Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reflections on the Conference on the Past

Thank you to all the Sunnysiders who were able to participate in the Conference on the Past this Sunday. It was a wonderful time of celebrating the rich traditions of our congregation, naming the ways the world has changed around us, and glimpsing the future that we are being called to embrace. Here are some reflections and appreciations from the Stepping Stones Team. We would love to hear your comments and reflections on the Conference as well!

From Ken Baierl...

The Stepping Stones team did not know how the congregation would react to the Conference on the Past. Sunnyside Church hadn’t ever done this before. We shortened the worship service and lengthened adult education. We asked you to spend two hours with us on a beautiful Sunday morning talking about the past. Who would show up? Would the discussion be productive? Would the next step on our journey be a stumble? Well, about 130 people attended, the discussion was wonderful and the Stepping Stones team is energized by the response. The congregation stepped up to the plate. From the table captains, to the youth, to the multi-generational participants, everyone came ready to join in the journey to discern God’s call for Sunnyside Church. We collected valuable information and gained important insights. The Spirit is at work in this process. A successful summer bible study, followed by a successful Conference on the Past is giving momentum to our journey. Both are the result of a congregation that is ready to take a bold step into the future. Thank you. There are more good things to come.

From Mary Cory...

I have enjoyed the Stepping Stones process leading up to the Conference on the Past. Our family joined Sunnyside in 1993 and over the past few months I have learned so much about our church history and our congregation.

The Conference on Sunday was wonderful. I loved the conversation at my table (the 90's) but I really loved hearing the summation of all the tables and the comments made by all the generations present. We heard some wonderful stories about our past and heard ideas for our future. It was exciting to hear everyone talking and laughing as they remembered stories about the church building or members present or past.

We have so much to look forward to and we have a wonderful church family. With God's help we will discern our path to the future.

From Bill Lamie...

I was overjoyed by the number of members who took the time to reflect on our church’s collective past and who actively participated in the Conference on the Past. I think that our Stepping Stones Committee got exactly what we were planning and praying for, and even more.

All Table Captains did a fine job of initiating feedback that was relevant and well presented. My thanks to all who participated and shared in this important process of learning what God is calling Sunnyside to be and do. We are very blessed.

From Abbe Golden...

Without any preconceptions of how the Conference on the Past would play out, I found the conversation at the tables fascinating. Coming together to talk about our shared values and experiences formed a bond between those who have attended Sunnyside for years and those who have attended for a short time. It was fun to talk about previous events and milestones of the church. But more importantly, the information shared from table to table gave us a solid foundation to build on for discerning God’s will for Sunnyside’s future.

From Amy Gardine...

Well, the Conference on the Past is now.... well... past! And it was fantastic. Over 130 eager congregants, 18 active tables, 2 hours of amazing discussion, and countless discoveries about our shared history made the morning fly by. I must admit, as one of the Stepping Stones members, the journey to get to October 10 seemed like a walk into a dark cave! But Sunday's leap of faith helped dissipate some of the darkness and reveal just how our church has worked through the decades. As a newer member of Sunnyside, the chance to share in the common history of our church was a true pleasure. Not only did I feel more aware of our strengths, but I also felt we understood the patterns of what works and does not work for our particular church as a whole. God truly was present in our past and continues to guide our discoveries today.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ten Year Trends by Pastor Rebecca

The Conference on the Past is almost upon us, and we have been spending quite a bit of time focusing on our distant past, things that happened in this place 100 years ago or even 50 years ago. Part of our conversations on Sunday will also be about what has happened in our most recent past.

One of the great resources that we have at our disposal as a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are the statistical reports available on the denomination's website, specifically ten years of stats on every PC(USA) congregation.

Sunnyside's numbers in many ways reflect trends within the larger church, but also speak volumes to the strengths of our congregation.

All of our numbers: our membership, our worship attendance, our Sunday School enrollment, our giving have been higher than average for all PC(USA) congregations. While other congregations are in gradual or deep decline, Sunnyside's ten year trends show that we are somewhat static in our numbers our membership in 2009 of 610 is relatively the same as our membership in 1999 of 605. If you dig deeper into the numbers provided though, you will find that in 1999 we has 68 children in 8th grade and below (non-confirmed members of the congregation) and in 2009 we had close to double at 128. What does that say about our recent history and values as a congregation?

One of the most interesting numbers to me is reflected in the graph that is pictured above. This bar graph breaks down our annual giving averaging it over both the membership and the number of people in worship. It is heartening to see how much giving has grown over our recent past, especially relative to those who are in active membership within the worshiping life of our congregation. To me this indicates a willingness, evening in difficult economic times, for Sunnysiders to invest themselves in the ministries of our congregation.

Before this Sunday's Conference on the Past, I would encourage you to take a closer look at all of the data provided in our Ten Year Trends to gain your own insights into our recent past, the growth we have seen, and ways that Sunnyside fits into the larger picture of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Bible SchoolSuperintendent's Letter, 1913

The following letter and some stern directives are taken directly from the 1913 edition of the Trinity Presbyterian Church Directory. The Directory also included a letter of welcome and encouragement from the Pastor, John Burns as well as financial information about the congregation, a complete Bible School directory, and advertisements from local businesses some of which are included here.

We talk quite a bit as a congregation about how difficult it is in these days to encourage families to find time to get their children to church because of overloads of school work, sporting activities and all of the other things that take up the precious moments of our modern lives. As you read the letter below you will see that almost 100 years ago the church was saying the exact same things to parents that we say today: if you want to encourage your children in their faith you need to lead by example, to educate yourself, to participate in the worship and mission of a congregation and to make living a Christlike life a priority for your entire family. Those lessons are just as valuable if not more than what children might learn in their Sunday School class.


Every boy or girl ought to have a religious training such as the Bible School gives. The object of the Bible School teaching is the formation of Christian character. Its influence will help to make our boys and girls better prepared for the battles of life. Every child has a religious instinct born in him and if that instinct is not brought out in the child by a proper religious training either in the home or Bible School, but is permitted to die, then that boy or girl will have a hard fight in life, with temptations and evil on every side to lure him into a life of sin.

It behooves all parents to encourage their children in anything that is for the betterment of character and true citizenship. One of the best ways to encourage our young folks to attend Bible School is to attend ourselves. We cannot expect our children to go if we do not. In these days the Sunday School has been making its appeal to the older folks and so we call it our Bible School. We believe the Bible School is a place for the training of the old as well as the young. Most of the men high in public life are or have been workers in the Bible School. Men like President Wm. McKinley, Benjamin Harrison, his grandfather Wm. Henry Harrison, Theo. Roosevelt, Justice John M. Harlan, Secretary Leslie M. Shaw, and scores of others have found their place in the work of the Bible School.

