were bursting at the seams?  Are you thinking about the larger churches with multiple programs for kids of varying age levels with activities and staff galore?  Those are fine examples of youth ministry, but they are examples that do not reflect the shape we are.  If we try to offer youth ministry in a pattern belonging to churches beyond our present size, we are unlikely to succeed because we won’t be honest about our own strengths and limitations.
 
I think youth ministry at Trinity is currently in great shape.  First, because we are blessed with some incredibly gifted kids.  We get to learn and experience what makes each of our kids unique.  They get to plug into the places in Trinity where their particular gifts and interests can best shine.  Second, because we are blessed with some incredibly gifted adults.  Our youth committee is committed to ensuring that the young people in our congregation have the support through Sunday School, children’s sermons, and activities to grow in their faith lives.  The committee depends on the generosity of time from our volunteers and generosity of finances from the entire congregation.  When our youth are in need, this congregation responds!  Because of our shape, we are uniquely poised to experience youth ministry in intergenerational ways, integrated throughout the entirety of our mission and ministry.
 
We have also been blessed with a designated staff position to coordinate youth ministry.  As was announced at the end of worship on September 24, after prayerful consideration, the Council has ended Trinity's relationship with Justin Boyett as Children, Youth and Family Coordinator.  At this time, we are confident that we have the people and programs in place to support our youth and family ministries.  At the October meeting, the council will discuss our future staffing needs regarding our youth ministry.  Your prayers and feedback are most welcome in this discernment process.  God is not done shaping us for the ministry ahead!
 
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Tim

When God Calls Us to a New Journey

When God Calls Us to a New Journey
Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.” (Acts 10:30-33)

To be called together to be church for the sake of the world is a wonderful thing.  Some of us came to Trinity Lutheran Church as infants and have known no other church home.  Others of us arrived for just a season, knowing that we would soon be called to move on.  We celebrate the gifts that each person is to this community during the time they are with us, and we honor the legacies of those whose contributions continue to influence us long after they have answered a call to move on.  At this time, we recognize that God has been active in calling folks both to and away from Trinity staff positions.

Maria Martinez joined us as janitor in December of 2013, joined by her husband Pablo in a shared staff position since November of 2014.  We honor their recent discernment that their household schedule had become too full to allow them to continue their employment with us.  I am grateful for all their hard work through the years.  Maria asked me to convey to you how glad she and Pablo have been for their time with us.

In mid-November, we welcomed Evan Cordell onto the staff as our new janitor.  Hopefully you will have an opportunity to meet him as he works to keep our buildings clean, secure, and hospitable for the various groups and ministries that meet here.  Evan is a 2009 graduate of Everett High School and also works at Artistic Drywall Textures.  He is a resident of north Everett.

Amy Stamatiou has coordinated our Youth and Family Ministry since May of 2009 (with a brief time away in 2015 as she completed her internship requirement for school).  She is responding to God’s call through the community of Trinity Lutheran Church of Freeland to full time work in her field of study at that congregation.  While we celebrate the gifts that she will bring to her new position, we will grieve the loss that her departure will create among us.

Gina Castillo first came to us as the secretary in August of 2000.  She left in May of 2005 and came back in June of 2010, and has integrated the secretarial duties with the oversight of the Trinity Aid Bank.  Gina recently, after prayerful discernment, decided that the time had come for her to complete her work among us.  Because we know her heart for service and her attention to detail, we will join her in praying that God lead her through her discernment period to know what will be her focus in this next phase of her life.

At this time, the council, with the assistance of the staff support committee, has not yet begun interviewing candidates to join the staff of Trinity.  We trust that even now God is preparing leaders to hear a call to this place to join us in the ministry ahead for us.  We welcome your prayers, your insights, and your assistance as we discern how God is calling this community forward together, and what staffing configuration will best serve our mission and ministry at this time and for the foreseeable future.  I trust that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that God has granted us all that we need.  I look forward to continuing to answer God’s call with you.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Tim
 

June Pastor's Letter

"God Loves Everyone - No Exceptions." This is the banner displayed on the side of our sanctuary building for most of the year. It is one way that this congregation proclaims the good news of God's lvoe to our neighbors, one way we live out our mission to carry God's love to a broken and hurting world.

"To Our Muslim Neighbors - Happy Ramadan." This is the banner that will be displayed on our building from June 6 through July 5, the time of the Muslim observance of Ramandan. You might be wondering why a Christian church would encourage a faith practice outside our own Christian tradition. Or perhaps it seems like a good thing to do, but you aren't sur eyou could explain to your neighbors why your church is doing this.

