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On May 5, St. John’s celebrated New Member Sunday and welcomed new families into our faith community. Read on to get to know some of them a little better and say hello next time you see them!

Courtney Veszi & Oszkar

I grew up in Alton, IL in an American Baptist church. After a long stint away from the church, moving abroad, and then moving back again, I settled in Saint Paul for a fresh start. My 4 year old son Oszkar and I moved here at the behest of my oldest friend Erin Weber-Johnson and I’ve been overjoyed to find a community of welcoming people that challenge me and my faith.

What I enjoy most about St. John’s is the intelligent way that faith is viewed. I look forward to investigating and deepening my relationship with God and the people here. The things that give me the most joy are, hands down, my son and creating meaningful art that inspires and touches those around me.

Originally published in the July/August 2019 Evangelist.

After limiting my exposure to the news and social media for health and sanity reasons, tonight at 11 PM I checked in after finishing some writing and there it was: “Trump insults heckler’s weight.”

The portly president telling someone in the crowd they could stand to lose a few pounds? I flash back to his comments about ”horse-face” women and his ruthless pantomime of a handicapped person.

Clearly, acting “presidential” has been left behind long ago,

But instead of screaming, I just feel like crying.

Every single day, there is another outrage, a new insult, another scathing blow to an individual or group. My reaction is visceral.

When I try with all my heart to listen to 45’s supporters, the vast majority of the time they start talking about Obama. Where can you possibly go with that?

If I wanted to, I have the lessons to work with on Sunday to blast away at the Washington insanity. The Gospel talks about Jesus promising to bring division, not peace. In fact, he’s furious, almost out of his mind with anger about what he has to go through and the state of the world.

Me too.

I am so defeated by the constancy of it all that I am worn down, like I have PSTD. So I will focus on to the equally-scathing epistle (talk about violent language!) with its beautiful concluding words about the “cloud of witnesses,” that is people who have helped us know how to live. Three people who exemplify character, courage and creativity for me: “A Nun, a Bishop, and a Sinner”. Not one of them meek and mild.

The thing is, there are people who are upset on Sundays if the preacher isn’t traditionally “spiritual” enough and gets into political* (I would say moral) territory. There are others who are upset if the preacher ignores it. There are people who see church as a refuge from the world and others who see it as a place to confront the world.

So you say a few prayers, lead with the Gospel and follow the prompting of the Voice within that you just can’t ignore. None of us is cavalier about this, I assure you. We agonize over these decisions.

See you in church.

Barbara

(*And if you’re worried about these words are too “political,” expect a little tutorial Sunday on the separation of church and state. I’ve done research.)

 

Episcopalians believe that we shape our faith through interactions with Scripture, Church teachings, and our own reason and experience.

We will be working with two of the three this fall in Bible Study on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month from 10:00 until 11:30 at St. John’s in the library.
Facilitated by the Rev. Barbara Mraz, the group will be working with the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday.

Everyone is welcome but, if you haven’t done so already, please email Barbara to let her know you are coming.

Pictured is Barnabas, probably at a group studying Scripture.

Be like Barnabas.

Come to Bible study.

barbara.mraz@ymail.com

By Beth Bowman and the Rev. Craig Lemming

Stories are incredibly powerful. They connect us to each other. They surprise us, delight us, and move us.

We all have stories to share. When we share our own real-life experiences with others we come together in new and authentic ways.

In our shared life of faith at St. John’s, when we listen to the sacred stories of Holy Scripture, when we liturgically and ritually remember the story of God’s radical love for us in Holy Eucharist, and when our own sacred, personal stories of deep joy or harrowing struggle are shared and heard, our spiritual identity unfolds and deepens with authenticity and grace that is palpable, genuine, and inspiring. We recognize profound spiritual truths which connect us to one another and our spiritual ancestors through faith stories that knit us together as beloved children of God who are made in God’s image.

We plan to curate, share, and preserve the faith stories of our St. John’s community by partnering with American Public Radio’s StoryCorps platform. StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project of recorded audio interviews. Their mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.  It is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. StoryCorps interviews usually take place between two people who know and care about each other. A copy of each interview is archived at the Library of Congress for future generations to hear, and we would like to make the recorded faith stories of St. John’s available on our website as well. In support of St. John’s strategic goals and priorities, we hope to engage, curate, share, and preserve the faith stories of our members.

In recent StoryCorps surveys, 81% of listeners were reminded of their shared humanity; 80% helped see the value in everyone’s life story and experience; and 71% became interested in thinking about how society could be improved. By participating in this project, we will each have the opportunity to have an extraordinary impact on the lives of one another and the lives of all the people we welcome into our community of faith.

Please join us on this storytelling adventure! Contact Beth Bowman (bethbowman@mac.com) or the Rev. Craig Lemming (craig.lemming@ stjohnsstpaul.org) to find out more information about serving as an interviewer or sharing your faith story.

