The Season of Advent

Dear St. John Family,

The Season of Advent is upon us. The word Advent has roots in the ancient Latin language, Adventus means “arrival", and advenire means “to come.” This is the season that we learn to wait for the arrival of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.

Our Bishop, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, has encouraged us to consider using this Advent season as a kickoff to a year-long quest for spiritual formation, reorientation, and activation. We will be using a devotional by Brian McLaren entitled: WE MAKE THE ROAD BY WALKING.

The book is very easy to read, only 2-3 pages each week. This first Sunday in December, in Advent, we’ll begin with chapter 14, and read just one chapter each successive week through the new year, until we end with chapter 13 one year from now.

Bishop Elaine is inviting us to see 2019 as a CROSSOVER year, one in which we crossover into new life. St John is at a crossroads. Now that our debt is retired, what new and innovative ministry is God calling us to so that we can reach out to the next person with the love of Jesus Christ? Perhaps its not one of the roads before us at all. Perhaps God is inviting us to make a new path forward.

I want to invite you to join with me on this year-long quest for spiritual-formation, reorientation, and activation. You can purchase a copy of the book through your favorite book-seller. Our worship and sermons for Advent and Christmas will coincide with chapters 14-17a.  Throughout the coming year, there will be other opportunities to interact with one another about the material we are reading, and the grace we are experiencing together.

So please join me on this quest, entering this year of crossover, as together, we make the road by walking.

Pastors Andy & Emily

A Special Thanksgiving Message from Pastor Andy

Growing up in Massachusetts, Thanksgiving was a big cultural part of my upbringing. (The town I grew up in was incorporated in 1655.) I remember school assemblies and field trips commemorating the early European settlers and the help they received from the Wampanoag people to survive and thrive in those first years. Unfortunately, we also brought germs that the Wampanoag had no immuno-defense against.

As a child and youth, I remember the tradition of our annual high school football game against our arch-rivals. Those of us in the marching band would sit shivering in the stands, holding our freezing brass instruments and drums, intermittently playing fight songs and passing around hot cocoa, wishing half time would hurry up and get here so we could get out on the field and move around to warm up a little!

And most years, after the football game was over, we would travel to my grandparents house for the traditional meal of turkey and stuffing, sweet potatoes with marshmallows melted on top, and about every flavor of pie you could ever imagine. With aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents crowded around the table, we siblings and cousins were relegated to the folding tables in the living room to stuff ourselves silly. Above it all were loud voices and joyful belly laughs. And today I wish for one more gathering like that, but its not possible, because of distance, and because so many of those beloved people are no longer living.

Thanksgiving hasn't always been this way for me. Some years have been gathered with people from multiple countries and cultures. Some years have been quiet and alone, reflective times, and some have been with friends who are like family, very similar to the boisterous gatherings of my childhood.

Regardless of what your Thanksgiving gathering looks like this year, I encourage you to find a few moments, on your own, or as a group story-telling event, to remember those celebrations from years gone by. What was memorable? (What do you wish was NOT memorable!?) What did you love? What do you long for and miss?

And then, after remembering, give thanks to God. For the good, the bad, the boisterous and the quiet. For the love, the laughter, the joy, and the anger, and yelling, and sadness. Through it all, God has been with us, and God WILL be with us, “never leaving us nor forsaking us.”

In good times and bad, in sickness and health, in our wealth and in our poverty, God is with us. In Hebrew, Emmanuel, God with us. That is the blessing of this Thanksgiving season as we prepare our hearts for Advent. God IS with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Property Purchase and Being Debt Free Update

THANK YOU to all who have contributed to our land purchase and retiring the debt of St John. Because of your generosity, we have received cash and pledges totaling $514,915.47, well on our way to our goal of $900,000. We have been receiving gifts from people who no longer live in Alaska, but who once called St John home. I received a lovely card and generous donation from Rose McLean. It means so much that people across the globe believe in St John and want to continue to invest in her ministries. Please prayerfully consider joining those who have contributed to purchase the land next door and to eliminate St John’s mortgage and retire our debt. Every gift, from
$5 to $500,000 makes a difference! Thank you for your faithfulness and generosity.

~Pastor Andy

Property Purchase

Dear St John friends and family,

What an incredible weekend this has been. It has only been two days since our initial letter went out regarding the property purchase next door and your responses have been incredible.