We have classes for everyone and cordially invite all the people of this community to come and meet with us. We will help you and you will help us. Our teachers are all hard workers and will give you the best instruction. Anyone coming into our school on Sunday morning will find it a very busy place—a place where the teaching of the Bible and the uplifting of humanity are foremost. "I was glad when they said unto me: Let us go into the House of the Lord."

And from the end of the Church Directory…

Please notify the pastor when any change of address occurs.
Habitual absence from church or from four consecutive Communion Services without good reason will be regarded by the session as just cause for dropping your name from the church roll.
Let everyone be faithful in attendance, and loyal and devoted to the Master and His church.

Your Pastor desires our church to be a Praying, Bible Reading, Giving, Working, Hospitable Church, with a Family Altar in every home, and every member a true Christian. Will you do your part to make it such a church?

I will do nothing that -will hinder my becoming Christ-like or my neighbor becoming Christlike. I will make it the all absorbing purpose of my life to do everything I can to help myself to become Christlike and to help my neighbor to become Christlike. I shall have tune, talents, energy, money, to spend only for that which will directly or indirectly advance God's kingdom in my life and in the lives of my fellow men.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Guidelines for Membership by Pastor Rebecca

For many generations of Presbyterians, a mark of a healthy congregation was the vibrancy of its Presbyterian Women's organization.

Sunnyside had a long standing and effective PW group. Unfortunately, like so many things in life, it came to an end and was disbanded in 2003. People have different ideas about why PW's all over the denomination struggle two of which are the equality gained for women in the ministry and leadership roles of the congregation over the past 50 years and the necessity and desire for many women to work outside of the home.

It's hard to say really what the factors are, but they are most likely linked to some of the same reasons that so many churches are in decline as well.

As we get close to our Conference on the Past, I wanted to share with you a set of guidelines given to all Presbyterian Women pre 1980's so that they could understand their work, their mission, and their calling to be compassionate leaders in the church.

While old models of Presbyterian Women's organizations might not work for today's church, their values and priorities continue to be the ones that we value. Enjoy!


The heart of the program of United Presbyterian Women lies in the local association. Program planning must be suited to the particular needs of each situation so that the women of the church may become meaningfully involved in ministry and mission where they live.

The program of the woman's association of UPW should guide women into a fuller acceptance of responsible church membership demonstrated by a readiness for service and a wise use of time and talent.

The program should guide women to a deeper understanding of the changing nature of all communities, a re-evaluation of what it means to be a healthy community and a commitment to participate in handling such communities.

The program of the association should guide women toward an understanding of rapid change and the need for building a world community of interdependent nations acting in responsible partnership for the good of all mankind.

The recommended structure for UPW seeks to relate the study and involvement-action program of the women's association to the study and action in which the other laymen in the church are involved and to stimulate involvement-action among the total laity of the church.

It is assumed that the entire membership will meet for fellowship, inspiration, opportunities to share the experiences or to receive motivation for study and involvement, to know the general mission of the UP church and to under gird the work of the three program agencies (National Missions, Ecumenical Missions and Relations, and Christian Education) through their giving and their prayers.

It is assumed that the association will provide opportunities for its membership to study in assigned circles and in groups which come together for short or long termed periods of study and which may then dismiss to assume another aspect of the association's program.

The circle chairman has a great opportunity and responsibility for leadership. In the close fellowship of the circle it is possible to get to know the women well enough to see their needs and their possibilities, to help them participate in different ways and so develop abilities they themselves may not have realized they had.

Her concern for the growth of the women of her circle, her understanding of them, their needs and interests, her commitment to the purpose of United Presbyterian Women, will be reflected in the members. Her enthusiasm and personal joy in service will encourage and arouse her circle members to greater interest and service.

Her loyalty to the association as a whole, rather than to her particular circle, will result in increased interest in and attendance at the association meetings.
The circle chairman is an administrative officer of the association, elected by the association. She is a member of the executive committee, bringing to it the thinking and concerns of the circle. She carries promptly to the circle meeting the actions and plans of the executive committee as they make plans that really touch the lives of members. She is constantly on the alert for potential leaders to recommend to the nominating committee.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sunnyside's Past and Sunnyside's Future by Pastor Rebecca

In his sermon this past Sunday, Jamie refered to a history of Sunnyside that was written in commemoration of our 100th Anniversary. A part of that same book that was created were letters solicited from former pastors of the congregation. The letter we are posting this week comes from Ted Greenhoe (pictured with his wife here) who served Sunnyside for 8 years starting in 1937.

Our Conference on the Past (October 10th) will help us to identify the things that have been valued by our congregation over its life in this place. It is hard not to chuckle when you read Rev. Greenhoe's letter. For all of the things that have changed in the world around us, so much about Sunnyside, at least to me, seems to have remained the same.

December 19, 1969

Dear Ira,

I have your letter of December 9 regarding the one hundredth anniversary of Sunnyside Church that is coming up next year, Let me be one of the first to congratulate the congregation and the officers of Sunnyside upon reaching their maturity of one hundred years.

In answer to your request regarding my first impressions of Sunnyside when I came in 1937…

Louis Schleiger was named Chairman of the Pulpit Nominating Committee after the resignation of The Reverend Dirk Middents. One day in the fall of 1936, I received a telephone call from Louis Schleiger asking me if I would become the pastor of Sunnyside Church. The committee had unsuccessfully solicited other men prior to calling me and were now ready to accept me, sight unseen, because I had been recommended by one of the Synod staff people. It was both unusual and pleasant to have a chairman of a pulpit nominating committee invite me, on behalf of the entire committee to be the pastor of a church which I had never seen, and of course, none of the committee had ever seen me. The committee wanted me to come to the church at my earliest convenience and preach a candidating sermon… I said I would be glad to come to Sunnyside and look-at the church, and then determine whether I felt I had the qualifications for the work that needed to be done. I made what seemed to be a long trip from a rural community in southern Indiana to South Bend.

After visiting the church I was then invited to preach a sermon. There were forty people, who attended the Service of Worship on that Sunday morning. One of the women on the way out of church said to me, “l hope you will come to Sunnyside to be our pastor, but If I were you I wouldn't come. There isn’t much future here" This was not altogether encouraging to me, but in the afternoon I met with a few of the officers of the church, including Webster Gray, Joseph Shafer, Charles Becker, Fred Lebaugh and the chairman, Louis Schleiger. They convinced me that the church had great possibilities and they felt so strongly that I was qualified for the position. I went home and reported to my wife that I had a strong feeling that this was a call of God. We gave it serious thought and prayer for several weeks and finally decided to accept their call to become the pastor at $1200.00 per annum which included a rented house.

We did not come to Sunnyside until after Easter of 1937. That, spring in South Bend was cold and wet, but the enthusiasm of the little group that comprised the church was warm and inspiring. It wasn’t long before we counted 50 in the congregation; then 60; and before summer vacation began, we reached the high peak of 100 in attendance.

