Grace and peace to you from Christ our Comforter and Redeemer,
All our lives have been impacted by the threat of COVID-19 here and around the world. I am so impressed by the amazing ways that churches are responding to these challenging times with generosity, innovation and creativity, finding new ways of staying connected and serving their neighbors with renewed vigor. Thank you for all of the ways you have had to quickly adapt and change to continue important ministry!
As the social service arm of the ELCA in Minnesota, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota is also adapting and changing in innovative new ways to deliver essential support statewide. Wherever possible, telephone, online and video support is already underway to serve Minnesotans. As you know, some of our essential work requires a physical presence that includes cooks and delivery drivers, direct support professionals supporting people with disabilities and employees caring for youth in shelters. In all services, health and safety are top priorities. Right now, we need your help!
Face masks are a critical need. These masks help protect against sneezes and coughs and increase our ability to safeguard people we support, employees, volunteers and our greater community.
At LSS, we are committed to the care and well-being of Minnesotans and implementing safety measures to help safeguard people we support, our employees, volunteers and greater community.
When we work together, we will improve critically-important health outcomes in our state. Thank you for all of the ways you work with us to care for the neighbor.
The Rev. Julie Wright
Director of Church Partnership and Volunteerism
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota
"Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." John 14:23
Your church council and I have met Tuesday evening to review our suspension of group worship and activities earlier this week. Considering recent developments and changes in recommendations related to our public health emergency, we have affirmed:
We were able to Be the Church Tuesday as a host for a Red Cross Blood drive. I received a request from the Red Cross late Monday to use our building, as fewer and fewer locations are available at this time. Being the Church today meant crucial blood donations that may have gone uncollected were received. I believe the Red Cross will need our building again soon and we are ready to Be the church on that day too.
Please look for more details in the days ahead about how we will stay in touch by phone, email, online, and US mail to continue to Be The Church each day.
In the meantime, as we prepare to offer worship and other resources, please consider participating in the following:
KBRF 1250 AM
Wednesday 3/18 "Holden Evening Prayer" by area ELCA congregations
Monday- Friday 8:45 am "Morning Watch" devotion by area ELCA partners
Love in Christ,
Much has changed in the last few days. This morning in worship,when we heard from the Gospel of John and were also reminded of our mission: "Bringing the Hope we Share in Christ to Others" Jesus gives the woman at the well hope that she shares with her neighbors in the nearby town, who in turn seek out this Jesus and invite him to stay among them. I invite you to receive a message of hope, share it with others, and welcome Jesus to abide closely with you now and in the days ahead.
We learned late this morning about Gov. Walz's order to close all K-12 schools throughout the state of Minnesota, along with the increase in identified cases of COVID-19 in our state. In response to the closure of schools and the need for social distancing the following changes have been initiated until further notice:
WAFL and children/youth ministry and activities are suspended
Lenten soup supper/group worship on Wednesday 3/18 is suspended
Sunday group worship on 3/22 is suspended
The church council will hold a special meeting on Tuesday 3/17 at 6:30 to review updated information and recommendations for activities and worship going forward.
The church office will be open regular days/hours for now as staff work together to review ways to provide ministry, support worship at home, and continue to "Bring the Hope we Share in Christ to Others" in new and different ways.