We live in  atime of increased disrespect for our neighbors of other faiths. Muslims in the United States live under the daily weight of suspicion and fear. Individuals and communities have been verbally and physically assaulted. Right here in Snohomish County, the Islamic Center of Mukilteo has been the victim of a smer campagin, with the site of their proposed mosque the target of vandals. This violates our understanding of how Jesus commanded that we are to treat our neighbor.

Often, this violence against our Muslim neighbors is done in the name of Jesus by people who identify as Christian. If we remain silent in the face of these acts, we are complicit in harming our neighbor. We must preach a word of love, and we must do so in a language our neighbor will hear.

And so, we will pray blessings upon our Muslim neighbors as they worship God through the month of Ramadan, engaging in daily fasting and praying. We do so, trusting that faith is not a work we achieve, but is a gift of God. When we support the faith walk of our neighbor, we may be surprised to discover that our own Christian faith is deepened.

I look forward to the opportunity for us to continue to be in dialogue with one another, with our Muslim neighbors, with our neighbors of other faith communities, and with those not connected to any faith community, about how God is at work in our world. We will continue to discern how this community called together by Christ's love can express that love from the corner of 24th and Lombard to the ends of the earth!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Tim

April Letter

We think you'll be welcome here. At least, that is our intention.

As mentioned in the cover article of this Tidings, Sunday, April 3, this congregation will celebrate our commitment to being a place of welcome and hospitality to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Sometimes, that commitment gets shortened tojust "All are welcome!" One problem with that shorthand is that lots of communities use that phrase, and lots of people experience a lack fo welcome where a welcome has been proclaimed. I myself was told that I am an abomination by a congregation that had declared that all are welcome. Another challenge is the reality of human diversity. No community can be prepared to hold the diversity of the entire human experience simultaneously. It simply cannot be done.

However, this is no cause for despair. "God loves everyone - no exceptions" is another way this congregtion speaks about our ministry of welcome. God - the infinite source of love, the creator of all, the one in whose image each of us is made - is able to hold every beloved child simultaneously. Through Christ, we have been reconciled to God, meaning that God has removed every barrier between Godself and humanity. And through Christ, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, to remove barriers that exiswt within the human family.

And so, seven years ago, this congregation joined the Reconciling In Christ program, uniting with other Lutheran faith communities who are public and intentional in their welcome to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. We will reaffirm that commitment in our worship on April 3, while we recognize that our work is not done. We continue to look for the barriers that exist even within our own congregation. We will continue to prepare ourselves to draw the circle wider still, to be prepared to celebrate an even wider section of the human family. I invite you to join us in that work.

"We think you'll be welcome here. At least, that is our intention." It isn't catchy enough to be on a t-shirt or in a brochure. But hopefully it is honest enough for a newsletter article.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Tim

From the Pastor, March 2016

We started with a talking donkey. Then we questioned if we can make God abandon us. By the end of February, we were debating the merits of competing altars.

Nom, those aren't the minutes of the church council or any other committee. These are the topics of our Wednesday mid-day Bible study series. You are invited to join us at 11:15 a.m. You can even invite a friend, neighbor, or co-worker for BS* You Won't Hear in Church (*Bible Stories). Each week is a self-contained unit with no prior sutdy necessary. Drop in for just one week, or sit in for the whole series. We will examine a passage not found in our three-year lectionary cycle of Sunday morning lessons. We will learn about he history of that book of the Bible, hear our passage fits within the book, and then figure out what each of these stories has to do with our own daily faith lives. You may learn as much about one another as you do about the Bible! If you'd like to attend, but just can't get to church on a Wednesday mid-day, talk to me and we will figure out if we can add a second day/time.

Here are the upcoming topics for the remainder of the series:
March 2 - An army who laps water like dogs
March 9 - The festival that lasted for two weeks!
March 16 - The queen who never mentions God
March 23 - Jeremiah's synbolic underpants
March 30 - The prophet who sailed away from God
April 6 - Responding to the early Christian gossip chain

In 2007, the ELCA embraced an initiative called Book of Faith "that the whole church become more fluent in the first language of faith, the language of Scripture, in order that we might live into our calling as a people renewed, enlivened, empowered, and sent by the Word." Come and be a part of this holy work!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Tim
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