Getting Away

Well, I’ve finally done it.

After three years of hearing about our regional Covenant Camps, I’ve at long last been to both of them: Covenant Harbor, and – just this week – Covenant Point.

Not having grown up in a church that valued camp as much as WCC, I wasn’t sure what to expect – or, if I’m honest, what the fuss was all about.

I like getting away and into nature as much as the next person, a desire that’s only been amplified in the last year and a half as I felt safest outdoors and away from crowds, and as I moved deeper into the city – but the message I got from so many members of our church family was that this place was SO much more than just a getaway. More than merely a spot to see the stars and hear crickets instead of car horns at night. That it was a holy place, a place of healing and connection and refreshment.

And you all were right.

I showed up skeptical, tired from the drive, nervous about being the camp speaker (even though I had Pastor Joel, a veteran and talented pro at the camp speaking circuit, with me splitting the work), and missing my dog. It had been a year and a half since I’d been away from her, surrounded by strangers, far from home and doing something new like this. And I went to bed that first night very tired, not just in my body but in my spirit too.

I asked God more than once why I was there to begin with.

But then a funny thing happened.

I started to unclench my jaw for the first time in months, and try new things that stretched me (scared me) and helped me to grow. I spoke without a manuscript, and even stopped looking at my notes. I talked with lots of strangers, spent time eating with them, praying with them, singing silly camp songs with them, and playing in the water with their kids. I slept hard and well, ate good and nourishing food, and lived without cell signal.

I felt some of the grief and loss of this past year, intensely, because there were fewer distractions to numb me to those sensations – but I also felt hope. Because as much as groups of people have stressed me out this past year, whether because they handled COVID differently than I did, or because I didn’t know what germs they could be carrying – there is something innately good about being together. Something we are wired for, created for. Something life-giving and healing about being in community. Something I’ve been longing for without even knowing it.

By the last day, I was sad to come home, too. Happy to come to my own bed, and my dog Zoe, but sad all the same. And eager to go back to camp, when the time is right. To sit under the big open sky again, and hear the wind move through the trees, and feel close to other people and close to God because there’s much less between us up there in the woods, on the edge of the lake.

Thank you all, for telling me over and over again that I was missing out. Thank you, for encouraging me to try, and to experience something new.

I’m so glad I did.

-Pastor Jen

Creation’s Wonder

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.” (Psalm 100:1)

Photo by Johannes Plenio on

Recently we made a quick trip to northeast Iowa, to visit the grave of Bonnie’s brother Dwight, who died now five years ago. Instead of the usual term across Interstate 80, we went through Rockford and then through the rolling hills of northwest Illinois. I don’t know if ever I have seen the fields so beautiful; I’m sure Bonnie and the folks got tired of listening to me say repeatedly, “Look! Look how beautiful.” Corn that is hopefully “knee high by the Fourth of July” towered over our heads!

The overwhelming lingering sense is of abundance, and creation’s praise to the Creator. I’m reminded of the Swedish song (blomstertid) that school children sing on the last day of school. It’s a hymn in our hymnal! And translated by my uncle Zenos:

Now comes the time for flowers, for joy, for beauty great. Come near you summer hours, earth’s grasses recreate. Sun’s kind and lovely charming of dead things winter slew, comes intimately warming and all is born anew.

Our lovely flowered meadows, the till field’s noble seed, rich herbs laid out in windrows, green groves sedately treed: these wonderful reminders of God’s good kingdom strong; that we his grace remember, it spans the whole year long. (Hymnal 646)

I have a new appreciation for the movie Field of Dreams, when the ghost father of Ray Kinsella, who suddenly appears, looks around at the fields in the setting sun, and asks, “Is this heaven?” Driving through those meadows I understand the question. It is Iowa, that’s for sure. And alive with God’s glory, that’s also for sure.

We don’t worship creation, but we revel in it, we join with all creation in awe of God’s beauty and the wonderful of life. I hope you can find Holy spaces and moments to breathe deeply and take in the beauty all around.

Peter Hawkinson


“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

I was struck again last Sunday by those words. Their familiarity masks their radical call. As James Mulholland says in his book, Praying Like Jesus, “You can’t pray those words without examining your life.” When they asked him to pray, it would have been enough for Jesus to say, “Forgive us our sins.” But then Jesus added the word “as.”

The most common sense we get from the plain reading of the words, and the lessons and sermons we listen to, is that God’s own forgiveness is dependent on our forgiveness for others. That is, that God’s forgiveness is limited in some sense, and it’s flow controlled by our actions. In essence, we might most commonly understand it something like this: “Teach us to forgive others, so that we might also be forgiven.” And of course we would love to conceive of ourselves first as forgivers. This would leave us in control. From our own great store of righteousness, we can with initiative reach out and forgive those who have injured or wronged us. And that would be a mis-reading, an example of why our plain reading that comes through often in translation can lead us to some crazy theological ideas and assumptions. Our forgiveness of others is no precondition for divine forgiveness.

No, first the prayer asks us to ask to be forgiven. Suddenly we are at the mercy of God, completely. And the greek verb language of what comes after is present/imperative, pointing to the immediate future….“Forgive us our sins, as we (now, moving forward) forgive those who sin against us.” That is, having received the mercy of God that sets us free from our sins, we can, as Will Willimon says, “turn the world around, and throw a monkey wrench in the eternal wheel of retribution and vengeance.” We have power to forgive, but that power comes from our experience with God’s forgiveness.

It is this, that when we pray “as we forgive those who sin against us”, we are reminded of the work we have to do, what John Austin calls “a performative utterance.” Our human words of forgiveness for one another are in fact the clearest reflection and experience of Divine forgiveness that can be seen in the world.

