I should offer my apologies to anyone who was distressed by the absence of a pastor’s letter in last month’s newsletter. Busy months come around from time to time, and we seek to respond in ways that are faithful to God, ourselves, and our many commitments. That’s always a dynamic balance, so things that didn’t happen one month can find time the next.

One of the things that happened in October was the opportunity for some continuing education time. The first Monday and Tuesday of the month, I attended a few of the 100+ workshops at the St Louis County Health and Human Services Conference. The keynote speaker was Llewellyn Smith, producer of Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? He discussed the power of stories – especially those told by the people closest to the situation – to change attitudes and reshape the world. This struck home for me in my roles as a service provider and as the primary teller of our community’s sacred stories.

One workshop dealt with “Hope As a Source of Health.” Research indicates that hope contributes to physical and mental health, and it is a basic ingredient for successful change in individuals and groups. Hope depends on “will power,” the sense that we can act with initiative and cause things to happen; and “way power,” the understanding of how things work and the resulting ability to see possible paths to success. My sense of our congregation is that we have a higher level of “will power” than of “way power” – we’re very strongly motivated to press through obstacles, but we have more difficulty seeing new ways of succeeding. This tendency may require us to invest more energy in imagining new strategies as we respond to changes in our world, but we can be confident of our ability to persevere in the face of challenges.

Two weeks later, I spent two days at Luther Seminary in St Paul learning about “The Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry.” This workshop drew on the Exemplary Youth Ministry study, an analysis of congregations that do particularly well at nurturing mature Christian faith in their young people. The simplicity of that criterion for success struck me deeply: “nurturing mature Christian faith.” This question takes the focus off of particular activities or models of ministry, and it sure doesn’t ask how many people participate in a given group. Rather, it asks a question that should be fundamental to everything we do as a church: do we nurture mature Christian faith?

As we look to our congregation’s future, I hope we’ll ask about how we can nurture mature faith, not only in our youth, but in our members in the second and third parts of life. Mature faith is thoughtfully and prayerfully engaged: we participate in study, prayer, and worship; we act it out in our homes and communities; and it shapes our decisions and relationships through a deepening sense that God is living and active in our world. We develop this faith through practice: prayer, worship, fellowship, and study. These are all things we already do, but their shape and the energy behind them comes from the basic goal, that of nurturing mature faith in all our members. I pray that we’ll keep asking this question as we explore new ways of being the church together.

In November, you’re giving me the chance to get away for two weeks. Leanne and I will be visiting her grandmother in South Carolina, then we’ll attend my brother’s installation at First Congregational Church (UCC) in Anamosa, IA. We will hold a hymn sing during worship on Nov. 8, and the Presbyterian Women will lead the service on the 15th. I’ll be back in worship on the 22nd – see you then!

In Christ’s peace,