Pastor's Page

The Eclipse is Past…. and Coming!
(An Easter Greeting from Pastor Fisher)
What great excitement we had in our communities as Eclipse Day 2024 came upon us!  Yes, there was a lot of hype, and some merchandising, and for those of us with clear skies it was a breathtaking moment of awe that most of us will probably not see again.
Watching the sun disappear into darkness; feeling the chill in the air, the birds changing their song, yes, and even the photoelectric lights on streets on houses turn on, was an amazing time for me.  It pulled be back to Psalm 8:3-4:
                                      When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
                                              the moon and the stars that you have established;
                                      what are humans that you are mindful of them,
a] that you care for them?
It astounds me how our God could have created the heavens, that work like clockwork, and then how God could have added even the eclipse for such a show of majesty!
The eclipse fell just days after Easter… which was another, even more amazing display, of God’s majesty.  Death, which brings that eternal darkness, was blotted out by a flash of the infinite majesty of our maker as God brought Jesus back to his followers, back to those who love him of every time and place.  Light and hope replaced the darkness of death and the tomb.
We only see eclipses occasionally that remind us of God’s majesty.  But every year we are called, through the message of the cross and the empty tomb, that our Lord Jesus died – and rose – and rose up – that we might have that same eternal life.
May the joy and the blessings of Easter eclipse the fears and pains of your journey in life!
As we say, “Christ is Risen!”  “He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!”
Easter Blessings!
Pastor Steve Fisher

Our Lenten Journey - 2024

The Lenten Season has come.  This can evoke many thoughts and ideas, from fasting, abstaining from a favorite food, to “what is this all about, anyway?”  
The 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter (OK, we don’t count the Sundays!) have been observed for centuries in the church as a time to pull away from our normal busy schedules, and add time for prayer, meditation, and repentance.  It is a time to look inward at our lives, and to evaluate if we are actually living …well, as faithful people of God.  
Make it a challenge this Lenten season to add time for prayer and introspection.  At Messiah we have a light soup supper and a brief devotional time on Wednesdays.  Look for ways to make our Lord more present in this journey!

Pastor Steve Fisher
Lenten Worship at Messiah - 2024

We all have questions!  Sometimes it seems like we often are asking the same questions again and again!  Here are some common questions that just seem to pop up, and we are linking them to Scriptures that might help us find an answer.
Lent is a time that calls us to look deeper into ourselves, and to be drawn closer to that One who truly gives us answers in life!
Feb. 14, 7:00 pm:  Ash Wednesday Worship in Sanctuary
John 1:35-42  Who Are You Looking For?

Feb. 21:  6:00 Soup Supper, Worship at 6:30
Luke 4:1-13  Are You Ready for the Test?

Feb. 28:   6:00 Soup Supper, Worship at 6:30
Luke 13:1-9  Why Did It Happen?

Mar. 6: 6:00 Soup Supper, Worship at 6:30
Luke 13:31-35  Who’s in Charge Here?

Mar. 13:  6:00 Soup Supper, Worship at 6:30
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32  Do You Really Want Fair?

Mar. 20:  6:00 Soup Supper, Worship at 6:30
John 12:1-8  What Does it Cost?

March 24, 10:00 am:  Palm Sunday Worship
Procession with Palms

March 28, 7:00 pm:  Maundy Thursday 
Worship in Sanctuary
Holy Communion is shared

March 29, 7:00 pm:  Tenebrae Service in Sanctuary
The Service of Shadows and Darkness

March 31, 10:00 am:  Easter Celebration in the Sanctuary
We celebrate the victory which our Lord has won!

