What do you mean I’m “at risk”?

By Blair Lundborg

19do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.  (I Cor 6:19-20)

fitbitIt was one of the many e-mails that we rostered ministers get from Portico. It was an invitation to participate in a program to improve my overall health. The carrot was additional wellness dollars for me to spend on medications or the health care deductible. I don’t like to leave money on the table, so I explored the offer more carefully. It was a 16-week plan designed to help lower my risk of type II diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The program is called Omada. Some of you received the same invitation. Congratulations. Welcome to the “at risk” club.

If I signed up, they were going to provide a health coach, an app to track my progress, written resources to teach me a healthier lifestyle, AND a fancy smart scale that would track and upload my daily weigh ins. Portico was picking up the tab for the program and throwing in a bunch of wellness dollars to boot. How could I say no?

Later I learned that the reason Portico “invited” me to participate in Omada is that my recent blood work indicated that I was at “higher risk” of type II diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. That was not a news flash for me. I come by it honestly. It’s in my genes. Both of my parents and grandparents had the same risk factors. I’m grateful that Portico is interested in helping me address these health challenges, even if it is to save money on how much is spent on treating my long-term health risks.

I try to eat healthy and exercise regularly. Omada has been a good motivation to be more intentional about living a healthier and more active lifestyle. Sometimes it’s a challenge. The kind of work we do doesn’t always help. We often sit for extended periods at our desks, in our cars, in meetings. We are often guests at meals where healthy eating is a challenge. Add to that a full calendar and the stress of our work and we have a recipe for health challenges.

You have probably heard the news that sitting is the new smoking. Even for those who exercise on a regular basis, sitting for prolonged periods of time is a risk factor for early death. How much sitting is too much? The general consensus is an hour or more. Researchers are telling us that people who sit for less than 30 minutes at a time have the lowest risk of early death. It is recommended that we raise our heart rates through physical activity at least once every hour.

Remember those Fitbit activity trackers the Synod gave to rostered leaders a few years back? Most of those have bit the dust or been through the wash so many times they no longer work. I’m on my third Fitbit since the Synod’s freebie, partly because I’m a sucker for gadgets. But this particular gadget has been instrumental in changing my behavior in a positive way.

OK, I admit I get annoyed when my Fitbit vibrates on my wrist with a reminder that I’ve been sitting too long. My temptation is hit the “snooze” button. This gadget has trained me to think twice about ignoring the reminder. Looks like I’m not much different than Pavlov’s dog. I get up from my desk, make a couple of laps around the office. If I’m on my phone, I take the caller on a walk with me. Sometimes I do the budget Stairmaster thing and climb the eight floors of steps in the Wells Fargo building where the Synod office is housed. The Fitbit rewards me with another “buzz” and positive message to keep up the good work. I don’t always reach my daily goals, but I’m giving it my best effort. For the times I fail there’s always God’s amazing grace (grin).

As a demographic, rostered ministers are less healthy than the general population. We are more sedentary, overweight, stressed, and older than other professionals. Some of that is beyond our control. Most of it isn’t. Taking care of our health is really a matter of stewardship. Caring for our health is the first step in being able to care for others in our ministries. It takes work. Sometimes it feels like another job to check off our To-do list. Some of us need gimmicks like Fitbits and smart scales to keep us motivated. Whatever it takes, it is worth it. We are more effective leaders when we are healthy.

As the summer months wind down, let’s take some time to do a health check inventory. Let’s do it before the increased pace of the Fall Schedule. Be sure to take some of your vacation time if you haven’t done so already. Be faithful about your days off by making them a genuine sabbath time. Give some thought to what you eat and how it makes you feel. Join Omada if you’re so inclined. Find an accountability partner to keep on track. Whatever it takes, remember that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God” (I Cor 6:19). We only get one body. Let’s try to do the best job of caring for it as we answer God’s call to care for others.

Colorado Youth Bless Baytown Congregation

Over a thousand miles from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Baytown, is the congregation of Christ Lutheran Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. But that distance did not stop members of Christ Lutheran from wanting to help out after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

Colorado youth helping Baytown 2

So when 39 youth and 12 adults from Christ Lutheran attended the ELCA Youth Gathering this past month, they headed to Baytown to help those still recovering. “We’ve done anything and everything here at the church,” said Gary Knutston, youth director. “We’ve been repainting benches, helped with the food pantries on Monday, we’ve done landscaping and fixed the lighting in the hall.” They group also fixed fences, and a wheelchair ramp, and other various tasks around Baytown.

