Saint Luke Stories: Claire

Summertime is slipping by so quickly. As school supplies appear on shelfs, here at Saint Luke we are still savoring the season and some wonderful stories. Our series “Saint Luke Stories” continues, featuring stories of how various members of our community found their way to Saint Luke and why they call it home. Thus far, we have featured stories from Marie & JenniferIanTJ, and the DiSciascio family

This week, Claire Birkholz was kind enough to share her story of surprise with us. Enjoy!


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Over twelve hours from home and with hundreds of miles between Pennsylvania and her hometown in Alabama, Claire Birkholz is setting down roots and building a life as a young professional on the mainline. In addition to starting a new job, she has had to create a whole new life here in Pennsylvania, learning her way around, building new friendships, discovering new favorite coffee shops, and searching for a new community of faith to call home. 

Back in Alabama, Claire had been raised going to a lutheran church and once she relocated she knew that she wanted to find a church in Pennsylvania. Claire explained sharing, “I was researching churches in the area because I really enjoyed attending when I was growing up. I found the Saint Luke website and I really liked it. I thought it was really engaging.” While she had anticipated having to visit multiple churches before finding the right fit, her search was surprisingly simple. She shared, “I was going to go to a couple of different churches, but I went to Saint Luke on the first try and fell in love and I haven’t gone anywhere else.”

She recalls the surprise she experienced upon her first visit with enthusiasm sharing, “I was surprised by how nice everyone was. I went to service and several people came up to me and said hello and wanted to know me, saying that they hadn’t seen me there before. It just made me feel really welcome and it was a really wonderful experience. It made me want to go again.” To top it off, that morning Pastor Sue had delivered an "amazing sermon." Claire was so captivated by Pastor Sue’s teaching that she decided then and there that she wanted to experience it more. She came back the very next week and Saint Luke has been her church ever since. 

Being new to the area, Claire was so thankful for a place that not only helped her cultivate a new sense of home in Pennsylvania but also helped her feel connected to her hometwon back in Alabama. While many miles separate her from her family and the church she grew up in, Saint Luke has been a point of connection. Claire said, “It was a really great way to feel like I was still connecting with home and also meeting a new community of people outside of work. It made the transition to this area a whole lot easier.” 

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Since arriving at Saint Luke, Claire has been grateful to not only be warmly welcomed by the “incredibly friendly” congregation at Saint Luke, but also to be developing friendships in Saint Luke’s young adults ministry. She enjoys gathering with other young people that value faith and want to make a positive difference in the world.  While some may think that Millenials are less interested in church, Claire shows us that perhaps they just need to find the right faith community. She explains, “As a young adult, I definitely think that the message that Saint preaches is really relevant to the millennial generation. It's important and unique to Saint Luke. It strikes a cord.”  Each week she anticipates that she will hear Pastor Matt and Pastor Sue talking about “real life topics that are current and relevant.” She always leaves feeling both refreshed and having something to think about for the next week. 

Yet, another thing about Saint Luke that will appeal to young adults is that it is a church where faith is not just talked about, but is actually put into practice. One of the things that makes Claire most proud to be a part of Saint Luke is all of the mission work that is accomplished. She confidently shares, “It's good to know that I am attending a place and giving to a place that really contributes to the community, whether it's in the Philadelphia area with the homeless population or the greater community in Devon and on the mainline. I think we are doing some really impactful work.”  She loves hearing about not only adults serving but also the youth serving in efforts such as the Appalachia Service Project.

While only being at Saint Luke for about a year thus far, Claire already is looking towards the future. She hopes that the future will be filled with more mission work and is already considering becoming a member. She also is looking forward to experiencing some of the wonderful traditions at Saint Luke. Thus far, her favorite has been the Good Friday Service and the prayer vigil. She reflected, “I signed up for the 3am slot for the prayer vigil and it was so wonderful to just go, and be in the sanctuary and be able to pray in that peaceful environment. The whole entire Holy week was unlike anything I had experience before.” 

As you listen to Claire speak about the future, you cannot help but smile in response to the joy that just radiates off of her. She enthusiastically expresses her affection for Saint Luke declaring, “It really adds to my life in a way that no other group can. I really love it.”  It is this same experience that she hopes to share with others. When asked what she would say to someone considering visiting Saint Luke, she laughingly exclaims, “Just come. Give it a try. It really is a wonderful place and if you go and open yourself up to that, the rest will work itself out.”  

It has worked itself out for Claire. She has experienced such a friendly welcome as a newcomer to the area and is ready to warmly welcome those also looking for a place to belong. Open yourself up and you just might find yourself pleasantly surprised as Claire was. 

 

Saint Luke Stories: The DiSciascio Family

As we continue to savor the summertime, we continue our series “Saint Luke Stories” featuring stories of how various members of our community found their way to Saint Luke and why they call it home. Thus far, we have featured stories from Marie & Jennifer, Ian, and TJ

This story comes from Paul & Gretchen DiSciascio and their adorable kids. They are involved in Sunday School and Paul sings in the choir.  Enjoy!


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Paul and Gretchen DiSciascio are raising three sweet little souls— Ewen (5), Dylan (2) and Ada (9 months). On top of teaching toddlers how to put on their own shoes, managing nap time, singing silly songs for the hundredth time, and all of the joys and challenges of raising young children, they are committed to incorporating faith into their children’s lives. After a move to a new area, the DiSciascios were looking for a local church for their whole family to call home. Paul’s previous pastor suggested that the young family check out Saint Luke. One Sunday morning, they loaded up their family and did just that. Gretchen describes their first visit saying, “We felt welcome. Ewen, our oldest, had always been reluctant to leave mom, but he went to Children's Church like it was something he did every week and he had been doing it his whole life.” It was that comfort shown by their children that caused them to return the very next week and the weeks after that. Paul explains, “Saint Luke is home. We worship here. This is where we belong.”

It is a church community where the whole family belongs and is embraced just as they are. Gretchen explained, “As an exhausted parent of three, it's comforting to know that we can come as we are and that we are not only welcome, we belong. Saint Luke is home for us. Our kids feel safe and happy here.”  The DiSciascios kiddos are a part of Sunday School and while Dylan looks forward to snack time and playing with his favorite teacher, Mrs. Seaton, Ewen also invites other kids to come “because they can learn about God and play and have fun!” Additionally, Ewen shares that his highlights of Saint Luke are “the Prayground and Children’s Church.” You cannot help but smile as Dylan chimes in agreeing about the love of the PrayGround, but also how he enjoys “sharing the peace with God.” Gretchen clarifies that he means sharing the peace with Pastor Matt, but for the life of them they can't get their adorable 2 year old to understand the difference. 

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Even at the young age of 2, Dylan experiences God’s incredible love at Saint Luke and is clearly drawn to Pastor Matt. Each Christmas, Saint Luke offers a special family-friendly Christmas Eve service with a children’s message and glow sticks. It is full of Christmas cheer, and wiggles and giggles are not only welcomed, but encouraged. Last year, as the DiSciascios enjoyed the festive service, Dylan tried to get up and help his beloved Pastor Matt deliver the Children's sermon. Paul and Gretchen fondly remember this sweet and humorous holiday memory explaining, “The only way we got him to come down from the altar was by bribing him with cookies!”  

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Since becoming members in January of 2017, on the same day that Dylan was baptized, they have had many wonderful memories like these. They have all found a place at Saint Luke. Beyond the involvement with their children, Paul shares the gift of his beautiful voice by participating in the choir. He shares, “I joined the choir because I enjoy singing and I like to participate in the worship service in that way.  Having grown up in a Lutheran church, I was exposed to music in a positive way at a young age, and it's always been a part of my life. The choir here at Saint Luke has been incredibly welcoming and has really helped our family feel rooted here.” The choir at Saint Luke may be small but under the leadership of John Rea has done some really big things. Paul playfully jokes, “Just think how much more he could do with just a few more...cough...join the choir..cough..you know you want to.”  For those that love to sing, you will find what Paul discovered, a welcoming group of people, passionate about music and helping others experience God through it.

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For the DiSciascios, it is their dream that their children will continue to be a part of the Saint Luke community as they grow, but they also hope that others will experience the generosity and welcoming nature of Saint Luke. To other young families uncertain if there is a place for their family at church, Gretchen soothes their fears and encourages, “Just come. However you are, whatever you've got, just come. Especially young families. Our two year old tries to run up the aisle to his dad in the choir loft almost every week, my baby decides that she is starving and needs to scream her head off in the middle of the prayers, and I never get a single dirty look. Someone always helps corral the toddler if he gets away from me, shakes his hand when we share the peace, and tells me how glad they are to see us this morning. Everyone really is welcome at Saint Luke.”  It is for that reason that Paul is most proud to be a part of Saint Luke. Paul says, “We really feel that ‘all are welcome, no exceptions’ is a thing we do here. At Saint Luke, love is a verb, and it doesn't leave anyone behind for any reason.”