Merry Epiphany!
The Season of Epiphany is one of those short seasons of the Christian church year that doesn’t get a lot of attention!  There are no Epiphany Bunnies or Epiphany Reindeer… but maybe there is something better!
Epiphany comes from the Greek and means “to appear”, or to be present, or made manifest.  Just as a lighthouse gives direction with its light to a mariner, the scriptures we read in this little short season (starting early in January and into February) are helpful to light our way as we learn more about this Jesus who came to a darkened, troubled world with the Light of the Father.
Additionally, in this time after Epiphany, we read Biblical texts about the call to discipleship.  We are each called to serve our Lord in our own particular ways- isn’t that amazing?  And as we read these words they show us that each of us individually have a calling to show Christ to the world.
If you would like to read the texts yourself, these are the ones we will be reading during this little season called Epiphany:

January 7: Mark 1:4-11:  The Baptism of Jesus 

 January 14:  John 1:43-51:  The Calling of Disciples (And Nathaniel saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”)
 January 21:  Mark 1:14-20:  The calling of the disciples at the sea (Make you fish for people.)
 January 28:  Mark 1:21-28: The healing of one with an unclean spirit
 February 4  Mark 1:29-39:  The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law
 February 8:  Mark 9:2-9  Revelation of Christ as God’s beloved Son
Epiphany!  We are trying to share the light of Epiphany- without Epiphany Bunnies!  (Hmm… maybe there is a market for Epiphany Flashlights…..)


Pastor Steve

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2022
April 24 thru April 30

For two years now I’ve dated these weekly letters in reference to the octave.  The octave is the 8-day spread of time from Sunday to Sunday.  But this letter is one day short of an octave.  The reason is I will not be here May 1st.  My final day on your pay roll is April 30th.  So, for the first time in two years, the heading lists a seven-day span, not an eight-day span. 
I thank specifically those who planned and participated in the coffee hour on April 24.  That was our first coffee hour in over two years.  It served as a very nice event acknowledging my retirement from 42 years of pastoring. The council heard my requests (such as no meal, no cake) and then made a very nice gathering.  The gift basket was huge.  Mary and I will be enjoying those certificates for months.  The Packer shirt was great – believe it or not, I do not have one of those.  At first, I thought the number 22 was for Packers player Elijah Pitts.  Then Mary explained that number 22 is for the year; I retired in the year 2022.  Mark and Beth Anderson had a huge role in making that exceptional event so memorable.  Thank you!
I thank generally the whole personality of Messiah Lutheran Church.  Paul the Apostle wrote very emotionally. He was especially effusive in gratitude when he wrote to the Philippians. He had every right to feel such joy and relief in their presence.  He had been thru so much terror and suffering, both from external events and deep within his internal psyche. But there was something about the nature of that congregation at Philippi that set Paul at ease.  He loved them deeply and it is obvious in his letter to them. 
I was feeling similarly today.  How do I express my gratitude for all the openness and creativity of this congregation?  How do I express my gratitude for the personalities around this place who are so life-full and therefore so life-giving?  I’m saying a lot of prayers of thanksgiving to God these days.  That is how I spent much of Monday afternoon, in your beautiful Swedish church, just being grateful. 
The announcement page to the bulletin did not get handed out Sunday.  On that page was re-printed the letter to Messiah in which I accepted the Call you had extended to me on 11.25.2007.  The letter was filled with gratitude.  I am one among seven other pastors who have accepted your Call here with gratitude.  The next pastor will accept your next Call with gratitude. 
This is what I wrote on November 30, 2007:
Dear People of God at Messiah, 
It is an honor to have received your Call to become your next pastor.  With gratitude to your Call Committee, leadership, and congregation I gratefully accept this Call which has been extended to me.
It is a privilege to join with you in your ministry of Word and Sacrament.  I’m looking forward to blending my gifts with yours as we offer a continual doxology to God through our worship, education, service, and witness.
(signed) The Rev. Dr. Michael Meranda 
At some future date your next called pastor will write a letter accepting your Call.  In his or her own way, they will express their gratitude to be among you and their confident hope for what your ministry will accomplish together.  That will be another good day for Messiah – actually, the beginning of many more good days for Messiah.  You have been so good for all your pastors and your next pastor will come to know your goodness and share it with others.  Your “continual doxology to God” will joyfully ring out through time in this place. 
Thank you, and Thanks be to God
The Rev. Dr. Michael Meranda

