Lifetimes: June 2020

Faith and Social Justice

Dear Friends of Incarnation,

Social justice—a life that focuses on justice, the well-being of all human relationships, and the social structures that promote that justice and well-being—is a central theme of the biblical narrative. Social justice is God’s love in action. The question about social justice is not, “Should we, as followers of Jesus, pursue social justice?” The question is “In what ways will we pursue social justice in our context and time?”

The cry for social justice was particularly strong through the prophets:

“Hear this, you that trample the needy,
And bring to ruin the poor of the land.” (Amos 8:4)

 “Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien or the poor;
And do not devise evil in your heart against one another.” (Zechariah 7: 10)

“Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe
And runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause
Does not come before them.” (Isaiah 1: 23)

Note the focus was not just on individuals who trample on the needy but also on the systems they (the princes) established. In the face of that oppression, the prophets cried out:

“Let justice roll down like waters,
And righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5: 24)

“God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
(Micah 6:8)

Those themes echoed throughout Jesus’ life and ministry. Listen to Jesus’ first words from his first sermon in Luke,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4: 18)

Justice was a hallmark of Jesus’ ministry and a marker of the reality of the Kingdom of God: Good news to the poor. Release to captives. Freedom for the oppressed.

To be Jesus’ people is to share his heart for justice.

So now we must ask, “In what ways will we pursue justice in our time and context?”

The killing of George Floyd ignited the communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and became the flashpoint for us to take a hard look at the ways we have not lived justly with our Black, Indigenous and People of Color neighbors and, as significantly, the ways we have ignored systems of racism.

As leaders of Incarnation, the biblical call to work for justice and to take on systems of oppression has presented itself in a way that we cannot overlook or deny, no matter how painful it is. Justice is God’s love in action.

If we are to live out our vision of “a world filled with God’s grace and love” we must be willing to face what we need to face, to change what we can change, and to work where we can work so that all people can thrive in our communities of faith and in our surrounding neighborhoods.

The Incarnation Council, pastors and other staff leadership will meet to discuss what is Incarnation’s path forward and you will be informed of what plans come from those meetings. Until then, we ask you to pray for all who are hurt by racism, the communities who have seen destruction, for our church leadership and for how you may be a part of God’s call to justice for all people.

Below is Senior Pastor Kai’s previous “It’s Monday” addressing the killing of George Floyd.

Senior Pastor Kai Nilsen

Twin Cities to Chicago to Columbus, Ohio to Norfolk, Virginia. A week ago when we left, these cities were simply stops on the way to see family as we began a cross country trek to help my son and daughter-in-law move in to their new home in Norfolk, Virginia. As I write this, they are four of dozens of cities across the country with marches protesting the killing of George Floyd, including a peaceful march five stories below my son’s new apartment. As we know, from the gut-wrenching images in our own cities, all the marches have not been as peaceful.

How did we get here? Click here to read more.

Our Mission is to Keep Thinking, Keep Doing

By Julie Omland

Strange times and complicated issues make it difficult to think ahead very far – maybe not even more than what tomorrow might bring. However, we have a sure thing we can think about as we head into summer.

Incarnation is committed to provide for our ministry partner, Ralph Reeder Food Shelf, all year long, and you and I have been doing just that for many years. Giving from our abundance so that those who are in need of food can have healthy, health-giving food is in our “blood.” Summer at Incarnation has meant ingathering of food and monetary donations for Tons of Love. With an increase of 35% in need since COVID-19 arrived, the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf definitely needs of our help.

Here’s the good news! Tons of Love will still happen! Yes! We just need to do Tons of Love in a different way. Ralph Reeder Food Shelf has to provide food to families in a different way because of COVID-19 and the need for no-touch practices. Bringing donated goods to the food shelf does not work for them, now. So, we will help them do the purchasing of necessary items by turning Tons of Love into an in-gathering of funds. Our monetary donations have a far “weightier” impact during these “weighty” times. A dollar donation, when used by the Ralph Reeder food shelf, can purchase far more than we can. We cannot weigh pounds of canned goods or laundry detergent in the carts at Ralph Reeder, but we can calculate how many pounds of food the food shelf can purchase for the dollars we give. Let’s make it a “weighty” amount!

