Monday, October 3, 2016

Blessed Be!

“Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’  So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

                                                                                     -- Numbers 6:23-27

            Bless you!  We say it when someone sneezes in the same way we say “hello” when someone greets us.  But what if blessing were more than an automatic response?  Most people come to church seeking some kind of blessing in their lives.  As a Christian, you too can be a bearer of blessing and help bring the Spirit of Christ into clearer focus for someone you reach out to.

            God commanded his priest Aaron to bless the people, and through that blessing he “put his name” in them.  God “put his name” in us at our baptisms and has blessed us through Christ so we can bless others with his love.  As Christians who have been made “priests to serve our God” (Revelation 1:6), we carry that mission forward into today’s world.  We are made to bless!  Like Abraham, who knew he was “blessed to be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2), we too are given promises and gifts to share with the world. 

            This October is a month of blessing at Atonement.  We will be blessing pets and animals before the service on October 2.  We’re blessing new members on October 16.  We’re blessing Lutheran Outdoor Ministries and our Lutheran camps with our prayers and pledges to Mission Possible.  We’re blessing trick-or-treaters with our Trunk-or-Treat festival on October 22.  And on October 30, we share the blessings of our Reformation heritage with a special service and Reformation dinner.          I hope you will come and be blessed this month with God’s Word and Sacraments, his grace and his love.  And I pray you will spread that blessing by inviting others, bringing your friends to be blessed as well, and being a blessing to them through your care and concern.

            Often we think of Aaron’s blessing from Numbers 6 as a prayer requesting God to send his blessing, as if it read “May the Lord bless and keep you…” etc.  But this understanding would be a wrong translation of the original Hebrew words.  The Scripture text is saying that Aaron’s blessing is a promise from God himself.  The priest is actually speaking on behalf of God, speaking God’s own words for Him!  In other words, we should think of it as saying, “the Lord WILL bless and keep you…” etc.  This blessing is a statement from the divine one who controls our future, controls heaven and earth, and holds each of us in the palm of His hand. 

            Who can you bless today?  Who needs reminding that they are in God’s hands?  Or maybe the better question is…who doesn’t?



Pastor Scott

Holy Living means Wholly Giving

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.  Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance.  Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct...”

-- I Peter 1:13-15

Friends of Atonement,

            According to St. Peter, our holy living starts with God’s holy giving.  God’s holiness is to be the pattern for our own lives and conduct.  That’s a tall order for fallible sinners like us – but there is a place where we are renewed and forgiven of our old ways and encouraged and strengthened to live for God.  This all happens through God’s grace, which we discover again and again in being part of a church community.  Once again, I’m writing to thank you for patterning your life on God’s holy giving by supporting the mission and work of Atonement Lutheran Church. 

            There is much good work done through this congregation, but there are also many ways in which we support God’s work beyond our congregation.  Besides the amazing work of Atonement’s own ministry teams and our Helping Hands Food Pantry, we support many organizations and groups that touch people with God’s love both near and far.  Many of the people being helped we will never see; many of their stories we will never hear.  But we trust that in giving to these good causes, we are giving to our trust-worthy God. 

            This past month, we have celebrated God’s Work Our Hands Sunday (which this year fell on September 11, the 15th anniversary of the attacks) with a very special blessing for our local police and fire workers.  Meals from the church were sent out to on-duty first responders at police and fire stations in and around Wesley Chapel.  I received a wonderful thank you this week from our Pasco fire chief, who appreciates the care and support that you showed on that special day.

            We are in the midst of a 5-week campaign to learn about our Florida Lutheran camp, Luther Springs, and the ongoing efforts to upgrade and expand the facilities there.  Children and adults throughout Florida have a special “place apart” to experience God’s love through the wonder of creation.  We will be asking for pledges to help Luther Springs over the next three years as they try to raise a grand total of $3 million.  We hope to do our part and raise our goal of $10,000 from Atonement members – only a dime a day from each family, but enough to be a significant part of this great project.

