Trinity had partnered with Living Waters in Chicago a couple of years ago and had a great experience. This year, I didn’t expect a text that I received.
The day after our group arrived, my phone beeped and a photo appeared in my inbox. It was a photo of Sam, sent to me by Lisa Jeffreys. Lisa works in the Southeast Michigan Synod. We’d worked together, and become friends, working on the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. I had no idea that Lisa was working with the Living Waters program this summer.
I saw the text, and I smiled.
And a couple of days later, Lisa sent me another photo, this time it was Sam, standing arm in arm with a good friend and mentor, Pastor Kelly Chatman, from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, who was also in Detroit with Living Waters this week.
I found myself moved emotionally, by seeing these photos. I mean of course, it’s alwaysgood to see the smiling face of your son. But beyond that, I loved the fact that Sam was there with his friends from Trinity…with our adult volunteer leaders…and now with my friends from ministry; from the Network.
It is powerful because when Sam ran into Lisa…into Kelly…when Sam was present with the youth group, and its amazing adult leaders, he is experiencing the promises that God made to him in the waters of his baptism. This week, Sam is experiencing what it is to live among God’s faithful people.
When Sam met Lisa…when Sam met Kelly, he was experiencing the family of God. My friends became his friends. The son whom I love met the friends whom I love.
Thank you Lisa, for being a friend. Even though we only chat occasionally, and I really only get to see you at the Extravaganza, I am so glad that Sam gets to experience you this week. Thank you Kelly, as much as you’ve been a fantastic powerful influence on my life, I’m so glad that Sam has had the opportunity to spend some time with you as well.
I’m reminded this week of what it is to be church. We are all interconnected. We all share a mission. We are all, whether we’ve met or not, connected in a relationship that is centered in Christ. I’m reminded of what it is to be Network.
I’m reminded what it is to be the people of God.
Thank you for being who God called you to be. Thank you for being people who I want my kids to get to know, and spend time with.
And thanks be to God, for creating the church, this place where we are all connected, in the name of Christ.
In 1996, there was a crew of about 20 people working to put together the first “Extravaganza” (named that year the “Ex-strato-ganza” because it was at the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas…clearly we were headed for marketing greatness). The whole event was put together on a dime and a prayer. There pretty much was no budget.
“Who can we get to come and speak? And to do it for free?” we wondered. We threw out invitations to a bunch of folks that we knew people would want to hear from.
One of the first people who called us back was Paul Hill. He said “of course!”
Paul has been a leader in children, youth and family ministry within our church for decades. First as a camp director in outdoor ministry, working as a team leader at the ELCA Youth Gathering (he is the man who introduced zip lines and rope courses to the interaction center), helping to give vision to Wartburg Seminary’s “Center for Youth Ministries,” teaching at Luther Seminary and then taking the helm at Vibrant Faith Ministries, Paul has been on the front end of innovation within our church.
Paul has led trainings, written books and spoken throughout the church.
And Paul has always been a strong supporter of the Network. He’s enough of a believer that he’s totally willing to give praise when things are really going well, and he’s also willing to share his concern if he thinks the Network is moving off of the rails. He does this because he cares about the Network and its future. Believe me when I tell you that I’m grateful for both forms of communication from Paul. I have always paid attention to what he says because he is wise.
I’ve always appreciated Paul’s eye for the bigger picture. He initiated partnerships and working relationships with other denominations and traditions, learned from them and brought the best back to strengthen ministry within the ELCA. Likewise, he would share with them what has been learned within our tribe.
Speaking personally, I’ve always been grateful for Paul’s friendship and his mentorship.
Yesterday was Paul’s last day serving as Executive Director of Vibrant Faith Ministries. Paul is stepping into retirement. However, those of us who know Paul understand that for him, “retirement” is a relative term. Paul isn’t done. He is going to continue his work in researching the impact of outdoor ministry, and looking for new ways for the seamless journey of faith to become an even stronger reality within the church.
Thank you Paul, for saying “yes” to the Extravaganza back in 1996. And thank you for all of the “yeses” that you’ve given since then. Thank you for living out your beliefs, and for nudging the church in the direction of greater effectiveness. On behalf of children, youth and family leaders across the church, thank you for sharing your expertise. And on behalf of a whole host of us, thank you for your support and friendship.
God bless you on the next chapter!