A Fireside Chat …And November Worship Plans

When I was five, my Dad and two siblings stayed in Minnesota an extra night while on summer vacation, and my mom and I came back to our house in Wisconsin together.  We hadn’t had as much time alone and my mom really wanted the time to be special for us. 

We were the two people in the family that liked trying food that others balked at, like seafood and cuisine from overseas.  We also really loved lamb with mint jelly.  So on our way back home, before crossing the Mississippi River into Wisconsin, we stopped at a grocery store and got lamb chops to cook as a special treat.  We were really excited for the feast we would share, just mom and I!  But the storm clouds that had been gathering that day turned into a vicious thunderstorm and while the lamb chops were in the oven the power went out.  My mom and I had to go into the old musty basement where our family would listen to the radio and ride out bad storms.  …But we grabbed the lamb chops and mint jelly on the way down. 

My mom and I sat in that basement and listened to old shows and music on the radio and had great conversations, while we feasted on this special food in a setting that neither of us expected.  It is one of my mom’s and my favorite memories of our time together.  During times of disagreement and frustration with each other as I grew into a teenager and young adult, thinking of that basement feast, helped me remember what I love about my mom and shook the branches of negativity before the roots took hold.  To this day I can’t eat a lamb chop without smiling and remembering our feast in the musty basement.

Why am I telling this story?

We are going through a storm right now as a church and a society as we learn to be church in settings and ways that we are not used to.  It doesn’t feel right.  It’s not what we planned.  “It sucks” as I found myself blurting out at the council meeting last night.  The leadership knows that no one will be completely satisfied with any option, or choices between safety and a desire for normalcy.  But as we have thought about the questions about how we live as church during this time—and as we had this conversation on Zoom, connecting all our homes and lives in a way none of us expected to be doing a year ago— I started imagining all of us gathered in a basement together like my mom and I were, doing this work and making memories we can recall and hopefully laugh about in the future.   

I hope you can draw on stories and experiences you’ve had when plans have been changed.  I bet when you think of some of the most important and meaningful moments of your life, it is the love that has been shared during tough times, during adjustments to the plans and routines where the best memories are made.  Times when you needed help and your normal schedule was interrupted.  My favorite Christmas was the one where we decided not to buy a tree because we didn’t have much money, and my Dad drew a Christmas Tree on a piece of Styrofoam.  The love was still there even if the symbols we were used to were not.

On Wednesday, we discussed ways of doing church that aren’t what we expected, but we are looking at them because we value every member of this church and want to do everything we can to keep more members from getting sick by being good examples for each other and our community.  Worshipping in our church is particularly risky without a means of air-intake from outside or air filtration system and during the current spike in Covid-19 cases, our bishop has asked churches to suspend activity indoors.

So in the next month we will worship in some new ways, but ways that we hope can make some new memories the help us remember what it really means to be church in the future when we may have other challenges. 

–This Sunday, November 1st we will celebrate All Saints Sunday in recorded service with me officiating and lighting candles of remembrance from the sanctuary and Joy Dowd serving as reader and deacon from her home via zoom.

On Sunday, November 8th, we will be celebrating Stewardship Sunday with a special live Zoom worship service including a slideshow video of images from our year of ministry as we look forward to supporting ministry and God’s mission for First in 2021.  We hope that Lori Marquez our Stewardship Chair will have recovered from Covid-19 in time to share a message with us as we enjoy a live church experience, where we can see each other’s faces.  The Service will be followed by a virtual coffee hour.  If you don’t have zoom you will be able to call in too.  We will send out information next week about how to join!

–And finally our big news is that we have been talking with our friends at Luther Memorial Church at 2840 South 84th Street in West Allis, and they are generously offering their parking lot and radio transmitter so we can worship safely in our cars, on November 15th and 22nd during this spike in covid-19 cases.  You will receive a bulletin and communion kits when you drive in the parking lot and tune your car to a radio station, like at a Drive-in Movie and you will hear Gary’s Prelude and Pastor Josh lead worship from a small stage in the parking lot.  I think this way of worshipping is safe and is a memorable way to celebrate church in a new way, that others can be invited into safely.

I know this way of doing church is different than what we are used to, but please give them a chance and don’t let negativity and frustration with this situation lead to anger and non-participation.  We miss you and we want to be together in whatever ways we can, while we continue to assess the risks of gathering.   Currently, if there is a gathering of 25 people in Milwaukee County there is a 64% that someone in that group will have Covid and it is going up during our current spike in cases, so leadership is taking that risk seriously and finding ways to safely be church as we face this current storm surge in our community and country.  One Council member is recovering from Covid and another is currently battling Covid.  We ask for your prayers.

Thank you for being a part of the First Family during this storm.  We miss you and we love you and we are grateful for desire to worship and your patience and positive attitudes toward your church’s leaders as we navigate a trying time.

–Pastor Josh

It’s A Busy Week!

This is a busy week at First and we are working through a lot of news and making important decisions, all with the backdrop of a pandemic and a presidential election.

The first thing I want to ask for is your prayers for Barb and her family. This weekend Barb left for Minnesota in order to care for her sister Sue, who is now in hospice care due to lung cancer. Barb will provide nursing duties until home care can get arranged this week.

