Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Final Blog:

Tuesday May 27th
The day started with the remaining students taking an early morning hike at SHC with the sun rising. What a beautiful example of the western NE landscape with rolling hills in a pasture full of cattle!

The group left for Gloria Dei Lutheran which is the last church of a four point parish. Lay leaders talked about their strengths and struggles being part of a four-point parish. One particular issue talked about is financial balance between a congregation’s contributions for leadership as it relates to sharing leadership with other participating congregations.  It was mentioned that lay leaders and again connections were vital aspects for doing ministry. At present, the congregation is participating in the call process.

Students took an early lunch and last [planned] stop at Runza for the trip, a local favorite that the group came to enjoy.

The group had the opportunity to speak with Bishop Maas. The conversation partially talked about inclusivity of racial minorities in the life of the NE synod. Bishop Maas generally conceded that inclusivity of minorities is risky, and the current climate is not necessarily conducive to minority leadership. Another point talked about is the general development of leadership in the synod. New perspectives on leadership, such as emphasis on laity and more specialized leadership is necessary. The analogue drawn was comparing church leadership with the medical field; there are many different types of medical professionals and no one professional does it all.

After the meeting, students were able to tour Leyton High School. Greg Brenner spoke of the difficulties and successes of the school. It appeared that there is a high graduation rate and a high post-secondary continuation by graduates. The school continues to deal with small numbers of enrollment which limit some of the extracurricular activities. It appears that solid engagement between the school and community is important for a successful educational system.
Students were later able to meet with Coleen McKay to learn about the Dalton village government. Local government generally reported that most of the work done centers around billing and enforcing property codes. Very few residents attend village meetings, but residents via word of mouth, are well informed of the issues discussed.

The afternoon was spent with Pastor Eric. The group was able to see the Presbyterian and Lutheran buildings that are currently utilized in various capacities by the ecumenical church formed by two different congregations known as the United Church of the Plains. At this time, much of the congregation is still discerning how to consolidate. One of the major issues that the congregation has faced is the issue of membership and how that relates to participation and congregational census. The issue comes from differing historical polities.
The evening concluded at The Hanger for the “mad cow” burger night- when all burgers at half price. The United Planes church’s ministry called The Way was there to talk about their work and to fellowship. Several success stories were shared about how the community ministry has brought engagement with local area youth. Concerns about connecting with youth continue to persist despite having good attendance.

Wednesday May 28th
After saying goodbye to their host families, the students went to Saint Peter’s Church ruins. It was ruined in a fire; there students found a Geo-Cache box and contributed to the log book inside.
For their final stop, students went to the Nelson family homestead which was established in 1886 and has been in the same family for five generations. Kent’s wife Marsha is memorialized there. The five generations of genealogy connecting the family to the site are listed on the monument. Ending the trip with such an important testament of the connection between the land and the people of NE was a fitting capstone for the immersion experience.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sunday May 25th
Two of the students (Michael Oellig and Katherine Tuttle) went to Weyerts and The United Church on the Plains. On the way there, one student was able to speak with Pastor Alm about church structures. He expressed concerns about the ELCA polity structure which is rather prohibitive, particularly in his ecumenical church which is a joint congregation between the ELCA and PCUSA.

Weyerts service, while historically German, was rather low church. The congregation sat in the back half of the building. While at the United Church, the congregation met in the ELCA building.  Since the church is a result of a merger of two local congregations, there continues to be a conflict about which building should be used. The service generally followed a Lutheran context.

In the afternoon, two students (Matt Lawler and Steve Bogie) had to return to Chicago to begin CPE assignments while the other students spent the day with their host families in relaxation and reflection.

Monday May 26th
The group started the day by visiting the former site of the Sioux Army Depot. Much of the site has been dismantled, while remaining buildings were re-purposed into facilities such as dwellings, storage, and industry.
The group attended Memorial Day services at Weyerts. The services started with reflection in the cemetery with many of the families who have deep roots with those interned there. The service was held in the sanctuary followed by fellowship augmented with coffee and doughnuts.
Following the services, the students went to the farm of Phil and Kathy Narjes for a tour and a hearty farm banquet. On tour, students got to feed a calf, hold several newly born farm cats, see Phil’s large collection of cars and farm equipment, and gather freshly laid eggs from a chicken coop.
After the time spent eating and experiencing farm life, the students ended the day at Sullivan Hills Camp. 