Love and Hope in Christ,
22 May 2020 Greetings faithful leaders of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod, If you have watched or read local and regional news the past couple of days, you have heard that the Minnesota’s Catholic Conference and the Minnesota North and South Districts of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod have chosen to reopen, in defiance of our states “Stay Safe Order”. And just today, President Trump gave an address telling churches to gather in-person this weekend. Our vision as a Synod is “a people being set free by the gospel to be wholly devoted to Jesus and our neighbor in love”. You have continued to demonstrate love for Jesus and your neighbor even in this difficult time, thank you for your faithful ministry. In a letter sent out just nine days ago, with the other five ELCA Bishops from Minnesota, we articulated the values that we believe should guide your decisions to returning to in-person worship. Which could be summarized as faith, facts, and love: We the six bishops of the ELCA in Minnesota share particular values as we live and lead together - with you in this pandemic reality. We continue to engage with and listen to state and local officials. We look to scientists and epidemiologists to guide our decision making. We keep ever before us a commitment to the wellbeing of our neighbors, those in our congregations, communities and beyond. We remain focused on our shared vocation of proclaiming the gospel. It is the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, that anchors our hope. I know that you are longing to be with your congregations in person. I am too. You may be feeling pressure from people to return to in-person gatherings and ignore the clear advice of public health officials here in Minnesota. As your bishop, and in alignment with both Presiding Bishop Eaton and Governor Tim Walz, I urge you to refrain from in-person worship except for groups of 10 or fewer until such time as Minnesota officials have informed us that it is safe to do otherwise (drive-in worship is also a way that you have been finding to gather that is considered safe). Here are some resources. My prayer is that you continue to look to those most vulnerable in your community and that their safety be paramount in your decisions around in-person gathering, people who the CDC calls “People Who Need to Take Extra Precautions”. Thank you for your faithful leadership, and do not hesitate to contact your synod office with questions or concerns. Pastor Bill Tesch Bishop of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA *Here at First Lutheran we have a team of people working on how we might be able to hold “Parking Lot” worship and Outdoor worship in the weeks ahead.
“Bringing the hope we share in Christ to others.” From Pastor Bradley Skogen May 2020
Dear Ones in Christ, Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! The last two months have brought so many unexpected and unprecedented changes as we have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic and related orders and guidelines to “Stay at Home”, close schools, worship from home, eliminate gatherings, wear masks in public, and so on. There are many losses you and those around you are experiencing: loss of employment, cancelled or postponed graduation celebrations, missed opportunities to gather with loved ones when there is a death, among many others. Please join me in holding one another in prayer as each person and family has their unique experiences during this time. One thing that has not changed – and will not change – is the promise of new and everlasting life in our risen Lord. We can hold on to that promise in faith as we hold our community and world in prayer as people near and far encounter the financial, social, vocational, and health related effects of this unprecedented time. We will continue to “Bring the Hope We Share in Christ to Others” as we live forward as a community of faith. First Lutheran Church has been bringing this hope in many ways. One example is a donation we made a few days ago to the Good Samaritan Center and Lakeview Apartments of some wireless speakers to use with iPads and computers they have for residents and tenants to connect with family or access the internet to see worship services. We are also supporting the Food Shelf and making facemasks and making calls throughout our membership to check in with you to see how you are doing and if you have any needs. You may also have seen our devotional Facebook posts and emails or been using our YouTube Channel to watch worship recordings. (If you have missed out on any of these things, please contact us to ensure we have your current phone number or email address! You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or even send an “old fashioned” note or card to our mailing address and we will update your information!) I am so grateful for our staff and volunteers who have helped in so many ways. Looking forward, we will continue using Zoom video/tele-conferencing for committee and council meetings, as well as to confirmation, Bible Study, and make youth connections. We do not know how soon we will be able to gather again for worship or other activities in person. We do know the process will likely be extended over several phases over time. (Please see the message from Bishop Bill Tesch included in this newsletter.) Between now and then, we continue to be a faith community in the best ways we can. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” 1 Peter 1:3-4 Love in Christ, Pr. Brad