Colorado Youth helping Baytown 1

colorado youth group


Sabbath: The Stewardship of Being

By Chris Markert, Mission Catalyst

Sabbath 2Stewardship is more than how and where we’re generous with our money. It is also about how we are generous with our time. So many of us have such hectic schedules- working, raising families, going to school, paying bills. It is so easy to forget to be generous with ourselves. We fail to take Sabbath time, time for renewal and recreation, time to heal and to rest in the arms of our heavenly Parent.

I know this was the case for me. In my first ten years of ministry, I lost out of 23 weeks of vacation and continuing education time, not because it wasn’t offered to me, but because I’d stay busy all year, and then, in December, would find myself with two or three weeks of unused time.

Sabbath 1It has only been in the past four years that in December, I intentionally sketch out all my vacation and continuing education time for the coming year, even if I don’t know yet where or how I’ll use it. This is a good practice because it means it’s on the calendar, and then, if I need to move it, I can. But I’m less likely to skip out on the Sabbath rest that keeps me healthy and grounded.

This past week I had the opportunity to visit the Grünewald Guild in Washington state. The Grünewald Guild is a retreat center whose mission is “to welcome and inspire all who seek to explore the relationships between art, faith & community.”  Vonda Drees and Jim Drees are the co-directors.

I signed up for a writing workshop called “The Medium of Memory” as a way to hone my practice of spiritual journaling. They also offered classes in pottery, weaving, and stained glass-making.

Sabbath 3The breathtaking views, surprising hospitality, holy space to experiment and practice the arts, the community that formed around delicious meals, morning and evening devotions, and other activities, made for a week of slowing down, listening to God, and enjoying creation.

I encourage each of you to be sure to take time to engage in Sabbath-taking throughout the year. And if you’re looking for a sacred experience, I invite you to consider the Grünewald Guild as an option for continuing education.


Lisa’s Pieces:  Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

Lutherans Restoring CreationThe mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas:  worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy.  For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

Worship Planning now for fall? Consider a Season of Creation observance in September. Don’t forget the World Day of Prayer for Creation on Sept. 1. Here is a liturgy for the commemoration of Francis of Assisi. Consider these seasonal creation-focused prayers for Pentecost in year B. Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary are available.

Education Check out the Walking Tour of Your Day used at the Youth Gathering. Consider the book, A New Heaven, A New Earth as an adult study. Encourage members to participate in Awakening the Spirit, an interfaith environmental study offered by the Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston. The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation on Aug. 26, Sustainability at Rice University, and on Sept. 30, China’s National Sword Policy & Its Impact on Recycling, educate on practical creation care.  Plan now to attend All Earth is Waiting – An Advent Retreat on Nov. 30 – Dec. 1.

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. Pass along the Taking Stock of Car Use tool to members to encourage less driving or this consideration of air travel. Encourage members to join the Lutherans Restoring Creation team for Bike Around the Bay Oct. 20 & 21.  Direct members to the Wild Lectionary for home devotions.

Building & Grounds Get discounted rain barrels & compost bins from the City of Houston (sale opens Aug. 15).  Try before you buy by borrowing “greening” books from the Earth Ministry library. Reduce the environmental impact of staff commuting by considering alternatives to driving. Check out the options offered by Metro in greater Houston or the Harris County Transit site.

Public Ministry/Advocacy:  The weekly Opportunities to Care for, Learn About, and Enjoy God’s Good Creation features volunteer events in the greater Houston area (see upcoming opportunities link). Observe National Public Lands Day (9/22) with an outdoor activity in a park.  Begin participating in the EarthEcho Water Challenge in observance of World Water Monitoring Day (9/18). Or, look for an event near you for National Estuaries Week (9/15 – 9/22). Petition the governor of TX to ban plastic straws.

For more information on any of the above, or for creation care assistance/information, contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team by writing to Lisa at gcs.lrc@gmail.com. The team is seeking additional members.  If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.

Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation Continue…

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to a monthly environmental education web meeting series whose theme in 2018 is Stewardship.

Richard Johnson
Richard Johnson, Dir. of Sustainability, Rice University

Sustainability at Rice University
Sunday, Aug. 26, at 6 p.m.

In August, we welcome Richard Johnson, Director of Sustainability for Rice University.  Richard holds a B.S. in civil engineering and a Masters in Urban & Environmental Planning.  He has been working on sustainability initiatives at Rice since 2004. Rice University’s Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management provides support for a broad range of campus sustainability initiatives, such as planning for sustainability, green building, energy & water conservation, recycling, environmental education, public lectures & events, student environmental projects, research partnerships, and classroom engagement. Their efforts to “green” the campus include such areas as food, transportation, green cleaning, grounds, water, recycling, and buildings.  Come find out what you can learn from Rice’s work on sustainability over the past 14 years.

