Previous Notes from Pastor

From 25 February 2015

March 1 Center Celebration

“All Creatures Great and Small.” That is the theme and title of this Sunday’s Center Celebration. This Center Service will continue to reflect upon the Genesis rainbow story of promise to “every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” There is a broad sense of belonging which is here attributed to our Creator. God does not want any level of creature destroyed. Habitats, environments, mixes of species fit together — belong to one another — for life. Our service will underscore this sense of “belonging” to one another and to the earth and all its creatures great and small.

To help us think and speak about this theme, we will set out dozens of small animals models for all the children. We also ask the children to bring a favorite stuffed or plastic animal from home —no live pets this time, please.

How do we fit together in God’s creation? How do we belong to each other and to the various creatures on earth? (We’ll save what might be on other planets for another time.)

We will gather downstairs in the fellowship hall. The children will begin our time together by picking three animals to name in prayer. Sherman Lee and his band will lead in music. We will sit much as we did last Center Celebration with the communion table in the middle. Refreshments for all afterwards.


Pastor Bill Yancey

From 4 February 2015

The Church’s Hope

I first recognized that our congregation was expanding in cultural heritage when Scandinavians like Eric and Deb Paulsrud arrived from Minnesota. But the hope of the ELCA for an inclusive church meant much more diversity than Scandinavian Lutherans getting together with German Lutherans.

The “sacramental” plate of bratwurst, lutefisk, and sushi which Sherman Lee is proudly holding on the front cover of The Lutheran magazine, February edition, announces the broader welcome of the church to all who wish to gather in the compassion and healing mission of Jesus. Of course we could from our own congregation add, with authenticity, creole food, greens, tamales, and more. But we get the picture.

How Sherman appeared on the cover of our national magazine is an example of the old dictum, “you never know until you ask!” Nathan Schroeder asked. Nathan had seen the call for stories of people who were “not cradle Lutherans.” Remembering Sherman’s faith journey story shared in the Adult Education hour, Nathan pointed out to Sherman that he eminently fit the category. Sherman submitted his story with the kicker, “I can deal with brats and sushi.” A week later, The Lutheran called and said “arrange a photo shoot.” Jessica White handled the photography with Nathan as assistant and Sherman the focus. Obviously a successful “shoot.”

Sherman jokes that the cover story amounts to his 15 minutes of fame. I counter that he gets a whole month until the March edition is out. He is right, however, to play down the angle of fame, which is actually following Jesus’ own example to not make a big deal out of so-called miraculous (even supernatural) events, but emphasize the relationship and community which are inspired by Jesus’ compassionate encounter with others, especially those in need.

For The Lutheran magazine Sherman is a living example of their cover headline, “What draws people to the ELCA.” In the inside article Sherman specifically mentions a church which “drew him to baptism and helped him wrestle with questions.” That statement describes a church which centers itself in the baptismal promises of Christ but which is also open to new questions and to new people who ask them.

So while we are all enjoying with Sherman his 15 minutes, or one month, of fame, we rejoice and give thanks for his witness to our lasting community of faith, our true heritage rooted in the everlasting mission to bring the food of life to all who long to be received.

Pastor Bill Yancey

From 29 January 2015

The Experiment
We have run the experiment, (sometimes running it into overtime.) For the month of January we tried a single service at 9:30 a.m., with all the education programs following. Thanks particularly to the Worship and Doctrine Board for galvanizing the energy to try the experiment and to all the education folks for working to coordinate the educational half of the morning.

Matt Bear, the chair of the Worship and Doctrine Board, will be working with others to create an instrument by which you all can weigh in with your reactions and evaluations of the single service format. There will be electronic and paper opportunities to make your views known.

Some random thoughts from my experience as pastor: I won’t soon forget addressing the congregation with the salutation  “The Lord be with you.”

The response came back as a roar:


I wasn’t physically knocked back, but spiritually so. That was inspiring.

I use this salutation response as an example of a spiritual and palpable (call it real presence) dynamism which a larger gathering of the community of Christ effects. Other inspiring facets of the single service for me would be the flow of 20 or more children coming to the front of the congregation for the children’s message; the robust singing, which to me was more striking than normal, even though congregational singing is always a strength; the leadership of the choir at the service.