This Tons of Love campaign will begin with Incarnation’s VBS-To Go and their dedicated offering. Then, on June 21, and all through July, you will learn about how to be a part of this “virtual” giving process. July 12 is the BIG donation Sunday, and Lisa Baker, Basic Needs Manager and the program director of the Ralph Reeder staff, will provide a keynote conversation about our mission together. While you and I cannot physically be the volunteers or the carriers of goods this year, we can still be Christ’s hands and feet in the Ralph Reeder world by giving generously from our hearts and in answer to God’s call. Learn more at on the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf page of Incarnation’s website.

Prayerfully consider how you might use your abundance for the sake of those who are hungry. Pray that all those who have hungry stomachs right now might be filled in all the ways that our congregation holds to be important – in body, heart, mind and spirit. We CAN provide Tons of Love this summer.

From the Staff and Re-Opening Strategy Update

Senior Pastor Kai Nilsen

Summer! Ahhhh summer! I can’t remember a time when I so appreciate the ability to go outside and breathe and walk and soak in the created world. The barren branches of winter are only a memory as I am mesmerized by the lush growth on the trees. The bitter greys and dusty hues of the fading winter transform into the beautiful blues and greens of emerging summer. New life. New Hope.

As we were considering our preaching series for the summer, the theme of our winter season, Renew Your Life, reemerged in our thinking and took on new life. Here is how we will be wondering about and wrestling with these same themes this summer.

 From the beginning, God’s life-renewing Spirit has been present and available in times of isolation and connection, despair and hope, peril and promise. Don’t we need it now! RENEW YOUR LIFE—COVID VERSION will explore how God’s creative energies of grace, possibility, paradox, the natural world, relationships, fruitful work, and rest meet us in our confusion, our loneliness, our despair and invite us to see, experience, and practice a different kind of life—a life that Jesus imagined,  experienced, and practiced himself.

There will be Small Groups available (contact Denise Floe), spiritual practices encouraged, weekly preaching online, and a Kaffe with Kai–Facebook Live study at 10:00 a.m. on Mondays, beginning June 15.  It’s a new season in the natural world. We hope and pray it will be a renewed and renewing season for each of us.

I also want you to know that we continue to meet and discuss and pray about when we can re-open and what will be the criteria used. As the Re-Opening Task Force met, we drew up some strategic assumptions that will guide our decisions:

Strategic Assumptions:

  • The mission of our congregation and the health and well-being of our members and guests are our priorities. We can do both well.
  • We exist not for ourselves but for the wider community. Loving the neighbor is our guiding command from Jesus.
  • We are guided by reliable scientific sources—the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health.
  • The situation is fluid. The process will evolve over time. We will say we don’t know when we don’t know. We will learn from any mistakes we make.
  • We have a wide variety of perspectives in our congregation on when/how/and what timeline we designate for re-opening. We will be respectful in hearing one another but never divert our eyes from our main priorities—the mission of this congregation and the health and well-being of our members and guests.
  • Online worship and learning are here to stay. We will connect and expand our reach through our online campus and ministries.

We will be watching carefully as the Governor’s safety dials are turning and keep you consistently updated on any change in status for our community. Currently, it has been decided that the building will remain closed, except for limited staff use, through June 30. (Click here for the latest status on re-opening the building.)

For now, let me remind you of this: Whether we thought about it this way or not, Incarnation has always been a church without walls. We are faithful people incarnating, embodying the love of God in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and communities. That will never stop! In this season, we have been given a tangible lesson that what was, has always been, and will continue to be. We are a church without walls. And being very faithful about it! Thank you.

Peace. Kai

We want to extend a big congratulations to the graduating class of 2020! Your community is proud of all your accomplishments and we’re excited to hear about the big plans God has for you as you begin a new journey in your life. If you haven’t already participated in the Blessing of the Graduates, you may find it here for your personal use. Have a wonderful summer and know we will be praying for you.

2020 Servant of Christ Award

Below is the letter from Rev. Julie Wright, congratulating Incarnation on receiving the 2020 Servant of Christ Award from LSS.

The LifeHaven house

Pastor Nilsen,
Grace and peace to you from Christ our Redeemer!

It is my honor to inform you that Incarnation Lutheran Church has been selected by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) to receive the 2020 Servant of Christ Award in the St. Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Incarnation Lutheran Church is recognized for your commitment to LifeHaven, the family-style home on the east side of Saint Paul that provides housing and support to 16 to 17-year-old mothers and their children who are experiencing homelessness.