On Saturday, May, 24, 2014 we visited Pastor Amanda at the First English Lutheran Church in Kimball, Nebraska. Pastor Amanda's willingness to go over key elements of rural ministries was fully appreciated by the whole group. Pastor Amanda has a down to earth type personality, and her insight into rural ministries was exceptionally spot on. We all were entertained and inspired by her wit and skill to articulate how to deal with important issue while working in a rural context as a pastoral leader.

Saturday evening Pastor Eric invited our combined group over to his house to treat us to a wonderful home cooked meal. The hospitality, generosity, and kindness that Pastor Eric and his wife Robin provided made us feel warmly welcomed in their lovely home. Thank you Pastor Eric and Robin for your time, energy, and love and sharing those talents with our group we appreciate your kindness.  

This is my last blog for this trip and I would like to generally thank everyone who has been instrumental to what I feel has been a very successful experience. Although, this is my last post there will be other writers who will carry the torch of this blog by articulating their experiences during the remaining portion of the Nebraska immersion. Through their experiences there will be the possibility of illustrating different points of view that will aid to bring forward new ideas of importance through their perspective.

A beautiful gift given to our group has been the hospitality of the people who worked with us throughout the week which has been absolutely wonderful. One individual who has been instrumental to our group feeling at home has been Kent Miller. Throughout the first week of the Nebraska immersion Kent has been a delightful companion, leader, and friend to our whole group. Kent has made our experiences in Nebraska insightful, educational, and overall very fun. Because of Kent’s hard work our group was comfortable, fed, and felt like we were a part of his family. We all thank you Kent.

People's willingness to take in a bunch of strangers and have them live in their homes or visit them at their work has been truly remarkable and awesome experience. The time, effort, and friendship given by everyone we visited during this immersion truly illustrated a deep sense God's love through the generosity of these people. We are truly indebted to your wonderful hospitality that we all received throughout this week in rural Nebraska. 

It is safe to say that I would endorse that the Nebraska immersion course should be a mandatory experience for any pastoral leader looking to serve in a rural context. Also, I would fully recommend any student to take this course so they could experience how wonderful the people in rural Nebraska are. 

On a final note here is an awesome lemon cookie recipe that the Matthewson family served to us when we visited their ranch on Saturday morning. It is definitely worth trying this recipe because these cookies  are deliciously addictive. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

On Friday, May 24, 2014 our group stayed in Sidney, Nebraska for the whole day. First thing in the morning we stopped off to visit the Natural Resource Conservation Service / Farm Service offices to talk to Kent’s daughter Kristin Miller. NRCS is presently trying to satisfy the future need of supplying food for our growing world. Kris emphasized an interesting perspective on the amount of food needed for future, which is the amount of food needed for the future is the same amount that has maintained the world for the past five hundred years. Therefore, NRCS works with land owning farmers to assist them in conserving their soil for the possibility of sustaining the most profitable growing circumstances with that soil.

Later in the day we visited the Sidney courthouse where we were treated to an engaging conversation about domestic violence. There were presentations from Health and Human Services, officials from the courthouse, and the Doves program where each presenter emphasized the importance of a pastor’s role in stopping domestic violence. Each presenter illustrated that pastors in most cases are the first line of defense against domestic violence. This is because people feel that they can confide and trust in pastors with sensitive information. The officials of the justice department made it clear that we all work together as a team in providing care towards stopping domestic violent situations.

After lunch we embarked on a journey to visit the funeral home in Sidney. The funeral home presentation gave us a glimpse of casket types, body preparation, embalming materials, and the relationship between funeral directors and religious clergy. The dominant theme the presenter emphasized with relationships between funeral home staff and clergy was that is should be maintained as a respectful partnership. This is especially true when each party is trying to fulfill the duty of their vocation within the funeral service.  

After the funeral home we visited South Platte Natural Resources Center to hear a presentation on water conservation. There were two wonderful presentations that emphasized the importance of conserving water in various methods that helps to preserve water in Nebraska and for North America.

Finally, we ended our day by visiting the Sloan Assisted Living Center to partake in some conversation with some very special hosts. Our visit was a good exercise in Clinical Pastoral Education, which a good portion of the group involved with this class will have to complete over this upcoming summer. Some of us were treated to stories about World War II, military life, fishing, and the good meals the staff makes for the guests that live at the facility. Our visitation to Sloan Assisted Living Center was an excellent reminder of the joy of maintaining relationships with people who have vast lifetime of experiences.