Pastor's Page

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
October 17 thru October 24
The “Messenger” and Sunday verbal announcements and this weekly letter have reminded us to attend the semi-annual meeting of Messiah on October 24th.  We’ll remain in our pews for this short meeting right after the 10:00 a.m. church service.  The sole agenda item is to vote on the three persons nominated to serve a three-year term on our congregation’s council. 
A new cheerful voice answers the phone at Messiah’s office.  He is our new office secretary, Mr. Arthur Polnisch. Arthur began attending our weekly Saturday morning church service over a year ago. His long work resume began in 1969 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the USAF after he was graduated from the US Air Force Academy in Colorado. He is in the office three hours every morning on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Messiah members are encouraged to phone and say hello or stop in to say hello.
There is bad news and good news. The bad news is because of the recent spike of Covid19, congregational council has asked that we resume wearing masks during worship. The good news is that we have resumed singing.  We’re singing key parts of the liturgy: opening canticle, psalm, alleluia verse, great thanksgiving, Holy Holy Holy, and Lamb of God.  This makes church feel a bit more normal, following draconian measures introduced at the onset of the pandemic.  When I was a child, I remember The Lutheran church used to be known as the Singing Church. Our strong musical heritage started way back during the Reformation.  It’s good to be slowly reintroducing that musical heritage at Messiah.  Someday soon we’ll return to full voice. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
October 10 thru October 17

I’m lingering over that phrase in yesterday’s gospel: looking at the confused man, Jesus loved him.  It conveys a sense that Jesus was fully present. He was aware. He took in the situation. He fully understood the issue at hand. He appreciated the importance of the man’s dilemma. He sought to help the man break thru an impasse and arrive at the freedom of truth and understanding.  Jesus was in no hurry to brush aside the man’s inquiry. Jesus lingered in that moment. 
It’s difficult to do that in our busy civilization. The economy and culture make us time conscious and project oriented. It’s difficult to slow down, linger, receive, absorb. But that is the only way we come to understand and ultimately appreciate others. In his slow encounter with that man, Jesus teaches how to be available and present for each other.  I hope that is a take away for us when Covid19 is finally over. I hope we look back and say at least the shut down made us slow down. 
I’ve appreciated the opportunity to be slow and be present in this church building.  Every week new photos appear on our you-tube church service. This building has personality. Different seasons and different times of day cast different light on this sturdy piece of architecture. It’s good to imagine the hymns, stories, prayers, laughter, and conversations the generations have brought to this space.  It’s good to anticipate the day when normal activities resume. 
The October “Messenger” reminded us of the semi-annual meeting of Messiah on October 24th.  We’ll remain in our pews for this short meeting right after the 10:00 a.m. church service.
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
September 26 thru October 3 

Theology and ministry lend themselves very well to conferences.  So, I’ve been a regular participant in conferences since I was a vicar back in 1978-1979.  We send in our registration fee. We block the time out on our calendar. We check into wherever the conference is being held. We enjoy time with colleagues.  We take away notes and insights from the guest speakers. 
Oregon pastor conferences were among the best because of the location.  There were ample conference centers along Oregon’s Pacific Coast. The views from hotel rooms were spectacular.  Conference planners allowed ample time for us to walk the beach.  In Washington, there was the annual Holden Village pastor conference. This rustic retreat setting high in the Cascades took a day to get into. Holden was Norwegian Lutheran so it was “dry.”  We did fine.  The prolonged time in isolation made this very formative.  Minnesota was especially intellectually enriching for pastors.  St. John’s College in Collegeville let us lodge in the same buildings with the monks.  Since I moved to Ashtabula, I’ve really enjoyed Lutheranism and the Classics conferences in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  Probably the best week away ever was at the Liturgical Institute at Notre Dame, probably because it is, well, Notre Dame! 
That learning and engagement ended with Covid19.  Last year all conferences were simply cancelled.  This year conferences are hybrid or tenuously attended. I have no plans to travel until Covid morphs thru its various variations and strains.
All of us in all professions and stations of life have done that juggling of schedules.  The places we used to frequent we had to avoid. The events we used to take in we had to cancel.  We are glad to see things slowly re-opening. But at the same time, we are very cautious.  Whenever we finally arrive at the New Normal, I hope we’ll be appreciative of what we had to endure.  I hope we deepen appreciation for arts and relationships.  I hope we renew our commitments to noble places and events.  
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
September 19 thru September 26
Dentistry fascinates me.  It’s the array of tools: picks, scrapers, syringes, drills with varying bits and speeds that sound and feel differently from the others. It’s the emerging technology: extractions morphed into fillings which morphed into caps and bridges which morphed into inserted titanium posts that anchor a prosthetic. It’s the skill level of dentists and assistants: working in small spaces, adroit hand to eye coordination, attention to detail, narrow focus, humor, advising pain management. I say all this in stage two of a three-stage process of crowning a quadruple canalled molar. Most my life I took teeth for granted. As I enter my autumnal years, I have a renewed appreciation for all the teeth that are still original or that have been saved or restored. “Take care of your choppers,” a wise person recently told me.
There are always good things to take care of. (Sorry for ending with a preposition, but “There are always good things for which to care” sounded awkward.) Caring for ours yards and gardens will soon focus on the final mow for the season and raking all those leaves.  Our cars always need some sort of maintenance and cleaning.  Many of us keep up on household repairs while others of us have to contract that out. (Oops, just ended with another preposition.)
But the best beings for which we may show care are each other. Other people – relatives, work mates, neighbors, strangers – often need a helping hand or a kind word.  All of us will come across several people this week who need our care.  The encounter may not be accidental.  God may have specifically brought them to us for our attention. Other people especially need our prayers.  Think of what a privilege that is, to offer up to a caring God the persons for whom we especially care. So, we enjoy our role as care givers.  We care for our stuff and we care for our health. And especially we care for one another.  In this way the creative, preserving hand of God, working thru us, extends its loving reach into this cosmos.  
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
September 12 thru September 19

There were many surprises this recent football weekend.  I was surprised at how good the Oregon Ducks looked against the Ohio State Buckeyes.  I was surprised at how vulnerable the Buckeye defense seemed against the run.  I was surprised at how well the Browns did most of the game against the Chiefs.  I was surprised the Chiefs pulled off the win at the end; they did not have momentum thru most of the game.  I was surprised at how awful the Packers looked against the Saints. There was so much hope and hype this summer at the return of Aaron Rodgers. He got pulled after two minutes into the 4th Quarter. 
I actually did not spend all weekend watching football. We trimmed back our cable package, so I see very few live football games. But I do watch game summaries on You Tube.  It saves a lot of time and a lot of anxiety. 
I have enjoyed the surprising rise of Oregon football in recent years.  For most of my childhood I lived in Oregon.  I was a pastor in Portland, Oregon for eight years. During that time Oregon football was the doormat of the Pack-12 (Pack-8 when I was growing up). First of all, who would name a football team The Ducks? Local sportscasters referred to them as the Fighting Web-Foots (as they would lose year after year to USC, UCLA, etc. etc.)  Then Nike money moved in and the Ducks got competitive. They became the Quack Attack. Now the odds are against most visiting teams having to travel to play in Autzen Stadium. 
Is it the surprise factor that keeps us watching sports on TV? Sure, we are loyal to our locales. We like to cheer for the home team. And, we admire the athleticism and skill of individual athletes. But, it is the element of surprise that is part of what draws us back. Fans of Packer Defense and Buckeye Defense were surprised negatively. Fans of Duck Defense were surprised at how well they did in The Shoe. 
On the one hand, there will be no surprise when God gathers us all home on the Last Day. There will be an individual last day for each of us. There will be a cosmic last day for all the structures of this universe. We’re expecting that. But I think there will be a huge surprise for us when we experience how good it is going to be.  What is in store is far beyond our imagination. Even our best projections are inadequate. Beholding God face to face, being held by God directly in God’s embrace – this is unfathomable warmth and light. I think we’ll all say in amazement, “Wow, I did not expect this.”
In the meantime, we enjoy the good surprises here as they come our way.  And we position ourselves to bring good surprise into someone else’s life.  There is an abundance of good surprises we have yet to orchestrate and to receive. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
September 5 thru September 12 

It happened.  Fall weather just dropped in.  We were working in the back yard this Labor Day. The air was crisp and dry. The breeze was slight. The shadows were long.  The temperature was cool.  Of course, this is Northeast Ohio. Any day now we could swelter in summer-like-humidity or batten down the hatches in a gully washer.  Interestingly, people often say what they like most about living in the Midwest is the weather.  We like the four seasons.  We cannot imagine measuring lifetime without them. The seasons all bring their own discomfort.  But they also bring their own relief and beauty.  Thanks be to God.
American Lutheranism lost another icon this summer.  Walt Wangerin died. Some of us at Messiah may remember the last time we gathered for Lent Midweek; we showed a 5-session video that featured Walt Wangerin on prayer. He was a 3rd generation Lutheran pastor, taught at Lutheran Valparaiso University, and published best-selling books.  He was a sought-after speaker, lecturer, and preacher.  I remember him when he was a young man speaking at a pastor’s conference at Holden Village Washington in 1983. Thanks to the miracle of You-Tube, his talks are instantly available.  Also, his recent memorial service at Christ Lutheran Church in Valparaiso was posted on You Tube. 
For which influencers are you grateful to God? Many turned to Walt Wangerin’s writings for spiritual direction, clarity, and inspiration.  Remember the really helpful teacher you had?  Remember how an older relative helped you become a responsible adult?  Remember an entertainer to whom you turned when you needed to feel alive again?  Remember an author whom you enjoyed following thru the years? These important persons in our lives are all gifts from God.  And because of your gifts and station, you are gift from God for someone else this very day.  
Blessings always, 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
August 29 thru September 
Events have two holds on us.  They are concerns for prayer.  They are backdrop for our day to day. 
Here is what we are praying for these dangerous days.  As of this writing, the withdrawal of US Citizens from Kabul is still under way.  No telling what the terrorists may try before the August 31 deadline.  We pray for safety. Hurricane Ida has done her damage in Louisiana and elsewhere.  Images of Katrina sixteen years ago are still fresh in our minds.  We pray for their recovery.  School buses have been running for a week.  We pray our classrooms will be places of joyful learning. The Delta Variant is making significant gains in various places. Our own county is elevated to level orange.  I heard on a late-night news program there is yet another variant emerging, the Lambda variant.  (The Greek alphabet has 24 letters; I hope we will not have to go thru 24 strains of Covid) We pray for cure.
Those events that are uppermost in the news and in our prayers do not necessarily affect us directly. (Well, Covid does, in that I know the few of us who have tested positive.) But for the most part those events are backdrop.  We go on with our days. We go to work.  We volunteer. We tend to family members. We socialize with friends. We address our health and wellness.  We make offerings. We attend socially distanced church. We keep up our routines. Against a very dangerous backdrop of international events, local lives go on. 
God is in the extreme and God is in the normal.  God is in the dangerous and God is in the placid. God is in the tragic and God is in the triumph. God just is, no matter what.  And as people of God, God calls us to reflect the ways of God no matter what. No matter where we are, be lightful. No matter what we are doing, be peaceful. No matter what we are considering, be intent-full.  No matter what is happening, be prayerful. No matter who is speaking, be attentive.  No matter what is happening, be loving. 
Current events are very unsteadying these days. Creation especially needs us to be the steadying people God has called us to be. We will do this.  The steady rhythm of God’s love pulses thru us like the steady beat of a bass drum. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
August 22 thru August 29 

There is a funeral and a death to reflect on this week.  August 28th I’ll participate in a funeral liturgy in Conneaut.  The person we are remembering is one of those many deaths that occurred during the height of Covid19 pandemic.  Families had to delay memorializing loved ones, which added another layer of stress to their grief.  I admire the funeral homes that responsibly showed care; they had to keep people apart at a time when people especially needed to be together. This is one of many delayed funerals in this unique time. 

I learned that the person who donated the Steinway piano to Messiah’s Luther room has tragically died in a car crash. She was at the height of her professional productivity and skill.  Colleagues and the community will miss her greatly.  Two of the songs that will appear on the August 29th Messiah You Tube service are played on that donated Steinway. We are confident God’s light and peace surrounds her and so pray for light and peace to attend all who grieve her death. 

In my lifetime, every American president has thought it necessary to engage in war without a congressional declaration of war. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon sent troops to, escalated, and managed them in Vietnam. President Reagan invaded Granada. President H Bush sent troops to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.  (At least President H Bush gathered a huge coalition of nations AND secured funding from those nations whose economies depended on the flow of Middle Eastern oil.) President Clinton ordered military action into Kosovo. President W Bush sent troops to Afghanistan then invaded Iraq. I voted for Barak Obama, assuming he would draw us down out of Afghanistan, but President Obama increased and extended our military presence there. President Trump coordinated cruise missile attacks into Syria. Currently, President Biden has closed the U.S. Embassy in Kandahar and is directing a harrowing withdrawal of U.S. citizens from Afghanistan. 

Where am I going with this? These two paragraphs hardly scratch the surface of the detailed complexities of U.S. foreign policy. But as a private citizen, I have never been comfortable when our republic feels it has to act as if it were an empire. I love our military and wish to keep it strong for national defense, not misused for other nation building. As a Christian I find three prayers in ELW very helpful. They are on page 78 and lift up to God our nation in times of distress, conflict, and crisis.  There are good images to keep in our hearts and minds. Prayers are for wisdom and courage, for being without hatred or bitterness, for soaring wings and strengthened dreams.  In these dangerous times the world especially needs the church to be a praying church.  We become what we pray. We calm extremism, we reconcile polarization, we are refuge for weary, we provide community for the lonely, we are welcoming space for the isolated. This world God so loves has some very dangerous places.  It is joy to bring stable peace to whatever corner of this loved world that we inhabit. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
August 15 thru August 22
I’m writing amid examples sound-management and mis-management. 
The good management comes from our congregational council.  In light of the recent proliferation of Covid19 Delta Strain, we are keeping current protocols. Holy Communion (minimal contact & no singing) is celebrated Saturdays 9:30 a.m. and Sundays 10:00 a.m. Known & internal groups, such as Tapestry, may use the building. The building is not open yet for outside groups. Choir will not resume rehearsals in September. This guideline takes us thru September 30, 2021. Council will re-evaluate protocols month by month.
Mis-management on an international scale seems to be have been the twenty-year U.S. presence in Afghanistan. We failed to learn from Vietnam that other cultures do not necessarily welcome and integrate our culture. We failed to learn from the Soviet Union that mountainous Afghanistan defies and ultimately expels foreign occupation.  The cost to our treasury American lives has been enormous. American politics does not have a mechanism for leaders to “repent”. But there must be some mechanism for evaluation of past mistakes and clarification before future engagement. 
Pandemic and international events are backdrop for the day-to-day happenings in our local lives. I did not make it to the County Fair this year, but I do hope to make it (doubly masked) to the D-Day event in Conneaut.  AACS has released its masking guidelines for students and teachers returning to classrooms.  AAC worked with ADDA to paint art on Main Ave cross walks.  NEOS candidacy committee used our pastor’s study to conduct an interview. NEOS stewardship committee worship service will soon appear on You Tube. Staying safely steady and centered amid the ups and downs of history is one of many gifts church brings to this world God so loves. 
Be loving, fellow Beloved of God – 
Pastor M

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
August 8 thru August 15
On August 8th, Messiah said farewell to two cherished members. 
Athena Pantoja was with us in church one final time before she leaves to attend college at Baldwin Wallace.  Since her grade school years, she has sung in our choirs, attended our classes, and affirmed her baptism in the rite of confirmation.  Most memorably, she has been the most consistent acolyte ever.  More recently, she has been helping out with deacon roles.  The Rite of Farewell and Godspeed acknowledges a person’s role in the life of the congregation and blesses them as they move on to new places. Their baptismal vocation that had been exercised in this locale will now be exercised in a new location. We thanked and said farewell to Athena and look forward to seeing her again when she comes home for school year breaks.  
Dick Blood had been doing very well at the care center and was expected to return home soon.  He died unexpectedly early Sunday afternoon.  He and Marie were married at Messiah in the Summer of 1965.  They raised their three sons here. Dick was a well-known editor at the Star Beacon.  Recently his book, “Then I Drown” was published. He’s recently remembered for his vast collection of classic movies that he would share.  He is one of the many personalities that makes life so enriching and engaging in Ashtabula. Arrangements for his memorial service this week are pending.  The church prays, “Rest eternal grant him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him.” 
So, a young person begins her collegiate career. A senior person joins directly the communion of saints and sees God face-to-face.  We are constantly in motion, all of us. We head more deeply into new or existing vocations. We deepen current or make new relationships. We grow more fully into the ways of God in whose image we are created.  
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – 2021
August 1 thru August 8 

This summer welcomed pollinators back to my backyard.  For three years in a row now I have not applied weed killer to my lawn.  As expected, clover has returned with a vengeance.  But clover brings little white flowers.  I’ve seen busy bees buzzing around those clover clusters. The side yard has a nice row of Rose of Sharon. They simply exploded this year.  I see all sorts of pollinators in those brilliant white flowers. I have not noticed any honey bees yet.  That is the ultimate hope.  
The goal for my back yard is to become a Monarch Butterfly Way Station.  I have three Asclepius Incarnata and one Asclepius Syriaca (Milkweed). On two separate occasions, we were visited briefly by a small monarch.  I’ll need to plant much more milkweed to get the Monarch Way Station plaque.  But it’s a start.  I also need to learn a whole lot more about caring for monarch cocoons if one should ever deign to lay an egg on one of my milkweeds. 
I never dreamed that I would be so happy to observe bees and butterflies in my backyard.  But Covid19 slowed us down.  The pandemic is NOT a welcome phenomenon.  But, having slowed down in the pandemic, people are investing more time to appreciate what we formerly ignored.
Committees and Congregational Council continue to consider when to more fully open up and return toward normal at Messiah.  The serious threat posed by the Delta Strain will be part of those conversations.  When I feel impatient, I remind myself of the virus histories which I have known. It takes generations to fully eradicate a virus.  FDR contracted polio in the Summer of 1921.  In the Summer of 1961, my First-Grade classmates were receiving our polio vaccinations.  Small Pox plagued North America in colonial times. I still remember reading a National Geographic article in the 1970’s hailing the world-wide elimination of Small Pox. Science works. Be patient with life saving processes and grateful for the science behind them. 
Welcoming the Monarchs and Praying for the Exorcism of Covid, 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
July 25 thru August 1
For the first time in a long time, we got out of town for a few days.  We drove out of state to see our daughter. Generally speaking, I thought people were fairly respectful of the pandemic.  Most put on masks as we got out of our cars to go into the rest stop. We distanced going in and out of doors.  On the one hand, it was good to get out and travel again.  On the other hand, there is that looming specter of wondering what the D Variant is going to do to our health and economy. 
I have a high respect for my daughter’s generation in what they have survived.  They went to high school under the aegis if Nine Eleven.  They did their high school careers with images of the Twin Towers collapsing.  They finished high school aware of our military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. When they were young adults they had to navigate the economic collapse of 2008.  They grew up as Americans in a time when America is extremely polarized in politics and religion. Just when they were adjusting to all that, they were quarantined by the worse pandemic in a century.  Yet they got advanced degrees, continued to work, started families, established households.  True, they never had to land on a Day- Day beachhead; but given what they have survived, they may be becoming the next “greatest generation.” 
Horrendous Humidity advanced the last few days.  Yet summer is winding down.  Wine Walleye Festival had diminished but spirited crowds.  It’s always fun to walk a cordoned off Bridge Street.  It’s especially nice to greet people you have not seen for a while because of the orders to shelter at home.  
We’re looking forward to a baptism July 31st. We need to consider logistics for a possible church picnic on August 22nd. Tuesday I will zoom a Downtown Development Meeting; this is the only group I am in that is still zooming.  The inventors of Zoom should win a presidential freedom award or something.  When the pandemic kept us separated, Zoom brought us together.  Though it was electronic, on zoom we were at least face to face and voice to voice.  Stay smart and safe, everyone. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
July 18 thru July 25

