A Sabbatical

As the Congregation Council announced recently, I am taking a sabbatical. When I accepted the call to serve at Holy Trinity, a sabbatical policy was already in place that allowed for a 60 day sabbatical after five years of service, or 90 days after seven years. My seven years passed this past February. I give thanks for a congregation that cares enough for pastors that they have a sabbatical policy!

A sabbatical is an intentional leave from congregational duties. I will not be available or present from June 4 – September 3. This time of “sabbath” allows a pastor to recharge spiritual batteries. Even though we try to maintain our spiritual energy, the nature of the call is that, day to day, we often work with a spiritual deficit – we give away more spiritual energy than we receive. Daily prayer, study, devotional life, and rest help, but the deficit unavoidably catches up with you. That’s not a complaint. It is the nature of the calling. So, part of what I will be doing on sabbatical is seeking divine help to fill my cup, refill my spiritual reserve tank. My first retreat, in the first week, will be with the Trappist monks of New Melleray Abbey where, with silence, prayer and worship, I will begin my sabbath time. Part of my learning will be aimed at deepening my understanding and practice of contemplative Christianity. My hope is that it feeds my soul and gives me insight to share.

A sabbatical also addresses the need to step back to think and pray about mission and ministry in a world that keeps changing the rules of engagement in spiritual and religious matters. A pastor can try and read the latest articles, keep up through an occasional workshop, read a new book, but over time you just fall behind. A sabbatical offers the prolonged study time needed to dig into things you need for your preaching, teaching, leadership and pastoral care. I am going to exploring how the church and the preacher/pastor proclaims the gospel in a world that is becoming more and more secular, less and less religious all the time. The reading will lead to writing that can be shared or that fuels ministry when I return.

During my time away, you will be in the hands of the most capable staff I have known. I mean that with great sincerity and with some tough competition in my history.  Pastor Pam will be in the lead, but the whole staff knows what to do. If I have done my job, they will barely know I’m gone.

I will be worshipping in other communities and travelling some. I will be reading and writing daily. I’ll also be tending my yard, garden and house. I will be spending time with a spouse who so graciously shares me with you all, and often gets the short end of that stick. Cyndi will define for herself how she connects with the congregation during my sabbatical. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of two gracious couples, we will be spending a couple of weeks “up north.”

So, my brothers and sisters, I ask for your prayers as a I depart on this pilgrimage. I look forward to returning rested, refreshed and ready to take up our work together to Share God’s Love.

In Christ

Pastor Tim.


Which Lord’s Prayer?

There are two versions of The Lord’s Prayer in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW), our primary, but not only hymnal. This vexes some folks – especially if we use the version they don’t prefer. Years ago, I had a women at a Bible study rebuke me for praying the ecumenical (more modern) version. She said, “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me.” Obviously her logic was a little off, and I left it alone. Her point was, the one she learned as a kid worked fine.

So, why two versions? Well, the biggest reason is that we humans hate change to things we hold dear. The “new” Lord’s Prayer was introduced in 1975 and reaffirmed in 1988. It is part of the long chain of English translations in history. (I found twenty-three credible offerings).

None of us, of course, would want to pray the prayer as Jesus taught it. It was in Aramaic! Check it out:

Avvon d-bish-maiya, nith-qaddash shim-mukh.
Tih-teh mal-chootukh. Nih-weh çiw-yanukh:
ei-chana d’bish-maiya: ap b’ar-ah.
Haw lan lakh-ma d’soonqa-nan yoo-mana.
O’shwooq lan kho-bein:
ei-chana d’ap kh’nan shwiq-qan l’khaya-ween.
Oo’la te-ellan l’niss-yoona:
il-la paç-çan min beesha.
Mid-til de-di-lukh hai mal-choota
oo khai-la oo tush-bookh-ta
l’alam al-mein. Aa-meen.

The language of the New Testament (Greek) would not be helpful for most of us:

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ, καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς·
τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον·
καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,
ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν·
καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,
ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.
ὅτι σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία καὶ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας· ἀμήν.

So, as English speakers, we have to deal with a translation of the text. The accuracy of the translation depends on the source text. The clarity of the translation depends on how it expresses the original in language everyone can understand.

