A composted church

San Lucas now has a compost bin. Our mission partners from Iowa built it a few weeks ago after I had suggested it as a way for us to deal with our lawn clippings, horse manure, and the produce donated for the food bank that has already started to spoil. We’ve already started to put leaves, branches, rotten tomatoes, and cantaloupe rinds into the wooden containers. In three or four months, these remains will become something new and useful, full of microscopic organisms and minerals that bring new life and help other plants grow. The compost is a good project for ecology and creation stewardship, but it is also a perfect metaphor for resurrection.

 

Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain: but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

 

We can use the compost image to think of the transformation that God makes in our lives  and in the life of our Christian community. The Church is like a box of compost. With the compost, all sorts of things that are going to be lost are mixed together—vegetables that smell, fruit with mold, wet coffee grounds. It is a beautiful transformation.

 

In the church, all sorts of potentially lost things get mixed together—all of us. With the odor of our sin and the mold of our imperfections, here we are, ready to be mixed, heated and transformed. With the power of Christ, God transforms us into healthy soil that feeds, helps, and sustains. It is a beautiful transformation.

 

What needs to die so that we can live? What do we need to compost in order to be a beloved community full of new life? Pride? Conflict? Disagreement? Prejudice? Jealousy? Inferiority?

 

When we see the compost, it’s easy to only see rotten cabbage greens, grapefruit peels, and pony shit. We don’t see the invisible process with the organisms and minerals that helps new life grow. But it’s there and at work, becoming something healthy and sustaining.

 

When we see a congregation like San Lucas, it’s easy to see gossip, conflict, and disagreement—sin. We don’t see the invisible process of God’s Holy Spirit, transforming our lives and our communities. We, too, are becoming something healthy and sustaining. Yes, there is acid, but we also have assets. Yes, there is hiel, but there is also miel.

 

Like in the compost bin, God is at work, transforming us into something new:

  • A community of unity, where every person is important.
  • A community of hospitality, where we want to invite and include our friends and neighbors.
  • A prophetic community, where we recognize the injustice in our world and work with others to change it.
  • A teaching community, where we show the wider Church what it means to be an international Christian community, without borders on the border.
  • A community of unity instead of uniformity, where we find value in our diversity.

 

I can imagine a life together of abundance, celebration, and proclamation.

What needs to die so that we can live?

We are compost. We are the Church, trusting in the power of God to heat us up and mix us around into something new that feeds, helps, and sustains.

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Advent at San Lucas

Advent is here at San Lucas—waiting, watching, preparing. After our worship service on Thanksgiving Eve, we lingered around, sipping hot chocolate and noshing on pumpkin pie, decorating the sanctuary with Advent greenery. Our regular Wednesday night Bible study is on hiatus so we can gather for Evening Prayer these December nights. In a few weeks, we’ll celebrate Las Posadas, the beautiful Mexican tradition of reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for respite and lodging en route to Bethlehem.

In my first months as pastor here, I have felt a sense of welcome and hospitality. As the congregations and I have adapted to one another, we learn. My Spanish is getting better, and I’m gaining sensitivity to nuances of Mexican culture. I’m figuring out the process of bridge-crossing. The food bank continues to feed local families. A new guitar group has been developed to rise up worship music leadership. The Word is proclaimed; sacraments are administered. We journey together.

 Week after week, a vanload of San Lucans heads across into Piedras Negras, Coahuila, to worship at Cristo Rey, our Lutheran mission site about 13 miles away in Mexico. I am one of just a few ELCA pastors who preach in more than one country on any given Sunday. Once a month, nearly fifty Cristo Rey families receive some food assistance. It is getting more difficult to bring food and supplies across the border. We’ve started to buy more food in Mexico instead of risking crossing at the bridge. In October, we were not allowed to bring medicines for the free medical clinic across the border. There seem to be more Mexican soldiers near the bridge.

Advent is a time of hopeful anticipation. Here are some things to watch for at San Lucas in the time ahead:

  • Training a few new assisting ministers
  • Introducing an occasional childrens’ sermon
  • Some sort of ecological project—perhaps a community garden or maybe a goat or two
  • More intentional stewardship education
  • Developing a leadership team at Cristo Rey
  • Hosting a Cub Scout pack at San Lucas

Come and see! We sincerely hope that you consider visiting us at San Lucas and Cristo Rey some time in the next year. You can read this blog and check out pictures posted on facebook, but there’s no better way to understand the ministry here than to visit. Because the church property had long ago been an orphanage, San Lucas has dorm space available for visiting groups. Past congregational contingents have done cleaning and construction projects, helped with the food bank, and hosted medical clinics and health fairs. A fun potential project for a first-time mission partner congregation might be to help with a Saturday afternoon children’s event and/or help prepare a community meal. When you come, we can go to see the controversial federal border fence in downtown Eagle Pass so you can get a firsthand glimpse at our human boundaries. There have been concerns about safety and security along the border. We do take precautions. Both church campuses are surrounded by locked gates. If we do cross into Mexico, we go only in the day, taking a church van instead of personal cars.

