Rev. Don Ludwig
Maya Angelou once said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” This certainly has been a year of change for all of us. And yet, Southminster has not been reduced by the change, rather I have observed a deepening of our resolve and tightening of our community even in the midst of pastoral changes, a growing pandemic, a national political circus and widening social distrust.
Many people have said that they so desperately want to say goodbye to 2020. But I say, if it wasn’t for the challenges of 2020 we would not be as poised and motivated and positioned to do great things in 2021. The changes we have gone through have given us courage and determination, deepened relationships, given us the capacity to restructure and retool for new virtual and real world ministries and allowed us to be more than we were in prior years. If that is not beauty, I don’t know what is.
The Beauty of Winter 2020 (January – March)
For most of 2020, we could not gather in person for worship, but support for each other and keeping the hope alive remained our top priority. In the early two months of the year, we were able to begin restoring trust after parting ways with our former Senior Pastor, John Shuck. Several listening sessions were held, individual “coffee chats” with Pastor Don were held and small group dinners were hosted by members of the session to encourage community building.
In March, we hosted one of the most successful Celebration of Creativity Art shows on record. But that was the last Sunday that we physically met for worship in the church (March 8, 2020). I remember that Sunday well, instead of shaking hands for the Passing of the Peace, I instructed the congregation to do shoulder bumps. Remember that? Good times. So many of us, including me, were so naive about the magnitude of the impending pandemic.
The Beauty of Spring 2020 (April-June)
During the months of April and May, we were adjusting to the fact that a “virtual” church could be a reality for some time. The Session and I met every two weeks with an additional two day retreat in June to plan a path forward. I have never been so grateful for the outstanding leadership, commitment and creativity that surrounded me. The Session developed a phone tree for keeping in regular contact with members and I began my Summer Pastoral Visitation Social-Distanced Tour in June.
During this time, a worship guide was sent out each week which included liturgy, music, and a videotaped sermon. We began meeting as a congregation on Zoom once a month for fellowship, laughter and connection. For Easter, we were able to Flower the Cross virtually with a Southminster slideshow of pictures with members and families which was shown in the emailed Worship Guide and during our Zoom Fellowship time. Our congregational meeting was held at the end of April to elect new Elders and Deacons. In June, a special fellowship hour was held to honor our four senior graduates (Tyler and Natalie Greenwood, Calvin Neis and Brennen James) and the Youth Ministry Team sponsored a drive by recognition of the graduates.
The Beauty of Summer 2020 (July and August)
At our Session Retreat in June, it was decided that we would begin the search for a Designated Pastor. As a result, plans were made to update our past mission study, recruit a 12-person Pastoral Nominating Committee, and coordinate a special Congregational Meeting for approval of the PNC in July. We also transitioned to a weekly Zoom Worship service on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and Vicki Lukich became a member in order to serve (and become the Chair) of the PNC.
As a result of the groundwork that was conducted over the Spring and early Summer, a new ministry of Session was officially established: Technology and Social Media. This committee has worked to secure a Presbytery grant and Southminster funding to purchase equipment that would enable Southmister to offer a streamed worship service and maintain our sustainable presence in an on-line world. Even more, Jason Sabino’s role was temporarily changed from “Choir Director” to “Interim Coordinator of Technology and Reopening”.
During the summer, I continued my summer pastoral tour of home visits. These visitations were the highlight of my summer and deeply filled me with grace and hope. After being at Southminster for almost 15 years, it wasn’t until these visits that I truly saw the depth of relationships and beauty of connections that is Southminster. I was honored and loved hearing the stories and being welcomed into your homes. Thank you. Inspired by this experience, I initiated the idea of sending out a bi-monthly publication of the “Monday Spotlight” that features short interviews with members and bolsters relationship building and knowledge of others in the Southminster community.
In August, the Session studied and approved our Church becoming a Matthew 25 congregation. This became our spiritual theme for the month of August and a great opportunity for our church to confront the challenges of our time and stand in solidarity with the poor and those who experience racial oppression, in a uniquely powerful way. We purchased a Black Lives Matter Banner and draped it over our Cross on the outside of our church building. This symbolic act has received a lot of attention and supportive comments from the community. Even more, five members of Southminster were recruited by the Mission Committee to participate in the “Reckoning with Race Learning Community” which is being sponsored by the Common Table of Oregon. These participants will share their experience with the congregation upon completion of this year-long venture.
