Thursday, November 7, 2013

2013: Atonement gets a facelift

“You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”             
-- Ephesians 2:19-21

        She came into my office with a bright smile on her face.  “Pastor, I’ve been living here for years and drove down this road almost every day, but I never realized there was a church back here.  And you know what?  I’ve been looking for a church like this one.  She’s now a member, worshiping here almost every Sunday.
            Between all the construction, the sign being back up, and all the action happening here on Wednesdays, people are taking notice of Atonement Lutheran Church.  I’ll never forget my visit here 8 years ago when I flew down for my interview.  The young lady at the rental car agency down at TIA had lived in Wesley Chapel all her life.  “Then you know about Atonement Lutheran Church,” I said hopefully.  She looked at me funny: “Well… there are lots of churches in our area.”  “But this one’s right on State Road 54,” I said, trying to jolt something loose in her brain.  No dice.
            Back then it was par for the course, but today I’d be shocked to run into a local resident who doesn’t know we are here.  People come in through the week, bringing donations and telling me they appreciate how much we do for this community.  I’ve even had a local business person promise me Atonement will have a share of stock in their new business start-up because of the good work we do.
             Perhaps the biggest change to our community visibility in 2013 has happened because of the new church front.  I’ve honestly had more feedback from people outside the congregation than from our own members on this one.  “I finally see there’s a church there,” people tell me. The complicated roof lines and corner angles have been smoothed out.  The stone facade and textured stucco bring a warmer, more organic feel.  The rose color (not pink!) invites the eye, and the overhang reaches out toward the road, beckoning people to pull in (even in a Florida downpour).              As the construction began in January, we had a feeling of déjà vu, remembering last years long wait to see completion of the parking lot.  We continued to use our vinyl road signs, having new ones made and adapting old ones to tie up to the pvc posts by the road.  It made the call to new construction all the more urgent as we officially began our Capital Campaign in February.  Jean Zabel and the Capital Campaign team designed a wonderful event hosted at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Lutz to kick off our Laying Foundations for the Children of God campaign.  With a 3-year goal of $300,000, the campaign will raise funds for a new building which will provide additional storage and multi-use space for our ministries.  We already knew our present building has inadequate storage.  In fact, we became so pressed for space that we added a new storage garage in the back last year.  But we also face difficulties holding dinners in our small fellowship hall and preparing food in the present small kitchen with no stove.  The new building should help relieve pressure in numerous areas.
            Barb Turner and Joe Zummo helped bring the Tree of Life back to life this year.  We have re-thought what it’s about and decided that it will be used to commemorate all our deceased members.  Other people can be added to the memorial tree for a donation of $50 or more.  We also want to thank Ariel Esposito for finishing the beautiful undersea mural that lines the hallway in the Sunday School wing.  She spent many hours putting meticulously detailed work into the seascape.  I’m especially fond of my customized swordfish.
            Special thanks to Matthew Aeppel, who chose as his Eagle Scout project the construction of a prayer garden out behind the church.  He created a wonderful environment in a peaceful spot out by the hedge, complete with benches and a birdbath.  In October we added a columbarium just to the north of the prayer garden.  A granite cylinder rising up from a circle of brick pavers, the columbarium has 80 compartments for sets of 1 or 2 urns.  Church members will be given the first opportunities to purchase the use of a niche.




            I will always remember 2013 as the year of my first sabbatical.  Like the “Sabbath” in the Bible (there are Sabbath years every seven years in addition to the Sabbath day every week), a Sabbatical is intended to be a time of rest, refocus and renewal.  Many pastors are given Sabbaticals these days in recognition of the need to step out of one’s normal ministry setting every so often to gain perspective and “reload” one’s self spiritually.  So every seven years, pastors are encouraged to take some intentionally structured time (usually 3 months) to gain some new experiences and work on projects that the normal routine of the parish would make difficult.
            For years, I’ve had people encouraging me to go to Germany.  My brother Paul, who went back in his college days, is one of those people.  When I told him about my Sabbatical coming up, he suggested we go together and offered to help pay if one of the boys wanted to come along.  As it turned out, my son Brian was excited at the prospect.  Then last year, Rick Will encouraged me as he shared pictures from his trip to “Luther country” at our Reformation dinner. 
         Things fell into place and plans were made for an epic trip to Wittenberg, Berlin and Bavaria this past June.  Thanks to the generosity of many Atonement members, enough money was donated to my Sabbatical fund to cover my plane fare.  We primarily stayed at youth hostels and inexpensive (but nice) bed and breakfast type places, one of which was the monastery where Martin Luther himself had studied in Erfurt.  To walk in Luther’s footsteps, see where he lived and worked, to hear ancient music played in the Wittenberg castle church (where the words to “A Mighty Fortress”
are inscribed on its own mighty tower) was an unforgettable experience for all three of us.
           On returning to the US, I was blessed to have time to work on my records and files.  The laptop I had been using for the past year and a half died, and took much of my data with it.  I had records of baptisms, funerals, calendar items, indexes of various sorts all of which had been lost to a faulty hard drive.  I spent weeks of my Sabbatical trying to recreate these as best as I could.  Then in July, we took a family trip out west to visit my birth mother in California.  We saw some other relatives on the way, along with the Dr. Pepper museum in Waco, TX, Carlsbad Caverns in NM, Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon, and, yes, Las Vegas.  This was our first time seeing any of these places, and quite possibly the last chance we’ll have to take a trip like this as a family.
            August was spent battling with a bout of cluster headaches, which made it difficult to get anything done in the first half of the month.  Once that was over, I spent the last couple weeks (and a week or so after I got back to work) working on my major Sabbatical project – the OUT-WORD Bible study series.  For years I have been looking for a good small group curriculum that would be easy enough to use that we could kick off a series of small group studies meeting at different places, different times throughout the week.  Atonement has not had a strong history of consistent Bible study, and I want to see that change.
            My goal was to create a Bible study that would focus on practical application, rather than details of doctrine or esoteric aspects of the text.  Knowing that I couldn’t be there to lead each one, I had Scott Giesking record me giving a series of talks about specific scripture passages and their themes.  We shot about 3 hours of me talking, which Scott put together into a pair of DVDs.  The idea was that all the hosts would have to do is play the DVD lessons and give the guests time to discuss each one.  Scott also gave me some valuable help making a Participants Booklet, which Suzi Morgan also helped edit. 
            When I was done, I had all the materials for a 6-session Bible study called “Your Spiritual Survival Kit,” based on themes suggested by our October and November gospel readings.  We had three groups go through the material, and so far the feedback has been very positive.  Based on the feedback I receive from those who have completed the study, I hope to prepare a second OUT-WORD Bible study for the Spring.   Maybe you would consider hosting a group at your house?


