Thoughts from Pastor Josh

Some interruptions are necessary. As people of faith, we are constantly challenged by the Spirit to see things in different ways and reflect on previous behavior. The unrest around us may lead us to reflect on race and racism in America and in our communities in a way we haven’t previously or to revisit our opinions and feelings. And well we grieve with the protestors and those that have lost homes and businesses we also grieve the wounds of racism around us.

I have been quite overwhelmed by these events this week, especially since I know the neighborhoods and many people affected in the Twin Cities. I have prayerfully been assessing my voice and response in the midst of it. My prayer is that you let the Holy Spirit into your own reflection and response. Your voice matters and is valuable and your neighbor’s voices are valuable too. It’s our choice who to listen to and who shapes our opinions.

There are consequences as a society when we do not listen to those that feel their voices are muted, their will’s oppressed, and see their children killed without accountability. Jesus calls us to listen to those voices, to respect and value them, as we use our voices to align our lives and the values of our community with his kingdom.

Here are three pieces that have helped me reflect on the events of the last several days.

As we remember the man who was killed in Minneapolis, it may be inspiring to hear more of his story and how he used his voice to heal the wounds of his community with the gospel.

I have also been moved by the response of faith communities in Minneapolis, as I have followed friends and colleagues there, particularly Ingrid Rasmussen who is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran in the middle of the most affected area.

I also have appreciated the insight of Trevor Noah, an author and comedian who grew up in Apartheid South Africa and has consistently delivered wisdom about how he sees America and the complexities and interrelatedness of its problems.

I hope these voices are helpful as you think of your voice and how you respond, and how we as a community as we love our neighbors– especially when that changes our eyes, ears, and hearts!

Memorial Day

For those that have lost loved ones in battle and service it is an even more important day.  While many use the holiday as an excuse to enjoy warm weather and the start of summer, please remember that for many this is a time when many grieve the loss of those they loved. 

At 3pm on Memorial Day the nation is invited to stop to remember the sacrifice of those who have fallen. As Christians share in this Moment of Remembrance for those that died, we also say a prayer for peace, so that humans and nations may find ways of resolving conflicts without going to war and that the kinship of the children of God can be celebrated in peace and the kin-dom of Jesus Christ can be more important than any king or earthly power in the world.

On Memorial Day, my family remembers those who were saved by the efforts of our military, like my grandparents and aunt who were liberated from the Philippines during the Battle of Manila in 1945. I mentioned the mosaic that my family visited at the Punchbowl Memorial in Honolulu, that reminded us of those that died to set my grandparents and aunt free. And so many other soldiers who fought and died to liberate others. You can see it HERE. Even if you don’t have a direct connection to the military, please celebrate that freedom and honor that sacrifice today.
–Pastor Josh

Serenity Inns

The mission of Serenity Inns is to help men who choose recovery over their addiction with drugs and alcohol. They are given the opportunity to have a fresh start in life.  Serenity Inns is the only recovery facility in Milwaukee that doesn’t require insurance or ability to pay. Their three-phase transitional program helps men build the foundation they need in order to be re-introduced to society.  To view their website, CLICK HERE.

Be Still…..

On March 12, I decided to start physically distancing myself because of the coronavirus. I’m not especially high-risk, but I wanted to protect my mother, who is quite healthy but in her 70s. I’m able to work at home since the University of Pittsburgh, where I teach, has switched to online-only classes. Well-aware of my privilege, I was a little too excited about the amount of writing, cleaning, cooking and crafting I was going to get done. And for a few days, I was so productive! Then I woke up in the middle of the night on Saturday, feverish and in pain.

Over the next day, I learned that one of my teeth was badly cracked. It required a root canal but was so infected that a course of antibiotics would be needed first. What I had initially seen as a staycation had become a self-quarantine to fight for my health. For the next few days, I slept in 14-hour stretches, ate little beyond soup, and watched my fever fluctuate based on how long it had been since I’d taken an antibiotic. I didn’t cross anything off my to-do list. Whether I liked it or not, I was still.

Yet, I didn’t learn my lesson, even as I began to feel better. With a root canal finally scheduled for Monday morning, I awoke that day full of plans. “Will I be able to chew anything immediately?” I thought. “Probably not. Fine, so I’ll need to plan a dinner that ….” Then the phone rang. I learned that, due to an “overabundance of caution,” nearly every dentist in Pennsylvania had been shut down, another result of the coronavirus and the shelter-in-place order.