When I was seriously considering the call to Sunnyside, I wrote to Dr. Baillie who was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church and asked him for an appraisal of the Sunnyside opportunity. He replied saying that if a man didn't mind wearing out a lot of shoe leather (which was his way of saying "calling on the people is essential) that he believed Sunnyside church had a real future. I was determined to wear out shoe leather, and I did. From the very first Sunday that we spent at Sunnyside until the time we left eight years later, there was not a doubt but what we had heard the call of God. The congregation responded in a most generous and gracious way.

The budget of the church for the year 1939 was $3000.00, a part of which was for benevolences. But that $3000.00 represented some real sacrificial giving on the part of a small group that remained loyal to the church during the difficult years of the depression. There was never a lack of volunteerism on the part of the members of Sunnyside. Hardly a one said "no" to the invitation of the pastor to teach a Sunday School class or to sponsor one of the youth groups, or to assist with Boy Scouts, or to manage a Softball or basketball team.

Early in 1940 we established a youth church worship service. The service was broadcast over the South Bend radio station. It became a very popular program both in terms of the radio audience, and in the response of our young people. We had large public school choirs and church youth choirs who visited our church and participated in the services of worship. Through this medium of the youth church we attracted many families of the city to our church. This was before television. The young people were very excited about broadcasting the services

Needless to say our ministry at Sunnyside was an exceedingly happy one and we deeply regretted leaving a congregation that had meant so much to us through eight years.

The thing I remember most about Sunnyside and appreciated the best was the joyous cooperative spirit that prevailed. People took pleasure in doing the Lord's work through the church.

God bless you and good wishes as you begin the second century of witnessing for Christ in South Bend. In these days when so many churches are down keep Sunnyside UP!

The Rev. Theodore M Greenhoe

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Building a Church by Pastor Rebecca

As we move towards our Conference on the Past on October 10th, the Stepping Stones team has been doing research on the history of both South Bend and Sunnyside. The two intersected at the beginning of the 20th Century when JM Studebaker committed funds and land to help build what would become the Sunnyside Presbyterian Church that we know today.

Below is a letter that he sent to the men of the church after speaking in worship on a Sunday morning:

June 23, 1916

My dear Sir:

It was published that I was to speak at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning last, at 10:45 a.m. I had been ill with a severe cold and confined to my house for a week, but I made a special effort to be with you, and of course, expected to see a very full house. To my utter surprise and disappointment I found very few men there, and so I requested your pastor to give me the names and addresses of those who were not present, which counted up to 46. Naturally I formed the impression that the men that stayed away were not in favor of building a new church and were not willing to make some sacrifices to get it and felt that the old church was good enough for them. Now in order to satisfy myself on this question I am sending each and every one of you this letter, and I shall ask you to reply on the same sheet and return it in the enclosed stamped envelope.

1. Why were you not in church on Sunday morning?
2. Do you conscientiously approve of building a new church?
3. Are you willing to make personal sacrifices in order to get a new church? That sacrifice means that you should do all in your power and ability to give what you can towards the building of a new church.
4. Do you approve or disapprove of building the new church on the corner of Washington and Frances?
5. Do you approve or disapprove of changing the name of Trinity church to Sunnyside?
6. Will you pledge yourself to do all you can in support of the new church?
7. Do you expect to retain your membership in this church?

Now I shall expect and answer from your. Please remember that the interest that I am taking in this is for the good of yourself and your family and is for the interest I take in God's work, as I believe that a new church would give you and incentive to do better Christian work.

Hoping I will have a prompt answer, I am

Sincerely yours,
JM. Studbaker

Sunnyside has built physically may times in our history, most recently just 5 years ago. This Stepping Stones journey that we are on is about building a church in a different way, but many of Mr. Studebaker's questions may still apply: What does it mean for each of us to be committed to sacrifice on behalf of Sunnyside's ministry? What does it mean to be a church in this neighborhood? What does it mean for each of us to call ourselves Sunnysiders today?

Save the date, October 10th, to learn more about Sunnyside's history and how it might shape our future!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Potter and the Clay by Barb Wirt

We continue in our attempt to discern God's will, God's direction, for our future through scripture. Today we traveled with the prophet Jeremiah to the Potter's House. There we found the potter reworking an earthen vessel that he felt was marred.

With a reminder that God is the potter and we are the clay we considered how God is reworking, reshaping us as individuals and as a congregation at Sunnyside.

We acknowledge that the earthen vessel of our lives at times has felt marred - maybe even cracked.

We compared the "doom and gloom" message of the Old Testament with the message of "love and grace" in the New Testament. Acknowledging that both are an important element of our faith heritage.

At the Potter's House Jeremish has a visual lesson in how the potter can shape and reshape the clay.

In the same way God,the master potter, can shape and reshape God's people.

While the skill of the potter can improve the outcome of even inferior clay, we who are made in God's own quality image need to remain pliable to the molding of the master potter's will.

This pliability may become more difficult as we grow older and more set in our beliefs.

Changes are evident in the neighborhood surrounding Sunyside. The demolition of the former St, Joseph Medical Center buildings are a notable example. What new areas of co-operation and ministry does that call us to?

The Stepping Stones discussions havel led us to voices of inquiry regarding new ways that God might be calling us as a congregation.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jeremiah 18 The Potter and the Clay by Pastor Rebecca

My mother still has bowls in her house that I made in the high school pottery class, I took my senior year. I loved the concept of being a potter, loved working with the clay and loved creating something beautiful and functional from a lump of dirt.

While we learned many styles of pottery, my absolute favorite was working with the potter's wheel. The most important step in starting a pot on the wheel is throwing it on the wheel and getting it centered each time. I was never very good at this part. I was great at pulling it and shaping it, but never had the upper body strength that it took to get it perfectly centered on the wheel.

I will never forget calling over my art teacher, a burly man with huge strong hands, to ask him to center my pot. I know it was not the case, but he did it with such ease that it seemed as though the clay saw him comming and moved itself into the center in anticipation of his touch. I spent so much time pushing and pressing on it without sucess and my teacher could just gently press into the pot to the perfect spot.

I understood that he was stronger than me and had thrown hundreds more pots than I had ever done, and so it was a moment of grace for me that he was always willing to give me help when I needed it.

This image of the Potter and the Clay in Jeremiah is an ancient yet timeless one for God's ability to shape and center the world which God has made. I always like to remember my art teacher when I read this passage from Jeremiah and I consider a God who with the slightest effort can right the world, can center the pot. The world moves in anticipation of the movement of the spirit, just as the clay seemed in move in anticipation of my art teacher.

As we do this work of discernment and transformation, we should remember that the work of centering the clay, of focusing our ministry is not ours alone. We are encouraged to call the spirit over to help us out, knowing that it is the effortless work of God that will guide us. We will push and pull, shape and create, but it is God who will center our creation.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saul becomes Paul by Pastor Jamie

It’s been quite a journey!