Incarnation Lutheran Church has been a long-time supporter and encourager of LifeHaven through generous financial gifts, in-kind donations and volunteer support. Youth and adults alike serve in a variety of ways such providing meals, childcare, providing transportation, gardening and serving on the advisory committee. We cannot express the depth of our gratitude for your continued commitment.

I hope to present this award, along with a commemorative plaque, to your congregation in person at another time in 2020 or as conditions allow. That occasion will truly be a time for celebration of the partnership we share.

Congratulations and thank you for empowering LSS to be an extension of your ministry. Together, we are truly changing lives.

In gratitude through Christ,
The Rev. Julie Wright
Director of Church Partnerships and Volunteerism
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

Click here for a pdf of the letter sent to Incarnation

Apostles Library Book Review

The Forgotten Books of the Bible: Recovering the Five Scrolls By Robert Williamson

By Vernita Kennen and Jo Zschomler

Do you know what’s included in the five scrolls?

In our Christian tradition, we focus a good deal more on the New Testament and don’t often emphasize or remember the books of the Old Testament including some which relate to Jewish holidays. Many of us would have trouble even finding them in our Bibles.  Through this book Robert Williamson will help us to remember and renew our acquaintance with the first testament in our Bibles.

Williamson shows that these biblical books speak to themes of grief, immigration, suffering, ethnic nationalism and human sexuality. These issues are still with us today and make our learning more relevant than one might expect.

Check out this book to learn about the relationship of Passover to The Song of Songs, the book of Ruth to Shavot, Ecclesiastes to Sukkot and others. These books and biblical stories are part of the tradition, language and faith of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Here’s a resource for you to be able to learn from and to talk about our shared faiths.

Thank you for your generosity and support!

Click here for the online giving page. 

In Memory of Rev. Dr. Paul Werger

Rev. Dr. Paul Werger died May 11, in Des Moines Iowa of COVID-19. He was the pastor of one of the root churches of Incarnation, when Incarnation merged with Bethany.

Having graduated from Thiel College and Luther Seminary, he served his first parish in 1957 (now Incarnation) and then St. Luke’s in Bloomington in 1961. In 1978 he became bishop of the Iowa Synod of the Lutheran Church in America and later bishop of the Southeast Iowa Synod of the ELCA in 1988. In retirement, he served as interim bishop to the Saint Paul Area Synod and as interim pastor to Gloria Dei (Iowa City) and Redeemer (Jerusalem). Throughout life, he relished fishing, hunting, walking, reading and Hawkeye sports.

He met, loved and married Dianne in 1957. He spent his life with her in ministry and service to the Lutheran Church and the world. She was at his bedside until the end. As a father and a pastor, he was a shepherd both to his flock and to his family. His final words were, “It’s all grace.”

(This is an excerpt from the obituary from Hamilton’s Funeral & Afterlife Services.)

Among the Congregation

Sympathy To
The family of Susan Hetico on her death; Mary Griffith and family on the death of her husband; Bob Quick and Jan Johnson on the death of their brotherSharon Trahan and family on the death of her step-mother.

To be added to the public prayer concerns list, please contact Amy Martell, Office Manager. If you would like to add someone else to the public prayer concerns list, please obtain their consent first.


Prayer Service

Sunday, June 7 at 6:00 p.m. on Facebook Live
Come pray for justice and reconciliation for our community, and for people who are hurting, confused and weary. This prayer service will be 15-20 minutes long and will include music and scripture. For those unable to watch at this particular time, a link to a recording of the prayer service will be sent out with the “It’s Monday” email the following day.

Physical Donations for Bethlehem Aid Station: Drop off at Incarnation

June 8 and June 10
Bring any of these physical donations listed to Incarnation’s parking lot near Door 1, under the bell, Monday, June 8 from 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Wednesday, June 10, 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Especially needed are food items at this time. Volunteers take your donations from your car and will bring them to Bethlehem Lutheran In-the-Midway as we continue to help stock a critical community aid center supporting residents of St. PaulOutside these drop off times, donations may be brought directly to Bethlehem Lutheran In-the-Midway at 436 Roy St, St Paul, from 115:00 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Check Bethlehem’s Facebook page for any updates.  

