WiFi... spotty... must... post... while standing in a tree, holding phone into the sky...
This week’s scripture readings are all about temptation. Did you choose to fast from something during Lent? Have you felt the temptation to do, or eat, or drink that thing this week? I know I have! This week’s Wednesday video comes to you from the current state capital of temptation. Click play and see!
This is the first in a series of videos that are intended to go along with our Lenten Devotional Practices for families of preschoolers through high school. I hope these will spark a discussion in your family that leads you somewhere interesting. Don't forget to snap a photo of your devotional time together and post it to social media with the hashtag #CTSLent. Don't forget to tag us - and follow us if you don't already!
GRATEFUL & THANKFUL
I transferred to Christ the Servant from another nearby church around 7 years ago. I came alone and was very timid entering a new place (I sat out in the car for a while getting the courage to come in). But once I entered, I was welcomed and put at ease. Everyone was friendly and made me feel part of the group.
I began getting involved in as many groups as I could to get to know people. The groups then became my family.
I love the Sunday services. They provide a time for reflection, learning, and beautiful music. It is a time not to be entertained, but a time to participate.
I love the people and enjoy the time we spend with each other as we worship, and as we reach out to others in need. I am grateful to those who step forward and teach, as we learn and grow in our knowledge and faith.
I am grateful we have such a wonderful staff to lead us: Pastor Jim, John & JT, along with Betsy who does a wonderful job in keeping it all running smoothly.
We learn (Sunday school, Bible classes), we work (Kairos prison ministry, feeding the hungry), we worship (not only on Sundays, but special Lent & Advent services), and we laugh (a lot!).
Thanks be to God,
Following Ken Smith’s inspiring example, I want thank Pastor Jim, Betsy Riggs, and everyone on the Church Council for their generosity, compassion, and understanding as I served as President of the Council last year. Many of you reading this have also done the job, and I very much appreciate the help given me by past presidents, especially Kathy Riggs, Carolyn Kirk, and Kyle Cooper.
So much of the work we do to serve others is hands on. I guess that’s why they call it God’s work, our hands. Council members not only meet once a month to keep the church on track, they also lend a hand.
JT and Ken Smith led 2019’s God’s Work, Our Hands service project; Bryant King made us all safer with his CPR and AED training; Joannne Dumler worked closely with JT on Sunday School; Emma Chanimbaga kept track of our monthly attendance and offerings, making detailed monthly reports; Linda Siegele made an impact for years to come, putting together our new church directory; Susan Collins’ work perfectly lived our name as Treasurer; John Krueger made sure all things musical (human and machine) built a solid musical foundation for our services; Chandler Wilhelm steered the Long Range Planning Committee, strengthening our financial foundation; Betsy Riggs kept all of us in line and informed, selflessly lending her ear and assistance; and Pastor Jim’s presence constantly reminded us to remember why we serve on Council.
I’m thankful that I was able to meet so many in the congregation that I may not have otherwise come to know. I learned that going to the “other service” now and then painted a more complete picture of our family. I profited greatly from support voiced by so many in the congregation, and I’m going to follow that example by offering my support to Chandler and the rest of the 2020 Church Council.
Finally, I want to thank God for Christ the Servant. Was it luck that made my brother call Pastor Jim in the summer of 2015 to ask if he used screens to project the words of the songs used in the services? Was it just lucky that Pastor Jim said we’d never have that as long as he was here? I don’t think so. Sounds like the Holy Spirit to me. I only planned to come with my dad for a few services until he felt comfortable enough to come on his own, then I met Pastor Jim. Those few services turned into years of worship, solid new friendships, and opportunities to serve at a most wonderful house of God. For that, I’ll always be grateful.
Thanks be to God and to all of you.
No longer President!
This is the first in a series of entries written by the people of Christ the Servant to express how participating in the life of the church has been meaningful and valuable to them. Please continue to check back for more stories of people living our name with passion and purpose. If you have a story or testimony you'd like to share, please let us know using the contact form on our site!