In 1339, long before the King James English was in vogue, John Wycliffe rendered the following translation:

Oure fadir that art in heuenes, halewid be thi name; thi kyngdoom come to; be thi wille don `in erthe as in heuene; yyue to vs this dai oure `breed ouer othir substaunce; and foryyue to vs oure dettis, as we foryyuen to oure dettouris; and lede vs not in to temptacioun, but delyuere vs fro yuel. Amen.

Obviously, as the English language changed, that beloved translation had to give way to the English people spoke. One reason that there is a (not really so) “new” version of the prayer is that we simply do not use words like “thy” and “thou” as pronouns anymore. The “old” version of the Lord’s Prayer in the ELW comes to us through the Anglican Book of Common Prayer from 1559, updated in 1928.

Another reason that there is a (not really so) “new” version of the prayer is that the Greek and Latin texts (when they didn’t have original Greek), upon which old translations into English are based, were incomplete and found, over time, to be untrustworthy as older manuscripts were discovered. The “new” version of the prayer is a more faithful translation of what Jesus taught.

Here is how the English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC) explained two of the changes made to the prayer:

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Here the traditional rendering has been substantially preserved, and the Lucan (from the Gospel of Luke) text allowed to affect the translation. “Sins” and “sin” have been used to convey the sense, and “trespasses” and “trespass,” and even “debts” and “debtors,” which many find puzzlingly concrete and narrow, have been avoided (ELLC).

“Save us from the time of trial.” Two errors must be avoided in this line. The first is the misconception that God would “tempt” or entice people to evil, and the second is to think that the original Greek word peirasmos means “temptation” as it is meant today. The reference here is primarily (about the end of history) —a petition for deliverance from the final “time of trial” which, in biblical thought, marks the last days and the full revelation of the anti-Christ (ELLC).

For a long time, here at Holy Trinity, we have used both prayers. We use the “old” one at some worship services and the “new” one at others. This always feels strange to me. We are one congregation, even though we worship at four different times. Shouldn’t we pray together?

This summer, as we move to a new worship schedule, we are still going to use both versions of the prayer in worship – so please don’t worry! The change we’re going to make is that we will pray the same version at all the services for a time, and then switch, and then switch back. Our hope is that we become familiar and accepting of both versions as time marches on toward a day when the “old” one is as strange to us as John Wycliffe’s.

Or, dusting off my Greek skills, we could use my translation:

Abba, Father in heaven. Sacred is your name. Bring your reign. Establish your desire in heaven and upon the earth. Give bread to us today. Forgive our wrongdoing like we forgive those we find guilty. Save us from coming trials. Deliver us from evil. Amen.










Worship: Traditional or Contemporary?

You might be surprised at how many times this question is asked. People looking for a church home ask. Members of the congregation sometimes want to know if the worship at a certain time will be “contemporary” or “traditional.” You might also be surprised to know that I really am not sure how to answer the question.

Sometimes I want to say, “Yes, of course, our worship is traditional and contemporary. It represents worship handed down for centuries and that is planned to be relevant for today.” Other times, I want to answer, “Neither,” because our main concern is not to represent the narrow categories that have become connected to each of these words.

If by “traditional” someone means using the exact same liturgy from the hymnal every week for months and singing only songs that your parents or grandparents knew, then we don’t really do traditional worship. If by “contemporary” you mean little historical liturgy, thematic sermons and lots of songs led by a band that sounds a lot like what you might hear on the radio, we don’t do that either.

The word we use to focus what we do as we plan worship is neither “contemporary” or “traditional.” The word we use is authentic. One of our stated values as a congregation is authentic worship. By this we mean:

  • Worship centered in God’s Word and sacrament. We believe God come to us in Word, water, wine and bread, so every weekly worship service is centered in scripture and offers Holy Communion;
  • Worship that is seriously catholic (universal) or ecumenical. That means we honor the worship practices of those who have gone before us and we recognize that our worship is connected to the global communion of those who follow Jesus. The liturgy or order we use follow ancient patters; the music is drawn from sources ancient and contemporary; near and far.
  • Worship that is evangelical in content (it is all about the good news of Jesus) and reforming in character (it speaks our language, expresses our hopes and hurts, it honors our past, present and future).
  • Worship that is communal. That means that each service is the same as all the others in terms of order and music. The instruments and musicians may vary, but the service is the same. It also means that we draw from the gifts God has given to this congregation when it comes to musicians, leaders and other resources. Finally, communal means everyone participates.