On the other hand, there were clearly time issues. The length of the service — somewhat explicable by the special events, baptism, new members, and a special children’s presentation, plus greater numbers taking communion — clearly threw the following educational programs, especially Adult Education, into a disjointed start. Furthermore, our time format pretty much wiped out any comfortable time for our traditional hospitality gathering.

Well, there is a lot more to be said and reflected upon. Running the experiment has proved valuable. We all have some specific reactions and analysis. It will be an added value to our community, for us to make our responses known.

Perhaps a “roar” of response. Look for the survey coming soon.

Peace & Joy,

Pastor Bill Yancey

From 26 November 2014

At Bethel’s Vigil of Peace on the night of the grand jury decision:

We heard from the Hebrew prophet, Ezekiel, that God “seeks the lost…, binds up the injured…and strengthens the weak,” but the “the strong” will be “fed with justice.”

The point is that God intends both the weak and the strong to be transformed, to have new life. The lost are welcomed into the center of community, while the strong are not destroyed by revenge and retribution, but stripped of destructive ways by the radical justice of including all into community so that their strength no longer sets them apart in opposition to the life of others.

We heard from Thich Nhat Hanh: “When you begin to see that your enemy is suffering, that’s the beginning of insight. When you see in yourself the wish that the other person stop suffering, that is the sign of real love.”

We see in the ministry of Jesus that he bore the suffering of many by entering into their life in a way that showed that they mattered, that God cared for them. Jesus calls us all to be attentive and cognizant of the suffering of any and all. In this way both the weak and strong move toward the center of God’s heart and peace.

During a time of prayer for the healing of the world, those gathered at the vigil lit candles, and with prayers for help and hope, placed them on areas of a map of St. Louis and beyond where there is suffering, of community or individuals.

* * *

Jesus did not seem to mobilize large groups in order to confront systems of oppressive power. He chooses, in the stories that we have of his life, to be attentive individually to the lost and the suffering who come to him. However, it is clear that when he welcomes the outcast into his community and the love of God, he is also challenging the organizing reality of the dominant culture and rule. He is pressing in his ministry for  a complete reversal of the social order: The first shall be last, and the last first. However, Jesus’ goal is not to make anyone last, but to create community in which everyone matters, everyone is welcome. In terms of worth and human value there is no first or last.

So when Jesus engages any individual with divine attentiveness, that is, with life giving regard, he does so with full awareness of a social context that must be challenged when it promotes exclusion and prejudice against individuals and people groups resulting in “social death,” if not physical death.

As we reflect on the grand jury decision around the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, anger and sorrow abound. In past this intractable position is the result of an argument between a call for personal responsibility and a challenge to the systemic devaluing of individuals or people groups.

That is to say: It may be fair to ask about Michael Brown’s personal responsibility in this devastating incident, but it cannot be done without an acknowledgement of the broad context of a legal system which statistically appears deadly to young black men, and a cultural structure which for centuries devalued people of color.

What we know is: young black men should not lie dead in the street for what begin as a minor incidents, making it appear that they lie dead because they are black. We also know that violent reactions are likely only to encourage cycles of revenge.

Still we are all connected. That connection was intended by God, to be good and good for us. It has come undone. Jesus’ own ministry was to restore our connection to God and to one another. His calling to us is to see that personal responsibility becomes a reality for us all when all have a valued identity from which to respond.

-Pastor Bill Yancey

From 24 September 2014
An Intern (After All)
As you know we are without an intern this year from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Various plans to have one fell through. However, we have been in consultation with Eden Seminary in Webster Groves (United Church of Christ), and they have they have referred one of their first year students to us, with a view to work 10 hours a week, particularly with young adults and families. After a series of interviews, we have hired her. Her name is Korla Masters, from St. Paul, Minnesota. She is a member of the ELCA and plans to seek ordination in the ELCA after graduation from Eden. (Her mother is an ELCA pastor.) She is starting this week. She will be here on Sunday; please plan to greet her.

Well, Korla is not technically an intern, but practically speaking very much like one. We look forward to her time among us.