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2022
April 17 thru April 24

This is my penultimate weekly letter to Messiah.  I began these weekly communications when we shut down for Covid19 back in Lent 2020.  I wanted to provide some venue for keeping us together. We were a community of isolated individuals, mandated to stay at home. I had no idea then these weekly letters would continue for two years. I had no idea then how much I would enjoy staying connected with you in this socially distanced way. 
I am mindful of your staff at Messiah.  When I first arrived December 2007, Diane Maenpa was secretary. She kept the office steady after Pastor Eaton left to assume the role of synod bishop. Cathy Carle followed “Dee Dee”.  Cathy knows the Messiah and Ashtabula communities so well.  She was a wealth of information for me, and a great proof reader. Now Arthur Polnisch occupies the secretary’s desk. He’s a graduate of the USAF Academy and is ideally suited to follow protocol for your interim situation. 
Barb and Randy Lewis were custodians when I first arrived. I appreciated right away your care for this historic building thru them. Time passed and custodial work shifted to the care of Ed Spencer and Homer Young.  Messiah’s budgets only 12 hours a week for custodian.  Keeping up with this aging building is a huge task.  They do it very responsibly and with a lot of positive energy.   
Julie Hunt directs your choir.  She was on staff before me.  When I arrived she was single; she soon married Kevin and together they brought Hope Lynn into the world. Julie has been getting good sound from your choir every Sunday I have been here; they have a lot of fun doing it, too.  Ed Schroeder accompanies the choir on piano and sometimes substitutes as organist.  He was amazing during the pandemic, coming in every Tuesday morning to record piano pieces for the weekly You Tube. I love his vast selection of piano literature and his nuanced playing – the Jazz/Blues Reproaches he led for Good Friday were exceptional.  Debra Fleming had been organist here for at least 15 years before my arrival. (I’ve been here 14 years so she is coming up on or has passed her 30th year anniversary on your organ bench.) All of us cannot express enough our appreciation of her skill, spirit, style, and spark.  (I’m especially privileged to have been directed by her for two productions at the Arts Center.) 
So, that is your amazing staff at Messiah.  They have made my job so easy and so enjoyable. You are in their good hands during the upcoming interim time. Your next pastor will come to appreciate them as much as I have. 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2022
April 10 thru April 17

I received a nice letter from our synod’s bishop.  The synod council voted to place my name on the retired pastor roster. I appreciate that sense of “belonging.” After I retire, I will no longer be Messiah’s pastor.  But I’m still ordained, I will be a retired pastor.  
Speaking of Northeast Ohio Synod, a Messiah practice for which I am grateful is your benevolence giving.  The line “benevolence” on our offering envelopes designates the money Messiah sends to the church-at-large, i.e., our synod. Generally speaking, in the fourteen years I have been here, Messiah sends $12,000 to $16,000 a year to Northeast Ohio Synod.  That totals around $200,000 in giving to our synod in the most recent decade and a half.  I would suspect that considering our weekly attendance that Messiah is among the higher percentage givers among synod congregations. 
It is important that Messiah continue that trend after I leave.  This will come naturally because I am sure Messiah was strong in benevolence long before my arrival.  In your immediate future you will experience first hand what belonging to a synod means.  Synod reps will guide you thru a visioning process and lead you thru the Call process.  The synod will help you articulate specifically where you are in mission and then the synod will suggest suitable candidates for you to consider for your next call. 
I’m looking forward to all the days during this Holy Week.  On Monday I’ll submit my final monthly report to council.  On Tuesday I may journey to Kent to renew ordination vows with other NEOS pastors. Wednesday I’ll enjoy one final breakfast with Men Of Messiah.  Thursday I’ll wash feet and help strip the chancel at Maundy Thursday liturgy.  Friday I’ll hear the choir lead us thru the Solemn Reproaches at Good Friday liturgy.   Saturday I’ll drop off flowers with you for Easter Garden.  Sunday I’ll sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” for my final time with you. 
Blessed Holy Week 2022,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2022
April 3 thru April 10