We began June 27 with the burning bush and Moses’ call to lead the Hebrews out of slavery to the Promised Land. It was just an ordinary day. Moses was simply going about his business tending the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro. God appeared in the fire and called out: “Moses, Moses..”

Today we finished this part of our journey with the call of Saul and Ananias. Jesus calls: Saul, Saul…” while he is on his way to arrest and persecute Christian believers. Ananias is also called by name and sent to the house on Straight Street where he is to minister to Saul who has been blinded by a flash of light.

Moses responded to God’s call by asking if God could send someone else. I’m not eloquent he explained. God still sent him.

Saul responded to the call by saying: “Who are you, Lord?” But God still sent him.

Ananias first responded to the call by saying: “Here I am, Lord!” But when he found out that he was to go to Saul he responded: Are you sure you know what you’re doing? God still sent him.

I am grateful for this Stepping Stones journey. I appreciate the involvement and interest. We have averaged nearly 30 people in Bible Study each week. Our wonderful leadership team is guiding this journey with creativity and faithfulness. I am excited about the future. Thank you for your participation.

In the sermon this morning I pondered a couple of questions: What if God’s call to the future surprises us? What if we are uncertain about what we hear? How will we respond: Please send someone else? Who are you? Are you sure? Or will we say with confidence and trust: Here I am Lord!

Of course we all want to say “Here I am Lord!” But remember, we will discern and follow this call as a community, listening, pondering, praying, and following together.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Conversion of Paul- Acts 9:1-20- By Amy Gardine

It hardly seems possible, but our Stepping Stones Bible study is coming to a close. It has been an amazing journey to discern God’s call for our congregation, our community, and our world. But I found this week’s passage to be somewhat curious. In Acts we witness the blinding of Paul; the calling of Ananias to step outside of his biases by laying hands on Paul for conversion; the scales falling off of Paul’s eyes; and (this part I love) the exotic locale of STRAIGHT Street in Damascus! I adore this amazingly powerful story of using all men to do the work of God – sometimes when others do not see how or why. Paul’s misled ways are literally “made straight” through his experience with Christ. Not because of the street name, but because of the change in Paul’s heart. But how can such powerful and drastic change be expected of us? Will we, too, have this dramatic and compelling message sent to Sunnyside?

As I reflected on this passage, I tried to apply this story to my own journey in the church. I remembered my earliest moments of awe and respect for God, then compared it to the story of Paul. I must be honest. I did not get blinded by Jesus or pray intensively for three days. And, although my contacts feel pretty awful sometimes, I did not have scales fall from my eyes. I also did not have one person who aided me in my love of God. Instead, I was surrounded by a community of believers who would guide me and direct my path. My moments of awe rested in the shafts of sunlight that used to fall across the choir where my mother sang beautiful hymns of praise. So what could I take from Paul’s story? Perhaps, I am more like Ananias – being called to go against the current. Perhaps, I am needing to shut out the voices of doubt, fear, and disdain to embrace all people. Perhaps, in my desire to be God to the world, I am being called to look at all parts of the church – from the most amazing changes to the most subtle. Because this is the way to begin a church: as a body of believers. No part left unknown. This is the way to share with the world the power and love of God.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Inquiring of God by Pastor Rebecca

Have you ever noticed in the church that we often give people things to do, but we spend very little time talking about why we do them, or why we do them a certain way. If there is something that I can easily just send an email about asking someone to do something, I am more likely to do that instead of having them to come and meet with me to talk about the theory or the meaning behind what I need them to do, to talk about the different snags they might hit along the way so that they will be prepared for them and maybe to talk beyond what it exactly it was that I originally asked them to do empowering them to be creative in their work for the church.

This story from the 18th chapter of Exodus tells us that after Moses chose all of these men who would help him with this work, that he gathered them together and taught them what he knew and how to judge over the people. I would have loved to have been there for that training event: Moses sharing what God had told him, talking through different situations or cases that might be brought before them, exploring together how they would interpret the laws of God so that they each had a solid foothold in the mind of God, but that they also had the confidence and empowerment to know that they were called to be creative in their interpretation and application of the law. They were sent out to do their work, but they took with them a shared vision of who God wanted them to be.

It is certainly the hope that at the end of this stepping stones process that more of us will be out in the world living out God’s mission in this place but the goal as well is to come to a shared vision of what we are to be doing and who we are to be in this place.

The sharing of that vision will only come if we are willing to put in the time it takes to create it, to talk about it with one another, to think creatively about what it is we are doing in this place and how more of us can be engaged in doing it.
Moses could have gathered these men together and told them to just use their common sense in judging over the people, but if that was the only resource or guidance that they needed, what was the point of identifying themselves as the chosen people of Yahweh. It was not their common sense that they needed to rely upon but rather a sense of God and a sense of what it means to be the people of God together.

That is what we are doing together in this process. Not just sitting around and hoping that one of us hears the voice of God at some undefined point, but that we will gather together and talk about who we know God to be, who we have been in this place already and how we can better reflect on God’s mission and live here as recognizable people of God, with each one of us taking on the responsibility for this work, with each of us sharing a vision and sharing the load. And we will know when we are doing it the right way when our backs start to hurt.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jethro’s Advice to Moses Exodus 18: 13-27- By Ken Baierl

What I love about this week’s sermon and Bible study passage is that it sounds like a day in the workplace. I think everyone will be able to relate. The story includes making an organizational chart, developing job descriptions, delegation of authority and project management.

Moses was spending all day and night serving as judge in settling disputes among his people. His father-in-law, Jethro, saw what he was doing and said, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you, you cannot do it alone.”

Jethro seems like a wise and caring person who gave good advice. Moses obviously trusted Jethro and followed his advice. I think the key element in this story is trust. Moses trusted Jethro, he trusted God and he trusted the people that he appointed as officers. That trust allowed everything to work.

As we at Sunnyside Church take our Stepping Stones journey to discern God’s call, we need to trust God and each other. I can already see the trust building as we come to the conclusion of our summer Bible study. I also think this story tells us that we should not take on large tasks by ourselves. That is why it is important for the entire congregation to walk this journey together. I’m looking forward to the sermon and discussion on Sunday.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Jesus in the Garden by Pastor Jamie

Last evening I went to the Chicago White Sox—Detroit Tigers game at US Cellular Field with my son Andy and his friend Amanda. We had a wonderful time together. Andy is a White Sox fan and Amanda is a Tigers fan.

Midway through the second inning four young professional men took the empty seats right behind us. As the game went on I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.

While they were having a lot of fun together, they were also talking about a variety of issues and concerns. Their conversation touched on one man’s addiction to gambling, another who was struggling with a relationship and a third who was unhappy in his job. They were honest and direct as they challenged one another.

