Tuesday, October 25, 2011

T-3 Days

Today was spent in the church basement. The church basement is at least 10 degrees cooler than the upstairs. It was cold, but that didn’t dampen my energy. I was hard at work to transform the youth room into outer space for this weekend’s High School Retreat.

The retreat theme is “Out of this World” based on John 15:16-19 which says:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

The High School Retreat will be made up of youth from six different congregations all from around Alaska including towns of Homer, Funny River, Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, Eagle River and Chugiak. I never realized how much goes into a three day event; food, activities, decorating, Bible Study, schedule, transportation, budget.

Food in itself is a feat. Planning meals and coordinating volunteers to make the meals, making sure there are enough utensils (as the church does not have all of the cooking necessities), etc.

The service project was another great task. The youth are helping at the local senior center to run games, and serve snack for the Halloween festival where kids have an alternative to trick-or-treating in the cold. Phone tag back and forth with the activity coordinator at the senior center has been an ongoing process but we finally got it nailed down.

Then there are activities including the mixers, large group games (that tie in the theme), and coordinating with the local pool for a swim time (doubles as shower time since the church has limited showing facilities).

Also there is Bible study. Each Bible study (one for each day) has been assigned to a DCE (myself included) and is written by the leader that day. The Bible Study is specifically for the retreat to match the theme. For me it takes a great deal of effort, as I want it to be fun but also have the youth be able to take something away from it.

Those are some of the behind the scenes things but I want to tell you specifically about decorations as this is what occupied my time at the office today. Working with a limited budget, and due to the outrageous cost of shipping things to Alaska much of the stuff we use for decorations or prizes is hand made. This way it is just the way we need like/want it to be custom made to fit the size of wall etc.

Two large butcher paper strips taped together, and painted

all laid out...

This is what the wall looks like before...
...and this is what it looks like after
Sweet! (one black light on the bottom table and two hanging from ceiling)
For the theme I wanted to create and outer space backdrop. I really was inspired from my older brother’s room as he had black lights with glow in the dark stars. I took this idea and put on large strips of butcher paper florescent stars, and painted (with special glow in the dark paint) dots to look like stars. Planets were printed on the computer (I’m not that crafty) and then pasted onto the large black paper.

I then hung black lights from the ceiling near the backdrop. This makes the florescent stars, colorful planets, and glow in the dark paint pop! My electrical skills were pretty sweet too. I strung and extension cord above the ceiling tiles to where the black lights are.
Black lights on the ceiling=a success
I also decorated the hallway leading in with florescent stars and black lights. Tomorrows project will be to make a path with rope lights on both sides of the hallway (sort of a portal to space feel), and then I am going to hang regular white Christmas lights from ceiling to act as "stars" twinkling.
Hallway-soon there will be rope lights too
With the black lights..the picture doesn't do justice because it's way cool
On the side of the room opposite to the giant space backdrop there is a large projection screen. On the screen  4 different images taken from google search of outer space pictures from the Hubble Telescope will be projected. I also plan to play this awesome sci-fi, space type music, to set the mood.

The star sheets that will be hung over the windows, and the screen where the Hubble Telescope pictures will be projected.

More pictures to come tomorrow when I get my stars (Christmas lights), and rope light portal installed. T-3 days until retreat blast off!

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Life in National Geographic

Today in the minimal amount of time I spent in the office (the majority was spent in the doctors office getting my sinus infection/ear infection figured out) there was an interesting scene out my window.

Last night a group from the congregation came in to process a moose. Several times a year moose are killed by cars and our church is on the lottery list so that when our number is called we can have it and process it for  the church's food shelf. I helped with one earlier this year, you can see the story at an earlier blog here.

The leftover parts were dumped in back of the church and it led to a squabble between some ravens and two bald eagles. I shall tell the stories with the pictures and their captions below as pictures tell it better than I can check it out... 

(Click on any image to view it larger)

First there was one Bald Eagle...
And then he brought a friend
And they mingled with the ravens...

Until the ravens encroached on the moose meat... 

And the Bald Eagles let out a warning call...
And chased them away...

ALL of them...

They both got the meat they wanted...

 They're pretty bold

NW District Conference: The Final Day

Today was the final day of the NW District all workers conference. We were a part of this thing called a “case study”. Each participant at the conference was assigned a table number. They tried to split it so there was, at least, one pastor, one DCE, and one Lutheran Classroom Teacher (LCT) at each table. I was table number 47. I was the only DCE present amongst 3 other pastors including Pastor Brandt from Zion Lutheran in Anchorage. We were the only table with two Alaskans so that was exciting.