            Last month I attended a special training put on by the Boy Scouts of America for representatives of Charter Organizations.  That’s a fancy term for groups like Atonement which sponsor Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops.  We are proud to be the Charter Organization of Boy Scout Troop 2, a very active local scout group which meets at the church on Wednesday evenings.  We also provide meeting space for Cub Scout Pack 148, and several Girl Scout groups.  Young people from our scout troop help with our food drives each year.  Some of their scouts came and led the flag ceremony at our 9/11 service.  As I learned at the training, there are many more ways we could involve them, and get church members involved with them. 

            We also support the work of local ELCA churches in the Tampa Bay area by giving annually to the work of the Tampa Conference.  As the current dean of the conference, I have been helping several of our sister congregations find pastors to replace those recently retired.  Since I’ve started, we have installed 6 pastors into new leadership positions.  Coming up on Saturday November 19, Lutheran clergy and church members from our conference will gather at Calvary Lutheran Church in Apollo Beach to hear from ELCA leaders, share ministry stories and decide how to direct our mission funds to best support the work of our conference.  You too, are welcome to come meet fellow Tampa Bay Lutherans at our Fall Conference Gathering.

            A portion of our regular offerings each Sunday is shared with the Florida-Bahamas Synod, which in turn sends over half of what they receive towards the mission work of the whole ELCA.  Missionaries around the world, hunger and disaster relief, justice work, support for new mission starts, seminaries and synod staff throughout the ELCA are all supported through our congregation’s “benevolence giving” to the wider church.  We have been growing every year in the amount we send out to synod, and are continuing to increase it as a proportion of our annual budget.           

            St. Peter tells Christians to let go of their old desires which caused them to put themselves first, and to generously practice holy living.  I am so inspired when I see you doing just that in your wholehearted support of God’s work at Atonement.  But it’s even more impressive to see that love get passed on to others.  As we join together to support causes beyond our congregation – ministries that help young and old in our communities and around the world – a miracle takes place before our eyes, and our own holy living becomes another instance of God’s holy giving.   


Newsletter article for September 2016

“I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.”                                                                                    --Philemon 6

            It’s been a whirlwind of a summer for my family and I.  It seems like we’ve been on the road more than we’ve been home, but it’s good to be back in town for a while and digging into plans for the fall.  All the regular activities are returning – confirmation and Sunday school, choir practices, WELCA, men’s group, Supper Club, etc. – but with all that, some new and special events are planned.  This month we’re going to hear temple talks giving an update on our WELCA women’s ministry and Stephen’s Ministry visitation program.  We’ll be celebrating the vocation of police and fire first responders and inviting them to a cookout for God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday, which falls this year on the 15th anniversary of terror attacks of 9/11/2001.  And we’ll be starting a 5-week capital campaign called Mission Possible, in support of our Lutheran Camps.

            I can hear it now, “Oh no, another capital campaign!  Didn’t we just get done with one of those?”  Well, yes we did, but this one is going to be very different.  We are looking to assist our nearest Lutheran camp, Luther Springs as they develop new facilities, and to help Luther Rock purchase property that will allow them to remain open.  We are joining congregations across the Florida-Bahamas synod to help with these major improvements, and at the same time celebrate this unique natural setting which available to anyone seeking a place away from it all.

            Our congregation makes regular use of Luther Springs.  We use their counselors for our Day Camps in the summer, and the council has done many planning retreats up at the camp.  We were blessed to have nearly 30 people there last month for our Family Camp weekend.  More than half of those attending had never been there before.  Children from 5 years old to Senior High played and explored this beautiful setting, joining us for worship, Bible study, canoeing, archery, and swimming.  Good food, dancing, and fellowship were also on the menu.  In the weeks ahead, those who’ve never visited Luther Springs will be able to hear stories and impressions from those who’ve just recently experienced that special place.  We’ll even have a couple of pastors drop by to share their thoughts.

            “But what about that big campaign for the new building?  What’s going on with that?...”  Well, the last Sunday in August we held an important informational meeting to update the congregation on the state of our building plans.  This meeting was not for voting or approving any action.  It was merely to bring everyone up to speed on things that have happened over the last few months.  People who could not attend were invited to join us and interact via live streaming on our website.  DVD copies of the meeting are available for those who want to catch up on all the details.

