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I feel it first in the pit of my stomach. A sickish feeling that I have to make the choice again: how far to go. Like the snow accumulating outside of my office window, the questions pile up: Will people be offended? Am I messing with their spiritual lives? Do most people need more comfort than challenge? Don’t they get enough politics out of church?

And of course, will there be emails to the rector? Will someone leave the service mid-sermon? It’s all happened – more than once. It’s happened before when I preached about the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people. Yet it always gets to me.

Sunday’s Gospel leaves the path open: Jesus asks Simon and Andrew,”What are you looking for?” Good question – for me and for everyone else.

For the third time in our country’s history, the president has been impeached and now will be tried in the Senate. Pretty much every moral issue you can think of will be on the table or lurking nearby. That is, if the proceedings allow an open process – which they may not. On the eve of one of the most important weeks in our country’s recent life, the tone is solemn and fearful. Our highly-polarized country is holding its collective breath, terrified of the outcome for opposing reasons.

All week I have been looking for direction, clues, indicators of where to go with this. My favorite bishop, Stephen Charleston, was surprisingly direct on his daily Facebook post. Then this morning, a nationally-respected clergyman and prolific writer, Brian Maclaren, posts this advice to pastors:

“Remember, to avoid political subjects is itself a political act. It means that you’re choosing silence in the face of injustice, which is another word for complicity.”

It’s not like everyone is breathlessly waiting for my two cents on any this. I know that. Good grief, anyone with access to a computer or a microphone will be weighing in.
But since I have the privilege of a pulpit—and the staggering responsibility that goes with it – it’s a big deal for me. There’s a lot to talk about besides politics – and I’ll do that. And yet ….

So it’s back to work, seeking the “blessed assurance” that all will be well. That’s the name of the gospel song that will sung at the end of the sermon –thankfully not by me!

See you in church. Pray for our country.


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In spite of an overall good economy, it is common for members of our community to experience unexpected job loss. This seems to be in many different employment groups and at all position levels. Knowing the stress unemployment produces I reached out to parishioner, Gil Lautenshlager, to get some first-hand experience and ideas.

Sarah: Gil, thank you so much for sharing with our fellow parishioners, what experience have you had with unemployment?

Gil: Years ago, I was President/CEO of a U.S. company.  It had been owned by a European firm for approximately four years and was underperforming. After two years I was escorted out the door. Three other executives succeeded me but conditions deteriorated to the point that the U.S. company had to be broken up and sold piecemeal. There was also turnover in the European Management. The point of my rambling is that in almost 50 years in business management, I have rarely seen an employee terminated, where it was solely his or her fault.  There are consistently under currents of management politics, hind side protection, outside influences and other factors that were clearly not caused by the employee who was let go.  Certainly, I made mistakes and did some stupid things. Probably the same was true of the other five executives let go. But ultimately the organization failed to define a viable strategic direction.

Sarah: It’s so tough losing your job, even when it’s not a good situation. I was laid off in 2012, along with 800 other employees, even though I saw it coming and welcomed the opportunity to change careers it was still hard not being wanted any more. What are your thoughts on that?

Gil: You cannot obsess on what you did to cause your termination. As with my experience, you can be assured there were factors beyond your control, that played a major part in the situation. Neither can you spend your energy being angry at your former employer. That will only serve to poison your job search. These are both difficult emotions. 

Sarah: How do you suggest handling these emotions?

Gil: I would suggest this is a good time to contact your priest or other trusted advisor. I did and that enabled me to move forward. You must “clear the deck” for the task facing you. I have experienced several career crises, and can guarantee that the sooner you find spiritual peace, the sooner you can effectively search for a new job.

Sarah: What do you think is the first step after being let go?

Gil: Once you have your “game face on,” you need to explain the situation to your spouse, partner, children, and other loved ones. Tell them your plan to secure new employment. Be honest about any financial sacrifices that need to be made.  

Sarah: Yes, honesty and an action plan worked for me, although it can be hard to keep your motivation up when faced with unemployment, do you have any recommendations?

