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I often make New Year’s resolutions.  Usually they are very simple and easy to attain so that when they inevitably crash into the wastebasket of my life, I brush my failings off easily and move on.  This year feels different:  With lots of health and economic challenges around us, my new retirement, a granddaughter to occupy my attentions, and political headwinds in the air, taking this task more seriously seems like a good idea.  And while I set out constructing my own private resolutions, I also want to make some more public resolutions about the rest of this year in my role as Faith Lutheran’s Council President. It’s not so much strategic planning as giving voice to some aspirations. Let me share some of these with you.   

We have a ways to go with this Covid thing, but it’s becoming clear that the game is shifting a bit, and that we can—we should—begin to think ahead a few months to that time when the worst will likely be behind us.  I doubt that life will fall back into its pre-pandemic normalcy:  Too many big scars, fresh graves, personal losses, changed lives, and altered futures for that.  But because of what we have experienced as a church (and because of your great and consistent support for our ministries) I know that Faith Lutheran will be called to ramp up, reinvent, and imagine emerging ministries. I have had conversations with many of you and with friends and family on my morning jaunts. And lots of great Christian authors are grappling with the same challenge of exploring the recurring question “how then shall we live?” that often crops up in the “open moments”(the kairos) that surface on the other side of huge social upheavals.  They are all helping me think through these issues.   

Online worship and life together is going to continue in many corners of our everyday life, and life at Faith is no exception.  We’ll be using our new sound and video system (being installed as I write this) to share our community with those outside our Chico location—and maybe even expand membership a bit!  But my own resolution for this year is to do all that I can to make in-person worship as meaningful, nurturing, vibrant, and uplifting for our members as possible.  Some of us have not been to any in-person worship since last February—much longer than Jesus’ 40 days in the desert!  Those first few “together” services will be exhilarating.  But when the passions and novelty of corporeal worship lose that initial surge of energy, I hope that we can explore together new ways of making our short times together on Sundays the highlight of our week.  When I listen to Faith’s adult and children’s sermons, wonderful music, and our liturgical celebration (with sounds and light—can we add some incense perhaps?) I realized how blessed we are by the leadership and gifts shared by our staff and many parishioners each Sunday.  Throwing ourselves into support for, attendance at, and engagement with every aspect of our worship is going build the necessary foundation for our future ministries and community flourishing.  

My resolution is to give up the couch and the “camera off” button on my Zoom link as often as I personally am able, and make it to in-person worship to share that experience with all of you.  Remember that a new name tag is waiting for you on that first day (thank you Cindy Kampf for supporting this financially). And I suspect that there might be renewed interest among some of our unchurched friends to see what it might be like to gather in community after so much anxiety being near any strangers or new faces.  

I’m resolved to continue working to invent, encourage, and enhance social gathering among our members.  So many great church groups are already in place. These include tables for eight, our quilters, bible studies, prayer groups, growing clusters of musicians, and committees doing great work. I want us to do all that we can to help those groups thrive, and to think about where we each might fit in this mosaic of activity.  But there’s so much more that we can do!  Adding into the mix larger social gatherings, picnics and potlucks, additional hiking and camping trips, and perhaps resurrecting church camps and Halloween bonfires will give us opportunities to connect intergenerationally, introduce us to new friends, and provide the informal, longer periods of action and reflection that are the foundation for spiritual and real human growth.  We’ll be talking more about establishing and nurturing small group ministry at Faith.  But as our plans take form, I ask each of you to resolve with me to step out and engage with others in a few of these activities this coming year.  

“A Community Reflecting God’s Love with a Place at the Table for Everyone.”  If we truly wish to bring this mission statement to life in the coming year, it’s going to require moving beyond our comfort zone (and off our church campus) and rolling up our sleeves.  Opening doors and giving invitations to enter our worship and gatherings in the Fellowship Hall will be a blessing to many.  But not everyone.  The years of social justice work and community engagement that this church has been involved in has shown us that meeting people “out there” in their moments and lives of need will be the defining, distinctive and non-negotiable cornerstone of Faith Lutheran’s calling.  The challenges our world faces seem at times insurmountable: Many families in need, the special challenges of the homeless and those who suffer with drug addiction and mental illness, and support of our own church members who face daily medical and other challenges.  We also need to recognize new and emerging opportunities for churches like ours to nudge our city and county to embrace and implement policies that will be good for everyone in our community.  It’s time to make clear that there is more than one Christian view of how faith relates to politics.  There are like-minded churches in Chico and Butte County that share this vision.  We can’t do it all, and there are times when we just won’t have the resources to engage as we would like.  But my resolution this coming year is to help us clarify how we can best and more clearly put that new mission statement into practice. Preaching and theology and potlucks are all gifts to our community—but they are only tools, the means to the end of enacting the Kingdom of God in Chico and in the present (Jesus’ and St. Mark’s idea, not mine).

I ask for blessings for all of you in the coming New Year.  By all means gird your loins and concoct your own high-minded and life-changing resolutions for this exciting time.  But don’t forget to include Faith Lutheran and its ministry in those plans and commitments!   

Joel Zimbelman