            Building team chair Terry Martin did a great job in laying out the work they have done and the situation we face.  He explained to us that the extension we were granted to the original permits will expire May 11, 2017.  From the three bids obtained, it is clear that a steel construction building designed in accordance with those permits will cost about $600,000 to build – double the amount we raised in our capital campaign.   Terry and his team have looked at modifications that could save large amounts of money by eliminating costly ramps, retaining walls and stem walls.  They even explored moving the location of the building to the other side of the parking lot.  However, estimates are that the cost of redrawing plans, along with the rise in construction costs over time will still leave us with a price tag for this building of around $600,000.

            We are exploring options, but want everyone to realize the kind of sticker shock we’re facing with this design.  Whatever way we go, we want to be good stewards of what God has given us.  We also do not want to impair our ability to serve our community and continue growing our ministries.  Our council and building team welcome your insights and ideas.  Please keep praying for the Spirit’s guidance in completing the good work that God has begun. 


            Earlier this year, a book was published on the history of Wesley Chapel.  Many were surprised to find out that Wesley Chapel had enough history to fill a book, let alone one as rich and fascinating as that which author Madonna Wise has put together.  We want the community to have a chance to hear more about where we came from, and learn how not just how moonshining and gator hunting, but church picnics and 5th Sunday hymn sings were an important to Wesley Chapel’s early development.  Ms. Wise  will be speaking at Atonement at 7pm on the evening of Saturday, October 1 for what we are calling “Wesley Chapel History Night.”  Please grab a few friends and neighbors, and come ready to sing along to some old hymns that were favorites back in Wesley Chapel’s pioneer days.



Pastor Scott

Newsletter article for June 2016

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

                                                                                  -- Psalm 30:11-12

            I had a Baptist friend who loved music, and even played in a musical group.  He told me he was a “dancing Baptist,” because his congregation allowed dancing, while for some others in our town it was forbidden.  That always seemed strange to me, since dancing is mentioned in the Bible as a way to praise God (Psalm 149:3, Psalm 150:4).  King David also danced with abandon when the ark was returned to Jerusalem, but not everyone thought that was appropriate (2 Samuel 6). 

            When music moves through you and the rhythm sets your body moving, like singing, like praying, this can be a form of praise.  God has set heartbeats in his creatures, and the pulse of the seasons turns over again and again, year by year in the ever-new dance of nature.  Planets dance around the sun, as the whole universe is set in motion praising God.

            Maybe you don’t dance.  Maybe you’re not even a big fan of music.  Maybe, but your still invited to come praise God with us at our DJ Dance Party/Family Retreat up at Luther Springs camp this August.  If you’ve never been to Luther Springs, this is a great opportunity to check it out.  Lots of people have cabins up north they love to get away to – Luther Springs is your cabin up north.

            Located between Ocala and Gainesville, Luther Springs is an off-the-beaten-path retreat center for youth and adults. You can bring a tent or RV, but more often people take advantage of the comfortable accommodations, including five air conditioned cabins as well as eighteen hotel style rooms. There are trails, a pool, an archery range, outdoor worship and meditation areas, and a beautiful lake.  The camp director, Miss Sarah, welcomes us with a big smile and a warm country accent.  And did I mention that the food is tasty and abundant?

            Luther Springs has meant a lot to us at Atonement over the years.  The first year I arrived in Florida, we had a family retreat there that we called “A Whole New Ball Game.”  25 people – singles, couples and families – went up for the weekend that year.  I remember swimming, shooting with bows and arrows, and watching a great big Gopher Tortoise peek out of its den.  We played all kinds of games, including a baseball game with a giant inflatable ball, and at the closing worship service that Sunday, we all signed a baseball bat to signify our commitment to “staying in the game” and supporting Atonement.

            Over the years we had more family retreats.  On our “Spring Safari” retreat we watched the Lion King, and went out in teams to see what curiosities we could bring back to share.  On our “Cruise Ship” retreat, we had passports that were stamped as we completed various activities.  Members have also gone up to some of Luther Springs’ special events.  Atonement members have attended a spa weekend for ladies called God’s Spa, as well as “Grands” weekends for grandparents and their grandkids.