And so goes the summer.  Because of Covid19 last year, many school districts are resuming school early this year. Back to School thoughts have already begun.  The beginning of summer holiday, Memorial Day, has long passed.  The mid-summer holiday, 4th of July, is well behind us. Wine-Walleye Festival in the harbor is next. That always signals we’re heading into the home stretch of summer break. 
We’ve had some wild weather this summer.  Last week brought heavy rainfall.  The low spots in my yard have something I have not seen in a long time: standing water.  Last weekend temperature dropped into the 60’s with huge winds.  It felt more like October than July. 
Time and weather are two constants. Death and taxes are two constants as well, but I’d prefer to think about time and weather.  Time inevitably passes.  Spring took us to summer.  Now summer is rapidly taking us into fall. Weather systems inevitably come and go.  They never ask our preference beforehand.  They just show up.  They bring soft breezes or stormy gales, gentle rains or fierce floods, pleasant warmth or unbearable humidity.  
What’s on your calendar the remaining days of Summer 2021? You bring your own constancy to events and gatherings.  You bring your own style of humor, preparedness, hard work, fun, spontaneity, conversation, caution, etc.  The event is not the same without you.  The event is good and life-giving because of you. 
You are resourceful. You are like the folk in the Gennesaret territory in Mark chapter 6.  Jesus with disciples landed there.  The folk on that eastern side of Lake Galilee were aware of Jesus’ landing.  They followed him to villages, cities, and farms. Moreover, they had the moxie to load the sick among them on pallets and bring them to Jesus for healing. The time inevitably passed; Jesus arrived and then Jesus had to go back to Galilee.  But in that time, they were blessed and healed.  God’s blessing and healing is promised for us these dog-days of summer, no matter what the weather. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
July 11 thru July 18
Things must be returning to normal. Last week I missed sending this weekly email for the first time since March 2020.  People are traveling again.  Familiar events are returning. People are planning again. 
That is exactly what happened to me last week.  I was in Massillon at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.  The stewardship team for our Northeastern Ohio Synod was filming a stewardship “service”.  I appreciated the opportunity to just write the sermon and not have to be concerned with setting up the iPad for recording. I’ll let you know when our synod office makes the service available on You Tube. 
How was your 4th of July this year?  I’ll bet last year you were isolated.  This year you probably received guests or you traveled as a guest yourself.  Independence Day brings profound reminders of the many things that make us a nation. Geography, topography, and borders are a start. A unique attribute of our nation is many different cultural expressions find home under a single, national umbrella. A common enemy helps unify us; for the signers of the 1776 Declaration- it was tyrant King George, for the Greatest Generation it was Nazism, for the current generation it is the pandemic. What makes us a good nation are shared-values. In our best moments as a nation, we value freedom with responsibility. We have freedom of speech, but we take the time to show up to help local boards and committees.  We have the freedom of private property, but we watch out to lend a hand for our neighbor. We have the freedom to invest and grow tremendous financial equity, but we are mindful to build safety nets for those whose circumstance or status did not give them the same opportunity for financial success. The freedom with responsibility of democracy echoes the gift and task pattern of the gospel. 
Suddenly, chronological summer (June, July, August) is half over.  It is the middle week of the middle month. The second half always goes faster than the first half. But we are still enjoying our yards and gardens. Azaleas and rhododendrons have long since bloomed.  But Rose of Sharons and summer hydrangeas are in full blossom.  Black Eyed Susans in my yard should burst open this week.  Enjoy whatever perennials are near you.  God’s forgiveness and restoring love perennially flow thru us.  No matter what our season of life, we rest in the hope God gives us and bask in the light of Christ’s resurrection.
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
June 27 thru July 4 
Thank you for coming out to the meeting of the congregation on 27 June. We stayed in the church, right after Benediction. We considered one item of business: exterior repair on the bell tower.  We authorized an $11,000 expenditure. We adjourned and went home. 
Messiah’s meetings of the congregation are the envy of many other congregations. We are clear about our business. We are polite. We appreciate humor. We do not grand stand nor pontificate. The surface business of the church gets accomplished.  Then we move on to the heart of the church – becoming more like the Christ into whom we have been baptized. The heart of what we are all about is forgiveness and compassion. Adroitly taking care of exterior things, such as tuck pointing and masonry, helps us invest energy and focus on our deeper calling to become “little Christs” in the world. 
I really blew it on Sunday.  Shyanna Lindberg had placed placards around the building announcing the roll out of our feminine hygiene project.  Joanna Pretz Anderson was there to give a verbal description and invite our participation. I failed to call attention to that, though I had assured the committee I would. The sad part is attendance was so strong which would have made the roll out even more impactful. This project is led by an especially strong committee: Renee Spencer, Nancy Krajec, Shyanna Lindberg, Russ Jepson, Joanna Pretz-Anderson, Dawn Grimm.  I’ve no excuses. Just a failure on my part in need of forgiveness.
Fourth of July falls on a Sunday this year.  Messiah sings the “patriotic songs” in our hymnal especially well.  In one sense, the United States Constitution is very “Lutheran.”  By that I mean the exercise of Law is a major component in Lutheran Theology.  Law is a gift from God for personality development and for good society. One role of the Law is to act as curb. Law establishes limits to behavior and necessary boundaries. Think of the US Constitution. Each branch of government – executive, legislative, judicial – is commissioned with authority, yet each branch is curbed by the other two branches.  When elected leaders understand that (Eisenhower / Little Rock / 1957) we tend to do the right thing. When elected leaders to not understand that (Congress / Gulf of Tonkin Resolution / 1964) we tend to meander into debacle. The 4th of July Holiday reminds us of our calling to live and engage society as responsible, helpful citizens.  Be joyful in your celebration in church Sunday morning and be safe in your celebrating the rest of the day. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
June 20 thru June 27
We should have received written notice in the mail by now reminding us of the special meeting of the congregation called for this Sunday, June 27th.  We need to approve expenditures requested from council for bell tower repair. The needed funds are available.  The meeting will convene in the church at the end of the 10:00 a.m. service. 
Our ad hoc mission project committee continues to successfully meet via zoom.  An article in the June “Messenger” described the current project.  Our plan is to collect, make available, and distribute feminine hygiene products. There is an acute need for this service among the many marginalized in our community. A grant from Thrivent provided seed money to start the project.  More monies are promised from Messiah’s pastor discretionary fund. The committee will solicit additional donations for this project from Messiah members and friends.  We hope to have a poster on display this Sunday with a designated site to gather the items. 
Our intent had been to review the book, “Prayers for Owen Meany” this week.  Due to the length of the book and schedules, the review is postponed until the Fall.  PBS recently numbered “Prayers or Owen Meany” among the top one hundred American novels.  The book takes in a lot of current events from 1952 to the Iran-Contra hearings (remember Ollie North?).  The theological themes are constant, from Episcopal worship to the virgin birth.  This book is worthy of our time and deserves a good review. And, the thought bubbles are really funny. 
It’s good to see our city slowly and safely emerging thru the pandemic (which technically is not over, yet). The fleet got blessed on June 13th and the Beach Glass Festival is June 26th.  I see people staying physically distant from one another and many still wearing masks. 
I write this the day after Summer Solstice.  It always struck me as ironic that, on the one hand, we say summer has now begun, yet, on the other hand, the daylight is now beginning to decrease. Northeast Ohio cloudy winters are long. But lightful summers here make it all worthwhile. The New Testament tells us we are children of light, workers of the day. Be light-full this week, dear people of God. 
Pr. Michael Meranda 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
JUNE 13 thru JUNE 20
This is a notice calling a meeting of the congregation.  On Sunday, June 27th, we’ll gather immediately after the 10:00 a.m. service. The single agenda item is to approve an $11,000 expenditure for bell tower repair.  The nature of the repair is mainly weatherization.  The tower still has some leaks, especially when wind blows rain from the east.  Alex Restoration will perform this work.  They have done brick related work for us in the past.  The $11,000 are available for this work.  Property Committee and Council will share specifics at that meeting.  So, please prepare to remain after 10:00 a.m. church on Sunday, June 27th.  
By council resolution, Messiah’s building is now open to monitored, congregational activities. Internal, established groups from Messiah, such as Day Timers and Tapestry, may resume their usual schedules.  The building is not open, for the time being, for the many outside groups that have used the building for meetings and activities.  The reason for the gradual re-opening is clear. Should it become necessary, we could follow up with contact tracing with our established and known congregational groups.  But until we are clearly out of the pandemic, this is not a time yet to open the building to large numbers of random guests. 
Liturgy and singing are returned to worship.  The severe restrictions that went into effect in the Spring of 2020 were a reasonable response to a virus that was not fully understood. It is a safe time now to gradually restore worship practices important in the Lutheran Church.  So, expect to hear multiple readings, to sing liturgy, to sing hymns, to be assisted by a deacon, to receive the communion host (“wafer”) placed in your hand, to hold a hymnal again.  Following the guidelines of public institutions (such as Ashtabula Justice Center), we ask those who have not been vaccinated to wear a mask.  If you have been vaccinated, masks are not mandatory. 
The above three decisions all came from Messiah’s congregational council meeting on 14 June, 2021.  That was the first time we had gathered face to face since February 2020.  We were overjoyed to be together again. Laughter was frequent and smiles were bright.  We all have come so far by faith.  The geo-political future is never guaranteed to be prosperous and safe. But we are people of faith. The steady rhythm of hope and love beats in our hearts. We will be the merciful, healing people God created us to be no matter what is going down around us. Christ leads us and Holy Spirit empowers us.  The endgame is good. 
Welcome home to Messiah,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021

June 6 Thru June 13

How was your Memorial Day weekend last week?  I had seen a helpful post on Face Book that went something like this.  Armed Forces Day honors those currently wearing the uniform.  Veterans Day honors those who have retired from wearing the uniform.  Memorial Day honors those who died as they were wearing the uniform.  I find as I grow older that I tend to retain more and more the purpose of Memorial Day.  For the longest time, it got lost with end of school year and beginning of summer activity.  I’m more mindful and prayerful.  It’s nice that many Memorial Day events are available.   It’s an especially good day to pray for peace and long for the day when we no longer have to remember those who died in war. 

These are celebrative days.  Calendars are filled with gatherings to honor high school graduates.  It’s nice to go to those events and witness their inter-generational character.  Grandparents and great-grandparents are there.  Younger siblings and cousins are there.  It is fitting that the high school graduate receives those congrats from other generations – especially during the pandemic.  It is fitting the high school graduate receives blessings as the graduate prepares for more school, the work place, or military service. 

Property Committee meets June 7th.  They’ll finalize a proposal to send on to council to ask the congregation authorization for weatherization work on the bell tower.  They will also make initial recommendations for how soon worship will look more normal and whether we want to try an outdoor service without masks.  It’s a good polity structure at Messiah.  Ideas percolate up from individuals and thru committees.  Ideas receive affirmation or emendation from council.  It takes longer to get stuff done.  But there tends to be more buy in and less mistakes. 

Our Northeast Ohio Synod Assembly is June 11-12.  Some delegates will drive to Akron and attend in person.  The majority of delegates will attend virtually.  That is the case with Messiah.  Lanny Anderson, Joyce Anderson, and me are voting delegates from Messiah this year.  All the business has been assigned to Saturday.  Friday is a day that features on line seminars. 

Continue to rely on God’s strength and trust in God’s wisdom, 

Pastor M

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
May 23 thru May 30

There are rapid, festive changes on the liturgical calendar this time of year.  May 23 was the Festival of Pentecost.  Bright red adorned the chancel. “Come, Holy Spirit” was the refrain.  May 30 is the Festival of the Holy Trinity.  White adorns the chancel.  That mysterious union of three persons as one God is the theme.
I always liked Trinity Sunday.  Some of my favorite hymns are allocated for Trinity Sunday.  Unfortunately, they are difficult to sing and not very popular.  I’m thinking of Luther’s “We All Believe in One True God.”  I also like “I Bind unto Myself this Day.” They are long and ponderous, not a good fit for this fast-food culture of ours.
Good news for the office at Messiah.  The council has hired a new secretary.  His name is Douglas Gill.  He was graduated from Harbor High School.  He has degrees from Bowling Green and the Ohio State University. He taught in the public school system in Illinois. Recently he’s moved back home to Ashtabula to be with family.  Currently, he substitute-teaches at Ashtabula Area City Schools.  He’s also completing certification as a Life Coach. He is an active member at East Side Presbyterian Church.  Very important for today’s culture, he is skilled at word processing, designing documents, desk top publishing, and other computer skills.
Douglas was recommended to us by council member Sue Riley.  I interviewed him and then the Mutual Ministry Committee (formerly known as Parish Relations Committee) interviewed him.  That committee is comprised of Nancy Krajec, Ruth Hlinovsky, Keith Reinker, and me.  We unanimously recommended him to the council. The council voted via email to offer him the job, which he has accepted. 
The secretary position at Messiah is for only up to 12-hours per week.  Under the current pandemic, not enough work is generated to require 12-hours from a secretary.  But as normal activities are beginning to re-emerge, we expect the secretary position to return to those 12-hours. 
When I first arrived here, Dee Dee Maenpa was secretary.  It took me years to discover that her actual name is Diane.  I still appreciate how she guided me and integrated me into ministry at Messiah.  Then, for 12-years, Cathy Carle was secretary.  Her knowledge of families and Ashtabula history was invaluable to me as a pastor.  Cathy, with Dee Dee, had many skills.  They generated so much good work from those 12-hours every week.
After Cathy Carle retired, Isabelle Fleming filled in temporarily.  Her legacy is teaching us how to film worship events and edit them for You Tube.  In 2020, Isabelle produced the first and only “virtual” Blessing of the Fleet!  When Isabelle returned to college, Becky Young filled in temporarily.  That was convenient because Becky is also chair person of our council.  That made parish administration so much easier when the pandemic kept us so separate.  It was also a nice reach back into history.  Becky had been temporary secretary when Elizabeth Eaton was pastor. Having that continuity in this pandemic transition time was a good thing. 
So, I end with a note of gratitude.  Thank you, Dee Dee Maenpa.  You made my welcome to Messiah so easy.  Thank you, Cathy Carle. You kept the office humming efficiently for over a decade. You are the best proof reader I have ever known. You focused on detail and anticipated future events. Many and I relied upon you more than we realized. Thank you, Isabelle Fleming. You helped me discover the fun of proclaiming the gospel on social media.  Thank you, Becky Young, you seamlessly filled a gap and kept the office running in a strange and unprecedented time. 
And welcome to Douglas Gill.  I’m looking forward to learning from your skill set.  You will like the focused yet relaxed and really nice people at Messiah.  And Messiah members, as we get more active as Covid19 wanes, you are going to appreciate dropping by the office again and returning to Word, service, and fellowship activities around Messiah. 
Welcome Home to Messiah 
Pastor M

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
May 16 thru May 23
We are fast approaching the 50th Day of Easter.  Pentecost Day is this coming Sunday, May 23rd. The risen Christ is the ascended Christ.  Christ promises the church we’ll never be alone.  The Holy Spirit is among us, as close as our very breath.  Pentecost Day celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, present before creation, on the newly forming church. 
Messiah brought nice traditions to Pentecost Day.  Many of you consciously wear red to church that Sunday. Memorial Day weekend, which usually falls near Pentecost, you brought in red geraniums in honor of those you know who have served in the military.  Left over geraniums were planted in the church yard.  That was always a festive sort of welcoming the summer.  Covid19 halted that practice last year and this year.  I’m sure Messiah will be more than ready to return to that and other good traditions next year. 
This week your parish relations committee will interview a candidate for the secretary position.  Nancy Krajec, Ruth Hlinovsky, and Keith Reinker comprise that committee.  Cathy Carle had faithfully served as our secretary for over a decade until her retirement May 2020.  Since then, Isabelle Fleming and now Becky Young have served as interim secretaries. With Covid19 waning and things beginning to start up again, it’s time to intensify the search for our next secretary.
I’ll attend an encouraging event on May 21.  The brick buildings on Center Street across from the US Bank are scheduled for renovation and repurposing.  The same developer who restored the Ashtabula Hotel will re-develop the Center Street block.  Old brick buildings have character and charm.  I’ll be excited to learn with other community leaders what the plans are for that block. The roll out announcement is set for 11:00 a.m.
Soon the Great Fifty Days of Easter 2021 will be in our rear-view mirror.  The good news of resurrection was especially impactful for me this year.  There has been so much death surrounding us, literal death with the pandemic.  Cultural events went dormant because of the pandemic.  Many small businesses died because of the pandemic. We’ve witnessed the death of civility and self-control in our political processes. So, to come to Messiah and exchange with you, “Alleluia, Christ is risen – risen indeed, Alleluia!” was especially life-full this year.  The resurrection of Christ is the beginning of God’s promised restoration for this world. We are inheritors of that promise. We are people of light and life.  We lead the way in singing “Alleluia!” 
Christ is risen / and so are we 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
May 9 thru May 16
This weekly letter is really late. Sorry about that. 
I’m writing on Thursday, May 13th. Today is the Fortieth Day of Easter.  It is the Festival of the Ascension of our Lord.  The gospels and acts tell the story of Jesus gathering disciples one last time. He commissions them for mission. Then he ascends into heaven.  He does not abandon them.  He gives them the Holy Spirit.  
I always liked Ascension Day liturgically. The hymns unique to that day are joyous and stirring.  There is a sense of mission accomplished yet mission ongoing.  When I finish writing this, I’m going to go into the church and sing LBW 159, “Up through Endless Ranks of Angels.”  
I have nice memories of Ascension Day church services.   

  • On vicarage our downtown church partnered with a west side suburban church for a joint Ascension Day service. Peoples’ schedules were not so busy in 1979. The large church building was packed.  
  • My first call in Seattle had a strong liturgical heritage.  They were accustomed to celebrating Epiphany on January 6th, no matter what day of the week, and Ascension Day in busy May.  
  • My favorite Ascension Day memories are from Portland.  That high ceilinged building decorated and sang well for Easter season. There the tradition was to keep the Paschal Candle near the left “horn” of the altar during the first forty days of Easter.  On Ascension Day the paschal candle was snuffed after the gospel.  It was a huge candle and after the snuffing the residual smoke ascended upward and lingered a while in the air.  We sort of had an inkling what it was like for the disciples when the cloud surrounded Jesus at his ascension and removed him from their sight. (Liturgical protocol now leaves the paschal candle lighted all thru the Great Fifty Days of Easter.  But the extinguishing on Ascension Day was rather dramatic but in a calming sort of way.)