The men talked on their phones with numerous friends who were elsewhere in the stadium or at home. They drank a number of frosty drinks and became louder as the game continued. Eventually they joined some friends elsewhere in the stadium. Suddenly our section was a lot quieter and more peaceful.

This afternoon as I have pondered the Scripture text for this morning, the sermon, our Bible Study and this blog entry I have thought about these men and the sense of community they shared together.

In the midst of 37,000 spectators, these men seemed to have a valuable sense of community. They listened, laughed, supported and encouraged each other. They did the same thing with their friends on their phones.

This morning we heard the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He went to pray in the moments before his arrest. He took disciples to be a support for him. He was brutally honest with God. He accepted God’s will for his life. (and death.)

As we continue on our stepping stones journey of discernment, we learn from this story of Jesus life.

 We are growing in this garden time of pausing, praying, listening and discerning.
 We do not travel alone, but share this journey with one another.
 We can be direct and honest with God in our prayers.
 We are called to discern God’s will to be done and not our own.

Jesus rose from his garden prayer and faced his future with courage and peace. May we rise from this time of preparation and face our future call to mission and ministry with the same courage and peace!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Luke 22:39-46 Jesus Prays in the Garden- By Abbe Golden

Obviously this passage is about prayer and I am sure many of us would consider prayer one of the principle ways we discern God’s will. But what can we learn specifically about prayer from the time Jesus spends in the garden? This week’s passage is more familiar to us than the last few. But sometimes that familiarity makes us think we have heard it all, we know it all. And yet I find that the Bible always has something new to teach us no matter how familiar the passage.

Luke states that Jesus withdrew to the Mount of Olives as was his custom. This implies that it was his habit. He didn’t seek God just because it was a critical time in his life but He seeks God on a daily basis. The definition of habit is a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition. How many of us have made prayer a habit?

When Jesus prays to the Father he prays “not my will but yours be done.” He is willing to accept God’s answer no matter how painful. Are we willing to accept God’s answer?

During this agonizing prayer Jesus is given strength by an angel. Perhaps this is why Jesus wants the disciples to stay awake and pray. He knows they are going to need strength to endure the next few days and the future.

Physically we get strength from a daily intake of food and water. Perhaps our spiritual strength comes from a daily intake of prayer.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Broom Tree by Pastor Jamie

A seminary classmate of mine tells the story of taking a risky call to be pastor of a new church development in California. “It turned out badly,” he said. “The project tanked and I went into a deep funk. I felt like a failure.”

Another classmate of ours said to him, “You need a Broom Tree. Let’s go up to Bass Lake. Together they climbed Half Dome, a challenging peak in Yosemite National Park. The friends helped each other ascend the steep stairs and reach the summit. At the top of the peak the scenery was beautiful. The conversation was holy. God was present. “So much for fear of heights, or feeling like a failure.”

This morning we heard the story of Elijah sleeping under the Broom Tree. He was running in fear for his life. But there God reached out by feeding Elijah and preparing him for the journey to Mount Horeb. At Mount Horeb God showed Godself to Elijah in a stunning moment.

There was an earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. There was a wind. But God was not in the wind. There was fire. But God was not in the fire. Finally there was the sound of sheer silence. It was then that Elijah heard the call of God with clarity on where to go and what to do.

Sheer silence. A still small voice. As we listen to the silence we hear the call of God.

This may be a hard concept. But ponder this. Silence takes our attention away from ourselves and helps us focus on God. Silence stops us from telling God what to do so that we can hear God telling us what to do.

I sense that this stepping stones journey is our Broom Tree. A time for Sunnyside to pause, be fed with Scripture, prayer and conversation and listen to the voice of God calling to us from the silence and guiding us into the future.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Elijah Meets God at Horeb - 1 Kings 19:1-18 - by Amy Gardine

Wrestling angels, talking donkeys, and witches… oh my! Yes, it is true that the summer Bible study passages could be likened to a journey into OZ at some points! But these scriptures are so much better, and this week’s account emphasizes why.

This week Elijah, fearing for his life, retreats to the wilderness – alone and willing to die. As he sits down under a solitary broom tree, we see that he is not only running from the threats of Jezebel, but also his own thoughts. He is filled with self-doubt! But Elijah has done something brilliant here. He has retreated! Whether this is instinctual or a back-up plan, Elijah has found a place of protection and in this place he receives mercy. As Elijah sleeps, God sends an angel to provide him with food and drink two times. Miraculously, this nourishment is enough to sustain him in his 40-day pursuit of God!

After Elijah arrives at Horeb, God puts on quite a show: mountain-breaking winds; shuddering earthquakes; and roaring fires descend on Horeb. These are acts that would surely awaken a soul! But the Lord did not appear in these acts. Instead, God came in the stillness, bringing answers, peace, and assurance. In the quiet moments with God, Elijah gained more than he could have believed possible.

How hard is it for us to find that retreat? That silence? With an overflowing calendar, three boys who could rival the cacophony on Horeb, and a to-do list that seems 40 days and 40 nights long, I sometimes feel I am overwhelmed, too. I just want to chuck-it out the window and ask God for a do-over. But this scripture is reassuring to me. Elijah did not have to look far. He simply sat down and rested. For me, this is why this week’s scripture is so much better than that Hollywood trip to OZ. I am NOT being called to run down some golden path. Instead, I am being called to stop long enough to re-discover mercy – for me and others. After that, I can feed on God’s word, full enough to make the journey and peaceful enough to listen for what lies ahead. In our journey to discover God’s call for Sunnyside, I believe the first step is actually not a step, but a seat. It is a call to find our “broom tree” where we can quiet our hearts and truly hear God’s plan.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Saul Goes to a Witch to Seek Discernment by Pastor Jamie

I have two things to confess to you this afternoon.

First, in 25 years of ministry I have never preached on this passage from 1 Samuel 28:3-25 before.

Second, when I saw it on the list of potential passages for our our summer Stepping Stones Series, I didn't remember it. Last week was probably the first time I read the whole story.

But I have thoroughly enjoyed pondering this amazing story:

--King Saul worrying about overcoming the Philistine army in battle.
--How he prayed to God for guidance and direction and how God was silent,
--How Saul disguised himself and sought assistance from the Witch at Endor who was able to bring up the dead prophet Samuel,
--How Samuel spoke the truth to Saul about his future and a new future for Israel,
--and hhe witch cared for Saul with compassion and hospitality!

This is an unusual, quirky and odd story.

But it is fascinating as it encourages our congregation in this time of discernment for the future.

--Will we be able to be patient...waiting and listening for God to guide our steps to the future.
--Are we listening the voices of history and tradition which have asked these same questions in the past?
--Can we hear what the world around us saying to the church today?
--Are we open to hearing God's voice in unconvential ways?