            One of our members, Alex Lenz, loved the camp so much he became a counselor at Luther Springs.  Once when the council was up at Luther Springs for a planning retreat, Alex treated us to a private hay ride around the camp, including some of the back trails I’d never seen before.  There at Luther Springs, Alex met a camp counselor named Rachel who would become his wife.  Their first child, Charles Richard, was born this past April.

            So you can see what an important place Luther Springs is to our Atonement church family.  We hope you will be able to join us there August 19-21 for some fun and fellowship at our “DJ Dance Party” family retreat.  We will explore the importance of music in the Bible and give everyone a chance to share their favorite music.  More
 information will be available as we get closer to the date, and signup sheets will be posted in the entryway at church.  I hope you will join us and take this chance to discover God’s love and praise him in a new way.  Come enjoy some time away this summer at your cabin up north.


Pastor Scott

Newsletter article for May 2016

“Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

                                                                                                -- John 20:26-27

            Time has fled and our snowbirds are fleeing north.  Sunday after Sunday we have been saying  our goodbyes and wishing them well in their travels.  Even with Mothers’ Day and Pentecost, graduations, confirmations and Memorial Day observances, May often seems like a winding-down month.  School is coming to a close and Summer is on its way. 

            This year’s early Easter means an early Pentecost, which here at Atonement means early confirmation.  Not only has this year’s confirmation class been the largest I’ve had at Atonement with 8 students, they have all been wonderful.  I am very proud of the abilities and achievements of those we will be confirming this year -- Joshua Diemer, Nicholas Trejo and Z’Leah Liburd, and am looking forward to Confirmation Day when the whole class will be sharing their faith projects with the congregation.

            Our big new event this month is the Ministry Fair on May 22.  We’ve been looking for ways to help showcase our ministries and get people involved.  We’re particularly looking to help our own members become more familiar with what goes on at Atonement.  On May 22, we’ll take time between the services and during the sermon time at the late service to explore displays and network with ministry leaders.  This is a first for us, so I’m excited to see how it goes.
            As Summer approaches, our Morning Glory service draws to a close for the season.  That final Sunday, the last Sunday in May, we will be celebrating Memorial Day with some special music and a team effort between our praise band and choir.  In June, we will be going to one Sunday service and we’ll all worship together at 10am.

            I will be doing some travelling in June – first to the synod assembly in Daytona Beach for 2 days, then I am off to Austin, Texas with 2 of our Hispanic ministry team members.  Thanks to an invitation from our Bishop’s assistant Jaime Dubon and a grant from the ELCA, Alice Deyne, Esthel Kane and I are being sent to a special week-long training for congregations that are just beginning Hispanic ministry programs.  I am expecting that this training will give us a wider look at what churches are doing in Hispanic ministry.  This will help us gain some new directions and ideas for areas we might be able to grow and develop our Hispanic ministry.  This is going to be very helpful, since I don’t have any personal experience with Hispanic ministry beyond what we have done here at Atonement. 

            And what have we done here, you ask?  We have partnered with Hispanic congregations, such as the First Hispanic Presbyterian Church of Tampa, and First Pasco Unity Church.  These congregations had services in our building and once in a while we would worship together.  We also shared a confirmation ministry with Resurrection House in Dade City up at Shepherd of the Hills.  We would teach children from Atonement, Shepherd and Resurrection House together, breaking down geographical boundaries and cultural barriers at the same time.  We have our long-standing history of baby showers and other partnerships with the Resurrection House community as well.  And now, we have several groups learning English as a second language through classes taught by Atonement members.
            By the way, this last month Esthel became the latest person to join our deacon training program.  Deacons are members who wish to be trained to deepen their discipleship and commitment to Christ and to the ministry of Atonement.  They undergo two years of training with me, as well as a certification through the Synodical deacon process of our synod.  After summer is over, I will be meeting monthly with the deacons and deacons-in-training to teach and review topics in advanced discipleship.  We currently have three deacons: Detlev Aeppel, Scott Giesking, and Suzi Morgan; and three in training: Rebecca Parker, Jim Turner, and now Esthel Kane.   