To hold stubbornly onto control of the hurt and pain does not diminish God’s capacity to forgive us, but likely is a clear sign that we ourselves need an experience of mercy for ourselves. St. John Chrysostom wrote in the late fourth century: “God can forgive our offenses without our forgiving others, but God wills for us a great benefit, namely, ‘Cementing’ us to others who are fellow members of the body of Christ by means of love, casting out what is brutish in us, and quenching wrath. In the end, our human forgiveness can and must be understood simply as a reflection of the divine forgiveness.”

Wrestle with the “as”! And I’ll see you soon, when we’ll worship and say those words again. In the meantime, I bet it’s not hard for you to locate those whom you need to forgive, and those you need to ask forgiveness from. This is holy work. Don’t hold back from it — and if you find yourself unable, open up your own soul and let the mercy of God wash over you. This is what will bring you to your neighbor’s door to do the work of love.

Peter Hawkinson

The Beauty of Hard Things, Together

It has been two years this summer since I’ve been on a mission trip. And almost that long since I’ve done a work day, or a service outing, or had the chance to volunteer time and energy for a worthy cause. To join alongside others and get our hands dirty, our foreheads sweaty, our legs weary, as we do something hard and important, together.

I had almost forgotten how good it is.

And then I decided to move. Without professional movers. From a second-floor apartment to a third-floor condo. On a day (little did I know) that would involve drenching downpours, tornado sirens, high humidity and blazing sunshine.

I needed help, and lots of it. And I worried, tossing in my bed the night before, that it wouldn’t all get done. There were so many boxes – how did I end up with so many, anyway? Did I really have that much stuff? Had it multiplied in the three years since I moved here? How would we navigate the stairs? And the city parking? And the biggest furniture pieces?

I was completely and utterly dependent on friends, many of whom came from you, our congregation. And what I discovered in the course of that crazy, wet, wild day – was that there is great joy when the church comes together to do hard things.

I was reminded, in the hours of shuffling boxes up and down stairs, of passing friends and swapping high-fives in the hallway, of loading and unloading trucks and trunks, of the delight of being together and joining hands in a hard task. I felt like we were back in the mission field, or at the rummage sale, hauling things together and still finding time to have fun. I have experienced this joy at home in the church building, afield in city streets and country roads, and abroad in Kenya, but I have never been on the receiving end of it. The one benefitting from the glad hearts and willing hands of church family, joining together to make light work of a big project.

It is a humbling and precious gift.

Most of all, I want to say thanks for it. Thanks to all of you who showed up, who hauled things, who smiled despite the heat and the wet and the stairs.

And thanks to those of you who sent good thoughts, and prayers; who brought lunch, who saved boxes and bubble wrap. Who sent cards or well wishes on my first home of my very own.

It is an awesome thing to be on the receiving end of the love and strength of the church. I knew that in theory, but now I know that from practice; from living it. And I won’t soon forget it.

And it has reminded me that we are made for this kind of work – for serving and loving each other. For getting out of our comfort zones, or maybe just getting off our couches, and finding ways to help others. That when we do so, in whatever way we can, acknowledging our age and stage and abilities, there is life to be found. Hope, energy, and joy.

I am looking for ways to pay that forward, in this season where we can once again gather (and work!) together. And I hope you will too.

With gratitude and deep love for all of you,

Pastor Jen

The Order of Things and the Church’s Welcome

This book postures an important idea that has great implications for the church’s ministry. Bass argues that “for the last few centuries, Western Christianity ordered faith in a particular way. Catholics and Protestants taught that belief came first, behavior came next, and finally belonging resulted, depending on how you answered the first two questions…thus, for several centuries, Western people have generally assumed that religious commitment begins when one assents to a body of organized doctrines.” (p. 201-202).

Bass goes on to reflect on the way of Jesus as being the reverse; community first, practices second, and belief as a result of the first two — and that we must reverse the order. Instead of believing, behaving, and then belonging, the Jesus way is belonging, behaving, then believing. Jesus meets people and says, “Follow Me.” He could of walked along the sea and said, “Have Faith!” but instead he asked them to do something: “Follow Me.” First is an invitation to friendship, relationship, to a shared journey. Finally, and last comes believing. Peter’s confession of faith grew out of his friendship with Jesus and all the things they had done together–praying, eating, preaching, healing, giving, and feeding.

Bass concludes thus: “In the biblical pattern of faith, believing comes last. Indeed, this pattern repeats in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. From the calling of Abraham and Sarah through the great prophets and heroes of Israel to Jesus and the early church, those who walked with faith started by following, by becoming part of God’s community, by enacting the practices of God’s way, and finally by recognizing and proclaiming the glory of God.” (209).

What do you think of her analysis and reflection?

And what are the implications for the church in what many are calling a post-christian context? It seems hopeful to me when considering that SBNRS (spiritual but not religious) and NONES (religiously unaffiliated) are the two fastest growing categories of folks in our culture. It seems that a posture of “welcome just as you are” can be a gift. Maybe Belonging before anything else gives someone a chance to experience the love of Christ in community before they can or are ready to articulate that. And maybe Behaving — coming along on a mission trip, or a bible study, or to serve at the soup kitchen — maybe behaving gives someone a chance to act out the love of Jesus in a transformative way. Maybe, at least for most people, Belief comes from experiences of welcome and opportunities to belong in the first place.

This order of things calls us as the church to welcome others AND commit to include them in community. It calls us to patience — to time and space, to a longer than a shorter view of discipleship. And it calls us to trust that relationships matter deeply, and that the Spirit is at work In and through us.

Good book! Much to wrestle with here. Grace and peace to you today, wherever you are!