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A Bethel Celebration!

nullOn Sunday, Sept. 30, Bethel celebrated a service with all three of our worshiping groups. The 8:30 am, 11:00 am, and 1:00pm service attenders all came at 10:00 am. The sanctuary was bursting at the seams. It was good to see so many people there at the same time! Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that when we participate in a Divine service where holy communion is served, we are dipping into a stream of worship that goes on in heaven all the time. In those moments, we get to taste the ongoing feast along with all the angels and saints who have preceded us in the faith. Being there as our ordinary selves in the presence of a huge spiritual host can be an overwhelming idea! We are doing everyday human things: gathering, touching, singing, praying, listening, and eating. But we are in the “thin places” during this time; the places where heaven and earth meet.

There is a word for these places. The Latin word for threshold was “limens”. A place of transition, new beginnings, or unclear boundaries can be called a liminal space. What we are celebrating in our Divine Service is a meeting of life and death in a liminal space! Jesus meets us there; a great mystery of death and life put into our hands and mouths. It takes our whole person to participate in that: ears to hear, minds to understand, hearts to believe, and bodies to eat and drink.

The theologian and author Richard Rohr says liminality is: “where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible…This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.”

One side effect of the Orthodox belief in an eternal, ongoing stream of heavenly worship is that many Orthodox christians treat worship service time as flexible. I attended an Orthodox service last summer at St. Basil’s Greek Orthodox Church http://www.stbasilchicago.org/ . Although their website told me the service began at 9:45 am, when I arrived at 10 am there were only about 12 people in the sanctuary. I, the ignorant white Protestant Lutheran, wondered sadly if this was a dying congregation. Over the course of the next three hours (!), in which we stood for the whole time (!), listening to a centuries-old liturgy completely in Greek (!), and inhaling copious amounts of incense, over 100 people trickled in. And stayed for varying amounts of time! Many of them left before the service was over. It was baffling, freeing experience for me, seeing a vibrant congregation treat worship as an elaborate, sacred, heavily-scripted and messy family dinner.

Some of the aspects of our joint service were similar to me. I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t know everyone at Bethel. I was clinging desperately to the dual-language bulletin to figure out where we were and what would happen next. But, in the midst of those uncertainties, I also felt the importance of that liminal space. I am grateful to have been there with you.

Katie Jarrett

A New Journey – 20 Years in the Making – Part 2

Friends in Christ!nullnull

As I mentioned last month I was blessed this summer to take some extended time away from Bethel, T2C2 and Dallas to study, serve and experience some new things.  After an amazing almost four weeks in the UK, I left London for the last part of my trip in Uganda.  The trip from England to Uganda proved to be a little more challenging than I hoped.  My drive back to airports was slowed down by a flat tire, let’s just say I didn’t quite master driving on the other side of the road and all the roundabouts in England.  Then due to a delay due to weather in another city, I missed a connecting flight which caused me to be re-routed and arrive in Uganda at 2am Saturday instead of 2pm Friday.  It was great to be greeted by Ronald, a friend from my last trip to Uganda five years ago, who stayed up late to pick me up and drive me the hour to capital city Kampala where I stayed for the night.

The next morning Ronald picked me up and after he took care of a few errands we made the trip to Jinja to meet the rest of our mission team.  The trip from Kampala to Jinja is only about 60 miles, but the traffic on the overstressed roads caused the trip to last over three hours, however I must admit that I slept through most of it.  On the way into Jinja we stopped at the Lutheran Theological College of Uganda, where I would be teaching the following week.  On what was a dirt field five years ago stood a handful of buildings in various stages of construction.  Crews were busy working and students were arriving from across Uganda as the new semester of classes was to begin on Monday.  Pastor Charles, the Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Uganda greeted me with a big smile as he proudly showed me around the campus.  From there we joined the mission team from Texas and Michigan in Jinja for dinner and to go over our plans for our week of mission work.

The next day, Sunday proved to be one of the most impactful of my life. When I first went to Uganda in 2013 I met Michael at one of the villages we visited.  Michael was wanting to be trained as a pastor, but the school in Uganda did not yet exist, so this meant traveling to Kenya.  I felt led by God to be one of Michael’s sponsors and this was to be the day of his wedding and ordination as a Pastor.  I was honored and humbled that Michael scheduled these celebrations around when I could be there.  I was further honored with the opportunity to preach the sermon at the ordination portion of the service.  The day proved to exceed my wildest expectations.  Having a wedding and ordination the same day must have been overwhelming to the families; but it was truly an over the top experience for myself and all who had the privilege of being there.  After the services and a lovely reception we began the two hour drive back to Jinja.