Gil: Take the time to lay out all of the details of your job search. Commit them to writing. Do not take your unemployment status as an opportunity to slow down and relax. Your job search is a full-time effort and it helps to conduct yourself as you would during conventional employment. Set aside someplace in your home, where you can work, undisturbed. Have a desk or table, a phone and your computer with internet access. Get up at your usual time, get dressed, eat breakfast, all as you normally would. Be at your workspace, working, at the time you previously started work. Find a friend or acquaintance, who is familiar with the re-employment process to mentor you and act as a sounding board. There is no reason to be ashamed of unemployment. It is a reality of modern life and you are not being singled out. Work with your mentor to develop a list of target jobs, companies and industries. Consider your compensation requirements. Discuss the possibility of relocation with your family.

Sarah: Not having been unemployed before I found good advice invaluable and would recommend reaching out to the local workforce center, what recommendations do you have?

Gil: If a parishioner cannot find anyone, with whom they are comfortable, contact me (612-799-4474 or gil@leadershipr.com). Remember, I’ve been there. I will guide them through the process. In addition, I have a presentation, I prepared for a job search work shop, including a lot of sample documents. I don’t expect to be paid, but ask that when they are again employed and their finances are in order, they make a contribution to a charity of their choice. 

Sarah: That is very generous of you Gil – thank you – and as you mentioned you gave a job search presentation during a workshop at St. Mark’s Cathedral, what are your top tips?

Gil: Well, …

  • First, pray for strength.  Prayer DOES work.
  • You need to have a resume which gives an overview of your employment and education. You can find people who will “write” you a resume for a price. It’s up to you if you want to pay someone to edit or “pretty up” your resume. But the content MUST be yours.  You will need to repeat it over and over again and sell it in interviews.  That’s hard to do if they’re somebody else’s words.
  • You also need to develop and perfect an “elevator speech.” This is a 30 to 45 second verbal recap of your experience, accomplishments and the type of situation for which you are searching. Practice it over and over, in front of a mirror until it becomes natural and convincing. You will need it for casual conversations.
  • Once you have a resume there are several ways to approach potential employers such as applying for job postings, networking, civic and professional organizations, employment agencies and recruiters. You MUST be dynamic and do several of them – not just one or two.
  • You will quickly find that printed newspapers and other printed media are no longer a good source for job leads. Use them but concentrate on on-line job boards.
  • When responding to specific open positions, tailor it to relate directly to the position for which you are applying. Review the position, identify the requirements and tailor your letter and resume, to show how you meet those requirements.
  • Make a list of ALL of your personal and professional acquaintances. Don’t worry about being embarrassed, include everybody.
  • ID organizations that relate to your job skills or interests. Try to get their membership lists. Some will make it available, some won’t. If you can’t get a full list, you can usually get the officers names from their website.
  • Some experts suggest “cold calling.”  I’ve found a modified approach works better.  Prepare a generic letter or email (preferred). Explain your situation with a positive bias. Summarize your experience and accomplishments. Discuss your objectives. Say you will call in a few days. Send with a copy of your resume. Absolutely follow-up with a telephone call. If necessary, remind the person of how you know each other. Recap the information in your transmittal. Remember your “elevator” speech. Don’t ask for a job. Ask them if they can provide any ideas or directions. Ask them for referrals and repeat the process. Do everything you can to accomplish your objective but still keep the conversation brief. Send a short thank-you note and reiterate any significant subjects discussed. You may not find this easy. Don’t get discouraged. Take any negative experiences with a “grain of salt” and move on.
  • It will start slowly but you will begin to get called in for interviews. Take every interview that is offered to you even if you know you’re not interested. Interviewing is a learned skill and you need to get as much practice as possible. This is another place where you will need help from an acquaintance, who is familiar with the hiring process. Feel free to call me.
  • You may well have experienced some financial trauma while you were unemployed. I know I did. As soon as you get back on your feet, start accumulating a “war chest.”  Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but unemployment does. I can tell you about it from personal experience. As soon as you land write, to everyone in your network, tell them about your new job and give them your contact information and thank them for their help. Every six months, or at least once a year, correspond with everyone in your network, tell them what you’re working on and offer to give them any kind of assistance they may need in the future. Pay it forward. If anyone contacts you, in a job search, bend over backwards to help them.
  • Remember to thank God via prayer.