As we change our worship schedule for this summer to 5:30 PM on Saturday, 8:30 AM & 10:00 AM on Sunday morning, know that all three services are authentic.  Know that the order and music we sing will be the same at each worship opportunity. Saturday evening will still be accompanied (mostly) on piano. Sunday morning will be a mix of organ, piano, and special ensembles based on the talents and gifts of the musicians in charge (and those talents and skills are considerable).

Old Testament Quandary: Cain and a Population Explosion

jewish scripture.jpg

The Old Testament – the Christian version of the Hebrew Scriptures – can be a little tough to read and interpret at times. Contradictions seem to appear; stories are sometimes duplicated; the ancient customs can seem impenetrable. Recently, I received these really good questions about the story of Cain in Genesis 4:

 In Genesis, Cain is banished after murdering Abel. He enters the land of Nod, marries and begins a family and his lineage. If Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel are the only four humans at this point, who are these people in Nod? Where did they come from? Do they precede Adam and  Eve? Do they know God? Do they know about Adam and Eve? Do Adam and Eve know about them?

Like I said, the Old Testament can present us with some challenges!

Genesis is part of the Pentateuch, and along with Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy make up the five books of the Hebrew Scripture known as the Torah. For the most part, when we look at a book today we think of it as something written all at once. Even if it is an anthology or collection, it is put together with an eye toward a unified whole. The Torah, however, is less like a novel and more like a scrapbook. It is more like chicken soup and less like a chicken dinner. It is more like a quilt, made up of diverse pieces, than it is a blanket woven into a singular cloth.

Think of it this way: Thousands of years ago, before there was paper or pen, and definitely before printing presses and copy machines, people clung to wisdom and knowledge through stories that were passed on from generation to generation. Now, you might be thinking, well how can you trust memory like that? Remember that you and I are conditioned to rely on writing and recording information we want to keep. Today we “know” things by collecting facts and records. Ancient people had only memory and they way they possessed and passed on knowledge was through stories. Getting the stories right was the job of the head of the family or the priest.

The stories in the Torah are not meant to provide an historical account of events. (Forgetting this is why people get distracted and stuck on questions about “creationism” and evolution). Ancient stories passed on wisdom and answers to really important questions. Why do we die? Why do people hate snakes? Where did the world come from? Why are people mean to each other? Most important: What about God? The creation story is about “who” and not “how.”

As the Hebrew people became the nation of Israel, the differing traditions and stories of the people came together and were shared. By the time the Torah was written down, the various stories were collected and brought together like patches for a quilt. The genius of those who did this over time, was truly a work of the Spirit. Like a quilt, the people who brought together the stories kept them all and chose to accept the contradictions and diversity of thought.

When you come across a place in the Torah that presents a question like we have with the Cain story, you are probably encountering a seam where stories have been joined together. If the Bible had been put together by Random House, this would be a really terrible job of editing. However, when holy stories, passed on from generation to generation are being stitched together, reverence for the Spirit of God in the story leads to keeping bumps instead of smoothing everything away. You can see this evident in other places.

  • Genesis 1 is the creation story from one source. Genesis 2 tells the story from another perspective.
  • In Genesis 6:19, Noah is instructed to take “two of every kind” of creature into the ark. In Genesis 7:2, the instruction is to take seven pairs. Two tradition meet and a seam is formed.

I think the “seam” you have discovered in your question is how the “quilter” worked to join the stories about the fall and murder into the stories about how the generations that led to Noah came to be. I don’t think there is a concern here to join Adam and Eve to the people in Nod, other than through Cain’s wandering. In just a few verses, we will see that a relationship with God has mostly disappeared from humanity.

That is the “short” (though not very) answer to this question. Hope it helps.


© 2017 Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved.


Why Do You Care if We Come to Worship?

Each week as we rattle off announcements before we begin to worship, we ask everyone to fill out a “Welcome Card” so we know you were here. You can also tell us about contact information that has changed,or – and this is very important – ask for prayer. The question I get is “Why does it matter if we are in worship or not? Isn’t this a private matter between me and God?”