My favorite aspect of Ascension theology concerns the nature of Christ.  Classical theology asserts Christ is one person yet two natures.  Christ is fully human and fully divine.  At his Ascension, Christ did not jettison the human nature.  Christ ascended into heaven fully divine and fully human.  At the Ascension the human nature is of Christ is subsumed into the Trinity. Honestly, that is beyond my comprehension. But it is tremendously encouraging to think of the Second Person of the Trinity as still bearing the wounds from crucifixion. When we pray to Jesus, he truly does understand our pain. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
May 2 thru May 9
Our first graduation party invite has come in.  It’s from Athena Pantoja.  Her family will celebrate her graduation at Lakeshore Park on May 30th.  The event is 2:00 pm until 6:00 pm. Messiah members are invited.  We’ve seen Athena grow up here thru the years.  She was in 5th Grade when she first came to Ashtabula.  Now she is a senior at Lakeside and deciding which college scholarship offers to accept.  Congratulations, Athena! 
Speaking of graduation events, I heard today on NPR the latest CDC directives regarding indoor and outdoor events. Even though Covid19 is spread by aerosols, the CDC says there are certain circumstances when we may gather without masks outdoors.  The fact that over 100 million Americans have received both vaccines has led to this slow progress toward safety.  Still, until all those new mutations are figured out, I’m keeping my masks close to my face. 
Speaking of Covid19, the United Methodist Church pastors are doing a good thing.  Thursday, May 6th, 6:00 pm at Giddings Park in Jefferson, they are leading a prayer service on behalf of Covid19 victims and for the containment of Covid19.  I’ve come to appreciate other pastors of other denominations in my years in Ashtabula.  We all have different denominational polities and bureaucracies.  We all occupy a different space on the liberal—conservative scale.  But we are all dedicated to our calling, to our congregations, and to this community. 
Speaking of our community, I’ll be a poll worker for Ashtabula County Board of Elections on May 4th.  I recall when Messiah was welcomed as a polling place in 2008.  There were issues with nearby polling places and the Board of Elections needed to move into new places.  We were one of them.  We lost that status a few years ago.  A state official determined our handicap accessible ramp was not wide enough or something. One of the nicest things Messiah brought to election day is now specifically forbidden.  We had a bake sale.  Different groups baked goodies and sold them to voters.  The fund raising was not huge, but the conviviality was wonderful.  Something really negative must have happened somewhere at another polling place in Ohio.  Because the current state guideline is no food sales at polling places.  It’s probably another example of someone’s irresponsibility spoiling things for the rest of us. 
This 5th Week of Easter, we are branches who receive life from Christ the vine.  We are life-full. Thanks be to God. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
April 25 thru May 2 
I recently met with a newly formed committee on Bridge Street to plan the 71st Annual Blessing of the Fleet. I had done that with another group the last five years.  It’s time to share the joy of that event. This year the blessing is set for 12:00 noon on June 13th.  Fr. Thomas from Our Lady of Peace Parish will preside. 
Ashtabula Downtown Development Association is looking forward to resuming activities as more and more become vaccinated against Covid19.  There are plans for a food drive with fall festival events.  The Christmas parade may return in some form with the addition of a snow man decorating contest. 
It’s possible for groups to consider resuming some safe events because of recent gains against Covid19.  The governor’s radio broadcast featured a medical doctor who shared two pieces of encouraging news.  One, the current vaccinations are showing effectiveness against new mutations of Covid19.  Two, if a person had previously tested positive for Covid19, the vaccines act as a booster for the person’s immune system.  It was nice for me, the listener, to hear some genuine enthusiasm in a physician’s voice. 
It’s out on Facebook and I have permission to make mention here. Kurt and Kathleen Nordquest are grandparents!  Many Messiah folk remember their daughter, Jenny.  She is one of many young adults who grew up here, graduated from high school, went away to college, got a good job, found a soul mate, and are now starting their own family.
I love the new baby’s name.  It’s Oliver.  The “O” sound is such a strong vowel in our language. “O” syllables tend to be elongated.  We engage more throat and facial muscles when pronouncing a good “O” sound.  Think of words like olive, oh-oh, Orville, Oconomowoc (it’s in Wisconsin). My favorite is onomatopoeia.  The best “O” word is Ohio. 
Our English name Oliver is from the French Olivier.  The Latin word olivarius referred to an olive tree planter.  It’s nice to have a name associated with growth and productivity.  The Greek antecedent of Oliver may have been Eleutherios.  That word means independent, free, not bound.  It is used theologically to describe religious expression that is free and spontaneous, not bound up in legalism.  With that strong name, Oliver, the Nordquest grandson has a strong future ahead of him. 
There is a good lesson here for all of us.  Grow into our baptismal name.  In baptism we are named child of God, saint, holy, servant, disciple.  Our life is opportunity to become what we have been made in baptism.  God names us and claims us. We are graced to call upon the Name of God. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
April 18 thru April 25
This time of the year is always transition time.  Church and culture have completed the Easter / Spring Break focus.  Now Memorial Day and End of School Year stuff are looming on the horizon.
My Tuesday morning will begin with a Zoom meeting.  I’m on our Northeastern Ohio Synod Stewardship Committee.  Good Stewardship requires a structure and a foundation.  The structure is the program or method. But the foundation is good theology.  The theology is grace: God calls us into relationship; stewardship is how we respond to God’s graceful call. 
My Tuesday afternoon will take me to an unexpected meeting.  I thought that after five years in a row I would take a break from the annual Blessing of the Fleet.  A capable group from the Lift Bridge Association had recently planned that event and worked it into an opening up of summer for Bridge Street.  I learned the Maritime Museum may be interested to sponsor Blessing the Fleet this year.  I’ll find out Tuesday afternoon and what role there may be for me.  The Roman Catholic community began the Blessing the Fleet tradition 71 years ago.  
Wednesday morning takes me to the Board of Elections in Jefferson.  I’ll participate in a training session.  I’ll be a poll worker at the May 4th election.  I live in Ashtabula Township and always vote yes for school levies.  I understand Ashtabula Area City Schools has a levy on the ballot May 4th.  Were I to live in Ashtabula, I’d most certainly vote “yes!” 
Wednesday night takes me back to Zoom Land.  The quarterly meeting of Messiah’s Foundation is 7:00 pm.  It has been amazing to watch that fund recover and grow after the great economic downturn of 2008.  I know the stock market reflects Newton’s law, “what goes up, must come down.” We’ve enjoyed a Bull Market recently.  Main Street has not necessarily done well, but Wall Street has done very well.  Messiah’s Foundation is in good hands.  The economy may tank because of Covid19 or geo-political events.  If that were to happen, I have every confidence in the Messiah Foundation “governors” and in the financial advisors who administer those investments. 
Here is another hint our thoughts are turning to summer.  Messiah has not done a book review in several years. Sue Riley suggests we read and discuss “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving.  This book was recently reviewed on a PBS special featuring the best books written in America.  We’ll review “A Prayer for Owen Meany” together at a date to be determined in June or July.  Sue Riley will arrange a space for us to gather at the ELKS Club.  Hopefully we will gather outdoors there, overlooking the Lake. Details are forthcoming. Thank you, Sue!
I always get nostalgic this time in the lectionary year.  The first three Sundays of Easter we hear resurrection stories.  These are great narratives of Jesus appearing to followers.  The women and men “get it” that the Christ IS raised among them and life will forever be different.  April 25th is the 4th Sunday of Easter.  The lectionary leaves Easter Sunday stories behind.  We hear instead Jesus referring to himself as Good Shepherd.  Our church service and You Tube video will feature a lot of the old favorite shepherd hymns. 
Be well, 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
April 11 thru April 18
So, how are your allergies this Spring of 2021?  Flowers, shrubs, and trees are opening up to unfold beauty unique to this season.  For a lot of folk that means a debilitating assault of allergens. I am always intrigued by how vulnerable we are to the small stuff.  Pollen, bacteria, and viruses are microscopic. Yet they bring down powerful and intelligent creatures, such as ourselves.  It is good to remind ourselves how vulnerable we are and how dependent we are on each other.  
April 4th launched us into the Great Fifty Days of Easter.  (The annual Easter stewardship letter is going out even as I write.)  As more of us are vaccinated more of us are returning to church.  It is difficult to not sing together or shake hands.  But we do hear the Word and receive the Sacrament.  In spite of our temporary, drastically altered liturgy, I sense a good spirit.  Messiah has always had a healthy sense of community.  That shines thru, even from behind our masks. 
For the first time in five years, I am not leading the annual Blessing the Fleet.  Last year was especially memorable.  Because of Covid19 distancing, Isabelle filmed separate segments then spliced them together for You Tube.  Adaptability and creativity are two of the many gifts God gives to us. 
We are heart-broken at the shooting in Brooklyn Park, MN.  Mass shootings continue to terrorize.  We are still reeling from the violence, destruction of property, and loss of small businesses from last summer’s rioting in Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland.  I’ve found the classic collects (prayers) of the church to be sources of perspective, insight, and inspiration.  Here is the ELW Prayer for times of civic mourning: 
“God our creator, thru whose providing care we enjoy all goodness and life, turn our eyes to your mercy in this time of confusion and loss.  Comfort this nation as we mourn; shine your light on those whose only companion is darkness; and teach us so to number our days that we may apply our hearts to your wisdom; thru Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen”
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
March 28 thru April 4
One holy week service is scheduled this week.  We’ll gather in the church, 7:00 pm, on Wednesday, March 31st.  Covid19 protocols we follow on Sundays will also be followed Wednesday night.  This will be a service of the word.  We’ll reflect on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday themes.
Saturday April 3rd Holy Communion at 9:30 follows Covid19 protocols.  The liturgy will be quiet and reflective.  Saturday morning of Holy Week has its own special quiet dignity.
Sunday April 4th celebrates Holy Communion at 10:00 a.m.  Christ is risen!  The pipe organ will sing our alleluias for us as we will be masked and not singing.  This modified Holy Week / Easter Sunday is a huge step forward.  Last year Holy Week and Easter services were cancelled. It is so good to be able to gather together again, albeit very safely. 
The Zoomed Lenten Midweek services went very well.  Though we were not together face to face, it was still nice to see unmasked faces.  
Holy Week / Easter 2021 will be the 41st Holy Week / Easter I have celebrated since my ordination.  That’s a lot of planning, hymn selecting, assisting minister coordinating, acolyte training, parament changing, and bulletin folding. I’d do it all over again in the blink of an eye.  It is a special privilege to share the Holy Week / Easter journey with you here at Messiah.  Be well !

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
March 21 thru March 28
Well, we did it.  Mary and I got our second vaccination for Covid19.  When the nurse filled out the card, it felt like a sort of rite of passage. You know, we all go thru those events that indicate we have completed one stage of life and are heading into another.  We graduate from this or that.  We get certified for this or that. We get married.  We see our children get married. We get our dream job.  We retire.  We bury our parents.  We ourselves become infirm. We get the next vaccination necessary to stave off the next virus. Life goes on.
We will ZOOM our Lenten Midweek service Wednesday, March 24th.  It opens up for conversation at 6:30 pm.  The liturgy starts 7:00 pm.  Your ZOOM invitation will soon arrive via email. 
Last year, Holy Week and Easter services were cancelled due to Covid19.  I went out Easter Sunday and bought a tree, did that ever feel strange.  Anyway, we are scheduling a single worship services for Holy Week 2021.  Wednesday, March 31st, will bring the only holy week liturgy.  No Maundy Thursday, No Good Friday, but we’ll gather for a single holy week experience that Wednesday at 7:00 pm.  Social distance, masks, and no singing still apply.  Easter weekend, April 3 and 4, brings the usual Saturday morning service at 9:30 a.m.  Sunday brings the usual Sunday service at 10:00 a.m.  Covid19 restrictions still apply.  (Editor's Note; This schedule will allow plenty of time for sanitization of the sanctuary between services)
Spring Equinox in our Northern Hemisphere was Saturday, March 20th this year.  Daylight and darkness hours were exactly equal.  Since then, the darkness has been receding and the daylight is advancing.  It’s another rite of passage, but this time for our planet. Life goes on.  The next few months, life goes on with ever increasing daylight.  Time to work the land, perspire, play ball, walk, explore, kayak, swim, and suntan. 
We understand after Covid19 things may never be exactly “normal” again.  But some normal things are beginning to return to Messiah. So, this year there is one holy week service and two easter weekend services. Two baptisms are scheduled at Messiah.  Next fall, two weddings are scheduled.  The Word is still proclaimed.  Prayers are still spoken and answered.  Our calling to serve is still heard. 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
March 14 thru March 21
Our next ZOOMED Lenten Midweek worship is set for March 17th.  It opens for general conversation at 6:30 pm.  At 7:00 pm we shift into a brief liturgy. 
It went really well last week after we torqued a few things. You will soon receive a zoom invite. 
As more of us get the second vaccine more of us are returning to Messiah.  We are still masked and distanced.  But at least we are together in a safe way. 
I hope you appreciated the 2021 Lent Challenge.  This is the 13th Lent Challenge I have written for Messiah.  It is always a joy to center on a new theme each year.  The theme ties in scripture, Lent, and our spiritual journey.  The next special mailing will be the annual Easter letter.  In the meantime, thank you for your consistent and generous offerings to Messiah. 
To keep things safe, we are scheduling only one holy week liturgy this year.  It will be Wednesday at 7:00 pm on March 31st.  At that single service we’ll touch on the themes and events unique to Holy Week. Last year, by the way, we had NO services Holy Week or Easter.  That was the strangest Holy Week ever for me in my 40 years as a pastor. 
I’m back on the executive Committee for Ashtabula Downtown Development Association.  I appreciated my role with them 2009-2012.  The highlight was the year Messiah members ran clean-up for the multi-cultural festival. 
How did you adjust to Daylight Saving Time?  Personally, I could do without it.  I heard somewhere it is very costly for our economy because of its disruption. I also heard it is hard on our health.  That makes sense.  Someone told me it takes them all summer to get over the lost hour in spring forward. 
It is an honor to follow Christ to the cross for another year with you, dear Messiah. Lent is a pilgrimage.  You are such good fellow pilgrims.  You laugh readily and you serve always.  Stay well! 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
March 7 thru March 14
I’ll send you an invitation for a ZOOMED Lenten Midweek event for Wednesday, March 10th.  The Zoom will begin 6:30 p.m.  You may join in any time for open conversation with whomever else has signed in.  At 7:00 I’ll draw conversation to a close and begin a brief liturgy.  I’ll send an attachment of that liturgy for you to follow along. 
On Friday afternoon a Lent Challenge 2021 was dropped off at the post office. In pre-pandemic days, the post office would get out a bulk mailing in one day.  I’m not sure how long this will take.  It’s been a joy for me to write a Lent Challenge for you every year. When I arrived here, I learned right away the Lent Challenge is a tradition at Messiah that stretches back thru the decades.  Originally, they were heavy cardboard pages into which members stuffed quarters.  Forty days of quarters from many members must have added up to a huge weight of offerings. 
Now we send a cover letter with a return offering envelope.  Every year the cover letter has followed a different theme.  Last year’s theme was Luther’s Seven Marks of the Church. This year I focus on the significance of the number 40, as in 40 Days of Lent. 
This is a fun meeting week on my calendar. Our congregational council zooms together March 8th.  Tuesday, March 9th, the Ashtabula Downtown Development Association zooms a review of last year and anticipates events in 2021.  Wednesday, the AAMA zooms our monthly meeting. Fr. Nielsen from St Peter Episcopal is our chair this year and does a good job. Thursday the Cleveland East Conference of our ELCA zooms our get together. It will be interesting to see how America does business after a year of pandemic zooming. 
One of the texts associated with this time of year is John 3:1-10, Nicodemus emerges in the dark night searching for answers, searching for Jesus. In John 3:19 Jesus refers to himself as Light that has come into this world. The chapter progresses from dark uncertainty to the clarity of light.  That’s happening in nature. The sun rises earlier. The sun lingers later. The season is turning into the light as we progress into springtime. Lent is springtime for our souls.  The Holy Spirit is drawing us ever more deeply into the Light of God. God’s light is beacon for forgiveness, healing, freedom, and serving.
Faithfully, Pastor Mike 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
February 28 thru March 7
I’ll send you a Zoom invitation tomorrow, Wednesday, March 3rd.  The Zoom event will be 5:30 p.m. It will be an attempt provide some kind of Lenten midweek experience.  I’ll lead a very short devotional.  Then, you may stay on for conversation or leave when it is convenient. 
We appreciate normal stuff after it has been taken away. For example, I took the Kia Soul to the dealer for an oil change. A year ago, that would have been unthinkable. We would go places only if it was absolutely necessary or an emergency. Oil changes would have to wait. But masks, hand sanitizers, social distancing and vaccinations have changed the landscape.  It felt so good to do something normal. 
Your offerings throughout 2020 were amazing.  Our Property Committee has several necessary projects to address. They will be able to do so because of your generous offerings, careful fiscal management by our finance committee, and regular contributions from the Foundation.  So far, 2021 offerings are a bit behind projections. We’ll soon send out a Lenten Challenge.  That has been a stable stewardship project at Messiah for decades.  It’s always enjoyable coming up with a different theme for a different year. 
Another project on the near horizon is the possibility for an FM broadcast of our Sunday, 10:00 a.m. service. You drive to church. If you do not wish to enter the building, you remain in your car. The service is broadcast into a 300-foot radius. You tune in your car’s FM radio and hear the service.  More details are coming. 
We are sailing thru the sea of Lent these sacred days. Lent brings its unique beauty and dignity.  It is a joy to learn what God does for us and celebrate what God makes of us.  
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
February 21 thru February 28
In a few days, February will be in our rearview mirror.  It was certainly eventful.  February began with the Super Bowl.  Even though few of us are his fans, we got to see Tom Brady set a record no one will surpass.  Super Bowl week took us into impeachment week. We relived the horror of January 6th as House Managers attempted to link former President Trump with insurrection.  As February rolled on the Covid19 vaccines continued to roll out.  Recent days brought a glimpse of good news. Statistically, the rapid spread of the disease has slowed down. 
As for me, I’ll always remember February 20th.  That was the date I was inoculated, vaccinated against Covid19.  Inoculations have been a matter of fact, way of life for me all of my life. For some reason, the one of many I remember is the Smallpox vaccine. A few years after I had received it, National Geographic published an article chronicling the eradication of Smallpox from the globe. 
Vaccinations are a rite of passage in our national culture. I recall my children, when they were newborn infants, looking shocked and then indignant when the doctor’s nurse plunged the syringe into their thighs. Thru grade school years and into high school, local health departments made sure vaccinations were up to date. It was part of being a good citizen, helping to maintain the health of the community. 
I recently likened my vaccination to justification by grace. That doctrine is as central for Lutherans as the power sweep was central for the Vince Lombardi Packers. In Lutheran thinking, God brings a loving disposition toward us. God forgives. God draws us into relationship with God’s Self. That action from God is the pure grace of God.  We cannot earn that.  We do not deserve that. We merely receive that. I felt similarly getting vaccinated. The syringe plunged the vaccine into the muscle in my upper right shoulder.  That vaccine brought healing to me.  I did nothing to earn it.  I did nothing to deserve it.  It was just freely given.  And I gratefully received. I left the inoculation site that day with renewed gratitude for health and science.  I left the inoculation site that day with renewed commitment for praying and caring. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
February 7 thru February 14
So, after winning Super Bowl LV, Tom Brady is G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time), right? Not necessarily. For the first time in a long time, I thought of German Philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger and Phenomenology.  It depends upon your point of view. Considering his record on high school, collegiate, and two professional league levels, I’d vote for Paul Brown as G.O.A.T.  Among quarterbacks, championships and statistics would suggest Otto Graham as G.O.A.T.  But that’s my point of view. I grew up on the west coast aware that my dad’s whole family is from Ohio.
A week after our really good zoomed meeting of the congregation, Messiah’s council gathered via zoom. We acknowledged the strong financial carry over from 2020. In reference to that, we noted the significant and costly building repair projects that have been delayed due to Covid19.  
We also noted our congregation’s traditionally strong support for our synod, referred to as Benevolence on our offering envelopes.  In addition to mission monies for the synod, we support Lend A Hand Food Bank.  Pastor’s Discretionary fund has been helping people with small, emergency needs for decades. 
Finances for any congregation are always a careful balance. On the one hand, there are historic, one-of-a-kind places for worship and prayer to maintain. On the other hand, there are the immediate needs of community around us and church at large to support.
We are definitely back for face-to-face worship. Holy Communion is celebrated safely Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. and Sundays at 10:00 a.m.  Property Committee is exploring affordable FM radio technology that will enable us to integrate a parking lot service into the schedule.
Is there light at the end of the Covid19 tunnel? It would appear so. More vaccines are getting into more arms. Masks are the rule, not the exception.  Dear people of God, stay in safe contact with one another via skype, email, telephone, and mail. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah -- 2021
January 31 thru February 7
Messiah’s first ever Meeting of the Congregation went well. We passed the budget for 2021 and affirmed the re-election of a council member. I have come to appreciate Zoom technology because we see faces, not masks. After the meeting adjourned several folks stayed on just to chat and catch up. 
We resume face to face worship. Saturday, February 6th, Holy Communion is 9:30 a.m.  Sunday, February 7th, Holy Communion is 10:00 a.m. The familiar safety protocols will return. No singing, all wear masks, distanced seating, safe distribution of the bread and wine.
Property Committee is exploring the purchase of an FM transmitter device that will enable us to have services in our parking lot (after the weather warms up). The safe holy communion services Saturday and Sunday mornings will continue.  We will add the parking lot option for people who want to come to church but are not comfortable entering the building. The weekly You Tube services will also continue.  
I’m sure we’ve all been creative in finding ways beyond the ordinary to help out our community during the pandemic.  I’ve recently done three non-member funerals. Circumstances prohibited the family’s pastor from being there. It felt good to be available and be of service.  I’m sure we are all doing this in different ways for our friends, extended family, and work mates.  In crisis the genius of humanity responds with creativity and care. 
Your offerings continue to arrive via mail, or drop off, or electronic deduction. We were reminded at the Zoomed annual meeting of the continued importance of Benevolence.  The “Benevolence” line on our offering envelopes are the offerings we send along to our Northeast Ohio Synod. Benevolence and Lend A Hand Food Bank continue to receive generous offerings at Messiah. This congregation is commended for our responsible stewardship thru the decades and especially during this Covid19 crisis. 
Thanks be to God,
Pastor Michael Meranda