For the rest of my time in Uganda I joined Pastor Tim and an old friend Bob from Our Savior Lutheran in Mckinney.  I had served Our Savior as a Youth Minster early in my career and had been on many mission trips with Bob.  It was great serving with him again and with Pastor Tim for the first time.  Our Savior is the church that helped spearhead the building of the school, so I was joining them to help teach a class to the students preparing to become pastors.  Bob and I taught a class on the Synoptic Gospels to a group of 2nd year students and it was another amazing experience.  Being with, teaching and learning from these men was another experience that I will take with me the rest of my life.  The Lutheran Church in Uganda is still a young church and Michael was only the 21st pastor to be ordained by it.  These 21 pastors along with a group of evangelists serve over 140 churches and preaching stations.  So the over 50 men currently studying to be pastors at the college truly represent the future of the church in Uganda.  It meant a lot to be able to share some of what I have learned and the gifts God has given me with these amazing servants.  On the last morning in Uganda there was an incredible rainstorm, even some hail came down which is pretty rare.  Afterwards as we ate breakfast, a giant rainbow covered the sky coming down on a bridge across the Nile which actually flows out of Lake Victoria there in Jinja.  That rainbow was a great reminder to me that after a flood the colors do come out and it was a beautiful day indeed!

I have been back in Dallas over three weeks and am still taking in all I experienced in the U.K. and Uganda.  But I carry those experiences with me and am excited to see how they will shape and impact me moving forward in my ministry, personal life and the new Doctor of Ministry program that I recently started.  I want to again thank all the people at Bethel for their support.  Bethel has even started a fund through which people can support my Doctor of Ministry studies and I am very grateful for those who have already done so. Please contact me directly if you would like more information and I look forward to continuing to share this journey with each of you.

In HIS Service,

Pastor Chris

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A New Journey – 20 Years in the Making – Part 1

nullnullAs many of you know by now this summer was a big milestone in my life as I marked my 20th year in ministry.  To celebrated that occasion I was able for the first time in my ministry career to take an entire month, actually five total weeks, away from my normal day to day ministry responsibilities.  During that time I was blessed with the opportunity to go to the United Kingdom and Uganda for studies, vacation/renewal and mission work. 

Even before heading overseas my journey started with the youth mission trip to Kansas City the week of June 23rd.  That was an amazing week of service with 20 youth and adults from Bethel. From Kansas City I went to New York and then Sunday morning, July 1st I arrived in London and met my classmate Mark at the airport to make the drive down to Bristol, where we were to start classes the next day.  This was to be my first of three summer of classes towards a Doctor of Ministry program that I have been accepted into.  The next two weeks I was at Trinity College in Bristol, England along with 15 classmates and two mentors who guided us, along with several guest presenters, through varies issues and topics related to "The Pastor as Caregiver."  In these two weeks I was introduced to many new ways of thinking about my approach to taking care of people as their pastor and friend.  Our class included students from several different countries and church backgrounds, so I really valued the collaborative learning from so many gifted and diverse brothers and sisters.  The evenings and weekend in between classes gave time to visit the sites of Bristol and catch watching some of the England World Cup matches, which were so exciting.

After the two weeks of class I was able to do about 11 days of sight-seeing across England, Scotland and Wales.  Loving British history as I do, I was amazed by the opportunity to experience so much history and culture in such a few days and yet I was even more amazed by how much I didn't see.  I guess the old saying that you can't do it all is so true. The last two days in the UK were spent in Cambridge where the Lutheran Church in England is based along with Westfield House a Seminary that they run to train pastors in England and across the world

I was in the UK for about 25 days and I would say that the experience that had the greatest impact on me was the 30 hours I spent at Launde Abbey, an old monastery founded in the 12th Century that now serves as an Anglican Retreat Center.  I have recently joined a group of pastors in Texas that gather for spiritual renewal retreats and they challenged me to practice solitude, which does not come natural.  Anyway, the Abbey was in the middle of these rolling hills of farms and sheep grazing.  There I worshiped in an 800 year old chapel, prayed in its accompanying basement prayer room, walked through some amazing scenic pathways all while quietly growing closer to my Savior Jesus.  It was unlike anything I have experienced before, I even started to appreciate, even enjoy the solitude! 

