Jazzing things up

Posted Feb 19, 2014 | Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs

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By congregation members from First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lincoln, NE


This blog post is part of a series that features guest posts from members of congregations that have received Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal grants. We wish to highlight the ways in which these grants are blessings, not only to the pastors who go on renewal leaves, but to the congregations themselves.

What was the impact of the renewal program?

jazzInclusivity was a top priority. Worship and activities were designed to involve people of all ages and learning styles. Pastor Maas led a study of Practice Resurrection during February and March 2011. A Travel Guide of sabbatical worship opportunities and events was distributed on May 22. A Rite of Sending blessed the Maas’ sabbatical and shoe laces were blessed and sent home after worship to remind members that they were on a journey, too. Visiting Spiritual Director Sonja Sandquist offered individual spiritual direction sessions as well as a two-day spiritual retreat. Evening Taizé services were made available to the community monthly. Rev. Dr. Eugene Lowery, Professor of Preaching Emeritus and jazz musician, was a guest of the congregation from June 26–28. A Kansas City-style barbecue was served before an evening concert and educational session about Jazz and Christianity to which the community was invited. Dr. Lowry’s Monday workshop on narrative-style preaching was open to area clergy.

Pastor Maas blogged about his sabbatical experiences regularly. Members of the congregation engaged with media, too, by reviewing favorite books, movies, music, and resources for spiritual growth. A display in the Commons shared their recommendations with all.

How did you share your renewal leave experiences with the wider community?

The audience of hundreds attending Dr. Lowry’s Jazz and Christianity session proved that Lincoln music lovers were in the wings. First Lutheran capitalized on the enthusiasm generated by Dr. Lowry’s visit to initiate First Friday Jazz at First, a gift to the Lincoln community. Dovetailing with Lincoln’s First Friday Art Walk, this free monthly concert series brings the area’s top jazz musicians to First Lutheran for noon hour concerts. Response has been overwhelming, with more than 200 guests filling the church’s activity center each month! The majority of those who attend are not members of First Lutheran Church. Daytime hours allow many senior citizens to participate.

What aspects of your renewal leave experience continued after the grant period ended?

Spurred by the willingness of members to ‘dig deep’ in studying Peterson’s book, the congregation began a Bible in 90 Days study which has continued for two years. Topics explored recently during the Sunday Adult Forum have focused on creative thinking in the church. Study and conversation are woven into church life.

Spiritual growth and hospitality were named as two of First Lutheran’s three priorities for the year ahead. Innovation in worship continues. Connections among members of the congregation were strengthened, and community outreach became real. Monthly jazz concerts are a pure joy!

Encouraged by receiving the Lilly Endowment grant, members of the congregation applied for, and received, a John Templeton Foundation Scientists in Congregations grant for $30,000. Without the church’s positive experience with the Lilly grant, we might not have been aware of this opportunity or felt we had what it took to receive funding.

What did you learn, or what surprised you? What significant learning would you share with other congregations?

How much fun it was! The success of ‘Jazz and Christianity’ and First Friday Jazz, in the two years since, are powerful examples. We suggest that congregations: Include members of the congregation in all phases of planning and in a ‘sabbatical at home.’ Think outside the box. Involve all ages and incorporate varied learning styles. Enlist lay leaders to organize activities and events. It became clear that when we prayerfully take risks and use the creative gifts God has bestowed, blessings flow.

This piece has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members from First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lincoln, NE, served at the time by Rev. Brian Maas.

The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seek to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. To request permission to repost this content, please contact clergyrenewal@cts.edu.

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