Come, babies, big kids, and toddlers in tow. Ewen will gladly show you his Sunday School class and invite you to join in the fun. Dylan will happily share the peace with you. Gretchen and Ada will extend a sweet smile, and Paul is saving you a seat in the choir. There is a spot for you and everyone in your family, no matter what your family looks like. 

Saint Luke Stories: TJ

Pour yourself an ice cold glass of lemonade and settle into your favorite chair. It is time for another story. This summer, we are enjoying a series called “Saint Luke Stories” featuring stories of how various members of our community found their way to Saint Luke and why they call it home. We have heard stories from Marie & Jennifer, as well as Ian

This week's story comes from Thelma Jacks. Thelma is the chair of the HR team, and also volunteers as a greeter and counter. 


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Its been said that life is not about the destination, but the journey. Perhaps it should go on to say that it is about those who travel by our side.  For Thema Jacks, affectionately known as TJ, her journey to Saint Luke is a tale of friendship.

TJ and her dear friend, Susan Saxer, have been friends for almost 40 years. Together, they have seen a lot of life. Their friendship has weathered the changing seasons and has included many adventures.  While they have various things in common, one thing has bonded them in a unique way—their faith. For years, they dreamed about attending church together, getting to worship side by side and enjoy the same faith community. However, it never seemed to work out. TJ laughs as she explains their dilemma saying, “Well, we could never figure out how a Baptist and a Presbyterian could go to church together.” Yet their friendship was deeper than denominations and about nine years ago, they began to visit churches together. Sometimes Susan would join TJ at a Baptist Church and other times TJ would join Susan at a Presbyterian or Episcopal Church.  Then, Susan stumbled across a church located near her home that she had not visited.  The church was Saint Luke Lutheran Church. She attended one Sunday and after worship she called TJ.  Recalling their conversation, TJ explained, “She called me and said, ‘Why don’t you come over and see if you like this church?’ And I did and we’ve both been here ever since.”

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It was late spring when TJ visited to Saint Luke and her first experience was bursting with signs of life just like the season. She had a wonderful first impression of the church. She explained, “The first person that I met was Donna Daly, and if you know Donna, she is a very gracious and welcoming host and she formed my first impression of the church itself.” Not only did TJ find the people of Saint Luke to be warm and welcoming, but she also found the worship service to be engaging. Coming from a Baptist tradition that did not embrace women in leadership roles, TJ found Saint Luke to be very refreshing. During her teenage years TJ had digressed from those teachings regarding gender and leadership after attending a church where there were female ministers. Yet her experience at Saint Luke was the first time she had been to a church were there was a white female minister. As she saw Pastor Sue teach, she was particularly taken by not only her message but also her delivery. TJ said, “It helped seal my fate with becoming a Saint Lukan.”

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After that first Sunday, Saint Luke became TJ’s church and her dear friend Susan’s church as well. Finally, their journey had brought them to the same place of worship. TJ shared, “The first time I came I made up my mind. I said, “Ok, if this is the church you want to go, it is also the church Ill go to, because I like this!” TJ began attending worship regularly and began to volunteer, helping rake the church yard periodically. As time passed, she and Susan embarked on another adventure together as they began to co-chair the social ministry team. Since then, TJ has served in various capacities and participated in many programs. She is grateful for all that Saint Luke has added to her life, particularly the ways that it continues to help her renew her faith and grow in trusting God and His plans for her life.

Yet, it has not always been an easy journey. As with all journeys, there are some bumps along the way. TJ reflected on her previous church experiences saying, “As I was trying to work my way through my Baptist tradition, I would have questions and sometimes the questions were answered in a way that made me feel guilty about not particularly measuring up.” Carrying that with her to Saint Luke, she was pleasantly surprised by what she found. She continued sharing, “What Saint Luke and Lutheranism has done is it has helped me to shed the shackles of guilt around questioning. Questioning is not doubt, but a process by which I learn more and become more steeped in my faith.” Her journey has been one of faith and questions, serving and being blessed, friendship and diversity.

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As TJ describes Saint Luke, it is the church’s servant heart, welcoming attitude, and ability to create an environment in which you can be inquisitive and searching that rises to the top of her list. She is so proud to be a part of a church where all are welcome, no exceptions. She sees this radical welcome of Jesus being lived out at Saint Luke in many ways. She loves that at Saint Luke children are valued. The Children’s sermon is actually one of her favorite parts of worship each week. Her joy is evident as she explains, “Sometimes we can intellectualize and think about our faith and trust in God so much that it becomes overly complicated. When I hear the Children’s sermon, I can really relate to the simplistic way in which the parables and teachings of Christ are related to the children and how they should relate to me, even though I am a thousand years older than the kids themselves!”  

Similarly, the Rejoicing Spirits program is especially close to her heart. Rejoicing Spirits is a monthly joy-filled worship service for children and adults with developmental disabilities, their families, friends, caregivers, and the Saint Luke family.  TJ who has attended the program with her nephew finds that it includes “a fairly simplistic way of teaching about love, Christ, and servant hearts for people that may be intellectually different than I am.” Attendees not only get the opportunity to worship, but they find friendship with others. She explains, “I think that is one of the equally as important programs and activities of the church, especially since we are looking towards that notion of diversifying our community, reaching out to people who are different than we are.”

At Saint Luke, you can simply be you. Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran or none of the above. Any age. Any gender. Any ethnicity. Any intellectual or physical ability. Full of faith or full of questions. You will find what TJ has discovered- you are welcome here.

Saint Luke Stories: Ian

As we settle into sweet summertime, we continue our series “Saint Luke Stories” featuring stories of how various members of our community found their way to Saint Luke and why they call it home. Our first story featured Marie & Jennifer. If you have not had a chance to check it out yet, you can read it here.  

This week, our story comes from Ian Roth. Ian recently graduated from Eastern University with a Bachelors degree in Middle Level Education. At Saint Luke, he sings in the choir and helps with Spark Student Ministries.  


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It was a day just like any other day at Eastern University, but for Ian Roth it was the beginning of something special. Every September at Eastern University, there is an “Area Churches Day” offered as a way for students to get to know the churches in the surrounding community. Between classes, homework, athletics, and friendships, Ian made a simple decision that would change not only his life, but would create a ripple effect influencing many others. 

As he hurried over to lunch, he choose to stop by the Area Churches Day tent and take a quick glance around. During his time there he picked up a pamphlet about Saint Luke. Due to not having a car on campus, Ian had previously been attending various churches with friends. Limited transportation meant getting to Sunday worship was a challenge for a college freshman. While he enjoyed being able to tag along to church with some of his peers, none of the churches felt quite right for him. Something was missing. Ian explained, “I enjoyed worship at these churches but they were missing the personal relationships, friendships, and family-like atmosphere I desired.” Once Ian got a car on campus, he recalled that pamphlet and decided to give Saint Luke a visit.

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Visiting a new church, especially as a college student, can be intimidating. Yet, Ian took the chance and pulled up to Saint Luke one Sunday morning. Although he has been attending Saint Luke for 3 years now, he still describes his first visit with warm memories, vividly recalling details as if he had just experienced the joy yesterday. He shared, “As soon as I came in, I was taken in with open arms. People knew that I was new to Saint Luke. They genuinely wanted to get to know me and have conversation with me.”  During the service, a long time member, David York, went up to Ian and personally introduced himself. It was this type of personal touch that has left a lasting impact on Ian. By the end of the morning, Ian had been shown around the church and introduced to multiple people, including the pastors. You cannot help but chuckle as he shares, “By the end of the morning, I had even become a member of the choir!” Ian had found more than he could have imagined. He said, “I felt loved, I felt welcomed, and I felt like I had found a group of people who would support me during my academic and spiritual endeavors at college.” He found what many college student need- a loving church family. 

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Saint Luke has been that local understanding church family for Ian, always welcoming him home, encouraging him to dream big, and keeping his heart and belly full. Whether he was absent due to busyness with homework, exams, and the demands of college life, or attending every Sunday, Ian has found it refreshing to know that he will always be welcomed with open arms, regardless of how often he can attend worship. He truly believes that “Saint Luke strives to embody Christ’s love in all that they do.” He has experienced that love personally, but the ripple effect has expanded to his other community- Eastern University. One of his favorite Saint Luke memories is the “Kick Off Sunday” celebration that occured his junior year. Ian happily remembers what transpired as all of the festivities were winding down, saying, “The kitchen volunteers insisted that I take food back with me to school. I remember coming back to Eastern and feeding 15 hungry college guys hotdogs and cupcakes during the Eagles Game. They were very appreciative of Saint Luke’s generosity and it was neat to see the joyous impact Saint Like had just by this small gesture.” 