Please register for this talk, and you will receive an invitation to the web meeting.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com with any questions.

Awakening the Spirit

Sun., Sept. 9, 3 p.m.

National Parks DVD setThe Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston invites you to explore spirituality in nature with those of other faiths, using the documentary The National Parks – America’s Best Idea, as a source of inspiration. Since their inception, the national parks have provided places for play, for rest and for sanctuary. They are places that inspire us with their grandeur and at the same time draw us into an intimate relationship with the natural world.  National parks give us time to pause, to reflect, to get outside of ourselves and yet also provide space to go deeply within ourselves. In these sacred spaces, we experience nature and the Divine alike. National parks also afford us the time and space to consider our relationship with nature and how our individual and collective actions have a decided impact on these complex, wondrous ecosystems that we are sharing.

Please join us in considering nature & spirituality thru the lens of the national parks at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 5308 Buffalo Speedway! Please register for planning purposes. For more information about this interfaith environmental study, please contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com.

China’s National Sword Policy and It’s Impacts on Recycling

Sunday, Sep. 30, at 6 p.m.

Jordan Fengel
Jordan Fengel, Executive Director, State of TX Alliance for Recycling

In September, Lutherans Restoring Creation will welcome Jordan Fengel, Executive Director of STAR (State of Texas Alliance for Recycling).  Jordan holds a Bachelors degree  in Environmental Management, and worked previously for the city of Georgetown as environmental programs coordinator.  For nearly 50 years, recycling has been a staple practice throughout many American communities. A recent policy change by the Chinese government in 2017, enacted in 2018, banning many recyclable materials from being imported, has created a conundrum in the recycling industry.

The US has relied on China to process our mixed plastic and mixed paper recyclables for the last 20+ years. With China set to eliminate all imports of recyclable materials by 2020, Jordan will discuss what STAR is doing to turn the tide. He will explain how STAR sees this crisis more as a fantastic opportunity to build American processing and manufacturing markets that have been long needed. These markets will manage and create the products we use on a daily basis locally and regionally, creating Texas jobs and providing economic growth.   Please register for this talk, and you will receive an invitation to the web meeting.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com with any questions.

All Earth is Waiting – An Advent Retreat

Friday, Nov. 30, 7:00 p.m. – Saturday, Dec. 1, 7:00 p.m.

All Earth is Waiting

Escape from the frenzy of the start of the “Christmas shopping season” on an intimate, 24-hour retreat in the beauty of God’s good creation at the Cramer Retreat Center in Spring.  This retreat invites you to get ready for the coming of Christ by exploring familiar Advent themes: hope, preparation, joy and peace, with the reconciliation of heaven and earth in mind. Consider how all creation longs for the coming of Christ, and how we are called to witness the Incarnation in our care of all God’s created world and all God’s creatures.  Enjoy a time of renewal, reflection, recreation, and restoration on this retreat.  The retreat is open to adults, and to youth 10+, when accompanied by an adult. Plan now to participate!

Retreat cost is $60 (+ ticketing fees), which covers 3 meals on Saturday, overnight lodging & a reception on Friday evening. Space is limited, so please register early. For more information, contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com.

The Weekly 30-minute Care Team Meeting

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

Yes, weekly.

Yes, only 30 minutes.

pastor visiting grieving widowThe pastor hugged her as she walked through the door. Her husband had died, one year ago today. Even her best friends couldn’t remember what day he had died. How did the pastor do it? She was remembered in the prayers, so after worship others gathered around her as well. Ministry happened. It wasn’t because the pastor had a flawless memory. It took a little bit of planning and organization.

No matter how big your congregation is, caring for people requires a little bit of planning. It doesn’t, however, require an unreasonable amount of administrative time. A little bit of discipline will go a long way. Thirty minutes each week will launch an explosion of ministry.

Care Calendar

It begins with a care calendar. You can create this digitally, or do it on paper with a calendar that has a week on one side and space to write on the other side, like the one pictured here. We’ll go into how it’s used below.

week calendar

The Meeting

The goal of the meeting is simply to decide who will call or visit whom. Joe is the hospital. Who will visit him and how often? Does he have a small group leader who might make a visit? A Sunday school teacher? Is he in the choir? Will the pastor go? Beth’s mother’s funeral last week. Who will call this week? When might she need a contact in the future. More on this below.

