Sunday, September 8, 2013

Things I loved about church this morning.

There were a lot of things I loved about church this morning. Let me share with you a few of them.

I loved the big attendance we had at early service. In addition to a good number of members, there were even some visitors there (regular visitors, but still).

I loved how Felix and Francisco helped their mom and grandparents put ice in the ice chests so our bottles of water would be chilled. I loved that, in addition to our boys, we had two girls at the children's sermon. I loved the announcement Barbara gave about a bell choir boot camp and Tammy's comments ("who here does not read music? - raise your hands.") I loved the positive spirit of Barbara's comments when she asked people to consider ringing bells in the handbell choir.

What else was great about this morning's worship service? I loved hearing the peoples' exuberant singing during our hymn sing today and the wonderful hymns we sang ("O Christ the Same" - to the tune of Danny Boy; "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me;" and "Here I am Lord"). Folks in the congregation sang from their hearts with joy and love for God. It gave me goosebumps.

The choir had not planned to sing today, but on Saturday Barbara got inspired, called Heather Puebla and asked if she would sing "Lift High the Cross" as a solo, with the choir backing her up. She agreed and we did. It was lovely. Heather's voice just soared on the verses she sang solo, and when we joined her on the chorus it sounded like we were a 50 voice choir instead of a 7 voice choir.

I loved that people asked for prayers for several of our members who have had surgery or are in the hospital, and how we raised their names during the Prayers of the People. We thanked God for Gerri's healing, for improvements in Ynette's health, for Debbie's new job. We are one family in Christ - in good times and in bad. Thank God for our fellow members who care about us.

Summer's over and I loved that many of our youth were in worship today! Seeing them, giving them a hug, made me smile.

Our closing hymn today, "O God Beyond All Praising," is one of my favorites. I first learned it when I was serving at Mt. Zion in Conover, North Carolina. Every time I hear it I think of Tim playing that big, majestic organ, the cross lifted high as acolytes led the procession, the sense of God's Spirit wrapping all around us like a beautiful ribbon or a warm blanket. I loved singing that hymn today as the service ended.

After worship people grabbed a couple bottles of water to pass out to anyone they saw out in the hot sun as they drove home. They also took several bookmarks (made by Heather Grill and Heather Puebla) with scripture verses on them, intending to keep one and give two or three to friends or neighbors. I loved seeing the children - Felix, Francisco, Madisyn - giving people bookmarks and cold bottles of water to distribute.

On the way home I drove through the neighborhood around Shepherd King with 6 bottles of cold water. I saw a man and his young son washing their cars so I stopped and gave them each a bottle of water. Then as I drew closer to home, on the access road of 410 at Perrin Beitel, I saw some folks waiting for the bus. I gave a cold bottle of water to three of them, saying "this is from our church. Have a blessed day."  There was one more bottle when I pulled into the driveway. I saw my neighbor sitting on her front porch. She waved; I hurried over with a bottle of water and said "you look thirsty."  I loved doing that - giving people water for no reason except that God loves them.

That is a partial list of the things I loved about worship today. I thank God for today, for the people and ministry of Shepherd King Lutheran Church.

Pastor Kris Franke Hill, stm.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lent and Renewal

It is so easy to be defensive in response to words or actions that question or critize. As a pastor of a welcoming congregation, I cannot afford to be defensive when responding to critiques, misunderstandings, or frank queries. Today I received an email from a stranger who took issue with a blog I had posted suggesting a ban on assault weapons. In my reply I tried to be gracious and open-minded. There is so much defensiveness in our world that I just do not want to participate. It damages our relationships with one another.

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.

I have a new student to mentor at the local middle school. I like him, but we do not share similar interests, he's doing pretty well in school, and his home life is a sensitive topic. I struggle to know what to say when we spend an hour together each week.

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.

We’ve got some 30 people participating in a Lenten cantata at Shepherd King – The Tale of the Three Trees. What a tremendous turnout! Practice has kept us all busy and our first performance is this Sunday. Anxious and excited, both.

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.

Found out this weekend that one of our dear members will not win her battle with cancer. She’s had a full life and is dealing well with her situation, but we love her so much and will miss her. In this aging congregation it is tough to see our friends losing mobility and independence, losing their health, losing their lives.

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.

We've started a new Sunday school curriculum for adults; it is time to start planning for summer camp; I will begin mentoring a seminarian in a few weeks; our annual appeal is only 4 weeks away – that will keep us very busy; my husband and I hope to create a Bible Garden with the children of Shepherd King; I have no idea yet what I will say on Easter Sunday. So much to do.

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.

In the midst of our busy-ness, God calls to us, saying “be still and know that I am God.” In response to our hunger, Jesus hands us bread saying “my body, given for you;” he passes the cup, saying “drink. This is my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of all.” When we are estranged, Jesus takes the cross and dies in our place, reconciling us to God and to one another.