In the past two weeks we have expressed much concern over Ferguson and the Ebola crisis in Liberia. Through a combination of recent donations and mission funds we have sent $1000 to Ferguson, designated to alleviate hunger, and $7,000 to Doctors Without Borders to assist in combatting the Ebola crisis. (The funds to “Doctors” will be matched.) Thanks also to those who sent money to the ELCA effort in Liberia. We will continue to support these efforts as contributions arrive. Thanks for your contributions of prayers, concern, and funds.

-Pastor Bill Yancey

From 18 September 2014
Disaster Response
There is a great urgency to send help to the African countries stricken with the Ebola outbreak. Our congregation is planning to send support to Doctors Without Borders. In addition, the ELCA is also mounting a campaign to address the crisis through its disaster relief channels. Funds given to Lutheran Disaster Response would support efforts at two Lutheran Hospitals in Liberia. You will see an insert in Sunday’s bulletin giving you an opportunity to help by sending money to the ELCA “Lutheran Disaster Response”. Or, you may write the church a check and designate the funds for “Doctors Without Borders

Blessing the Animals
Invite your pets. In two weeks, October 5, we will celebrate our annual “blessing of the animals” at our 9:30 a.m. Center Celebration. All animals welcome; that includes stuffed. We gather on the front lawn and will be led in service by the worship band. A special incense will be employed. The nose knows: dogs especially seem to appreciate “the smoke” and adopt a worshipful attitude. This service is also a joy because of the interaction with the community as it walks, runs, and drives by— a good sign.

Hunger Walk
Please join me, Valerie, Jane Gilchrist, our youth, and others on the “CROP Hunger Walk” sponsored by Eden Seminary and our dear friend Professor Clint McCann, Sunday, October 12. The walk, on the grounds of Eden in Webster Groves begins at 1:30 p.m. with registration beginning at 12:30 p.m. There is a one-mile course and a three-mile course. If you cannot make it, sponsor one of us. I will have registration and donation forms on Sunday to give out. Collection will support both local and international need.

-Pastor Bill Yancey

From 30 July 2014

Vicar Tina Heise concluded her education and ministry among us with the July 20 service at which she preached. She left St. Louis on Friday, the 25th, and is now back in Chicago for her final year at the seminary. Thanks to the many who helped her leave her apartment at the end, and all who were part of her education and ministry here for the past year.

Some know and others have asked about the coming academic year with respect to another intern. We will not have an intern for the 2014-15 year. Our intention and plan was to share an intern with another congregation for the coming year, but financial issues caused them to put our collaboration on hold for a year. Other options were explored, but did not work out.

Some events just over the horizon. Our annual Bethel Picnic is scheduled for Sunday August 24, 5:00 p.m. at the Memorial Park in Brentwood. Same venue as in the past three years. Again the church will provide G&W meats. The congregation is asked to bring side dishes.

The week following we will celebrate Pastor Rebecca Boardman’s 10th anniversary of ordination in our service, with a reception afterward in the Narthex. This celebration will appropriately coincide with the return of college students and the start-up of a new campus ministry year.

On September 7, we will, as we did last year, participate in the ELCA Day of Service. Stay tuned for the announcement of our project. For those who wish to participate, our plan is to work on that Sunday morning with prayer and song at the site. Our regular worship service will also be conducted at Bethel at 9:30 a.m. That service will be the last of our summer schedule. The next Sunday, September 14, will mark the resumption of two services (8:15 & 11 a.m.) and all education programs at 9:30 a.m.

– Pastor Bill Yancey

From 11 June 2014

The Central States Synod Assembly was held June 5-7 in Springfield, Missouri. Our faithful delegates were Jim and Judy Roos. Vicar Heise and Valerie Yancey attended as visitors. The Assembly theme was “Fear and Hope.” The idea was to name fears in order to speak words of hope to specific issues. One synodical concern that has loomed for a while is the challenge our rural sisters and brothers face. Many country parishes are struggling to remain viable, in part, because many towns themselves have been damaged by the economy, drought, and a general population flow to larger cities. The vast spacial dimension of our Synod can obscure our connection to, say, Hays, Kansas, more than 500 miles away. We used our time together to acknowledge our common, as well as, our specific challenges; but more importantly to speak words of hope, offer prayers of healing, and give thanks for the Holy Spirit who binds us together in Christ Jesus.