The Beauty of Fall 2020 (September- December)
The Fall brought new energy and vibrancy to our ministries. In response to the devastating fires in Oregon, the Southminster Foundation and the church raised over $10,000.00 for Oregon Fire relief victims. As we began to settle in for the long haul of “virtual” ministries, all committees and groups met regularly and meetings were made easily accessible to everyone on our church calendar. Much work was also done to update our church web-page with an eye toward becoming more appealing and accessible to outsiders. Additionally, as a member of the Committee on Representation for the Cascades Presbytery, I helped to sponsor and facilitate a state-wide zoom gathering in October of over 150 people to hear from a group of panelists and discuss our response to the current racial divisions in our communities.
The newly structured Family Life Committee sponsored two activities (Drive-Thrus) in our community. The Halloween Drive Thru connected all of our families and dozens of folk from the community as children received candy, hats made by Bea Luchtsinger and participated in fun activities while in the confines of their vehicles. Similarly, a very successful Advent Fair brought over 60 family units to the church for an incredible Drive Thru experience and an outdoor secret room. Countless people have shared that this experience was invigorating and hope-filled in a world of physical isolation.
The first fully on-line stewardship campaign in November was a tremendous success. The “All In” theme proved to become the reality for members. For the first time in a dozen years or so, Southminster met our pledge goal of $300,000.00. The testimonies given were inspiring, Andrew Malderelli’s music was stirring and the call to Stewardship was well received. Southminster is blessed in so many ways—and our vision for the future is alive and well.
The Season of Advent was celebrated in revised but just as exciting ways this year. The youth decorated the worship space with a christmas tree, our Advent banners were hung and other decor became visible to congregants at Zoom worship services. The spiritual theme was “I will Light Candles this Christmas” from Howard Thurman (drawing upon Matthew 25 and our call to focus on vitality, racism and poverty). We adopted the Presbyterians Today advent devotional and made it available to all our members. Each week in worship, many Southminster members provided tantalizing music for the season. The mission committee served over 75 Vose families with Christmas baskets and gifts. The Christmas Eve Service saw over 110 people attend and provided an excellent stirring of the heart. One of the highlights was our Southminster member “Light these Candles” slideshow which brought all of us together even though we were apart.
The Beauty of Our Staff and Volunteers
I have thoroughly enjoyed working with our exceptional staff this year. Although four of them resigned for personal reasons (Matt Thompson-Aue, Marissa Varner, Denise Ackerman, and Kim Strine), each of them contributed to Southminster in marvelous ways and will be sorely missed. I am thoroughly thankful for the flexibility of the remaining staff (Amanda Olson and Jason Sabino) as they were often called upon to switch their roles (sometimes more than once) and filled in where needed as we searched for a new administrative assistant who was hired in November (Lisa McQuilliam). Lisa has become an excellent addition to our staff and family at Southminster. While staff must be at a social distance from each other and members of the congregation, they have forged a way forward to offer real support to members of our community and be a presence that answers the call of love in the world. This year was largely a success because of their versatility and collaborativeness. Thank you.
And Southminster is blessed to have such an exceptional group of Elders and Deacons and volunteers. Many may not be aware, but the Session Elders met bi-monthly for a period of six months to offer me support and guide the church in some major shifts and transitions of ministry. The Deacons served well in their role as care-takers and provided cookies for my pastoral tour of home visits and offered support to those in need. Through the hands and hearts of so many volunteers, the church continued to reach out and explore ways to support members, envision our future and make ministry happen. Thank you.
Looking Forward to 2021
My hope is that this new year will bring a deepening of our work for justice, with increasing focus on partnerships and collaborations—but also with increasing attention to who we are as a community of faith and what we claim as our identity. I look forward to partnering with the new Senior Pastor and growing our ministries to expand our reach and effectiveness.
So as we delight in the butterfly and butterflies that we have become:
May hope rise up in our hearts as we begin again in love.
May we hold one another in love through the uncertainty and even the fear.
May we feel ourselves held and loved by something greater than ourselves.
May we hold and wave the banner of Justice in all ways and in all places.
Peace and Grace to all,