            Of all the snowbirds who have flown up north this season, my heart especially goes with those who are not expecting to be returning to Florida.  To Ed and Barb Hvizdos, to Earl and Ruth Uecke, and to Sam and Ethel Youse, each of whom will always be a treasured  part of our Atonement family, we send an unbroken flow of prayers to God for health, joy and grace to be with them and between us all.  We wish the best to them and all our snowbirds and hope they tune in to catch us on the live stream from time to time.  But most of all, we wish you all the blessings of Christ’s peace -- that peace He shares with all He calls His friends -- those He asks to follow Him, those He bids reach out and touch Him, those He calls to behold and to believe.


Pastor Scott

Fruitful faith

“By contrast, the fruit of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  There is no law against such things.”

-- Galatians 5:22-23

Friends of Atonement,

            It’s hard to believe that we’re halfway through the year.  I’ve had a wonderful time travelling with you through Paul’s letter to the Galatians these last six weeks.  Hopefully you have been able to join us through the Sunday sermon series, or the take-home Bible study sheets that have been passed out each week.  If not, the whole study (“Return to Freedom”) is available on our web site. 

            Galatians is amazing for many reasons.  In it, Paul is both inspiring and angry, by turns off-the-wall and on target.  Perhaps the most famous part of Galatians is his list of the “fruit of the spirit” near the end of the letter.  Here he provides a checklist of the traits that grow out of a Spirit-filled life.  When we look at them closely, we see how each part of the Christian life links together and depends on the others.  I hope that you have each one of these delicious fruits growing in the garden of your own faith:

LOVE: unselfish, loyal, self-sacrificing concern for others.  Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, substituting your own name for the words “love” or “it.”  After you’re done rolling on the floor laughing, remember that Jesus did what he did out of love for YOU!

JOY : we are told to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) and yet it’s so much easier to “complain in the world always.”  Joy flows from love, from opening your heart and discovering God’s gifts all around you.  Finding joy is harder than keeping it, which is why regular worship and re-connecting with God in prayer and Scripture are so important. 

PEACE: the ultimate peace which comes from God is not peace of mind, or even a peace of the heart, but the “peace which passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7), which frees us from being anything other than what we are: God’s beloved children.

PATIENCE: an old saying tells us that patience is a virtue, but it’s also the product of our trust in God.  He is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8), and has been patient with you and I.  Remembering that helps us be patient with others.

KINDNESS: patience makes you free to be kind and thoughtful in your actions towards others.  Reaching out to others, encouraging and complementing them, remembering things that are special about them and to them all become natural in the Spirit-led life.

GENEROSITY: those who are kind and think of others are also naturally generous.  They realize that whatever they do can and does affect others, and that God is inviting us into the adventure of helping others more and more through greater generosity.

FAITHFULNESS: constantly kind and generous people are creating new patterns of relating to those around them, learning that love is greatest when it is most faithful and loyal.  Christ lived faithfully by sharing himself with anyone in need and showing us that being faithful to God is really about being faithful in loving others.

GENTLENESS: God came to meet us in Jesus Christ, knowing that he could not deal with us in all of his immeasurable cosmic power.  So he put that power aside so he could get close to us, relate with us, and care for us.  It takes great strength to be gentle.

SELF-CONTROL:  to use these spiritual fruits well and to be gentle with the ones we love takes self-control… that combination of wisdom and discipline that overcomes fear, anger and other inappropriate urges for the sake of serving God and our neighbors.

            As you can see, these 9 fruits work together to help us grow in love and grace.  We cultivate them in the garden of our faith, and just as fruit trees need good soil and lots of sun, the fruit of the Spirit grow strong when we spend time in the light of God’s Son, Jesus.  If you haven’t already, take time to read through the book of Galatians, especially from 5:13 to the end where Paul is describing life lived in the Spirit of God.  Ask yourself how well these fruits are growing in your life right now, and ask God to help them all grow strong.

            Thanks for growing spiritual fruit, for using them for God and for sharing them with your church family at Atonement.  While you’re out and about in the summer’s heat, I hope you stay hungry for the grace of God.  I don’t know about you, but I could really use a smoothie about now, or maybe some fruit cocktail…?


