Pastor’s Page

Pastor’s Pen December 2017

Autumn has given away to Winter as we experienced the first snow last week. It won’t be long until hunting season is over and the cold temperatures set in.  Unlike my neighbors, we have not taken advantage of the somewhat warm temperatures to prepare for one of the highlights of this season, Christmas. For those of us in the north winter and Christmas go hand in hand. Even the songs tell us to wish for a white Christmas.  Though after living in Texas, I realize Christ’s Christmas would have been anything but white.

It’s easy to romanticize the cold of winter while sitting next to the fire with a soothing cup of hot chocolate. But the cold and snow are not romantic for everyone. Some have to work in it. Some even have to sleep in it. And for others it represents the change of traditions, of  rituals because the change in landscape of our lives.

On the one hand. . .on the other hand.  Life is always a little like that. The good and the bad. The romantic and the reality. The pain and the relief. The sorrow and the celebration. The light and the darkness. The manger and the cross. The cross and the empty tomb.

We are vulnerable creatures, subject to the realities of our lives. While some families       celebrate coming together for Christmas, some know the acute pain of separation. Our    Advent and Christmas observances are somehow of one piece, one complete woven fabric, with Good Friday and Easter. The manger is never very far from the cross. And the cross is seen in it’s fullness when we can also see in the three-day distance the empty tomb.

Christmas begins the story of God taking on our vulnerability, our pain, our sorrows, our joys, and our celebrations. The Word becoming flesh is God’s commitment to the inherent vulnerability of humanity, God’s commitment to the entirety of what it means to be human. The death of the Son of God is one location of that commitment. But so is womb of Mary, the stable, and the manger. This is what God chose. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The habitation of God with us brings us a life that is real life and a kingdom that is love and peace and freedom.

Regardless of how much things appear to be corrupt, corrosive, cruel, and confusing, there is another reality at work. God once again but in a different way has come among us. With that, God brings forth a new kingdom. A kingdom always focused on the four tenets of     Advent, faith, hope, peace and joy. The immaculately conceived Christ-child is conceived also in us so that we might be the ones who bring forth these attributes of God into our daily lives.

Whether or not Christmas is merry for you, may it bring blessing and hope.

Advent and Christmas Blessings,

Pastor Holly


Pastor’s Pen November 2017

Galatians 3:26-28

26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

This passage from Galatians gives much of the power to God in relation to who we will find in heaven.  God through Christ has done amazing things in regard to     unifying people.  Yet, we continue to quarrel about who deserves eternal life, who deserves to be in our friend circles, who deserves this or that.

This past month I was in continuing education with other rostered leaders in our geographical region called the South Central Synod of Wisconsin.  I was fortunate enough to have one of my college dorm mates as our speaker!  Dr. Kathryn Lohre is assistant to Bishop Eaton and spoke on “Reconciliation within inter-religious    circles.”

We delved into questions such as, “How do we respect those who have different religious      beliefs than us?” and “How do we gain a better understanding of other religions, an understanding which is often different than what is portrayed through the media?”

These are questions and topics that continue to come up this day and age as we hear about Isis, as we remember the Holocaust, as we try to live together globally.  I partnered Dr. Lohre’s lectures with ones that I heard at my other Continuing education this past summer with Dr. Kristen    Johnston from     Gettysburg Seminary in Pennsylvania.  She spoke on “Holy Envy.”  Dr. Johnston described “Holy Envy” as loving an aspect of another person’s religion so much that it creates a need for one to become even more    devoted to that aspect of their own religion.  For example, she said, one might appreciate the meditative aspect of Buddhism so much that one then looks for ways to more deeply meditate in God’s Word.  Or one might appreciate daily ritual public prayer of Muslims so much that one might grow their own Christian prayer life.

As we complete our commemoration of the 500th year of the Reformation, one of the areas our church is spending time is in conversation with religious leaders from other religions, specifically our Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Black Church brothers and sisters.

What does that mean for us at the local level?  We don’t have as many people of different     religions in our own communities we live in.  So we are going to seek out and visit others in their church home to learn about them.  This month Confirmation Students and others in the congregation are invited to visit Bethel Synagogue.  Our Jewish brothers and sisters in Madison have been receiving more threats, more negative attention, more criticism.  We can only bridge our religious understandings by learning, so that is my goal.  Think about joining us to learn and appreciate all that those who are active Jews can bring us.