The first answer I offer is simple. We care about you; we care about the members and guests who think of this congregation as home. Like a place at the family table that is normally filled, but then empty – we miss you. Paul, in his letter to the Romans says, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. (Rom. 12:5). When we are not together, the body is diminished. We are not complete when one of us is missing.

The Augsburg Confession (which is a really important document from the Lutheran Reformation that confesses what we believe) Article 7 (which is on the subject of the Church) says: “It is also taught among us that one holy, catholic church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers, among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. The point is that one does not really “belong to a church” like you belong to a country club or society. You’re part of the church manifest in this world when you worship with others. The church exists visibly in the world — it becomes the resurrected, incarnate body of Jesus – when we gather around him as manifest in Word and sacrament.

The second answer is that we ask you to let us know you are here so we can engage in the ministry of encouragement for with those who have been absent. This is touchy business. Congregations can make one of two choices: 1) We can not reach out to folks who have been missing and risk making people angry because we didn’t notice they were gone. Or, 2) We can notice when people are gone and let them know we care, which risks making people mad because we noticed. We are transitioning from the first risk to the second. So, we will (following the instructions of our governing documents) send a note to folks who don;t seem to have been here for a month, three months, six months and so on. It is never done to judge or to criticize. It is done in love and so we can encourage each other to be the church by gathering for the central act of being a Christian, worship.

The third answer is that worship is, for the church and for each individual Christian, the foundation of our existence in the world. Think of how your heart works. Blood is pumped out into the body with a rich supply of nutrients, oxygen – the vital stuff of life. These vital elements are used up in the process of living. The blood comes back to the heart (and lungs) replenished and is sent out again. It happens over and over in a life-sustaining cycle. Worship is like that. We gather around the Word and sacraments and receive life-giving news, strength, forgiveness and a vision of the way the world is intended by God. We are then pumped back out into the world to work and live according to God’s purpose. Living saps our strength and so we return to be re-nourished. Then we are pumped out into the world once again to make a difference. Perhaps the reason so many people are so spiritually hungry and (in the words of Bono) “still haven’t found what (we’re) looking for” is because we’re anemic, never returning to the heart of things to be re-nourished for our daily living.

That’s why we care if you are in worship. Thanks for asking!

Discerning the Hard Things: Ministry in a State that Issues Same Sex Marriage Licenses.

Being on the Congregation Council is no piece of cake. I give thanks for the committed people who have led the congregations I have served from year to year. Even on matters that seem completely benign, leaders can take a lot of heat. A coat of paint, a new dishwasher – or postponing the new dishwasher – can cause no end of ruckus among God’s people. So, when a group of leaders faces a question about human sexuality, you know it will be a tough row to hoe. That is the position our leaders find themselves these days as we decide what to do about the fact that the State of Iowa will issue marriage licenses to be executed by officials (including pastors) and that these folks might be our very own friends, fellow-members of the body of Christ. Our council has formulated a resolution that would support the decisions made by pastors of the congregation if and when such a case would arise. Questions have come up, and the Council has tried to answer them. I offer them here for your edification and as a witness to the faithful struggle of faithful leaders. – Pastor Tim

Over the last few weeks we have received a number of responses to our request for feedback on a pending Council Resolution. We would like to take an opportunity to answer some of the questions and address some of the concerns we have received.

To begin we want to restate our intended action. This is not a resolution to advocate for or establish same-sex marriage as a policy. It is not a resolution to make public any formal support of same-sex marriage. The resolution seeks only to support the decisions of our pastors when and if they are asked to consider executing a marriage license and/or blessing a union of same-sex couples. If the pastors decide it is not pastorally advisable, they will not act. If they decide it is pastorally advisable, they will. Each case stands on its own and involves only members of the congregation. This is an extension of the present practice and policy of the congregation as it relates to all pastoral acts (marriages, baptisms, funerals, confirmations, etc.).

Are there other congregations in our area dealing with this?