Welcome Home to Messiah
January 17 thru January 24 - 2021 
Our congregational council asks us to gather for semi-annual meeting of the congregation on January 31st.  We shall gather electronically. This will be a ZOOM meeting.  Invitations and details will soon follow.
Our congregational council plans to return to face to face worship the first weekend in February 2021.  Saturday Holy Communion is 9:00 a.m.  Sunday Holy Communion is 10:00 a.m.  The same safety protocols we observed before the temporary suspension of face-to-face worship will be in place.
We had two funerals within eight days.  Wanda Moses died at home with family present.  Wanda had deep connections with groups in Ashtabula and with Messiah.  She had a calm, gentle, welcoming voice and demeanor. 
Jan Koschik died with family present. She was received as a member at Messiah by adult affirmation of faith in 1965.  It is after her husband died in 2001 that she became especially active at Messiah. Committees, fellowship events, and service ministries remember her willing hand and ready smile.  She’s been a unique part of the equation that has made Messiah Senior Choir so extraordinary.  The heavenly chorus recently gained another good alto and a lot of joy.
Both families were heroic in how they planned and conducted funerals under Covid19 restrictions. Traveling and gathering is so difficult these days.  Confident hope in the resurrection enabled us to celebrate two extraordinary lives.
I suggest a link for you to consider.  It is - Southwest Washington Synod, ELCA.  You should land on Bishop Jaech’s “Letter on our Political Turmoil.”  Rick Jaech was a few years ahead of me in college, so we had many of the same professors.  He was pastor in Vancouver, WA when I was an interim pastor in Vancouver. His dad’s signature is on my ordination certificate in 1980.  Here is a bullet point paraphrase of the letter.  The summary is not as good as the actual letter. 

  • We are God’s beloved, not because of our performance or status, but because of God’s grace. 
  • We are broken. We fear we are alone and that safety and success depend upon frantic efforts.
  • We are bearers of God’s love. Released from fear, we are free to love others.
  • We are to treat each other as God’s beloved. 
  • When our fear causes us to mistreat another we should be confronted.
  • We oppose violence in every situation. 
  • We stand with those who are especially vulnerable.
  • We commit to working as responsible citizens. 
Bishop Jaech’s letter is helpful because these concepts are not directed solely against what happened at the capitol building on 1.6.2021.  These concepts also apply to the violence that destroyed so much economic and cultural life in places such as Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle this past year. 
People of God, pray always for the Holy Spirit to liberate our inner hearts from fear.  Pray always for the Holy Spirit to direct our exterior acts to ways of responsible citizenship. 
Faithfully your pastor,
Michael Meranda 

Welcome Home to Messiah
January 3 thru January 10 / Pandemic Years 2021
Stoppage extends for Saturday-Sunday in person worship.  Property Committee met last night via ZOOM.  We readily observed that Covid19 cases increase in Ashtabula County, Covid19 is surging nationally, the post-Christmas spike is yet to hit, and the new strain is evolving.  Property Committee agreed to take a resolution to council to suspend in person church services thru January 31. So, there is no Saturday or Sunday church services at Messiah the remainder of this month. 
Many have known Wanda Moses and her family for many years at Messiah.  Wanda died in the comfort of her own home on January 3rd.  Her daughter, Janine, was at her side.  Because of Covid19 considerations, the funeral service for her will be for family members only.  Her service is at Billman’s.  Attendees will be distanced and masked. 
Wanda Moses is one of those persons of tremendous physical strength and recoverability. Time and time again she underwent medical procedure, applied herself to rehab, then came home.  She had a cuddly Dachshund who was so friendly and brought so much fun to communion visits.  Wanda is one of the many personalities that make Ashtabula such a great place to live and Messiah such a great place to worship. 
There is more difficult news to share.  Jan Koschik has been enrolled in hospice care where she resides at Lantern.  Because of Covid19 restrictions at hospitals and nursing homes, I have not seen her since January 2020.  But I have vivid memories of her smile, ready laughter, and sociality.  Covid19 isolation must have been especially difficult for warm, outgoing extroverts, such as Jan Koschik. Only God knows for sure how many days Jan has left remaining on this earth.  When she dies it will be another close-family-only restricted funeral. We will be lonesome. But she will be fellowshipping with that huge communion of saints in light.  
This weekly letter has been a bit of a downer.  There is another way I could be dating these letters.  I could write “A.D. 2020” or “A.D. 2021.”  A.D is the abbreviation for the Latin words Anno Domini.  That translates Year of our Lord. Yes, 2020 was horrendous on so many levels. Yes, immense challenges await us in 2021. Yes, we are sad at having been kept physically apart.  Yes, we tremendously miss those whom we were not permitted to say good bye to. But yes, this is still “Year of our Lord.”  We are not abandoned in all this. We are accompanied. We are led. We are dwelling places for Holy Spirit.  Luther had an insight, the concept he referred to as the “hidden God.”  In lowly, lonely, unexpected places God “hides”.  So, in the vulnerable infant born in Bethlehem who had to be whisked away to Egypt for safety, God “hides”.  In simple bread and wine, God “hides.”  Especially in our suffering and consternation, God “hides.”  We look around at all the uncertainty. We look into the uncertainty of the immediate future.  God is present. God will be present. There will be blessing.  There will be good.  There is opportunity to exercise faith in works of love.  We got this, because God has us. 
Pastor Mike

Welcome Home to Messiah
December 27 thru January 3 / Pandemic Years 2020-2021
Living has become complex.  I have two long library stories. They illustrate how times have changed.  
It was summer of 1975.  I wanted to practice Latin.  I knew that Concordia College library in Portland, Oregon had a set of Der Weimar Ausgabe. It’s referenced as “WA”. It’s the 60-volume collection of Luther’s writings in German and Latin. The volumes are huge. The covers are a nice light blue.  I went to the usual shelf to find Luther’s Galatians commentaries. But “WA” was gone!
The librarian, Mr. Berger, was there. He said something about “WA” takes up so much space and are rarely used so they got moved to a back room. Just a minute, he said.  He came back with the volume I wanted.  He handed it to me. He told me just remember to return it before the end of summer. 
Normally, a librarian does not hand over an expensive volume to someone without a formal check out. But he knew me. The world was smaller back then.  The world was safer and simpler that Summer of 75. 
The other library story illustrates how much has changed.  It was about a year after Nine Eleven.  I happened to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Marquette University has a good Jesuit library. Marquette would have “Christian Dogmatics,” that multi volume systematic theology of Karl Barth. For years I had wanted to read what Barth said about Johann Blumhardt.  Blumhardt was a German Reformed pastor in Moetlingen, Germany.  A spiritual awakening occurred in his parish.  There were stories of healings and renewal.  
So, I was glad for the opportunity to finally read Barth reflecting on Blumhardt. But Nine Eleven was still on our minds.  America had become security conscious. My countenance sank as I entered the foyer of Marquette library. A huge sign said no entry unless you have identification and provide a request in writing specifying exactly what you want to research.   
I was shocked.  All my life, libraries had stood as symbols of academic freedom. Patrons flowed thru library doors, walking symbols of the exchange of ideas. Fortunately, I knew exactly what volume and section of Barth on Blumhardt I wanted to read.  For one of my pieces of identification, I showed my little certificate of rostered clergy card from East Central Wisconsin Synod ELCA.  
That is my tale of two libraries.  It’s not that Marquette was bad and Concordia was good. It illustrates how times have changed. In 1975 life was smaller and our institutions were more accessible. By 2002 life had become dangerous: we were less known, we had to be checked out, we were a possible security risk for domestic terrorism.
Managing life’s externals has become exceedingly complicated.  (How many passwords on different “apps” on your smart phone do you have?) But the core of our blessed simplicity remains the same.  We are forgiven sinner, so we are free to do all sorts of good things. Darkness will always seek to have its way over us, but we belong to Light who overcomes darkness.  Prayer is always at hand, an access code is NOT necessary for us to sign in.  We are members of a community of faith.  A heavenly communion of saints prays for us.  Someday we’ll gather together, face to face and voice to voice. We’ll chuckle at how complicated life has become.  But we’ll trust that  each new challenge brings opportunity for us to mature more strongly in hope and love. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
December 20 thru December 27 / The Year of Pandemic 2020
I can’t wait to look in the sky this evening.  The periodic conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn may be visible.  I say “may be visible” because of the cloud cover in Northeast Ohio. Whether or not I see it, it is still there. Whether or not I see it, the phenomenon is real.  That’s a nice metaphor for God.  Sometimes the evidence for a loving God seems lacking. Yet the testimony of all the saints assures us God is true.  Sometimes we just do not see how God preserves this creation God loves. Still, the gift of faith assures us this is true.  We are freed up to live and plan accordingly. 
Whether or not I see it, the Jupiter Saturn Conjunction will be in the evening sky.  The internet tells me the last time this occurred was the year 1623. No doubt it was a similar celestial event that drew the Magi to Bethlehem.  It may have been a comet. Perhaps it was a conjunction of planets in their time. Whatever was upward, it drew the wisemen westward.  That’s a nice metaphor for our journeys.  Sometimes something big and unique has to grab our attention.  It does not arrest our attention on itself.  It grabs our attention only for a while.  Then it directs our focus on something nearby or over there. This is how we are led in this life.  We gain insight and inspiration.  We apply insight and inspiration to experience and circumstance.  But first we have to look up and beyond ourselves. Then we focus creativity and commitment for neighbor and creation. 
“Services” will be produced for You Tube for Christmas Eve and December 27th.  We cannot thank enough our musicians: Debra, Ed, and Julie.  We thank the folk who have done the filming: Marcel and Bella. We thank those who have done the decorating: Ruth, Joyce, Lanny, Homer, Becky.  We thank Frank who finalizes the production before posting. Forgive me if I forgot to thank someone else. My first Christmas Eve as a pastor was 1980 in Seattle.  I never imagined then the possibility of a pandemic altered Christmas.
The better half person in my household has tested NEGATIVE for Covid19 twice.  Today is the last day of my quarantine.  I see the doctor on the 23rd and look forward to a re-test.  This virus has multiple effects: some are minor, some are severe.   God led wise persons on camel to Bethlehem.  God led Joseph and holy family to Egypt and back. God led Christ to the cross and out of the tomb.  God is leading us thru this. 
Welcome home to Messiah, 

Welcome Home to Messiah
December 13 thru December 20 / The Year of Pandemic 2020
A large envelope arrived in the mail last week.  Our Northeast Ohio Synod mailed to me a frame-able certificate acknowledging the 40 years since my ordination.  
When I saw in print, “forty years”, it gave me pause for a lot of gratitude. The extraordinary experiences I’ve had in the ministry have been sheer grace. Each location was distinct from the other. Each location brought its unique gift and opportunity.  
Good Shepherd Seattle was in a very dangerous, inner city neighborhood, a vortex for crime and violence. I visited neighbors in King County Jail (not a nice place) and had a parishioner sentenced for first degree murder. Yet that sturdy congregation maintained consistent word and sacrament ministry. We grew in stewardship and became self-supporting after decades of synod subsidy. I got my first taste of adjunct teaching in Seattle.  I taught Philosophy at Seattle Lutheran High School.
St. Michael’s Portland was artsy and intellectual.  We engendered a relationship with the economically disadvantaged kids at the grade school next door.  We engaged a lot of liturgical renewal.  We built and dedicated a 40-rank pipe organ. The acoustic of that building is wonderful for singing and concert events. 
Jehovah in St. Paul, MN had an award-winning building.  We hosted many community events and services. Perhaps the most impactful was working with Lutheran social service agencies to establish a “welfare to work” day care center for at risk families. Jehovah has a 43-rank tracker pipe organ. The horizontal trumpets will shake the fillings out of your teeth.  The annual Epiphany arts series drew in a wide range of presenters and participants. My favorite room in that stellar building was the side chapel. I can still smell the limestone and feel the cool of the marble altar. 
St. Stephen in Wisconsin was the classic upper Midwest Lutheran experience. It was all about huge numbers.  Hundreds of funerals combined with dozens of confirmations and baptisms and weddings. Their one-million-dollar foundation helped keep that that 1916 historic register building in good repair. 
I find myself perhaps the happiest in Ashtabula.  I love Ohioans. Messiah combines serious commitment to serving with joyfulness in doing. You have such good fun here.  I hear the holy hilarity of your laughter from all your gatherings and events.  I’ve come to a deep appreciation of many unique personalities at Messiah and in Ashtabula. A group of saints immediately come to mind: Dave Tallbacka, Carl Anderson, Richard Otto Johnson, Dick Reinker, Dr. Krajec, Albin Anderson are among many. Also, I especially appreciate the community networking that is typical for Messiah’s pastors. The Downtown Development Association had roles and projects for me.  The Ashtabula Arts Center enabled me to have SO much fun on stage. 
In 40-years I have observed an unhealthy tendency among pastors.  This crosses all denominational lines and all age groups. In a culture dominated by celebrities, it’s easy for clergy to get side tracked, thinking they have to create their own brand. They lose a sense of higher calling. One colleague noticed this tendency and coined the phrase, “It’s all about ME.”
I’ve wandered into that dead end from time to time.  I’m a sinful human person. Yet what has sustained me these 40 years, in all of those marvelous places, has been something beyond me. Lutherans call it The Word. Yes, written word from God, the bible, is center of preaching and teaching. But even more so, it is the living Word from God.  It is the Word that God made human in Christ.  It is the Word that God makes visible in the sacraments.  The Word assures us we are named and claimed.  The Word gets us up and out of ourselves and over into community. Then good things happen. The Word has worked pretty well these 40-years. I’m so grateful it brought me here to be with you. 
Welcome Home to Messiah
Pastor Michael 