I’m boxing up my books to take from Messiah’s pastor’s study to my house.  I’m working backwards alphabetically, starting with Z.  When I got to books in my B section I paused.  There was a slim volume from Frederick Buechner.  The title is “Peculiar Treasures”. It’s a series of insightful and humorous vignettes on characters in the Bible. 
I paused at that volume because it was the first gift I had received at ordination.  The giver was L Paul Bartling.  He had graduated from the seminary in those halcyon 1950’s. He was an effective Lutheran missionary in Korea. Then he was an effective pastor in Northeast Portland.  He served the international Lutheran congregation in Geneva, Switzerland for a term.  He finished his career on staff at Northwest Washington Synod office.  He was a significant pastor for many people thru the decades.  Most significantly for me, he presiding at our wedding, when Mary and I tied the knot in 1977.
Paul wrote a nice inscription in the book, dated 5.23.1980 – my ordination date.  He wrote, with his characteristic fountain tip pen, “In spite of the seriousness of your task, a little whimsey never hurts the preacher or the listening folks ‘out there.’  And remember, have fun!”
“And remember, have fun!”  That’s great counsel for a newly ordained pastor. It is not that we trivialize God or church or calling. It is a matter of confidence.  When we are confident in God in our calling, we breathe a little easier.  When we trust the intentions of those around us, we lighten up. When we see the grand sweep of things and do not take ourselves too seriously, joy flows more readily.
In that sense, “have fun” means remain very serious about ministry and the ministering tasks.  But at the same time, do so with spontaneity, alacrity, conviviality, mutuality, creativity, responsibility, & intelligence.  That is why of all the places I have served these 42-years, Messiah has been so much “fun”. 
Speaking of fun, dead serious Holy Week is upon us.  April 10th brings three persons reading the passion of Christ.  April 14th brings Maundy Thursday foot washing & chancel stripping.  April 15th brings Good Friday solemn reproaches.  Holy Week begins the march to death.  But God is the God of life. God defeats death.  So, April 16th in the morning is time to do the first Easter Garden in two years.  On April 17th we gather to inaugurate the Great Fifty Days of Easter with, “Christ is risen / Risen indeed / Alleluia!    
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2022
March 27 thru April 3 

As you know, I turn in my keys to Messiah on April 30 and begin retirement on May 1. Mary and I will remain in Ashtabula.  You may see us at civic functions, but you will not see us at Messiah functions.  I’ll be another fellow citizen in Ashtabula; but I will not be known as the pastor at Messiah. One of the best things a good pastor can do is learn how to let go when they leave. 
Speaking of good pastors, Messiah has a history of calling good pastors.  In the last 29 years you have only been in an interim situation two times.  Going back to 1951, your pastors have had an average tenure of nearly 18 years each.  That means you know how to call good pastors.  That means the good pastors you call recognize your basic goodness and they enjoy remaining here long term.  Your council and your synod reps are going to lead you thru another good Call process, I’m sure. 
As I am encouraged by the Northeast Ohio Synod calling protocol, I am discouraged by Hollywood culture.  So, Will Smith slugged Chris rock on the jaw on live TV.  We saw it replayed and commented on again and again on social media.  The antics of that over-paid celebrity culture are why I have purposefully not followed the Academy Awards for many years.  Perhaps the only redemptive moment to emerge was the perspective Denzel Washington supposedly made – When we are at our highest moment, that is when the Devil really comes after us. 
As another commentator put it, “Use your words, Will, use your words.”
Leaving Hollywood, let’s get back to reality. For the first time in two years, we are celebrating our usual Holy Week and Easter.  In the year 2020 Covid19 cancelled Holy Week and Easter.  In the year 2021 Holy Week and Easter were radically truncated.  In 2022 we return to the full schedule: April 10 Palm Sunday, April 14 Maundy Thursday, April 15 Good Friday, April 16 Easter Garden, April 17 Easter Sunday.  We are singing hymns.  Masks are permitted, not mandated.  
The reality of Holy Week and Easter is Christ is risen. When we engage our suffering, we follow Christ thru suffering.  Christ accompanies us in suffering.  We follow the accompanying Christ to resurrection.  He rises ahead of us and Holy Spirit calls us to join Christ. We join with the resurrected One.  We know our destiny and the God who brings us there. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2022
March 20 thru March 27