I want to write a too-belated, yet ever and always current Thank You to Pastor Jim and the Congregation of Christ the Servant. As the cold days of January 2019 brightened into warm days in March the constant and vigorous prayers, numerous visits and phone calls from Pastor Jim and many others in the Congregation saved my life. I was dying. I was diagnosed with just about every malady known to humankind, from acute kidney disease to advanced heart failure; hallucinations to near blindness. I know that the combination of your prayers and God given abilities to practitioners of medical and therapeutic arts and science not only saved me, but reversed most, possibly all, of my afflictions. I was taken apart but put back together. Doxycycline is the drug that killed the bacteria but your prayers led doctors to diagnose a rare infection and your prayers led directly to my healing and bodily restoration.
Christ the Servant has been a constant blessing in my life since I first learned about it in 2007 thanks to a work place conversation with CTS member Pam Beaver. Those blessings have multiplied exponentially since. To paraphrase the Gospel Writer of John, “… so many blessings have come to me from life with Christ the Servant Lutheran Church that if I tried to write them all down I’d never finish.”
Thank You Pastor Jim, Thank You Everyone, Thank You Christ the Servant.
Day 3 - HASK
Sorry for missing yesterday's update!
Your humble correspondent had to finish writing a paper for Seminary that was due at midnight.
That won't stop me from saying what an amazing day we had on Wednesday. A little tired and sore from two projects the day before, we made our way over to the west side near Chelsea to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen (HASK). HASK has been providing a daily lunch for whoever needs it since E.T. was in theaters. That's 1982, folks. If my math is correct (and it hardly ever is) that's more than 8,800 days (with weekends off) that they have served great food to their community. And they are certainly a well-oiled volunteer machine. We joined a room full of regular local volunteers, and were partnered up with them so we could get up to speed quickly, which we did. As soon as the doors opened we were off to the races. For the next several hours we worked non-stop making plates of food on an assembly line, filling and handing out cups of tea, running plates to and from the kitchen, and taking tickets at the door. When all was said and done, we had served 981 meals - more than both projects the day before COMBINED.
It was great work. A few thoughts that struck me:
- The Church of the Holy Apostles runs the HASK in their sanctuary. A few years ago they had the floors replaced with a beautiful tile, and removed all the pews in favor of stackable chairs so that every day they could fill this room with tables and with their hungry neighbors. During the week they serve a free lunch. On Sundays they serve the eucharist. They feed body and soul in the same room. It's all about tables, friends. All that to say - this ministry is not relegated to some side room or old fellowship hall that isn't as nice. No - they are offering their very best (see the picture above) to those in the worst positions.
- Not everybody that ate lunch at HASK was homeless or even impoverished. Some people live or work close by, and just came to eat because the food is pretty good and costs nothing. AND THAT'S OKAY - because we all need to be together. Heck, if I knew of a place close to Christ the Servant that served a decent free meal every day - you could ALWAYS find me there. (Except on Tuesdays... because Antonio's.)
- Live music. Since the lunch is served in the sanctuary, there's a piano that is played by a volunteer throughout the course of the meal service. It completely changes the atmosphere in the place. One day they had a string quartet and the crowd was so moved that they kept standing up to applaud during their meal. Like the NYC Rescue Mission who has the amazing chef cooking their meals, HASK has given their best to those who have the least - because we all should.
After this we had our first opportunity to see some of the city, so our group split up to see a couple of sights. Some of us stuck around and ate the same lunch we had been serving. Some of us ventured out to Times Square, and some of us had tickets for a show, but after 2 days of hard work, we had earned it.
Day 4 - Back to the NYC Rescue Mission
What you're looking at in this photo are the faces of people who know they have just finished their last project for the week. Today we went back to the NYC Rescue Mission (see previous post) to do a different kind of work. Some of us worked on meal prep for lunch and dinner in the shelter, and the rest of us worked making the beds ready and scrubbing the showers! I personally chopped so many squash (squashes?) that I think I may have developed a condition called "Chef's Shoulder" from the constant repetitive motion. It's a cross I'm happy to bear. This day was different than most days, and it taught us a valuable lesson. Today was the only day we wouldn't be working directly with the people we were serving. We wouldn't look into the eyes of the people who ate the food we were preparing. We would never know the names of the people who slept in the beds we made. We would never see the...faces... of the people using the shower we scrubbed clean. You don't always know who will benefit from the good you do - but you do it anyway. Today we were rewarded with a great lunch by our new friend Chef Pedro Rodriguez. That dude can cook. Afterward, just for the heck of it, we shucked an entire bag of corn.Because, why not? After cleaning up, we showed ourselves out, but not before posing for this photo. We walked toward downtown near the 9/11 memorial before splitting up to do some more exploring in the city.