Thank you Gil!

If you have experiences and resources to share with the parish, on employment or other financial related subjects, please contact Sarah Dull, Executive Administrator – you never know who needs to hear your story.

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I “settle” every day. Make compromises with myself and my world and the voices in my head: I’ll do volunteer work – but AFTER the holidays. I’ll budget more carefully – when I get these decorating projects done. I’ll call Vickie– but have to get this other stuff done first.

The biggest compromise I make with myself is that I will become politically active again in the face of a national scenario I could not have envisioned ever until three years ago. I admire the dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis who puts his political opinions out there so boldly, even on Facebook.

It’s a dramatic contrast right now between the hope and beauty of the season and the likelihood that a president will be impeached. But Christmas has always played out against a desperate political backdrop – the Romans had their boot on the neck of the Jews from the moment of Jesus’ birth until they ordered his crucifixion.

Sunday I will talk about the two agitators in the lessons: John the Baptist and Mary of Nazareth. John has a crisis of faith. Mary calls for justice for the poor. And what route did Mary and Joseph take on the eighty-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem? I will give you a map and show you why the trip was unbelievably treacherous, like some of our own journeys this time of year.

Between services, Craig will do a musical tour of the Magnificat. I’m pretty sure it will be exquisite! Lessons and Carols is at four but don’t compromise and skip church or the concert. The church will be beautiful and your friends will be there.

See you in church.


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Earlier this year the Pew Research Center published their findings of a 2018 study on Millennial life, https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/essay/millennial-life-how-young-adulthood-today-compares-with-prior-generations/.

Among their findings Pew concludes young adults, ages 22 to 37 in 2018:

  • Are better educated than previous generations at their age.
  • Have faced a particularly challenging job market with especially high unemployment rates due to the Great Recession.
  • Earn less annually and have accumulated less wealth than their counterparts in prior generations.
  • Are more likely to have student debt and the amount they owe is greater than earlier generations.
  • Have been slower in forming their own households than previous generations, are more likely to live in their parents’ home, and be at home for longer stretches.

I sat down with our own Millennial – and new Director for Children, Youth and Family Ministry at St. John’s – Katie Madsen, to find out what her lived experience of Millennial life has been like thus far.

Sarah: Katie, thank you so much for taking time out at this busy time to share your personal financial experiences with me. How are you feeling?

Katie: Hesitant. I have little to no financial knowhow. And talking about money is hard.

Sarah: So why did you agree to speak with me?

Katie: The work we do here is important. When something is important to me, I want to support it. I think for us to appreciate the gift that we have been given in this community we have to talk about the hard stuff to grow.

Sarah: Thank you for your courage. Why don’t you give me a little background about your current situation?

Katie: Well, I just got this job – which I love – and John and I got married six months ago, but I am up to my eyeballs in student loan debt and we are just starting, and I mean just starting, to get our own finances in order after 4 years of grad school and a total career shift.

Sarah: Education and student debt is a common issue raised with regards to today’s young adults, tell me more about your experience?

Katie: The price of a college education has gone up astronomically; my dad noted that 1 year of my college is the same as he paid for 4. This is so overwhelming to an 18-year-old. And no one tells you how to take out loans effectively. They offer you more money than you need knowing you’ll take it because you don’t know any better – you’re 18.

Sarah: You also mentioned that you and John just got married, did you wait for financial reasons?

Katie: Yes, we dated for 5 years before we could afford to rent our own place; we lived with our parents through college and most of grad school. Even after grad school we were living on one income for a while. We couldn’t have got married without our parents help.

Sarah: Charles Schwab 2019 Modern Wealth Survey, https://www.aboutschwab.com/modernwealth2019, says the majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, can you relate?

Katie: I will be the first to say that that is where I am currently. My student loans and our housing take up half of our income, and that doesn’t include the rest of the bills. When you are living paycheck to paycheck many of life’s big moments get pushed, for us that is buying a house and starting a family post 30. We have a good life and I am grateful but I thought these things would have happened by now.

