Seeds       

by Benjamin Chandler
(Grace School teacher working this year at the Center for Christian Education in Martin, Slovakia)

With my immersion into Slovak life, different aspects of the culture surface to attention as time goes by. Food, language, fashion, and values emerge from the first-glance culture shock reactions and become part of a whole national picture.

WinterinTatras_BenjChandler.jpgOne of the things I have noted is where prayer fits into the lives of Slovaks. In my Midwest American life, prayer was a brief thing, said before meals, before meetings, before falling asleep at night. Prayers were earnest, but to the point; if brevity was the soul of wit, it was also the measurement of prayer.

But in Slovakia, prayers tend to be longer. They become more than "thank yous" and "please helps". They blossom into something closer to conversations with God. But these long talks are not the only prayers I have found here.

Over Christmas break I was invited to spend some time in the High Tatras, a craggy line of mountains that run along the northern part of Slovakia. I stayed at a friend's childhood home near the base of the mountains. You could see the snowy peaks from the kitchen window. The dining room contained the tree, lights and other holiday decorations most Americans would recognize; however, on the table was a small metallic dish filled with seeds, nuts, lentils, corn kernels, fish scales, three garlic cloves, a slice of dried apple, and a fifty Euro bill. My host explained that making this plate was an Eastern Slovak tradition from her father's side of the family. The dish signified hope for prosperity in the approaching New Year.

Here, I felt, was also a prayer. It was not made of a short (or long) collection of words, but was in the dish's creation and prominence in a place where everyone could see it. Like how pilgrims describe the footsteps of their walks as prayer, this little dish of seeds and fruit was one, too. Prayer doesn't need to be made of words spoken over folded hands or whispered into the night. Prayer could be actions asking for our hope's fulfillment, giving thanks for previous blessings, and maintaining our constant conversation with God.

(Illustration: Winter in the Tatras, oil pastel drawing, by Benjamin Chandler)

 


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Simple Gifts worship: A treasured pause in the middle of the week 

Candles flicker softly at the front of the sanctuary. Worshippers sit quietly in the first couple of pews, taking in the silence. When the entrance hymn begins, their voices echo brightly in the soaring space. Though few in number, those who attend Grace’s “Simple Gifts” midweek service revel in the peaceful setting.
  
 “We all feel really blessed,” says Carol Prinz, a regular at Simple Gifts, a brief worship service offered at 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday. Worship lasts 20-25 minutes, including an abbreviated liturgy and Holy Communion. For participants who can’t attend church on Sunday, “Simple Gifts” is the highlight of the week. For others, the service is a treasured plus.  
   
“It offers that pause, that respite in the middle of the week. You leave knowing what you should focus on,” comments Rich Schubkegel. “It helps me keep my life and my ministry in the proper perspective.” And the average attendance of six or seven only adds to the appeal, Schubkegel said. “You sort of feel like the early church – ‘where two or three are gathered in my name.. ’”
   
“I like the intimacy, and the closeness of the people,” said Dot Wilkie, who has attended Simple Gifts since it began about a year ago. There’s time to connect with other worshippers, and the regulars have become good friends. For Sandy Grams, who works on Sundays, the service is “an intimate time with each other and an intimate time with God.”
   
Grace pastors Kelly Faulstich, Bruce Modahl and Michael Costello rotate planning and officiating at Simple Gifts. The order of service includes prayers, hymns and responses (sung without accompaniment), scripture readings, a brief sermon, and communion. Worshippers stand to share bread and cup with each other. The approach “is just a nice change – a different kind of service,” says Prinz.
   
Which was the whole idea.
  
 “We do big worship well, but there was no quiet, simple option,” says Pastor Faulstich. And no midweek choice. “We wanted to offer another worship opportunity. It speaks to the variety of worship we can practice. For me, personally, this service feels more intimate. As a worship leader, you can worship, too.”
  
Simple Gifts continues through February 15. Lenten midweek worship begins on Ash Wednesday Feb. 22, at 7:00 p.m. Simple Gifts will return after Easter.


