This morning as I write, a couple I married and their two children are living in a rental home outside San Francisco while wildfires consume their neighborhood in Santa Rosa. Friends and colleagues are in the middle of rebuilding or restoring homes in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean or grieving the loss of lives. A college student requests prayers for a friend shot by a sniper in Las Vegas. No surprise that the news of heartache and loss is so much more riveting when they are experienced by people we know and care about. It is as one might expect it to be. But I am always wary of letting myself off the hook, giving myself permission to take my eye off the news that has persisted so long it is no longer news. Fifteen million refugees permanently displaced from their homes and 38 million internally displaced within their own countries. Soldiers deployed far from home while new and old sabers are being rattled by politicians far from the front lines. One out of nine human beings on the planet chronically undernourished.
I hold myself accountable to care about such things because Scripture tells me that I am created to be more than a human being who lives in a house on a street in a western suburb with a small circle of family, friends, and parishioners. I am more than a Minnesotan and more than a citizen of the United States. I am, should Scripture be true, a part of a community that finds shared identity in a Creator who defined ‘neighbor’ with the broadest brush strokes and who described sacrificial love and humility as the centerpiece of relationships. Despite my incredibly creative and compelling reasons to let myself off the hook for caring beyond my closest circles, Scripture calls me out and challenges me to push the envelope rather than seal it shut.

So, how will I give thanks this Thanksgiving knowing all the struggles that are going on in our own homes and around the world? In 1621, 53 Pilgrims and 90 native Americans shared a feast of thanks after the first Pilgrim harvest. In 1620, over 100 Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth after fleeing religious persecution and less than half had survived their first brutal winter. Thanks for the harvest likely came amid the remembrance of all the hardship they had and would endure. President Lincoln in 1863 (just months after nearly 50,000 were killed or wounded at Gettysburg) called for a national day of Thanksgiving with these words:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States…to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father… I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

So, how do we give thanks? Thanks is more than a word offered, it is a life given, a life shared. We give thanks by breaking bread with loved ones and strangers. We are honest about the challenges and the losses we have endured and we resist the temptation to bemoan and lick our wounds. Instead, we commit to prayer and action that turns the tide against anxiety, greed and irresponsibility and says “Here we are, Lord, send us.” A spirit of gratitude for God’s good gifts and a commitment to be light and salt in shadowy times keeps anxiety from becoming a parasite on our souls. Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “We urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Thanks be to God!



Sure, it’s a good song title (for both Joe Cocker and the Beatles), but it’s also the message at the core of one of our four Pillars … namely, Service. I’ve accumulated many quotes and sayings over the years which I take great pleasure in sharing with my kids at opportune moments of learning (yes, I’m sure they enjoy those moments just as much as I do!), and most of them start with “there’s an old saying …” One of my favorites is, “people want to help you, they just don’t know it yet.” It amazes me sometimes how willing people are to help if asked, yet how hard it is for us to ask for help. Well today I’m going to ask for your help … for my friends, of course.

I don’t think I’m stepping out of line with my request because about a year and a half ago we fielded a survey to the congregation, and one of the most important services sought by Mount Calvary members was community service. Yes, it feels good to help, and our church is where many members of our congregation find just the right match for their interests. There are so many different opportunities to help others, whether by giving your time, donating clothing and school supplies, or through financial gifts. We have many partners who can use your help, and many are highlighted in the church bulletin each week. This past week there were four opportunities listed; the Many Hands Many Meals Packaton could use your hands November 10-12 to pack meals for the hungry, and your donations of needed items would be greatly appreciated by His House, the RAK Warehouse, and some local schools. Please take a look at the many partnerships we support, and lend a hand where possible. These groups do incredible work, and they do need your help. If you are looking for something just a bit different, contact Chris Anderson at to discuss other volunteer opportunities.

Mount Calvary is also asking for your support this month as we kick off our annual stewardship campaign for operations. You have probably already received your invitation to make a pledge for the 2018 general fund, and we invite you to bring your pledge to worship on November 11-12 or drop it by the office anytime during the next month. Your contributions are the reason Mount Calvary is able to offer its incredible variety of spiritual, supportive, educational and entertaining programming throughout the year. If you’re technologically inclined, you can visit our new website for online giving options at
Thanks in advance for your help!