The Covid19 onslaught in February 2020 caused the creation of two new ministries at Messiah.  They were: adding a Saturday morning holy communion service, and posting a weekly You Tube worship “service”.  Covid19 is receding. Normal schedules are resuming.  It is time to bring those emergency measure ministries to conclusion. 
The aim of 9:30 a.m. communion on Saturday was to dilute the worshipping population.  Physical distancing was a key to arresting Covid. The more who attended on Saturday meant the less would attend on Sunday.  To a certain extent, that worked.  Saturday attendance ranged from typically 5 to never more than 12 people.  
Ed Schroeder was central to Saturday’s specialness.  He brought piano music specific for each liturgical day.  We were masked and not singing.  But at least we heard the church’s song. 
The purpose of putting a weekly “service” on You Tube originated when the building was shut down, the months when there were no in person services at Messiah.  Thanks to social media, those weekly video recordings gained a wide audience.  I’m aware of people on the west coast and people on the east coast who regularly tune in. 
Debra Fleming and Frank Maenpa were central to the You Tube service specialness.  For two years Debra recorded music (as would Ed Schroeder). For two years Frank Maenpa received the edited “service” I would upload for him and then he would format it and upload it onto You Tube.  We would be remiss if we did not make mention of Isabelle Fleming.  She gathered all the technology to do this production and showed me how to do it. 
I put You Tube “service” in quotation marks because it was never an actual live recorded liturgy.  It was never a “live stream” as some congregations do.  But it did feature music that related to the church year, and my reflection on the texts appointed for a given Sunday.  The weekly You Tube often featured what I referred to as a Bonus Section.  I would record various places in Messiah’s building and reflect on them. Sometimes I would record places around Ashtabula and reflect on Messiah’s role in this city. Those weekly productions turned out to be a helpful release for my creativity during pandemic isolation. 
But all good things must come to an end.  So, March 19th was the final Saturday Morning Holy Communion at 9:30 a.m.  Sunday Holy Communion at 10:00 a.m. remains as the principal service at Messiah.  And, the final You Tube “service” will air on Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022.  The remaining You Tube services then are March 27 (Lent 4), April 3 (Lent 5), April 10 (Palm Sunday), and April 17 (Resurrection of our Lord). 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2022
March 13 thru March 20

On April 30, 2022, I will have completed my work among you.  You will soon be engaging your very promising work of making transition from Saying Farewell to me and ultimately Welcome and Celebration of your next pastor. 
The Rev. Mitch Phillips visited Messiah’s council meeting on 3.14.2022.  He is assistant to our Northeastern Ohio Synod Bishop; he guides congregations thru the calling process. He shared an eight-page document and power pointe presentation that outlined what Messiah will be experiencing in the months ahead. (A copy of that document is available for you at your request.)
Pr. Phillips outlined the Five Phases of Transition thru which he will be leading Messiah. You just started Phase 1 - Saying Farewell.  After I leave, you are in Phase 2 - Exploring God’s Call.  Synod Staffer, The Rev. Julianne Smith, will lead you thru Phase 2.  I have served on her synod stewardship committee.  She is very capable, and you will appreciate working with her. Phase 3 - Entering the Call Process.  Phase 4 - Primary Candidate, culminating with your congregational meeting for a vote to extend a Call. Phase 5 is Welcome and Celebration, climaxing with installation of your new pastor. 
What I appreciated most about Pr. Phillips meeting with the council is that a face and voice is now associated with this process. Transitions, changes, interims are by nature unnerving and unsettling.  But when we hear the voice of the one who will be leading us thru and know their face and learn their mannerisms, that makes a huge difference.  My personal anxiety about my retiring lessened considerably as the meeting progressed.  You as a congregation will increase in confidence and enthusiasm as Pr. Phillips and others lead you thru the very logical, methodical stages of interim, visioning, and extending your next Call.
My final Sunday among you is 4.24.2022.  During that 10:00 a.m. Holy Communion service I’ll include the rite for Thanksgiving at the Conclusion of a Call, with specific rubrics for retirement of a pastor (Occasional Services for the Assembly, p111f.)  
After that service is ended, we’ll proceed to Messiah’s downstairs fellowship hall where we’ll be greeted by one of Messiah’s much appreciated coffee hours.  You have done your after-church coffee hours so well thru the years.  They are really good memories for me. That is how I requested to “go out”, with the taste of church coffee and the sound of your laughter and conversation.  So, no formal sit-down dinner. No receiving line. No head table. I even specified no retirement cake.  Just coffee and a preponderance of donuts. We’ll gather comfortably and our council will MC us thru a time for recognition, thanks, and perhaps a bit of roasting. 
Otherwise, a lot of paperwork has been processed: 