“Bringing the hope we share in Christ to others.” From Pastor Bradley Skogen April 2020 Pr. Bradley J. Skogen Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23 The world has changed dramatically in the last few weeks. You and I are experiencing changes unlike most of us have ever seen. Amid uncertainty and physical distancing from each other as we shelter at home, we continue to live and believe the promise of Jesus coming to us wherever we are. The public health emergency and order to stay at home has led to the decision that our congregation has suspended public worship and all activities until further notice. We, your church staff, will continue to work at home as the church office is now closed. We are sending materials out to confirmation students, WAFL families, First Communion students, and others. There are several important items I would like to share with you: FOOD SHELF SUPPORT – We would have collected a noisy offering during worship to support our local Food Shelf, which is needed now more than ever. Please send the financial support for the Food Shelf you would have given during worship directly to the Food Shelf by March 31st, so your financial gift can be matched as part of Food Shelf Month. WORSHIP – We continue to worship through recordings posted to our Facebook page and distributed via email. (If you have not been receiving emails from us, please contact email@example.com to ensure we have your email address.) Holy Week – We will not be able to worship together during Holy Week this year. We will send out resources for worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Holy Communion – During this extraordinary time, Bishop Bill Tesch has authorized in home celebration of Holy Communion, with the “head of the household” presiding and saying the “Words of Institution” (please see the “Frequently Asked Questions” and enclosed liturgy for use at home). Funerals/Memorial Services – Public gatherings like memorial services will be postponed until further notice. CARE AND COMMUNICATION – We will continue to be in touch by email, text, and phone to the best of our ability. We ask for your assistance to ensure pastoral care needs come to our attention – please let us know if you or someone else has needs we can respond to during this time. We will continue to support you and our community materially through the Food Shelf and our Good Samaritan Fund to help meet unexpected, critical needs during this time. Your church staff and family continue to hold you in prayer as we join our entire congregation in “Bringing the Hope We Share in Christ to Others.” Love in Christ, Pr. Brad
“Bringing the hope we share in Christ to others.”
From Pastor Bradley Skogen March 2020
“There is a boy here who had five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sad down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. John 6:9-13
Feeding hungry people is a crucial part of Jesus’ ministry and the mission that is passed along to the church throughout all ages. The passage above records how the meager resources available were shared – with gratitude on Jesus’ part – to feed many thousand people. (The Gospel records there were 5,000 men present, not counting the women and children. There were many more than 5,000 mouths to feed that day!) We continue to live out the mission of feeding hungry people today in the life of our congregation and community. Each year our congregation commits to financially supporting our local Food Shelf, especially during the month of March, because at this time of year gifts are multiplied to feed more people far more than during other months. We have also had the opportunity to feed hungry people in additional ways in the last year. Last November, we hosted a “Kids Against Hunger” food packing event that provided meals to the Battle Lake Food Shelf, as well as other local food shelves. (We put together 13,008 food packs that each serve 6 meals for a total of over 78,000 servings of food!) Our Men’s Fellowship group assembles and delivers holiday food boxes in our area every year. We were able to send financial gifts with Gordon and Kate Rockswold to the St. Stephen School in Kibera, Kenya, to support the meal program in that school, In addition, some folks in our congregation support the Friends of Friends Against Hunger program each year to provide resources for the backpack food program and are food shelves AND our congregation and Men’s Fellowship committed to paying for the school lunch debt in the Battle Lake School District as a sign of support for food security for our school age children. THANK YOU! Just as the boy’s loaves and fishes were shared and multiplied with thanks to feed many more than thought possible, we receive your gifts say thanks as Jesus did, and share them to feed MANY thousands of people. God Bless you,
Pr. Bradley J. Skogen
“Bringing the hope we share in Christ to others.”