 

Originally published in the July/August 2019 Evangelist.

 

 

What Can We Do?

We are people made of body, mind, and spirit, and it is important to intentionally care for each of these aspects of our whole selves when we’ve been traumatized or hurt by the events around us. News of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton and the ongoing struggles of immigrants and asylum seekers has left many of us numb, horrified, and grieving — and longing for something to do or a place to turn next.

Here are three resources offered as pastoral care to your whole self: a reading for your mind, a rally for your body, and prayers for your spirit.

 

Reading:

The Reverend Daniel Romero, a pastor in the United Church of Christ and the minister for Faith Formation at First Congregational Church of Minnesota, was our guest preacher at our annual Summer Picnic with Holy Apostles on August 4th at Lake Phalen Park Pavilion. Daniel is deeply engaged in the work of community organizing and activism for immigrant rights and immigration justice in Minnesota. He is an outspoken advocate for immigrants, refugees, and those seeking asylum in our country, and has become a powerful leader in the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration (ICOM) and the Minnesota UCC Immigration team.

Click here to read the full sermon from the Rev. Romero.

 

Rally: 

Minnesota Capitol: Honor Them with Action
A Rally Against Gun Violence and Hate on Wednesday, August 7 from 7-8:30pm at the Minnesota State Capitol South Steps
Stand up against gun violence and hate at this rally co-sponsored by Protect Minnesota and MN Moms Demand Action. We will honor recent victims with calls to action, demanding meaningful gun reform by Congress and our state legislature. Minnesota Gov. Walz, gun violence prevention champions from the legislature and Minnesota’s congressional delegation, student activists, and leaders from law enforcement, immigrant and faith communities will be among the featured speakers calling for immediate passage of stronger gun laws. This rally is co-hosted by the ISAIAH coalition, one of St. John’s Faith in Action partnerships. WEAR ORANGE!

To view the full details of this rally, click here.

 

Prayer:
Daily Morning Prayer is held each weekday at St. John’s from 8-8:30am in the Chapel. The readings and prayers invite us to steep ourselves in the themes of the Christian faith and listen for the voice of God speaking to us.

We offer this prayer for our troubled spirits:
Loving God, you are the author and sustainer of our lives. You know the anguish of the sorrowful; you are attentive to the prayers of the brokenhearted. Hear your people who cry out to you in their need; strengthen their hope in your lasting goodness.We pray for those who have died because of vile acts of terrorism. Draw them to yourself; let your face shine upon them. May they be greeted with choirs of angels and experience your eternal peace and joy.Be near to all those who have been touched by terrorism: those who have been hurt, lost their loved ones or lost their sense of security. Be for them a steady comfort and safe resting place.Soften the hearts and steady of the minds of those who would do violence to others. May hate be replaced with love, violence with peace, and darkness with your light. Amen.

 

Source unknown-possibly The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet- Los Angeles Province

 

If you have pastoral care needs or prayer requests, you can always reach out to the church staff or clergy, including Craig Lemming or Terry Dinovo.

 

 

 

 

by Barbara Mraz

An older Hmong woman tries to seat herself at the picnic table and has to force her leg over the seat. I nod and smile at her, like “Me too.”

Did she smile back at me? Is there an instant of connection here? I’m not sure. Walking among the tables later, I try to make self-disparaging comments about myself (“I’m always dropping things!” Gotta love dessert, right?”) but no one responds. I feel stupid. I so want to connect……

It’s the annual picnic for St. John’s and Holy Apostles, a primarily-Hmong congregation in St. Paul. We’re in the picnic shelter at beautiful Lake Phalen on a Minnesota-perfect early August day. I imagine the Feeding of the Five Thousand was on such a glorious day. We would probably have enough food for them, too.

I arrive here battered and teary after hearing about the second of the shootings last night in Ohio. I haven’t felt this vulnerable since 911. No one really wants to talk about it with me it so I mentally regroup, still sensing how vulnerable we are in such a gathering. God, I hope that is not the new normal…

Yet it is a glorious sight: Hmong people are sitting at picnic tables next to European-Americans and a few African-American people; the celebrants are a Hmong-American woman named Bao and Craig from Zimbabwe (he of the majestic voice); a young musician named Richard from SJE is accompanying the singing, along with a Russian from Belarus named Sergei who is playing the accordion; a very tall verger – Bob–in a knee-length verger ensemble towers over the four acolytes from Holy Apostles. Across the table from me is a woman who recently was a regular at the 8:00 service but now has lost her sight. The preacher is named “Romero” and greets us in Spanish and gives an inclusive invocation evoking several religions.

On the surface at least, we are Diversity Personified (maybe not economically though) and I breathe it in as my German-Norwegian ancestry recedes a little from its usual dominant Minnesota position. It is a relief.

