Book of Faith Devotions – November 27, 2011

Isaiah 64:1-9 (NIV)

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,

that the mountains would tremble before you!

2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze

and causes water to boil,

come down to make your name known to your enemies

and cause the nations to quake before you!

3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,

you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

4 Since ancient times no one has heard,

no ear has perceived,

no eye has seen any God besides you,

who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,

who remember your ways.

But when we continued to sin against them,

you were angry.

How then can we be saved?

6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

we all shrivel up like a leaf,

and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

7 No one calls on your name

or strives to lay hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us

and made us waste away because of our sins.

8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father.

We are the clay, you are the potter;

we are all the work of your hand.

9 Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord;

do not remember our sins forever.

 

Kathleen Norris writes in her book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith:      

“I am a sinner, and the Presbyterian church offers me a weekly chance to come clean, and to pray, along with others, what is termed a prayer of confession. But pastors can be so reluctant to use the word ‘sin’ that in church we end up confessing nothing except our highly developed capacity for denial. One week, for example, the confession began, ‘Our communication with Jesus tends to be too infrequent to experience the transformation in our lives You want us to have,’ which seems less a prayer than a memo from one professional to another. At times, I picture God as a wily writing teacher who leans across a table and says, not at all gently, ‘Could you possibly be troubled to say what you mean?’ It would be refreshing to answer, simply, ‘I have sinned.’”[i]

What is abundantly clear is that this chapter from Isaiah—assigned for the First Sunday in Advent— is a cry of repentance. And it stands as a reminder that in the tradition of the Church, Advent was not just a season of anticipation but also one of deep penitence as well. In recent times, however, churches have altered their Advent traditions, replacing the liturgical color of purple with blue to stand not for Lent-like penitence but Advent preparation and anticipation of the arrival of the Christ. In the congregation I serve, we sort of mix it up. We use both purple and blue. The repentance called for in the assigned readings prepares us to receive the anticipated Christ. I suppose this practice softens the harshness of the reality of our sinfulness and need for repentance in such a warm & fuzzy secular season of “Pre-Christmas.” 

Today, it seems, we are in the market for a kinder, gentler God. We want God to be just another Facebook friend, through the ups and downs of life. Many people shrink from descriptions of any God who would “rend the heavens,” confront his “enemies,” and just generally cause people to quake in holy fear of an impending condemnation. And let’s not even talk about people seeing themselves as unclean sinners whose virtues are likened to stinky laundry!

And yet . . . we know that in Christ we are forgiven, that we do shine like righteous stars, and that the God we face is our friend and not a harsh judge, even so we cannot ignore passages like Isaiah 64, especially in a season such as Advent.

Plainly and simply, we confess…

I have sinned. Forgive me. Thank you. Amen.

We would never be able to extricate ourselves from this predicament if it were not for the grace of God in Jesus—the one whom we prepare to receive— with great anticipation.

The Rev. Jane Baker – FaithEvangelicalLutheranChurch,Roseburg


[i] Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998, p.165):

 

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Book of Faith Devotions – November 20, 2011

Matthew 25:31-46 (NRSV)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,g you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Whatever distinguishes these two groups from one another, they do share at least one thing in common: both have spent their days without realizing something.

Interestingly, both groups ask exactly same question: “When did all that happen?” Jesus tells the righteous folks that he was grateful for all the ways they had fed, welcomed, clothed, cared for, and visited him. But the righteous, can’t figure out where or when in the world they did any of those things for Jesus, and so they search their BlackBerrys, scratch their heads and ask, “Is that right? Well when did we do all that for you Lord, because this thing is supposed to keep track of my life?”

Conversely, the folks on the left-hand side cannot for the life of them recall ever even seeing Jesus, much less encountering him in need of anything, and so they search their iPads for when that might have happened, asking, ” How could this be? This thing keeps my schedule, if I did it, it would be right here! Jesus, tell me again, what day was that???”

One group did the right things to Jesus, the other group failed, but neither realized it.