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To Ian, Saint Luke continues to stand out thanks to it’s genuine love for people, and Ian being a valued part of the Saint Luke family contributes greatly to that mission of love. It is not unlikely to see him laughing with another choir member before worship, chatting warmly with others while partaking in birthday cake in the narthex, or wacky bowling with the preteens from Club56. He, too, is a part of the ripple effect, influencing others with God’s love. Even this very week, Ian, an ambitious  graduate student studying Multicultural Education, has pushed pause on his busy life to share his energy, kindness, leadership abilities and of course Christ’s love with a group of Spark Students as they attend the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston. (You can see all of the amazing experiences they are having over on our Facebook!). 

When asked what three words best describe Saint Luke, Ian replied, “Welcoming... Personable...Family.” And the best part is, as Ian proclaimed, that it is a family where “all are welcome, no exceptions.” We could not agree more.

Saint Luke Stories: Marie & Jennifer

Summertime is the perfect season to get swept away in a great story. We tell stories around the campfire, swap stories of our adventures, and devour stories poolside page by page. This summer, we have a new series called “Saint Luke Stories” featuring stories of how various members of our community found their way to Saint Luke and why they call it home.

Our first story comes from Marie Lambeck and her daughter, Jennifer Atkins. While they have both been involved in a wide variety of ways individually at Saint Luke, this mother daughter duo currently sings together in the choir. Enjoy!


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Three generations have been impacted by Saint Luke Lutheran Church, and it all began with the Yellow Pages. Marie Lambeck, who recently celebrated a special birthday, is not slowing down anytime soon, after all she is too busy volunteering in the church office, redesigning the bulletin boards, and helping with VBS!  While now an active member of the community, her witt, vivaciousness, and humor shine brightly as she recalls the story of her initial journey to Saint Luke. Although she would claim that her story is “not very dramatic,” it is certainly interesting, spanning generations! 

Back  in the 1960’s, Marie and her late husband, Jule, relocated to the Devon area from Boston. When asked how she found her way to Saint Luke, she lets out a warm laugh, and replies saying, “Through the Yellow Pages. You can tell what an antique I am because I don’t even think there are Yellow Pages anymore!”  Marie, Jule, and their two young daughters, Christine and Jennifer, moved to Pennsylvania at the start of a week and before the first weekend had arrived, Marie knew that she needed to find a church for her family so she pulled out the Yellow Pages, flipped to “churches”, and gave Saint Luke a call. She spoke with a pastor, who gave her directions and on Sunday they attended. It was the closest Lutheran church to their home and for a young family close proximity was important. Having been raised in a Lutheran church, Marie recalls a both friendly and familiar atmosphere upon visiting. The similarities to their previous church in Boston provided them with a little extra comfort as they aimed to cultivate a new sense of home.

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After their first visit, the rest is history. For the Lambecks, Sunday school, worship, and involvement in church activities was simply a way of life. Each week, Christine and Jennifer would get in their pretty church dresses and off they went to Sunday School and worship with their parents. Reflecting back on her childhood experience of Saint Luke, Jennifer shares that one word sums it up well, “family.” She has been a part of Saint Luke for most of her life and enjoyed the Sunday ritual of spending time as a family, going to church and out to lunch afterwards. Some particularly special memories arise as she reflects on the outdoor Easter sunrise services she attended as a young girl. While she admits that as a child she likely did not want to get up at the crack of dawn, as an adult she looks back fondly on those early still mornings, worshiping with her family, and then partaking in the deliciously sticky pancake breakfasts afterward. And now, years later, her own daughter, Allie, too has grown up around Saint Luke, experiencing many of the same memory making traditions. This past Easter, Allie, now a sophomore at Drexel University, was at Saint Luke with Jennifer and they came across a tapestry near the children’s classrooms. As they paused to take a closer look, they saw a tiny little handprint from Allie, a symbolic representation of the once little girl who attended that very Sunday School. Like grandmother, like mother, like daughter, they have experienced life— weddings, baptisms, funerals, laughter and tears— within those walls. 

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When asked, why they keep returning to Saint Luke after all these years, Jennifer and Marie both share about the vital part of their life it has been. They have found dear friends, opportunities to make a difference in the area, a place to grow in their faith, and a welcoming community. At Saint Luke, there are those who have been life-long Lutherans like Marie and Jennifer, and yet they both share the pride they feel for the way that Saint Luke accepts everyone regardless of where they are in their faith journeys, their background, or what has occurred in their lives. Whether you have been regularly attending a church for years or it is your very first step into a community of faith, you will be embraced. Jennifer shares about this journeying aspect of our spiritual lives, explaining, “Faith pulls you back, whether you are actively involved or not going to church.”  Marie knows that some people may find themselves with various reservations about attending church, fearing rejection, judgement, and shame. She aims to set those minds at ease, as she says, “Everybody has something that they feel a little iffy about, those little niggles here and there, but if we share those niggles, I think we are a lot better off... All are welcome.”

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Looking back over the years, Marie and Jennifer have so much to smile about, and as they look forward, they are equally joyous about the future at Saint Luke. While Jennifer is aware that in this day in age people are not going to church as much, she remains hopeful that others will come to experience the “warm, welcoming community” of Saint Luke. She assures first-time guests that they will be noticed, but that people will not be pushy or bombard them. “You can get as connected as you want and it won’t take a lot of effort. People will take to you right away,” says Jennifer. Similarly, Marie offers a personal invitation to those that might be contemplating a visit to Saint Luke. Her response to someone’s potential interest:  “I am thrilled! Welcome! I’ll meet you at the front door.”  

Marie and Jennifer will be there, waiting for you, ready to transform a stranger into a fast friend with the love, gentleness, and acceptance that comes from lives transformed by Christ. 

5 Small Steps towards Sustainability

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Greensgrow started almost 22 years ago as a hydroponic lettuce grower on a recovered EPA Superfund site in Kensington. They are now a leader in the urban farming sector with two locations in Philadelphia. Ryan Kuck came to Saint Luke to speak about Greensgrow's history and continuously increasing impact on the community where it started. They have a year round growing operation in addition to a thriving garden center, pop up farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs (a "Farm Share" program), and a community kitchen. 

Ryan considers Greensgrow an "idea farm" where they also support a living wage for their 40 employees, experimenting in ways to address environmental issues like stormwater runoff, and offering corporate social responsibility opportunities. Their big take-away for consumers is that they encourage conversations and learning about their missions. They offer various workshops for anyone, plus school learning programs such as a Young Farmers program for elementary school students and a one day farming intensive class for high schoolers. They opened their second location in West Philadelphia two years ago and it is already very popular and filling a need for fresh produce and plants in this neighborhood. 

Ryan was very engaging and talked about the many ideas Greensgrow has worked to turn into reality, and was more than willing to answer questions. One particular question got all of us thinking…

What can folks in the suburbs do to advance the sustainability cause?

Here is what Ryan Kuck, Executive Director of Greensgrow has to say:

1) Start somewhere.

A lot of people are paralyzed by the scope of the problem and their seemingly personal insignificance. There's plenty of tropes about how "the longest journey begins with a single step....", but it's true that overcoming that initial lack of confidence is often the biggest challenge.  Most of what Greensgrow does is show people that there is an alternative that is possible. It doesn't matter what you do, or even if you succeed. We learn through failure, but the trying is what opens up doors and turns on the lightbulbs in the head. 

2) Follow your passions.

I detest martyrdom, and pursuing dogmatically what is the "right" approach inevitably leads to disappointment. As if we even know what is "right."  After you try a few different approaches, follow what you like rather than what feels the most important. There's nothing more demoralizing than dragging yourself out of bed each morning forcing yourself to do something you hate for a cause that never ends. If you like to bike, then bike to work or to the grocery store when you can. If you don't, don't feel guilty about driving but find something else you can build a routine around. If you hate worms, don't start composting. The urban farming world needs more accountants and engineers. Some people are born to plant trees, others are born to make sure there's money in the bank to get the trees to where they need to go. Focusing on what you CAN do, and can sustain, rather than what you SHOULD do builds a stronger and more resilient movement. 

3) Understand the difference between being an ally and being an accomplice.

This terminology is used more and more in the fight for racial justice, but the same principles apply to our responsibility as stewards of the earth. An ally stands up for what is right, an accomplice tears down what is wrong. All 7 billion of us can't live like the average North American. What are you willing to give up to change that paradigm? Maybe you stop buying strawberries in December, maybe you hire a  landscaper who plants native perennials, maybe you drive 65 instead of 75 to save a few MPGs and enjoy the scenery a bit more in the process. You can feel responsibility without feeling guilt. You can attend to that first and most impactful "R" in the sustainability trilogy - Reduce - without becoming a resentful curmudgeon.