Who is at the meeting? In a small congregation this may be the pastor and the secretary/admin. It’s still important to have the meeting, so there is organization and accountability. Larger congregations will want a few other people. Is there someone in leadership who is responsible for care? Do you have Stephen Ministry? Does someone coordinate hospital visits? Who is in charge of small groups, life groups, or other subdivisions of the congregation? As you go through this, you’ll start to get an idea of who would be helpful to have at the table.

The organization of the meeting is relatively simple. Here’s an outline of the agenda. Five items.

  1. Scripture and Prayer (2 minutes)
  2. Prayer requests (5 minutes)
    1. Worship cards
    2. Web page
    3. Social media
    4. Other
  3. Current Events (10 minutes)
    1. Congregation
      1. Funeral/Grief
        1. Job loss
        2. Diagnosis
      2. Hospital/Surgery
  • Homebound
  1. Birthdays/Anniversaries
  2. Visitors
  3. Other
  1. Community
    1. Neighbors
    2. School
  • Government
  1. Social Service
  2. Fire
  3. Police
  • World
  1. Review Care Calendar (10 minutes)
  2. The Lord’s Prayer (3 minutes)

So let’s break it down.

  1. Scripture and Prayer (2 minutes)

Of course, always begin with Scripture and prayer. Consider using the same Bible passage and the same prayer for a year, until it’s memorized. That way it becomes part of your DNA. Consider these as possibilities, or choose others that work for you.

James 5:13-15

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.


By your power, great God, our Lord Jesus healed the sick and gave new hope to the hopeless. Though we cannot command or possess your power, we pray for those who want to be healed. Mend their wounds, soothe fevered brows, and make broken people whole again. Help us to welcome every healing as a sign that, though death is against us, you are for us, and have promised renewed and risen life in Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.

  1. Prayer requests (5 minutes)

Begin by going through the list of those who have requested prayers. Many congregations have a prayer request on their attendance cards. Some have separate prayer cards. If so, go through those, one by one and consider who will contact these folks. You prayed for them on Sunday. Prayer leads to action. Extend the ministry of the church. On the right side (notes) of the Care Calendar, write down who will contact this person. Are they in choir? If so, that might be the choir director. Are they part of the youth group? It might be that leader. If that person is not in the meeting, who in the meeting will ask that person to make the contact? Write it down. Next week, you’ll report back how that visit went and if continuing contact is needed.

Prayer requests may come in on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. They may come in by email. People may call the church office and ask. Unless you get 20 or more prayer requests a week, this part should only take a few minutes. Your goal is not to process each situation, but simply to decide who is best to make the contact. You will walk away with some calls to make. Some will be care calls, and others will simply be calls to ask someone to make a contact. If you’re large enough to have someone on staff who coordinates care ministries, that person may be assigned to call the callers. Following up lets people know you take these seriously.

  1. Current Events (10 minutes)

Congregation: What is going on in your congregation this week? Who is in need? Who is grieving?

Consider Margaret. Her husband died last week. The funeral was at the church. Most congregation do pretty good funeral ministry the week someone dies. Unfortunately, many congregations drop the ball after the funeral. Often the grief doesn’t set in until the flurry of funeral planning and family has subsided. Once everyone leaves, the bereaved face the empty house. Another wave hits a month or two later, as finances and insurance are worked out. Some people say the one-year anniversary is harder than the funeral.

So, back to Margaret. Her husband has just died. First, decide who will call her this week. In a small congregation this will probably be the pastor. Then decide who in the congregation might be willing to walk with her this year. A Stephen’s Minister or a trained visitor. If you have visitors, be certain to train them, so they don’t do more harm than good.

Then look ahead in the calendar. What will be the hard days for Margaret in the next year? Her deceased husband’s birthday for sure. Their anniversary. Perhaps Father’s Day. The one year anniversary. Christmas? Easter? Flip through the Care Calendar and write down her name on each of these days. You’ll need to have next year’s calendar too. If he died on July 8, then go to July 8 of next year and write down Margaret Smith (Pete died). Be sure to write why you’re calling. If you have a lot of people, a year from now you might forget why it was important to call Margaret on this day. Write her name down on his birthday: Margaret Smith (Pete’s birthday). Write her name down on their anniversary and Father’s Day.

Do this after each funeral. This is organizing for grief ministry at its best.