Sarah: Reflecting on where you are financially, is there anything you would do differently?

Katie: If I had been wise, I would have followed the advice my mother gave me years ago. I would have set up a budget, spent less and saved more. But I’m a millennial, now I don’t say that as an excuse for my bad money management. Budgeting in today’s world looks so much different than I was prepared for. Income, debt and spending have all changed from my parents and grandparents’ worlds.

Sarah: What does all of this mean for your faith?

Katie: It means I need to get better at deciding what is important to me and where my values lie. I must begin to look at my future through a different lens. By looking at the time and talent I have in my space I can use the treasure I have with more tact.

Sarah: So, what have you decided is important?

Katie: As I enter a new season of life, one of marriage and family, my priorities have shifted. I dream of the days where I have enough time, talent and treasure to go around.  We have started though with a budget.

Sarah: Your mom would be proud! Do you have any recommendations?

Katie: Yes, we are using Dave Ramsey, https://www.daveramsey.com/, and You Need A Budget, https://www.youneedabudget.com/ as our starting blocks.

Sarah: Why do you like these?

Katie: They are Christian based budget sites that seem to get the goal of tithing, giving back and saving which seem to be resources that were sorely lacking in my early adult years (maybe I just didn’t know where to find them or how to look). 

I am so grateful to Katie for her courageous honesty. These are tough subjects but ones that many of our younger adults can relate to and hopefully, has provided some valuable insight to others. Gaining a better understanding of each other’s experiences allows us to meet each person where they are, to share resources, and offer support.

Wherever you are financially, your story and resources will be a gift to other members of the parish. To write a post, share resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Sarah Dull, Executive Administrator.

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It’s been a tough week on the national scene, regardless of your politics, and with winter arriving prematurely, holidays looming, and the daily challenges that face us all, self-care (never sure completely what that is) is mandatory.

So I am vowing to replace some of the omnipresent political chatter that I allow into my consciousness with music: In my office, in my car, in my heart. I’m even singing a little more, as my tortured cat Finley will attest.

At least I’m trying to try.

When I first looked at the lessons for tomorrow, I could only ask “Really? Really?” One commentary said that it seems they’re trying to scare us to death! At this point the sermon will only be moderately scarey…and at the end there will be what we call “a sermon response hymn” (which Richard generously agreed to add) and it is lovely.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a dose of “lovely”.

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This month parishioner and retired Religious Studies Professor, Paula Cooey, shares her thoughts on and experiences with Theology and Finance.

Theology addresses questions of who God is and what God has to do with human life. These past few months we have focused on personal finance in a variety of ways. This week we look at a partial view of what God has to do with such matters. The Church rightly focuses on giving: giving time, material resources, self in service to others, not to mention God’s gifts to us daily in our solitude and in community. The God of scripture, history, and for many of us, experience focuses heavily on need, however, our own as well as that of others. From a Christian perspective God so focuses on need that God becomes incarnate, one of us, to suffer what we suffer, even unto death, with us. God’s economy places heavy emphasis on need.

In my own experience, I readily admit to spiritual impoverishment. I wouldn’t be at the altar taking the sacraments otherwise. By contrast, I find it almost impossible to admit to material need, not in this society, so defined by independence and self-sufficiency. Yet, in scripture, note the Gospel of this past Sunday, God not only values those in material need front and center, but places a heavy emphasis on the poor persisting to get their needs met. In Luke 18:1-11 even the judge who respects neither God nor people grants justice to the persistent widow (widows noteworthy for their poverty). My childhood experience further exemplifies how need and persistence in the face of need, God’s and ours, challenges today’s central values.