I thank all the people at Bethel for their support to be gone for this extended time.  Bethel has even started a fund through which people can support my Doctor of Ministry studies and I am very grateful for those who have already done so. Please contact me directly if you would like more information and I look forward to sharing part 2 of my journey in Uganda in a couple of weeks.

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Portals of Prayer

nullI am passionate about good reading material. I’m mostly interested in topics related to lives and families being changed by the Gospel of Jesus. Since I first read Portals of Prayer, I was really interested in not only reading them but promoting them to the Hispanic community in which God has called me to serve at this time, Holy Cross and Bethel Lutheran Churches in Dallas. I have heard quite a few stories of people who have been helped by reading these small passages of Scripture and the commentaries that the writers include. 

When the director of Portals of Prayer wrote to me and asked if I was interested in writing for the publication in Spanish, I felt both very honored and excited to do so. However, when I received all their requirements in order to publish what I would write, I was actually a little hesitant to accept the invitation. I’m not someone who says a lot with a few words, and the requirement was to be short and to the point. To do it would require many hours of preparation. However, I was in prayer one day and told God that I wanted to do it, but that I just didn’t know how. I told him I needed his help 100%, not only to write it in the time they needed, but that the director would like it and decide to publish what I had written.

I ended up taking the challenge, and over many days it blessed me more than I imagined. God gave me the stories and the words to say, and when I sent them, the director told me that he really liked what I was writing. He did a little editing, and then I was finally finished with what I was supposed to write.

The director recently told me that he wanted me to keep writing for the publication for next year. With joy I am accepting the offer and am prepared to make sacrifices in order that this Message reach many people around the world.

For with God nothing is impossible for us that we do in the name of the Lord. I ask for your prayer for these publications to bear fruit and that thousands of people would be blessed by them. To God be the glory, forever and ever, amen!

Rev. Beto Alzate

A New Hope

An Intern’s Journey through Summer 

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Hello, my name is Briana Granstaff. Until recently I was once just another part of the youth group, one among the masses who had been active with at Bethel since my sophomore year of high school. At an early age, a value insti0lled in me was the importance of church and so, any youth event we had, I always made it a point to show up and roll up my sleeves whenever work needed to be done. It’s because of my constancy in the church and enjoying more leadership roles, that when asked if I was interest in joining the Bethel staff as the summer youth intern, I was more than a little excited. I was already so involved with the youth and community outreach events that it seemed like a sure sign from God.

My first week began on May 16th which fortunately was on staff meeting day, so I was able to meet everyone in the office and become orientated with the way things run. The next day, I was making flyers for youth night that following Sunday, organizing a Sunday school lesson plan for Spanish church, and I even had the pleasure of meeting the highland meadows staff. Later in the evening, I accompanied Pastor Beto to soccer camps at Highland where I learned I would not only be assisting but rather, I would be coaching kids! And anyone who knows me, I am NOT athletic in the least and I am the least bit qualified to teach kids how to play a sport; I prevailed and managed to teach the little girls a thing or two. With more ESL outreach programs, such as family nights and more camps, I’m hoping that my connection with the girls as soccer will help build a bridge for them to participate in our church. It helps communicating with the kids when I’ve already met most of them through ESL classes which I was able to take part in this school year.

The weekend flew by fast and finally, it was Sunday. I woke up at 7:15, got dressed and loaded up everything I needed for church in the car and I was out of there. To sum up my day, graduating senior breakfast, all day stake out at the church for nachos and a terrifying battle of water balloons and other weapons by the youth. It was so great to see such a large turnout for the water wars youth night, from both youth kids and their younger siblings. Even though they are still too young to join on trips, it’s never too early to join in the youth fun. Especially if they fun involves ambushing Pastor Chris with a thousand water balloons

Although this is technically a job, I absolutely enjoy working as the intern and I’ve had nothing but the best experiences doing my work. I’ve been doing what I love and loving what I do which I never thought I could get out of a job. I look forward to more crazy nights filled with every weirdo from the youth and helping them along their journey in faith as well as growing in mine; because without their curiosity and passion, there wouldn’t be a youth group. After all, this is only my first week serving as a servant to God, I still have an entire summer of community bonding, inside the youth and outside the church.

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