If you don’t have a funeral, consider who else might be grieving in any way. Grief comes in many forms. A distant relative may have died. Someone might have lost a job, or have a child who lost a job. Someone might have had a diagnosis. These will usually show up in prayer requests, but sometimes not. So it’s good to take a moment and check in.

Next, is there anyone in the hospital? Who will visit? This will differ person to person. Some people are private and would prefer fewer or no visits. Others are lonely and would love regular visitors. The first visit will make that clear. Who is going to visit this week? Several people on rotation? Just once, or every day?

Give some thought to your homebound people. A best practice is assigning each homebound person a family to take them communion monthly, straight from church. These families will develop a relationship that will continue even between pastors.

Then consider birthdays and anniversaries. Most congregations track these. Does anyone call? It’s not required, and in a large congregation could become cumbersome, but it’s a nice touch. Pastor Jim Giannantonio of Christ the Servant in Houston calls every member on their birthday. If you have 240 members, that’s about five a week. They’re often short calls, and sometimes just a thoughtful voicemail. Other times something is going on and the call comes at a good time. This isn’t going to be possible in a congregation of 2,000 members, but most congregations in the U.S. have less than 200 active members.

Another consideration is visitors to the congregation. In a large congregation this will be a separate evangelism or witness or welcome team. In a small congregation, this can be part of the Care Team. Visitor calls are often care calls. People visit churches because something is going on in their lives. Maybe they’ve just moved, which is a huge transitional time in life. They are looking for friends and community. Or maybe they are unchurched, but something in their life has caused them to search out spiritual community. These are not recruiting calls. They are care calls, that need to be made by trained callers, or the pastor in smaller settings.

Community: Don’t stop with congregational concerns. Consider the community and the world. Are their neighbors to the church building, people who live next door? Who contacts them? My first congregation in Iowa used to shovel the driveways of the houses adjacent to the church as a way to be a good neighbor and thank them for putting up with the hassles of being next door to a bustling congregation. How about your local school? Is there one across the street? Who calls the principal and asks what is going on? What if you called the mayor of your town on his or her birthday to say thank you for his or her work? Consider appointing someone to touch base once or twice a year with the officer or sheriff’s deputy who works in your area. The local fire house that serves you. The community is your parish. Who is hurting in your community that should be part of your Care Calendar?

Finally, think about your companion synods and your companion congregation. Who is in touch?

All of this may sound like a lot, but it really only takes about 10 minutes of brainstorming in most congregations to write a list and consider who should make the call. Do this in your Care Calendar.

  1. Care Calendar (10 minutes)

Once you’ve done all of the above, you’re going to have a list of people to receive calls or visits this coming week. Next to each name you’ll have the name of the person who is going to make that contact. Then next to those names, you’ll have the name of the person in your meeting who is going to ask that person to make the contact. You’ll ask those callers to let you know once the call has been made so you know the call has been made. You will also have, over time, a calendar of calls. When Mother’s Day comes, you may have a lot of calls. They tend to pile up around the holidays, which are hard times for many people.

The last part of the meeting is to look at your calendar and see if you had previously written any names on the days for this week. If it’s the week of July 8, you’ll see Margaret’s name there, and be reminded that her husband died at this time last year. Assign someone to make a contact on that day.

Then review last week’s calls. Were each of those calls made? If not, reassign them for this week. If the call was made, when does the next call to this person need to be made? You may decide one call was sufficient. Or maybe you want to check in again next month. Write it down in the Care Calendar for a month from now. Perhaps your contact is grieving and needs monthly contact for a while. Write their name in the calendar for several months ahead.

Be careful. This is the place that the meeting can drag on. How much does everyone need to know about the phone call you made. This is not a time for gossip. Respecting confidentiality will raise the trust level in your congregation, and it will also keep meeting times within reasonable parameters.

  1. Prayer (3 minutes)

You’re going to begin and end this meeting with prayer, but this is not a prayer meeting. A prayer group is a fantastic idea, but this is an administrative meeting to organize care teams. You can hand prayer requests on to the prayer team, or tag a prayer meeting on to the end of this meeting. The assigning of contacts need only take you about 30 minutes, and it will result in a lot of ministry contacts, listening ears and prayers all during the week.

Close this meeting by reading through the names of all who are going to receive contacts this week and then pray the Lord’s Prayer together.

Okay, yeah, there will be weeks when this will take longer than 30 minutes, but there will also be weeks where it will take less. Only a few prayer requests, no funerals or hospitalizations. You pray, touch base and move on to the many other tasks of ministry. So go ahead and budget an hour if you wish, and go 40 minutes. Then be sure to take a 20 for a coffee break together.