Saturday, May 30, 2015

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." 
       - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

I wish you all a fond farewell

Over the past few weeks I have come to learn this, saying goodbye sucks. Goodbye is like living life in a perpetually rainy day, goodbye is like dropping off a loved one at the airport, goodbye is like finishing a book. Goodbye is not something I delight in. Yet originally it meant "God be with you," a nice sentiment and blessing from one to another as two or more people depart from one another's presence, but that doesn't mean it is enjoyable. After graduating from Luther Seminary a few weeks ago I began saying goodbye to you all with a long list of lasts, culminating on Sunday with my last worship service and day as an employee of St. Mark's. Goodbye sucks.

I will carry with me many lessons and memories from this place, learned from you all as well as wise mentors. I have been molded, shaped, and formed into the pastor I am today because of God working through you all. And for that I am forever grateful. I hope that I can one day help impact other young pastoral leaders as you have done for me. Thank you. 

Indeed gratitude is not enough of an emotion to express my feelings for these past two years, so I will leave you with a prayer from Paul's letter to the Ephesians:

For this reason I bow my knees before God from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Holy Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

God be with you 'till we meet again...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Now What?

Have you ever felt stuck in between two things? For the past few weeks I have felt like I am living in the "in between time" of school and first call. On the one hand I am done with all of my school work and am set to graduate from Luther Seminary this coming Sunday. But on the other hand I am still figuring out my first call and trying to plan an ordination around a handful of schedules. This in between time is exhausting! I have done so much planning and preparation for some things to be finished and others are still coming up on the horizon leaving me wondering whether or not I am moving. I feel a little stuck.

Last night I was flipping through the channels and I came across the end of one of my favorite Disney films, Finding Nemo. One of the side plots in the overall narrative of Marlin, a clown fish, finding his son Nemo is the epic escape attempts of the fish in a dentist's office. Time and time again they plan and try, but ultimately fail. However, in the very last scene we see all of the aquarium characters finally escape by dirtying up the tank and being placed into bags while the dentist cleaned the tank. To our surprise, the fish rolled themselves out the window and on to the street below to plop down into the ocean. But here's the catch, they still aren't free! Bloat, the puffer fish asks, "Now what?"

Now what?

That is exactly how I feel. Living in the in between time leaves us begging for more. I am done with school, but I want to graduate, I want a first call, I want to move, I want____. You know how this goes. The story of the disciples is no different. After the death of Jesus on Good Friday they were left in a difficult situation not knowing what to do. And then Easter Sunday happened, resurrection happened. It is from this new reality that they went out into the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the good news of God.

But getting to that other side is difficult, it takes faith. Faith does not mean that the journey will be short, nor does it mean that it will be easy. Joyce Meyer says, "faith is courage that has said its prayers." But it is so much more than that. Faith is God's free gift to all people, and it makes even the most horrible situations tolerable because faith makes God known.

So as I continue to wait in this in between time, I find myself emboldened by that faith God has given. And when you find yourself in a similar situation, may you too find that faith abounds!

Tom Westcott

Friday, April 24, 2015

Filled, Gifted, Sent

This past weekend I was in up in Fargo, ND for the Eastern North Dakota synod assembly as well as for a few interviews for first call. I was apprehensive about going because it was not only new to me, but also because it was a marker that ordained ministry is finally becoming a reality! I am a mixed bag of emotions as I am excited to be done with school (senior slide is reaching its apex), I am sad that I will have to leave my congregations, but I am also feeling confident that God is leading me into a future that will allow Emily and I to flourish as a couple, as professionals, as coaches, and also as people of God.

While I would like to think that this confidence originated in self-reflection and prayer, it did not. It came from the synod assembly where we heard keynote speakers, Bible studies, addresses from Bishop Terry Brandt and other church wide officials, worship, and more. Our theme was, "Filled with Fire, Gifted to Grow, and Sent by the Spirit." It was in all of these events surrounding this theme that I realized that indeed the Holy Spirit was stirring up within me the new creation of our baptismal identity. In my case it is ordained leadership. As I move forward along this journey I am filled with the fire of the Spirit, gifted to grow into my vocations, and sent to be God's hands, feet, voice, and presence to all of creation.

There are two Spirit filled questions I would like to share with you all that have fueled me to this state of being:

Are we called to be leaders of an institution or leaders of a movement?

Are we settled or are we sent?

Both of these are related, yet different. The first was asked to Bishop Brandt by the Chicago Area Synod Bishop Wayne Miller when Brandt asked for advice. This question forces us to ask if we are keeping alive building and traditions that have little to do with a new and changing world. It asks us if we are keeping a ho-hum status or if we are being a life changing presence, the good news of Christ. If we are the church, here and now, we need to be leaders of a movement. A movement that proclaims life and death, the good news of Christ, and the restoration of creation

The second was asked by the keynote speaker, Rev. Nancy Nyland (Director of Evangelical Mission for the Indiana-Kentucky Synod). It wonders in our leading of the church and in the life of discipleship if we are pushed outside of our contextual comforts, past our own horizons if you will, and into the world or not. It seems to me that we are indeed being sent into the groaning of creation that cries out to God in service and in love. When we find ourselves settled we must discern whether we are ignoring the Spirit's luring into the needs of creation. When we find ourselves sent we are filled with the Spirit and gifted to act.