Spiritual hunger? Consider Diakonia

In a Mission Moment during worship services on Sunday, January 22, Grace member Rebecca Dahlstrom told us about her experience with the Diakonia program. Diakonia is a two-year process of education, theological study and faith formation for lay members of the Lutheran Church and others who are interested in this kind of in-depth program. Classes meet once a week, and Grace Church is one of the sites used by the program. Learn more at the Diakonia web site. Or talk with Rebecca or with Pastor Modahl, who has served as a Diakonia instructor.


Open House for prospective Grace School families

Parents considering enrolling their children in Grace School in the 2012-2013 school year are invited to an All-School Open House on Tuesday, February 7, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.  Parents of children from preschool through soon-to-be eighth graders are welcome. Meet the teachers, visit the classrooms, talk with Grace School parents, and learn more about enrolling a child in Grace School.  


More information about school enrollment is available on the School Home page of the Grace web site.

More Grace School news

GLSBenefitGraphic.jpgA Graceful Evening, the dinner and auction benefit for Grace School, has been rescheduled for Saturday, March 31, 6:30 p.m. at Elmcrest Banquets in Elmwood Park. Tickets will go on sale in February. This year's committee, led by experienced volunteers from last year, is looking for new members. Contact Clyde Walter, Grace's new Director of Stewardship (cwalter@graceriverforest.org), for more information about joining the Graceful Evening team. Last year's event raised $21,000 for Grace School, and was a great evening of fun and fellowship, shared by nearly 200 people from the church and school communities.

Scrip gift cards generate funds for Grace School. The school receives a percentage of every card purchased through the program. Take a look at the list of participating retailers and consider buying Scrip cards for major purchases from retailers such as Best Buy, Lowe's or Home Depot, as well as for regular items such as gas and groceries. The order form that you turn into the school office is available online and in a folder on the counter at the school office. The next order will be placed on February 20, and payment must be by cash or check.



Adult Education

Sunday morning Adult Education classes at Grace offer ideas to think about all week long, as well as opportunities to grow in faith in fellowship with other Grace members. Here's what's coming up in the next few weeks: 

CAFÉ (Coffee, Adult Fellowship, and Education) meets at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings, complementing the Sunday School schedule and curriculum. Join parents and others in the sixth grade classroom on the 3rd floor after Sunday School worship. Kim and Carl Kernodle lead the discussion on the Bible story of the Battle of Jericho. The session ends at 10:40, in time for Sunday School pick-up.
 
The Adult Ed series “Jesus in a Jewish Context” concludes on January 29. it has been led by Larry Hamilton, a former Lutheran pastor who is now a member of the Jewish community. Also on January 29, Cantor Michael D. Costello will preview Cantata #124, “My Jesus I will not leave.” Please note that this class will meet in the choir room on the second floor, above Fellowship Hall. (Push 2 on the elevator buttons.) 

Has the cold weather or the thought of income taxes got you down?  Dr. Susy Francis of Cornerstone Counseling Services of Chicago presents ideas for “Coping with Stress,” on February 5. A new three-part series on “Global Theology” also begins on February 5, taught by Dr. Gene Green, Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. Dr. Green will explore Latin American, Asian and African theologies, comparing and contrasting them with western European ideas.

It’s not too late to join Making Disciples, a class for people interested in becoming members of Grace and for anyone who would like to deepen their understanding of Christian beliefs, the Lutheran tradition, and the mission and ministry of Grace Church and School. Pastor Modahl and the New Member Committee lead the class, which continues each Sunday through March 18.  Please contact Karen Christopher, kchristopher@graceriverforest.org), or 708-366-6900.


News and Events

Bach Cantata on Sunday, January 29, offered in memory of Vickie Bouman
Next Sunday's Bach Cantata Vespers worship centers on Cantata #124, “My Jesus I will not leave.” The cantata will be presented in memory of Vickie Bouman, wife of Paul Bouman, who, together with Carl Schalk, founded the Cantata Series in 1971. The homilist is Pastor Frank Senn of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Evanston. Pastor Costello directs the Grace Senior Choir, orchestra and soloists. The pre-service music, Vaughan Williams' Concerto for Oboe and Strings in A minor, featuring oboist Christine Phillips, begins at 3:45.