The Assembly, the Synod, the Church, we all have been grasping to find solutions to the challenges we face, chief of which for us in mainline denominations is a shrinking community. What creative, what new, what traditional approach can grow the church, bring back youth, speak relevantly, to mention a few related fears on the minds of Assembly delegates.

The blessing of this conversation was to raise the question of coherence (really of community). How do we fit together? How are we connected: to one another, to the world, the universe, to God? How do we hold together as human beings? We all fear coming apart; and we often feel it happening. What is capable of holding us together as we innovate, and/or recover lively traditions? What new thing? What from the tradition? Whatever?

What holds us together as individuals, as a community, and what propels us forward in mission and advocacy, is the Gospel of Jesus, God’s word of love and forgiveness. It is the unique gift we have to offer. Seems obvious, but I find that I need to be reminded.
Where the promises of God in Christ Jesus pull us together, create us anew, raise us from disconnection and isolation, there is church. Worship is talking back in recognition of ourselves and God; in thanksgiving for the goodness of life offered to us; in joy for the relationship with the whole universe through our connection to its creator. To continue to celebrate this truth gives us hope for the future church, the outward form of which we may not yet perceive as we weave between innovation and tradition, fear and expectation.

– Pastor Bill Yancey

From 7 May 2014

Thanks to the congregation for your response to our call for a 13th month. During this Easter season we have received about $20,000 over normal giving, with additional promised gifts to come. These gifts enable us to meet our mission promises to the broader church and continue our local mission efforts.

I am back a week now, with Vicar Tina Heise, Claire Flesch and Sherman Lee, from an exciting and successful retreat with the confirmands and high school youth. Thanks to the aforementioned three for great work in making our time together insightful, fun, and worshipful; in short a faithful experience. Thanks also to the young participants who demonstrated great maturity in person and in faith.

We all still glow with the blessings of EASTER SERVICES, which were uplifting and proclaimed resurrection in many ways. And before that, my celebration. And before that, “Baseball and Pancakes” And the Progressive Dinner, And…the Seminex Event. And, before that…

And the summer months promise continued vitality, thanks to Vicar Heise and Claire Flesch. Look for events, VBS, worship opportunities, and book discussions, as we move into June.

Also, let’s all prepare for the Voters’ Meeting to elect officers, amend the by-laws, and review the past year, all with a view toward our ministry with God’s future.

Finally, pray for and plan to celebrate Jayde Grams, Spencer Harvey, Isaac Ricklefs, and Jaron WIlliams, who will be confirmed on May 25.

Peace and Joy,

-Pastor Bill Yancey

From 6 April 2014

Warmest thanks to the whole congregation for creating a wonderful celebration at my ordination anniversary. The service, lunch, and program could not have been better. As is fitting, it was a true community event, demonstrating the communal nature of a call to a congregation. The ordained has his or her identity in relationship to the community which is formed by the Spirit.

Wednesday (April 2), someone noted that the day was the first day of my second 30 years. “How does it feel?”

“I feel great,” I said.

So far, so good. Thanks again to all for making it good in the Spirit.

– Pastor Bill

From 26 February 2014

This brief note belies the day and enduring appreciation I feel for those who did so much work to put the Seminex Recognition Day and the Progressive Dinner together, especially Vicar Tina Heise, Matt Bear, Valerie Yancey (Seminex), Stephen Phelps and Clarie Flesch, plus chefs, Steve Poplawski, Carrie Costantin, with Mark Banaszak, and Katrina Stierholz and with the Flesch and Webster-Stierholz families. (Progressive Dinner)

These events were great fun, missionally conscious, and and in the case of the Seminex event, deeply moving. It was a great week-end and inspiring as we move into our next century.

Many others helped, and all who participated added dimensions of warmth and vision. Many thanks to all of you.


-Pastor Bill Yancey

me@preme.mePrevious Notes from Pastor