Pastor’s Pen October 2017


It is here!  It is finally here.  After a summer of collecting a deck of hearts and as we experience Martin Luther in the flesh visiting us in our congregation….it is here!  October 2017.  The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation!  I should dress up as Katharina von Bora (Luther’s wife) for Halloween in celebration.  But my daughters are pulling me in the direction of Star Wars and they can be pretty persuasive.  But as we find ourselves enjoying Fall time festivals, crisp air, juicy apples, Football games and everything else that comes with Fall, we too are reminded of what Luther believes Christians from a Lutheran perspective should always be focusing upon.  I can’t think of a better image than the Luther Rose:

First, there is a black cross in a heart.  Black is a good color for Halloween and for death. We are reminded that it is through Christ alone…his life, death and resurrection that is central to our lives.  Jesus died on a cross so God could reveal there is no death that scares God.  God goes to the blackest parts of our lives, where there is pain, hurt and grief (think about the hurricanes, the wildfires) and remains there with us.  Then delicately tries to move us through love into the rose.  Where do you or does our community need God’s presence?

The red heart of love surrounds the blackness of life.  Love has the last word.  Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection have the last word.  Life includes death but is not bound by death. What do you love about Fall and why?

The heart stands in the middle of a white rose. This is to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace—it puts the believer into a white, joyous rose. Even in the midst of struggle, where there is hope, there is life.  Faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). This is why the rose must be white, not red. Where have you experienced hope?

This rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that a joyful spirit and faith is a beginning of heavenly, future joy, which begins now, but is grasped in hope, not yet fully revealed.  Hindsight is 20/20.  Where has God been revealed in your life lately?

Around the field of blue is a golden ring to symbolize that blessedness in heaven lasts forever and has no end. Heavenly blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and better than any possessions, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal. How do you know you are always surrounded by God and called most precious to God?

The reformation reminds us that God is part of all aspects of our lives.  And that God is looking at us through Christ glasses, with faith, hope and love.  God is continually finding ways for us to know we are loved so that we may always have hope and respond through faith.  We give thanks for Luther this month and especially on All Hallow’s Eve no matter if we are dressed like a monk or a Star Wars Figure.  God is here! Also, remember to wear RED to church the weekend of October 28-29!


Pastor’s Pen: September 2017

What does it mean to go out and make disciples?  That can be a little threatening to Lutherans!

But this month we celebrate ways we celebrate revealing God to those around us.  And we are going to hear about and celebrate many ways members of our congregation have shown God to others in their lives.

While we are only lifting up some in worship, I do know that members of our congregation do this all the time and may not even realize they are revealing God to others.

There is a quote that my husband put in your youth mission trip devotional which is what discipleship is about for me:  “You may be the only Bible people read, you may be the only Christ people experience.”

What does that mean for you personally?  How have you lived into that this past summer?  How can you live into that in the transition of Fall?

The weekend of September 10 is “God’s Work, Our Hands” weekend for ELCA Lutherans.  That means that people all over the country are going to be wearing gold shirts and being Christ in the world.

Check out the ELCA website for stories and pictures.  Join us at the River Food Pantry to see ministry in action.  Talk to your neighbors and friends who go to other Lutheran churches and hear their stories too.  That’s a lot of people being disciples in one weekend!

Be inspired as we then gather for ice cream and a “ministry” fair of sorts in the education Center on Sunday September 10.  There are many opportunities for quietly and boldly being Christ to others, come see if one strikes your fancy in the education Center after church that day.

The weekend of September 17 we are going to hear about our youth’s hands and feet in New Orleans.  They will be leading worship that weekend and sharing some of their experiences they had in July being Christ’s disciples for the second time in the city.

Randy and Jessie Behlke went across the world to the Ukraine to meet up with many of the students and their families who have been here.  They will be presenting stories of their    discipleship trip this Fall.  And they were the receivers of others being disciples as much as they were the disciples!

Our adults took their very first Mission Trip to New Orleans.  They too will be presenting experiences of ways others were a blessing to them and they were disciples to others.

Each time you hear about people being the hands and feet of Christ, think about ways you have too.  It can be as simple as enjoying a meal with someone who is lonely, calling up an old friend, helping someone at a store or smiling wide.

We are the only Bible people read, the only Christ people experience.  Believe it and respond.  In just the way God hoped you would.