Welcome Home to Messiah
November 29 thru December 6 enduring Pandemic 2020
This is to confirm – Christmas Eve services are NOT scheduled at Messiah this year. We’re doing a good job celebrating Holy Communion safely Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. and Sundays at 10:00 a.m.  We’ll keep that schedule.  
It’s the right decision, but it will be difficult not having Christmas Eve services on December 24th.  The 4:00 pm liturgy had gained in popularity. It was shorter and “family friendly.”  Also, it finished before 5:00 pm so when we left the building it was still light out.  The 11:00 pm service has been popular for decades. Many families had Christmas dinners and opened a few presents before coming to church at Messiah.  Often, I did not set the alarm and turn out the last light until 1:00 a.m. Adrenalin kept me awake into the wee hours of Christmas Day. We’ve learned this year that kind of large group, celebratory events become super spreaders for Covid19.  We’ll miss Christmas Eve services in 2020.  We hope/assume they will return in 2021. 
Speaking of celebratory events, it was so strange not to tune in The Game Saturday at noon after Thanksgiving Thursday.  Though with TTUN in a state of collapse, it may not have been much of a game, but more of a slaughter.  I grew up on the west coast aware of the Buckeye-Wolverine rivalry.  Noon kick off in Ohio was 9:00 a.m. in Oregon. So, we didn’t have to wait a long time for the event to start. On occasion, Woody Hayes would lose to Bo Schembechler. That made for a long and disappointing Saturday afternoon. 
We have recently entered Advent. Because it is so saturated with hope and promise, this is probably my favorite season in the church year.  Years ago, I heard from a church musician that the best hymn section in hymnals is the section of Advent hymns.  I enjoy so much “filming” our services for You Tube, especially in Advent.  The iPad records Debbie playing those great hymns and the camera takes in the hope-filled blue colors of this season. 
Roll out of Covid19 vaccines should be soon. In the meantime, stay isolated, stay smart, stay together in spirit. Keep on being signs of health and hope. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
November 22 thru November 29 in Pandemic 2020
There are a lot of moving parts this week in the church year.  Christ the King Sunday closes the preceding church year.  It’s a festival day. White paraments dress the chancel.  Thursday is Thanksgiving Day.  I recall congregations that had an extra service on Thanksgiving. That meant an extra sermon, extra liturgy, and extra decorations. Typically, the Sunday of Thanksgiving Weekend is the 1st Sunday of Advent. That means dressing the chancel in blue, hauling out the Advent wreath, checking the 4 advent candles, and warming up the vocal cords to sing, “Oh, Come, Emmanuel.”  All those moving parts are exacerbated in Ohio.  In recent years here the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day has also been the day for The Game.
There are a lot of moving parts around Messiah’s building.  Bids have been coming in to replace windows in the education/office wing.  Separate bids are also coming in to shore up the frame that holds the Pettersen Window in the entry area.  Plans to replace the roof on the east side of the education/office wing are on hold due to a significant increase in prices for materials due to Covid19.  In addition to all that, when you drove by this weekend did you see the copper sheathing that tore off from the roof near the balcony stained glass?  It happened in last week’s wind storm.  It’s currently stable. Senita & Company are bringing in a lift today to gain safe access to it for safe removal. 
There are a lot of moving parts culturally.  The presidential election has been called but not yet conceded. Health experts tell us to stay home to help contain Covid19.  Yet, people are still flying for the holidays. Several companies have announced successful vaccines.  Yet, there is no timeline for their distribution. 
Students who had returned to classrooms have been told to go home and resume online learning. Events that used to characterize this season are either cancelled or experienced on-line. 
There are a lot of moving parts going on. It’s almost dizzying. But unstable circumstances do not have to destabilize our personalities.  We stand on solid rock. God is foundation.  God who speaks to us from eternity helps us contend with the instability of temporality. There is a way to follow.  There is light to enlighten. There are a lot of moving parts going on out there. But we are stable, centered, balanced. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
November 15 thru November 22 / Pandemic Year 2020
We finally hear some encouraging news about the pandemic.  Two pharmaceuticals have tested vaccines with promising success rates.  It’s hard to say yet when exactly they will be made available for the public. 
In the meantime, the virus spikes dramatically.  For the longest time I heard of no one who actually tested positive for Covid19.  This past week I’ve heard of several local names.  These people did not behave irresponsibly.  It’s just that the virus is that aggressive and dangerous. 
Which brings me to the idea of having a Christmas service. Given the aggressiveness of Covid19, that would be a bad idea. So, I encourage us to stay home, stay isolated, and stay safe December 24th.
Now, there will be a Christmas “service” filmed and put on You Tube.  Debra Fleming and I will do that safely, the same way we do the “services” that are put on the internet.  We’ll hear familiar Christmas carols.  I’ll set out some token decorations to give the feeling of Christmas.  I’ll vest and preach a Christmas sermon.  We’ll pray Christmas prayers.  We’ll look forward all the more for Christmas to be normal and safe in 2021. 
Speaking of 2021, the offering envelopes for 2021 have been mailed.  With the envelopes are cover letters from Russ Jepson, Candace Rodgers, and myself.  Also included is a response form (pledge sheet) for 2021.  Messiah’s You Tube service on the internet features my stewardship talks: giving and the Trinity, regular giving, percentage giving, and cheerful giving.  
Speaking of giving, your offerings thru this pandemic have been astonishing.  The finance committee gives the actual numbers in their monthly and annual reports. But all thru 2020 your offerings have been consistent and generous. You give electronically or in person or by mail. Messiah should transition into 2021 safely.  Thank you so much.  
This is the week Messiah would have been getting ready for the annual Thanks For Giving Dinner.  The fun and fellowship of that meal were always a highlight of life at Messiah. We’ll still give things this year. But our gatherings will be private and smaller.  
Last Friday the ELW daily reading was Revelation 16:8-21.  The voice of Christ assured his beleaguered church, “See, I am coming soon!”  He is coming. He is here. We’re never alone. We’re always accompanied. Even in this time, we are thankful. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
1 November thru 8 November / Pandemic Year 2020
Covid19 cases have spiked in Ashtabula County.  Our good friends at First Methodist and St. Peter Episcopal have cancelled all face to face worship gatherings. Worship in their communities is strictly on line. So far there is no suggestion to do the same at Messiah. Our Saturday and Sunday Holy Communion services are very safely conducted. Attendance is small, masks are worn, contact is negligible, distance is maximal. 
We don’t really post “services” on face book or you tube. Yes, there is a weekly posting that has music, scripture, prayer, and preaching. But there is no liturgy. The segments do not follow the lectionary, but they are thematic. There is opportunity to explore themes here I do not otherwise explore on Sunday mornings.  For example, the November 1st “service” features a slide show of the terminus of the Greenway Trail and a biblical reference to serving the city that serves us. I do encourage your viewing and sharing these weekly videos. Facebook page is Messiah Lutheran Church Ashtabula.  You Tube page is Messiah Lutheran Ashtabula. 
Lend A Hand Food Bank workers and clients remember the cheerful voice of Linda Reho. For the past several years she has set up her table and display area in the entranceway and has served many clients with Medicare needs. Covid19 restrictions do not permit her to set up inside at Messiah. But she is still available via phone or personal appointments. If you have Medicare questions or know someone who does, you may contact Linda Reho at Agency Associates, Inc. -- Cell:  (216) 210-3684. Their Medicare Health Plans brochure reads: Agency Associates, Inc. protects individuals, families, and businesses by providing high quality insurance and financial products.  Our professional staff offers expert advice and attentive service. 
Ashtabula said farewell to another of our stellar citizens yesterday.  The memorial service for Bud Hill was celebrated at the Lakeside HS auditorium. Victor Musarillo, who tunes our organ at Messiah, played the theater organ at Lakeside. Andrea Tredent sang beautifully. Pastors Bruce Wyand and Glen Warner led the service with confidence and dignity. Mr. Hill was one of those personalities that knew how to get a project from point A to point B and in the process gathered people together an earned their confidence. He had been an active member at Second Congregational Church in The Harbor. 
Two projects will occupy the office this week. The first is getting out the newsletter. Lanny Anderson put together the current, popular format when Pr. Eaton was still here. The other project is working on offering envelopes mailing for 2021.  When they go out, the mailings will contain your envelopes, two cover letters, and a “pledge” form. Russ Jepson is our stewardship committee chair person this year. He’s done a marvelous job of keeping us mindful of good stewardship practices in spite of this dangerous pandemic. 
Different states have different laws for counting ballots. So, we really do not know what to expect November 3rd. It could be the networks announce the results before midnight as they did in 2016. It could be we’ll have a Supreme Court challenge as we did with Gore Vs. Bush in 2000. Whatever happens, we love this nation.  At the same time, we know that ultimately, we are citizens on another shore (Hebrews 11:10,16). We use our confidence in God’s light THEN to shine on our loving and serving NOW.  
Your fellow citizen, 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
25 October thru 1 November during the Year of Pandemic
We attempted our semi-annual meeting yesterday but did not proceed due to lack of quorum. Possibly more of us than usual chose to stay because of the invitation for more of us to gather. For example, of the eight persons on our congregational council, only two of them attended. I take low attendance at our meeting as another sign of our intelligence here in Northeast Ohio. Large gatherings are incubators for Covid19. Do whatever we can to avoid large gatherings. Hence, no quorum for the semi-annual meeting. Messiah, once again you did the right thing. 
Speaking of avoiding large gatherings, all my conversations lead to the conclusion we’ll not have the usual 11:00 pm Christmas Eve service at Messiah. We will, however, develop alternative ways to safely celebrate the incarnation. Stay tuned. 
I get to ride shotgun. Last week I completed training to be a poll worker for Ashtabula County Board of Elections. I’m assigned to the polling place on Cook Road. At the end of the voting day, the precinct supervisor gathers all the ballots in a sealed container. S/he drives the ballots to Jefferson. Two additional persons are required to be in the same vehicle as the ballots. I’m one of the two. This is one more check and balance guaranteeing honest elections. I’m so impressed with elections in Ohio. So much is done to encourage as much legal voting participation as possible.
I had what I realized was a life-saving encounter. The weekend had been very uncomfortable. Sunday afternoon I went to the urgent care clinic and was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. Two prescriptions were given and things started to feel much better.  I realized again the miracle of antibiotics. I thought of pioneer history. I wondered at all the graves that paved the way on the Oregon Trail. Nowadays infections are simply cleared up. In prior days infections overwhelmed organs and systems and humans died. Painfully. Good medicine is part of what Lutherans refer to as the preservation of creation. Life and health are preserved. We continue on growing in love toward God and neighbor.
Welcome Home to Messiah, 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
18 October thru 25 October in the Year of Pandemic

Welcome Home to Messiah
  • January 10 thru January 17 in 2021 (this is a LONG one)
    “Law” is a technical term in Lutheranism.  Law names the sin. It is important to identify the sin.  Left unaddressed, sin separates us from God, harms creation, hurts our neighbor, and ultimately destroys our own self. Law acknowledges sin in general and specifies the sin in particular. Law brings sin to light for repentance, forgiveness, renewal, and the regeneration of the person for good works. 
    What happened at our nation’s Capital building on January 6th was sin. Law names the sin. Breaking and entering. Trespassing. Threatening with deadly weapons. Destruction of public property. Vandalism. Theft.  Sedition. Murder.
    With all of you, I was horrified as I watched the assault on our capitol unfold. PBS was covering ratification of the electoral college when, around 2:25 p.m., a reporter pointed out a few protestors had gained access thru a side door. Within a few moments there was a surge of mayhem. 
    Live feeds came from Statuary Hall.  I first visited Statuary Hall in 1972, and still recall the inspiration I felt among the sculptures of those noble personalities. Ohio has James Garfield and Thomas Edison. Oregon has Dr. John McLoughlin and Methodist pastor James Lee.  Would they survive the mob? 
    As gangs of protestors flowed in and out, pausing to take selfies, I reflected how low our politics have sunk.  How deeply our discourse has devolved. How angry our national mood has become.  What I saw unfolding on live internet was not the America that raised and nurtured me.  I have memories of the United States that are far different from that criminal invasion of the capitol and the political brokenness that led up to it. 
    I began to catalogue those other, alternative memories. For some I had to look up the dates. But otherwise, in my lifetime, I have specific recollection of the following events. These are ways of being that, for a time, had made America the most enviable of nations. The following random stories recall responsible ways of citizenship that stand in stark contrast to what happened 1.6.2021.
    1956   The United States launched the national interstate highway system. It provides safe travel for 41,000 miles. One design feature is regular strait stretches to accommodate emergency airplane landings. The economic benefit is huge.  
    1957   President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas.  Local law enforcement ignored the Supreme Court ruling on de-segregation.  Ike understood the responsibility of three branches of government to work in concert. So, he deployed troops to guarantee the law of the land. 
    1959   Buick began producing the 401 CID “Nail Head” V-8.  (445 lbs. of torque) America could manufacture anything. (My Schwinn 10-speed never broke down.)
    1961   The Mutual Security Plan extended the Marshall Plan. In 1951 the United States began to help rebuild war torn western Europe.  Secretary of State George Marshall’s initial plan finished ahead of schedule and under budget. 
    1962   President Kennedy and level-headed advisors steered us safely thru the Cuban Missile Crisis. 
    1963   I took the polio vaccine at a local grade school.  Medical technology had advanced the vaccine from a shot in the arm to medicine in the mouth. The vaccine was in sugar cubes.  We grade schoolers thought it was so much fun to get medicine in a sugar cube.  My generation never had to worry about the polio virus. 
    1967   The Ice Bowl.  Cowboy’s coach Tom Landry said about the Lombardi coached Packers, “It was their courage that defeated us.”  (Paul Brown had already won 3 NFL titles in Cleveland.  Prior to that he won 4 titles with the AAFC)
    1968   Congress passed The Fair Housing Act.  This legislation followed epic pieces of legislation: Civil Rights Act and the Voting Act.  It was at least a legal beginning to address the prejudice that has haunted our nation for centuries.
    1970   Congress passed The Clean Air Act. 
    1972   Congress passed The Clean Water Act.
    1972   Congress passed Title IX legislation.  This bars sex discrimination in our educational institutions.  College athletics became much more competitive with the expansion of women’s sports. 
    1972   President Jerald Ford is photographed cooking his own breakfast in the White House kitchen.  This image reassured us there are “decent men” (and women) in politics. There were many such decent men and women who were cultural and athletic leaders: Jimmy Stewart, Paul Newman, Bart Starr, etc. 
    1978   President Carter worked tirelessly for Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to sign the Camp David Peace accords. Many thought it could never be done. 
    1987   President Reagan made his public plea to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Margaret Thatcher had prompted Reagan to reach out to Gorbachev. After Gorbachev came into power, she phoned Reagan and said, “I think we can work with this one.”  

    1990   President George H Bush gathered the largest coalition of nations since WW II in order to expel Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  The Japanese paid for it.  Well, they paid a portion. George H Bush was a master collaborator. He reminded nations as long as their economy depended upon oil imports, they bore a fiscal responsibility in the challenge against Iraq. 
    1996   The Bill Clinton administration, working with a Republican controlled congress, passes the Welfare to Work bill. Thousands have opportunities to move out of a co-dependent welfare system.  The congregation I served in Minnesota set aside huge square footage to provide subsidized welfare to work day care.
    2001   On September 11th, the first American warriors against terrorism emerge.  Flight 93 is hijacked 30,000 feet above Ohio. It turns eastward. Passengers understand their hijacked plane would do incalculable damage in Washington DC.  They make phone contact with air traffic controller Lisa Jefferson in CLE tower. Flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw boils water to throw on the terrorists. Todd Beamer leads fellow passengers to rush the cockpit. His words are immortalized, “Let’s roll.”
    2001   After “9-11” Al Gore said on National TV, “George W Bush is MY commander in chief!”  Members of congress, democrat and republican, gathered together on the capitol steps and sang, “God Bless America.” 

    2006   The Episcopal Church becomes the first mainline protestant denomination to elect a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori) as national presiding bishop.  In 2013 the ELCA elects Liz Eaton. 
    2018   Former President Barak Obama spoke at Senator John McCain’s funeral. They had different ideas about government but were never cruel. Several times in his 2008 Campaign John McCain publicly defended the integrity of Barak Obama. “He’s a good man.  You would not have to fear an Obama presidency.” 
    Those are just a smattering of memories I have of a more civil, responsible, and effective American culture. There are many more local memories. I think of all the museums, libraries, arts centers, concert halls built and maintained.  Recently there have been huge signs of civic responsibility in Ashtabula.  The Lift Bridge Association was formed in 2008.  The Ashtabula Hotel has been repurposed. There is commitment for renovating the Carlisle’s Building. The Ashtabula City Staff and Council are no longer characterized by acrimony but are examples of cooperation.  County politicians are Democrat or Republican but all of them are open to communication and reasonable exchange of ideas. 
    The voice of law will speak clearly against the insurrection on January 6th. Law curbs inappropriate acts and arrests wrong behavior. Fines are exacted. Sentences are served. As good citizens we pay taxes that law may be enforced. 
    We are also members of Christ’s body, the church.  It is our specific role to speak the gospel voice to this aching land. The law will have full say in this matter. But our calling is to embody compassion and seek restoration thru appropriate forgiveness. Our role is to reflect Light from above that shines from within. Our aim is reconciliation. Our inspiration is possibility of renewal. Our commitment is to keep conversation going, especially by listening. Our motivation is certain hope in the Spirit’s power to make us new creatures. Our proclamation is gospel.
    Faithfully your pastor, 
    Michael Meranda 

Bishop Jaech’s letter is helpful because these concepts are not directed solely against what happened at the capitol building on 1.6.2021.  These concepts also apply to the violence that destroyed so much economic and cultural life in places such as Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle this past year. 
People of God, pray always for the Holy Spirit to liberate our inner hearts from fear.  Pray always for the Holy Spirit to direct our exterior acts to ways of responsible citizenship. 
Faithfully your pastor,
Michael Meranda 

Remember to stay after church October 25th for the semi-annual meeting of the congregation.  Only one position is up for re-election.  The council has acted as nominating committee and nominates Candace Rodgers for her second 3-year term as our Treasurer. 

Thanks for your feedback as to how to celebrate Christmas Eve in a time of pandemic.  Specific plans will soon be announced, detailing how we’ll scale back worship on December 24th to accommodate Covid19 realities. 

I completed training today at Ashtabula County Board of Elections.  I’ll be a poll worker on November 3rd. I’m impressed at how well that office is organized.  I’m proud to be an Ohioan where thorough checks and balances assure fair elections. We don’t anticipate the social unrest so rampant in our culture to spill over and endanger our voting experience here. 

I’m also proud to be a member at Messiah. Our socially distanced communion services are an intelligent response to Corona Virus. You faithfully bring your offerings to church or mail them or send them electronically. Great job (as usual), Messiah! 

Sunday afternoon was sad for many. The Browns got embarrassed, again, in Pittsburgh. And the Buccaneers demolished the Packers.  Fortunately, Ohio State is a three touch down favorite over Nebraska this Saturday. That will help us erase bad memories from the NFL. I realize it is trivial to lapse into football talk. But it’s a nice, temporary distraction. Pandemic, elections, social unrest, stimulus package, a three trillion-dollar federal deficit for the year 2020 are all heavy, serious challenges. They require our response, investment, and prayer.  Now more than ever our culture needs people of faith to show the ways of hope and love. 

I led a funeral at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Conneaut last Saturday. (It’s nice to learn how nearby ELCA pastors are filling in and helping out there until they find an interim pastor.) It strikes me more and more what an honor it is for a pastor to officiate a funeral. Dying is a sacred process. The funeral is the last public event the deceased will generate. To be pastor at a funeral is to help put the punctuation mark at the end of the person’s life. The funeral at Good Shepherd was a good one in that the person had lived a long and healthy life. She had many connections to people, places, and events. Her obituary was intelligently written. I was privileged to be the one who led the congregation’s farewell in the commendation. I love how the commendation punctuates the service. We release the deceased from our loving embrace. We see the deceased embraced by God among all the saints in light. I’ve been leading that rite for over 40 years, but I’m still moved by its beauty and meaning. 

