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3 Areas of Exploration

As I begin/continue my long term continuing pastoral education, I am focusing on three interrelated areas: the Bible/biblical theology, theology/Christian worldview, and ecclesiology/church life. I will move between these three areas of study freely. All of them have a practical focus for upbuilding Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd as a Christian community. Here is how I envision the perichoretic quest today.

First, the Bible and biblical theology is the foundation of Christian life and reflection. Scripture rightly understood and embodied is an essential element of this ongoing project of exploring a biblical worldview for praying, preaching, teaching, and leading. I now have a couple good current study Bibles, which are a pleasure and privilege to read. There are also some good recent books on biblical theology which I plan to read and reflect on as I read Scripture. For the summer and perhaps into the fall I am tentatively planning on preaching some of the primal stories of the Old Testament, plus I have focused more time and energy on the New Testament for several years; so an exploration of Old Testament theology is a good place to start. (Starting in Advent – December – I may begin a Year of John for Year B of the lectionary, so New Testament theology and Johannine studies will be good to pursue in the fall). There is no better guide to the Old Testament than Walter Brueggemann. I just finished Brueggemann’s Journey to the Common Good, so I’ll start with that book. Another of his more recent books is Old Testament Theology: An Introduction. Although I will refer to his earlier magisterial Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, I will focus on the later and more general work.

Second, theology and the continual (re)formation of a Christian worldview is an essential movement of the quest. Theology steps back from the Bible and more intentionally relates Scripture and our contemporary world. The goal is for one’s imagination and conversation to be shaped by God’s word and a relatively adequate perspective on the world. This movement encompasses philosophy, history, economics, sociology, and politics, just to begin. But the goal is not to be overwhelmed by too much information, but to glean the best in theological thinking in conversation with other areas of inquiry.

Third (but neither least nor last), the life of the local Christian community in the intersection between the Bible and the world is my special focus. A common name for the followers of Jesus in the book of Acts is not Christianity but The Way. More than a body of intellectual beliefs, the Christian faith is a way of being in the world, a way of life, a following after our Rabbi and Lord Jesus, a mission. This is the movement upon which I will especially focus, since as someone has said, it is more effective to act our way into a new way of thinking than to think our way into a new way of acting. In this movement of growing our life together as the body of Christ, I will focus on the Christian faith practices in our congregation for the love of God and our neighbors.

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Note from the Pastor

Dear Friends of the Good Shepherd,

A heartfelt thank you for everyone who made the Installation Service and Dinner so special! I was overwhelmed by the powerful worship service and the hospitality shown to all our guests: some people were surprised by the wonderful meal after the Spirit-filled service. We welcomed Bishop Gary Wollersheim, as well as many pastors and guests, including some of our friends and family from out of town. An installation service is a community event for our church and our church family throughout the area, rather than an event focusing on the pastor; and yet I was deeply moved. The Lord willing, I look forward to Living and Sharing Jesus with you for a long time to come!

This season of Lent, this season of rebirth, renewal, and recommitment, is both a healing and an empowering time for me, and I hope it is for you too. For me, this season has revealed to me the importance of the Ancient Christian Spiritual Practices in centering our daily lives.

In her book, The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church, Diana Butler Bass writes, “One of the lesser-noted findings of the Hartford Institute for Religious Research’s massive Faith Communities Today (FACT) study was the link between ‘personal spiritual practices’ and congregational vitality. According to study co-director David Roozen, ‘The study does confirm that the more emphasis a congregation gives to the values of home and personal religious practices the higher the congregation’s vitality and the more likely it is to be growing in membership.” (Thanks to The Reverend Pamela M. Hillenbrand for this quote.)

As Brian McLaren notes, Christian faith is more a way of life than a set of beliefs: that is why the first name for followers of Jesus is the Way. We are people on the Way, following Jesus on our life journey. The Ancient Christian Spiritual Practices help us find our way as we follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. These practices include daily prayer, weekly worship, fasting, communion, pilgrimage, and tithing. The long term vitality of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd is tied to how we help one another deepen in faith not just on Sunday mornings but throughout the week, in our homes, our workplaces, and our neighborhoods.
Take a moment, if you will, and reflect on these words from Psalm 46:

Be still, and know that I am God.
Be still, and know that I am.
Be still, and know.
Be still.
Be.

