This season of Advent begins with a surprising word from God. The Gospel reading for the first weekend in Advent is made up of surprising word pictures of heaven and earth all coming apart at the seams, all that we know and count on disrupted and changed (Luke 21:25-36). In that disruption and picture of divine interruption we hear a word of hope. We hear in this season that the Christ has already been born, has already lived and died for us, and comes here now among us each and every day as the light in our darkness. He comes as the one who makes a new creation out of the ashes and remnants of the old. So, we sing in this season marvelous songs of hopefulness, joy and anticipation. We look for God again, knowing that even as wildfire rages or children die, as hopes are dashed or wars are waged, as evil rages or loved ones leave—the light, the true light has not gone out. The light, our true light, still shines. We look for it. We sing about it. We invite others into it. We share it within family and friendships. And we stay alert and wide-eyed to everything that is happening to and around us for what God is bringing, for what God hopes to usher in, and for what God wants us to see.
We often ask why such interruptions and disruptions plague our world. Perhaps they happen because we live in a world where the fault lines of sin run through all that is. Perhaps they happen because things that we assumed would be forever unchanged are, in reality, transient and temporary. We live in a world where we know that any day all that we have relied upon, trusted, counted on and looked forward to could be taken away or turned on its ear. Jesus knows it—we know it—and he teaches us in this world how to live with it. He teaches us how to grow through it and how to serve in it. And it is in that living, growing and serving that hope begins to shine. When the world as you know it falls apart, when even the day seems darkened and the night never-ending—look! Look for what God is doing. Look for God’s nearness, for when there seems to be no other source of light in your darkness, God is there as he has always been. Jesus said, “When you see these things taking place, you will know that he is near, at the very gates”…at the doorstep of your heart and at the threshold of your hopes. Look for him, he is near. And though everything else might pass away, God won’t.
The birth of Jesus, the most spectacular divine interruption of all time, invites us to hold an audacious and abundant hopefulness in all things. God is here with us. God is here for us. God meets us in the most humble and humbling of circumstances. God meets us in times of strength and success. God meets us always with a vision, a hope, and a call that transforms our tomorrows. Hallelujah! Gloria in excelsis Deo!

State of the Church – December 2018

I was reminded recently of just how important it is to get the whole picture!
Our local StarTribune newspaper has run a series of articles this year about the changing trends in religion and churches in our country, and the latest installment ran in early November. It was a very good article, supported by plenty of strong research, and it reports the trends accurately. But I fear the title of the article, “Fastest Growing Religion is ‘None,” could send the reader away thinking all churches are doomed, which is far from reality. Particularly at Mount Calvary.
Are these trends real? Yes, absolutely. Should Mount Calvary members be worried about this? Not today.
We don’t need to look far for evidence that there are churches in trouble; Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, which provides critical daycare and food shelf services in their community, has seen their congregation dwindle over the years, leading to a need for outside assistance which we gladly support. But while the StarTribune article is helpful in articulating some general trends inner-city and rural churches are facing today, this is clearly not the case for all churches. In fact, if we look further, we can even find some positive signals and evidence of opportunities ahead for churches like ours. We just need to dig a bit deeper, get a bit more information, and paint a more complete picture of our own outlook
The importance of “completing the picture” was made very evident to me several years ago by a simple example; hold up a bowl between two people with the bottom facing one person and the top facing the other and ask what shape the object is, convex or concave. Obviously, each person will have a different answer even though they are looking at the same object because their information is incomplete. Gathering more information, from different perspectives and sources, can often enhance our understanding.
In preparation for some upcoming Church Council activities, I’ve recently reviewed several survey and research reports from a collection of reputable sources that can add depth and color to the picture sketched out by the recent newspaper article. Interestingly, a 2015 report by Scott Thumma, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Hartford Seminary and the director of Hartford Institute for Religion Research, found that the vast majority of congregations with 500-1799 weekly worshipers (Mount Calvary is in this category, near the low end) are growing quite rapidly compared to smaller churches, at a median 5-year growth rate of 17%. In addition, almost three-quarters (72%) reported their financial health as good or excellent. So, while there are broad, general issues for some categories of churches, this does not reflect the situation or outlook for our church.
Importantly, a couple of reports I read also highlighted the importance of “spiritual vitality” to the healthy condition of a congregation. The message here is that churches can determine their destiny if they remain innovative and relevant to their members. After attending a very relevant and rousing Sunday service, participating in a well-attended new member meeting, hearing about some recent community support/interaction from our neighbors at Wells Fargo, and seeing the success of the Many Hands, Many Meals packathon at our church – all within the past two days – I have no doubts about the vitality of Mount Calvary. Be assured, our congregation is thriving!

Welcome Will Eisenberg

Mount Calvary Academy of Music News
Introducing our new Brass Instructor, William Eisenberg,
Specializing in French horn and trumpet.

We’d love for you to meet our new brass instructor at the Mount Calvary Academy of Music! William Eisenberg recently joined our faculty, and has begun giving lessons in French horn, trumpet, trombone, and tuba. He offers lessons on trombone and tuba as well. William grew up nearby in Minnetonka and attended Hopkins High School. His parents are both amateur musicians and they fostered a love of classical music in their children. William obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Horn Performance at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, and completed a Master’s in Horn Performance at Yale School of Music where he studied with Professor William Purvis.

William is happy to be providing a brass option at Mount Calvary Academy and enjoys working with people of all ages – from those just starting out, to those who would like to add polish to their playing. He can help beginners familiarize themselves with their instruments, or instruct kids through obstacles, such as playing with braces. He can also help high school musicians with the process of auditioning and applying for college.

William notes that the Twin Cities is also a great place for adults to continue playing and improving on their instruments since there is a wealth of amateur groups in our area. “I like lessons to be a gateway to lifelong learning,” he says. “The French horn can be played in bands and wind ensembles, as well as both brass and woodwind quintets. It’s unique in that it is adaptable to so many expressions of chamber music.”

William is also an enthusiast of modern music and wants students to know that there is so much more repertoire than they realize; brass players are not limited to Mozart and Bach. William loves opening up the eyes of his students to new and exciting musical styles.
“Music is a great way to develop as a person,” says William. “It teaches skills in leadership, working together, responsibility and commitment. Even if you don’t continue playing after school, the experience of playing will have lifelong effects.”

William can be found at Mount Calvary Academy of Music on Tuesday evenings. He is currently accepting new students of all ages and abilities. If you are interested in lessons or have any questions for William, please email him at william.eisenberg

Care for our College Students

College Care Packages are arriving at college dorms all over the United States and Canada! Over one hundred Care Packages are being mailed to college kids from Mount Calvary. Each box contains a dozen chocolate chip cookies baked by the Tuesday morning “Women of Thunder” Bible Study ladies, a handmade Christmas Card from our Sunday School kids, all kinds of healthy and a few “not-so-healthy” snacks donated by college families, a novelty gift, and a motivational letter from Pastor Dave for finals week. We are looking forward to welcoming our college kids back to worship over the holidays!