Faithfully, your fellow child of the light -

Pastor M

Welcome Home to Messiah
11 October thru 18 October in the Year of Pandemic
I’m asking for feedback. At council last night I was speculating on ways to organize a Covid19 safe Christmas Eve. Options ranged from offering more worship opportunities throughout the day to just cancelling. Finally, Emelia suggested, “Why don’t you just ask the members for feedback.” So, I welcome your suggestions. We won’t be able to host a single large group gathering. Currently, we’re not singing. Passing candles would not be good social distancing. Most significantly, the choir is not singing. If you have any preferences or suggestions as to how to offer a safe gathering on Christmas Eve, I’d love to hear from you. 
The semi-annual meeting of Messiah will take place October 25th, right after church. With the marked spaces in the pews, it will be easy to accommodate a quorum of voters and maintain social distance. Fortunately, there is only one position to elect. Candace Rodgers has completed a three-year term as Treasurer. She is eligible to be elected for another three-year term. The council has acted as the nominating committee and so nominates Candace for a second term as our treasurer. 
Anarchy reared its ugly head again, this time in a place where I have good memories – Portland, Oregon. In the center of the city is a ten-block strip known as the park blocks. This is a place of towering trees, fountains, benches, and statuary. You could walk from one end to the other and emerge refreshed, encouraged, ennobled. Sunday night demonstrators tore down the Theodore Roosevelt statue and the Abraham Lincoln statue.  Now, reasoned protest is part of democracy. Without challenge and disagreement, we would not be a free people. But there’s no place for vandalism and random destruction. What happened in Portland only distracts us from the healing and change our nation and culture need to enact. People of God have an opportunity in this pandemic of lawlessness. Speak softly. Listen. Express sorrow for wrongs. Be open. Seek reconciliation. Pray. 
Life is easy and sane in Ashtabula County. Mary and I drove to the early balloting office in Jefferson and voted. They opened at 8:00 a.m. We received our ballots by 8:10. We were at Wall Street Café before 8:30. I’m impressed that the state of Ohio is training more poll workers for November 3rd. I’ll be among the new trainees. This is the year to pray for safety at all our voting precincts.  
The Year 2020 has brought one surprise after another, all of them bad. Except for one. The Browns have won four games in a row! No one saw that coming, their best start since 1994. Nice surprises do happen along life’s way, even during a pandemic. I’ll bet this very day you and I will be a nice surprise for someone else. We’ll say something nice or do something nice that will be just the right thing at just the right time for someone. Yup, 2020 has been a year of darkness in so many ways. But you and I (John 12:36) are children of light. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
4 October thru 11 in the Year of Pandemic
This letter serves as the first announcement of Messiah’s semi-annual meeting. The date is October 25, 2020. The meeting begins right after the church service ends. Only one council position is up for election/re-election. So, the meeting should be short. We’ll make sure to follow Covid19 safety protocols in our conduct of the meeting. More details will follow.
One of my biggest disappointments is church buildings are no longer open 24-7 for prayer. Considering social trends for theft and vandalism, that has not been possible for a long time. I’m especially saddened that it is necessary to close church buildings during this time of pandemic. People are bearing the burden of unprecedented stress these days. There’s violence in our cities, huge challenges in our schools, upheaval in our families, massive debts in our economy, and much acrimony in our politics. Prayer strengthens us as we endure that stress. In prayer God is present to show us the way of forgiveness and new ways to patiently love our neighbor. Prayer is possible and effective in any place.  But undistracted prayer especially happens in the beauty of our church buildings. If ever you wish to be in silence in the sanctuary that is Messiah, stop on by. Give me a call if you wish to be here outside “office hours”. 
If you are weary of isolation and limited events, consider attending my weekly bible class. It’s every Wednesday in the Luther Room, starting 10:00 a.m. I especially enjoy teaching from the Old Testament. Last week we immersed in the sad story of Samson. October 7thwe’ll climb mountains in Isaiah, Exodus, and Amos. 
I’ve learned from three separate sources recently that Covid19 is at a comparatively low rate in Ashtabula County. Good for us! Masks and isolation make a difference. With this recent success in mind, our property committee recommends to council that we maintain our current status at Messiah thru December 31st. The building remains closed to public events. Saturday and Sunday services will continue: masked, no singing, physical separation. 
The safe closure of our building means there will be no Thanks-For-Giving Dinner this year. Sharing food, people close together, un-masked face to face talking would undo all the patient progress we’ve made this year. That also means our celebration of Christmas will be different this year, too. We’ll be creative in providing a safe experience on Christmas Eve – more details will follow what Christmas Eve will be like. 
Messiah services on You Tube and on the Facebook Page Messiah Lutheran Church Ashtabula continue to garner a growing, faithful following. The October 4th service featured a slide show of autumn light penetrating interior rooms at Messiah. The October 11th service will feature a slide show of autumn light bathing the exterior of Messiah. Autumn light is so special this time of year in soon to be cloudy Northeast Ohio. It gleams. Colorful leaves shimmer in its glow. 
Autumn light reminds us God invades our darkened souls and saturates us with mercy and healing love. God breathes us back to life and light, especially during these dangerous days. God is light; we see Whom we are to follow, the path we are to take. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
27 September thru 4 October in the Year of Pandemic
There are two safe gathering opportunities I invite more folk to attend. 
One is the 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning Holy Communion service. It’s a great way to begin the weekend – hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament. Then the rest of the day and Sunday are ahead of you. 
The other opportunity is Wednesday Bible Class. We meet 10:00 a.m. in the Luther Room. Chairs are distanced. We wear masks. We follow the daily bible reading schedule that is emailed out to the congregation every Monday. This week we’ll immerse in the Samson story. (The guy had some troubling issues.) 
The first day of the week this week began the best way it possibly could. We celebrated a Holy Baptism at Messiah. Chelsea Fleming-Dowdy & Jaylen Dowdy brought their son, Theo Michael, for baptism. I’m always moved at the point in the rite when we renounce evil and profess faith in God. I was especially moved to see that nice, extended family system standing together against darkness and standing together affirming light from God. That is the spirit that will get us thru these troubled times in our economy, our ecology, and our politics. 
I learned our Bishop Elect, Pastor Laura Barbins, will be installed on December 13th. But, due to Covid19, it will not be a large group gathering. A smaller group of people will officiate the installation. Much of the experience will be on line. Human creativity and adaptability are among the greatest gifts from God. 
The “Star Beacon” had a nice article on the latest big event to be cancelled – the Geneva Grape Jamboree. We probably never realized how full our calendars were until these events started getting cancelled. September would have brought the annual arts festival on Main Avenue, the car show at the Nazarene church, and the motorcycle gathering at Geneva on the Lake. We still stay connected, but in other ways. When Covid19 is solved and those good activities resume, we’ll appreciate them all the more. 
Last Tuesday was Fall Equinox. Daylight is noticeably shorter. Morning sunlight arrives later. Evening sun sets more quickly. The next installment of Messiah on You Tube will feature a slide show of random sunlight in Messiah’s building. It’s a gentler, more glowing kind of light this time of year. It’s a reminder of the eternal presence of God, glowing in our hearts and in this community of faith. Be light-full, these precious days. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
20 September thru 27 September in the Year of Pandemic
I’m so pleased with our Covid19 worship schedule. Having the opportunity for 9:30 a.m. Holy Communion on a Saturday has always been a dream of mine. Typically, churches offer a late Saturday afternoon mass. But I’ve always wondered about early on Saturday instead of late. If you wish to return to a safe worship setting, I warmly invite you to consider Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Of course, Sunday at 10:00 a.m. continues to be the “main” service at Messiah.
I had the opportunity to reach out to a family (not Messiah members) this week who had a loved one undergo surgery at Cleveland Clinic. The mother explained the clinic permits only one designated visitor. That was she. That meant children and other relatives or friends could not be there to offer support. I could not imagine their pain at having to endure such isolation. Phone calls, text messages, and posting healing prayers on Face Book are the new instruments for pastoral care. When Covid19 is behind us I can’t wait to gather and hear those stories of what we endured and how we coped.
I’m on the stewardship committee for our NE Ohio Synod. I think the new word for committee these days is “round table.” I’m glad to be part of that group. I’ve always enjoyed stewardship. Not all pastors do. If we think it is only fund raising it will not be satisfying. But if we see making offerings as an extension of and expression of our relationship with the Trinity, then stewardship becomes lively and real. Your stewardship at Messiah has certainly been effective for many years. You have REALLY shined with consistent and regular offerings during this pandemic.
I’ll be at Potti Funeral Home this Thursday. Fred Filling had a distant connection with Messiah. From the obituary, he must have been a well-known figure around Ashtabula. It’s always a privilege to be the pastor who has a role at a funeral. I see a funeral liturgy as putting the punctuation mark at the end of the sentence that was the life time. It’s actually a semi colon or a colon – because we know with God that more is to follow. This particular journey with God has ended. But the life with God continues. 
The Christian funeral is God completing the promises God made at baptism. We get to celebrate a baptism September 27th. It will be 11:30 a.m. Only family will be present as we keep within Covid19 guidelines. We’ll baptize the grandson of Marcel and Debra Fleming. His name, I just love it, is Theo. Theo comes from the Greek word for God. So, under the baptismal water, baby Theo will be joined in relationship with God who is Father-Son-Holy Spirit. (Chelsea is Theo’s mom. She’s been around Messiah for years; not too long ago she made a lot of friends serving donuts at Squire Shop.)
Yes, the Buckeyes play on October 24th! I feel sorry for Nebraska coming into The Shoe. I wonder about Wisconsin. Last season they had a great running back but he could not get over the dreaded disease of fumble-itis. It’s hard to beat Oregon in the bowl game when you fumble four times.  I just realized how nice it is to have something normal to talk about – Big Ten football. We need this, not as a distraction, but as a reminder. We need to be reminded of typical ways and doings. Fall is for Brant’s Orchard and football. Fall closes the drive-in-fast-food places and Geneva On the Lake. Fall is for flannel and planting bulbs that will flower next season. Fall of 2020 is lived against the horrible backdrop of Covid19. But pandemics do not last. And fall shall return. So shall winter and spring and summer. They’ll all return. When they do, we will be wiser and stronger. We will be closer than ever before. We’ve faced this death, together. We’ve clung to life, we are life. God is life; we belong to God. 
Welcome home to Messiah,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
13 September thru 20 September in the Year of Pandemic
Frank Maenpa and Dee Dee Maenpa and myself were Messiah delegates to the NE Ohio Synod Assembly. The assembly was held via Zoom Conference. So, over 300 delegates participated via computer from the comfort of our homes. We elected our next bishop for a six-year term. She is Pastor Laura Barbins from Celebration Lutheran Church in Chardin. I was impressed at the quality of candidates for bishop. As the electoral process continued into the 4th ballot, I had a lot of confidence in the 3 finalists. As we went into the 5thballot, I thought it was a win-win situation; no matter who won we’d get a good bishop. I’m glad for Pastor Barbins. She was a finalist six years ago. She’s been a long term, effective pastor in Chardin. Her advanced degree is in homiletics (preaching). She will be an experienced, seasoned voice to help our congregations re-start after Covid19.
Joanna Pretz Anderson and Dave Anderson had major roles in this successful synod assembly. Joanna led on line worship – a huge challenge she met well. Dave was chair of the bishop election committee. They had to integrate Turning Point voting technology with Zoom Technology. They provided a seamless opportunity to elect synod council members and the new bishop. Thank you, Joanna and  David.
One of the candidates for bishop brought a nice phrase to her comments. She referred to our church buildings as “spaces for grace.”  Our church buildings are in all sorts of neighborhoods and communities. When the doors open and events happen, people gather for face to face interaction. There are special opportunities in churches for the grace of God to inform and guide those interactions. From classes to community service, our church buildings have potential to house graceful encounter with God. In that sense, our buildings are gifts. They are gifts because they enable the gifts of God to be experienced in unique ways. I’m so grateful for the unique gift that is the physical space of Messiah. I’m so grateful for the ways Messiah has been a space for grace in Ashtabula since 1921.
Thank you, Messiah members and friends, for your consistent offerings during this pandemic. You mail them in, drop them in the collection plate, or send them electronically. Your strong stewardship is an example of faithfulness. 
Welcome Home to Messiah – Saturday Holy Communion 9:30 a.m. and Sunday Holy Communion 10:00 a.m. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
6 September thru 13 September in the Year of Pandemic
This weekly letter arrives a day late. I was away Labor Day Monday. Mary and I drove into Cleveland to have breakfast with our son. We have not seen our children in recent months due to traveling / gathering restrictions. Our son is a member of that generation that saw Nine Eleven, the economic collapse of 2008, and the Covid19 Pandemic of 2020. Three times now they have had to re-gather themselves emotionally and recoup economically. They are strong, bright people. We who are of the older generations do well to lend them a hand in any way that we are able. Their road to retirement will not be as smooth a sailing as ours. 
When we drove to Cleveland yesterday morning it rained tremendously. When we arrived in Cleveland it was still raining. All thru our time together it rained outside. I understand that August in NE Ohio was exceptionally dry. September 7th more than made up for it. We like our rain, but prefer it more steadily and less dramatically. 
I have tremendous respect the people administering our NE Ohio Synod election of a new bishop this weekend. We are not gathered face to face in assembly for that election. We will be physically distanced and so will cast votes electronically. Nominations have to be made and confirmed and candidates have to be screened and approved. The time frame for this in the initial stages is excruciatingly small. And only God knows what vagaries of the internet may cause unexpected interference. Here’s a Shout Out to all the good folk involved with that complicated process -- God bless you and keep you. 
Frank Maenpa and Dee Dee Maenpa and myself will be among the virtual delegates for the synod assembly. Friday and Saturday we’ll gather in our homes in front of computer screens. We’ll follow discussions, carefully follow instructions, and cast our votes. I wish someone would take a poll of all the attendees. I bet we could set a Guiness World Record for the number of people “attending” the assembly wearing really comfortable old clothes, or possibly still in pajamas and slippers. 
Last weekend we went to our new service times and with encouraging success. It was Labor Day weekend. I expected very low attendance. But Saturday drew a nice, small group and Sunday attendance was so strong that altar guild member Marilyn Brown had to prepare extra “communion kits”.  Saturday Holy Communion is 9:30 a.m. This allows folk to get a jump on their busy day. Sunday Holy Communion is 10:00 a.m. It’s not as late as our usual 11:00 a.m. starting time. But during the pandemic there is no Sunday Forum or Senior Choir warm up in that time slot. So, we moved Sunday church to 10:00 a.m.
Thank you, Messiah members and friends, faithful offerings during this pandemic. You mail them in, drop them in the collection plate, or send them electronically. Your strong stewardship is an example of faithfulness. 
One of the themes from last Sunday’s Gospel was communication and relationships. When relationships are strong and healthy, life is full and good. When relationships are broken, life is awkward and impeded. So, keep on talking. Interestingly, that is the first thing God does in the bible. In the beginning, Genesis tells us, “God SAID, ‘let there be light’.” God said. God spoke. Creation resulted thru word from God. We create similarly thru our words. Thru our conversations we create, sustain, and heal relationships. Keep on talking, connecting with each other. The effectiveness of Word is older than the stars. 
Be well,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
August 30 thru September 6 in the Year of Pandemic
A quick reminder: 
Saturday, September 5th Holy Communion service begins 9:30 a.m.
Sunday, September 6th Holy Communion service begins 10:00 a.m. 
We attend weekend services wearing masks and we are seated at a distance from one another. There is no singing, though we hear good music. Holy Communion is celebrated safely without contact and a lot of “handling” the elements. 
I usually put this at the end. This is to thank Messiah members and friends for your faithful offerings. You mail them in, drop them in the collection plate, or send them electronically. Your strong stewardship is an example of faithfulness. Thank you! 
Many know the Eble family. Norma is a life-long member of Messiah. She and Gary have served our church and community in many ways thru many years. Their daughter, Christiana, died at ACMC the morning of August 23rd. We’ve known Christina’s children in a variety of ways at Messiah -- Sunday school, VBS, confirmation, etc. The family has planned a special celebration of life event for Christina at her sister’s home. Christina loved The Beatles, among other good things. It will be good to celebrate her life and the ways she brought life to others. People of faith do that. In the midst of death, we celebrate life. God is author of life. Death interrupts the narrative. But the story does not end in death. God promises to restore us to the gift of life and living. The next chapter is really good. 
This week is different because it is marked by lack of planning. What I mean is, normally there are a host of details we attend to getting ready for Labor Day weekend. But Labor Day 2020 we are not gathering, traveling, attending, participating, vacationing. We are continuing some form of isolating. I’ve heard it said that Covid19 social distancing is hell for extroverts but rather heavenly for introverts. Wherever you fall on that Introversion-Extroversion scale, be positive and productive this Labor Day weekend.
Be well,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
August 23 thru August 30 in the Year of Pandemic
This may have been buried in last week’s weekly letter. Council has resolved to keep the building closed to outside groups and regular congregation activities thru November 1st. Colleges are still sending students home, sports events are cancelled or limit spectators, culture events are cancelled, there is no inoculation for Covid19. Keeping the building closed, except for carefully managed weekend worship, is the responsible thing to do. 
Speaking of worship, here are the new times starting Labor Day weekend. Saturday September 5th Holy Communion is 9:30 a.m. Sunday September 6th Holy Communion is 10:00 a.m. Sunday worship time will remain 10:00 a.m. thru the fall, starting September 6th. Saturday worship time will remain 9:30 a.m. thru the fall starting September 5th
At least thru November 1st the choir will not sing on Sundays. Currently, no Sunday Forum is scheduled. There is bible study Wednesday mornings at 10:30 a.m. I’m open to the possibility of offering a Zoom bible study. 
We were proud to be Ashtabulans last week. On Thursday the Ashtabula County Metroparks dedicated the ADA pathway at Red Brook Park. Participants were all appropriately masked for the ribbon cutting. There are ten parks in the county Metroparks system. There are more parks outside the Metropark system. There is plenty to see and do here, even during Corona Virus isolation. 
We were also proud to be Ashtabulans last week at the changing of the guard at Hubbard House. The former executive director is retired and the new executive director has begun her tenure. The safe ceremony to mark that transition of leadership was inspiring. I’m always ennobled when I hear the story of the underground railroad and Hubbard House Ashtabula as a northern terminus. One of the take away phrases at the ceremony came from a colleague in the ministerial association, Rev. Singh. His phrase was, “against slavery then, against oppression now.”