  • my communication with Portico for medical coverage and retirement income
  • my request to the bishop for retired roster status. 
  • An important document called “Covenant For Departing Pastors” has been signed by myself and council president Mark Anderson. Council members all have copies and copies are available for you at your request. That Covenant summarizes what I have been communicating all along – after I retire, I will have no pastoral role whatsoever in your personal lives or the life of Messiah.    
  • In addition to those documents, a hard copy of my letter of resignation will be included as an insert in the April “Messenger”.  

 I’m excited for you. You do so many things so well.  You will do this next stage of your congregational life well as well. There will be laughter and insight, realization and growth, consensus and planning. You will support each other.  You will do all that because you know how God holds you securely in God’s loving heart. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2022
March 6 thru March 13
Several have questioned why our denomination has a lengthy interim and call process after a pastor retires.  In the corporate world, for example, an executive stays on to train his or her replacement. There is over lap and continuity. This is not the case in our church world.
Our current policy is good policy. The retiring pastor leaves.  She or he promises not to interfere in the ongoing life of the congregation. An interim period follows the retirement. Then a call process welcomes the new pastor. 
Here is why this is good policy.  It all relates to the make up of the human person. I’m borrowing a model from Dennis Bennet, an Episcopalian priest (who influenced the charismatic movement in those circles).  Bennet writes the multi-layered human person comprises three inter relating parts.  We are spirit, soul, and body.  Spirit is that part of us to which God connects.  God infuses our beings thru our spirit.  Soul is the totality of our personality, our psychology.  Within our Soul we are unique Intellect, Emotion, and Volition.  Our body is how we are physically present in this time and space. Spirit from God informs Soul and Soul directs the ways our Body interacts with the world and community. (Bennet’s model is not universally accepted. Lutheran theologian Regin Prenter has another model, but that’s another book.)
If Bennet’s theory is true -- the human person is interacting Spirit, Soul, Body -- that explains why retiring pastors need to leave.  Pastors, form a deep bond with people.  Pastors see and encourage growth in Spirit.  Pastors see and encourage growth in Intellect, Emotions, and Will.  Pastors see and encourage how Spirit and Soul make people physically present to do the work of the church.  Pastors make connections with people that are very deep and profound.  
Back at Northwestern Lutheran Seminary (LCA before the ELCA merger), Prof. Hulme taught students about empathic identification. Pastors are not to enmesh in the lives of parishioners, but are to feel parishioners’ experiences alongside of them.  So, pastors feel pain at funerals and joy and weddings. Pastors feel the excitement of learning and the commitment for social welfare.  
It is because of the deep and profound nature of the human person that retiring pastors should go away.  That way the interim can prepare the congregation to form those new relationships with the new pastor. Perhaps no other “job” links people together the way being a pastor does.  That is why the departure of one pastor is felt so deeply and why it takes time to form the next bond with the next pastor.  But it does work.  It does happen. It will happen at Messiah. 
When I do retire, Mary and I are staying on in Ashtabula.  We like our house.  Mary still works at Catholic Charities.  And I am too involved in other civic groups to move away at this point.  So, my line is, “You will still see me around town, you will not see me at Messiah. I will still be your neighbor; but I will not be your pastor.”  Someday, someone else will be your pastor. I’m convinced she or he will love & serve you and that you will appreciate & love her or him. 
Pr. Michael Meranda