I pray that our answer to each question will be Yes!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saul and the Medium at Endor- 1 Samuel 28:3-25- by Mary Cory

This week we study the amazing story of Saul and the Medium at Endor. We see what happens to Saul when God's will is known but not followed.

Saul has been directed by God through Samuel. Time after time, Saul has let God down by not obeying His voice. Saul has not been the most dependable person in completing God's will. He has often left the job partially finished. How often have we done the same? We think we've done SOME of what we should do-- that's good enough.

With no one to turn to and an attack by the Philistines imminent, Saul visits a medium even though he knows he should “not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists” (Lev. 19:31). He asks that she call up Samuel from the grave so he can tell Saul what to do. Samuel's answer is simple: the Lord has turned away from you because you did not obey his voice. Saul and his sons will be killed in battle the next day.

God gave Saul so many opportunities to do His will but Saul always fell short. He tried to explain away his disobedience, but God knew his heart and knew he was only sorry because he had been caught. Have you confessed from your heart and not just because you have been caught? God gives us every opportunity for a fresh start. He is always there wanting us to complete His directives and follow His path for us.

Our Stepping Stones bible study is a wonderful way to discern God's path for us individually and as a church.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Different Eyes by Pastor Rebecca

Today we slogged through the strange and often ignored story of the seer Balaam and his faithful donkey. If you have not read this story for yourself already, I encourage you to do so. It is well worth the read.

This morning in worship and in the Bible Study we talked quite a bit about the paths that we choose as individuals and as congregations, and how we can get into a rut or commit to a plan that might not always be God's hope for us. We talked as well about how we need to be willing to be shocked by something (like a talking donkey) in order to make a change in direction.

We heard author Frederick Beauchner's reflections on this mysterious speaking donkey. He writes “whereas people as a rule see only what they expect to see and a little more, animals, innocent of expectations, see what is there. The next time the old mare looks up from her browsing and lets fly with an exultant whinny at the empty horizon, we might do well to consider at least the possibility that the horizon may not be quite as empty as we think.”

We also talked more in the Bible Study about another interesting way to read the story of Balaam, and I would like to share that here for those who were not able to join us:

Balaam was much more than a man with a donkey, he was a renowned ancient seer - a man with the ability to bless or curse with just a word from his mouth. He was also a Canaanite, not a part of the people of Israel who were on the move into the promised land. And yet he loved the Lord, the God of Israel, and spoke with God often. He declares to others that it is only the words of God that he is able to obey, nothing else.

King Balak, who has sent for him, has asked him to come and curse these Israelites so that they may not overcome the land. And all three of the times Balak's servants come Balaam refuses, even refusing gold and silver from the King. But after talking with God, the decide together that he should go and see the persistent King in person, though God reminded Balaam to only do what God told him to do.

Then we can jump right over the story of the Donkey and the Angel and start back up at the place where Balaam reaches the King and he is shown three times from different vistas the enormity of the people of Israel. Three times Balak tells him to curse these people. Three times Balaam prays and asks God for guidance. Three times at the direction of God Balaam blesses them again, showing his faithfulness to God.

This is interesting because the story of Balaam and his Donkey on the road, the anger of God, his violence against the animal and the intentions of the Angel to kill him seem totally out of place in the rest of the story.

A number of Biblical scholars have suggested that because Balaam was outside of the accepted community, even though he faithfully obeyed God, even though he brought blessings to the people of Israel, that people of faith became more and more uncomfortable with the strength and abilities of this outsider. This story could very well have been added later to discredit him as an UN-faithful, outsider.

This is an important aspect of discernment that we are called to keep in mind in our Stepping Stones journey together: are we willing to hear voices that come from outside our community? Will we hear the voice of God from our fellow Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Wabash Valley who are also engaged in a time of discernment? Will we hear the voice of God from other Christian traditions that our also seeking to do God's work in this place? Are there ways that we might be guided by other faiths in understanding who we are called to be? Are we willing to learn from others and acknowledge that others outside of our community may have faith to share and ways to help us change direction for the better.

This journey is getting more interesting for all of us as we continue to be engaged in God's word. Let us also be ready to be engaged in God's WORLD as we move ahead in prayer and discernment.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Balaam and the Donkey – Numbers 22:22-40 – By: Bill Lamie

As we reach the mid-point of our summer Bible Study, we continue to see that God makes his direct will be known in the most unbelievable ways.

In the case of Balaam, he not only is commanded by God via a nocturnal dream, but is “preached” to by his donkey, and then confronted by the Angel of the Lord with sword drawn. I think that most of us, when confronted in the same ways, would have sworn never to violate God’s commands ever again. Sign me up for Team GOD!

Balaam, on the other hand (who was considered the most influential soothsayer of his day), is the classic example of a person who knew the right way, but choose to reject it to pursue worldly lusts. God “used” Balaam for the good of Israel, saving the nation from extermination, even though He knew that Balaam was evil. Peter wrote in his New Testament letter about the “character of false teachers”, and uses the account of Balaam as an example. So did Balaam just not understand the meaning of God’s grace? Were the temptations too much for him to follow God’s will? Didn’t God give him every opportunity to follow?

How often are we tempted, distracted and misdirected in our lives, stepping off the path that God intends for us to follow? Do we need for God to send us a shocking sign that He is calling us? I believe that God is always there to lead us back on the right path if we stray, but we have to follow His lead.

Our summer Bible study is a gift that I am very thankful for. It is a wonderful way to learn of God’s calling within our own Sunnyside Church learning community.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Upside Down Blessings by Pastor Rebecca

This journey of discernment that we are on is not just about our own personal lives of faith, but also the life of our congregation.

One of the other things that my General Assembly committee did last week, that I am sure no other GA committee has done before, was to go on a field trip to visit with two local congregations who are growing both deep and wide in the Minneapolis area.

First we drove out to the suburbs to visit Christ Presbyterian Church, which has a total membership of over 5000, 9 pastors on staff and at least 1000 youth participating weekly in programs with a budget of 14 million dollars. As we walked into the building the 55 members of our committee were more than impressed with their beautiful facility and the thoughtful and perfectly timed presentation given to us by their pastor of over 20 years and two of his colleagues. They loved it. And I have to be honest that I enjoyed it as much as the rest of them. I honestly took pictures of their bulletin boards to be able to show Jamie when he is back from vacation, and I grabbed as many of their very glossy brochures in the lobby for each specialized ministry in which they are engaged as I could without looking too suspicious.

At the end of the presentation several people asked the pastor if they could go into the newly renovated sanctuary, and I was so pleased with his answer. He told them that they were welcome to go and check it out, but that it really is only a room…that the heart of who they are happens outside those walls. Clearly by almost anyone’s measure this congregation was blessed in their ministry.