To cap off the day, here's a great story.
The Blockhus' (DJ, Tina and Colleen) were the first ones back to the apartment tonight. Around 8pm they got a knock on the door from about a dozen French travelers. They had rented the apartment below us and next door - but the key to the place wasn't in the lockbox when they opened it. When they called the company the apartment owner was using to manage the rental, they said they couldn't help them. It looked like these 11 pilgrims would find themselves without anywhere to sleep on their first night in the city. DJ tried a couple of ways to help them try and figure things out, and at one point he considered inviting them into the apartment where at least there was cold AC and water to drink. After a little while, he looked outside to check on them, but they were gone. Perhaps they made it inside their apartment, perhaps they went to the Hilton. Who knows. DJ said he may have even considered letting them crash on our floor, but he said he didn't want to decide that for our whole group, since 7 of us weren't home yet. But after all the talk we have been doing about our theme of radical hospitality, I'd like to think that we'd have all been ok with it. I'm kinda wishing he had invited them in. That would have make a great story!
We have no projects tomorrow. Some of us are visiting Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty. Some of us are catching a movie and a museum. Abby and I are going to the museum, to the park, and having lunch with my old best friend from elementary school, who I haven't seen since. We'll all be spending one of our days making memories together as families. We have plans to meet for one last dinner together in the city (provided none of us wins the Hamilton lottery), where we will toast to our friends back home at Christ the Servant, and look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
Grace + Peace,
Abby, Colleen, Elizabeth, DJ, Jonathan, JT, Marsha, Randy, Susan and Tina.
Two great projects today!
1. Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Church. (established 1850!!)
We spent the first part of our day cutting vegetables, cutting butter (?), pouring salad dressing and apple juice, and dishing out cups of fruit in preparations for a daily lunch that is served there. around 11 a.m., they threw open the doors to anybody in the city who wanted to come in and eat. All we asked of them was their first name, and that they return the tray they had been served on. The pictures above tell the story of a hard-working group of friends who had fun serving together, and serving the community of the Lower East Side. After the lunch was served and put away, they rolled out the shelves full of groceries for the food pantry ministry they also host. Our group lead the staff at Trinity to a record-setting day of helping people stock their pantries with food for their families. By the time it was over at 2 p.m., we were whooped! But we still had about 2 hours before our second project of the day started.
So we did what anybody else would do...
We went to Little Italy.
We enjoyed a great late-afternoon meal and saw a section of the city that was previously unknown to many of us. By 4:30, we were back on the job at our next project location:
2. New York City Rescue Mission. NYC Rescue Mission is the second oldest shelter in the world, and the oldest in the United States. Now THAT is knowledge we didn't have before we arrived there. More fascinating trivia? The building they are in used to house the Manhattan Project! These days they use it to feed hundreds of hungry and struggling folks from the streets of downtown New York. They also have 120 beds for men, and (since just a few years ago) about 30 beds for women in an overnight shelter they run. They also do job-services and addiction recovery ministries. But the reason we were there? More food preparation and service. What's that? More trivia you say? Okay. The head chef at the NYC Rescue Mission is an amazing guy named Pedro Rodriguez. You might recognize him from season 17 of the hit TV show Chopped. Here's a clip of him on the Rachael Ray show. Here, we served some of the most beautiful, well-prepared food to hundreds of people, some of whom had checked into the mission to stay for the night. We worked the food line, ran dishes, served dessert and drinks, and welcomed people with friendly faces.