Pastor’s Pen: August 2017

When I was at my continuing education in Colorado one of my colleagues said that she had visited Chicago to see the painting, The Michelangelo Caravaggio “Supper at Emmaus”  which was on loan from The National Gallery in London to The Art Institute of Chicago.  I didn’t get an opportunity to see it, but she shared a devotion about the painting.  And so out of curiosity I checked it out on the web, and afterwards wished I had make the trek to Chicago to see it in person. I love any connection to the story in the gospel of Luke.  The Road to Emmaus in Luke Chapter 24 is one of my favorite stories in the Bible, and I am continually drawn in to new ways of looking at the same story.

So I immediately looked at a painting of it.  And if you look at the painting, there’s the calm, peaceful countenance of Jesus at the center, his eyes serenely closed, his right hand extended in blessing. And I love the different reactions of the three sitting at table with Jesus. For the guy standing behind him, everything is reduced to a profound sense of wonder. The guy seated across from Jesus leans forward trying to believe the unbelievable, ready to reach across the table to verify with his hand what his eyes are telling him. The guy seated at the side of the table is retelling the story with his wild, broad gesticulating as if in the retelling it will make more sense.

The one detail that grabbed my friend and the so the thing that I fixated upon was the dish teetering on the edge of the table.  It looked to me like the artist was inviting the seer to wonder, “Is the dish going to hold or fall of the edge?” One little bump on the table and it goes crashing to the floor. Maybe it’s a visible sign of the tension still in the hearts and minds of those disciples. Was the Jesus sitting across the table real? Was the story he told them really true? Those questions and that tension are palpable in their postures and gestures. I can only imagine how great the tension must have been when shortly after the moment captured in the painting  Jesus vanished from their sight.

I think about that tension as I reflect on the summer of faith of our congregation. There have been moments of extraordinary clarity, when God’s presence and God’s goodness are so real I can reach out and touch God’s wounded hands. And I experience moments when I wonder whether any of it is true,  when I feel acutely God’s  absence.  In those moments, I wonder if it will all hold together. Or will it go crashing to the floor? Is the resurrection life that Jesus promises more than just wishful thinking?

Luke tells us that after Jesus disappeared, their hearts were burning within them, as if he became more real in his absence than in his presence.

I have my own version of Cleopas and his companions. They accompany me on the road with the risen Christ, who, by the way, is there whether we recognize him or not. Sometimes the road is only 7 miles; sometimes it feels like a lot longer. I’m always grateful not to have to walk the road alone. There have been experiences this summer where companions have held me up with their excitement at seeing the risen Christ, telling me how their hearts burn within them, even when whatever it is that I possess feels more like a flicker than a flame.

I don’t very often experience my faith with that kind of sharp clarity, with a burning flame. My experience is more like Paul’s metaphor of seeing through a glass dimly. More like a dish teetering on the edge of the table and about to fall off. Why is that, I sometimes wonder. A function of temperament? Personal defect? Not trying hard enough? I never come up with an answer.

Which makes me all the more grateful for those with burning hearts. My fellow pilgrims and their witness are often the proof of the presence of the risen Christ. I’m grateful that my faith is not just a me and Jesus thing. My fellow travelers have seen the risen Christ, and that is enough encouragement to keep walking.  And hopefully it is for you too.  As you finish your summer trips and gatherings, that your faith is reignited by the faith of others you have surrounded yourself with this summer.


Pastor Holly



Pastor’s Pen: June-July 2017

Some of my favorite memories about summer were playing cards.  When we would gather at my  grandparent’s cabin in the mountains and play games.  The adults would always play pinochle, and the challenge of the weekend became beating my grandfather at a game of cribbage.

When we would make our annual trip to my other grandparents house who lived in Iowa, the cards would be on the table   awaiting us.  We always got in late, but Pepsi, bridge mix, and Cheetos greeted us as we played a     competitive game of Hand and Foot (similar to canasta).

Playing cards often meant we were relaxing and on vacation. It meant taking a break and catching up. It was where I learned to be competitive, where I may have learned to trash talk and where we left the table laughing and already setting up the challenge for the next hand.

This year our church is commemorating the 500th year of the Reformation, the time in history where    Martin Luther started a movement of change within the Christian Religion.

