Mary Ann and I were invited to a Kansas City Chiefs football game after we had been at the church in the KC area for a while.  Neither of us had been to a professional football game before.  When we first entered the stadium (brand new at that time) it was as if we had entered a different world entirely.  The colors, the crowd, the sounds, the excitement, the energy, the beer and nachos.  We both were caught up in it.

Sometimes tickets were given to us.  Often for the December games.  We went.  We wrapped ourselves in plastic garbage bags and cheered the team on.  At first Mary Ann would ask about the basics, “what is this ten yard business?”  Soon she could name the quarterbacks and the stars on many of the teams.  A few times members took us with them to one of the suites at the stadium with free food and drinks.  During that time she remembered her years in Aurora and routing for the Bears.  That settled it.  The Bears it would be.  There were a number of other favorites, but always the Bears.  We had Bears’ posters and Bears’ Calendars, a Bears’ license plate frame (still on the van) and a six and a half foot tall free standing cardboard cutout of a Bears’ player. 

The ministry began with an emphasis on the Youth of the congregation.  There was a New Orleans gathering of 25,000 Lutheran Youth and Counselors.  Busloads traveled there in the August heat.  The Superdome had just opened.  The room I used to lead one of the programs was not finished yet.  I had to wait until the second day to do my sectional. 

The Youth work was not Mary Ann’s favorite.  It was not that she had a role in it.  I made sure that the Youth ministry did not encroach on our personal life.  It was more the time and energy, the attention I gave the Youth that she did not particularly appreciate.   It was not a bone of contention between us.  She knew it was my job. 

The Youth ministry flourished, especially in the first ten years or so.  The centerpiece was the annual trek in three unairconditioned school busses across all of Kansas and the flat and hot half of Colorado to Lutheran Valley Retreat [LVR] fifty miles northwest of Colorado Springs, well into the mountains.  A cluster of us wrote the program and we spent a full week immersed in faith building and community building in one of the most beautiful settings I have ever seen in my life. 

The air was dry and thin and crisp.  Cool nights and hot days, the smell the pines, the rustle of the wind through them brought a calm and peace that was wonderful to experience.  We climbed a steep hill and sat on an outcropping of rocks, watching falling stars, opening ourselves to one another, sharing our deepest struggles and finding hope in a Lord’s love of us. 

There would be as many as eight or nine people playing (or learning to play) the guitar, sitting on the front edge of the platform by the upper fire ring.  We sang songs that lifted our spirits.  We came to know them so well that we sang parts, improvised, added words and phrases, sometimes actions to them.  Every year at the major evening worship every person there was included in and experienced what it means to experience community with others — no one was left out.  There was a powerful experience of the unconditional love of a Lord who could see past our flaws.  For adolescents in search of an identity and acceptance of themselves at a time of such change physically and emotionally, it was a chance to find something powerful enough to help them through it.    

In the years I was at that congregation, I participated in thirteen trips to LVR.  That trip impacted the faith and the life of many of us over the years.  Each time when I returned, physically and emotionally drained, I knew that I needed to be careful not to be too enthusiastic in sharing the experience.  Mary Ann had just had a week by herself with the kids trying to deal with all that comes in the first week out of school in the summer. 

I worked together with the Youth Leaders of a number of congregations but especially one other congregation, much bigger than ours.  In many ways it was a joint ministry.  The Youth of the two churches met together every Wednesday evening for many years. 

When I first arrived, I trained groups of Adults who then taught classes in the Bethel Bible Series.  That provided an Adult connection.  I preached once every three Sundays for most of the time at that church.  Since I was especailly interested in worship and liturgy, the Senior Pastor and I worked together in planning worship services.

As an Assistant and then Associate Pastor, I did not have an opportunity to preach on any of the major festivals in the year.  The one exception was a service I started at 11pm on Christmas Eve.  It became a focal point in the year for me.  I began, sometimes as early as late summer, thinking about what I would say in that service.  I started the tradition of having instrumentalists introduce each carol we sang.  Some years we ended up with a small orchestra.  We had the best of the musicians in the congregation, sometimes with the addition of others they knew who were willing to play.  There were often soloists, one in particular who sang Gesu Bambino beautifully each year.  It grew into one of the major services in the year. 

One ministry that grew quietly was counseling.  It did not have as high a profile as the others, but became one of the most time consuming and satisfying of the ministries in which I participated.  There was, of course, lots to be done with the Youth.  It expanded to include marriage counseling, individual counseling, support for those who had gone through a divorce or the death of a loved one or problems with their children.  Since I had double majored including Psychology as one of the majors both at college and the Seminary and had done supervised Counseling, I knew enough to realize when I should do the Counseling myself and when I should refer them to someone who was a Phd Psychologist.  On occasion I teamed with a Psychologist when it was requested. 

The years in that church included a growing Early Childhood program.  That program was my responsibility.  Seeing the need and the opportunity to touch many families as well as raise the congregation’s visibility in the community, I supported the Early Childhood Staff as we worked together to determine how and when to expand the ministry.  We added a Mother’s Day Out program.  Then we constructed a School-age Child Care program.  At one point there were 150 children involved.  We had to rent the church across the street to accomodate one of the programs. 

There was a need to organize the community ministries.  We developed a group of people who had a heart for those in need.  That team developed numbers of ministries or connected with existing ones, serving the needs of many in the KC area.  The people on the team were creative and energetic.  If there was a need, they found a way to meet it. 

During the last five years of those ministries, I entered a Doctor of Ministry Program.  I began it around 1981 and completed it in 1986.  It took so long because those ministries to children in the community that were were the subject of my doctoral thesis took so much time to plan and implement. 

The ministries thrived, but the national church controversy finally had a direct impact on the congregation.   That is a painful part of the story of that congregation and the ministry there.   That chapter comes next.

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