Friends in Christ,

As a Christian and a pastor, I have learned that it is crucial to participate in regular and deep spiritual practices (beyond weekly worship and daily Bible study) as a way to discern God’s movement and call in my life and that of the congregation I serve. Perhaps the most life-giving of my regular spiritual practices is a weekly discernment huddle with a small group of pastors, professors, and lay leaders. It’s a very simple process, actually. We begin each hour-long “huddle” by dwelling in a particular Biblical text week before moving on to a time of group and individual discernment.  

When I say that we “dwell” in a text, I mean both figuratively and physically, for we return to the same story week after week after week, usually for a year or more. As we do, the story takes up residence with the group and we are able to abide more deeply in its message and meaning. This practice, when paired with the discernment work that follows, has changed my understanding of faith and call and ministry.

These days, my huddle has been dwelling in the story of Jacob wrestling with God at the Jabbok, a story that culminates in Jacob being renamed Israel and returning to his homeland a different person. One who has a refocused sense of purpose and call. One through whom God continues to work to bring about God’s preferred future. 

As I write this annual report to Cross Lutheran Church, I am pondering the question: “What are we at Cross wrestling with today?”

Since accepting the call to be your pastor 19 months ago, we have seemed to be constantly wrestling: with change and transition; with a fading past and an uncertain future; with long-standing practices and systems which may or may not serve us well into the future. We’ve fought through (and are still challenged by) the pandemic. We’ve experienced significant pastoral and staffing transitions. Some things have become simpler, yet others more complex. But through it all, we’ve continued to wrestle.

And that’s a good thing. 

One of the defining moments of the Jacob story comes near daybreak, at a time where the emerging light would help Jacob more clearly see whom/what he was facing. God says:

“Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

At this point in time, I don’t know if our congregation has reached the dawning of a new day. It seems as if we are, in many ways, still in the dark about the future. Yet we still hold on, trusting that at some point, the dawn will come. And God will help us understand who we are in this new and changing world. I take great comfort in that. 

So as we reflect on the past year, I would like to identify a few things that give me hope:

  • We have completed the first phase of looking deeply at the systems and structures which help guide how we are church together. The first major step was initiated a year ago when we combined the former Youth and Education boards with our confirmation program into a new Board of Faith Formation. Our proposed updated constitution helps give more definition and form to this board change.
  • Our revised constitution also redistributes some important congregational responsibilities (such as staff oversight and congregational life) in a way that creates a more balanced workload and time commitment for our volunteers.
  • After a year or so with somewhat disruptive staff transition (pastoral, administrative, and program), I feel we are in a position of growing stability and potential. And although it often takes time for new staff members (myself included) to settle into a comfortable and productive rhythm, I feel we are poised to hit our stride in the coming season. I want to express my thanksgiving for our Cross staff: Carol Hastings, financial secretary; Ruthann Ritchie, director of music; and Katie Tomek, administrative assistant. You are each a blessing and I am honored to work and serve in this congregation alongside you.
  • I am delighted with the progress we have made with children and youth ministry, thanks in large part to the energy, imagination, and faithfulness of our Board of Faith Formation and our fantastic parents, guardians, and volunteers. Our one-room Sunday School experiment is progressing nicely; our confirmation students started off the year with an energizing summer trip to Camp Onomia and are meeting regularly with youth of seven other synod congregations for monthly Deep Dive confirmation experiences. As importantly, we are planning on a Deep Dive trip to Memphis in July with our partner congregations. We will explore the civil rights legacy of our country and church in light of our call to love and serve the neighbor. And, we are also hopeful for another Camp Onomia excursion later in the summer — one to which our students are very much looking forward.
  • We have established a fairly active post-lockdown approach to Adult Education. Sunday morning adult forums have explored the Narrative Lectionary and Lutheran Liturgy, David Lose’s “Making Sense of Scripture” series, Luther’s Large Catechism, Cross’s popular “My Calling” series, and our relationship with John Glenn Middle School with Principal Jill Miklausich.  In the coming year, we hope to bring in more outside presenters, as well as take a deep dive into the Book of Revelation and a few more surprises.
  • Our corporate worship life continues to evolve and flourish. We have incorporated another form of communion distribution (continuous) to augment the decades-old practice of communion at the table. I believe it gives us more flexibility to adapt to daily circumstances as well as the general tenor and focus of each time we gather to worship. We have expanded Cross’s practice of communal proclamation, from group reading of the Gospel lesson, confession, and certain prayers to also encompass the Words of Institution. It is a practice that I believe stresses even more the foundational Lutheran understanding of the priesthood of all believers and worship as a congregational response to God’s love and forgiveness. My deepest thanks to our Lay Ministers, Ushers, Cantors, Acolytes, Singers and Musicians.. You bring blessing upon blessing to our worship life.
  • Our music ministries have blossomed since Ruthann Ritchie joined us in September. The choir has grown to historic levels (or so I’m told), with up to thirteen (or is it more?) people actively involved. We have incorporated Ruthann’s gift as a harpist into our regular worship, which adds a level of introspection and contemplation as those blessed strings sing out. I anticipate great things in the months ahead, and look especially towards Lent and the Three Days. 
  • Last winter we received a $5000 grant from the Saint Paul Area Synod to enhance our livestream offerings. This investment in new equipment and updated technologies has led to a broader look at our digital outreach efforts. Although there have been many fits and starts, we are nearing a point where we will consistently be able to livestream worship, adult ed, and other offerings to the world around us and around the world. You might not realize it, but we have people from across the USA and Canada, in Europe and Africa, who tune in regularly to worship from Cross. We still have some upgrades and tweaking to do, but I am confident that soon we will be technically on track so that we can begin to think about how we use digital media to expand and enhance our proclamation of the Good News to a world that so desperately needs it. Special thanks go out to Dave Olson and his staff for assistance with expanding our wifi capability, and to Katie Tomek, whose experience and imagination are taking our livestream offerings to new levels.
  • Our ministerial partnerships continue to grow. In Spring, we added a third partner congregation, Ebenezer Elim, to our standing relationships with Iglesia Adventista del Septimo Dia and Promesa de Dios. As importantly, we have worked to move our connections to each from primarily transactional (renter/rental) to relational, emphasizing Christ-centered partnerships with each other as a core value we all share. To that end, we have been able to provide each congregation with a designated office space on the second floor, and are exploring ways to share resources (time, talent, and treasure) in a way that trustingly follows the opportunities that are emerging for us together.
  • Katie Erickson, Paul Schafer and I are in the final leg of a synodical process called “Liberating Structures.” We, together with a number of other congregations in the synod, have been exploring the structures which help us be church together. These structures include our constitution, bylaws, policies, and procedures; how our boards and other leadership groups work with each other; our assumptions about leadership and decision-making; and God’s involvement in it all. The point is to liberate ourselves from those practices, systems, and structures which inhibit mission, so that we can more faithfully and trustingly follow God’s invitation into the future.  It has been hard work and challenging at times, yet we are beginning to see the fruits of our efforts pay off. I want to thank Katie and Paul for their insight, openness, and commitment to this process. 
  • You will read elsewhere about all the things happening with our ministry to and with John Glenn Middle School. We are back to monthly community markets, have a wealth of committed and passionate volunteers, have been able to restock the Launching Pad, and are financially doing well. What’s more, we are in the midst of planning for the future by exploring ways to invest our mission funds so that we can do more with what we already have, and make the program even more attractive for additional financial backing. I am grateful to everyone involved in John Glenn, especially Sylvia Graham, who keeps us all pointed in the right direction.
  • Our relationship with the Shores of Lake Phalen has been a source of blessing. One of our long-time members, Marion Lindstrom, moved there in the Autumn, and I am able to see her weekly, as well as several other members who have joined our church since moving there. What’s more, there are signs that others are interested in joining Cross. We routinely have between 20-24 people in worship each Thursday, and we have been able to hold Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday worship there, as well. What’s more, our relationship with the Shores has led to an opportunity for Ruthann Ritchie to provide some independent musical therapy to the residents. 
  • Finally, I don’t know if a pastor report would be complete without a mention of our congregational finances. One thing that holds my interest is that we have experienced a positive income to expense balance each month since the Summer of 2021, which is testimony to the love you all have for the mission of this congregation. Although dollars never tell the whole story, they can be an indicator of congregational health, and for that I am ever thankful.

Jacob emerged from a long night of wrestling with God with a new outlook and a changed identity. I have a feeling that we will do the same when we emerge fully into the light of a new day. But in the meantime, let us continue to grope and wrestle and strive to follow the path that God is pushing and beckoning us toward. I am honored and humbled to serve you as pastor as together we move into the future.

Pax,

Pastor Scott