Archive for August, 2012

Peace be with You–Growth in a Small Congregation

The congregation Jeff and I serve is small–most of you know that already. In a ministry career of more than 28 years, one of my husband’s greatest gifts has been his ability to work with what God is doing and help churches grow. He loves people, and he loves helping them reach their faith potential within an active congregation. He’s also a marvelous preacher. So when he heard the attendance at Peace Lutheran was averaging between 7-10 people before we came, it didn’t worry him particularly (and still doesn’t). He wanted to devote his last call to a church that might find it difficult to get a good pastor, so that’s what he’s done. And the numbers have been creeping up, little by little. At a recent council meeting, for instance, members were thrilled by the average attendance for July. At fourteen people, it was the best July attendance the congregation has ever had! During the school year, when all of the vacations are over, we average in the high twenties these days. One Sunday, we reached the heady number of thirty-two worshippers. Woo-hoo!

But unlike other places we’ve served, the climb in numbers has been very gradual indeed. Yesterday, talking with some guests who came for lunch, we started thinking aloud about the human reasons for the slow growth in this town of 5000+ people.

“To begin with,” Jeff explained, “Half of the town belongs to the LDS church. That brings the pool of potential members down to around 2500. Of those that remain, approximately half belong to the Catholic parish. Each Protestant church–and there are half a dozen besides ours–takes some of the others. We have to work with what’s left. But that isn’t always easy either…”

Our guests began to look worried.

“You see, in a small town like this, people may already be connected to a church in their own minds, even if they don’t attend it regularly. They may never darken the doors or drop a dollar in the offering plate, but they know where their funeral will take place and where their grandchildren will be married. They consider themselves members, and they are not looking for a new church home.”  

Even I was getting depressed at those numbers. But was Jeff? Not at all.

“People will come, eventually. We’re doing everything right for growth, and we believe God called us here for a purpose of His   own.Our members are very committed. It’ll work out.”

This morning, after our walk, I was outside watering the garden, and I realized that I believe him. Because numbers aren’t everything. Tonight we’ll have half a dozen folks at Bible Study, and they’ll all participate. Jeff’s one confirmation student is thriving with all the attention he receives. A couple of weeks ago, our musician son visited, practiced with our wonderful accompaniest, and they produced some world-class music. Jeff’s preaching series on the 10 Commandments has inspired lots of talk and lots of thought about those ancient–and contemporary–rules of the faith. Things are going well here, and word gets around. Jeff’s firm belief that God has His purposes for our congregation is based on faith at this point, not sight. Not crowded seats. Not high numbers. Just faith in the dependability of God and His promises.

Pray for us, when you think of it. Come and visit when you are in the area (and bring friends)! Come and see what God is doing here. It’s a great garden for the growth of faith.

Image

Zucchini Madness

When Jeff served his first church in Central Wisconsin, a member with a green thumb told me, “Any idiot can grow zucchini.” It’s true that the hardy little squash develops well in most climates–even that of Northern Arizona.

But I’m an agricultural pessimist by nature, so when I was planting my garden this year, I planted 4-5 zucchini hills, because what if they didn’t grow, right? And of course, they grew. And now, I’m swamped by slender green squash. My kitchen counter has had a pile of them in place for weeks–the individuals change, but the size of the pile seems constant.

I have made nearly every possible recipe containing zucchini, and I’ve included zucchini in a number of dishes that didn’t call for it at all.  I have multiple loaves of pineapple-zucchini bread in the freezer and jars of zucchini relish in the cupboard. Zucchini haunts my dreams and turns my scrambled eggs green. It’s getting ridiculous.

The other day I told Jeff I was simply going to pull out three of the plants and get things back in balance. He looked at me like I’d suggested an abortion, so I think I’ll be processing the squash til we leave for vacation in September. And now the tomatoes are ripening! You gardeners out there will relate. I’m a little overwhelmed. A lot overwhelmed, actually. Wondered why the blog’s been spotty lately? Yep. The zucchini did it!

One of the good things about  zucchini madness is that I have found a number of wonderful recipes that include it. My daughter sent me a recipe from one of her cookbooks (sorry that I can’t give credit where it is due–I never saw the book’s cover) that has become this year’s absolute favorite. I thought I’d share it with you today, since at the beginning of this blog some months back, I promised an occasional recipe. If you have zucchini madness at your house, it will definitely help.

Tortellini Sausage Soup

1 pound sausage (I used mild Italian sausage)

1 large onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic

3-14 ounce cans of beef broth

2-14 ounce cans diced tomatoes

1-8 ounce can tomato sauce

1 cup dry red wine, optional

2 diced carrots

1 T. sugar

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 diced zucchini

1-9 ounce package cheese tortellini

Brown sausage with onion and garlic. Add broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine (if used), carrots, sugar, seasoning and zucchini. Simmer at least 30 minutes; vegetables should be tender. Add cheese tortellini and simmer for 10 minutes more. Serve. Sprinkle each bowl with parmesan or asiago cheese (I used some shreds of monterrey jack, as that’s what I had in the house). So, so good!