At His House, October is the time of year we mention our car donation program. A vehicle can make the difference between not only getting a job, but keeping a job when you live in the suburbs. We have very limited public transportation access and not having reliable transportation is a barrier to success. It’s part of what we call the “3 legged stool.” Without a car you lose your job, your home, and sometimes your family.

As you know, I write about local homelessness many times in this space and today as I write about vehicles I am also writing about housing. As I dive deeper and deeper into this subject, I meet more and more people living in their vehicle. Yes, we work hard to get people to a shelter, into Families Moving Forward, or an affordable apartment, but many times we fail. Right now, I know 3 families with children living in their car, all near this church. His House is working hard to help these families move out of what they know as their home (a car) and to a shelter. We have delivered food, gas cards, grocery cards, toiletries…all to a family living in their car!!

So as you consider your vehicle donation think about the difference you can make in someone’s life and their 3 legged stool.

The His House car donation program maximizes your tax donation because we always use the donation toward our mission. Victory Auto in Chanhassen assists with all repairs to affordably keep a donated vehicle running while creating an awareness of the costs associated with maintaining a working car.


This is a departure from the typical monthly activities at your Foundation. We are installing a stone bench, small altar and planters in front of the Columbarium. The plan is to make the area more spiritual. We are also hosting an informal dinner for members of the Tartu Academy in Estonia. It is scheduled for October 9. Look for details in the bulletin.

The headline is about history that I think we should all know. It is about Bill Nilsen, a member of the Excelsior Lutheran Church before the name change and before the sanctuary (now Heritage Hall) was built. Bill, along with his family, which includes Corrine Peterson, his daughter, came to Excelsior as Superintendent of the Excelsior School District in 1943.

The challenge back then was how to expand the curriculum to meet the growing and changing needs of the students, who numbered only about 100 students per class. Post-war requirements for advanced mathematics, science, and better world understanding all called for curriculum change. Finding more students to create a critical mass was the only answer. So, with School Board encouragement, Mr. Nilsen began discussions with the neighboring districts.
Six years later, under his leadership, six small independent school districts (Clear Springs, Deephaven, Excelsior, Groveland, Minnewashta and Tonka Bay) consolidated into one larger system, the Minnetonka District #276, with Bill Nilsen as its first Superintendent until his retirement in 1968.

The radical notion of consolidation was new to Minnesota, and the Minnetonka School District #276 was its pioneer in our area. At that time there were over 4000 school districts in the state of Minnesota.
Moreover, high school sports, like today, were a powerful magnet in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Small high schools played one another on an even-keel basis. The Excelsior High School Basketball team won the State Championship shortly before the merger conversations started, further making a new route into the future an uphill battle.
The climate for consolidation was highly political, and emotions were very evident. How could this possibly work? Mr. Nilsen and his School Board sold the idea of focusing on what is best for the kids. They stressed the future of our community and placed emphasis on teaching and learning. This attitude prevailed and on March 15, 1949 the voters agreed by 89 percent. It is important to note that this decision was not just a philosophical one. Land had to be purchased, buildings built, bonds sold, tax levies managed. The high school, two junior highs (middle schools now) each with a swimming pool, and an additional elementary school were built to create the present-day Minnetonka School District. All present elementary schools today were built or remodeled during Mr. Nilsen’s Superintendency.

Thankfully, through careful planning and far-sightedness, area citizens were open to conversation, dialogue, and eventual decision-making on the best interests of the whole regarding the education of youth. Their vision, tenacity and entrepreneurship in those early days paved the way for the ongoing commitment and what was best for the kids. It became a model for other school district consolidations that followed in Minnesota.

Bill’s leadership skills prevailed at the newly formed Mount Calvary as well. I got to know him after his retirement. By then, Dr. Don Draayer was the superintendent and the school district continued to grow and prosper. Bill was active on the Gifts and Memorials Committee, the forerunner of the Foundation. His visionary thinking was instrumental throughout the church. The newer stained-glass windows in the sanctuary, the ones depicting communion, baptism and the Holy Spirit descending upon Mount Calvary were a project of his committee. Later, he was instrumental in the installation of our wonderful pipe organ. That committee consisted of many members, mostly musicians, that led that movement.