As of Saturday morning I had received pledges from a family for a gift of stock in the amount of $5,000, and another gift of $30,000 to be used to generate matching donations.
A number of you pledged to participate in loaning funds to St John totaling $200,000!
On Saturday afternoon, Kenny Gerondale called me to make a gift (not a loan) with two caveats: 1) that we not borrow any money (from anyone) so as to not incur debt, and 2) that we would increase the amount we are raising so that we can set aside some money for drainage permitting or other expenses that will be necessary to actually use the land. Kenny has offered a gift of $250,000. He is allowing me to use his name to inspire others to give generously as well.

When I informed a few folks of these gifts, another St John member gave $30K, another gave $25K, and just this morning another family pledged $20K. To date, we have received commitments for $435,000 in gifts! This is yet another example of how we dream so small compared to the God-sized plans the Lord has in store for St John!
Therefore, our campaign has shifted focus and we are now intent on purchasing the land with cash and paying off our current debt.

We are no longer seeking funds to borrow from members. Thank you to all of you who were so willing to lend us the money. We are now seeking cash gifts to purchase the land, put aside money for its use, and pay off our debt.

Our new total to raise (property purchase, plus money set aside, plus paying off debt) is $900,000 and I am excited to say that after only two days we are rapidly approaching the half-way mark!

I fully recognize that not all of us are in the position to give gifts in the 6-figure, 5-figure, or even 4-range. Whether you are able to give a gift of $5 or $50,000 to purchasing the property and retiring our debt, please know, your gift matters and your gift is important, for we can only accomplish this goal by the grace of God and combining all of our gifts together.
I wanted to ask you to please prayerfully consider a cash gift in the amount you see fit to help us complete this goal.
Thank you to each of you who have already contributed, and thank you all for your faithful generosity to the ministries of St John!

Your fellow disciple,

Pastor Andy

Our Call To End Gun Violence

On Ash Wednesday each year, we are invited into a season of self-examination and repentance. This is meant to be a season of turning, from the meaning of the word repent. Turning away from sin and turning back towards the path which God wills us to walk. Turning away from death, and towards the life God invites us into.

We mark this season with a stark, visible reminder: an ash cross rubbed onto our foreheads, often with the words: “From dust you come, to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19b).

I cannot hear this reminder of our mortality apart from the creation story from which they come. The story which reminds us that God lovingly and carefully shaped us, molded us, and breathed into us the Spirit of Life.

I hear the words of the African American poet James Weldon Johnson, in his poem “The Creation” (1927), a favorite of my grandfather’s. The conclusion of Weldon’s poem speaks to the creation of humanity:

“Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky, 
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
And God said, That’s Good!
Amen. Amen.”

With these words of life and death on my heart this past Ash Wednesday I received the news we all received that day. 17 people were killed. Fifteen were students, one a coach, another an athletic director. Parkland Florida has joined a list none of us want to exist. Our nation is mourning a school shooting.

And here is the hardest word for me: Again. Our nation, the people of Parkland are mourning because there has been a school shooting - again.

As Christians, we are all created by the God who calls us to stop the violence that kills and maims God’s precious children.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of a vision of God’s Kingdom, where all peoples of all nations are coming to God’s house. In this vision of the future, Isaiah  tells us that the people will transform their weapons of death into tools for sustaining life. “They shall beat their swords into plows, and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4).

We know that God’s vision is for life abundant. It is not for 30,000 people a year to die in the United States from gun violence. It is not for children to wonder if their school will be next. 

United Methodists, as a global church, affirm “Our Call to End Gun Violence” (2016 Book of Resolutions, #3428). The Church calls upon us as United Methodists:

  • To make the prevention of gun violence a regular part of our life as a Christian community;

  • To support those who have been victims of such violence;

  • To support those who own guns to safely and securely store their guns and teach about the importance of practicing gun safety;

  • To lead or join with other people of faith in efforts to reduce gun violence;

  • To advocate for laws that will reduce gun violence.

I urge you, in the name of God and for the sake of our children, to call or write our state and national leaders about the urgency of ending this epidemic of violence in our nation. Contact our civic leaders even if you have no solutions to offer - urge them to open new avenues of exploring solutions.

And I urge you to carve out time to listen to one another. I have great faith in the people of God, and the people of St. John specifically, to use our diversity of experience and perspectives to think not in terms of partisan affiliation but in terms of Christian compassion.

Our Sunday morning Women’s Discipleship group is doing just this, and inviting all people from St. John to join them this Lent. You can find them on Sundays at 10:30 in the conference room (#112). 

I have great faith in the people of God to advocate for the God’s vision for the future, where all of God’s children can experience the fullness of life.

May it be so.
Pastor Nico