From Pastor Bradley Skogen February 2020
2020 Vision: See Jesus Near and Far… “A mosaic consists of thousands of little stones. Some are blue, some are green, some are yellow, some are gold. When we bring our faces close to the mosaic, we can admire the beauty of each stone. But as we step back from it, we can see that all these little stones reveal to us a beautiful picture, telling a story none of these stones can tell by itself. That is what our life in community is about. Each of us is like a little stone, but together we reveal the face of God to the world. Nobody can say: “I make God visible.” But others who se us together can say: “They make God visible.” Community is where humility and glory touch.” - Henri Nouwen
There is one line in the reading above that captures my attention this time through: “… together we reveal the face of God to the world.” How clearly can people see the face of God in our togetherness as First Lutheran Church? What are some ways we are “Bringing the hope we share in Christ to others”, so those others see God’s face clearly? I have been reflecting on the many ways we have lived out our mission over the last year. One powerful and longstanding mission relationship we have sustained for 14 years is with our siblings in Bemidji at Peoples Church. You may remember just a few months ago when we gathered food and supplies to bring up to Peoples Church so they could prepare a holiday meal for the community there. There are so many individuals who contribute to an effort like that – and even our local business owners who help with discounted prices or outright gifts of food and supplies. We are thankful for the face of God showing up in all of those people and places, too. Do you know, also, that our congregation provides regular financial support so Peoples Church can minister in other ways on a day to day basis with people who are homeless or hungry or in need of clothing or need a warm and safe place to gather with others in worship and fellowship? We plan to continue to sustain and build our relationship with Peoples Church and a question I would like you to consider is: How do you/we see the face of God in the community there? A healthy relationship is not one sided. Jesus comes to us through the community of Peoples Church, just as we provide support in Jesus’ name to the people there. Join me in seeing Jesus near and far in Peoples Church. God Bless you,
Pr. Bradley J. Skogen
“Bringing the hope we share in Christ to others.”
From Pastor Bradley Skogen January 2020
2020 Vision: See Jesus Near and Far… “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19
Happy New Year! I am seeing things in a new way this year – quite literally! I had an eye exam at the end of December and needed to get new lenses for my glasses. I am one of those folks who need bifocal lenses to help me read up close and some correction that helps me see clearly farther away. I didn’t know for sure before my appointment if my prescription would change, but the eye doctor said it was clear I needed new lenses to help me see better. It never ceases to amaze me how accustomed I can become to what I see as my ordinary, everyday reality and how much more clearly I can see when I get new glasses or lenses.
This year I am going to encourage you to see – with “2020 Vision” – how we can live out our mission together as a congregation. I hope you will see some of our mission activity in new ways, even though it is through long-term support and relationship. I hope, too, you will join our committees and council in seeing new opportunities through mission partners and projects locally and globally. We have been greatly blessed – and we are in a place to share the hope we have in Christ with those around us near and far. Happy New Year, indeed! God Bless you,
Pr. Bradley J. Skogen
Joy is Coming!
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
Isaiah 40: 9
Mountains and valleys – our lives are full of mountains and valleys. We are approaching a “mountain top” of the church year, the season of Christmas. It is a high point for many people, emotionally, as favorite music is played and sung, as families prepare to gather, and as children anticipate the holiday celebration and gifts. It is a high point, spiritually, as we commemorate the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child; the moment when God became flesh to dwell among us – a God willing to be vulnerable and humble, born in a stable, and laid in manger. A God willing to enter the greatest darkness of our human experience and emerge as a light of hope, peace, and everlasting life.
I have gained a strong appreciation for taking my time preparing for this mountain top experience. Getting to the top of the mountain doesn’t happen all at once, it is a process of starting low, preparing carefully, and climbing higher and higher during the weeks of Advent. We prepare for the journey, anticipate the celebration and joy of the summit, wait and walk carefully up the mountain. One way I would invite you to prepare and participate in the journey this year is to attend our Wednesday Evening Worship Services. We will be using “Holden Evening Prayer” and with an Advent theme highlighted each week. There are other ways to prepare: renewing a daily devotional practice, reconnecting with a family member or friend where there is a broken relationship, helping as a volunteer in our community, or some other activity to help you pause and consider your faith journey and relationships in the light of Jesus’ promised birth.
When we reach the top, not before, we are in the best position to see and tell the Good News: “Joy to the World! The Lord is come!” I look forward to seeing you at the top and to your partnership in ministry along the way.
Pr. Bradley J. Skogen