Pastor's Page

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

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 – MessiahAshtabula.com. 
 
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