I’m part of a newly established group in the ELCA called Mission Interpreters. Our focus is stewardship. We’ve barely begun. Interestingly, we meet via Zoom. Zoom conferencing may forever change the way we do business in America. Many businesses have discovered their employees work effectively remotely and communicate well via video conferencing. This may eliminate the need in some cases for having people commute into the “office”.  I wonder if religious denominations will follow this cost cutting trend. I, for one, would miss the face-to-face interactions; that is often what provokes creativity and inventiveness. 
I close this with a shout out for all the students in our land. From age 3 in a pre-school to Ph.D. in a grad school, they are charting new courses as they sail thru troubled waters. I especially admire high school seniors. So much of the high school experience comes to fruition in that magical senior year. The Class of 2021 will endure unprecedented hardship without the benefit of close community and events that strengthen and support. If they negotiate their way thru this crisis they are going to emerge as rock solid young adults with huge gifts for society. Remember the old bumper sticker, “support your local police?”  I’d like to fashion a new one, “support your local students.” 
Be well,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
August 16 thru August 23 in the Year of Pandemic
Synod Assembly is September 11 & 12 September. Messiah’s virtual delegates are Dee Dee and Frank Maenpa. They are virtual delegates. Yes, our Northeast Ohio Synod will meet on-line this year. Delegates will vote electronically, from the safety of our homes. Whoever is elected bishop will have a special calling. S/he will have to gather congregations that have been isolating and de-programming for the better part of a year. Thank you, Maenpas, for being part of that electronic electoral process. 
For these summer months, Isabelle Fleming has been our church secretary. Now, at summer’s end, Isabelle returns for her junior year at Kent State University. The secretary job has changed drastically since the advent of Covid19. The building is no longer opened for community or family groups. There are no Sunday bulletins to prepare. No weddings are scheduled. Funerals tend to be at the funeral home or just at the cemetery. Nursing homes and hospitals do not permit pastors to visit. With all those changes, the secretary’s work load has lessened considerably. For the time being, Messiah member Becky Young will occupy the secretary’s desk. We thank Becky for stepping in after for Bella. As the congregation returns to normal practice the secretary position will resume its traditional role. In the meantime, when you phone you will hear Becky’s voice or my voice answer. She and I are there to help in anyway. If we are not there to answer, leave a message.   
Church secretaries bring special gifts and leave their own legacies. Cathy Carle, for example, was a terrific proof reader and had encyclopedic memory of Messiah families. One of Bella’s lasting gifts from her summer in the office was the gift of You Tube. Every week, starting way back in Holy Week, she “filmed” make shift Sunday services. I would preach and pray. Debbie Fleming would play piano or organ. Sometimes Ed Schroeder, Julie Hunt, and Barb Ranta added their good music. Bella would edit those different segments and form a single service. She’d download that to a disk, bring the disk to Frank Maenpa, then he would download it onto our You Tube channel that he established. People really appreciated seeing Messiah every week. I sure do. Mary and I watch Messiah every Sunday as we eat breakfast or lunch. 
I’m pleased to say the practice Debbie and Bella began will continue. The church council authorized the purchase of an iPad. I will continue to “film” church service segments, then edit them together into one unified service. I’ll drop off the disk for Frank who will download it on You Tube.  So, Messiah on social media will continue. (Does that make me a televangelist?) 
Remember the piano that was in the hallway for over a year? It had been in the Luther Room for decades. Then the gift of the old Steinway piano arrived. The Steinway moved into the Luther Room, the other piano moved to the hallway. Jill Carle connected us with a young couple who wanted a piano for their children’s piano lessons. A real piano, with hammers, strings, and heavy sound board, gives a more authentic sound than electronic keyboards. So, the family in search of a piano gathered four burly friends and a pick-up truck. Sunday afternoon Homer Young let them in the building and helped them get the piano out the hallway, thru the front door, and into the pick-up bed. They made it home before the heavy rains started. The piano that served Messiah for decades now serves a family of young musicians. A sad development in our culture is that it is very difficult to give or sell pianos, unless they are of exceptional quality and value. 
The August 10thcouncil meeting wisely decided to keep Messiah “closed” thru November 1st. Ministry is not closed. Food Bank is open. Prayer and study continue. Holy Communion is served and celebrated. But normal activities and welcoming in outside groups remain suspended thru November 1st
The Big Ten made it official. No Buckeye football the fall of 2020. I think colleges played football games even during World War II. This pandemic is negatively affecting our health AND our culture and economy. When we first cancelled church services on March 22, I remember assuming things would be back to normal by Easter. Was I ever naïve! Currently, we have no idea what the new normal will be like, whenever it finally arrives. 
There is so much to reflect upon but this is getting a little long. My son made a very truthful and prescient statement back in 2007 when Mary and I were considering the call to Messiah. My son said, “it sounds as though something good happens at Messiah every day.” Yup, that about sums it up. There’s a good exchange or conversation or helpful deed or meaningful connection here every day. God is good. And God in you made this good place what it is. And it will be even better after Covid19 is behind us. 
Be well
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
August 9 thru August 16 in the Year of Pandemic
Big Ten teams have announced modified football schedules for the fall. The curtailed schedule means HUGE economic loss. For example, Notre Dame had been scheduled to play Wisconsin in Lambeau Field. Not anymore. Imagine the dollars that would have generated from people parking cars on their lawns to TV revenues. Fair weather fans such as myself have it easy; we’ll just find something interesting to do those hours we would have watched TV. I genuinely feel the pain of sincere, die-hard fans. I appreciate the lament of universities and student athletes who rely on football generated income for their programs and scholarships. Perhaps new priorities for programs and policies will emerge after Covid19 sacked college football in 2020. 
I had a funeral last Saturday. Actually, I did not have a funeral, I just officiated at one. It was Bill Hogan’s funeral for which people gathered. This is another example of steady Messiah ministering thru the generations. When Bill married his wife, Ada, it was 1965. Pastor Pettersen officiated the wedding. When Bill and Ada had a son and daughter, Pastor Pettersen baptized them in the early 1970’s. When Ada died of cancer in 1992, Pastor Eaton officiated her funeral. When Bill died in 2020, Pastor Meranda met family wearing masks and led committal at graveside. I’m proud to be part of the continuity of pastoral care from this congregation that dates back to 1921. 
I saw a major transition. The clothing bank started in 2006 or 2007, I think. Donna Kiddle was its founding leader. Since then it has served neighbors at least once a week every Monday morning. Sometimes it has opened up other times for emergencies. The annual Christmas Give Away became a clothing bank event appreciated by many around Ashtabula. 
When Covid19 began we closed this building to most public activities. The clothing in the old youth room and the room under the court yard did not receive any attention. It’s humid in that basement. For a week or two a leak in the court yard room let in rain water. Damaged clothing had to be disposed of. Undamaged clothing had to be given away. That is what happened last Saturday. Sue Leitert from Property Committee coordinated volunteers. Remaining clothing was taken to Catholic Charities and Good Will. All that remains are display racks, empty hangars, and empty plastic bins. The rooms will soon get a good cleaning and the floors a good waxing. 
It is hard to tell at this point weather or not the clothing bank ministry of Messiah will return. There are so many uncertainties at this point. We may be unclear as to the clothing bank’s future, but we are very clear about celebrating its past. That ministry gathered hundreds of different “customers” thru the years. I’m sure many friendships were made or renewed among the people waiting in the hallways. The clothing bank was another of the many ways this community sees Messiah as an open and serving place. To all who had any role in that important outreach, thank you!
Council meets tonight. This building has been basically closed thru Labor Day. With five million Covid19 cases in the USA, with Ohio cases still increasing, with a vaccine not yet released, I do not think it would be safe for us to re-open in the immediate future. We’re not even planning an August church picnic for outdoors in the park.  But we continue to celebrate Holy Communion safely every Saturday and Sunday. Council will wisely lead all discussions about when to more fully re-open. For the time being, we remain for the most part safely closed. 
Prayers continue in this place. The Lutheran Church has a powerful arm of “spirituality”, the daily prayer cycle. We have liturgies for Morning Prayer, Noon Day Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Prayer at the Close of the Day. I pray all of them in this good place. A prayer format based on that cycle is the other attachment in this email. I encourage more of us to print those pages and follow those prayers. I can’t explain the physics of it, but there is more energy when people pray the same together. It’s part of Jesus’ promise, “where two or three are gathered, there am I.”
Be safe. Be smart. Be well. Be blessed. 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
August 2 thru August 9 - AD 2020
Covid19 has not been here a full year, yet. Though it seems like an eternity. Anyway, we are still experiencing what it feels like to not celebrate events we’ve grown accustomed to celebrating. So, there was no Easter breakfast or Easter Sunday service at Messiah. We did not do Memorial Day geraniums. We did not gather for Red Brook Vespers or Theology on Tap. There was no VBS. Now, in August, we’ll get used to not gathering for a church picnic. The saying is true, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or, isolation from an event makes us realize how important that event was. 
The absence of events that congregations are accommodating is happening in our culture. I’m thinking of the County Fair. That was always an event to anticipate. Parking out in a field and getting a ride in on a tractor drawn trailer. Demolition Derby. The honey exhibit. Animal exhibits. Junk food.  This year the Board of Directions has announced cancellation of the “traditional fair”. In its place will be a Junior Fair. I’m impressed the board recognized the danger presented by Covid19. At the same time, they are arranging for an alternate, fair-like experience. Humans adapt. We accommodate. It is when we are rigid or extreme that we get ourselves into trouble. 
Property Committee meets tonight. It’s as if the building is on sabbatical these pandemic days. I’m accustomed to hearing the entrance doors constantly beeping as they are opened for people entering for some kind of activity. For the most part, the doors are silent. The building is more or less shut down for typical uses. Even food bank clients do not come into the building. Some day God’s house here will resume being an open, come-on-in house. 
Finance Committee meets tonight. So far, your offerings have been consistent and generous. I hear that from other pastors on the NE Ohio Synod stewardship team. Lutherans understand this time is different. But we’re maintaining the infrastructures of our congregations and synods and denomination. We’re still celebrating Word and Sacrament. The day will come when we’ll resume more serving, hospitality, fellowship.
Cathy Carle retired in May after eleven years of faithful service as church secretary. Isabelle Fleming has filled really well this summer. But end of August, Isabelle returns to Kent State. That means Messiah is looking for a secretary. This job is perfect for someone out there. It is only 12-hours per week. It involves interacting with a lot of really nice people. It directly supports God’s ministry of Word and Sacrament and Service in this good place. If you are aware of anyone, young or old, who you feel would do a good job here in the office, put them in contact with me. Or let me know and I’ll contact them. 
Welcome Home to Messiah 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
July 26 thru August 2 in AD 2020
There are three new signs of life on Main Ave. The Puerto Rican restaurant, across from South Park, brings a unique menu. Main Avenue Bakery seems well established. I noticed it was open Sunday afternoon. It’s nice to see downtown activity on a Sunday afternoon. I recently learned a new restaurant will open. It’s called Meet Me on Main. A vital downtown community is heart and soul for American culture. It’s been agonizingly slow, but Ashtabula’s downtown seems to be progressing, no longer receding. 
Social media is harmful in so many ways. But there are those times when social media is a blessing. When social media brings people together and fosters connections, it’s a good thing. This recently happened. Messiah Sunday “services” are posted on You Tube. From You Tube they get shared to Facebook. Last Sunday’s service showed the Mary Geenawalt portrait of Pastor Pettersen. Pastor Pettersen’s daughter, now living in Sheridan, WY, saw it and left a comment. Her comment invited other comments. People who had not heard from each other in years had an opportunity to re-connect. The word “religion” comes from two Latin words that mean to re-link or re-connect. Messiah’s Facebook and You Tube pages enable folk to connect with each other, that’s a huge blessing. Especially in light of Covid19 that seeks to keep us separate. 
Northeast Ohio Synod Assembly will be September 11 and 12. Last week I erroneously said the assembly will be in December. September is correct. I’m looking forward to attending an assembly on line. I’ll home brew French Roast and track assembly events with a lot less distraction. The assembly will elect a new bishop. We will not be able to get a “live” / in-person take on the personalities of the candidates. But I trust the Holy Spirit will lead us thru to good election. 
My heart is with students these pandemic days. Most of us recall looking forward to the resumption of school activities when September arrived. We’d see friends. We’d get to like teachers we thought we’d never like. Extra-curricular activities returned for us to join in or watch. As our class progressed thru the years, we grew closer together. Things got easier the older we got. That was normal. But Covid19 Generation does not have that normal. 
Today’s students are still not sure what days they will be in their school buildings. Student Athletes are not sure what games will be scheduled. The things prior generations of students counted on are, for this generation, a big question mark. I believe this generation of students, the Covid19 Generation, may emerge as the next “greatest generation”.
We appreciate so much what Tom Brokaw described as the previous “greatest generation.” They survived the Great Depression. They dealt with the scourge of Polio Virus. They defeated the Empire of Japan and the scourge of Nazism. They raised families and built an economy the likes of which the world had never seen. 
This current young generation, living under the threat of Covid19, may emerge as the next “greatest generation.” They saw the changing of our culture after Nine Eleven. Their families endured the great economic crash of 2008. Now they are adjusted to the brave new world of pandemic. We must reach out to them. Support them. Affirm them in whatever way possible. If they have a fundamental confidence in themselves, and what evil they may overcome, they may become a tremendous gift to civilization. This current crucible of uncertainty may be forming the next “greatest generation”. Whatever stability we may share with them may actually help to save the world. 
Your consistent offerings during this pandemic are inspiring. You give electronically or by mail or in the collection plate on Sunday. Prayers and worship and study and Lend-A-Hand continue to be generated from this good place. 
Welcome Home to Messiah 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
July 19 A.D thru July 26 AD 2020
There were two funerals last week. One was for a person. The other was for a program.
Charles Labry was the person. He’s the brother of Rebecca Ollikainen. He died December 2019 in Dallas, TX. But he was from Ashtabula and wanted to be buried in Ashtabula. That happens a lot. Folk move a way for better jobs or better weather. But when they die away from here they want to be back home in Bula for burial. The liturgy was short, the summer weather was beautiful. We got to reflect on another life story. Another child of God, brought to baptism, affirming faith in confirmation, discovered his vocational gifts. He expressed those gifts thru work and relationships. He experienced the joy of love and family along life’s way. We were pleased to welcome him home. He rests in peace. 
Messiah’s clothing bank was the program that was “laid to rest” last week. The clothing bank project began around 2007. Those who started it and participated in it are too numerous to name. For over a decade, Messiah members and friends of Messiah donated used clothing. Workers sorted and displayed the clothing. Anyone who had need for clothing came in on distribution days and left with free clothing. For over a decade this ministry gathered and formed a lot of community. It remained a stellar outreach of Messiah. It linked us every more deeply to this community. Then Covid19 hit us. We could no longer welcome people into this building the way we used to. Also, a leak from the court yard brought water into the clothing bank display room. It was not smelling very fresh in there. So, intelligent decision makers at Messiah contacted G.O. Ministries and Catholic Charities and gave to them the boxes and boxes of clothing that had been here. The clothing will still be given away for free. But we will miss the laughter and comradery of the clothing bank activity here. 
So, we observed two deaths last week: a person (Charles Labry) and a ministry (Messiah’ clothing bank). For people of faith, death is never the last word. We know Charles will be raised on the last day. We know he rests in God even as we speak. Messiah’s clothing has already seen a new life. It’s being integrated into the storage at Catholic Charities and G.O. Ministries. It will soon be seen walking about in Ashtabula. I’m sure after Covid19 runs its course that a new ministry will emerge in those two large rooms in Messiah’s lower level. 
The July council meeting at Messiah speculated briefly if there was some way we could safely gather for our annual church picnic in August. It was hard to imagine gathering to share food while maintaining safe, physical distancing. For the first time in many, many years, it looks as though Messiah will not gather for summer picnic. Events evolve thru the years. People have memories when the picnic was an all-day event. There were organized games and activities for children. Adults stayed and played board games or cards. Born in the image of God, as we are, creativity is part of our personality profile. I’m sure we’ll use this picnic sabbatical year to create something new and inviting for next year. 
Our Synod will hold an assembly this year but it will be virtual. For that reason, registration fees will be considerably less expensive. The dates are December 11 & 12. Though we will not be face to face with each other, I know the Holy Spirit will guide our election of our next bishop. 
Your consistent offerings during this pandemic are inspiring. You give electronically or by mail or in the collection plate on Sunday. Prayers and worship and study and Lend-A-Hand continue to be generated from this good place. 
Welcome Home to Messiah 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
July 12 – July 19 A.D. 2020
We’re halfway thru Summer of 2020. Still we wait for our unwelcome guest, Covid 19, to depart. I recall assuming the virus would have spiked and tapered off by now. My assumption was we would be preparing ourselves for the second wave of the disease to land this fall. But it appears the first wave is still gaining. This weekend there were no Covid19 deaths in NYC, that’s a really good sign. But cases in Florida and other places have exploded. So, we wait. We wash our hands and maintain distance and wear masks and we wait. 
Speaking of wearing masks, I see more of them being worn around Ashtabula. A few months ago, those of us who wore masks in public were the exception. Now it seems those who do not have a mask are the exception. Humans do well when we follow protocol and keep within boundaries. I slipped into Aldi’s yesterday for gluten free granola. Everyone I saw, from produce to ice cream sections, wore masks. Everyone carefully followed the blue arrows in the aisles. We all acknowledged the need for physical distance from the other. I’m not suggesting we all become lemmings and jump off a cliff on que. I am observing it feels right to be part of a herd. That’s how mammals have survived the eons. We group together. We follow the way of the pack. We survive. Perhaps there is good reason that a “herd” of lions is referred to as a pride. There is pride in belonging. There is pride in conforming to healthy ways. There is pride in keeping rational rules. There is potential that this hideous Corona Virus, when it’s over, may bring us closer together as a culture. We have to strive for that possibility. 
Thru the decades I have come to appreciate more and more the fact that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). We all have faithfully departed family members whose influence on us will continue until the day we die. The church of any generation stands on the shoulders of women and men from previous generations. We would not be who we are without those who were before us. July 12thcommemorated a Swedish bishop, Nathan Soderblom. I learned more about him at the 2012 Augustana Heritage Conference. Soderblom died in 1931. Before his death he led Swedish Lutherans thru liturgical renewal, deepened ecumenical commitments, promoted modern methods of biblical scholarship, and won the Pulitzer Peace Prize. In 1917 Soderblom visited Swedish Lutheran congregations in America. I’m always amazed at those personalities who accomplish so much in this lifetime. 
Property Committee met last week. To help contain the spread of Covid 19, Messiah’s building remains closed to outside groups. This is unusual for us because Messiah is historically so open, welcoming, and hospitable. Property Committee’s current project is to finish installation of the fire door at the top of the back stairway. Next project is to repair the framework that holds the Pettersen window in the entranceway off the parking lot. The courtyard leak that let rain into the clothing bank room has been stopped. Lend A Hand continues weekly operations safely and effectively. 
Council will meet tonight, July 13th. One of the agenda items is to purchase the inexpensive equipment that will enable us to continue “filming” weekly church services. Currently, Isabelle Fleming does that on her I-Phone. When she returns to Kent State this Fall, we’ll lose our videographer. So, the proposal is to purchase a camera, microphone, and tri-pod that will enable us to continue recording worship events and putting them on You-tube and Facebook. We started this practice Palm Sunday. The “services” are very popular and have literally a national audience – people from Oregon to Connecticut view them. 
We got our first taste of icky summer last week. Temps were in the 90’s, the heat index was 105, there was an air quality alert. But a storm system blew in, cleansed the air, lowered the temperature, and gave us some relief. Weather systems are above us. Pandemic disease is all around us. Yet, we press on. We move forward. We trust God. We help others as we are able. We show love. We share forgiveness. We live our place in this Body of Christ. 
Welcome Home to Messiah
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah
July 5 thru July 12 – A.D. 2020
How was your 4th of July? My neighborhood had several household gatherings. I assume they wore masks and practiced social distance. I heard a lot of laughter at outdoor games. Then I really heard a lot of fireworks as it grew dusk. My street was hazy with drifting smoke. I’ve mixed feelings on the fireworks. On the one hand, it’s nice that people get together to celebrate something. One the other hand, the explosions must terrorize many neighborhood pets. And, I thought I saw that Americans spent one billion dollars on fireworks this year. Most of that went to China. I hope that is not where our stimulus checks went. Anyway, I get the joy of running around with sparklers. And, small fire crackers are sort of fun to ignite once per year. But the bangs and booms from what I heard in my neighborhood seemed a little over the top. They sure were impressive, though. 
I saw a great 4th of July post on Facebook. There was a photo of the Declaration of Independence. The caption read, “World’s greatest break up letter.” Something that continues to give me great pause is to consider the 4thof July was only the beginning of a long series of events. It was not the case that as soon as the colonial delegates signed that we were free. The Declaration invited retaliation. It started the Revolutionary War that carried on for years. It took until 1789 for us to become an actual nation. That is when the continental congress approved the Constitution of the United States. 1776 to 1789 is a long time. Much was sacrificed those thirteen years. Much was thought and re-thought, written then re-written, negotiated then negotiated again. Civilization takes time. 
How is your summer going? 4th of July was always a sort of half marker thru summer for me. The beginning of summer that started on Memorial Day made summer feel long and slow moving. Daylight kept increasing. Then 4th of July arrives. That’s when heat intensifies and it does not feel quite so good to be outdoors for prolonged periods of time. The days seem to go faster now as daylight minutes decrease. Soon back to school ads will appear on TV. Soon plans will be underway for Labor Day. Then summer will be over. Summer arrives slowly and starts slowly. Then summer has a way of speeding up. Soon it’s in our rearview mirror. Another season is behind us. 
We observed in church this recent Sunday that Covid 19 has significantly altered how we celebrate major events. The events did not disappear. But our celebration of those events did change drastically. Congregations never finished Lenten midweek events. Holy Week came and we were ordered to stay at home. Easter Sunday came and we were still at home. Mothers’ Day came and went as we were physically distanced. Memorial Day events did not happen. Father’s Day was celebrated in social isolation. 4th of July happened in private yards, not public parks. 
Exterior, historical, cultural events change all the time. The bible tells us Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. There is a constancy which orients us in these inconsistencies. There’s a permeance against which our impermanence is measured. God was with us when we began this pandemic. God is with us in the middle of this pandemic. God will draw us thru to the other side when this pandemic comes to an end.  
Finance Committee and Property Committee meet July 6th. I’m sure property committee will adjust any measures that may be necessary to continue safe celebration of Holy Communion Saturday 10:00 a.m. and Sunday 9:30 a.m. Finance Committee will continue their transparent management of all of our offerings. We are grateful because there are friends of Messiah who also contribute to Messiah as a way of supporting Word and Sacrament ministry in this place and time. 
Thank you, Messiah, for faithfully tuning into You Tube and Facebook to worship using the means of the media. The success of those services has been one of the many hidden blessings God has for us in this crisis.
Welcome Home to Messiah, 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – June 28, 2020 thru July 5, 2020
There is an important date in Lutheran history this week. It’s June 29th. On this date, in the year 1970, the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) changed its constitution in such a way that it would include and welcome the ordination of women. Messiah was a member of that LCA group in 1970. Our current denomination is the ELCA. Our presiding bishop, Elizabeth A. Eaton, encourages us in the ELCA to contact or write a note expressing thanks to women pastors who have impacted our lives. 
For some groups, the decision to ordination women involved a lot of fear and drama. Some denominations refused. Some denominations did so rather timidly. I think of the Anglican church; for a long-time they would ordain women as priests but not as bishops. When the LCA embraced ordination of women it came without a lot of trauma. It was the right thing to do; it was the natural thing to do. 
The ordination of women was an important initial step to honor diversity among the clergy. Sexual orientation and color of skin have become less of a barrier to ordination. Enrolling non-typical seminarians has had an opening up effect on seminaries. Seminaries have curriculums that accommodate the need for students to not move so much. Courses are offered in distance-learning modules and utilize adjunct faculty with specific skill sets. There has been a lot of growth and positive change in how we do church since June 29, 1970. The ordination of women has had a positive ripple effect that extends far beyond initial imaginings. 
I forgot last week to include another significant commemoration. June 25th was the 490th Anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. This document, referenced as AC or referred to as The Augustana, is the primary document that summarizes the theology of Lutheranism. I like a phrase from Michael Curry, Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He refers to his denomination as, “The Episcopal wing of the Jesus movement.” We could say something similar for ourselves. We are the Lutheran wing of the Jesus movement. The Augsburg Confession succinctly describes who we are and what we believe our calling is as children of God. 
Covid 19 continues. As of this writing there are 9.8 million active cases of the virus world-wide. Cases in the USA comprise about 25% of the world’s total. I’ve heard different assessments. One is we were getting ahead of the first wave, but irresponsible behaviors in re-opening prevented us from concluding the first phase of the disease. Another point of view suggested this is already the second wave but a bit early. Yet another point of view is the second wave will hit mercilessly late summer or early fall. We just don’t know. And when human behavior is so irresponsible, we can be sure of even less. 
We do know deep down at the bottom of this seemingly bottomless well of uncertainty that God is present. And in God’s own way, God is love. If I had my druthers, God’s love would sweep away this virus. But God has not asked my opinion. I do know God’s love is visible and felt in all the powerful exchanges of care I see between people. When we reach out, show hospitality, show humor, show patient endurance, that is God’s love at work among us. We do not have to wait for the end of this pandemic to understand God’s love at work. God’s love is at work here and now. Whether this is the end of the beginning or the beginning of the middle, God’s love works here and now.
Thank you, Messiah, for gathering safely and responsibly for Holy Communion Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. (except for 4th of July) and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. Thank you for tuning into the worship services on You Tube and for sharing them on Facebook. Thank you for your regular offerings. Thank you for being you. 
Welcome Home to Messiah, 
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – June 21, 2020 thru June 29, 2020
Virtual Blessing the Fleet went really well last week. We started at Mother of Sorrows Church where this tradition began seventy years ago. City Manager Timonere wrote a really nice speech on Ashtabula heritage and vitality. Civic Leader Chris Seuffert gave an enthusiastic welcome to summer. Sea Scouts pledged the allegiance and cast the memorial wreath. Sarah Oberstar played taps. Isabelle Fleming filmed and edited. We said prayers from Pointe Park. We drove down and then drove up Bridge Street. You may see it by accessing Facebook Page Messiah Lutheran Church Ashtabula. It’s on our website – 
Living virtually during Covid 19 continues. Ashtabula Ministerial Association held our monthly meeting virtually. We shared our positive experiences of the peace and justice rally in North Park. On June 24th the Cleveland East ELCA pastors will hold a virtual meeting with Bishop Allende. The synod assembly is scheduled for September 11th and 12th but we may have to observe that virtually if it is not safe to gather in large numbers. 
Messiah has enjoyed two weekends now with worshiping together in our church building. Service times are set for 10:00 a.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. Sunday. The Saturday service time draws people from Sunday and so brings down the number of people meeting in the same room in the same time. Spaces in the pews are marked so people are kept physically distant from each other. Holy Communion is creatively served. We are not close together, there is no contact between persons, ministers do not speak directly over people. Sanitizers are abundant. Custodians sterilize the building. Whenever you are confident and comfortable, you are welcome home to Messiah any time. The decision is yours. 
I just learned from Hospitality Committee Chair Ruth Hlinovsky that the picnic table area of Saybrook Park is closed thru the summer. That means Messiah will NOT gather there in August for our annual worship service / picnic overlooking the lake. We will explore options for us to safely gather at Messiah, but only if we are confident that we can put something together that is safe.
We’ll attempt a Wednesday bible study this summer. Meet in the Luther Room on Wednesdays at 10:00. Tables and chairs are arranged to keep people distant. We’ll study the Book of Romans.