Since summer is coming up, decks of cards are sure to come out in hotel rooms, cabins, tents and   campers. I thought it would be fun to connect cards with the Reformation.  This summer I am going to lead a worship and sermon series on Lutheran trump cards.  I am basing this off of David Daubert’s book, “Lutheran Trump Cards.”  I’m sure that some of our ancestors are appalled that I am bringing cards into church.  But Tex Ritter made a pretty good case for faith and cards in his song, “Deck of Cards.”  For this summer we will just focus on the hearts in the deck.  Each week we will look at a different card and connect it to Lutheran faith.  The “taking faith home” sheets will be replaced with a card out of the deck.  We will begin this series on Father’s Day weekend (June 17-18) and end on God’s Work our Hands weekend (September 9-10).  I encourage you to collect as many of the deck as you can.  We will even have extras to pick up during the week to take on trips for lively discussion.

Here are the themes for each week:

June 17-18 Ace of Hearts: There is no way to God.

June 24-25 King of Hearts: Jesus Reveals that God is love.

July 1-2 Queen of Hearts: Grace for Us Includes Hope for Others

July 8-9 Jack of Hearts: All the Baptized Have a Vocation

July 15-16 Ten of Hearts: The priesthood of all Believers

July 22-23 Nine of Hearts: Life is Sacramental

July 30-31 Eight of Hearts: Worship is Horizontal

August 5-6 Seven of Hearts: Love the Bible without Worshiping It.

September 9-10 Two of Hearts: We are always watching for Change

God blesses rest, rejuvenation and relaxation.  Cards often pair nicely with those things.  Enjoy a card game this summer and come to worship to see what trump cards of faith you might pick up!


Pastor Holly


Pastor’s Pen: May 2017

The Funeral: helps confirm the reality and finality of death. Provides a climate for mourning and the expression of grief. Allows the sorrows of one to become the  sorrows of many.  Is one of the few times love is given and not expected in return.  Is a vehicle for the community to pay its respects. Encourages the affirmation of religious faith.  Is a declaration that a life has been lived as well as a sociological statement that a death has occurred. 

From “The Funeral from Ancient Egypt to Present Day America”

Part of our world ended this past month.  As our family has grieved the loss of our first mother, Donna and for the girls, their first grandmother “the ferry grandmother,” we have been overwhelmed by the support of the congregation.  I know that many of you have been through similar experiences and your wisdom, embraces and words have meant so much to our family.  Thank you.

This death has hit at a time of year in the church where we are continually osscilating between death and life.  Cold weather and rain reminds us of the death of Winter, sunshine and fresh cut grass remind us of life.  Good Friday brings to the forefront death, Easter morning brings us to the hope of not only life, but life eternal.

As we were greeting people during visitation at Hooverson Funeral Home in Sauk City, I saw a plaque that had the following excerpt on it:

We continually face death and life daily in different ways.  Yet the ways we acknowledge both make a world of difference.  I more deeply appreciated Holy Week this year to acknowledge my own death in our family in a communal way and cling to the promise of the resurrection in a profound way.

Through our liturgy, the words and rhythm we share during worship…through the images of photographs or butterflies or lilies….through the connecting with old and new friends.  We support one another authentically as church community.

So as we plant our grandma tree when the ground warms a bit more, we will be reminded that hope will return through the budding of leaves and that grandma’s love will continue to grow with each year the tree grows.  So thank you for ministering to me and my family.


Pastor’s Pen: April 2017

In this Lenten Season that will be transforming into the Easter season, I am intentionally lifting up of the art of writing in connection to prayer. In a world in which much happens on keys under our finger tips, I thought I would spend some of my Lenten discipline on communicating through writing, which seems to be a lost art. Especially since I am starting at the beginning again as our oldest daughter learns how to write for the first time in school.

Our congregation has graciously accompanied me in some ways by participating in writing down prayers weekly in worship.  Would those original Norwegians ever dream that a Lenten discipline would be about writing down prayers…and in strange ways?

It is an intentional practice to write, even more so now.  It takes longer to write than to type.  It also does something to our brain.  We remember more.  It is also freeing.  The same is true for praying.  It takes time to talk to God.  But it does something to our brain.  We are more connected, we are also freed of burdens that weigh us down.  Writing and praying are good  spiritual practices.  Yet people are hesitant to pray because they don’t know what to say, or it feels weird to have a seemingly one way relationship. There are a variety of reasons we don’t pray. There are a variety of reasons we don’t write as much as we used to as well.