Barb is still providing some support from afar for a busy week in the office, but volunteers and I will help answer the phone information and pass on information and questions that come in.

Times like this remind us of how grateful we are for Barb and her work and remind us to pray for each other. Barb invites your prayers for her and her family, especially Sue and Sue’s husband Jim, who lost his first wife to lung cancer.

Our Council President Heidi is feeling better after suffering through the coronavirus, after a positive diagnosis. She is still dealing with fatigue and cough, and is getting rest and fluids up at her cabin, but is planning to call into our council meeting this Wednesday. Please pray for her full recovery.

At our monthly Council meeting and will be discussing options for worship during the winter and hearing some proposals from the Council President of Luther Memorial about their set-ups for worship in cars at their parking lot and their precautions and plans for indoor services. We don’t know how we will worship this winter, but it isn’t likely we can do it in our church safely. Our bishop has asked us to not worship during the current spike of record numbers of Covid cases in Wisconsin and as cases in Milwaukee County and West Allis multiply. We will also be discussing how we will continue a music ministry during the winter and our cleaning service if we are not actively using the church building.

On November 1st we will celebrate All Saints Sunday and launch our Fall Appeal with a special online service and slideshow of ministry photos from this year at First. Lori Marquez will be sharing a special stewardship message. We will share details about how to watch the service online soon!

We hope that we will continue to find ways to come together as church during the winter months, online and hopefully in-person if we can find safe ways to do so. If you have feedback or ideas for worship and activities this winter, please contact a Council member.

What Are You Thankful For? 

Let’s Start with Our 2020 Pet Blessing!

During November we will be inviting you to share what you are grateful for in your life and through the ministry of this church!  We are also sharing what makes us want to join God’s generosity as we make pledges to support the ministry of First next year.  During our online All Saints Service on November 1st, we will also have a special message and slideshow from Lori Marquez to get our Fall Stewardship Appeal started. 

But I thought I would get things started with what I am very thankful for in my ministry here at First!  I am so grateful for all the well wishes and support I received during Pastor Appreciation Month in October and whenever I see the well wishes, care and prayer you share with each other, especially with our President Heidi as she recovers from Covid.  I am completing my first month as your synodically installed pastor after the service on September, but last week we held an event that filled me with gratitude for the opportunity I have through my role as pastor in reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ!

I was so grateful for an opportunity to preside at a Pet Blessing on Saturday, October 17th.  And apparently many of our neighbors in this community were grateful for that opportunity too. 

About 25 people took us up on the invitation to remember God’s presence in their relationships with pets and all creation, and God’s care and healing hand in their lives.  We put out an invitation and people responded, most of them first time visitors and with pets of all kinds.  There was a family in the back with two boys who seemed to shout out every type of animal you can imagine when we asked what they had at home.  I was wondering if they lived on an ark!.  We are grateful that God used our church to bring a blessing to their lives and the life of their pets!

Earlier this month for Pastor’s Corner I reminded us to celebrate the life of Francis of Assisi and to remember Francis’ desire to bring the natural world and creation into the life of the church.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean animals fit neatly into the roles or plans we make for them.  Nothing discombobulates human beings like an animal showing up in the middle of our supposedly neatly planned lives.  In fact, we often watch on the news, or on our phones and computers, videos of animals interrupting human lives, and I think we actually long for them to interrupt our lives!  It brings us joy and I believe it is God at work!

I remember being on my way to a meeting in busy Chicago rush hour traffic and coming to a sudden halt.  Wondering what was happening ahead I put my head out the window (like a dog absorbing the wind!) and saw a family of ducks slowly (and very cutely!) walking across the road.  I know every person in those cars was probably in a rush to get somewhere, but I remember looking across at the other line of traffic and seeing the smiles on people’s faces watching these ducks and ducklings interrupt those plans for a moment. 

A few weeks ago, at the Vice Presidential Debate, and during the most tense political season of most of our lives, a tiny fly landed on Vice President Pence’s head and completely stole the show!  The next day everyone was talking about the fly rather than who was right and who was wrong or who made a mistake, or lied more, and who won.  It was obvious:  The fly won!  To me that was a great illustration of one of God’s creatures showing up and interrupting the best laid plans of human beings.  Sure, those politicians wanted you to listen to their words, but I bet they couldn’t help but smile at the interruption and breathe a breath of relief and rest into their tense lives.  We all appreciated that fly giving us a break!  We were all more human and less divided for a moment, because of a tiny animal’s interruption!  Thank God!

At the Pet Blessing, I shared a story from the Bible about animals interrupting human plans and participating in God’s bigger plans for us and creation.  Jonah is called to invite his enemies in Ninevah to repent, but he runs away from the job…because he wants to take away their opportunity to repent and thinks he has the power to do that.  He gets on a boat and tries to sail as far away from God’s call as possible.  But after a storm at sea, God sends a giant fish to take Jonah back to the place God called him.  It may seem unbelievable, but we all know that God can use creatures to interrupt our lives, and remind us of our calls to believe in a God who cares for us and all our neighbors. 