Whatever you face and regardless how busy you are, may the mystery and miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection fill you with peace and new life.

Pastor Kris Franke Hill, stm.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Stop the Violence

Sixteen mass shooting took place in the United States in 2012 resulting in 88 deaths (information from The Nation magazine). They were:

February 22nd – five people were killed at a Korean Health Spa in Norcross, Georgia.

February 26 – gunmen opened fire in a Jackson, Mississippi nightclub, killing one.

February 27 – three students were shot to death at a high school in rural Ohio.

March 8 – two people were killed at a psychiatric hospital in Pittsburg.

March 31 – two people attending a funeral were shot and killed in North Miami, FL.

April 2 – a former student killed seven people “execution style” at Oikos University in Oakland, California.

April 6 – two men went on a shooting spree targeting African American men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, killing three.

May 29 – in Seattle, Washington, a man opened fire in a coffee shop killing five people and then himself.

July 9 – three people were killed at a soccer tournament in Wilmington, DE.

July 20 – a man entered a movie theater in Aurora, CO, and killed 12 people.

August 5 – six people were shot to death in a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI.

August 14 – three people, including a police officer, were shot and killed at Texas A & M University.

September 27 – in Minneapolis, MN, a man shot and killed five people at his former work place, then killed himself.

October 21 – three people were shot to death at a spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin; the gunman then killed himself.

December 11 – two people were killed at a mall in Portland, Oregon.

December 15 – 26 people, mostly children, were shot and killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut; the shooter’s mother was killed at her home; the shooter committed suicide.

We who are followers of Jesus Christ, who love God and live to do God's work in this world - what will we do in response to these killings? We must respond, not just with an expression of sympathy or an official statement naming these as tragedies, but with ourselves - our bodies, our minds, our efforts, our words and our actions.

I believe two things must be done in our nation to curtail these horrifying occurences. First we must provide comprehensive and excellent mental health care to all people who need it. That could get expensive to us as a society, but the cost is worth it to prevent more deaths like those listed above. Those who shoot innocent people for no reason are not well. I say that not to excuse their behavior but to underscore that providing mental health care to all is necessary if we are to have a safe society.

The second thing we must do is ban the sale of any and all rapid-fire guns in the United States. No one needs a rapid fire weapon to protect him/herself or to hunt, and those are the only reasons a person needs to own a gun. Guns do not necessarily keep a person safe. The mother of the shooter in Connecticut owned the guns that were used to kill her; they did not protect her life from danger.

The violence must stop. What will you do? What can we do together? We cannot be silent, we cannot fail to act any longer. Let's work together to stop the violence.

Pastor Kris Franke Hill, stm.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hands Empty. Hearts Full

It was the look that got me, the look he gave toward the altar after the offering plates were collected. That look wrenched my heart, wrenched all our hearts, but what could we do?

At Shepherd King our adult ushers collect the offerings during worship on Sunday mornings. But often when there are children in the service the ushers ask a couple of them to carry the full plates back to the altar as the congregation sings the doxology. A worship assistant waits for them in the chancel, receives the plates, and takes them to the credence table.

On Sunday Kathy was the worship assistant. Conner and his little cousin, Hudson, were chosen to bring the offering forward to the altar. Conner has done this many times before; he's 8 years old and quite capable of participating in various ways in the service. Hudson had helped once before, but at barely 3, it's harder for him to handle those collection plates with checks, bills, and coins in them. So as the boys came forward Conner held the plates and Hudson walked alongside him, hands empty.

As soon as they started forward Hudson began to lobby for carrying one of the plates. He reached for a plate, but as the bigger and more responsible one, Conner held them fast. Hudson veered slightly in front of Conner. Conner patiently guided his little cousin over to the side and continued walking. As they got closer and closer to Kathy, waiting for them at the altar, Hudson's appeal for a plate become more demonstrative -- reaching again, giving his cousin pleading looks, getting in front of him. Conner didn't waver, just brought the plates forward. He had probably been told to carry them both for fear that Hudson might drop one, sending checks and cash flying.

Finally they reached the front. A few feet short of the altar Hudson came to an abrupt stop. Conner continued on and gave Kathy the plates, then he turned and headed back to his pew. But not Hudson (who loves Conner more than anything and usually follows him everywhere). Hudson just stood there - his body turned partially towards the back, his face turned toward the altar, his head down. And the look on his face was heartbreaking. This boy used to be so shy he would not come to the front of the church even with Conner or his Dad. But now he stood there all alone with a look of dejection and defeat on his face. We all ached to console him.