Do we see those folks living in the margins? And when we see them, are we moved to help, however we are able?  Notice that Jesus’ words do not call us to a life of heroics and miraculous deeds. The kinds of ministries Jesus is talking about here are ordinary and basic. He doesn’t say that we must heal the sick, but that it is enough to tend to their needs. He doesn’t say that those in prison must be set free by us, but that it is enough just to visit them in prison. The rest of the list is also about common sense and decency: when someone is hungry, you do what you can to get her food. A thirsty person needs water. It’s a basic thing. Someone shivering in the chill of anOregon winter evening needs a coat. Those who have no place to sleep or rest need shelter from the elements. It’s all basic stuff.

Jesus isn’t directing us to fix the economy. He is not asking us to come up with a cure for cancer. He’s not expecting us to solve global poverty. Such grand things, if we can do them, are important, but here, Jesus is taking us down to the street level of both seeing and then ministering in ordinary situations.

No matter what we do, no matter where we are, no matter which political party has the clout, for whatever reason, there will always be hungry, thirsty, cold, homeless, sick, and jailed people. That’s the way it is, Jesus says. But how will you respond, because somehow… they are all Jesus.

The Rev. Jane Baker – FaithEvangelicalLutheranChurch,Roseburg

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Book of Faith Devotions – November 13, 2011

Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,f to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Jesus liked stories. Here’s another one he could have told: It’s called, “Just What Could We Do?”  Imagine the possibilities….

The treasurer of a congregation resigned. The church asked another person to take on the position, a man who managed the local grain elevator. The man agreed, with two conditions: 1) That no reports from the treasurer be given for one full year; and 2) That no one ask him any questions during this one-year period.

The church council members gulped, but finally agreed. He was a trusted man in the community and well known since most of them did business with him as manager of the local grain elevator. He was a wealthy man who clearly understood how to handle money. He handled their money everyday. He could handle God’s money too, they figured.

A year passed. At the annual meeting of the congregation to review the previous year, the treasurer had this report to make: The $250,000 the church owed the bank has been paid off. The pastor’s salary had been increased substantially.Missiongiving was up dramatically. Long deferred maintenance on the church building had been completed. There were no outstanding bills.

A shocked congregation asked “How come?” How could that be possible—suspecting that their wealthy treasurer had done it for them himself. “No, you did it!” he said quietly. “Most of you bring your grain to my elevator. As you did business with me, for the past year, I simply withheld ten percent on your behalf and gave it to the church in your name. You never even missed it. Do you see what we could do, if we would do what we could do?”

Imagine the possibilities….

The Rev. Jane Baker – FaithEvangelicalLutheranChurch,Roseburg

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Book of Faith Devotion – November 6, 2011

Matthew 5:1-12 (NRSV)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falselye on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Besides being All Saints Day this Sunday, it is also the opening of campaign season for elections 2012. In just about a year from now, we will elect a president, members of congress, and local representatives. The crowds will gather, promises will be made, and as the candidate field narrows, what the candidates say and promise will be heard as good news for some and bad news for others. Everyone is looking for that one person who will fix everything.

People were coming to Jesus in huge numbers and everyone was trying to touch him in hope of tapping into some of the energy flowing out of him. Everyone wanted healing. Everyone wanted a better life. Everyone wanted a piece of the man who held out the promise of a better tomorrow.

Maybe that is why, right smack in the middle of all this touchy-feely-healing excitement Jesus turns to his disciples and begins to speak a series of beatitudes or blessings that point to a lifestyle and a mindset that was completely at odds with what most people were, at that very moment, hoping to get from Jesus.

It’s hard to imagine someone just getting elected president, riding high on the hopes and dreams and expectations of the millions of people who voted for him (or her), who would then use the victory speech to say, “But you know, I want to congratulate the unemployed in this nation. Some day in heaven you will have it better. And I want to reach out to the homeless and hungry of our land and bless you for your hunger. I want to assure the families of the war dead that in time, you will feel much better.  And I want to say a word to the hated masses, to undocumented workers and others who feel the sting of racism: some day you will receive a reward.”

We cannot imagine such a thing. A victory speech is the moment to pump your fist, to promise the moon, to tell all the people who have placed their hopes in you that you will not let them down and tomorrow will be a brighter day for all.