And so, as we begin to think about gratitude and enter a season of Thanksgiving and stewardship messages, I am glad we had time to remember with gratitude the pets in our lives and the gifts of God’s creatures.  Not just that we are good stewards of what we have and what we own, but that we honor the big picture of God’s creation and message of love for us, and how animals are a part of that ministry in the biblical story and our stories!

Pastor Josh


Yesterday, I received some hard news from our Council President Heidi Leiser-O’Neil. She tested positive for Covid-19 and is quite ill. We were able to talk briefly and have been texting and she requested the prayer support of the congregation. She said when it started, it felt like allergies, but she is now experiencing shortness of breath, changes in how things taste, and extreme fatigue.

Please pray for Heidi and Marty. They are up in Rosholt and Heidi is in communication with her doctor as she combats this virus. We all know Heidi is tough lady with a lot of energy and a big heart. She has had some Covid scares already as her daughter had Covid and recovered in April. Let’s all pray for Heidi’s recovery and return to health.

If you are concerned you might have Covid, please talk to a doctor and get tested if you have symptoms or think you may have been exposed. I have had allergy symptoms and because the West Allis Health Department recommended getting tested to make sure they weren’t Covid related, I went to the free drive through testing site at 2701 S Chase Ave in Milwaukee and heard back within 24 hours that I was negative.

It’s difficult to eliminate all risks of contracting or transmitting this virus, but it’s important for all of us to stay alert to our symptoms and contacts and do what we can to avoid spreading the illness asymptomatically.

We all want this thing to go away but we can’t wish it away and it’s best to assume that the people in contact with us are sick instead of assuming that they are not, to help us take appropriate precautions to reduce transmission. The only way to contain a public health threat like this is for everyone around us to take it seriously and for us to lead by example with our words and practices.

If you haven’t known anyone who has gotten Covid, now you do. There are 8 million more cases in the US like Heidi’s. Wisconsin is again a hotspot with over 3000 new cases a day and we all should continue to take precautions and be reminded of the real dangers of the virus.

Please pray for Heidi and remember to join our synod in praying for all those that have contracted Covid-19 and all those that care for them at Noon everyday.

Pastor Josh

Fall Leadership Conference

Hello everyone,

I am a part of the virtual Fall Leadership Conference today and tomorrow.  I will be listening to our featured Speaker Susan Beaumont for the plenary sessions and one of my old Mission Development colleagues from my time as a developer on the East Coast will be leading worship.  I wanted you to know a little more about the featured speaker and I know it will inform my leadership at First!  Feel free to learn more about her and get her book if you would like to join the conversation!…… Pastor Josh

Featured Speaker – Susan Beaumont

Author of How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season and more!

Susan Beaumont is a consultant, author, and coach.  She has worked with hundreds of congregations and denominational bodies across the United States and in Canada.  She is known for her ground-breaking work in the leadership dynamics of large congregations.

Before establishing her own practice, Susan worked for nine years as a Senior Consultant with the Alban Institute. Susan has also served on the faculty of two business schools, teaching graduate-level courses in leadership, management, and organizational behavior.  She has corporate experience in human resource management and organizational development. She currently teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Susan is the author of How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season, and Inside the Large Congregation. She is co-author of When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in the Large Congregation.

Rev. Beaumont is an ordained minister within the American Baptist Churches, USA.  She currently attends a Presbyterian Congregation.

Susan’s educational background includes an M.B.A. from Northwestern University and an M.Div. from McCormick Theological Seminary.  She is a graduate of the Shalem Institute Spiritual Guidance program.

Susan is known for engaging the best of business practice, filtered through the lens of careful theological reflection. She moves easily between discernment and decision making and nurtures the soul of the leader along with the soul of the institution.

You may purchase a copy of Susan’s book at rowman.com using discount code RLFANDF30.

Deconstructing Racism

I hope this winter will allow for some thoughtful preparation for how we want to reopen our church when it is safe to do so and for us to build excitement about inviting new people to join us. Who will they be? What will they care about? How can we best welcome them and let them know who we are and that we care about who they are?

A key piece of being able to welcome people with holy hospitality is treating all people with dignity and equal respect. While we want to think this is easy to do, it actually takes some work to do it well. A key piece to understanding how to invite people into our congregation is doing the work of understanding diverse experiences in our communities and the role of race and racism in our society. I hope First Lutheran can choose to be an example of God’s love that tears down walls and labels that separate us from our neighbors to be a gathering place for all nations as the Prophet Isaiah says in our lesson on Sunday.

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 25: 6-8

Every year the Greater Milwaukee Synod offers workshops to help congregations understand how to deconstruct racism in our communities so that we can better witness to the gospel that invites all nations to gather around our God at the heart of a loving community. This year Council President Heidi Leiser and I have committed to being a part of four sessions in the evening of November 11,16,18,23. We would like more members of the congregation to join so we can do this work together. It will be easy to use up time during this pandemic being bored or frustrated, but we can also use it to do something meaningful that can benefit your life and the future of this congregation! You can register HERE for the workshop.

Please join us in this work! Contact me if you are interested or want to learn more.