Kathy had begun walking toward the credence table with the plates, but Hudson's expression made her pause. For a moment she didn't move. Then she went back, reached down and invited Hudson to re-give her one of the plates. He happily moved forward, took the top plate, lifted it just a little, and put it back again. Then he turned and walked proudly back to his seat while Kathy took the plates away.

Grace had come to life right in front of us. We saw a boy who felt left out, rejected, and dismissed be acknowledged, be welcomed at the altar - the home of God. There, in God's presence, Kathy shared God's kindness, God's tangible love, with a little boy. The whole congregation sighed. Our hearts were filled by that gracious gesture. And Hudson learned, again, that he is loved in this place, that he matters to us, that we see him and care for him as a child of God, our brother in Christ.


Pastor Kris

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Grief and Grieving

I don't know how to grieve. People grieve differently, of course, and there is no perfect way to do it. Even so, the process I follow, the ways I express my grief seem inadequate.

I feel like a child standing on a street corner with a lost look on my face. When I first heard the news I could only think to say these two things: "but I just saw her" and "oh God, oh God, oh God." We wander blindly through grief, not knowing where the path will lead us, unsure what to say or do, stuck fast in disbelief.

We did just see Julie, on Sunday. She was her usual delightful self - smiling, helping set the altar for communion, singing in the choir, talking about her kids. Who could imagine Mt. Zion without Julie Klutz and why would anyone have done so? Her grandmother lived to be 97; surely Julie had many more good years of life left.

But she didn't. On Friday she collapsed, went into a coma, and died, sending a whole community - church members, neighbors, friends of her sons, her family and her own friends - into shock. It didn't seem possible.  It didn't seem real. It didn't make sense -- still doesn't.

I don't know how to grieve. Mostly I am numb and sad. My attention may be diverted by a task at work but as soon as it is finished I remember: "Julie is dead." When I awaken after a night's sleep, feeling the heaviness within, the thought comes quickly: "Julie is gone."  On the outside I appear calm, normal, but inside a tiny "me" is beating her fists on the walls and screaming "no! no! no! It isn't fair!"  I would cry if I could but the tears only come at inopportune moments - during a meeting, in worship when I'm giving the announcements or trying to sing. I don't know how to grieve.

Grief comes as it will, expresses itself on its own terms. One friend can't eat; several friends are having trouble sleeping. Julie's family is surrounded by people, come to offer their condolences. They get to talking, remembering, even laughing. But when the house is empty and it's time for bed, 'reality' (as Austin put it) smacks them in the face, punches them in the gut all over again.

I don't know how to grieve, but I do know this - we grieve together. We check on each other and talk even when we don't know what to say. We play music to relieve the pain and share special songs with our friends. We fix food and bring it to those in mourning. We encourage one another to rest, to eat, to know we are all still loved. We come together for worship to be comforted, to cry and lament, to hear the Word, to hold each other up. We do not do this grieving alone but with each other; together we keep going. And we remember - her smile, her kindness, her laughter, her goodness, her friendship. Yes, we remember.

"For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:
     a time to be born and a time to die...
     a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted...
     a time to weep and a time to laugh...
     a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing..."  (Ecclesiastes chapter 3)

Now is the time to grieve, and grieve, and grieve.  It is also the time to live, giving thanks to God for the life of Julie Klutz, for each other, for the nearness of the Savior and for the promise of life everlasting.

Pastor Kris

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I had a "come to Jesus" meeting with Shepherd King's youth group last Sunday. The previous Sunday, when I was gone, our youth had made a plea for financial support for their trip to New Orleans at the beginning of worship. Then several of them sat off by themselves and proceeded talk all through the service and pay so little attention to what was going on around them that they did not stand up for the gospel or the creed or anything else. Adult members found their behavior inappropriate and disrespectful. By the time I was back in the office last Tuesday, the complaints were pouring in.

So we had a come to Jesus meeting. I told them they'd shot themselves in the foot - asking for support and then acting up all through worship. With their parents standing by listening, I talked to the youth about showing respect - to their parents, to the worshipping community, to me, and most of all, to God. We went over a list spelling out guidelines for good behavior in worship - take off your hat in church, stand up for the Gospel reading, open your bulletin and your hymnal and participate, keep your hands to yourself. Being part of the church, I said, is a two-way street. The congregation provides you with a cool youth room, supports the trips you take, teaches you Sunday school, hires you a youth director. In return, you need to come to worship, behave properly, and be courteous to others. We posted a copy of these guidelines on the door of the Youth room.

We have great kids here at Shepherd King. Each is a fine person with sensitivity and kindness, loyalty, good humor, faith in God, and willingness to help others. But often they come to Sunday school and then do not attend worship, staying in the youth room or going outside instead. That has irked me for some time, but it was only this past Sunday that I talked to them about it. Which makes me wonder - why have I hesitated to make it clear to the youth what I expect from them? Why haven't I addressed them like this before?