Then we drove back into the city, to Kwanza Presbyterian Church in urban Minneapolis. As we drove into the neighborhood and up to the church, I could hear people in the bus around me commenting that this was going to be a totally different experience. We walked into the building over beautiful art that had been painted on the church sidewalks, past bulletin boards that needed quite a bit of updating, through the unairconditioned sanctuary into a small meeting room at the back. The pastor was a little late and he had no power point slides to show us, but he talked to us about the growth that they are experiencing and the ways that they are touching lives in the community. Of their 225 members 33 of them joined in the past year. Even though their annual giving is under 250,000 a year, they are engaged in compelling work in cooperation with other local organizations. This includes starting a women’s center for women trapped in the sex trades in cooperation with the University of Minnesota, and an urban community garden in the vacant lot next to the church in cooperation with the Science Museum of Minnesota.

He told us compelling stories about how their congregation was vital to their community. Certainly as well, maybe even more so as they struggle to help those who have been pushed to the very bottom of the community, this group of believers was blessed by God in their work together.

We have the same kind of complicated expectations when we think about what it means to be blessed as a congregation…blessed is the church with no typos in its newsletter, blessed is the church with the very charismatic pastor, blessed is the church with the most children in its Sunday school, blessed is the church with the most beautiful sanctuary, blessed is the church with the most organized committees.
It would be my hope that by using these words of Christ to discern God’s call for our congregation, we might try to count our blessings in unusual, maybe upside down ways.

I have shared that the work that I did at GA was unlike anything a committee of theirs had done before, and as we move forward in our work on this journey that we call our stepping stones you are going to hear that kind of thing a lot- that we want to go about being in ministry in different ways than we might have ever done before. That might make you a little anxious, and it probably should. I’ll remind you that Jesus was all about making people a little anxious and turning things on their heads…blessings and all.

As we count our blessings and seek new ways to be present in this community as a community, may we be merciful to one another, may we hunger for the call that God has for us, and may we trust in the presence of Christ to guide us on this journey.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Beatitudes-Matthew 5:1-16- by Larry Savage

What an excellent start we have made on our 10 bible passage journey. So far, we have seen: Moses challenged by God to bring the Israelites out of Egypt; Zechariah and Elizabeth blessed with the long awaited birth of a very special child “John the Baptist” who would precede Christ; and Jacob who would form the 12 tribes of Israel from which Christ would be nurtured.

Next we shift from the Old Testament to the New Testament and begin to see a subtle change. Matthew’s Beatitudes differ from Old Testament emphasis on: following Jewish law, living a moral life, and receiving blessings and prosperity in the present. The New Testament emphasis changes to God’s desire for us to have a “conversion of the heart”, receive blessings of the spirit, and take up the mission to be the salt and light of Christianity.

As I read these first lessons taught by Christ, I am struck by the profound vulnerability we must accept: to be open, thoughtful, flexible, courageous, respectful, and humble as we discern our next path.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Late Night Wrestling By Barb Wirt

Do you ever wake in the morning entangled in the bed sheets and clutching your pillow. Maybe, like Jacob, you've experienced some "Late Night Wrestling". Sometimes issues/problems that can be ignored during the day surface during the night when we're free of the activities and noise and activity.

Jacob is returning to face Esau, his estranged brother. With good reason he is fearful of what this meeting will be like. That trickster Jacob not only tricked his older brother into giving him his birthright, he also tricked his dying father who's sight was failing into giving him the Blessing that was really for Esau.
As he sleeps alone on the river bank he is challenged by an unidentified opponent. Was it Esau who had come out to over power him? Maybe it was a robber finding easy prey in this man sleeping alone.

The wrestling match continued through the night ending in a draw. Increasingly we sense that the unidentified opponent is actually God. Unable to overpower Jacob he dislocates his hip. Refusing to identify himself he never-the-less grants Jacob's request for a blessing - this took considerably more effort than the blessing he tricked his father into giving. God then changes Jacob's name to Israel - for he has struggled with God and prevailed. Jacob is left with a limp, but he has also received God's blessing.

As we talked in the Bible Study following church, we all face struggles, even the church struggles at times. Decisions to take out a mortgage and enclose the courtyard required some serious discussion/wrestling. Members felt that the decision was only made after everyone was encourage to have input- made to feel that they were part of the decision. The same was true of deciding to build The Triumph House. Both were bold steps.

Why did God choose to wrestle with Jacob? Maybe because that is a very one-on-one type of match.

It certainly put Jacob up front and personal with God.

Life is good at Sunnyside - The mortgage was paid off early. The Triumph House was blessed today.

So what is the challenge? That, my friends, is the question. What is God calling us to wrestle with now?

We have received God's blessing in the past! How is God waiting to bless us in the future?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Jacob Wrestles with An Angel- Genesis 32:22-32- By: Abbe Golden

Our stepping-stones journey takes us next to the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel. I don’t usually associate wrestling with angels. Usually I think of angels as something peaceful and comforting. But this is a major struggle with Jacob ending up with his hip being put out of joint. So why did this wrestling match occur?

In the end Jacob states that he has seen God face to face, so there is no doubt that God has called Jacob. But why did Jacob wrestle all night? Was Jacob just another reluctant participant in following God’s will? Maybe. But the scriptures state that Jacob prevailed against the angel and for that the angel grants Jacob’s request to be blessed.

As we journey along with each other, at times. it may seem like we are in a wrestling match with God and perhaps even with each other. Let us prevail in finding God’s will and be blessed by God.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Waiting in Silence by Pastor Jamie

Last evening our family enjoyed a wonderful 3rd of July together.

About 9:30 we started a fire in our backyard and sat together in lawn chairs. Peter set off a few small fountains (fireworks.) We watched our neighbors shooting fireworks high into the air. It was relaxing and a lot of fun.

And it was loud!

At times it felt like the ground was shaking beneath us. The booms were loud and clear. Our dog Molly snuggled up close as the sounds made her nervous. We covered our ears and marveled at the noise as well as the beauty of the colors shooting high in the air.

In this morning's sermon as well as our Stepping Stones Bible Study afterwards, we reflected on the moment of worship when Zechariah entered the sanctuary of the temple to burn incense before God. He met an angel who brought the news that he and Elizabeth would finally have a baby--John the Baptist--in their advanced years.

Zechariah couldn't believe it. And so his voice was taken and he was mute for nine months.

Nine months of silence! Perhaps it was difficult. Perhaps it was wonderful. Perhaps Elizabeth enjoyed the quiet. Perhaps she was desperate for Zechariah to say something...anything.

But that silence and its ending brought forth the incredible news of the naming of the son who was promised. "His name is John," Zechariah declared. He would be the forerunner of the Messiah who would proclaim the mercy of God.

As we step on these stones toward the future of our church, this story encourages us to recognize these steps:

1. Prayer is the beginning. Zechariah, Elizabeth and the whole community prayed. They prayed for their whole lives. Their prayer was honored and answered. We are called to pray as individuals and a community for discernment, guidance and direction.