¡Muchísimas gracias! In a context with much poverty and unemployment, San Lucas and Cristo Rey are both very dependent on the generosity of our mission partners and supportive donors. We are ever so grateful. Due to internet privacy concerns, we won’t list individual donors here. Besides ELCA and Synod support, we have been impacted by the munificent benevolance of so many others. Thank you!

Please remember in prayer:

  • The mission and ministry of San Lucas and Cristo Rey
  • The ELCA
  • The Southwestern Texas Synod
  • Our mission partners and prayerful supporters
  • Those who receive food from our food bank
  • Families traveling north for agricultural work
  • Teenagers tempted by the allure of drugs
  • Victims of violence on both sides of the border
  • People struggling with their legal immigration status

 

Advent blessings,

Pastor Paul

 

Adapted from an Advent 2011 newsletter to friends and mission partners of San Lucas.


Hopes and fears

As I get ready to start as pastor of a Spanish-speaking congregation en la frontera that is heavily dependent on financial mission support from partner congregations, the synod, and denomination, I name and claim things that intimidate me and those things that invigorate my eager anticipation.

Cosas que me dan miedo—Things that really freak me out:

Preaching in Spanish: It’s not my native language. Though I can usually get my ideas across, there’s always the worry I might embarrassingly conjugate a verb incorrectly or say the wrong noun. Just the other day, I was lunching at a seafood restaurant with San Lucas’ interim pastor and a lay leader, and I almost ordered pecado instead of pescado—sin instead of fish.

Crossing the border: I know there’s a perception of danger. Though I’ve heard that cartel issues aren’t as peligroso in Piedras Negras as in Juarez or Nuevo Laredo, there is still a risk in crossing the border. Also, ever since my one and only speeding ticket eight years ago, I start to feel nervous around cops and folks with badges and uniforms. I’ll soon get used to border checkpoints. My family is a bit concerned, too. My mom always worries about her kids. Just a few days before I moved to New York for internship, Law & Order was on TV, and an address of a scene of some sort of violent crime flashed on the screen. “Mom, you know that’s just three blocks from where I’m moving.” I’m sure she’ll have similar concerns once I’m in Eagle Pass.

Fundraising: Much of San Lucas’ income comes from outside the congregation. As I wrote to my previous congregation informing them of this new call, it doesn’t make sense to leave one congregation and go to another with an even more precarious financial situation. Not knowing the future of my salary is somewhat daunting. When I was a kid selling Boy Scout popcorn or orchestra candy bars, I hated asking people to buy stuff. I know stewardship is different, but it’s still out of my comfort zone.

Cosas que me dan animo—Things that inspire and excite me:

Preaching in Spanish: I know that I’m not the erudite homiletical craftsperson in Spanish that like to think that I am in English. My sermons won’t be as good in Spanish, yet I’m really looking forward to not keeping God in my own English-speaking box, and encountering what the Gospel is like in another language. It’s also bad stewardship for me to have skills and abilities that I don’t use. I’m afraid that if I don’t keep speaking Spanish, I will forget what I’ve learned. Also, what better way is there for me to become a better hispanohablante than to have to speak in Spanish?

Crossing the border: My response whenever somebody comments about the possible danger on the border is, “Well, that’s exactly the place the Church needs to be.” I keep on praying that prayer from page 128 in the green Lutheran Book of Worship, “Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.” I don’t know what ministry on both sides of the border will be like, but I trust God in the midst of it all.

Building up mission partners: Instead of thinking about it as fundraising, I frame it as developing relationships; it’s about more than money. It’s about connections and community. I’ve seen “mission trip” situations become messy and insensitive. Far too often, it becomes “the rich white people help those poor brown people.” This arrangement is one-sided and embarrassing. I’d like to avoid this. However, I think San Lucas already has a good handle on this. Several congregations have been strong mission partners, making several visits to Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras a year for years. It’s a long term relationship, being Church together. I want to be a part of these friendships and mutuality!

I want to acc-cent-chu-ate the positive. There’s more that inspires me! 

Oodles of kids: When I visited San Lucas on a Sunday, I counted about 120 folks in worship; probably 25 of these were under age ten. Having a critical mass of children in worship gives the liturgy a wonderful energy.

Adult learning: San Lucas has a midweek class on Bible study and Lutheran doctrine that between 25-30 people come to. I love teaching, and I love learning with a group. I’m usually not a big numbers guy, but to have nearly a quarter of Sunday worship attendance at a midweek learning class is an impressive statistic that I haven’t seen very often in Lutheran congregations.

Living in a neighborhood: One thing I’ve missed while living in suburban San Antonio has been a walkable neighborhood. I’ve been in a gated apartment community on the freeway. Somebody at San Lucas told me that when I give directions to the church, I need to have a reference point. Nobody knows what the street address means, but everybody there knows what “Down the road from Panchito’s” means. I look forward to having an independent mini-supermercado like Panchito’s near my house. I won’t need to drive two miles just to get a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.

I know that the grass isn’t always greener. I know there will be challenges, yet I await this ministry with hope and a sense of adventure.