Some congregations in the area have long ago dealt with this. Some in our state have publicly declared that they are open and welcoming to gay and lesbian person and will solemnize marriages and bless unions. Some others have publicly said that they will not. Others are talking about it now. Some will leave it to the day when a request is made. Others will just avoid the issue forever. Congregations across the synod are discussing this since the Synod Assembly in 2013 passed a resolution calling all congregations to have this very discussion. So, yes, others are trying to talk about this. However, it is our position that what other congregations are doing or not doing is not really the best mark of what we should or should not do. Our values, mission and our faithful response to Christ in our community and world drive our decisions.

Shouldn’t a decision like this require a congregational vote?
The constitution is clear about what requires a congregational vote. This resolution does not change the constitution or by laws; it does not have any budgetary spending implications beyond the budget approved at the annual meeting; it does not involve the call of a rostered leader or the election of congregational leaders, nor does it involve leaving the ELCA or acquiring property. The Council is elected to govern the congregation’s life between annual meetings and to make policy decisions. The resolution itself is a policy about supporting pastoral decisions and falls well within the council’s authority. Further, votes are not always a helpful means of building or leading the community of faith. Votes create winners and losers and can fuel division rather than heal it. The Council, in this case, has reviewed the biblical studies and the statement from the ELCA. They have debated and questioned. They have prayed. That kind of preparation cannot be assumed about a simple congregational vote. Lastly, if policy decisions are to be made by the congregation we adopt a decision making process that is laboriously slow and calls into question the purpose of the Council.

What will our congregation do if members leave or stop giving? Can we survive?
We would answer this question with other questions: Can HTLC continue to survive making decisions based on who is going to leave, be upset, or stop giving and not upon what the gospel calls us to do and be? Can we really grow and be the body of Christ if we are afraid of the cross and the suffering that may happen when we strive to be faithful? Can we move forward and welcome those in our community who need God’s grace when we spend all our energy worrying about who might leave? What are we to think about all the folks who have come here in the last year? Last year we received more new members than we lost through death, transfer, moving, combined. Jesus never once toned down his message or mission because people were leaving him (see John 6:66-71). We will survive at the will of the Spirit.

Won’t the damage to the congregation outweigh any advantages?
If we approve the resolution, members will be disappointed and angry. If we don’t approve it, other members will be disappointed and angry. We feel this issue has paralyzed the congregation and whole church of Christ for too long. When making a decision about the gospel we proclaim, we are not convinced that it can be, or should be, broken down to a cost vs. benefit analysis.

If the Bible and the ELCA define marriage as between a man and a woman, why don’t we just say “No” if one of our members asks us to perform a same-sex marriage?
This congregation, as a part of the ELCA, will theologically and spiritually continue to teach that marriage is between a man and a woman. That is not what we are trying to discern. We live in a state that may issue a marriage license to faithful members of this congregation who have a same-sex partner. They may then come and ask the pastor to pray with them and sign the license as officials of the state. What should the pastors do? This is not about agendas or abstractions it is about real people. It is about living in this messy world where things are not understood as they always have been. It is about clinging to God’s grace and boldly acting to share God’s love, even risking doing the wrong thing. The tradition and Bible also teach that people should not live together before marriage – yet 80% of the marriages in this country are between cohabitating people. It says that no one who has been divorced should marry, and yet, in grace, we do that when it brings love and new life to the relationship.

Shouldn’t the Bible be the final word on this matter? The Bible says “No.”
We are not departing from scripture at all. The Council has engaged scripture as it speaks to both sides of this issue. For many, grace and mercy is the cornerstone of the Biblical witness. Many faithful, brilliant, bible scholars, pastors and lay leaders believe the Bible clearly teaches that we should adopt such a resolution. Others disagree whole-heartedly. It is unfair to call the resolution unbiblical. It is fair to say that people disagree on what scripture – the whole of scripture, not just a few verses – says about this subject. We must recognize, as the ELCA stated, that we are not all of one mind on this matter. However, we are still called to live in faith together because Christ is bigger than our arguments.

How do we know that down the road this decision will not turn out to be wrong?
No one can know God’s future. We can only deal with the age and the issues we have at hand to the best of our ability. How do we know that in 10 years this congregation will be here? How do we know whether any of the kids we teach will actually stay in church? We cannot follow Jesus if we try to guess the future. We make decisions boldly, paraphrasing Luther, because we are assured that no matter what decisions we make, Christ has made us one (even if we can’t act like it) and that we are forgiven and beloved of God.

