Friday, December 28, 2018

A Letter about Zion

[This is one of the most difficult letters a parish pastor could find himself writing, and a member of a congregation receiving and reading. spt+]

                                        December 21, 2018
                                        St. Thomas, Apostle

Dear members of Zion, family, and friends of the congregation,

    Peace and all good.

    “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.…” (Psalm 126)

    Several years ago I realized that Psalm 126 had become my favorite psalm. This is partly because I have served this congregation called “Zion” ever since my ordination. The psalm begins and ends with rapturous joy. But in the middle you realize this joy is sung in the midst of despair. For some 2500 years, not a week has gone by without some of the children of Israel or the followers of Christ praying this psalm. And most of those years were not good ones for the city of Zion (Jerusalem).

    During this last year at Zion we have struggled to arrange our governing documents so that the congregation, with fewer people willing and able to take leadership and make decisions, could continue to legally manage its own affairs. Pending approval of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod Council at its next meeting in January, we have accomplished that.

    Anticipating that approval, the Congregation Meeting last November 11 elected four people — Linda Husby, Marian Meinert, Mike Schwindenhammer, and Becky Zentko — to the Congregation Council and approved a budget for the year 2019 — thus giving the Council authority to spend available funds.

    The meeting was then opened up for general discussion of Zion’s future ministry, following-up on discussions from earlier meetings. The conversation was frank and heartfelt, and included discussion of finances, building needs, and the continued ability of the congregation to support a pastor. At its conclusion, the congregation’s voting members voted to set Sunday, January 27, 2019, as the date for Zion’s last regular worship service. The Council has determined that service will begin at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, so that pastors and members of our sister congregations can also participate.

    This decision is but the first step in concluding Zion’s ministry, a mission first planted in 1882 by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church as a parochial and Sunday school at the corner of Easton and Hayes, which organized as the Zion congregation in 1894.

    To accomplish the next significant step, Zion’s Council has called for a Special Congregation Meeting on Sunday, January 20, 2019, immediately following the 10 am service. The purpose of this meeting is to consider a resolution to dissolve the congregation and to appoint trustees to oversee that process. All voting members are urged to attend this meeting. Voting members are defined in Zion’s Constitution as confirmed members who, “during the current or preceding calendar year, shall have communed in this congregation and shall have made a contribution of record to this congregation” — that would be the years 2018 and 2019.

    It would be after this meeting that the trustees — whom the Council recommends be the elected members of the 2019 Council named above — would provide for the sale and disposition of Zion’s assets. Because Zion is a tax-exempt, not-for-profit organization, there are strict Internal Revenue Service rules and federal and state laws regarding the disposition of the church’s assets. They may be sold or given to similar tax-exempt organizations (such as other churches, church agencies, or charitable organizations) or government agencies for a public purpose.

    But anything owned by the congregation is “permanently dedicated to an exempt purpose,” so property cannot be given to members of the congregation or others. Certain records and other historical materials will eventually be placed in the ELCA Regional Archives at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. The trustees will seek to honor the purposes for which things have been given to Zion, and your suggestions for suitable recipients or assistance in sales will be appreciated. Under our Constitution, at the final dissolution of the congregation — and that will take some time — any undisposed property passes to the Central/Southern Illinois Synod, ELCA.

    Members of the congregation will want to consider where to transfer membership. We will be providing information about nearby Lutheran congregations to assist you. We will also be arranging for continued pastoral care of those who are homebound or may be unable to arrange the transfer of membership. Details of these will be forthcoming.

    You are probably aware that I have been open to receive a new congregational call. But the process takes time and it is unlikely that I will have received and accepted a new call by Zion’s final services. Nevertheless I have tendered my resignation as Zion’s Parish Pastor effective January 31, 2019. I appreciate your prayers for the discernment of a new call and, if it is necessary, for an appropriate interim pastorate until then.