If anyone is interested, I say Morning Prayer in the church at 10:00 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. It’s “from the book”, the ELW, so involves a lot of page turning. Please email me or message me any prayer requests you would like for me to include. 
A daily devotional page is on Messiah’s web site. It’s called daily readings and prayers. The schedule of bible readings is that suggested for us in the ELW. I type out the chapter and verse reference for those daily readings then provide a brief commentary on the reading. Two reading are suggested for each day. If two is too much, you may only read one reading a day. Either way, there is commentary from me to introduce the reading and explain it a bit. 
Thank you again for your regular weekly offerings that you mail in, drop off, or send electronically. 
Welcome Home to Messiah,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – June 14, 2020 thru June 21, 2020
We are still aglow after the rally for peace and justice in Cornelius Park on June 6th. We knelt together grieving violence and we lit candles together as sign of hope for justice and reconciliation in our land. The event was without disruptive incident. Ashtabula should be proud of itself. 
Another event that only a pandemic could inspire is set for June 16th. This will be a virtual blessing of the fleet. Isabelle Fleming will “film” community leader Chris Sueffert, City Manager Jim Timonere, Sea Scout Master Tom Chubb, Taps trumpeter Sarah Oberstar, and prayer leader Pr. Meranda. Bella will splice those sections together then put it on Facebook. Knowing the power of social media, this will go virtual very quickly. In that respect it is rather nice. Many will have opportunity to see how Ashtabula blesses its fleet and water ways. It’s always a meaningful event, given our proximity and reliance on the Great Lakes. 
The June 8th council meeting approved our return to this building for worship services. This whole process, thanks to property committee and council, has been so intelligently handled. The building is sanitized. No bulletins are handed out, nor hymnals touched. Communion is shared safely, only the recipient directly touches the elements and ministers are at a safe distance. Doors are open so we do not have to touch handles. We register names who attend. We wear masks and do not socialize closely. Sanitizers are throughout the building. We are physically separated but we are still united as body of Christ. 
This week began with a commemoration day on the Lutheran calendar. June 14th recalls three early bishops in the Cappadocia region of what is now known as Turkey. (1) Gregory of Nyssa was one of many who paved the way for mystical, or contemplative prayer. In other words, God sometimes prefers to come to us in our silence and openness rather than thru our words and thoughts. Gregory of Nyssa wrote a series of lectures we would now describe as a catechism. One of the may legacies of Luther is his Small Catechsim. (2) Basil is remembered for his role in asserting the place of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Trinity. Luther’s writing is SO balanced as he describes how Father, Son, Holy Spirit work simultaneously in our salvation. (3) Gregory of Nazianzus is also known as Gregory the Theologian. He compiled sources from other authors before him to form a book on prayer. He gave to the Virgin Mary the title “God-bearer”, a title affirmed by our Lutheran Confessions. There is a vast and ancient range of theological schools that are part of Christianity. Desert monks were among the earliest. Countless schools of thought emerged and morphed thru the centuries. Several good Methodist pastors I know in Ashtabula have been influenced by Wesleyan Theology. Since seminary days I’ve been drawn to Swedish Lutheran Lundensian theology. More recent schools of thought include Liberation Theology and Feminist Theology. Theology’s attempt is to make clear the mystery of God. More often than not, theology’s method and vocabulary obscure God. This is where Luther is so helpful. His catechism is so “down to earth”. He writes about God gracefully at work in our family, our work place, our home, in our soul. God is grace, so we are always loved and forgiven. God is calling us, so we always are on the look out for ways to serve our neighbor. 

If anyone is interested, I say Morning Prayer in the church at 10:00 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. It’s “from the book”, the ELW, so involves a lot of page turning. Please email me or message me any prayer requests you would like for me to include. 
Here is an invitation for bible study. Every Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. I teach a course on the Book of Romans. I start June 17th. It’s good to just take a bible book and go thru it. The bible reading schedule in ELW bounces around from brief section to brief section following a central theme. But to just start a book at chapter one verse one and then to continue thru until the final verse is like taking a long, slow journey. We see so many vistas along the way. We form new friendships. We gain new insight about the world and ourselves. We grow more deeply into the love God has for us.  
Filming “services” and putting them on You tube will continue thru the remainder of summer. Messiah members and friends have a wide range of choices to help us worship. We may watch on You tube the service that we film on Thursday. We may attend in person Saturday at 10:00 a.m. We may attend in person Sunday at 9:30 a.m.
Thank you again for your regular weekly offerings that you mail in, drop off, or send electronically. 
Welcome Home to Messiah,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – June 7, 2020 thru June 14, 2020

The rally for justice and peace held at Cornelius Park on June 6th was simply astonishing. Before the event, many had been concerned about the possibility of violence. The atmosphere at the event was so mellow. I had invited pastors in the ministerial association to congregate together, which we did. The speakers were very articulate on the ongoing reality of racism and white privilege. The crowd was attentive and polite. Two police officers took a knee with the crowd for nine minutes as we recalled the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The candle light at the end underscored the event as something beyond another protest. It was a rally for unity. Ashtabula should be very proud how we gathered and conducted ourselves.  
Our congregational council meets June 8th.  A major item on the agenda will be when to resume church services at Messiah. The Property Committee met June 1stand affirmed procedures and protocols to ensure safety when we do resume services. Those recommendations will be shared with the council. The council will determine when we resume services.  As soon as that is official, we’ll get the word out via Gmail,  social media and our website
In recent years the month of June has brought two major events to my calendar. They are Blessing of the Fleet in Ashtabula’s Harbor and Summer Solstice Vespers at Red Brook. Because of Covid19 restrictions, both those events are cancelled. We are working on a possible virtual blessing of the fleet. Perhaps an outdoor, socially distanced vespers event could be arranged – but we would sure miss being on the lake. 
If you have not thanked Cathy Carle yet you may still do so. She recently retired after having served as our secretary for eleven years. Cathy brought amazing proof-reading skills. Also, as a life long resident of Ashtabula, she knew family connections in our congregation and outside of our congregation. Cathy’s final job here was to train our summer secretary, Isabelle Fleming. When Isabelle returns to Kent State in September, we’ll renew our search for a church secretary. 
The church services put on You Tube and Facebook are very well received. Messiah’s building is so photo-genic. One reason for that is the residual spirit of all the people that saturates this place. This building has hosted so much laughter and service and good spiritedness thru the decades. That sort of gets absorbed in the walls and wood.  One of the projects I have most appreciated in my tenure here is the opportunity to welcome people home to Messiah on social media. The Word of God is paramount in Lutheranism. It’s such a joy to share the Word this winsome way.
Your regular weekly offerings are inspiring. Thank you for all the gifts you mail in, drop off, or send electronically. You are part of a One Hundred Year tradition of people of God at Messiah making a difference. 
Welcome Home to Messiah,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – May 31 – June 8, 2020
Good people circulate thru Messiah pretty much every day. Friday, May 19th, we welcomed another special guest. Tracy Leonardson was passing thru Ashtabula. She is the granddaughter of our second pastor to serve Messiah, Oscar Leonardson. Pastor Leonardson served here from 1932-1938 before taking a call to Illinois. He died when Tracy was only five years old. But he left such a positive impression on her life that she wanted to see the place here where he served. Lanny Anderson was on hand to record the story for “The Messenger”. Cathy Carl and Isabelle Fleming did a really nice job of pulling up items from the archives for Tracy to view and photograph. 
Thursday, May 28th, brought a sad event to Messiah. Long time member Peter Laveck had died on May 24th. In this Covid 19 era no funeral service was planned. Funeral Director Kathleen Shaffer was kind enough to arrange for me to say some commendation prayers over Peter prior to his cremation on May 28th. It’s always an honor for pastors to be involved with people in their last stages of this life. We know, by grace and gift from God, there is more life to come. Peter’s exceptional voice could out-sing the whole congregation. He drove a 1990’s Buick station wagon that I just loved.
The heroes in our town these days are families with graduating seniors. It’s hard to believe that these unprecedented times have taken from us a basic tradition we always assumed would be there – graduation ceremonies. I’m impressed with schools & households arranging socially distanced events and drive throughs. This generation of young people have endured a lot. They were toddlers when our culture adjusted to life after Nine Eleven. They were youngsters during the economic collapse in 2008. They are high schoolers during the pandemic of 2020. Three times in their young lives they’ve had to negotiate a brave new world. They have much to teach us and the generations that will follow them. 
We’re dealing with two epidemics these days, which makes this such a stressful time. Jim Wallis, well known pastor and activist, articulated that idea of twin epidemic time. The one epidemic is medical, it is Covid19. The other epidemic is spiritual/social, it is racism and white supremacy. It’s a challenge for any culture to deal with one epidemic. It’s overwhelming to deal with two. But deal we must. What happened in Minneapolis has generated a storm of protest. We can’t just sweep up the broken glass and go on as usual. We have to talk and talk and fix and fix this four-century old problem in America. I think some of the examples we’ve seen from law enforcement will show us how to do this. Police officers across the land stood down in the face of demonstrators. The police lowered batons, removed helmets, and took a knee. They talked with demonstrators and shared handshakes. We need to arrange similar encounters here and all across this land. 
When you phone Messiah a new voice will answer the telephone. Isabelle Fleming is our new 12-hour per week secretary. Cathy Carle retired from that position after serving ably over eleven years. Our council honored Cathy with flowers, a card, and a special gift. Messiah members and friends are encouraged to reach out to Cathy and thank her for a job well done this past decade. 
The church services put on You Tube and Facebook are very well received. Messiah’s building is so photo-genic. One reason for that is the residual spirit of all the people that saturates this place. This building has hosted so much laughter and service and good spiritedness thru the decades. That sort of gets absorbed in the walls and wood.  One of the projects I have most appreciated in my tenure here is the opportunity to welcome people home to Messiah on social media. The Word of God is paramount in Lutheranism. It’s such a joy to share the Word this winsome way.
Property Committee will discuss protocols for safely opening a building during Covid19. They meet June 1st. Council meets on June 8th. Council will receive and consider recommendations from Property Committee for possible re-opening. There is no official word yet when we may return to public worship at Messiah. When that decision is made, we’ll joyfully get the word out. 
Your regular weekly offerings are inspiring. Thank you for all the gifts you mail in, drop off, or send electronically. You are part of a one hundred year tradition at Messiah of people of God making a difference. 
Welcome Home to Messiah,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – May 24 – 31, 2020
This week began with the celebration of the 7th Sunday of Easter. This week ends with the Festival of Pentecost. But that is typically not how America keeps time. In our culture Memorial Day is how we prepare for and mark this week on the calendar. 
I always especially appreciated Memorial Day weekend. It signaled the end of the school year. It announced the beginning of summer. Weather in late May is typically beautiful. If it is unusually cool it is not too cold. If it is unusually warm it is not too hot. I always welcomed Memorial Day as the transition from the busier school year linked calendar to the more leisurely summer activities linked calendar. 
But, it is good when culture slows down and takes in the true meaning of Memorial Day. We would not have this holiday if others had not given their lives for freedom’s sake. The best use of our time on Memorial Day is not padding the calendar with a longer list of “to do” items. The best use of our time this day is to pause as we display the flag, remember those we may know of who have died in the line of duty, say a prayer memorializing those who have died in the service, reach out to someone we know who may have lost a loved one who died while serving, plant something outdoors in memory of those who have died, etc. 
Messiah had a great Memorial Day weekend tradition. Messiah members and friends submitted orders for geraniums. The altar guild purchased geraniums and displayed them in the church. The secretary produced a sheet naming the military persons for whom the geraniums had been purchased. Covid19 interrupted this good tradition. I expect it will resume Memorial Day weekend in 2021. 
May 24th brought a minor festival day to the Lutheran calendar. We remembered Nicolaus Copernicus who died in 1543. We also remembered Leonhard Euler who died in 1783. Both were scientists. Copernicus demonstrated the sun, not the earth, is center of our solar system. Euler is known for contributions to three dynamics that sustain modern culture: hydrodynamics, acoustics, and optics. It is appropriate that scientists are remembered on the Lutheran calendar. Creation is gift from God and matrix for this gift of life. Math and Science explore mysteries of this universe and catalogue the grandeur of this creation.  Math and science are ways of understanding and explaining this infinite reality of energy and matter that began when God said, “Let there be.”
Covid19’s impact on our culture continues. Many venues are beginning to re-open. Often, I hear people say, “I’m not going out!” Often, I see people out there without masks or social distance! Most of us wonder, deep down, what we could do to be of help. All signs seem to point to support local business. I hear there is a new bakery open on Ashtabula’s Main Ave. I think this will be a good week for cinnamon rolls. I’m happy to say that with the $1,200 stimulus check I received I spent $400 of it at a nearby nursery and bought a really nice tree. The remainder may go towards a kayak.
Tuesday this week Messiah secretary Cathy Carle will train new secretary Isabelle Fleming. We know Isabelle most recently from the wonderful work she does filming the Sunday “services” that are posted on You Tube channel Messiah Lutheran Ashtabula. Eleven years ago, outgoing secretary Dee Dee Maenpa had trained new secretary Cathy Carle. I’m not sure who trained Dee Dee before that. The point is Messiah is fortunate for all the good people who have occupied the secretary’s desk in Messiah’s office.
There is no official announcement as to when Messiah will reopen. We received a helpful letter from Ashtabula County Health Department. The letter specifies the protocol that is to be followed before local congregations may reopen safely. Messiah will conform to those guidelines. So, when we do regather for Word and Sacrament in this building, we’ll do so safely and joyfully.
Again, your dedication to regular offerings is inspiring. You mail them in, drop them off, or send them electronically. I wonder what offerings were like during the Great Depression, during World War II, during the polio epidemic, during the turbulent 1960’s, et cetera?  Messiah members have weathered a lot of storms thru the years. This community of faith has withstood them all. We’ve done so because Christ leads us and, “Christ is risen, risen indeed, alleluia!”
Welcome Home to Messiah,
Pastor M 

Welcome Home to Messiah – May 17 – 24, 2020
There is a principal festival on the church’s calendar this week. The Ascension of our Lord is Thursday, May 21st. Forty Days after his resurrection, Jesus takes disciples to a hilltop. He was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of sight. (Acts 1:1-11). This is where speculation as to the nature of God enters in.  In classical Cristian thinking, Jesus is two natures, human and divine. At his Ascension he does not jettison the human nature. Therefore, when Jesus, true God and true human, resumes place at God the Father’s right hand, the divine nature of the trinity subsumes the divine AND human nature of Jesus. 
Luther did not care for philosophical speculations about God. Luther wanted us to surrender to and follow God. The angels in the story direct our focus where our focus needs to be. The angels told the disciples, “Why do you stand up, looking toward heaven? He will come to you in the same way as you saw him go.” In other words, living without focus, with our head in the clouds, is not our calling. Before the ascension Jesus told disciples to look outward, not upward. He told them, “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” In other words, look around you. Look here and now. The world around us needs our witness. This place and this time need to hear our lives speak forgiveness, hope, and community.
Covid19’s impact on our culture continues. Mt Carmel has cancelled their annual summer festival. That is huge in Ashtabula culture. I know families who plan their summer vacations around that festival. At the same time, discussions are underway in the Blessing the Fleet committee to make that a virtual event. We will not gather people under a tent in the harbor. Instead, we’ll video tape aspects of that event, similar to the way Isabelle Fleming and I video tape Sunday “services” for Messiah. 
Speaking of Isabelle Fleming, I’m pleased to announce that, with church council approval, she will be the next office secretary at Messiah. Dee Dee Maenpa served us faithfully for years. Cathy Carle has served faithfully for over a decade. Now we are pleased that Isabelle (Bella) will fill that role. Bella has great computer skills. She’s good at multi-tasking, organizing, and has good public relations skills. Moreover, she was raised up at Messiah. In the hiring process council members spoke their preference to have a Messiah member take that job, one who knows us and one who we know. I’m looking forward to Cathy training Bella and Bella continuing to bring stability to that role. It’s a limited position, only 12 hours per week.
There is no time table yet for re-opening Messiah. Our bishop wants NE Ohio Synod congregations to stay closed thru May. There are some speculations as to how we may re-open for church services sometime after May. Multiple service times have been suggested that minimize the number of people who may gather the same place in the same time. There are options for Holy Communion that minimize human contact, including the “snack packs” that non liturgical churches use. In my May 17th sermon, I said that suffering prompts creativity. When the time is right, I know Messiah will create a safe way for us to come home here together. 
Again, your dedication to regular offerings is inspiring. You mail them in, drop them off, or send them electronically. I wonder what offerings were like during the Great Depression, during World War II, during the polio epidemic, during the turbulent 1960’s, et cetera?  Messiah members have weathered a lot of storms thru the years. This community of faith has withstood them all. We’ve done so because Christ leads us and, “Christ is risen, risen indeed, alleluia!”
Welcome Home to Messiah,
Pastor M 

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