Remember, in the early years of the Foundation, when we were trying to build the principal endowment fund, there were no grants to be given. Bill’s hallmark was that money for capital improvements had to be raised ahead of time. Bill was a master at fundraising. We have much to be thankful for because of Bill.

Information submitted by Ross McGlasson, Don Draayer, & Corinne (Nilsen) Peterson: 2017


Hello! While I appreciate having this opportunity to introduce myself to the Mount Calvary congregation, I also need to say a goodbye…to Doug Affinito as the outgoing Council President. Thankfully, Doug will still be on our Council so we’re not losing his wisdom, leadership and sharp sense of humor! Thanks, Doug, for all the time and effort you have contributed over the past three years as you led our Council with such skill and passion!

As I was preparing this message, I was also delivering my daughter to Northwestern University near Chicago to start her first year of college. Another goodbye that I had to face, and admittedly a bit harder than my goodbye to Doug (I think Doug will understand). I began to realize that we face many “goodbyes” on a fairly regular basis, but thankfully there is typically another “hello” in close proximity. With my daughter, I get to say hello to a young woman who is now beginning a great new journey of independence, growth and excitement. Similarly, as we say goodbye to Doug, I now have the opportunity to say hello to many more of you in my new role as your Council President.

I am truly excited about this transition! Having been on the Council for the past couple of years, I have not only gained respect for our leadership team and the great job they’ve done guiding our church through some significant initiatives such as the Mission Forward implementation, I’ve also seen firsthand the strength of the strategic path that has been established for the years ahead. Mount Calvary really is unique. It has a personality that stands alone! As you heard from Doug last month, we explored the “why are we,” which resulted in a set of four defining Pillars: Grace, Inclusion, Love and Service. These Pillars are unique to our church and they provide the guidance and justification…the “why”…for everything we do. The programs range from our support for local families via programs such as Families Moving Forward, to underscoring the reasons for our commitment to global partnerships in areas such as Haiti and Nigeria. You will be hearing more about these Pillars in the near future, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, please find me before or after an upcoming service and say Hello!


500 years ago this October, a German monk with a newly discovered understanding of God’s grace and a growing dissatisfaction with the legalism of the institutional Church could not stay silent. While his initial hope might have been to start an honest debate and conversation, it quickly escalated into something more. His was not the first voice calling for a reformation of theology and policy, nor would it be the last. But his influence was undeniable. Even today, a poll of German people on the most popular person in Germany history chose Martin Luther second only to Konrad Adenauer, the man who helped Germany rebuild after the second world war. His influence not only led to a Reformation of the Church, it led to the development of German language, politics and culture. His belief that communities had a responsibility to care for the poor in their midst led him to pioneer the idea of “the community chest,” public education and literacy for all, and the understanding that every baptized child of God stands on a level playing field with priest, pope and prince in the eyes of God.

Martin Luther believed that the story that God had written on the world and the stories preserved for us in Scripture belonged to all. He translated the Bible into the language of the people despite the threats from church authorities who believed the only ‘sacred’ languages were Hebrew, Greek and Latin. A belief among the religious hierarchy that happened to be self-serving as the only ones who learned such languages were the priests and the privileged elites. Luther also believed music in worship was critical to bringing the Gospel story to life, saying “Next to the word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our hearts, minds and spirits. A person who does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs!” He was known to be blunt and opinionated! He also pioneered the idea of equipping parents to teach the basics of faith to their children in the home through use of his “Small Catechism.”

To be sure, Martin Luther and those who came to be called Lutherans are far from perfect. Sadly, Luther bought into the cultural Anti-Semitism of his day and it continued to have ramifications throughout history. At times, there have been those among us who show remarkable intolerance and arrogance when considering other Christian and faith traditions. So, when we prepare for worship or for communion with a confession of sin, things we have done and left undone, it has and should have the powerful ring of truth. We are, as are all, grace-dependent, grace-saved, and grace-sent into the world. We are far from perfect, but we know God’s grace to be persistent and pervasive in its power to reform, renew and reshape us. That conviction, written on the soul of a grumpy monk named Martin, changed the world. That conviction also led the great Lutheran composer Johann Sebastian Bach to append his musical creations with the words, “Soli deo Gloria!” To God alone be the glory!

Luther and the Lutherans. Perfect or preeminent? Not a chance. But in this 500th anniversary year a little bit proud? Without a shadow of a doubt.