God’s Work, Our Hands,

Pastor Eric Lemonholm

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Reflections

Yesterday, I mailed the defense draft of my thesis to Luther Seminary. It’s the beginning of the end of my Doctor of Ministry. In April, I defend the thesis, and in May, hopefully, I graduate. The D. Min. program was a theological lifeline during the last three years at Grace in Detroit Lakes, reconnecting me with the wider church and renewing my mind and heart. I am a better pastor because of it. What I realized from both the D. Min. experience and my collegial relationships in the Northwestern Minnesota Synod (especially the text study and the Synod Council) was the importance of learning and growing in community – the community of pastoral colleagues, as well as the community of the congregation.
Now, we have been in Rockford for 1 ½ months. It has been a whirlwind. It was just a little over 2 months ago (Jan. 10) that I gave my one month’s notice at Grace: we left ten days early because I had accrued vacation time. The next week after giving notice, I turned in the rough draft of the thesis (Jan. 17), and we moved in to our new home in Rockford February 1, in the midst of a snowstorm. I officially started working at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd on February 11. This first month at Good Shepherd has been wonderful. I am getting to know the congregation and their worship and community life. Worship at Good Shepherd is powerful and participatory, with an active choir and lay participation in every aspect of worship, including worship planning by the worship team: for the Lenten Wednesday services starting tomorrow, I am only preaching once (plus last week’s Ash Wednesday service): otherwise, lay church members are preaching. The music is awesome; the Liturgical Arts team is always doing something surprising and spirit stirring in the sanctuary.
We love our new home and neighborhood and city. We love our children’s new school: all three tested into the Washington Academy, an excellent public school. I have gotten involved with the Rockford Partners for Excellence (www.rp4e.org), a grass roots organization that is working to help the students, teachers, and administrators at the West Middle School right across the street from our church building. I also attend a couple text studies (though usually just one of them per week) and monthly Rockford Clergy meetings (including a Rabbi, an Imam, etc.) and monthly North Conference meetings. These meetings keep me connected and involved in the community.
I finally feel that the whirlwind is subsiding. On the bright side, one learns and grows through challenging times, and recent struggles opened doors that eventually led us to Good Shepherd here in Rockford. To deal with all of that, plus the D. Min., plus going through the call process, plus moving, all in a short period of time has indeed been stressful. This is a time of healing and rebirth, which is definitely how I am experiencing Lent this year. Now is a time to deepen in faith in God and build relationships with the disciples of Good Shepherd. Amen!

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Note from the Pastor

Dear Good Shepherd Church Family,

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, through the love of the Holy Spirit! I have been called to be the new pastor of Good Shepherd, and have accepted this call with great joy and excitement for the adventure of faith that we will share in the years ahead. Mindy, our children, and I thank God for the warm welcome we have received in this community of faith.

Here is part of my letter of acceptance of the call to Good Shepherd:

After prayerful consideration and discernment, it is with great joy that I accept the call as pastor to the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. I “hereby promise to fulfill this pastoral ministry in accord with the standards and policies for ordained ministers of the Evangelical Church in America,” and to be “diligent in the study of Holy Scripture, in use of the means of grace, in prayer, in faithful service, and in holy living” (quoted from the Letter of Call).
My family and I have been called by God to the next chapter of our life journey in your urban, diverse community, in which both Mindy’s gifts and my own will be utilized, and in which our children will have ample opportunities for growth. I am excited for the opportunity to serve as pastor of Good Shepherd. I look forward to walking with you as we live out God’s mission as brothers and sisters in Christ, reaching out to people in west Rockford and beyond with the love of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

As I begin my second week at Good Shepherd, I have already experienced so much hospitality in this church community and the community of Rockford, including the potluck my first Sunday, Bible study groups at church, the Rockford Partners for Excellence at West Middle School, local clergy groups, and more.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once summed up Christian faith in a world come of age as prayer and righteous action, action for others. Good Shepherd’s mission statement is another way of saying the same thing: Living and Sharing Jesus. It is my hope and prayer that we will together grow closer to Jesus Christ in prayer, worship, and reading Scripture, and share Jesus through serving others and building relationships with them.

God’s Work, Our Hands,

Pastor Eric Lemonholm