The “case study” consisted of playing a tape of leaders of the church such as a pastor or volunteer and talking about their perspective. It was interesting to hear. One of the “case studies” had a pastor who was “sermon focused but not a people person” while the other was “people and outreach” focused but had little concern for sustaining current membership. After listening to each recording our tables would discuss what we thought.
Another case study we listened to was a leader who was “my way or the highway” who “did everything herself” while the opposing leader “waited for others to take ownership” which would sometimes result on no action. It was interesting to hear the view points of the pastors, and LCT’s at my table.

After the case study sessions we drove back to Portland. We made a quick stop at the Cheesecake Factory for lunch and then left on the plane. One the plane ride back I slept most of the way. When we began to make our bumpy decent (which I’m told is typical for winter in Alaska), my left ear refused to pop.

I tired yawning, chewing gum, plugging my nose and blowing, swallowing water. NOTHING helped and as we neared landing I was brought to tears because of the intense pressure which was excruciatingly painful. This had never happened to me before. I have been on plane rides many times before and been just fine. My right ear was fine but my left ear would not budge.

Jamie gave me her stuffed pig which I pretty much squeezed to death because the pain was so intense. After landing and getting our luggage my ear still would not pop. I got home and thought that perhaps overnight I would sleep and the pressure would equalize.

Sleep did not come. It was so painful. I took Tylenol and then went on the internet to find a way, ANY WAY, to relieve the pain and pressure. I stood on my head, sipped water upside down, and chewed gum, swallowed marshmallows NOTHING would work. I finally fell asleep somewhere after 5:00am. I awoke to my alarm but had only been sleeping for a couple hours and the pain still present.

I went into work in the later morning and Pastor urged me to go see a doctor. Living in Alaska and having a private insurance company from Minnesota presents a major headache.

“Your physical address is in Minnesota?”
“Yes” I replied
“And your billing address is in Minnesota?”
“Yes” I said again
“I’m going to need to see some ID and make a few phone calls…”

After over an hour of waiting they finally figured out my insurance. I swear, if I was bleeding from the eyeballs they would not treat you until they have insurance figured out. My patience was running low from lack of sleep and intense pain but I eventually saw a doctor.

Come to find out, I have a sinus infection and my left ear (the one that couldn’t pop) had an ear infection. To relieve the pressure then made a small incision in my ear to equalize the pressure from my inner and outer ear which brought me IMMEDIATE relief! Things still sound underwater but at least the pain is gone! PRAISE GOD! They gave me some antibiotics and ear drops to prevent infection and now that it’s the end of the work day—I can BEGIN the “To Do” list which accumulated from being gone for a week. At least the pain in my ear is gone :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NW District Conference Day 3

Today was day three of the NW District all workers conference. The morning was filled with lecture by our keynote speaker Rev. Jack Preus. The lecture itself was okay but the opening the floor for questions was long. Since we were on such a roll they decided not to take the half hour break. Needless to say it the topic of discussion we never really got to but rather tip toed around the subject at hand. Do not get me wrong, it has it's place but I feel table discussion would have been more beneficial as it would have engaged more people rather than one person talking and one person (the same expert) answering the question. Needless to say After the four hour morning of large group session I was ready for lunch.

For lunch us Alaska DCE's headed down to the beach. Larry, Gretchen, Jamie and I found a swing set conveniently built and we took the opportunity to relive childhood memories and swing. We then walked out to the water. It was colder today 55 degrees, and windy on the ocean shore. The shore was covered with green alge and a goo of some sort.

green goop-we thought it was a jelly fish but Larry said it wasn't
Larry examining the goop. It was everywhere along the beach.
The Pacific Ocean
Represent Alaska!
Jamie, me and Gretchen on the beach swings
After the beach we had lunch at a quaint little place called Tsunami sandwich Company. On the west coast they have a special brand of cheese called “Tillamook”. In the Tsunami  Sandwich company shop they serve all their sandwiches with Tillamook Cheese which is made in the town of Tillamook, Oregon. It was quite good. The best part was when I found out they had huckleberry ice cream. Huckleberries are a west coast berry and the last time I had huckleberries was on St. Matthew’s Mission trip to Shoshone Base camp in Idaho when I was in high school. It was delicious, and is my favorite ice cream of all time.

YUM! Huckleberry ice cream!
In the afternoon we had our break-out sessions which were very good and applicable to me. My first session was about the partnership between and Lutheran church and Lutheran school and how the two work together, yet separate. Someday I may work in a congregation with a Lutheran school so I found it very informative.

The second session was on sharpening your vocation. It talked about five steps to identifying if you are in the right place and how to best utilize your talents to the service of others. It was the best session of the day and once again very applicable to me and my future in ministry.