The service is accompanied by the sounds of children playing outside the shelter and women talking while preparing food in the nearby kitchen; clouds of smoke ascend as the barbecue grills cook hamburgers for the picnic; Lake Phalen glistens in the sunlight; voices in two languages blend as we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

There is a sweet sweet Spirit in this place today.

The Martha’s are in the kitchen preparing food and laying it out; the Mary’s are in “church” – superficial distinctions, to be sure. A soft breeze blesses us as we listen to the Rev. Daniel Romero a UCC clergyman and tireless worker for immigrant justice. He mentions the sacred Episcopal name “Whipple,” in connection with the Whipple building at Fort Snelling which is now used by ICE to hold and process immigrants for deportation several times a month, information which elicits an audible gasp from me.

It is a masterful sermon with cringe-worthy statistics. Rarely do I throw twenty bucks in the offering plate unplanned, but the Rev, Romero brings me to this point where I feel I have no choice. I go up to him after the service: “I’m a pretty good speaker and a decent writer and I have time. What do you want me to do?” There is a gracious response. He thanks me. He will be in touch soon.

I am intrigued by Sergei, who is the resident musician at Holy Apostles. I can tell he is Russian Orthodox from the way he crosses himself. Sergei, I find out, has been here since 2006, having to leave his family in Belarus because there were only funds for one person to emirate. He worked to establish a place for his wife and two daughters and also to get together the $1000 a piece for “the papers” necessary to bring them here, finally in 2016. He is a composer and has much of the thoughtful melancholy I associate with Russians I have known (“It’s all about the money,” he tells me, referring to the immigration process), as well as artistic flair. Playing the keyboard, his hands dance.

We send forth the pilgrims: campers from Holy Apostles headed for the Boundary Waters; Sheryl and Jennifer, going to the St John’s Clinic in Uganda.

It is an international world here today.

I am sitting at a table with Marv and Sue and I ask the older Hmong woman sitting next to Marv about something on her plate. Struggling with the language, she says it is cabbage and proceeds to give me a bunch of it. And then some to Marv. And to Sue.

Later I tease Marv about being in the clean plate club. In a few minutes he has an egg roll on his plate. His Hmong neighbor is softly giggling as she keeps putting food on his plate whenever it’s empty. A small but genuine connection here and I try not to make too big a deal of it but I am loving it very much.

This is such a fine day but I can’t help but think that the people heading for the Walmart or to the streets of Dayton thought they were in safe territory, too. And yet we are so vulnerable to the next crazed white male who comes packing heat and sprays bullets around like confetti at a birthday party. This seems like the elephant in the room and I wonder if we should all be talking about it openly. I would love to hear what some of the Hmong community think about this. Why do I not have the courage or energy to ask?

No I think the cabbage is a better strategy.

I feel like a Viking giant next to these short, compact people. I am trying not to loom or tower over them, to smile a lot, and to ask questions. I will ask even more questions next time (while not looming or towering).

And then Russian Sergei launches into “The Beer Barrel Polka” on the accordion and we are in Minnesota again.

Discussing finances can be difficult, some would even call it taboo. However, money is a real topic in all of our lives and an important topic to address. A look through the Gospels shows us that Jesus had a lot to say on the subject of finances.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” – Luke 14:28

Deliberating money often increases our anxiety. We have noticed feelings of being overwhelmed and hopeless regularly arise during pastoral conversations that include finances. In her book, Integrating Money and Meaning, Maggie Kulyk argues that recognizing and naming the power and influence of money in our lives helps us live in a more balanced and peaceful way, both physically and emotionally.

“It is possible to find meaning there; we are not powerless.”

As a Pastoral Care and Spiritual Life offering, St. John’s wants to open up a conversation around personal finances, Finance First Fridays. Today we will start easy, with some practical advice to get you thinking about your personal finances. Future offerings may include spiritual practices for recognizing our own perceptions and tendencies around money, and developing new ways of approaching our finances.

We would also like to hear your money stories, tips, and resources. If you’d like to share please contact the church office. We hope this new series will be beneficial, and lead us toward managing money in a way that glorifies God, is good for others, and good for each of us as well.

 

5 Keys to Successfully Managing Your Personal Finances

BY MIRIAM CALDWELL  

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a magic formula or simple trick that allowed you to never have to worry about money or manage your finances again?

While that may not be realistic, there are some simple things you can do right now to improve your money situation. Try these five steps for successfully managing your personal finances. Another bonus? If you stick to these five tips, your financial problems may start to diminish, and you can start reaping the rewards of lower debt, saving for the future, and a solid credit score.

Detail Your Financial Goals

Take some time to write specific, long-term financial goals. You may want to take a month-long trip to Europe, buy an investment property, or retire early. All of these goals will affect how you plan your finances. For example, your goal to retire early is dependent on how well you save your money now. Other goals, including homeownership, starting a family, moving, or changing careers will all be affected by how you manage your finances.