Cub Scout Pancake Breakfast on February 5
Grace's Cub Scout Pack #66 hosts the annual pancake breakfast on Sunday, February 5, 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Tickets, available at the door, are $8 per adult and $5 per child, ages 4-12. Ages 3 and under are free! The event is always fun, the Scouts are great hosts and the food is good.

Communion preparation classes begin in February

Fifth-graders and their parents are invited to a five-week session of first communion instruction, Sunday mornings beginning February 26, 9:45-10:45 a.m. Fifth-graders who already receive communion are encouraged to attend with their peers. The class will meet in Fellowship Hall. Please contact Pastor Faulstich (kfaulstich@graceriverforest.org) by February 6 to let her know that your family intends to participate.

More on immigration issues at Faith Perspectives March forum
Faith Perspectives "Immigration Today" forum returns for another session on Sunday, March 11, at 2:30. This time the program focuses on the stories of individual immigrants, as well as the policies that determine so much about their lives. During the 2012 election season, you'll hear plenty of heated rhetoric from candidates about immigration policy and reform. Come to the Faith Perspectives forum and learn from immigrants themselves.

New time for Lent midweek services
Lenten midweek services begin with Holy Communion on Ash Wednesday, February 22.  Please note that the service time has been changed to 7 p.m., with supper at 6. The earlier time will allow parents to get children home earlier, and choir rehearsal and other committee meetings to end at a more convenient hour.

Job Club
The Grace Job Club continues to meet weekly on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. Contact Karin Danganan (kdanganan@sbcglobal.net), for more information. Feel free to invite friends who might benefit from this group. Any job leads would be welcome – please send to Karin. 

Give a prayer shawl
Prayer Shawls, lovingly made by Grace members, are available to anyone.  If you have a friend or relative who is celebrating, mourning, struggling with an illness, serving in the military, or in need of encouragement. please contact Ieda SIsler, Prayer Shawl Coordinator, 708-466-0878, or MaryBeth Buschmann, Parish Nurse. We will provide a shawl for your loved one.

Kidz Express needs volunteers
Grace teens travel to the Austin community on Tuesday evenings to work with low-income, at-risk children age 5 to 12, as part of the Kidz Express program. Volunteers spend an hour helping the children with their homework, reading books together, or playing educational games. There are far more children than tutors, so the Grace group is looking for more volunteers, adults as well as teens. Contact Tim Dull for more information (312-952-0571; tcdull@gmail.com).

Cornerstones
Grace's group for seniors meets on Wednesdays, January 25, February 1, 8 and 15. Food and fellowship at 10 a.m., Bible study at 10:30. Please note that worship and luncheon will be on Ash Wednesday, February 22, instead of February 15.

Reel Talk
The movie discusssion group meets on February 17, 7:00 p.m., in the library, to watch "Two for the Road," a classic 1967 film with beautiful scenes of France, starring Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn.

Religion in Literature
Grace's book group, Religion in Literature, meets on  February 17, 8:00 p.m., at the home of James and Amy Claud, 814 Home Avenue, Oak Park. The discussion on Joseph Conrad’s "Heart of Darkness," postponed because of the January 20 snowstorm, will be led by Martin Baumgaertner. A copy of the book is available for checkout in the Grace Church library.    

Women@Grace sponsor Ladies' Night Out
All women of the congregation are invited to enjoy a delicious dinner at Thyme and Honey Restaurant, 7525 Madison, Forest Park, on Friday, February 10, 6:30 p.m.  Meet friends old and new and share ideas for future fellowship and service activities. Dinner includes soup or salad, choice of four entrees, wine and dessert. The cost is $15.00 per person. Please RSVP before February 7 to Nancy Wohlford (gwohlford@sbcglobal.net) or call Bev Lueking (708-366-8599). Rides can be arranged if needed.