“Despair” seems overdramatic, but that’s what I felt. Having the surgery canceled was already cruel, but it was even worse to learn that no one knew when it could be rescheduled. One dentist advised me to prepare for months of waiting, unable to chew, in pain. I didn’t accept what I was told and demanded a return to health. I refused to acknowledge that, even as I was truly suffering, I was still better off than thousands of people. I ranted, yelled and sobbed. In short, I was not still.

Finally, I began to calm down, realizing that I had tasks that needed to be done. I found a kind dentist who tried to explain what was happening and promised to be a resource for me in the days ahead. I began figuring out how to eat more nutritiously in case I really did have months of soft foods ahead. I sent texts and messages to people who cared. I updated my Facebook account and scrolled through the expressions of horror and sympathy.

Eventually, though, there was nothing more to do. Everyone who needed to know, knew. All medical provisions I could make were stocked. I’d even gone to the grocery store with my pitiful shopping list (“soup, ice cream, soft cheese???”). I was home, and the only thing left to do was be still. To know that there was God. So, finally, I was.

I suppose the usual turn this devotion should take would be to chastise myself for not turning to God, for not being still, earlier. And yes, I certainly went through anguish in order to arrive at a place of stillness. But I don’t think God is a bird who waits for calm before it lands. God was with me when I was self-satisfied and when I was wailing, as well as when I was calm.

I think God is with the dental office receptionists, who had to call people in pain to cancel appointments, and all of the other patients hearing the news. God is with our health care workers and their patients, with those stocking our grocery shelves and those demanding empty shelves be refilled with toilet paper. God is with those taking their temperatures for the fifth time today, and those who heed no warnings. God is with those who stay home and those who leave. And God is with those who can be still and those who cannot.

It’s not God who turns away, ever. Whether I am—or we are—frantic with pain, angry with fear or, finally, 12 days later, sore from the operation and finally still, God was with me, with us. God is the stillness. God is there.

This article is from Living Lutheran, a monthly publication of the ELCA. For more information, or to subscribe to Living Lutheran, go to


You are invited to share photos and videos of water that will be shown during the Remembrance of Baptism liturgy and photos of how the Spirit has been at work in our lives and communities in the past two months. I probably will submit a picture of splashing the screen or my conversation with Dr. Loon from yesterday! You can upload them directly to the synod’s Google Drive Folder HERE. You can also send them to Barb or I by Wednesday.

I also wanted you to know that last night, I met with pastors and council presidents from Cluster 4, just North of us in Wauwatosa about how they were working together on the issue of reopening. We discussed the options for communion, safety and best practices for large and small gatherings, risks (like probably needing to shut down and have the community quarantine if anyone at a gathering got sick) and other issues. They decided that they wouldn’t be making any changes before June, and because we do not currently have a guide for phased reopening from our local municipality, these pastors and council leaders are drafting an agreement on phased reopening and standards for gatherings that we at First could also use if we choose.

Our reference point for information and guidance on safety about covid-19 in Wisconsin can be found HERE as well as locally from the Milwaukee County Covid-19 Dashboard with it’s five key indicators for public health and safety.

We will keep you posted as we continue discussions within our leadership at First and what we are hearing from other congregations and the synod. I am grateful that we are not in this alone and have community wisdom to lean on through our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pastor Josh

Activities from Lutherdale Bible Camp

A Lutherdale counselor will teach you how to make chalk paint here:

Here’s a recipe from Lutherdale for Churro Muffin Donuts:


Muffin: Topper:
½ Cup Sugar ¼ Cup Melted Butter
¼ Cup Melted Butter ½ Cup Sugar
½ Cup Milk 1 Tsp. Cinnamon
1 Tsp. Vanilla
1 Cup Flour
1 Tsp Baking Powder
¼ Tsp. Salt

Heat oven to 375* Mix all muffin ingredients together, fill muffin papers ¾ full and bake for 15 min.

While the muffins are still warm, dip muffin top in butter and roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture until covered. Enjoy!

Pastoral Letter on Staying Safe

Our ELCA bishops wrote pastoral letters recently about returning to worship, and I realized I should probably do that too, but I will just give you a pastoral note for now to keep taking this virus seriously. As you may know West Allis went “viral” throughout the globe yesterday… but maybe not for the best reasons…as comedy shows and the internet quickly shared footage of people immediately crowded into bars here on Wednesday night. I hope members of First can remind people in our families and communities that, as nice as this early opening may seem, this virus is still out there, it is still contagious, it is still not fully understood and it can be deadly.