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4) Forget charity, INVEST in a better future.

Donate. Re-direct your dollars from propping up the stocks of oil companies to sustaining the people making meaningful change happen. More importantly, sustain that investment. Sign up for a recurring donation so I don't have to bug you each December for a check. Don't spread your money out but rather focus it where a larger amount can make a difference. Get involved. Mobilize your time, talent, AND your treasure by joining a board or organizing a fundraising happy hour at your home.

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5. Most importantly, never stop asking questions.

Hang around some five year olds and learn to keep asking "Why?". Why does it have to be done this way? You don't have to have the answers, but asking the question opens up the chance that you'll meet someone who does.

 

Creator God, this earth, our home, is yours and everything in it is yours. We see your fingerprints all around and are filled with praise. May we care for your creation, preserving it and cherishing it, for in doing so we actively agree with you- that it is indeed “good.” Amen.

 

Special thanks to guest blogger, Ellen Flatt for her reflection on Ryan's recent visit to Saint Luke. Ellen is a part of Saint Luke's adult education team. Gratitude also goes out to Ryan Kuck of Greensgrow for his ideas on how we can care for God's creation. 

No Winter Lasts Forever

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For the courage of the daffodils, thanks be to God. And for the brave pioneers, crocus and tulips, thanks be to God. For the sunshine and the warmth, defrosting the earth & awakening the robins to sing, thanks be to God. For the seeds of hope planted around us and in our hearts, filled with the promise of new life, all thanks be to God!

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It seems as if spring may officially be here. The snow has melted and the vibrant colors of a new season are popping up all around us. Each one serves as a reminder of the hope for new life with Christ. We see this new life in nature each spring, but we also see it sprouting up around us and in our own hearts. 

Today, Council members, Bill Baver and Fred Schulz share about where they see God on the move this springtime.  


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I see God in Confirmation class each week.  The Confirmation students are eager to question and push the boundaries of "who is God" and "can God really do that"?  We spend time just talking about ways to turn every day activities, and every day interactions, into something that God enabled and in what God allows us to see and experience.  It is truly uplifting and every time we meet I am amazed at the true faith our youth have and how they are shaping their faith experience right before our eyes.  It is a very humbling experience to watch the growth of body and mind!

-Bill Baver, Council President

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God works in numerous and wonderful ways at Saint Luke every day, but recently I was reminded of one very special way.  A few weeks ago was Confirmation Sunday, with the youth leading the service and the confirmation class reading their Faith Statements to the congregation.  The maturity of those ninth graders sharing their expressions of faith before the congregation was tremendous to witness.  Behind them, of course, were wonderful parents raising them in the Christian faith, a wonderful set of teachers in Sunday School and Confirmation class, and our fantastic and caring pastors, all nurturing their minds and helping guide them on their individual journeys.  In these increasingly trying times, the future looked bright listening to these youth and their inspiring stories.

-Fred Schulz, Councilor for Learning & Faith Formation


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There is so much growth & new life occurring in the young people at Saint Luke. However, the hope of something new is for those of all ages, for all of us. In the parts of our lives that seem stuck in a perpetual bleak winter, God can birth something new and vibrant and incredible. No winter lasts forever. Spring is coming. 

Something to ponder this week...

  • Where do you catch a glimpse of God this springtime? Praise Him for it. 
  • Where in your life are you looking for God to bring new life? Ask Him for it. 

 

May this springtime fill our hearts with gratitude and anticipation for new life. Tend our hearts, O Lord, so that something beautiful may blossom within us.

Talking to Children about Violence: Tips for Caring Adults

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Stories of violent acts in school are on the minds of many. Photos and videos of recent events replay through our minds trying to make sense of the tragedy. We hear stories of great courage, loss, bravery, fear, guilt, and grief. These stories can confuse and frighten children. In the face of tragedy, parents and caring adults play such an important role in educating their children with accurate information and sharing guidance on how to react. When children are struck with fear and anxiety, caring adults get to hold space for them, validating both the child's feelings and their own.  Caring adults demonstrate a healthy way to express feelings and model coping skills. They also get to be the comforting voice reassuring children with a message they desperately need to hear:

You are safe
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Caring adults can help children by making time to talk, keeping explanations developmentally appropriate, limiting "electronic" exposure to these events, and reviewing safety procedures. As a caring adult helps walk with young people through these tragedies, it is also important to keep an eye on the children's emotional states. Watch for extreme reactions, sudden drastic changes, preoccupations, as well as changes in eating, sleeping, hygiene, social interactions, and anxiety level. Remember, it is okay to seek additional help if you are concerned by a child's behavior. 

As you talk to children about violence, here are some potential points to emphasize: 

  • Schools are safe places

  • Everyone plays a role in school safety

  • Tell an adult if there is something they’re worried about or something they’ve seen or heard

  • Acknowledge that sometimes people do things to hurt others and it’s hard to understand why

  • Mental illness does not mean someone will definitely be violent

  • Violence is never the answer, there are many ways to express your emotions that are productive

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Caring adults are valuable resources to children trying to make sense of the violence in the world. However, you are most helpful to others when you are healthy and taking care of yourself. Know your limitations. Understand your own triggers for stress. Seek help when you need it. 

Check out these additional resources for more information on this important topic: 

NASP- Talking to Children about Violence

Tips for Parents & Educators

 

God, comfort the hearts of those that are fearful, anxious, and grieving as a result of the violence in our schools. May our children feel loved, understood, supported, and safe. Bring peace to our broken world. 


Special thanks to guest blogger, Amy Smith. Vicar Amy is finishing her first year at the United Lutheran Seminary where she is working toward a Master of Divinity degree. She is also a certified school psychologist and currently works as an Educational Consultant at the PA Training and Technical Assistance Network.

 

God's Love is Like...

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For the first time since 1945, Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday share the same date. Valentines Day, a holiday designed to celebrate romance, and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of lent, may seem to have little in common. One seems so light hearted and romantic; While the other feels more weighty and somber. However, this convergence is the perfect time to lean in and take a closer look at what they hold in common: love. 

Whether you reflect today on love due to the hearts, roses and chocolates of Valentine's Day or the ashes spread across your forehead in worship, your status as "beloved" remains true and unchangeable thanks to the LOVE that surpasses all loves-- God's love. 

YOU are loved, plain & simple, but LOVE is a difficult concept to wrap our heads around. When asked what God's love is like often we find ourselves struggling to put something so complex into words, often resorting to illustrations. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?


PICTURE THIS...

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God’s love is like the first fire in your fireplace of the year. Warming, beautiful, cheery, invites contemplation and is best enjoyed with others. And it always carries a hint of danger....how quickly it can spread and even consume......which is part of the draw, right?  

-Pastor Sue Ericsson

 
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God’s love is like ‘the air we breathe’ – to reference an old praise song.  It’s essential for life but the very life it provides often keeps us so occupied (or distracted) that it goes unnoticed, unacknowledged and unappreciated.  No matter, though, God’s love continues to speak, listen, embrace, reprove and replenish the world which that love created, redeemed and continues to inhabit.  God's love gives all and requires no bargaining.  God's love hopes, helps and heals.  All we need to say is 'thanks' and ask how can I get in on the action!   

-Pastor Mary Konopka

 
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God’s love is like a swimming pool on a hot summer day. It’s in front of me (and you) inviting us to find refreshment. Sometimes we stare at it from a distance. Sometimes we sit on the edge and simply stick in a toe or sit and dangle our feet into the water. Sometimes we wade in tentatively. Sometimes we realize that what is in front of is exactly what we need; We run, leap and plunge in with joyful abandon. In those moments of being refreshed, our response has the wonderful ability to make others want to jump in, too!  

-Pastor Matt Staniz

 

God, we thank you for your consuming love and the way it warms our hearts and refreshes our souls. We praise you for continuing to lavish that love on us even when it goes unnoticed, unacknowledged and unappreciated. Help us today to recognize your love on the move in the world around us, to plunge in with joyful abandon, and to invite others to do the same. 


What do you picture when you think of God's love? Share with us how you would finish the phrase "God's love is like..."  in the comments below. 

What is Addiction?

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I was surprised, a decade ago, when for the first time a student sat down in my office and told me that he was a sex addict. Of course I already knew that you can’t tell by looking at a person what may be going on in his or her life. But while I had heard of sex addiction, I was skeptical as to whether any such thing really existed. Isn’t addiction about substances, like drugs and alcohol? How could an activity be addictive, particularly such a ubiquitous, ordinary, everyday activity as sex?

Ten years later, I’ve learned a lot. In particular, I’ve learned that addictiveness is not a kind of magnetic quality that resides in things like alcohol or drugs or sugar and that reels people in who come too close to them, like a tractor beam. Addiction is a psychological mechanism that resides in people, that begins not as a problem but as a solution, as a way of managing otherwise intolerable feeling states.