The Holy Spirit has guided the people of God through every age and every generation has had its disputes. The Spirit was present as the church argued over the inclusion of gentiles, slaves, people of other cultures and colors. It was there when we debated whether to include women among the ordained and whether we should talk to other Christians. Every time, the Spirit has led to inclusion of the outcast. Every time, the Spirit has led the church and reconciled those on both sides of the argument. We pray for and trust in the same Spirit to be with us in the decisions we make.

Isn’t adopting this resolution just adopting a political agenda instead of what God wants?
The Council has only the agenda of Jesus Christ at the center of its motivation. The Lord who welcomed the outcast, sinner, and each of us into the kingdom of God guides us to ask questions about who can live a full life in fellowship of the Spirit and who cannot. The mission of Christ, our partnership with the ELCA and faithful stewardship of this congregation’s gifts are the only agendas on the table.

The leadership is trying to drive away certain people to make room for their “agenda.”
Again, the leadership of the congregation – Council, Staff, SMA leaders, and others – is trying to be about the work of Jesus Christ. We are trying to clearly define who we are as a congregation. That is the agenda. Now, if as we define our values, our expressions of God’s love in a way that people cannot support, they may feel like they need to find a congregation that is a better fit. Under no circumstances are leaders trying to drive anyone away. It is really quite the opposite.

There are already same-sex couples pushing for this and we will now become the place for all same-sex weddings.
This is false, absolutely false. No member of this congregation has made any such request and we are unaware of any plans for such. We only work with members of the congregation. The only request like this in the last three years came from a non-member, so the answer was, “No.”

The reason we are taking new pictures for a new directory is because so many people already left over this issue.
This is completely false. Our earlier attempt to do our own directory, in addition to technical problems and cost, was put on hold when the staff person leading the effort developed cancer and went on medical leave. We ask for your compassion and understanding.

This resolution is just the easy way out.
The last year of conversation, study, feedback, prayer and discernment have been anything but easy for the Council. To receive some of the angry and disrespectful comments from people has been hard.

We hope that these responses help you understand that the Council is endeavoring to be faithful in this decision. We have reviewed all the feedback received. We pray for the Spirit’s guidance in this and all other things we do in Christ’s name.

The Congregation Council

Do We Do Enough?

Shouldn’t we do more to reach out to those in need in our community and the world?

This question surfaced a few times during our Capital Campaign Feasibility Study. Several people felt that we should raise our investment in social ministries outside our walls along with or instead of building new ones for our facility. My first reaction is to agree completely. We currently share only 8% of our regular giving with our major mission partner, the ELCA. The general expectation across the denomination is 15%. We could and should do better. We are unable to deepen our partnerships financially with MOSAIC, or Lutheran Services of Iowa, or the World Hunger Appeal. We should be able to do that too. We struggle to get more people involved in ministries beyond the building. Yes, we should do more. If we averaged closer to 5% charitable giving per household instead of less that 2%, we could share hundreds of thousands of dollars with the hungry, poor

However, (and you knew that was coming) that we should or could do more does not mean we do not leave a positive mark on the world beyond our sanctuary and building. Look at some of the things we did together, aside from financial support, to touch the lives of people in need in 2013. On September 8th – the ELCA Day of Service alone, we:

  • produced: 40 Lutheran World Relief School Kits;
  • 70 Food for a Weekend Bags for the hungry;
  • Cleaned up 4 backyards at Mosaic group homes;
  • Organized 1 Mosaic home basement;
  • Prepared 20 Hearty Blessings casseroles;
  • Produced 28 smiles on the faces of very special friends from Mosaic.
  • 55 volunteers extended their worship into the world that day.

Operation Thanksgiving in 2013 accomplished the following:

  • 240 Turkey lunches delivered to folks all over Ankeny who were working instead of home with families;
  • More that 60 pies delivered to Mosaic sites;
  • Weekend bags with food and staples delivered personally to every resident housed in a local low-income, residence motel.