Life Open-hearted

“Ask, and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread will give a stone?  Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?  If you, then, who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”

                        -- Matthew 7:7-11

            God’s people pray.  Like a newborn infant taking its first breath, when faith is born within us, so is prayer.  Knowing that God is there and that we are God’s, how can our spirit do anything else but reach out to the Lord.  Then why is it that prayer seems so hard for so many?  Why is it so awkward, why a struggle to know how to start?  Why does it so often seem like nothing’s happening, or that our prayers are left unanswered?  Questions arise, like: “Why bother to pray when God already knows everything?” or “God’s going to do what God’s going to do, so what’s the point?”

            Author Henri Nouwen acknowledges that “prayer is no easy matter… 

            …The resistance to praying is like the resistance of tightly clenched fists.  This image shows the tension, the desire to cling tightly to yourself, a greediness which betrays fear.  The story about an old woman brought to a psychiatric center exemplifies an attitude.  She was wild, swinging at everything in sight and scaring everyone so much that the doctors had to take very thing away from her.  But there was one small coin which she gripped in her fist and would not give up.  In fact, it took two men to pry open that squeezed hand.  It was as though she would lose her very self along with the coin.  If they deprived her of that last possession, she would, she would have nothing more, and be nothing more.  That was her fear.  When we are invited to pray we are asked to open our tightly clenched fists and to give up our last coin.  But who wants to do that?

                                                -- Henri Nouwen: With Open Hands

            I’m sure the disciples prayed that Jesus would be saved from the disaster that took place in Jerusalem when He was betrayed, arrested, tried, tortured, humiliated and crucified.  And yet it happened anyway.  But with the empty tomb and the surprising appearance of their Lord among them, it was clear that God had heard their prayers and responded in a way totally unexpected --  totally beyond anything they could have hoped for. 

            Easter is all about building faith, overcoming fear, and unclenching our fists.  The disciples eventually discovered that the empty tomb was a sign of hope, not fear.  As they began to encounter the Risen Jesus, they slowly realized that the pain and struggle of His death was all part of a greater blessing.  As we realize that God is actually present in and around us, working with us and through us and sometimes against us (at least against those things which are trying to keep us bound up), we open up to the life of discipleship.  We become more and more willing to follow Jesus, to trust God, and to pray.

            So welcome to the amazing world of prayer.  Prayer can be conversation, can be words out-loud or internalized, can be silent meditation or contemplation beyond words.  Prayer can be motivated by desperate need, longing and concern, joy and hope, or the simple heartfelt gratitude for the blessing of a single moment.  There are countless ways to pray, all of which lead us towards perceiving the divine aspect of things.  Praying is faith in practice, growing out of our confidence in an unseen God who loves us. 

            This month we are offering a 4-week class called Prayer: Faith in Practice.  If you’d like to get familiar with what prayer is, get a wider perspective on ways to pray, or just become more comfortable with praying (out-loud or otherwise), then this class may be just what you’re looking for.  Please come join us Wednesdays at 7pm, starting April 13. 

            Imagine a marriage where a spouse never communicates with their partner, or a child who never says a word to their parent.  Just as unthinkable is a Christian who doesn’t pray.  Our Living Lord is longing to hear from you.  Take some time today to say “Hello” to God.


Pastor Scott

Super-sized Christianity

"Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

                                                                                                                        --Acts 2:46

            On the show Parks and Recreation, Councilwoman Leslie Knope holds a hearing about the expanding sizes of soft drinks in her town of Pawnee.  It seems the local fast food chain Paunchburger has increased the size of their “small” beverages to a whopping 64 ounces.  Their medium-sized soda went to 128 ounces (most people call it a gallon).  Then, there is the horrifying 512 ounce version they called “child size” (because the gigantic cup is the size of a small child).

            On one of my frequent hospital visits recently, I was talking with the hospital chaplain and telling him about Atonement.  “We are just a small church, but very active,” I told him.  “We have about 250 members on our rolls.”  “Back when I was in seminary,” he told me, “a church with over 200 members wasn’t small.  We called that medium sized.”  As soon as he said that, it reminded me of what I had learned about growing churches over the years and I realized that he was right.  Atonement is growing up.  We’re becoming a medium-sized church.