That may seem like bumming people out who want to party, but there are safe ways approach this transition time and jumping in too quickly can bring the same outbreaks we feared in the past months, and get us right back indoors during these lovely summer months. A lot of people will say why aren’t churches open if restaurants and stores are, but I think it’s appropriate that churches are doing all we can to value human life and safety. That’s an important witness during this time that remind other people and businesses of that too. We want everyone to be as safe as possible wherever they are and do our part to get to a more safe point as soon as possible, where we can be truly confident to be in community again. Don’t feel peer pressure to pretend the virus is no longer an issue, but enjoy life as much as you can as you safely try to find a new normal.

Pastor Josh

Reopening Update to Our Congregation and Friends

The First Lutheran Executive Committee has reviewed many documents in the last month as we begin to plan for reopening. We want to keep the congregation informed of how we are approaching these decisions. Here are some of the documents we have reviewed so you know the information and recommendations we are working with:

The Badger Bounce Back Plan

The Wisconsin Committee of Churches Guide for Returning to Church

Bishop Erickson’s Pastoral Letter for Returning to Worship CLICK HERE TO READ IT

ELCA’s “Considerations for Returning to In-person Worship” CLICK HERE TO READ IT

We had a plan for phased reopening based on the Badger Bounce Back Plan ready to be sent to the congregation today, but now with the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision, that plan is no longer a statewide protocol. That means we will also be reviewing the new “COVID-19 Public Health Plan for Suburban Milwaukee” which was signed on to by our West Allis Health Commissioner last night along with other communities around the Metro.  CLICK HERE TO READ IT

This order continues to follow CDC guides for social distancing, but opens up more businesses in limited ways. Gatherings are still limited to under 10 people and churches will remain closed, but the West Allis Health Department has informed us that there is additional language around phased reopening similar to the Badger Bounce Back and we will review that when it comes in. It’s important to note that this new order is enforceable by local law enforcement, the same way the statewide Safer at Home executive order was.

Bishop Erickson and the other four ELCA bishops in Wisconsin sent out a new letter responding to the Supreme Court decision and offering guidance on recommending phased reopening, based on previous recommendations of the health and science communities. CLICK HERE TO READ IT

Pastor Josh is consulting with the synod and congregations in the area about issues regarding reopening and best practices. The pastors and leaders of these congregations will be meeting with them on Sunday evening to review the new material.

We continue to review and assess information as it comes in and will work together to keep members and the community safe as we move toward a plan for reopening. Bishop Erickson, who our FLC Executive Committee met with yesterday via Zoom, has advised congregations to take our time and not rush into reopening. We continue to follow that guidance as we develop these plans with community safety in mind. We will continue to be transparent with the congregation through messages we send in daily emails, letters to members, and other communication. Feel free to reach out to us with your questions.

We are preparing a new version of a letter to the congregation about reopening and will share it with you as soon as possible.

Your FLC Executive Committee,

Heidi Leiser, President
Colleen Siarnicki, Vice President
Lori Marquez, Secretary
Dave Grulke, Treasurer


Together, we can do even more. We’re excited to announce that we’re over half-way to meeting our new campaign goal: $25,000 for each of our two funds, in honor of Outreach for Hope’s 25th anniversary. Let’s keep the momentum going, in the spirit of love for our neighbor.

On Wednesday May 6, OFH officially kicked off Project LunchBox with their first delivery, to Redeemer Lutheran in Milwaukee. Each box delivered will ensure that a family of 4 has lunch for a week. Your generosity to the COVID-19 appeal is already being felt right here in Southeast Wisconsin!

If you’d like to make a donation, go to

Pastor’s Corner – 5/11/2020

–We’ve stalled a bit on our Media Survey, but will be making another push to tally important information from our congregation, so we can have a better understanding of how to communicate with all our members now and in the future.

–In my sermon yesterday, I talked about the important role of deacons in the early church and today. There are many ways members serve one another and the world. One of them is helping with worship services, as mothers and kids of First have been doing for the last two worships. If kids can do it, you can do it too! If you would be willing to learn to serve the church as a worship assistant, I would love to work with you. It’s a valuable way to offer your time and talents in the community and it’s actually pretty fun!

–The First Council’s Executive Committee will be meeting with Bishop Erickson on Wednesday to finally finalize the paperwork for this term call and to have an opportunity to discuss some of the details and issues with reopening. We are grateful for this chance to connect with the synod leadership in this way.

–We give half of our benevolence offering to the synod and continue to gather ideas for how we can support other worthy organizations and ministries in the coming months. If you have an organization that you give to or think First should give to or partner with please let us know!

Have a great week!