All told, we served over 600 people today. As Abby put it - "more than half a thousand". It sure feels like it. It's the first day, and I am already beat. Many of us are tired and sore. Others are glimpsing tomorrow's soreness and not looking forward to it. But we are joyful in the new friends we have made, the work we have done, and the insights we have gained. We're only one day in, but we have lived our name - Christ the Servant - with passion and purpose today.
Tonight during the debriefing, I asked the group what insights they'd had about the day, and what they wanted you, our congregation to hear. Here are a couple of take-aways.
- Often when you go on a trip like this to bless others, you end up being the one who is blessed. We were offered God's blessings countless times today from people much more in need of a blessing than we. It was humbling.
- We hope that this experience will open our eyes further to the plight of the hungry poor in our own city, and move us toward those people and places that are serving them most passionately. We hope that those of you back home will give of your time and resources to WHAM, the Beacon, Star of Hope, Houston Food Bank, Katy Christian Ministries, or countless other local services that you don't have to travel to participate in.
- Our judgmental notions about what it means to be impoverished in this country are being challenged. I hope it will spill over into other areas of my life!
- Finally (and personally) we have been too busy to follow any of the TV coverage of the current political convention - a fact for which I am eternally grateful. I have filled my soul with something life-giving rather than life-draining and it has been for the better.
More news tomorrow, as we head over to the Lower West Side near Madison Square Garden to serve at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, and some of us enter the lottery to win cheap tickets to the Tony Award-Winning smash hit musical Hamilton. Fingers crossed that if we win, we won't be too exhausted to attend.
Grace + Peace,
Elizabeth, Jonathan, Susan, Randy, Colleen, Tina, DJ, Marsha, Abby and J.T.
Well, like the old song says, we left today!
We arrived at our airport in Newark, New Jersey at about 3:15, and were greeted by one heck of a rainstorm! It reminded me that Houston has seen simultaneously too much AND not enough rain recently. The city was beautiful during rush hour after the cleansing rain, and the drive to our accommodations took more than an hour. After we got settled in we decided to stay close to home and have dinner at the Tavern directly below our apartment. Over dinner, we reflected on the sermons at Christ the Servant these past two Sundays.
Just yesterday, Pastor Jim remarked that the story about Abraham and Sarah entertaining the three guests was about hospitality. So also was the short gospel reading about Mary and Martha. When Pastor Jim said that Last Week's "Merciful Samaritan" story and the story of Mary and Martha were twin stories, a light went on in my head.
The Abraham and Mary/Martha stories are about what it means to show radical hospitality to someone in your own home. The "Merciful Samaritan" is about what it would look like for us to show that same radical hospitality to strangers wherever we may encounter them.
I think that's a perfect theme for our mission here in the city-so-nice-they-named-it-twice. Here we are, far from our own homes, on a mission to show radical hospitality to the homeless, poor, and hungry of this city. I hope it will open our eyes to the plight of the homeless, poor, and hungry of our own city.
But I hope we will take it further than that. I hope we will look for opportunities not just on our jobsites - but in the street, and in restaurants, and on the subway - to be a neighbor to someone who was a stranger a moment ago.
At dinner tonight, DJ Blockhus mentioned that in Bedouin societies - itinerant, desert-dwelling folks - that if you saw someone traveling across the desert, you were bound by duty to invite them into your tent, feed them, water their camels and show them hospitality. Even if it turned out to be your sworn enemy, you wouldn't ever turn them away in that moment. Because life is too hard, and we need each other.
I, too, have a sense that life can often be hard. It can feel like an endless desert we've been cursed to walk through.I hope that we will all look for opportunities to offer love, and grace and peace (and food!) - even to those who we would normally consider enemies.
Be strong and courageous. More tomorrow
JT, Abby, Marsha, DJ, Tina, Colleen, Randy, Susan, Jonathan and Elizabeth
Each week after Sunday School (except last week - sorry!), we post a follow-up question from the day's lesson for students to interact with.
Here are this week's questions, from the story in Session 4 - Exodus
(reference the book of Exodus, chapters 1–5 and 7–15, if you need a refresher).
In what ways do you think we (you) are like the people of Israel from these stories?
Why do you think the Jewish people still regard the Passover (Exodus) as one of their most important stories?
Enter your thoughts into the comment space below.