Volunteer Opportunity: Incarnation Parking Lot

June 8 and June 10
Unload donations brought to Incarnation and bring them to Bethlehem Lutheran In-the-Midway in your car. Two volunteers each hour needed; sign up here to help. Please bring your own face mask and gloves if you’d like to protect your hands. June 8 from 10:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m. and June 10 from 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Contact Becky Benson with questions. 

Volunteer Opportunity: Bethlehem Lutheran In-the-Midway

Monday – Saturday from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., 10:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. & 2-6:00 p.m.
Unload donations brought to Bethlehem Lutheran In-the-Midway and move them into the aid station as well as other roles in support the aid station. Shifts are from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., 10:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. and 2-6:00 p.m. No need to sign up; just come. Some of this work will be physically taxing so it’s important you eat beforehand and bring water to stay hydrated in the hot weather. Bringing your own mask is helpful though masks will be on hand. Free parking available at the Allianz Field. Check Bethlehem’s Facebook page  for details. 

Donate Financially to Support the Bethlehem Aid Station 

Provide financially in support of this operation as well as other needs to support the community right now. Funds are being collected and distributed by Bethlehem Lutheran In-the-Midway for purchasing any supplies needed to stock the aid stations, assisting in medical costs for individuals injured during nearby protests and supporting local organizations such as Black Visions MN, food banks and Reclaim the Block. 

Give in any of three ways: 

  1. Bethlehem Lutheran Church will accept cash or checks made out to Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 12-4:00 p.m. this week. (436 Roy Street N., St. Paul, MN 55104)
  2. Venmo Bethlehem Lutheran Church at @BLCMidway 
  3. Contribute to the GoFundMe established  

CYF Bonfires

Join other families on Wednesdays June 24, July 22 and August 26 from 5:30-7:00 p.m. for an evening around the campfire. There will be songs, s’mores and more!

HSM’s Fritter Friday’s and First Thursday’s

Students in 9th-12th grade will have the opportunity to gather with others at monthly Fritter Friday’s and First Thursday’s.
Click here for dates and times.
Click here for more information for all summer 2020 opportunities.

Small Group: Job Transitions and Loss

Once a month, starting in June, days/times TBD
Connect with others who are unemployed, under-employed or in a job transition, especially those impacted by COVID-19The group gathers over Zoom (by phone, iPad, or computer; no subscription is needed; assistance available). To register or for more information contact Denise Floe or go online.

Small Groups: Renew Your Life in a Time of Radical Change

How do the themes of Renew Your Life, speak to a time of social distancing, isolation, loss and the life transitions of COVID-19? Take a deeper look at the messages from this book and sermon series in a summer small group. Groups will meet by Zoom or outdoors at Incarnation. Short updates by Pastor Kai Nilsen have been added, along with new discussion questions. To see a group list or for more information, click here. Register with Denise Floe. 

Caring for One Another Small Group 

Once/week on Tuesdays, 9:30-10:45 a.m., June 23-August 4
How do we care for one another in challenging times and live out God’s love in practical, doable, and meaningful ways? This Small Group will talk about Caring for One Another, a series of short faith studies and gather over Zoom (no subscription is needed; assistance is available). To register or for more information contact Denise Floe or go online.

Solid Ground Coat Drive

Begins in early August
For the last number of years, Incarnation has generously donated heaps of gently used and new outer wear so that the families of Solid Ground could be kept warm each winter. This year will be no exception! As you are cleaning closets this summer, please put aside gently warn coats, hats, boots, scarves and mittens/gloves for this eventCollection for these items is planned to begin in early August.  

Company Matching Dollars to Support All Hands on Hope MobilePack

October 21-27
Get fired up for October 21-27 when we’ll pack over a million meals together! Now is a great time to consider applying for a matching donation from your employer, as money is raised to pay for the ingredients packed into those meals. Some companies will double or triple your donation; others will make a cash donation if you volunteer a certain number of hours. Be sure to include this idenifier with your company’s submission form: Event Code: 2010-009EA All Hands on Hope. Check out this link to see if your company will match.

Share Your Stories of Service to the Neighbor

Many of you are witnessing and/or participating in service to your geographical neighbors, people you are getting to know better since COVID-19 became our new reality. Do you have some stories to share about these new ways of serving each other? Contact Becky Benson who would love to hear how this is happening in your neighborhoods!