January 21, 2018
Another year is in the history books. Our congregation has weathered some storms in this last year – and if spiritual and even the regular storms of life weren’t enough, we along with the rest of the state of Florida endured the ravages of Hurricane Irma. At one point, a Cat5 storm big enough to cover the entire state! Most of us made it through with a collective sigh of Thank God – though we know that some, especially in the Keys, suffered a great deal more damage. Coupled with Harvey’s massive rainfall a few weeks before in Texas, and Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico and other Windward Islands, it has really been quite a year. We know that some folks are still working to recuperate from the damages they incurred, and indeed, some folks had their lives changed forever. Puerto Rico especially remains in our prayers.
As a congregation, we started out the year with some new enthusiasm. Even though we had lost some members in the past year, God was sending some new folks, and we started with a new Council. Our Lenten/Easter and Holy Week seasons were special times of worship for our congregation. We also continued to nurture a relationship with A Place in Time, Seafarers House, and Trinity Lutheran’s Food Pantry, and some of us were introduced to the ministry of Food for the Poor, which we hope to become more involved with. We launched a new Bible Study on the Book of Acts, using as our guide a study by Dr. Matt Skinner, a professor from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, whom we actually contacted and who shared correspondence with us. As 2017 was the historic 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, we shared in a number of special events including a musical concert at Trinity Cathedral (Episcopal) in Miami and a truly historic prayer service between Catholics and Lutherans of the Archdiocese of Miami and the Florida Bahamas Synod. Seeing Archbishop Thomas Wenski and our newly elected Synod Bishop Pedro Suarez embrace – was a moving testimony of how God has been working in all days to bring reconciliation in our lives. Another milestone was the planning, development, groundbreaking, and dedication of a new Labyrinth, again the handwork of Catholics and Lutherans together “digging deeper than doctrine”, at the MorningStar Renewal Center in Pinecrest. Several of us took time to share in a candlelight prayer walk on the new Labyrinth as part of our Advent spiritual discipline.
Through the year, an emphasis of the congregation was searching for a permanent worship space. Jerry Larson, newly part of the church Council, has taken a leadership role in helping to identify possible locations. So far, most of those investigations have led to the same issues we have experienced before, of zoning or pricing out of our reach. We engaged with Pr. Jeff Linman from Orlando to lead us in a weekend of spiritual renewal, Dream Leaders, in July – and we had good participation. It was a time to take a look at ourselves as a congregation, who we really saw ourselves as, even who God sees us as, and to make some plans for the future. We came forth with strong encouragement to consider space at the Chapel Trail Commerce Center – an exclusive rental of property that would have afforded us a more permanent sense of home, albeit in a slightly less visible space. We even investigated and visited another church on the same property, West Pines Community Church, and let God ask of us: Where are U going next? In responding to that question, we also gave consideration to the Old Walgreens on 195 and Pines – available, more visible, but at a higher rental cost. Our conversation stumbled around that question, and the Synod Office was asked for some guidance. Interim Bishop Marcus Lohrmann appointed Pr. John Mocko, his Assistant, to meet with us and determine what our sticking ground might be, to offer and share prayer, insight, and direction about where the congregation needs to be going, and what issues were holding us back.
As part of his work with us, Pastor Mocko stressed the need to consider the spiritual aspects affecting growth at Living Faith. He invited us to share in a Church Vitality Survey, which we completed in December 2017, the results of which he is hoping to share with us as a whole congregation (tentatively) on February 11, 2018. We expect to share in a light meal at Sports Grill on whichever Sunday is confirmed right after worship. All are invited!
In 2017 we had the pleasure of welcoming into God’s family several new members by Baptism: Christopher Reyes Medina, Jr., son of Christopher and Paisley (Rehm) Medina, on Thanksgiving Day in a beautiful outdoor baptism in the Rehm’s backyard. Then, on Christ the King Sunday, immediately following worship, Natasha Singh, Sarah Singh, and David Singh were baptized in the Atlantic Ocean at Hollywood Beach (my first ever “ocean baptism” – I felt like John the Baptist). We are overjoyed at their presence with us as they have become, with the rest of their family, deeply involved with the life of the congregation. Though it will rightly belong in 2018’s report, we are also pleased to welcome back the Choy family, who will join the church again (well, for some it’s again – Christa was previously on Council and has agreed to serve again.) We welcome you back to Living Faith!
We also mark with thanksgiving the lives of two saints in our midst: +Isabella Coyle+ who was so disconsolate at the loss of her beloved Martin in 2016, passed away on Good Friday, April 14, 2017. Her funeral was in New Jersey. And right on the mark of the rising Epiphany Star, our beloved brother +Dick Mang+ passed away on January 6, 2018. Our prayers for Marti Mang and Tara Coyle continue.
I end with my own news report. It was my sad responsibility to share with the congregation that Nancy and I are ending our journey as a married couple. Thank you for your support in this difficult time, and for your prayers. As many of you also know, I just returned from a two week visit to my parents in San Diego, with the realization that they need some family support as they are aging – Dad will be 90 in June, and Mom is just a few years behind. They have had increasing medical and support needs – and I have sensed God’s call to be there with them and for them. The timing around my decision, with the sale of our home already considered due to our divorce, made it right for me to share that with you last Sunday that I will be resigning my call as your Pastor. I will remain with you for some time of transition, until with God’s help, an interim pastor can be identified. I have been in contact with the Synod Office and that process is already underway. I am thankful also for the support and prayers I have received from all of you in this time, as well as from my colleagues in the Broward Bahamas Conference.
We heard last week of God’s call to Samuel – and to Nathanael, and to Martin* – and even how God is speaking to us and calling us today. This week we will hear of Jonah – the reluctant prophet of God – though we won’t hear the fishy part of the story! We will hear how God used him to share GRACE and MERCY with the people. May we also experience God’s call – and may it lead us to greater dependence on that same mercy and grace in our own lives – for the sake of others’ well-being!
God’s peace –
Rev. Andreas M. Thode, Pastor
*Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.