For this round of pastor reports, we’ve chosen a “holiday” theme. What are we thankful for? And, like in Advent as we wait for God’s salvation and deliverance, what are we longing for God to do?
— Eric Muhr, youth ministries
Back when I taught high school English, I had lots of students who read books the same way they listened to music. They moved to the beat without paying much attention to the lyrics. Most of the time, I wanted more for them. I wanted my students to think about structure, to consider cultural context, to learn to identify the message underneath (and sometimes behind) the story. But not always. Some books should be danced to, not lived. For instance, Lord of the Rings.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this series. The journey together. The risk of the unknown. The battle between good and evil. The inner struggle of genuine selfhood, of discovery, of decision, of discernment. But there are other messages—cultural tropes—that have power to do real harm. And so I find myself relieved—and thankful in this season of thanksgiving—that NFC doesn’t have a Lord of the Rings-style youth ministry.
We don’t have spiritual gurus. There is no Gandalf, no “greatest spirit” among us. Instead, there is a community of youth ministers, people like Steve Sherwood, Sandra Fish, Michael Fawver, and Anna Lee in high school Sunday school. People like Nancy Fawver, Rich Brown, Sarah Kelley, Julie Anderson, Josh Reid, and Elaine Koskela in middle school Sunday school. People like Alan and Michelle Akins, Shealtiel Hart, Brogan Groth, Brodea Stanclift, and Anna Thomas in Bible quizzing. People like the youth themselves, who often teach us (and who sometimes teach each other).
We don’t have “one ring to rule them all.” There is no artifact—like a building or a creed or even the Bible—that rules us. Instead, we are a community of believers, seeking Christ together, discovering together what it means to be part of God’s family. It’s hard work that sometimes results in hurt feelings and real suffering. But it’s also work that helps each of us to grow up in Christian maturity, to experience freedom in Christ, to learn how community is something that strengthens us as individuals (not just the other way around).
Finally, we’re anything but a no-girls-allowed adventure. We are a community in which both young men and young women find a voice and a place of ministry in the church. We are a community that this summer sent Samuel Swan to minister in downtown Portland, Hayley Koskela and Brynn Akins to work in an orphanage in Uganda, Naivit Velazquez to volunteer with children at Camp Tilikum, Ezekiel Stone to help lead recreation at Twin Rocks Tween Camp, Matthew Staples as a member of the Servant Leadership Program at Twin Rocks Friends Camp, Micah Stoltzfus and Tristan Kern to help plan this year’s Surfside high school camp. And that’s just a few examples. From just one summer.
Looking back on where we’ve been over the years gives me a real sense of accomplishment. Looking forward to where we might still go together gives me hope. But it’s this community that we’re becoming together—who we are and who we’re becoming in Christ—for which I’m thankful. Because it’s no Lord of the Rings-style epic adventure. It’s something better.
— Michelle Akins, children and family ministries
This fall I’ve made a conscious effort to shift from groaning to gratitude. Those who have been around me in my less than “ready for prime time” moments know I excel in whining and audible expressions of displeasure (the deep sigh being my signature sound). What I mean by groaning is a focus on lack. Too often I look at the volunteer calendar for Sunday school and my eyes and heart see only the “volunteer needed” spots I’ve highlighted to attract attention. It’s worked all too well on my soul. I stare at needs instead of provision. I concentrate on where we fall short instead of spending time in praise for the people, relationships, and good works already in progress. And at times, it’s made me sick. It’s skewed my perspective and presented a false picture of the beauty that happens here at NFC every Sunday morning. Beauty happens. Grace, mercy, teaching, love, conversation, play, and hope happen. It happens in classes that are fully staffed and those that are struggling to find another teacher or two. God shows up in our lack and still provides holy experiences for kids and adults at NFC. Experiences that matter. Could we do better? Of course! As we celebrate Thanksgiving, then slide into Advent, I choose gratitude. I’m very grateful for the beautiful intergenerational worship that happens here at NFC in our children’s ministry. I choose to look with eyes that long for more but reflect gratitude for the gifts already given.