Ministry partners

Each Sunday, we pray for one of Grace’s partners in ministry as selected by the Benevolence Committee.  Here are a few more details about the groups featured on January 29 and February 5:

Bible League International provides Bibles and trains leaders to engage people in Bible study in communities around the world that have not heard and experienced the Word of God. 


Bread for the World is a collective Christian voice urging our nation's decision makers to support policies that will end hunger at home and abroad. Grace participates in Bread for the World's annual Offering of Letters to Congress.


Beyond Grace

An Invitation to a Unique Holy Week Experience
from Dean and Beverly Lueking

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is a UNESCO World Heritage city, several hours north of Mexico City. The bright daily sunshine and cool nights at 6700-foot elevation provide a gorgeous setting for the flowers, music, pageantry and Mexican hospitality which distinguish this city of cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings. Those familiar with art know San Miguel as an international mecca for artists from everywhere.  
   
The San Miguel Community Congregation, an ecumenical congregation of mainly American retirees, invites you to an Easter Week Tour, April 2-9, an imaginative combination of sightseeing and support of mission outreach to children and adults in need.  
The Easter Tour begins on Monday of Holy Week, April 2, when guests are met at the airport in Leon/Guanajuato, then transported for the hour ride to their San Miguel host family. Tuesday through Thursday activities include visits to the surrounding countryside to see varied outreach programs of the congregation, an opportunity to help serve a Wednesday noon dinner to the elderly poor of San Miguel, a guided tour of a newly opened site of pre-Columbian pyramids, a look at Maundy Thursday customs in the city, as well as other events and shopping opportunities along the way.   

The Good Friday experience is unlike any known here in the Chicago suburbs. From 10:30 until mid-afternoon virtually the whole population of San Miguel lines the main streets to watch in reverent silence as the solemn procession of 1500 costumed men, women, and children pass by, tableau after tableau, depicting the events of the Savior’s Passion. It is truly unforgettable and moving in a way that can’t be replicated inside a church.    

On Holy Saturday morning the Easter Week Tour guests gather at a countryside villa for breakfast and small group conversations on Easter meanings. Afternoon is open for sightseeing and shopping. In the evening it’s one more elegant dinner with the host family and further conversing in friendship. Easter morning worship is at San Miguel Community Congregation, followed by lunch at a countryside hacienda with music and visiting. On Monday, transportation is provided to the airport for the return flight home.

Last year during February and March Beverly and I were guests of the San Miguel Community Church. I helped with preaching and pastoral care, and in no time flat we learned to cherish our friendship with these hospitable Americans who have taken up residence in San Miguel. They provide a personalized hospitality in elegant homes that hotels and resorts can’t match, for far less and with no knowledge of Spanish required. What’s not to like about that! The cost of the Easter Tour Week is $1100 per person (add $347 to $650 for air fare). It goes entirely to support the varied mission outreach programs initiated by the congregation.

San Miguel is blessedly free of drug warfare problems that plague other cities of Mexico.  

Beverly and I loved San Miguel and encourage you to consider this unique experience in mission tourism. Reach us at 708-366-8599 or dean@deanlueking.com for anything more we can add. For on-site answers to questions, and for reservation information, write Luke Rich at mollyandlukerich@gmail.com or call him at his Vonage US phone, 716-773-4899. February 29 is the deadline for the $600 down payment required for the Easter Week Tour.

Building trip to Slovakia
Grace members are invited to participate in mission trips helping with renovation work at the Center for Christian Education in Martin, Slovakia. Trip dates are May 4 - 19 for a trip sponsored by St. Andrew's Lutheran Church of Mahtomedi, MN.   Contact KJ Olson (k-j-o@msn.com) as soon as possible if you are interested. The second trip, July 20 - 31, is sponsored by Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Naperville. Contact Gail Jernberg (gailj7759@aol.com) or Don Swanson  (dswanson@dcvast.com) for more information. Look for a brochure at the Grace reception desk.

PADS benefit
West Suburban PADS 14th annual "Have-a-Heart" gala takes place at the River Forest Country Club in Elmhurst, Saturday, Feb. 11. PADS provides homeless people with meals and a place to sleep. For tickets and more information visit the PADS web site.