But not for Jesus, he uses a moment in which people are looking to him and expecting the world of him to say, in all candor, that the poor, the hungry, the sad, and the hated are better off than the rich, the satisfied, the happy, and the well-liked. In saying all this, Jesus is at once describing a future reality of the kingdom of God and coloring between the lines for us the shape of our present lives now. We may bless the poor and the hungry and celebrate that in the kingdom they will be taken care of and fed, but as followers of Jesus, we cannot hear about that future promise without recognizing its present-tense implication for how we live right now. The kingdom of God becomes the way we see things, the lens through which we view life. It’s a gift to be able now, together with the saints of all times and places, to glimpse into God’s world.

The Rev. Jane Baker – Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Roseburg

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A Collaborative Garden in Hood River

A 40 pound squash, onions the size of softballs and sunflowers taller than the average
person crowd the space in the garden behind Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.  Not an inch of soil is put to waste; not an ounce of produce will go uncollected.  Tended solely by volunteers as a joint ecumenical project between two local churches, all the produce harvested, an estimated 1600 pounds, has been and continues to be delivered weekly to FISH food bank.

What started as an idea to celebrate Our Redeemer Lutheran Church’s 50th Anniversary soon turned into a project involving not only other denominations, but a lot of dirt and labor as well.  “The idea was for us to do something to give back to the community,” garden coordinator Dottie Gilbertson said.  “Instead of just celebrating our anniversary inwardly, we wanted to celebrate outwardly, by celebrating with the entire community.  We have this big plot of land and we all said ‘let’s do something with it!’”

The garden was started in the spring of 2009 using about a third of the available land site behind the Lutheran church.  It produced over 800 pounds of produce for FISH the first year.  Asbury United Methodist then heard about the project and asked if they could be a part.  The garden doubled in size this spring.

“In early spring we all sat down together, Alan and Bette Lou Yenne, and Dottie Gilbertson from Our Redeemer, and Gigi Siekkinen and myself from Asbury, and we determined what we should plant and how to make this work,” said Scott Fitch, member at Asbury United Methodist.  Fitch and Alan Yenne, both Master Gardeners, bring years of friendship and expertise to knowing how to properly cultivate the vegetables for harvest.  “We knew there was a huge need at the food bank for produce, and after asking Lorrinda [Hoffman, Site Manager at FISH] what they wanted, we got to work planting,” Fitch added.

The first year was spent growing and learning what types of vegetables would be good in their soil.  Corn was not as successful as the root vegetables.  Onions, beets, potatoes, carrots, as well as squash and cucumbers are all doing very well.  “One of our effective tricks was to lay cardboard around the plants and mulch over the top.  This has really kept the weeds down.  We keep fine tuning it as we go.  It’s doing well, but growing a garden this size, well, we learn as we go, too,” Fitch said.  Plans for a cover crop for the winter are already in process.

About 25 volunteers from both churches gather periodically, some as groups, some are families, others when they can, to weed, tend, water and harvest.  Fitch and Yenne then take the produce to FISH each week as it is ready.  “FISH has a need for it,” Fitch explained.  “If food isn’t donated to them they often have to go out and buy it with their reserves.  They could be using that money for other things.”  Lorrinda Hoffman, Site Manager at the Hood River branch of FISH agreed, “We would order onions, potatoes, carrots and squash anyway, two 50 lbs bags of each weekly, so this is a win-win all the way around.” When Fitch and Yenne bring in fresh produce, Hoffman knows that the money usually spent on produce can go toward other items such as milk or cheese.  “The fresh veggies go like crazy,” she said.  “It is such a good thing to get them each week.  All veggies are welcome and everything is taken.  Even the zucchinis,” she laughs.

Hoffman said that several households donate their garden produce, for which she is greatly appreciative of every amount and variety, but she has never seen churches working collaboratively on such a garden project.   “It is a cooperative project between those two men, between the two churches.  It’s been a great example of that same cooperation in what we do here at FISH,” Hoffman said.  FISH relies on a volunteer base from ten local churches to staff the food bank on a weekly rotation.