But think about Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as the key to every relationship, not just our relationship with God. With those people whom we wish to have a close relationship with, we have the same discipline.  Yet it doesn’t feel like a discipline, but a need fulfilled and joy experienced.  We want to communicate as often as possible with those people we care about the most (ie. Prayer).  We give up certain things in order to be in relationship with them (think of everything you give up for the sake of your children…ie.  Fasting).  We want to do anything possible for the sake of the other (ie. Almsgiving).

So as you transition from Lent into Easter, celebrate the God-like   relationships you have.  Also think about writing as a transformational practice.  Not just writing prayers, but writing in general.  For your emotional and spiritual health.


Pastor’s Pen: March 2017

–Giving opens the way for receiving. Florence Scovel Shinn

Our family had a “magical” time at our first trip to Disney World.  Upon first glance and all the thousands of people, I was a bit leery that it would be the “Happiest Place on Earth.”  But for our children, it was magical.  Their responses of joy and amazement were contagious.  Nick and I wanted to capture each shriek of awe and keep it with us forever.

In addition to the experiencing the joy of our children on our trip, we also were amazed by the hospitality shown.  We had heard that there is a reason it is the happiest place on earth, in part because Disney is very proactive about being consumer oriented.  We did not encounter any grumpy or frustrated workers.  Each encounter with characters and workers was very positive.  I found that remarkable given the number of people, the meltdowns of children and stressed parents, the sea of strollers and people moving the wrong direction, food spills and high expectations.  The staff handled everything thrown at them with ease and with a smile on their face.

I think their philosophy put into action changed people.  When ours was the stroller going off course, people moved and smiled, when we moved through the line in the wrong way, people moved to the side and allowed us past, when we tried to meet up with our group, others were accommodating.  People were more positive, more forgiving, more understanding.  Disney raised the bar and so those of us visiting raised the bar as well.  I wonder what our world might look like if we took the philosophy of Disney and initiated hospitality and generosity in all that we did.  Giving might open the way to receiving.

I think of this philosophy in light of the season we are entering into, Lent.  A time historically when we spend intentional time reflecting on our faith and our relationship with God.  During worship we are going to focus on giving ourselves in prayer. We are going to pray in visual ways, giving of ourselves to God.  Opening the way of receiving from God.

So I invite you to give to God through prayer.  Pray by writing notes to folks.  Pray by texting to someone that you are thinking of them.  Pray by making time to catch up with that person that is long overdue.  Pray in your favorite holy space in your home.  Pray at the same time every day for the season of Lent.  Pray by giving thanks, pray for your enemies, pray for forgiveness, pray.

Then wait.  Then take inventory of what you have received.  A blessed Lent,

Pastor Holly


Pastor’s Pen: February 2017

pastor quote box

Rhythm and ritual.  Important pieces to our world.  Though we might complain this time of year, we know that a Winter without snow would seem strange.  If the trees still had leaves, life would not be right.  Ritual gives rhythm to our lives.  The expectation of certain things to happen during certain times in our lives, during certain times of the year.

This month we are celebrating certain rituals as part of our rhythm as the church.  We are also branching off a bit, and beginning new rituals…which I hope will become part of our regular rhythm.

This month we send our first adult    mission team to New Orleans for time of service.  Our youth had such a positive experience through an organization called Camp Restore that it seemed like a natural starting place for us to begin an adult mission trip.  Pray for our thirteen members who will be spending four nights in New Orleans transforming and being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit at work.

We are used to the rhythm and ritual of the Theme Table Dinner.  That has run its course for the time being.  But gathering around a meal for fellowship has not.  So the Evangelism  committee is starting a new ritual of a Sweetheart dinner, or rather a time to gather for a meal and fellowship reminded that God loves us and loves our relationships.  So whether you are single or in a relationship come and be God’s sweetheart while enjoying a wonderful meal!

The ritual of celebration of love is important.  Many of our members have been married forty years or more, which should be celebrated!  We will be blessing them in worship this month, and hope to make that an annual ritual in the rhythm of worship.

The last weekend of the month we will reflect on our rich history as St. Paul’s Liberty Lutheran Church.  It was in February of 1851 that farmers decided to build a stone church on a plot of land given by farmer.  What has followed has been a rich history of worship and living out God’s gospel in this area.  This weekend we will have fun remembering the ritual and rhythm of faith that has taken place throughout the years.

As you participate in the rhythm and rituals of your life and life of the church be reminded that God celebrates ritual and provides rhythm.


Pastor Holly