            Small, medium, large…child sized… what difference does it make?  Those words are not nearly as arbitrary as they seem.  Churches at different sizes really do have different characteristics, different personalities, and they function differently.  One thing people love about small churches is that you can really know everybody.  When there is one service with attendance below 100, you can look around the sanctuary on a Sunday morning and tick off the names of who you know.  If there’s an unfamiliar face, it’s a safe bet they’re a visitor.  When weekly attendance climbs above 100, the percentage of visitors increases.  When there is more than one service, not even the pastor knows every worshipper. 

            Which brings us to some of the big changes churches see happening as they move from small to medium.  As churches grow through this transition the roles of the leaders, particularly the pastor, must transform.  The pastor’s time is inevitably drawn towards new plans and projects, and helping new people take on new roles.  Churches making a successful transition to the medium size find ways to share the ministry of routine calling on members and bringing communion to the homebound.  This is happening at Atonement with our Caring team and trained Eucharistic ministers.  Deacons, council members and other lay leaders also take on more prominent roles.  They may end up leading events and being public representatives of the church in ways that just the pastor would when the church was small.

            The role of the church council of a medium-sized church is different as well.  Council becomes more focused on ministry goals and policy decisions and less on deciding who we call to fix the toilets.  Authority and responsibility is spread increasingly through the congregation to those empowered and entrusted with particular details of parish life.  Council, in turn, works to keep the teams healthy and functioning so that more people can become involved and more ministry can happen.

            Our congregation is changing.  Sometimes we welcome change, sometimes we dread it.  Almost always, change brings some level of discomfort.  We’re regularly dealing with a number of growing pains, including:

 -- not knowing everyone…  It’s exciting to see new faces, but also confusing when you’re not sure who’s a regular and who’s new.  We are currently working on a directory which we will be producing in-house.  This will allow us to have regular updates and produce a more accurate directory with more photos.  This year I have invited various ministry groups to spend a morning with the confirmation class to get to know our youth a little better and to share a little about what they do.  But I hope that every member sees themselves on the front line of greeting and welcoming new members, as well as inviting them to serve.

-- we are tight for space…  For lack of available space, we turned down 3 congregations in the last year who came to us wanting to use our building.  Storage is at a premium. My office and all the rooms in the back have been used to store items used by other ministries.  Some evenings, there are groups in every available room.  It is wonderful that the building is being used so much, but it does put more wear and tear on the building.  We are grateful for the gracious spirit in which people help with clean up and help make room for others who are using the building.

-- we are looking to expand…  A new building will bring us new opportunities, possibilities AND responsibilities.  Many have pointed out that this means we will have more space that will need cleaning, more utilities that will break down, and more upkeep in general.  It will also mean that some of our ministries will be able to function differently.  We know that fellowship and the food pantry will be directly affected – fellowship because we will now be able to have larger meals cooked in a full kitchen; food pantry because they will continue to need designated space to store and distribute their food every week. 

            Paul Bartell has volunteered to help put together a “Master planning team” that will collect and coordinate various other plans for the use of our property.  Areas to be designated for the prayer garden, playground, columbarium (as well as access to it) and other outdoor projects should be identified and marked.  We hope that each ministry will be thinking about how they might need to adapt as we expand our facility, and share that with this group.

-- we have new ministries…  With our new English as a Second Language (ESL) class taking off, men’s and women’s Bible studies up and running, and expanding programs serving all ages, there is a lot going on at this church.  It gets hard to keep up with, so to help us all get a good look at the many ministries that happen here, we are putting together our first Ministry Fair Sunday on April 24.  Each ministry team will put up a display somewhere in the church building, and we will all take some time during worship that day to visit those stations.  We will also be implementing a new feature in the announcements – a “Classified Ad” section for each ministry to share their needs for resources, members, volunteers, etc.

            After the Easter miracle brought the Church to birth, God grew his people and expanded their numbers, growing their hearts along with it.  As we pursue our mission of sharing the love of Jesus, glorifying God and extending His kingdom, we experience the newness of God as the people of Atonement.  Like the early apostles, we recognize that many of the changes we experience are due to the movement of God’s Holy Spirit.  We give thanks for this future God is bringing about, even when it invades our space and messes with our comfort zones.  For years we have been Wesley Chapel’s “small church with a big heart.”  As our membership grows medium-sized, may God also transform our love for Him and for our neighbors, growing our hearts super-sized.


Pastor Scott