We then went out for an early dinner since Gretchen had to be back to help with evening worship. A group of thirteen Pastors, their wives, and DCE’s went out to a restaurant called Bigfoot’s Pub and Grub.

Greeting with a smile.

Todd with the Bigfoot Burger it's HUGE!
On a side note the Bigfoot headquarters is located in Oregon. The restaurant had a whole menu with facts built into it on Bigfoot sightings etc. Apparently the NW district is Bigfoot country. The restaurant also contains museum type set up with displays and facts. One of the featured items is the "Yeti Burger" it's huge and contains 1 pound of ground chuck, ham, egg, cheddar and Swiss with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickle and special sauce. Two people, Todd and Joe, at our table ordered it but only Todd finished.

After supper we dropped of Gretchen to prepare for evening worship and Jamie and I hit up the outlet mall and got baby Gavin some cute clothes at Oshkosh B'gosh.

We then went to evening worship. It was way cool as ALL workers (Pastors, DCE's, Deacons/Deaconess', and Lutheran classroom teachers were present). The Concordia University Portland choir was there to help lead worship. It was a lot of singing but it was a great mix of contemporary and traditional style which was greatly appreciated. We all communed and the whole convention center was filled with the Holy Spirit, quite literally.
Concordia Portland Choir.
After worship it was a time of fellowship which had drinks, and dessert. I met up with Natalie Duran a graduate of Concordia St. Paul who is now a Lutheran Classroom Teacher in Anchorage Alaska. We were both tired, as she just flew in today with what was a long day of missing flights and waiting on standby. But she was here and it was great to see her. Once a Lutheran always a family :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NW District Conference Day 2

Today was day two for me in Oregon. We woke up early to drive from Portland to Seaside. This is normally an hour drive but it took two hours due to traffic. Traffic leaving Portland was bad but not near as bad as the oncoming lane for those commuting into Portland. The drive was gorgeous. I kept saying I felt like I was in Brazil (I’ve never been to Brazil but it was like what I’d imagine Brazil to be like). There was a constant dense population of very tall evergreen trees. Most of them had thick moss growing up the trunk. It was incredible.
Morning Traffic leaving Portland
We arrived in Seaside and hit up the outlet mall for a couple hours before checking into our hotel. After check in we headed to the Seaside convention center for the opening session of the NW district all workers conference.

Our hotel is LITERALLY across the street from the Convention center

The theme this year is “Walking Toward Oneness” based on Ephesians 4:11-13. The opening two large group sessions were led by Rev. Jack Preus. In each of the two hour session he presented on unity vs. diversity and whether one is good or bad and how as church workers we can embrace diversity without losing the unity of ONE theology, that is the Word of God. The presentation was good. After presenting he opened the floor for questions and comments and I must admit it got a little long as the pastors got into deep debate. Perhaps it’s because I’m young and see things in a different light but some of the questions posed were not as complicated (to me at least) as they made them out to be.

After the large group sessions we had a break for dinner. Jamie, Gretchen and I went to a quaint little place called McKeown’s. Three pastors also accompanied us. Pastor Brad (Seattle, WA), Pastor Mark ( Bremerton, Wa), and Pastor Matthew (Des Moines, Washington). It was great to converse with them. They are all young pastors within five years of just finishing seminary. It was great to talk with them about everything from the future of the LCMS, to the new generation, to sports.

Out to Dinner
After dinner we headed back for the highlight of my day. We broke into our group sessions ie: DCE, Pastors etc. All of the DCE’s at the convention were together in one room. THAT was more like it. I sometimes feel like DCE’s are the lost crowd. We are not pastors so the “pastoral talk” does not quite fit us. We are not teachers so all the “schooling talk” does not fit us (although we are directors of Christian EDUCATION) so one might confuse us as such. We are also not deacons/deaconesses. I was conversing with my fellow DCE workers and we discussed how we do not fit in with the LEA (Lutheran Education Association) conventions, nor pastoral conventions, we are a group all our own. Because we are all our own I think that sometimes people don’t know exactly what it is that a DCE does.

With that said it was very refreshing to have time just for DCE’s to be together. We broke into groups of three, and got to know each other on a smaller scale. While I was meeting people I found out just how small the world is. Of all people to meet I met Tracy Prescher (former MN Camp Omega Program Director) who is now serving in the Northwest District at camp Perkins in Idaho. Who would have thought? I also met two other people from Minnesota, one of whom grew up in Pipestone just an hour away from me. I guess when you are in the Lutheran world one is never far from home.
Tracy and I
After the evening break-out session we moved into evening Taize worship. Taize is a worship of meditative singing and scripture contemplation. Taize is held every Tuesday night at Concordia St. Paul and I rather enjoy this service so it was refreshing to be apart of it once again.