“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”                                                     -- Philippians 1:9-11

         Going forward into 2014 and beyond, it is clear there are plenty of projects before us, and much work to do as we continue to spread God’s love into our community.  My deep-felt thanks and appreciation go out to all our ministry leaders, to Kay and the office staff, to Carla, Yvette and all the food pantry volunteers, to Ken and Ruby and the choir, to our praise team, and all our ministry partners.  You all help make Atonement much more than a church – we are truly a family of faith.
          We have been blessed through continual improvements to our property.  We keep the Capital Campaign before us as we look forward to 2016 and the new building.  Talks with members and various ministry teams need to happen at regular intervals so they can give input and hear updates on the projected plans.  We also have a new capability to play audio through speakers placed in the bell tower.  This could be music, or simply a bell sound played throughout the day.  With the mural in the hallway done, we have arrived at a point where we can replace the original stained and splotchy carpet with something that will be more inviting to new families whose children go down that hall to use the nursery, Sunday school or youth room.  As we develop the columbarium, prayer garden and other resources in the back of the property, we look forward to the future installation of some kind of access drive to benefit the people using these.

            A new year will also mean new council leadership, and big thanks are offered to Suzi Morgan and all our outgoing council members.  Big thanks go to Joe Zummo, who will be moving from the treasurer position to finance committee member.  Years ago, Joe tackled the tough job of moving our financial books over to the “Revelations” online software, where our records are now secure and privacy is assured.  We are looking forward to a more active finance committee this year, and will be working to make all of our ministry teams as full and functional as possible.  For instance, we expect to see a revamped stewardship team become active, as well as a Caring Team renewed by the Stephens Ministry program.
            Our worship life will see some small changes this year.  We have not forgotten the goal of developing powerpoint slides for the 10am service.  We are still looking for people who can help with this.  People have mentioned an interest in volunteering to contact people we haven’t seen in worship for a while, including families who had children baptized at Atonement.  We have also begun a search for a music leader for the praise team, which will continue to play for the 8:30am service.
            Our Helping Hands ministry is feeding more people than ever before.  New people are joining us for worship.  More people are coming to know Jesus through our services, Sunday school, youth work and one-on-one works of service and friendship done on behalf of our Lord.  Wesley Chapel is growing, but Pasco County remains one of the most unchurched counties in the country.  How do we deal with the new challenges and changes in our church and community?  Four years ago, we developed a Vision Team who studied, researched, interviewed, prayed and worked out a document which helped us move forward as a congregation.  This Vision 2009 document included goals for particular ministries and long range plans for the whole congregation. 
        Our big focus next year will be re-creating that process with a new Vision Team to develop a Vision 2015 document.  This revised vision will help us keep on track with God and each other as we continue to grow, reach out, serve, build, and worship.  What new possibilities will God open up to us as we seek to be God’s people in this community?  Maybe you have some ideas or insights that you could share with the new vision team, or perhaps you’d like to help us put this new vision together.  Whatever happens, we value your generosity, participation, and partnership in the work of the gospel and we know that God goes with us to inspire us, enlighten us, and empower us for a future of blessings!

Pastor Scott

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bible Study Lesson 5 - Joy. Question #1-7

These online questions are posted as an additional resource for the Bible study series Your Spiritual Survival Kit.  They are not required to go through the group study.  Rather, they are here to provide you with food for thought and spiritual reflection.  You are also welcome to post your own answer or reaction to each question as a comment here on this blog.  Just remember to respect the opinions and responses of others.  Blessings!

1.      How does the way you are treated by other people affect your level of joy?

2.     List your three most joyful experiences in life.

3.     Where is it you find joy in worship?

4.     What kinds of things rob you of joy?

5.     How do you express joy?  Post a photo of yourself looking joyful.

6.     Read 2 Samuel 6:12-23.  Was David’s expression of joy appropriate?

7.     Read Acts 13:49-52.  How does joy relate to hardship?