I believe the youth - their wellbeing, their behavior, their faith development - is the responsibility of the whole congregation. But I, like most members of our congregation, have left discipline to their parents. "If those kids are not in worship," I've reasoned to myself, "their parents need to do something about it!"  Yet, truthfully, I don't believe that. The parents/guardians of these kids work hard to get their kids to worship; they've told their children how to behave in church. Why should they be the only ones who say to our youth "put that cell phone away, please" or "come on, it's time for worship and you guys need to be there"?

People grow and become their best selves when held to a high standard. Low standards do not make for friendliness, only sloppiness. Yet I think, in the church, we have been afraid of offending other people if we make our expectations clear. Do we expect those in our community of faith to come to worship every Sunday (or only on occasion)? Do we expect each other to speak up at meetings and participate in the ministry we undertake?  Do we expect ourselves and one another to represent Jesus in our daily living?

God does not hesitate to let us know what is expected of us as baptized people. We hear these words in the rite of Affirmation of Baptism - "you have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: to live among God's faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?"  Our response (should we accept this mission) is "I do, and I ask God to help and guide me."

God has high expectations of us. God expects us to worship together regularly - hearing the Word, sharing the supper. God expects our lives to reflect the good news of Jesus. God expects us to work for peace and justice in all the earth. These are high expectations!

"From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected."  That applies to us.  We have received so much from God - life, health, safety, work, family, abilities, the love of Jesus and the hope of the resurrection. Now God lovingly expects us to achieve much, to give much, to strive to love one another as Jesus Christ has loved us.

Maybe we should post this section of the Affirmation of Baptism on our church doors so that we all will remember - God expects a lot from us. May God uphold us and enable us as we worship with full hearts, serve alongside each other, and promote peace and justice in all the world.

Pastor Kris Franke Hill, stm.

Monday, April 2, 2012


You can plainly hear someone screaming in the background. Someone is screaming, begging for help. The voice is terrified, the cries urgent. The dispatcher says "911, do you need police, the fire department or an ambulance" and the caller responds "someone outside needs help." In the background you can hear him screaming, shouting "help me, help me!"

Is it Trayvon Martin screaming or George Zimmerman? We don't know for sure, although several experts have said the voice is not that of Zimmerman, who shot and killed Martin in what he claims was self-defense. Questions about that claim remain.

I listened to the you-tube tape of the 911 call. The first time I didn't even notice the sounds in the background; I was hearing what the operator and the caller were saying. But the second time I heard it - a voice screaming, then crying "help me! help me!" It was chilling. We know that senseless killings happen every day throughout America. What is it about this case that has so captured the attention and roused the sympathies of our people? I think it's the details that get to us - the iced tea and skittles, that he was 17, the hoodie, that an African-American youth was regarded as suspicious in a gated community. All those things trouble our minds and hurt our hearts, but especially the screaming, the calls for help.

It is Holy Week in the Church, a week when we focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Already on Sunday many of us read the passion account from Mark and sang the somber hymns: "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." Each year we remember and mourn the tragic death of Jesus, the Son of God. We confront, again, our own complicity in Jesus' death. Though it happened long ago, his dying continues wherever there is hatred, careless suspicion of others, killing, cruelty, blaming and scape-goating, prejudice, unconcern for those in need. During Holy Week we confess our guilt because we participate in those things.

I keep thinking about the screams, and yes, I assume they came from Trayvon Martin. Did Jesus scream in pain as he hung on the cross; did the Creator scream while watching the Son die? I haven't ever screamed aloud when someone I love dies or is near death; but those screams live within me. As the church moves toward Good Friday where Jesus will be nailed to a cross and left to die, the screams from the 911 tape sound in my head. Thinking of the crowd shouting for Jesus' death "crucify, crucify him," the soldiers whipping Jesus, the guards taunting and spitting on him, I hear in the background those screams.

I know Easter is coming - the resurrection, the bright promise, new life. I know that my Redeemer lives, that the Redeemer of the whole world lives. This Sunday will be filled with beautiful flowers, smiling faces, great good news, joyous singing, the sense that all is well. But I can't move too quickly from the dying, from the loss, the pointlessness of killing one another. Even when Easter is on the horizon, the crucifixion lasts a long, long time - minutes like hours, hours like days. Today there is sorrow. Today there is questioning, hurting, listening to the screaming. While we ultimately rejoice in life-everlasting, there is a time to wrestle with death, a time to ask 'why?,' a time to seek answers and resolution. For me, now is that time.

I pray God hears the screaming. I pray we hear and respond to the screaming and to this culture of death.

Remembering the Crucified One,

Pastor Kris Franke Hill, STM