Taize this evening was exactly what I needed. I shall now delve into the deep life of an intern. Being an intern sometimes the wellness wheel is not always in balance. What I mean by that is that as a spiritual leader, sometimes one lacks being spiritually fed. Although I do not hold a Pastor position there are very few worship services where I can actually be present in front of God. Often times its thinking about what song I'm leading next, or if the Children's church volunteers have all their supplies, or what I'm teaching after the service for high school.

Taize this evening was FANTASTIC. I got to simply BE. Maybe it was the channeling energy of the service setting back at CSP, or perhaps being surrounded by hundreds of church workers, but it was overpowering.

Taize began with silence, something that many of us lack. I think that we are afraid of silence, but tonight, together as a NW district we got to EMBRACE the silence. Then altogether we silently read Psalm 78:1-6...

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.

After that people called out a word or phrase the stuck out to them. It was neat to hear what was chosen. We then went into a time of confession by singing a South African Folk song "Senze nínah" which means "What have we done" God really was working through those around me mainly Gretchen who tonight God used to enhance the worship experience through simply her singing next to me.

After that we went into prayer where we sang Kyrie Eleison after each petition. At one point the worship leader opened a time for people to speak out loud a name, or word (not a full, flashy prayer) but a simple word, as God knows what is on our heart. This was overpowering! Some people whispered names or words while others spoke more loud, but the room was filled with petitions prayer, and it led me to goosbumps. I cannot describe it but it was overpowering.

Worship ended in speaking together the Lord's Prayer. Something about so many clergy workers in one room, with one prayer, is amazing! I left feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the world.

After worship all NW District workers were invited for an evening of fellowship. I got to meet so many pastors both within Alaska and outside, and also got to continue conversing with some DCE's I met earlier as they gave me words of wisdom and encouragement. All in all it was an extremely good second day at the NW District All workers conference. I can't wait for tomorrow.

Monday, October 17, 2011

NW District Conference Day 1

This morning I awoke with victory! The mouse who has been making a ruckus was caught in the trap! I was happy. I finished packing and then was off to the airport. Jamie Walters, and Gretchen McCullough (DCE's from Palmer and Homer) gave me a ride and are my two mentors for the trip.
No more Mr. Mousey!
 After we got through security a large crowd of Alaska Pastors and DCE's gathered at gate C1. For all you Minnesota folk (specifically Mankato Area), I got to meet Pastor Andrew Richie who transferred up here from Mankato and is now serving at Anchorage Lutheran.
Alaska church workers including a plethora of pastors in the background.

Leaving on a jet plane...

 The plane ride was an adventure. It was, in my short life, the WORST plane ride I've experienced as far as turbulence goes. I have not flow a ton but this was bad. The pilot came on several times saying he was trying to find the best pocket (altitude) to fly at as the plane went up and down. They had to stop service of serving snacks and beverages because the flight attendants couldn't stand up or control the cart even with the cart breaks applied.

There was also a baby on board who cried for the greater portion of the flight. I give the mom credit as she was doing everything possible but nothing could soothe the crying baby. Nothing until there was the worst patch of turbulence and then the infant quit crying at least for some time. It was not all bad because after a half hour of crying it became background noise.
Leaving snow capped mountains
 The pilot came on again saying that the turbulence would continue for another 45 minutes, and it did. After that there was mild patches but nothing as severe as that 45 minute spell. Three hours later the pilot pointed out Mt. Rainier which was a sight to behold as the largest mountain in the state of Washington. Although Mount Rainier is an active volcano, as of 2010 there was no evidence of an imminent eruption as it's last documented eruption was between 1820 and 1854.


Mount Rainier

Mount St. Helen & Mount Hood
After landing in Portland we left the airport and checked into our hotel. Then, the three of us (Jamie, Gretchen and I) went shopping. We hit up Ikea, Ross, and went out to Buffalo Wild Wings. While driving around one thing I did notice was that fall is just beginning here, where as in Alaska fall is at the very tail end.
Leaves just starting to turn color

After that we went back to the hotel for a short while and then met up with Carlee (One of Jamie's youth) who is a student at Concordia University, Portland. It was interesting being on campus. It is small like CSP, and they have a brand new library like CSP (except newer). They also have old dorms like CSP. There are lots of similarities but one thing it lacks is the iconic Luther statue.

We took Carlee out for dessert at McMenamins Kennedy's School which is an old elementary school that is now a restaurant and hotel.
Carlee, Jamie, Gretchen and I. Dessert time!

Tomorrow we get up early and drive from Portland to Seaside, OR. The conference itself starts at 1:00pm. It will be a time of fun and learning. I'm can't wait. Stay tuned...