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An addictive target can be anything that is used in this way. Chemicals like alcohol and other drugs, which affect how people feel by exerting physiological effects on the brain, make particularly effective addictive targets. But activities that evoke chemical changes in the brain do just as well. People manage their otherwise intolerable feelings—of shame, dependence, helplessness, rage—with work, with shopping, gambling, eating, exercising, and, yes, with pornography and other forms of sexual activity.

The problem comes when what started as a solution becomes itself a problem.

The problem, of course, comes when what started as a solution becomes itself a problem—not just a habit or an intentional means of stress reduction, but a compulsive behavior that the person cannot stop, even in the face of terrible negative consequences: trouble with the law, disruption of relationships, damage to physical health, interference with responsibilities at work and at home. This is what we call addiction.

I’ve been teaching a class on addiction at Eastern University for a couple of years now, and we talk in class about a range of subjects related to addiction—some that are more applicable to substance-focused addictions (like the pharmacology of substances of abuse and the so-called war on drugs) and some that are applicable to process addictions as well: risk factors like childhood trauma, interpersonal neurobiology, harm reduction and access to treatment, and treatment strategies themselves, like 12-step programs, psychological therapies, and community and family support and education.

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In this class we ask a broad range of questions: Is addiction a brain disease or a sin, a problem of will or a problem of knowledge? Does addiction have primarily to do with individuals, or is it constituted and maintained in intimate relationships or on a societal level? Who is susceptible to addiction, and why? If a person stops engaging in addictive behavior, is he or she still an addict?

We explore Christian theological voices and biblical and historical resources for understanding how Christians have understood addiction in the past and more recently. We also read current books treating aspects of addiction that are often neglected in Christian theological treatment of addiction. In addition, we read personal accounts of addiction and recovery, and consider how a Christian response to addiction might incarnate the prophetic values of justice, mercy and humility. You can find a partial reading list here to assist those interested in learning more about this ubiquitous and persistent challenge to human flourishing. 


So, how should a Christian respond to addiction? Whether you or a loved one are facing addiction, or perhaps you just feel a need to learn more or become more actively involved, here are a few steps you can consider taking this week:

  • Check out one of the books listed above. There is so much to be learned about the topic of addiction and often learning leads to understanding and understanding leads to a more empathetic & helpful approach towards those facing addiction.
  • Explore your local resources. Often there are organizations right in your community offering treatment for those facing addiction, as well as support for those with addicted loved ones. This is not a battle to fight alone. If you live locally, check out the upcoming classes offered at Saint Luke for adults and teens
  • Prayer. Addiction is not just a bad habit to break. As people of faith, we recognize that not only can others support those facing addiction, but we can also call on God for strength and support. 

 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

-The Serenity Prayer

 

Special thanks to guest blogger, Margaret Kim Peterson, Ph.D., Professor of Theology and Psychology at Eastern University and member of Saint Luke. 

 

Living Generously

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Around the holidays, we are often reminded of the value of living with gratefulness and thanksgiving in our hearts. However, in the busyness of the season, it is so easy to get sidetracked from this mission. Even more so, we lose sight of the fact that our thankfulness for all of the blessings we have received in our lives should compel us to live with open hearts and hands. After all, gratitude and love are the birthplace for generosity.  

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” - Amy Carmichael

Guest writer, Dave Webb, shares with us 3 ways to continue to cultivate generosity, not just as a seasonal attribute, but as a lifestyle. 


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BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR TIME

When I was asked to write this blog, my response was “sure I’ll do it, but if you don’t hear anything from me by next week, shoot me an email to remind me.”  I then put this task on my intermediate “to do” list.  Sure enough, next week came, followed by the reminder email since clearly I didn’t have time to get to it!   Like many, I struggle with multitasking and keeping up with my many responsibilities.  I regularly lament how technology demands quick responses these days.  It all can be overwhelming, and sometimes I want to stop and recoil.  It’s hard, but you have to somehow plan out your time well and try not to get too frustrated if a short term emergency derails your best intentions.  We were not put on this earth to be selfish with our time; we all should seek out others and connect with friends and strangers alike. We should try our best to honor our commitments to others.  More times than not, you will be rewarded.  Probably the best memories I have had in the last 20 years came from the extra time I dedicated to volunteering as a Coach or Scout Leader and through this work at Saint Luke, interacted with others in our community. Your time is a precious gift. Live generously.

 

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BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR TALENTS

Don’t think you have to be the best or most proficient at any skill to share it.  Your talent can be as simple helping out a neighbor who could use a hand.  Admittedly, I watch a lot of HGTV, yet I acknowledge that my carpentry skills are quite modest.  Yet, for the third time in my life, I will be taking a week this summer to volunteer for the Appalachia Service Project (“ASP”), an outstanding non-profit organization which empowers youth and adults to make homes safer, warmer and drier for disadvantaged people in Appalachia.  I can’t tell you how satisfying my previous experiences at ASP have been to my soul when I turn off my phone (fortunately cell service is very spotty in those communities), extract myself away from my stressful job and my highly privileged community, and work alongside friends from my church community to help those in substantial need.  The genuine human appreciation received from a homeowner who received new drywall or insulation that they could not afford is both humbling and gratifying.   Step outside your comfort zone and try new experiences in service to others.   Trust me, you will be rewarded a hundred-fold. Your talents have value. Live generously.

 

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BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR TREASURE

We live in community of nice things.  Many of us don’t think twice about the cost of a monthly gym membership, the periodic dues for a Youth Sports Team and Swim/Golf Club or the monthly payment of buying or leasing a new car.  Many of these types of activities give us personal pleasure.  However, shouldn’t we all consider budgeting a thoughtful amount of our financial resources outside our personal needs toward organizations that promote services for those in need?  Yes, I’m talking about your local Church.  They do their work every day. Their doors are always open and they don’t charge a fee to join.  They rely on free-will donations from those who recognize the importance of their work in our community, our nation and our world.  While I sometimes hate being beholden to technology in my everyday life, I so appreciate making automatic electronic contribution every month to my Church.  Much like paying our monthly electric bill which is a necessary expense to keep our home operating, our monthly gift to our Church is our family’s “Good Will to Others” expense that is necessary to help others throughout our world.  I take great comfort knowing that I am regularly helping the Church do its important work every day, even if I’m not able to attend Worship every week.  I also like the fact that beyond my monthly gifts, I can make extra gifts for special events or missions as they arise and can even consider gifting appreciated investments during a strong stock market (thus avoiding capital gains taxation along with the charitable gift deductions; a complete win/win situation!). Your treasure, big or small, matters. Live generously. 

 

Lord, help us to live generously both this holiday season, and always. May we reflect your giving heart to those around us. May we contribute to your work in the world. May we experience your blessing and pleasure as we live with open, grateful, and generous hearts.

 

Dave Webb is a longtime member of Saint Luke and is currently serving on Church Council as treasurer. 

The Whys of Worship: Sending

In observation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we continue in our series of posts titled "The Whys of Worship," exploring the Worship form used for generations: Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending. In our series, thus far, we have focused on Gathering, the Word, and the Meal.

In our final post, guest blogger, Bob Mitchell talks about the importance of Sending in the Lutheran liturgy and what it means to us as Christians. 


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At this time of year, many of us of a certain age, have sent our sons or daughters off to college. There they will grow, learn, and have fun.

In Christian faith, we too grow, learn, and have fun at worship. And as a sign of God’s grace for us, we are sent to take that message into the world to share our joy and excitement with others.

So, why is sending such a small, yet important part of the Lutheran liturgy and our lives as Christians?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Worship Formation & Liturgical Resource guide notes that through worship we hear of God’s Word; we are saved through God’s grace in the waters of Baptism; we join together in a meal of bread and wine at communion; and we join with God in prayer.

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While worship services may vary from one ELCA congregation to another, the Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (ELW) notes that Lutheran’s common Pattern for Worship (ELW p. 91) “in the principal service of Christian worship, the Holy Spirit gathers people around the means of grace — the saving Word of God and the sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion). From the table of communion where Jesus Christ comes with forgiveness, life, and salvation, God sends us to share the good news and care for those in need.”

This is the basic structure of Lutheran worship — gathering, word, meal, and sending — and joins the whole people of God by the same gifts of grace as we are sent to take God’s Gospel into the world. It’s what we do when we leave worship, the sending, and how we interact with God’s people in the world.

This is central to everything we as Lutherans do, worship unites us in celebration (the fun), engages us in thoughtful dialogue and helps us to grow in faith. Worship grounds us in our Christian and Lutheran roots. Through worship, we are nurtured in faith and then are sent out into the world to spread the Good News of God’s grace.