When I was a little girl, my mother—a dance teacher—and my father—a lawyer—prospered.  During this time my mother taught dance lessons all over the county to anyone who wanted to learn to dance. It didn’t matter whether they were any good at it; a desire to learn was all she required. She charged a dollar a class lesson and two dollars for private lessons. Her classes flourished though not everybody could pay cash. For them she worked out an alternative. One of the mothers dressed both my mother’s hair and mine once a month in exchange for a month’s lessons for her son and daughter. Another, who worked at the Lovable Brassiere Company, got lessons for all four of her children for making some of our clothes and for feeding my sister and me dinner once a week. In addition, we got produce. We got eggs. It was a wealth of material goods. For those who couldn’t pay because the father had been laid off by Lockheed, or there were unexpected medical expenses, well, she just carried them until things got better. If the mother of such a family was too embarrassed to tell my mother what had gone wrong, Mama just point blank asked when the child quit coming to classes. Mama and her clients operated on a mixed economy of money, bartering, and welfare, depending on need and ability to pay. Like the early churches of Paul’s time, they simply shared what they had according to what was needed. Growing up with Mama taught me to share, to enjoy giving, to want to give.pikwizard-bd495b667141dc6e5ad9c110420f8c24

Times changed for us. My mother’s classes dwindled almost to nothing as my father’s law practice dissolved into alcoholism. We lost our house, at which point my mother divorced my father (heavily stigmatized where I grew up). She was forced to beg her own parents who forked over their meager life savings for the down payment on a new house. She persisted in finding work until the Director of the YWCA hired her for a low paying job. We continued to live in debt. She was never able to pay my grandparents back; she was never able to finish her college degree in order to get a higher paying job. I had the good fortune to go to college on a full scholarship with part time work right on through graduate school. My siblings also worked, my sister who graduated from college at the age of 42, and my brother who now owns a successful business. My mother died debt free. We kids turned out fine over the long haul. Nevertheless, all three of us still remember the shame felt about the divorce of our parents, our father’s alcoholism, and the loss of our home. I also remember that had my mother’s poor, ageing parents not stepped up with all their savings, had my mother not persuaded the Director of the YWCA to hire her even though she had no college degree, had scholarships not come through for me, the story could have been more tragic. It was dependency, not prosperity, followed up by persistence in need, not pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, all the way down.

My mother taught me to give graciously. Our poverty, her persistence, and my shame have hopefully taught me empathy. I still feel the shame of our past need, but I recognize this as a symptom of the times in which I live that has no role to play in God’s economy. Were I to fall into poverty again, I hope I would have the courage to ask, to persist in seeking justice, not only for others, but for myself.

God’s economy places the dependent front and center—whether due to loss of material resources (the Prodigal Son), lack of sufficient material resources (the widow and her mite), loss of health (the woman with a flow or hemorrhage), or Paul, economically dependent, in order to do God’s work. As it turns out, God is all about needing, acknowledging need, and persisting in getting need met. As Mathew points out, it is in the faces of the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, and the outcast that we find God’s face. We as agents of God are called to recognize material need as well as spiritual from birth to death both in the lives of others and in our own lives for need, like gift, is crucial to Incarnation.

Finance First Fridays is a pastoral initiative here at St. John’s. Discussing finances can be difficult and bring up feelings of worry and shame. However, money is a real factor in all of our lives and an important topic to address. If you have a personal story you’d like to tell or a financial resource or article you’d like to share in a future Finance First Fridays post, please contact executive administrator Sarah Dull.

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“Weird Preacher”

We should be rigorous in judging ourselves and gracious in judging others.”

John Wesley.


I saw this on an online site called “The Weird Preacher.”  Usually there is good stuff here but this gave me pause.  It’s certainly not the prevailing wisdom of the day. Now we are encouraged to try and feel good about ourselves, have more confidence, and celebrate our accomplishments.

At least that’s the word for women who are often too hard on themselves. Yet I also don’t know many men who are “rigorous in judging themselves.” Certainly not our federal leadership!

However, this is the message of Sunday’s Gospel. The Tax Collector has no mercy for himself (well, he is a real swindler) while the Pharisee sings his own praises in healthy 21stcentury style, yet Jesus is very displeased with him.

Of course, there’s more to the story than this but I know that in this story the Pharisee is my guy (as Elisha was Craig’s “guy” two weeks ago).  Scripturally incorrect, but there it is.

Society is relentless in demanding we prove ourselves and often we all take the bait.  Hard to believe we don’t have to.

More on Sunday as we talk about the quaint, antique idea of “humility.”

See you in church.



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