In December:

  • Fruit baskets went to all shut-ins and WIC recipients who came into the building;
  • Adopt-A-Family and Angel Tree programs delivered hundreds of gifts to hundreds of people in need;

On top of all that, we:

  • Supplied the local food pantry with non-perishables every month;
  • Started a new program called Backpack Buddies in cooperation with the Ankeny Schools and Iowa Food Bank to make sure that 20 kids in Ankeny have weekend food each week;
  • gave 71 people direct assistance for rent, gas, food and utilities.

Financially, we shared about 12% of our income with those in need in some way. We gave $142K to partners like the Southeastern Iowa SynodDMARCLutheran World ReliefFood BankDisaster Relief, and the Hunger Appeal.

All of this overlooks the primary way that Holy Trinity Lutheran Church brings the love of Christ to a thirsty, hungry, dying world: through your daily life. Every member of this congregation is a “priest” ordained through baptism to love God and love neighbor in every endeavor. Through our vocations as parents, teachers, spouses, nurses, accountants and a myriad of other avenues we get to offer love, compassion and hope in our daily life.  THAT is the most significant outreach we can do as a congregation.  So, how do you share God’s love each and everyday?  Share it here so we can all see God’s work in the world.

Thanks for asking,

Pastor Tim

Designated Giving

Question: Can I designate my giving so it goes to a particular program or need?

The short answer to this question is, “Yes.” There are designated funds established to which you can direct a financial gift. Perhaps a better answer would be, “That depends.”  Let me explain. Let’s say you put a check in the offering and write “Hunger Appeal” in the memo. That check will be deposited in the bank with all the other checks, and the amount will be accounted to the designated account we have established for “Hunger Appeal.” The same would be true for offerings designated for “Debt Retirement,” or “Disaster Relief,” or “Youth Gathering Trip.” All of these designations have been set up to account for special gifts for these particular items. Designated accounts must be set up by action of the Congregation Council.

Now, let’s say you place a check in the offering plate and write “Church School Supplies,” or “Utilities” in the memo. These items are paid for out of the general budget, so your offering will go into the general offering to pay for these items, along with all the other things related to the general budget. We do not – and cannot – separate out designations for items funded by the general budget. Imagine the trouble we would have if folks designated gifts for “copier paper” in excess of our need and so, shorted the budget of our ability to pay for the copier to use the paper. It is, in fact, good accounting and planning to keep designated accounts to a minimum and run as much of the congregation’s ministry as possible through the general budget, which is a plan voted upon by the members reflecting the priorities of the whole community, not just an individual.

A third possibility: Someone puts a check in the offering plate and marks in the memo “church bell.” We have neither a bell tower or carillon, so this gift can’t be used in this way. We would likely return the gift or ask for it to be allowed in the general fund or other approved designation. Designating a gift for something does not force the congregation to use the money as designated.

At Holy Trinity we do have a number of designated accounts that allow us to receive special offerings for established partnerships and projects. We regularly receive, and then distribute, gifts designated for World Hunger, Lutheran World Relief, Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), Disaster Relief, Debt reduction and youth mission trips and gatherings, to name a few. When we receive an offering marked for a general fund expense, it goes in the general offering. When we receive an offering designated for something for which we have no designation, we communicate with the giver.

A final thought: More than 90% of what we spend on ministry of all kinds is through the general budget, including our mortgage payments, mission trips, money to fund mission beyond our walls. Designated giving is “second-mile” giving – extra effort. If we can’t fund the mission of the church, we will not be here to pass on or receive designated gifts.

Hope this helps.

Pastor Tim

Where Everybody Knows Your Name?

Why doesn’t the pastor (or another member of the congregation) seem to know my name?

There is nothing more maddening than not being known by someone we think should remember our name. Nor is there anything more frustrating than not knowing someone’s name when you think you should.  It is a painful social situation that happens all too often – especially at church.  Especially in a big church.  Two and one-half years after coming to Holy Trinity Church, I still find my mind all too often reaching for a name to go with a face I know so well.  I have spent hours over that time staring at the old photo directory trying to connect names and faces.  I have tried little tricks to remember names – sometimes they work and other times they don’t.  I know some of you have been hurt that I can’t find your name in my brain and I know that I certainly have at times felt something is wrong with me.