For me, this was always a difficult thing to imagine. How can I go into the world and tell of God’s grace? It’s not that difficult: we all do this each and every day, as we meet others, respect one another, and in how we share God’s love for us with those we meet.

Sending at the end of worship is reminds us that we are to share God’s message of Love with the whole world. The Sending is the briefest part of worship, coming in the final words of worship. Lutheran worship ends with this declaration: "Go in peace. Serve the Lord.”

For those who worship regularly at Saint Luke, you know that we have a slightly different version of the sending, based on our Mission Statement. The final words said by the Assisting Minister at the conclusion of worship are: “Go in Peace to Know, Love, and Serve Christ.” The congregation responds: “Thanks be to God.”

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That is our Mission.

That is our sending as members of Saint Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church. 

This is a bold statement coming at the end, yet it is just the beginning to go into the world — God’s Creation — to Know, Love, and Serve others, as Christ so loves us.

So, as we go into the world, how is God calling you to serve? Is there a neighbor you have yet to greet? Is there a role you can serve in the community? Is there someone in need? God needs our hearts, our hands, and our hope for a better world where all will give and receive God’s grace.

 

So, now “Go in Peace, to Know, Love, and Serve Christ!

Thanks be to God!”

 

Special thanks to Bob Mitchell for his contribution to this blog post. Bob is a long-time member of Saint Luke. He serves his mission by volunteering to read with children and tutoring adult learners. He serves at Saint Luke as an assisting minister, communion assistant, lector, usher, Stephen Minister, and as editor of the LOOK, the church’s online newsletter. 

It Takes A Village

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What do you want for your children? 

The first thing that comes to mind is, “I want them to be happy.”  (Of course if I am honest, I want them to be resilient, kind, respectful, hardworking, and giving too but sometimes that list seems a little unrealistic for an 8 and 5 year old, no?)   A few years ago I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and a light bulb that went off… THIS is what I need in my life. I underlined whole paragraphs, wrote lists, and convinced myself that this was the answer. I’ve heard Shawn Achor present his work, The Happiness Advantage, at three separate business meetings.  Harvard University’s most popular course is Positive Psychology… better known as the happiness class.  I've downloaded mindfulness apps, gratitude journals and worked my way through Cross Fit workouts and whole food revolutions (endorphins! serotonin!). But despite all those things am I always happy? Is anyone?  Is the "happiness revolution" happening all around us just meant to sugar coat the pain or stress present in our lives or even help us cope with mounting tragedies around our world.  

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Don’t get me wrong I would describe myself as a generally happy person.  I draw happiness from my family and friends, my work, the small moments and the big ones.  However, happiness is a thing derived at its most basic in pleasure and its best in gratitude, but in contrast joy – well now – that is another thing altogether.  Every morning when I walk the dog and I look at the sunrise I am reminded of the words of Psalm 30, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  Pain and sorrow is a reality of being human, but to know that there is a light in the darkness, no matter how dim, is how we experience joy.  God does not expect a life without suffering for us (I’m looking at you Lamentations) but He does give us what we need to endure sorrow and the knowledge that joy that comes again.

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Like you, I would love to shield my children from every moment of pain so I suppose it makes sense that our wish is for them to be happy.  But that is not possible all the time.  Even God did not shield His own son from pain and death.  Perhaps upon further reflection when you ask me what I want for my children I would tell you that I want them to know joy, and to be able to comfortably lament the sorrow that will inevitably come in the certain hope that joy comes in the morning. 

So simple.  Right? 

Right....

Why do you bother taking your kids to Church?

Because joy, gratitude, & faith grow best in community

For all the teachable moments we get as parents, this is one I can't do alone. First of all, let’s just say I don’t have this perfected yet and I could use all the help I can get. Also, we are fighting an uphill battle against everything in our society that tells us and our kids that we are in control of joy, happiness and sorrow and these are inextricably linked to a can-do attitude, achievement and material things.  At church, my kids get the constant reinforcement of a community of adults, teachers, youth and pastors who remind them that they are welcome and loved—no exceptions.  They get to grapple with the hard questions and test and stretch their faith in ways they could never do alone or with me as their sole teacher. It is place for them to learn the fundamentals of faith and deep down I believe the example of faith set by the teachers is infinitely more valuable and will last them a lifetime. 

Parents, sitting through worship with young kids can be grueling but I assure you that more than once, when I thought my kids were too busy begging me for a snack or playing with toys to glean anything of value, they’ve come up with a surprising question or an insightful nugget.  There are so many things that vie for our time and attention 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  They sell happiness, fulfillment, fun –  trust me, my family is richly overscheduled like yours – I get it.  But… in this community, our families learn how to live in and through sorrow and know the hope and depth of true joy. And that my friends is so much more meaningful than happiness. 

 

Our Lord and our God,  grant us grace as we parent. Give us all that we need for this great task. Bless those around us who support us in our efforts and who show our children your love. May the roots of faith grow deep in all of our hearts.

 

Special thanks to our guest blogger, Meredith Moore. Meredith serves as the Councilor for Witness and has been a part of Saint Luke since 2010. 

The Whys of Worship: The Meal

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As the observation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation draws nearer, we continue in our series of posts titled "The Whys of Worship." Throughout this series, we have been exploring the Worship form used for generations: Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending. In our previous posts, we took a closer look at “Gathering” and at "The Word."

In this post, guest blogger, Jodi Donohue shares her thoughts on the subject of the Meal. 


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Holy Communion is the greatest mystery of all mysteries.  The power worked on us in partaking of the body and blood of Christ renews us spiritually each time we come to the Lords table.  Here we receive Christ's body and blood and God's gifts of forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation to be received by faith for the strengthening of our faith.

Holy Communion is confusing to me.  As a ritual that is performed every week here at Saint Luke, with the same words spoken,  you would think that I would be completely comfortable with Holy Communion.  I’m not.  It forever keeps me on edge.  It’s so important, this simple ritual, but I feel at its heart, the questions and uneasiness that it provokes in me.

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Perhaps it is because so many aspects of Holy Communion are so hotly contested.  It’s as if we, as humans, are trying to manage the unexplainable.  To control this mystery that we cannot fully understand by setting up rules and boundaries around it.

Who can partake of Communion? Christians only? Baptized Christians only? In some churches I visit, only members of that church?  What age must you be?  What level of instruction must you have received?  At these times we ask ourselves, who did Jesus include or exclude from his table? And why would we do any different? 

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What do we partake?  Bread, unleavened or leavened? Bread only? Wafer? Is it received in the hand or placed directly in the mouth? Bread and Wine? White or Red? Alcoholic or not? Or a Blessing in its place? Where do we commune?  Standing or kneeling at the rail? In a line in front of the altar? Seated in our pew? In our home, in the hospital or by a lake? How do we commune? Intinction, Bread, with common cup, or individual cups? When do we commune? Weekly? Monthly? Only special services? And what do I do with my hands? And do I cross myself? Or say something afterwards?  And what is that flat thingy that goes on top of the cup after it’s all done? Must I prepare myself?  By confession, or fasting and repentance?  If I didn’t prepare myself, am I doing it wrong? If I, a lifelong churchgoer, feels this much anxiety and confusion over communion, how might a visitor feel?  Would they ask, “Am I allowed? Not allowed? Will people judge me if I go?  Will they judge me if I don’t go?”

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Every time I go to communion, I feel the uncertainty of “what if I do something wrong?” Like the time I ate my bread before dipping it the cup, and had nothing to dip.  I feel vulnerable, and exposed, and weak. When I approach the altar, and stand in front of the pastor, and look into their eyes, I get lightheaded.  Here is the body and blood of Jesus, given for me, where he died for me, nailed to a cross so that my sins are forgiven.  How can you not go weak in the knees? 

Even when I am the lay person offering up that cup, I feel a moment of panic in between each person, the full weight of what is in that cup and what it means, but the Spirit renews me with each new person, steadies my hands, gives me a voice and I see a kindred spirit in meeting each person’s gaze. 

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Many find strength and comfort in this weekly ritual.  For others it is daunting.  Communion can be a great divider, which is not its intent or purpose.  Communion’s very meaning is intimate rapport and fellowship.  It is the one place in the worship service where an invitation to join is extended, and it is the most crucial part of the service where it is necessary to feeling accepted, but has the greatest propensity to divide.

In whatever manner, whatever time, whatever place, we are welcome. 

For some, it is hesitance in acceptance, or a discomfort that they will “do it wrong”.  It takes a certain amount of courage, a willingness to put yourself out there and be open to scrutiny in order to approach the Lord’s table.  For others, who have been to the table many times before, it can be too hurtful to lay yourself bare to the healing power that communion can bestow on you.  The overwhelming feeling of standing up and receiving God’s ultimate gift can feel like it will crush you if you already feel far away and unprepared to receive Him.  However, God never stops inviting us into communion with Him.  If we believe that this table was set for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, then we are prepared.  If we believe, we are worthy.  In whatever manner, whatever time, whatever place, we are welcome. 