    “Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
    will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.”
                                                                    (Psalm 126:7)

    Faithful followers of Christ are not exempted from disappointment or sadness, worries or fears. We find these even in the tender Christmass story. But they are never the end, or even the focus, of the story. Over the next few weeks we will continue to celebrate at Zion the Holy Communion and hear the Gospel each Sunday at 10 am, as well as on Christmass Eve (for the 125th time!) at 7 pm. While, sadly for us, Zion congregation will soon no longer proclaim the Good News, the joyous message of redemption in Christ will still be proclaimed by those whose Christian Faith has been instilled here. Thanks be to God!

                                        Your servant in Christ,

                                        The Rev. Steven P. Tibbetts, STS
                                        Pastor and President

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

17 Years Today

It was 17 years ago today that Sebastian joined Pastor Zip's household. So I drove him to the Peoria Riverfront to see, behind the Museum, Seward Johnson II's 31-foot-tall painted bronze Abraham Lincoln.

The sculpture, placed here about a year ago as part of the Illinois bicentennial, is called "Return Visit," because not far from this location in 1854 Mr. Lincoln gave an important anti-slavery speech. With Lincoln is a "contemporary man" holding a copy of the Gettysburg Address.

Sebastian, my 2002 VW Golf GLS TDI, is nearing 196,000 miles. I still enjoy driving him, and I think he's looking quite good after 17 years in Central Illinois.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Thank You for Shopping at Sears

Last month Sears declared bankruptcy. Today's news is that the company hopes to sell most of its profitable stores, perhaps to its biggest shareholder, to keep the business alive. We'll see how well that works.

I started working for Sears after graduating high school in 1977. (That's me behind the thick glass of the Cashier's Cage in this Spring 1978 Polaroid taken by a sweet CSUN coed working in the stationery/photo department across the aisle at the Sears in Northridge Fashion Center.) We were an "A" store, ranking among the biggest in the company. When something new happened at Sears, Northridge was among the first stores to do it. As an accounting student at CSUN I read the Wall Street Journal, which helped give me some insights into the company. Such as, Sears was already in trouble.

Granted, Sears was still the biggest department store by any measure. But K-Mart was moving up and Sears was not responding very well. I remember a front page WSJ story describing Sears' plans to overcome the competion. And then a year or so later, there was another front page story describing Sears' new plan, replacing the earlier, unsuccessful plan. I recall thinking as I read that new story, "Wait a minute; that earlier plan hasn't even been implemented in our store yet."

Throughout the '80s Sears tried several different strategies. The one that affected me most was the creation of the in-store "Sears Financial Network," where I spent the last 2½ years of my Sears employment at Sears Savings Bank, the company's California savings-and-loan, at the in-store Northridge SFC (Sears Financial Center) branch. SSB's branch operations that weren't sold to Citicorp or California Federal Savings were shut down at the end of 1987, shortly before I started seminary. Yes, I helped close a bank.

Kmart never caught Sears. Walmart would pass them both, becoming the top retailer in 1990. Kmart went bankrupt in 2002, emerging from bankruptcy the next year. In 2004, Kmart bought the now obviously struggling Sears, so today's Sears Holdings Corpoation is, in a sense, really Kmart.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Among My Civic Duties...

Pastor Zip sneaking into a polling place?
Yes, I voted.

I have yet to miss an election since I was eligible to vote. The includes one primary election years ago when I lived in Van Nuys where the only matter on the ballot was a seat on the LA Community College Board of Trustees, a non-partisan office where the candidates were actor Jack Albertson's wife (the incumbent and a leader in the very liberal California Democratic Council) and an otherwise forgotten person who was a member of California's left-wing Peace and Freedom Party. Since then I've quipped that I once voted for a communist -- because she was more conservative than the Democratic candidate. Mrs. Albertson handily won her third term without my help. But I digress...

I arrived at the Neighborhood House, where the voters of my precinct (and two others) cast their ballots, about a quarter after four in the afternoon. Walking into the voting room, I was quite pleased to see people in nearly all the voting booths and a short line ahead of me. I was voter #247. That's a pretty good turnout for these precincts, which are reliably Democratic while having a low voter turnout. That suggests it could be a good election night for Illinois Democrats -- even better than the pundits have been expecting.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

It's Leif Erickson Day

Yesterday, a Monday, was the Columbus Day holiday. The Post Office was closed. Columbus Day used to fall on October 12, recalling the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus "discovered" the New World, but now the major holidays in the US usually fall on Mondays.