2. Silence is good. The 9 months of silence resulted in beautiful words and trust in God's guidance. While we may be tempted to jump forward to specific answers and vision for Sunnyside, it is healthy for us to take time to wait on the Lord, and listen to the voice of the Spirit as well as one another.

3. Trust that God will accomplish God's purposes. Nothing would stop God from accomplishing mercy and grace through Jesus Christ. Likewise, God will accomplish God's purpose through our church.

On this 4th of July evening, the noise will probably be louder than last night. I hope it will be a reminder to all of us to pause and be silent before God, listening to the still small voice of the Spirit and the loud boom of God's call.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold- Luke 1:5-20- By Ken Baierl

I loved the discussion about Moses and the burning bush but now it’s time to begin thinking about the second lesson in our summer Bible study – The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold (Luke 1:5-20). Instead of a burning bush we have an angel appearing in front of Zechariah to deliver God’s message to him. Once again, like Moses before him, there is fear, disbelief, doubt and even suffering (Zachariah is struck mute) before understanding and accepting what God was telling him to do.

It dawned on me that neither Moses or Zechariah were looking for God’s call at the time they received it. We at Sunnyside Church are actively asking God for it. Maybe that will make us better prepared to see, hear, understand and believe it when it comes. The Bible study this summer is the first stepping stone of our journey. I believe it is already helping. I’m looking forward to the sermon and discussion on Sunday.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Turning Aside by Pastor Jamie

Last evening I welcomed youth and adults from Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, PA. They are on their way to Chicago where they will devote a week to urban ministry. They spent the night in our building, sleeping on the floor and the couches in our youth rooms.

Meeting and greeting these youth was a nostalgic experience for me as I remembered the early days of my own ministry when I led similar youth mission trips. They appreciated our comfortable building and the warm welcome they received this morning from our community of faith.

I was struck by the connection which took place in worship. While these young people were embarking on an experience of Christian service to people in need, we began our Stepping Stones journey of faith to seek and discern God's call to missional transformation...a vision for the future mission of Sunnyside Church. It was a wonderful connection!

Today we heard the story of Moses and the burning bush and how the normal and ordinary experience of his routine was transformed into an extraordinary moment of God's call. The beautiful dirt of Mt. Horeb became holy ground as God called Moses to go to Pharoah and save the Hebrew people from slavery and oppression.

There are three concepts I'd like to point out from the story and invite your reflection and conversation.

1. God initiated everything that happened while Moses responded. So what is God initiating among us today? How do we experience and hear God's call? What will be our response? Remember: God has a mission and is looking for the church to participate in that mission.

2. It was when Moses turned aside and focused on the burning bush that God spoke his name and called him to service. We tend to sometimes cover our eyes and ears to the signs of call in our lives. This summer we have the wonderful opportunity to pause, reflect, study, listen and hear God's call to our church. How can we turn aside in these days and listen carefully and intently?

3. God's call to Moses was specific, direct and bold. Go to Pharoah and tell him: "Let my people go!" It will take time and patience to discern God's call for Sunnyside. But it will be specific, direct and bold. In what ways can we discern this call and hear God's direction?

This is not a nostalgic experience, but an opportunity to peer into the future and listen for God's words: "Sunnyside! Sunnyside! Go and....?" Together we will discover the call that God is initiating.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Moses and the Burning Bush- Exodus 3:1-12- by: Leslie McKillip

Reading this passage, I was struck by the fact that God chose a burning bush to get Moses’ attention and by the fact that Moses chose to take a closer look and see why the bush had not burned up. It made me wonder just how many people today would be curious enough to get closer and how many people would run the other way. I’m not sure what that answer would be for me. Sometimes I pray that the resources God uses in my life would be more obvious to me like a burning bush because I don’t always hear His whisper in my ear. I do believe that being asked to serve on the Stepping Stones committee and then being nominated to co-chair were both “burning bush” moments. I had served in several large volunteer chair positions and vowed that I was not going to chair anything else for a very long time. I’m so glad that I said “yes” to the Stepping Stones! Now as Bill and I prepare for a move that is both exciting and bittersweet, I will do what Moses did and trust God and know that He will be with us along the journey. After all, God didn’t ask Moses to do it alone and as Sunnyside travels along its journey to discern God’s will for our church, we can all be burning bushes through our many voices and experiences.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

We pray for life! by Pastor Rebecca

How do you know when a church is dead or alive? There is a church that I pass every Sunday on my way to Sunnyside that looks dead to me. Sometimes I even forget that it is a church. Low and behold, every December, Christmas decorations appear on its front door and banisters. Maybe there is still a church worshiping there, or maybe someone in the community just thinks that a church should be decorated for Christmas.

For so many years our motto at this congregation was "The Spirit is Alive at Sunnyside!" How do we know that our church is alive? How do we know that the Spirit of God is at work in the things that we are doing?

I don't exactly know the answer to those kinds of questions for certain, but I will tell you that I have felt the spirit of God, felt the liveliness of our congregation this week more than I ever have before.

Every morning this week I have left home an hour earlier than usual in order to pick up one of our youth and get to the church before 50 Sunnyside children (and even some friends from our community) and adult & youth volunteers have descended on the church for Vacation Bible School. Did you know that we have not had VBS at Sunnyside for over 10 years!

Many parents have been dropping their children off and driving directly to our Habitat for Humanity House up the street on Campeau, spending the morning working on the roof, siding and porches for Triumph House.

Right around 11:00 a.m. every day another group swings into action in the kitchen, packing lunches and feeding the crew at the work site.

I have left VBS twice this week to go up and work for the afternoon myself on window installation and more siding and have been so moved by working along side Jeremy and Miriam, as well as laughing and spending time with Sunnysiders in pursuit of such a inspiring goal.

On Monday evening, once I finally returned home from VBS, the house build, and a meeting with our Stepping Stones team, I sat down and reflected that while I didn't get to answer many emails that day or take care of so many of the things piling up on my desk or on my to do list, I was engaged in hands on ministry and mission with more Sunnysiders of all ages from 3 years old to 70 years old all in the scope of 12 hours than I ever have before.

The Spirit of God may be a hard thing to pin down some days, but I am sure that it was only by the power of the spirit, that is indeed alive at Sunnyside, that I was able to keep moving through all of that work.

Each morning the children open and close their time at VBS with prayer. While some of them ask me to whisper words for a prayer into their ears as they speak in the microphone, we have some that want to pray on their own.

On Tuesday afternoon, one of our Preschoolers asked if he could pray, and in his small but clear voice, he prayed "Thank you God for today, and thank you for life. Amen."

We thank God for life...for the life of this congregation...for the lives that we are impacting this week...for the life that God has called us to embrace into our future as a church family together. Amen!