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It is extremely gratifying to me that our pastors here at Saint Luke take time every week to try and alleviate our anxiety, expressing that everyone is welcome, wherever you are in your faith journey, NO EXCEPTIONS.  That this gift is for YOU and for ME, it is for ALL.  Because the moment that gift of the bread and wine is given to me, and I partake, all the anticipation, the anxiety, and the weakness in me disappears.  God renews me.  God gives me life and salvation.  I am calm, and I am strong.

It is simple. The bread, the body.  The wine, the blood.  Believe and you receive.  Sin makes us weak, forgiveness makes us strong.  Come, join us at the Lords table, where ALL are welome, NO exceptions.

 

May we come to the table because we are perpetually invited. May we come to the table celebrating the God comes near to us.

 

Jodi is a long time member of Saint Luke and currently serves as Councilor for Worship & Music. 

 

How to Savor the Summer with Kids

Parenting is an exhilarating, challenging, hilarious, exhausting, beautifully messy responsibility and honor. This can be especially true as the long summer days seem to start with the tiniest ray of sun creeping into our window and extend until the fireflies dance the moon to bed.  Whether your days as a parent are spent bandaging up boo-boos on toddling knees or laying awake listening for your baby to shuffle into the house at curfew with their adolescent grace, summer can feel both wonderfully and painfully infinite.

Yet, however long these summer days may feel, before you know it these short months of sweet summertime with be replaced with backpacks, books, and freshly sharpened number 2 pencils. 


The Ice-Cream Truck

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In the summertime, there is something magical that occurs when a child is outdoors, playing with neighbors, soaking up the sunshine…. and then is struck temporarily motionless by the distant melody of the soon arriving ice-cream truck.  Quickly shaking out of their stuper, barefeet take off through the grass, burst into their homes and announce the imminent arrival of the ice-cream truck. They scrounge or plead for change, and if successful, just as quickly disappear, filled with hope and anticipation. 

The following moments are filled with smiles and laughter, as those children attempt to savor their ice-cream before the hot summer sun melts it away & even once those summer treats are long gone, the sticky fingers tell their story.

As parents, we can learn from these kids. We can be parents delightfully savoring summer before it slips away and creating “sticky” memories that last a lifetime.

Here are 5 ways to savor your summer and make some sticky memories…

1. Be Present in the Moment

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As a parent, life continues to go on, even in the summer time. There are projects at work, aging parents to care for, and bills to pay. It can be challenging to recognize a different pace in our children’s lives, when our pace has not changed. To better savor the summer, try to carve out some unhindered, unplugged time with your kids. Make your to-do list and then set it aside for some undivided memory-making time with your kids. The work will be there when you return. However, what will also be there is the love and value that you communicated to your child by showing them that they are a priority, worthy of your undivided attention.  

2. Try Something New Together

A great way to create a “sticky” memory with your kids is to do something new together.  You will always remember the first time they put their toes in the ocean, the first time they paddled a canoe, the first time they crossed the monkey bars, or the first time they explored the big city. There is a pretty good chance that they will too, and their memory will involve you!

3. Participate in Play

Whether it is pretending to be a pirate with your preschooler or shooting hoops with your middle schooler, “playing” can be a challenge for some parents. It can feel unnatural to be so uninhibited. We may feel more comfortable on the sidelines, cheering our child on or snapping a photo of their silly antics. However, play is the work of childhood. Try to step out of your comfort zone this summer, and join in this central part of their life.

4. Make the Most of the Mundane

Unfortunately, mundane tasks such as grocery shopping and yardwork do not take a summer vacation. Yet, kids can be invited into these daily chores during the summer time and can have a blast while doing so. Teach your child how to cook their favorite meal. Make a game out of cleaning. Grab some gardening gloves and make something grow together. 

5. Read Together

Over the summer, many children regress in their academic skills. You can make an effort to not only avoid this summer slide, but make some great memories this summer by reading together. Perhaps you establish the habit of reading together every night before bed for the remainder of summer. Maybe you read your teen’s favorite book and they read your favorite book from when you were their age. You could even grab a stack of books and a blanket, and have a little reading time outside under a tree, on a porch swing, or in a garden. Sometimes a change of scenery makes all the difference. 

Whatever you choose to do, savor what's left of summer. Soak it up, share some smiles, and make some “sticky” memories with your kids.  

 

May this be the summer that your children reflect back on and say with beaming smiles “Remember when we…”

The Whys of Worship: Word

In observation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we continue in our series of posts titled "The Whys of Worship," exploring the Worship form used for generations: Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending. In our first post we focused on “Gathering.”

In this post, guest blogger, Roberta Menapace walks us through the role of the Word in our worship. 


As someone whose mind tends to convert ideas into songs, I’ve been humming the tune to Amy Grant’s “Thy Word” ever since I started considering this topic.  She sings: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path”.  This simple statement captures the reason why we need to hear the Word every time we worship.  As Christians, we strive to live our lives according to God’s will.  We want to be disciples of Jesus by continuing the work He began during his brief time on Earth.  We pray that the Holy Spirit will fill us with the courage to go out into the world and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Yet, despite our best efforts, we always fall short.  Our humanity keeps us rooted where we are, comfortable among our many friends and possessions. 

When we come to worship, we gather with others who also desire to hear the Word.  Sitting among a community of believers, listening to the Word of God, is a powerful experience.  Yes, we can, and should, read the Bible on our own.  But hearing the Word during worship, singing the Word in songs and hymns, and delving deeper into the Word during the sermon, help us to really live the Word.  God’s Word becomes a lamp unto our feet as we venture out into the larger world. 

 

John begins his Gospel with this very idea: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:1-5

With these verses, John gives us the essence of the Gospel story and our reason to worship.  Simply put, the Word of God is life and light.  By not only hearing the Word but taking the Word to heart, we become the life and light of God.  We walk out into the larger community as stewards of Christ, shining the light of His love into the dark corners of the world.  We need the Word of God to lead us, encourage us, and sustain us every day. 

Increasingly, we seem to be bombarded with news of divisiveness, hatred, and violence.  It becomes harder and harder to be a light in the darkness.  It almost feels as if our own light is dimming.  Yet our mission as the Church is to be the light, the light of Christ’s love for the world.  When we worship together and hear the Word, we strengthen our love for Christ and each other.  Together our lights illuminate a path for us, and others, to follow out of the darkness.  Thanks be to God!

 

God, our light in the darkness, through Your Word we are put together. Shape us for the work ahead, that we may be a beacon of Your love and hope to the world around us.

 

Roberta Menapace has deep roots in the community of Saint Luke and currently resides in Toronto. 

THREE Reasons Why ONE Matters

Earlier this year, over 200 people traveled to Washington DC with a commitment in their hearts to helping people living in extreme poverty.  They joined with others from all walks of life: college students, faith leaders, full-time mothers, community activists, veterans and many more. As different as each individual was, they were united in their cause. They were convened by the ONE Campaign to meet with over 200 members of congress and their staff members with the goal of asking them to protect life-saving programs in the this year’s international affairs budget.

Similarly, just last week, nine volunteers from Saint Luke helped the ONE Campaign gather support from over 1,200 people attending a Philadelphia concert by the band U2. Concertgoers added their name to a letter insisting that life-saving programs for the world’s poorest people are not forgotten by our elected leaders.

Regardless of where people fall across the political spectrum, we can work together for change. As ONE co-founder (and leader singer of U2) Bono said during the concert, “We’ll find common ground by reaching for higher ground.”

Today's guest blogger, Pastor Matt Staniz, is one of the hundreds that has gathered with ONE Campaign. To him, such advocacy is a vital part of living out both Christian faith and civic duty as citizens. Here’s 3 reasons why...

1.     It’s the Right Thing to Do…and the Smart Thing, too!

Our faith insists that God is with the vulnerable and the poor. That simple truth gives shape to our sense of right and wrong. We are challenged every day to see the face of Jesus among “the least of these” and to respond with compassion and courage. Supporting work that saves the lives of the world’s poorest people from preventable diseases and the cycle of extreme poverty is demanded of us as people who seek to be followers of Jesus. It is also, however, a very smart strategy to stand behind: the work to end extreme poverty improves the global economy for everyone and is also vital to reducing the power of violent extremism. Most importantly is the simple fact that all of this is accomplished with less than one percent of the U.S. budget!