“We are building relationships together,” said Gilbertson of the mutual work between theLutherans and Methodists.  “We are sharing not only garden space but time, energy and purpose.”  Gardening for the shared purpose of the FISH food bank has connected the two churches for a common goal, one that will be ongoing into the next decade.  “It’s been a very successful thing,” shares Gilbertson.  “It’s for a good cause and people are already energized for next year.”

On August 31 members from the two churches gathered for a harvest potluck to celebrate the estimated 1600 pounds of produce harvested for FISH and the ongoing success of the garden.

For more information on the joint garden project, please contact Dottie Gilbertson at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church 541-386-3993.   For more information about FISH food bank please call 541-386-3474.

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Peace Lutheran in Portland Joins Hands with their Community

SR vendor and Soapbox Under the Bridge spearhead community garden

June 29, 2010 · 6 Comments

By Cassandra Koslen, Contributing Writer

At first glance, the recently-planted community garden at Peace Lutheran Church, 2201 N. Rosa Parks Way, is nothing special. The two long beds of dirt with plotted sprouts could be anywhere in Portland.

But this small start has its seeds from throughout the city, beginning with Street Roots vendor Rick Buck.

Every Wednesday at 6 p.m., Peace Lutheran hosts a dinner open to the community.  Joined by a new congregation who will be sharing their church, on June 15 the meal is full of renewed energy. Jerrie Johnston, church organizer, cook and council member, is beside herself.

“This is wonderful,” she says, cleaning up.  “I have to see.”

Outside on the church’s lawn, there are children playing.  Neighbors have wandered over to look at two long rows of elevated beds, almost completely planted. Mothers discuss which of the extra flats to take home and the best place to put them in their gardens.

Standing to the side, Street Roots vendor Rick Buck is slurping biscuits and gravy off of a paper plate, pointing out a dilapidated greenhouse he means to fix, telling the ladies which plants need what amount of sun.

“What’s what?” newcomers ask him about the extras.

Rick points, “Squash, cucumber, hot peppers, broccoli.”

“Where are the cucumbers?” asks one excited woman, running outside.  “I heard there were cucumbers.”

When she is directed to a six-inch start, she falls over herself laughing.  “Oh, I thought they were already grown!  I was going to take one home for my salad!”

“We talked about (starting a community garden) for a long time,” says Jerrie Johnston.  “Last year we even talked to the city, but it never came together.  Rick is the one who pushed it along.”

“This is really exciting,” says her daughter, Kris.  “We’ve been throwing the idea around … but didn’t have the manpower to follow up on it.”

With a small congregation of roughly 100 people on the rolls and no minister, building a garden to feed the community seemed an almost unachievable task.  But sometimes saviors come in strange costumes, from where we least expect.

Buck, who has 20 years of landscaping experience and says he’s grown record-sized squash in four states, got to know the church through its Wednesday night dinners.

“I just had to get in the middle of it,” he says, shrugging.

He looks upon the garden with a contented smile, and due pride. It is his physical labor and mental dedication that propelled the planned garden into being.

In mid-May he approached Jerrie and the church about making the garden a reality.

“We said, okay, this is a great idea, but we don’t have any money and most of the people in the church are older, in their 70s,” says Kris Johnston, Jerrie’s daughter and point person for the garden.

Determined, Buck began talking. Through his connections at Street Roots and the relationships he’s built with his customers, he has been able to help achieve the church’s goals.

One customer is Cassie Cohen. Rick started telling her about some police sweeps at the end of the MAX yellow line where people had created their own gardens in the marshland, only to be ruined by the authorities.

“It got us thinking where we could put a permanent garden,” says Cohen.

Cohen, who helped Rick on an individual basis, is also the program director for Groundwork Portland, an environmental justice organization that seeks to turn vacant or contaminated urban land into assets for the community.  Through her job she has worked with Portland Parks Commissioner Nick Fish’s Community Garden Project, which donated compost to Peace Lutheran’s new plots.