The first answer I want to give to this question about knowing names is that even if I (or anyone else) do not know your name right away, that does not mean that I don’t care. I do, very deeply.  When I say “Hello” and greet you with a “Good morning” I mean it sincerely, even if my mouth cannot render your name.  If I have asked you to tell me your name again, it is not because I was not listening the first time.  I want you to know that my love and concern for you is real even if your name has not yet found a permanent place in my memory.  It is not that I do not know you – very likely, I recognize your face immediately and I can tell you when you worship and where you usually sit. The funny thing about human memory is that it remembers faces really well, but struggles with words.  Check this interesting article from the BBC to see what I’m talking about. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120209-why-names-and-faces-are-so-vexing

The second thing I guess I would say is that for a pastor (and Pastor Pam and I talk about this often) it is easy to put names and faces together when we work with someone in a small group or on a committee or team for a little while.  It is hard to learn names on the weekend when we see 600-800 people all at once.  I know that folks here remember a previous pastor who had to just meet you once and remembered everyone forever.  I’m jealous of that ability because it does not work for me.  Just know that you are important to your pastor no matter what.

I guess the third thing I would note is that it seems to me that in a congregation our size, no one knows everyone’s name.  That’s OK, as long as someone knows us, I think.  We can be a large community made up of smaller groups.  We need to know and be known by others, but we can’t know everyone.  There is a thing called “Dunbar’s Number” developed by a social anthropologist named Dunbar (figures, right?) that says most of us network with about 153.5 people. This number is the number of people with whom we can actually have some kind of social connection.  And, having a social connection is also what makes remembering names easier.

Finally, I would simply ask for your patience and forgiveness.  In those moments where you need me to know your name and I don’t, I  am sorry for any hurt that causes.  I can only try harder.  The church struggles to be a place where everyone knows your name.  But, I can tell you that your name is always known by the God who made you through his Son Jesus, who saved you.


Pastor Tim



A Building Program? Really?

The new long-range facilities plan is talking about building a new sanctuary.  How can we be planning to build a new sanctuary when it seems like we are not growing and struggle financially?

The short answer is we are not entering into a building program to build a new sanctuary at this time.  The only immediate plans we have for our facilities are to maintain the present structure and to update existing spaces to enhance our mission.  The vision of a new sanctuary is a decade ahead of us – and much needs to happen before that vision can be a reality.

The Long-Range Facilities Planning Team undertook the task of laying out a vision of what we would need to do in the long-term to meet the mission needs of our congregation and the call to proclaim the gospel in Ankeny, where God has planted us.  They looked at demographic data and congregational demographics; they talked to the city and local leaders about Ankeny’s future; they sought input from SMA’s, Council, and all the members in worship; they consulted building experts about our site, our present facilities and what it would take to meet expected needs.  After digesting and interpreting all that input, they developed the Long-Range Facilities Plan presented to the congregation.

  • Given the projected continuing growth of Ankeny;
  • Given the desire and commitment by leadership at HTLC to meet the needs of that growth;
  • Given the building needs felt and expressed by the congregation and leaders;
  • Given the commitment made by the congregation to stay in this neighborhood;
  • Given the things we must do to stay vital and growing in the short-term;

The team discerned that the most cost-effective and missional way to meet the demands was to build a new sanctuary and re-purpose the existing building by approximately 2023.  The team also discerned that we would need to invest in the decision we made to stay at this location by updating worn and low-functioning aspects of our space and by maintaining the current building so it remains a positive asset in our plan.  If assumptions change, the plan changes.  As time moves ahead, we adapt.

Long-range plans, even if they never quite unfold as articulated, play an important role in guiding any organization into the future.  A lack of long-range planning leaves an organization adrift and simply reactive to what happens each day.  The only short-term plans we are working toward in the next year are to update a sanctuary that has received only minor work since it was built; update restrooms and keep our building as welcoming as possible; do the maintenance that has been deferred in the last years – leaky roofs, worn flooring, inefficient lights and heating and poorly functioning sound equipment.  The cost of these projects will be around $400,000.  Can we afford that?  That depends on you and me.   We can respond to God’s call to get busy living as a vital congregation doing whatever it takes to share the love and grace of God with a desperate world, knowing that God will provide through us.  Or we can ignore that call, ignore God’s work in us and get busy dying.

Thanks for asking! – Pastor Tim