 

2.     So Much has Been Accomplished

Less than 20 years ago, it appeared that parts of Sub-Saharan Africa would never survive the crisis of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Because the progress made since then, over 18 million people are receiving life-saving treatments, up from less than 1 million people. Equally dramatic decreases in deaths from malaria and tuberculosis have also occurred during this same time. Last year, a new global strategy was enacted that can virtually eliminate deaths from preventable disease by the year 2030 if the world remains committed to this life-saving work. This massive progress has opened new doors of opportunity in recent years that is focused less on responding to crisis and more on building a sustainable future. In 2016, we saw the passage of the Electrify Africa Act that will bring electricity to at least 50 million people for the first time. We also saw the passage of the Global Food Security Act that creates new avenues to make a sustainable response to hunger and childhood nutrition. Millions of lives have been saved, but we must remain committed to continuing this work until the cycle of extreme poverty is eliminated.

 

3.     This Work Empowers our Ministry in Africa

Like many faith communities, Saint Luke includes in our mission work the goal of extending the reach of God’s grace around the world. We are partnered with Mikanjuni Lutheran Parish in Tanga, Tanzania and our shared ministry is growing and thriving. The lives being saved are those of our sisters and brothers in Christ. The communities that are being transformed from death to life include people that we have a direct relationship with. As increased access to education becomes possible in Tanzania, our relationship with Mikanjuni has already resulted in the beginning of the Saint Luke Mikanjuni Nursery School and the creation of scholarships at various levels of education through the African Education Program. Members of Saint Luke have become direct sponsors for students in Tanzania. Such ministry will continue to show God’s grace and change the lives of people in Tanzania as well as here in Pennsylvania. All of it, however, remains dependent upon continued commitment to the fight against extreme poverty!

 

I invite you to join me in this ongoing work by visiting www.ONE.org and adding your voice to this important work. Your voice matters. I need your help as members of Saint Luke and churches around the world to be an advocate for the world’s poorest people. If you have read this far, you are the right person to be a leader in advocacy work. 

 

May God give you the courage to stand when no others will stand. May He give you boldness to raise your voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.  May He use your hands to bring His healing to this broken world. 

 

Special thanks to guest blogger, Matt Staniz. Matt Staniz is the Pastor of Youth, Family & service at Saint Luke. 

 

Made in the Image of God

It’s way above my pay grade to understand why the Creator made race in the first place.  I’m quite confident it was not to create conflict, stress, and general confusion.  We seem quite capable of all those maladies without race considerations.

How about if everyone was simply the same--tan? What would it be like with just the Tan Man or Woman?  There are examples albeit not perfect ones.   Just ask anyone who served in the military.  You don’t care about the race of the person who has your back – just that they are there and doing their job.  But perhaps a more perfect example is children.  I recently spoke to a Caucasian woman who had adopted an African American child who at 4 years old had come home very confused, wanting to know why someone had told her that her mother could not be white.  “Why not?” she innocently asked.

There is something more meaningful than race. Something more central and true to each identity. It is the Creator. He has created each person in His image and that truth should drastically change the way we see one another.

In the first example, someone learns that race is meaningless and in the second case someone has not yet learned that it is supposedly meaningful – striking in their juxtaposition. 

Genesis describes that God created man in His own image.  In letters of Paul, he says at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 that: “For now we see in a mirror darkly, but then we shall see face to face”.

When we look at the man or woman in the mirror (Michael Jackson where are you?) we see ourselves but we also see an image of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Maybe we don’t have to imagine too hard what it might be like if there were only Tan ones.  God’s world doesn’t have enough time for the frivolity.  Let’s look in the mirror and remember who we are.

 

Loving Creator, you have made us each with love and care, declaring us good. Remind our hearts of who we truly are. Give us glimpses of You in each person we encounter and teach us to we treat one another with the same value that You see in us.

 

Special thanks to guest blogger, Ken Daly for today’s post. Ken is a long time member of Saint Luke & has served in a variety of roles in the congregation including Council.

 

 

The Whys of Worship: Gathering

Worship is an ancient practice, and after Jesus' death and resurrection, believers gathered to remember and support one another.  They did not have a temple or synagogue as a place to come together but they understood from the beginning that gathering together was most important.

Worship form today echoes the form they came to use:  Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending. 

In observation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, for the duration of the year, we will be featuring a series of posts titled "The Whys of Worship," covering these four areas. This first post is focused on “Gathering.”

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Gathering begins as believers and seekers come together to experience God, to be met by God, in sacred space.  Worship is not about what we do but rather what God does, to us and for us.  We gather because we need to meet God in the company of others, to publically confess our sin and need for forgiveness.  We come seeking renewal by God’s grace as a community expecting God, active in our individual and in our communal lives.  We come not because we are prepared and perfect; in fact we come for the opposite reasons.  We gather as we are and as best we can to receive God’s promises declared in Worship. 

In Gathering, a prelude helps us focus on worship and prepare for sacred time as we confess, and hear forgiveness, (remembering our Baptism) we sing together, we greet one another in Jesus’ name, and we offer a prayer that collects the themes and images of the day’s lessons. 

 

As you prepare to GATHER at worship next Sunday, remember:

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“I am a part of something larger than myself”

As we gather, we are not only connecting with others in our local congregation but we are a part of the larger body of Christ gathering across the world. We also are grounded in rich tradition with roots of faith that span centuries. Take a moment to thank God for those you gather with, for our brothers and sisters gathering down the street or in countries far away, and for those that have paved the way, walking the path of faith before you.

 

“We grow best in community”

This is one of our values at Saint Luke.  Who has invested in your faith? Perhaps it was a Sunday School teacher that sang songs of Jesus’ love with you, a confirmation leader that patiently helped you navigate through your questions about God, or a neighbor that welcomed you into their life sharing with you their story of faith? It is a gift to grow together. Be on the look out for ways to nurture the faith of those around you this week. 

 

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“God is gathered with us”

With this great reality in mind, as you gather for worship consider these two simple questions:  “What is God doing?” Pay attention. Notice Him among you. Then, reflect and ask, “How do I respond?”

 

 

May you be awestruck by your place in a faith spanning centuries and continents. May your heart be enriched by those in your life and may you too enrich the lives of others. May you gather together knowing that God is with you and may His presence fill you with great joy.

 

Special thanks to Liz Harmon for her contributions to this post. Liz serves in a variety of ministries at Saint Luke, including Nifty Fifty and Needles & Pins.

A Beginners Guide to Labyrinths

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May 6th is World Labyrinth Day! For those that are not familiar with this holiday (or what a labyrinth is), it is a day in which the ancient tradition of walking a geometric pattern, known as a labyrinth, is practiced by many around the world across a variety of faith traditions. At first glance a labyrinth may appear like a maze. However, a labyrinth is not something that one needs to solve. There is no pressure to successfully navigate one’s way through winding twists or turns. Instead, it is an ancient symbol that reminds us of the simple reality that life is a journey and invites us to thoughtfully engage with God each step of the way. There is only one way in, one way out, and no dead ends. One simply follows the path and will eventually find their way to the center, and then follows it back out. Along the path, one can learn a great deal about how they travel through life and about God. 

Often times, labyrinths are explored as a contemplative exercise that can help create space for relaxation, meditation, spiritual reflection, and prayer. As one journeys through the curves of the labyrinth, the walk along the steady path may quiet a racing mind, help one find more balanced footing, and allow for us to more clearly hear direction from God, our guide.

There are many approaches to walking a labyrinth. One classic pattern is that of the 3 R’s— releasing, receiving and returning.

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Releasing- As you enter the labyrinth, you simply let go. You allow for your anxious thoughts, cluttered to-do list, and the business of life to slip away. If they pop back up in your mind, you simply let them go again. 

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Receiving- In the center, you wait and listen. What might God want you to hear today? What might He open your eyes to see? Perhaps a new idea, fresh feelings about a situation, or a gentle reminder of a truth your heart needs to hold on to. 

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Returning- As you walk the path back out, you quietly reflect on your experience. What does it mean for you to take that gift with you back into the world? Allow yourself to be full of gratefulness for the journey God took with you. 

Again, there are many ways and places to take your labyrinth journey. For those in the Devon area, Saint Luke has an outdoor labyrinth available for you to explore! You can also find labyrinths near you by checking out the World Wide Labyrinth Locator.  Some people's labyrinth journeys do not involve walking at all. Instead, they might use a printed or knit finger labyrinth, which they trace with their finger. Check out this ELCA fact sheet about labyrinths to learn more and to get printable patterns to use yourself!

Regardless of how you choose to travel, we encourage you to try out this ancient practice. Perhaps even consider joining us tomorrow at Saint Luke for a World Labyrinth Day Walk. You never know what you might discover along the way. 

Walk with us on this journey, Lord. Steady our legs when we wobble. Direct our feet when we seem to lose our way. With every step, remind our hearts of Your presence. You are our guide, our traveling companion. You are the Way.