— Gregg Koskela, lead pastor
Coming back to work after sabbatical has been an exercise in thankfulness! I’m so grateful for several people and families who made our church their home while I was out this summer. I heard several variations of: “We’ve been coming a month or two and really like this community!” I’m thankful for Cara Copeland, Doreen Dodgen-Magee, Mareesa Fawver, Joseph Hampton, Mat Hollen, Kara Maurer, Polly Peterson, Paul Shelton, Elizabeth and Steve Sherwood, and Deana VandenHoek. These great people have given much time and creative effort to planning and leading our five o’clock gathering. I’m thankful for the ways Beth LaForce and Ron Stansell share their responsibility as clerks of our elders. I’m grateful for our stewards, who care deeply about our church, yet do not overreact to hard news. Instead, this group has a high degree of trust in God and faith in our church family that the resources our church needs to do ministry will be provided. I’m encouraged and blessed and challenged by the many examples at Friendsview of people who demonstrate thankfulness to God. Jim Clark and Alice Hines are just the two most recent examples.
What am I consistently placing at Jesus’ feet? What am I longing for God to do? I’m praying for someone to give leadership to our Global Outreach task force. I love the vision this group developed, to help each person in our church develop a meaningful relationship with an overseas partner; we now need someone to clerk the task force and continue that important work. Related to that, I’m praying for a whole new task force, a group that can help celebrate what our church is already doing in Local Outreach and to challenge us to go deeper.
I’m longing for God to increase connections and relationships between people in our church. Some have lots of good connections, while others still feel a bit isolated. I’m praying for new structures (new small groups? activities? something else?) to develop, and I’m praying for informal connections to happen, all prompted as we each follow what simple steps of obedience God puts on our minds and hearts.
But most of all, I am very grateful to be a part of this community called Newberg Friends Church.
— Cindy Johnson, ministry to seniors
As I ponder this Thanksgiving season, I feel grateful for so many things in my area of ministry: Just Older Youth. I get to do such a variety of things with them—pray, listen, laugh, hugs, or just sit and be still. And I get to help plan little trips for those who can’t get out very often.
Yet I long for more people from our community to feel a nudge to fellowship and be blessed by words of wisdom shared by our congregation’s older ones. It’s a win/win combination.
— Steve Fawver, spiritual health and care
This fall one of the gifts in my life is the opportunity to journey with some folks as we are reading the book Sacred Compass, by Brent Bill. This book has opened discussion, fostered worship, encouraged prayers, and produced wrestling for those in the group. How can we pay attention to God and follow the Spirit or “compass” in our lives? One of the sections that spoke to many of us was the following:
“The sacred compass leads each of us to the life only we can live. Our compass calls us to use the gifts only we can give. In a grace-filled way, our compass invites us into a life of continuous experiences of God and of spiritual transformation. As we move toward divine guidance, we joyfully behold the face of a loving God gazing back at us.” (Sacred Compass, p. xiv)
It is amazing to hear from folks as they share about times the way seemed clear and open as well as times of darkness and feelings of being lost. We have been discovering that God never leaves us on our own, but there are times when the path seems to disappear right before our feet. I am so grateful for a community of faith where it is OK to admit that journeying with God is not always a walk in the park, and yet, even so, God is faithful. My hope is that we can continue to find ways to be people who come alongside one another in both the times of celebration and the times of loss. How might you offer a hand of support to someone who is really struggling to see God in the middle of a dark time of life? How might you sit quietly with a friend, or even a stranger, as he or she is at a loss for words? My hope is that the NFC community can continue to be a place of honesty where we are willing to watch for God together while the sun shines brightly as well as when the fog rolls in.
— Elizabeth Sherwood, administrative pastor
It is so easy at this time of year to have a list of things for which I am thankful. There has been a flurry of activity with the various committees I get to be a part of, and I am grateful for the many folks who give of their time and energy to serve behind the scenes.
• The nominating committee has been busy listening, praying, and discerning who in our congregation might have the gifts and interests to serve as a Yearly Meeting representative or a steward.
• Trustees have been overseeing the progress on the lift and other major repairs.
• Stewards are keeping careful tabs on our budget and are doing the good work of communicating with the congregation regarding our needs.
• The cemetery committee has worked to welcome our new sexton, Mark Thompson, and has tackled projects such as a new fence for the wood ministry.
• The Yearly Meeting representatives have been charged with the task of leading our congregation through a discernment time regarding Faith and Practice. This group is leaning into that process with prayer and integrity.
I am personally energized to work with such quality people who embrace business as a form of worship and who acknowledge that in all tasks we can be led by the Holy Spirit. I look forward to these winter months to see how the good work of these committees continues to unfold and enrich our community.