“Once I got the go-ahead from Rick, I sent an email to Fish’s office, because this is a great project,” she says.  “This is a ground-up garden.”

Soapbox Under the Bridge, a local non-profit whose main goal is to see more participation in City Hall, is helping as well.  Their first garden, Soapbox is better known for teaching classes and, of course, bringing their soapbox and microphone out into the public to let people speak.

Soapbox’s Patrick Nolen secured dirt and compost through contacts with mayor Sam Adams’ office. Another Soapbox member, Barry Joestol, is friends with some people at the Rebuilding Center. He offered advice on how to best approach them for materials to build the raised beds and helped write the letter for the donations Buck and Peace Lutheran needed.

“One reason I felt we got involved is because we recognize that there are lots of ways to be involved in the community,” Nolen says, “and the more ways we are, the deeper involved in the community we are, the better the community is.”

Several flats of seedlings came from the American Center for Sustainability, which provides plant starts to non-profit gardening projects in the interest of developing larger local food webs.

Other things, though, came from more random members of the community. Rick recruited everyone he could think of who was willing to help, from friends at Outside In to community members who wouldn’t give him their names. Some of the other men who usually come to the weekly dinners and occasionally peruse the church’s small library showed up to help level dirt. Johnston’s own son got a trailer to pick up and deliver the soil donated by the city.

Pointing around the room during dinner, Rick seems to know everyone, and they all seem to have helped.

“These are all just early steps. We’re just really enthusiastic about how well it’s gone, and we’re real grassroots,” says Jerrie Johnston.

“(Rick) saw potential with the open space. We already have a greenhouse, and he wants to work on that, too. It needs to be fixed up, it needs some windows and stuff.” she says, adding that while Rick was the impetus, a lot of people got involved to make it happen.

“This is probably one of the more energizing projects that’s happened (at the church) for a long time,” says Kris Johnston.

Unlike most community gardens, there are no individual plots at Peace Lutheran.

“We wanted something that could be shared,” explains Kris Johnston. “We wanted to be able to use it for our dinners and our senior lunches … something that people could work on together.”

“Basically, anyone in the neighborhood who wants to work can take some of the bounty,” says Sonja Hoffman, the church council’s president.

Anyone who volunteers to participate in the garden’s upkeep is encouraged to take from it. Peace Lutheran has connected with the Food Bank to give any excess to people in need. They already provide food as well as fund raise for the Good Samaritan in St. Johns, and will now augment it with their own harvest. Extra plant starts are being donated to Dignity Village.

“We don’t have any money,” JJ laughs, “but we have veggies.”

Buck has also been in contact with Friends of Trees, and is planning to pick out some dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees to be planted in the church’s large yard in the fall.

“I’d like to have benches,” he says, “so people can sit in the shade under the trees.”

“Rick is the master gardener,” says Hoffman. Listening to him dictate how to care for the plants affirms this.

“Those need six to eight hours of direct sun a day in order to produce,” he says, referring to some hot peppers. “Be careful with broccoli, it attracts aphids.”

“We haven’t seen direct sun in weeks!” a woman jokes, followed by a chorus of “no kiddings” and laughter.

Rick wants to make the growing season from February to November by double planting beds and getting the church’s aged greenhouse back in working order. The goal, he says, is to have the most amount of food grown in the smallest possible space.

The church ladies are also working with the Food Bank to teach interested people how to can. Canning equipment and jars have been donated by older members of the congregation who no longer use them and are downsizing their homes.

A little girl comes up to us while we stand talking at one end of the garden and asks for a box to put some starts in. I get her a plastic bed from inside the greenhouse and some multi-cup holders. She smiles.

“Yay,” the girl says, jumping and running back to the garden beds and extra sprouts,  “I’m gonna take home some plants!”

“See,” Rick says, turning to me, “it’s a beautiful thing.”

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Website Progress

Good news/bad news.  The good news is that our regular website is once again safe and available for use.  The bad news is that we are still locked out from our edit program and so can’t update our pages.  Grrrr. Step by step. We’re getting there. Feel free to go to www.oregonsynod.org and use the site, but please forgive the old information.

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