Once you have written down your financial goals, prioritize them. This ensures that you are paying the most attention to the ones that are of the highest importance to you. You can also list them in the order you want to achieve them, but a long-term goal like saving for retirement requires you to work towards it while also working on your other goals.

Below are some tips on how to get clear on your financial goals:

  • Set long-term goals like getting out of debt, buying a home, or retiring early. These goals are separate from your short-term goals.
  • Set short-term goals, like following a budget, decreasing your spending, paying down or not using your credit cards.
  • Prioritize your goals to help you create a financial plan.

Flesh Out Your Plan

A financial plan is absolutely essential in helping you reach your financial goals. The plan should have multiple steps or milestones. A sample plan might include creating a monthly budget and spending plan, then getting out of debt.

Once you’ve accomplished these three things and have followed through on your new plan for a few months, you may find that you have extra cash, and the money you free up from your debt payments can be used to reach your next round of goals.

Again, it’s key to decide what priorities are most important to you. Keep steadily working toward your long-term retirement goals, but also start to focus on the most important near-term goals you have set for yourself. Do you want to take an extravagant trip? Start investing? Buy a home or build your own business? These are all things to consider when deciding on your next step.

Your goals, along with an emergency fund, will help you stop making financial decisions based on fear and help you get control of your situation.

When creating a financial plan, remember these things:

  • Your budget is key to success. It is the tool that will give you the most control of your financial future. Your budget is the key to achieving the rest of your plan.
  • You should keep contributing to long-term goals, like saving for retirement, no matter what stage of your financial plan you’re in.
  • Building an emergency fund is another key factor to financial success and stress reduction.

Make and Stick to a Budget

Your budget is one of the biggest tools that will help you succeed financially. It allows you to create a spending plan so you can allocate your money in a way that will help you to reach your goals.

You can make your budget as high-level or detailed as you want, as long as it helps you reach your ultimate goal of spending less than you earn, paying off any debts, padding your emergency fund, and saving for the future.

A budget will also help you decide how to spend your money over the coming months and years. Without the plan, you might spend your cash on things that seem important now, but don’t offer much in terms of enhancing your future. Many people get caught in this quagmire and get down on themselves for not reaching the financial milestones they want for their family and for their own life.

Don’t forget to celebrate small victories along the way. For example, congratulate yourself once you pay off your debt, or reward yourself when you stick to your budget for three months solid, or when you successfully pad your emergency fund.

If you are married, you and your spouse need to work together on the budget so that it feels fair to both of you, and you both have the same level of commitment towards achieving it. This can go a long way towards helping you prevent money-related arguments. Below are some tips for married couples who want to create a budget together:

  • Consider switching to an envelope budgeting system that uses cash for spending areas that require more discipline.
  • Use budgeting software with a mobile app so you can enter spending in real time.
  • Plan ahead to avoid any overspending.

Pay Off Debt

Debt is a huge obstacle for many when it comes to reaching financial goals. That’s why you should make eliminating it a priority. Set up a debt elimination plan, to help you pay it off more quickly. For example, while making minimum payments on all of your debt accounts, pay any extra money towards one debt at a time. After paying off one debt account, move all the money you were paying on the first debt to the next debt and continue from there, creating a debt-paydown “snowball effect.”

Once you are totally out of debt, make a commitment to stay out of debt. Leaving them credit cards at home may be a wise strategy. Save up an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses so you aren’t tempted to use a credit card to cover them.

Try these tips to help you pay off debt more quickly:

  • Sell unused or unwanted items around your home to find extra money to add to your debt repayment plan.
  • A second job can help speed up the process and may be necessary if you want to make fast or lasting changes to your situation.
  • Look for areas in which you can cut your budget to increase the cash available for your debt payments.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Advice

Once you have grown your savings and want to begin investing to increase your wealth, speak to a financial planner to help you make wise investment decisions.

A good adviser will share the risks involved in each investment and help you find products that match your comfort level and investing return needs while helping you work toward your goals as quickly as possible. A financial planner can also help you with your budget, which is another plus.

Investing is a long-term strategy that helps you in building wealth. You can also find financial help elsewhere, such as:

  • A local church or community center that offers free or low-cost classes or workshops on personal finances and budgeting. Occasionally, banks and credit unions offer courses, as well.
  • A mentor that would be willing to help you formulate and work through your budget for the first few months. This can help you if you are overwhelmed by the budget process.
  • If your parents or other family members are good with money, consider asking them for help, and talking to them about what worked for them financially and what they would have done differently.

Getting debt paid off, money saved and progress made towards your financial goals doesn’t have to be a difficult experience. Invest in yourself and your financial future so that you won’t ever need to worry about your finances again.

 

https://www.thebalance.com/manage-your-personal-finances-2385812