Today, October 9, is Leif Erikson Day, which commemorates the Viking pioneer who landed in North America some 500 years earlier. This photo is of the Norseman, a replica of the kind of ship he would have sailed. Here is President Trump's proclamation:
Presidential Proclamation on Leif Erikson Day, 2018

More than a millennium ago, Leif Erikson sailed across the frigid Atlantic and set foot on North America, likely becoming the first European to reach our continent. On Leif Erikson Day, we celebrate the extraordinary journey made by this son of Iceland and grandson of Norway with his crew and recognize the immeasurable contributions that generations of Nordic Americans have made to our Nation.

After converting to Christianity in Norway, "Leif the Lucky" set out to bring the Gospel to settlers in his native Greenland. During his extensive travels, he landed on the northern Atlantic coast, expanding mankind's knowledge of then uncharted territory. Centuries later, many Nordic families followed his example and set sail for America with the same determination and grit. After much struggle and sacrifice, these intrepid men and women arrived on our shores with hope for a better life.

Today, we recognize the descendants of immigrants from Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland for the tremendous role they have played in developing the indomitable spirit that defines the American people. Nordic Americans have traveled in space, crisscrossed the globe by single-engine monoplane, and advanced knowledge in science and engineering. Nordic Americans have won Oscars, Grammy Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, and Nobel Prizes. They have fought — and died — in each of our Nation’s wars.

We also reflect on the deep and enduring ties we have with the Nordic countries. They are among our greatest allies in the fight against terrorism, and they are important trading partners. We renew our commitment to continue strengthening these transatlantic relationships.

To honor Leif Erikson and celebrate our Nordic-American heritage, the Congress, by joint resolution (Public Law 88-566) approved on September 2, 1964, has authorized the President of the United States to proclaim October 9 of each year as "Leif Erikson Day."

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 9, 2018, as Leif Erikson Day. I call upon all Americans to celebrate the contributions of Nordic Americans to our Nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand eighteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-third.

For Leif the Lucky's discovery of North America, you can read this portion of The Saga of Eric the Red from 1387 (translated, of course). Or there is this more modern telling the life of Leif Erikson. While Leif himself only visited in the year AD 1000, Vikings from Iceland and Greenland soon settled in North America, as proven by the archaeological discoveries at L'anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, beginning only in the 1960s. But it seems that it was then a period of what we would currently call "global warming" (think farms in Greenland), and the outpost was abandoned as the pioneers went back to Iceland.

Oh, why October 9? According to the Leif Ericson Viking Ship organization [much of its site is currently broken, but this was their answer 11 years ago], October 9, 1825 was the arrival date of the first Norwegian immigrant ship, the Restauration, in New York.

So Columbus only re-discovered America. Which didn't stop me from visiting the replicas of the Niña and Pinta when they visited Peoria last year.

Note: This is an update of an earlier post from 2007.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Smiling at Vespers

My favorite evening hymn is "The Day You Gave Us, Lord, Has Ended" (LBW #274) partly because the fourth stanza always makes me smile:
The sun, here having set, is waking
Your children under western skies,...
You see, I grew up in Southern California, 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean. From childhood, when the Sun was setting for us, I've imagined it rising over Japan. But Japan ("The Land of the Rising Sun") is in the east, so (at least in my mind) the setting sun is waking children under eastern skies.

One evening I finally realized that the hymnwriter John Ellerton was from England, not California. And as a little boy he likely never thought he should be able to see the Sun setting behind Japan.
And hour by hour, as day is breaking,
Fresh hymns of thankful praise arise.

From a post of mine of a couple of years ago at ALPB Forum Online.

Friday, June 08, 2018

ELCA 2017 in Review

Here is the video just shown during the Central/Southern Illinois Synod Assembly, which reviews the year 2017 in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I must say, of all the videos the ELCA has presented over the years, I found this one very interesting -- on many levels.