May you find yourself filled, gifted, and sent this Easter season.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Expect the Unexpected

In the Oscar award winning film from 1982, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, we see the personification of delight and happiness. In the movie, the alien named E.T. is accidentally left behind by some of his fellow space travelers. However, he befriends a 10 year old boy named Elliot who helps him try to create a device to “phone home.” Sadly, a special government task force tracks E.T. down and he appears to die from some a sickness while in their captivity. As Elliot went to mourn E.T. in his freezing cold tomb, he discovered the unexpected. E.T. is alive. And Elliot’s response is to shout with elation and smile incessantly. And what is the first thing he does? He goes and tells his older brother who shares the same reaction to the good news. He’s alive!

How do you rejoice for all of your blessings? How do you rejoice in the resurrection? In a sense this scene from E.T. is exactly what Mary and Mary do in Matthew 28:1-10. Such joy was to be shared with the disciples according to the angel’s message as well as Jesus’ instruction. You see, the focus of the resurrection is always moving forward, always interacting with others, always rejoicing. We too as disciples are called to tell others of the unexpected story of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps running around from door to door or telling everyone we meet about the greatest story ever told may not be the best way to share the good news in our culture. Maybe a better way is to translate Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection into terms people can understand. Maybe we can do this by using the stories of our lives to illustrate our faith, or maybe we pull the narratives from the silver screen. Either way, the unexpected truth remains, Jesus is alive and well! Jesus went to death on the cross and conquered the grave! What great news! So our task as disciples is just like that of Mary and Mary, to speak the good news to all that will hear; to link transitions in their life to the greatest story ever told; where we get to expect the unexpected. He’s alive. Jesus Christ is risen today. Alleluia! 

Easter Blessings

Friday, March 27, 2015

First Call: The Unexpected Journey

By now, anyone who is reading this more than likely knows that I have been assigned the Eastern North Dakota synod of the ELCA for my first call. At first I was surprised that the bishops assigned me to this synod because it was not on my preference list that I had submitted! However in further conversations with Bishop Terry Brandt and his staff it soon became more than apparent that he carefully read my profile and thought that Eastern North Dakota could provide the best opportunity to grow as a pastor as well as for Emily and I to flourish as a family. As each day passes I begin to see that my story is much like that of Abraham's in Genesis 12:1-5a. It reads as follows:

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered...

Indeed I am headed off for a another country, well another state, but I am picking up everything I have and moving it to an unknown place. And joining me on this journey is my wife and canine companion. 

In all honesty the thought of moving is scary, the thought of finding housing is stressful, the thought of finding employment for my wife is overwhelming, and the thought of being done with school takes me aback (I've been in school in some form or another for the past 20 years of my life). All of these things matched with work and finishing up my Master's degree has left me feeling fatigued. Such has been my journey this Lenten season, that of wandering through the wilderness of anxiety and "what if's" knowing that the promised land and gift of life awaits at the end of these forty days. 

And yet I have a strange sense of courage going through this whole process. Sure there are plenty of things I cannot control and cannot foresee, but I am stepping boldly into this call. Above you read that Abraham was called by God to go to a new country because God wanted to make of him a great nation and that through that nation they might be able to bless the entire world. And what did Abraham do? He left. 

So too God is calling me to leave the comforts of my home and close proximity of my family and friends. Emily, Summit, and I will pack up all of our possessions and head for North Dakota. It is our faith that God is blessing us with this new place and new people, it is through our faith that we might be a blessing to them, and it is through our faith that together we all might bless the world. This first first call is unexpected, but it is a journey of faith that we are joyfully entering.

Peace to you all, 
Tom Westcott 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Excessive Convergence

Wow it has been over a month since I last posted! My apologies to you all. Let me explain...This past month has been hectic with all of St. Mark's events (mainly transitioning after Steve's retirement), my last semester of school at Luther Sem. started, and finally "the draft." A few weeks ago all of the candidates for ordained ministry were divided into regions of U.S. for synod assignment. I received Region 3 which includes Minnesota and both North and South Dakota. Now I await for a call from my synod bishop this week. I am a mixed bag of nervous and excited as I am sure all of us who are waiting for "the call." With that said, I have had some trouble focusing on life. And who can't relate with all of life's anxieties and joys?!

A few months ago I went to the eye doctor because I was having trouble focusing my sight during worship when I would glance down at my sermon and then to the congregation. At first I did not think it was anything, just my tired eyes in the morning. But it continued, so finally I went to see a doctor. Now I thought I was going to need a new prescription (I have one for seeing distance when in a classroom, my current prescription is from high school!), but that was not the case. The doctor informed me that I have "excessive convergence." Essentially he told me that when I look straight my eyes are straight, but when I look down they slightly cross so that they compete for dominance and take extra time to focus. And here is the thing, a prescription would just make this worse! Instead I am supposed to go to eye physical therapy to remedy the problem.

How many of us have excessive convergence? Perhaps you do not have it literally like myself, but I suspect you do have it in your life. Think about all of your worries and anxieties, your regrets and failings. Often times they plague us, haunting us wherever we go causing our eyes and lives to blur and we find ourselves lost.But the Holy Spirit redirects us from our inward, selfish, scared dazing and up into the wonderful world around us. The Holy Spirit frees us from being enslaved to our anxieties and opens us up to living into the creation God made us to be.

My prayer for you all this Lent is to live into the creation God made you to be!