Christmas Eve Hospitality

Christmas Eve is our most attended worship service of the year.  One of the most important things we can do is to show hospitality and welcome to everyone that comes through our doors to worship the Christ child.

We invite you to greet everyone that you come in contact with, not just the people you know.  While we are sure our ushers will do a great job of welcoming people on Christmas Eve, your welcoming others matters.  All Christians have a calling to be hospitable to others as Jesus has welcomed us.

Here are six things to expect on Christmas Eve as it relates to hospitality:

  1. Expect for things to be crowded. If past trends hold true, we will have lots of people here, especially at the earlier worship services.  That’s a wonderful thing!  But it also means that you could very well need to scoot down a seat or two to help make sure everyone fits into the Family Life Center.  With our limited parking because of construction, it might mean that you have a little bit more of a walk than a normal Sunday morning.   Look at it as the wonderful thing that it is!  God is bringing together all of these people to worship Jesus.
  1. Expect for lots of children to be in worship. Some of those children might be squirmy and move around.  Welcome them!  Remember, Jesus holds children up as model citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, so their presence here is a very good thing!
  1. Expect to see people that you don’t normally see. Some people talk disparagingly about people and families that are present only for Christmas and Easter.  Don’t ever chide anyone for coming to worship.  Let them know that you’re glad they’re here and that they’re always welcome here.  God might just use your warm welcome to bring them back to more frequent worship attendance.
  1. Expect to sit near someone who isn’t familiar with our worship service. If they are looking lost, gently ask if you can help them find where we are in the bulletin.  The pastors will announce that all are welcome to the Lord’s Table, but there might be some hesitancy when it comes to that, so you might have to let them know that when we say all are welcome, we really mean all!
  1. Expect to help people find important places like the nursery and restrooms. If you see someone that looks lost, ask if there’s something you can help them with.  If you don’t know, ask an usher or someone else that might know.
  1. Expect people to ask about our construction. Let them know what an adventure this past year has been.  Like any construction project, there have been some surprises, but we are all excited to get back into the sanctuary this coming summer.

Medical Mission Trip

One of our outreach ministries at Zion is with a girls home in Rural Southwestern Honduras called Project Talitha Cumi.  Zion has been working with them for some years and will be returning there November 5-12.

This trip will be a medical resupply of the Project Talitha Cumi clinic, which we have stocked the last two years through congregation support.  The mission team will also see 200-300 patients from surrounding villages, which have little access to medical treatments.  Dr. Kathy Grove and Todd Grove will lead the team, which includes Jim Meadows, Paul Goldenbaum, and Ryan Grove.

We are in need of your medical supply donations.  The team is asking for the following items:

-Ibuprofen – 200 mg
-Acetaminophen – 500 mg
-Hydro-cortisone cream
-Muscle rub cream
-Petroleum jelly – small bottles
-Adult multi-vitamins – drug store quality
-Children multi-vitamins – drug store quality
-Prenatal multi-vitamins – drug store quality
-Triple antibiotic ointment

A helpful hint from the team:  You can purchase most of these items at the Dollar Tree in Helotes $1 each.  For vitamins, please use a drug store.  You can also make a cash donation so that the team can go and purchase these supplies.

God’s Work at Zion

One of the joys of being a pastor is seeing signs of God’s goodness in lots of different places.  I thought I’d share some signs of God’s Spirit stirring here at Zion over the last few weeks.

-We’ve met our challenge grant!!  As was announced in worship last week, we had a family step forward with a generous gift to challenge the people of Zion to help meet some major unexpected expenses with our building.  We were able to collect over $156,000 (with more pledged on the way!) in a little over a month.  $150,000 of that will be matched through the challenge grant.  It looks like by the time the rest of the pledges come in, we will have collected around $325,000.  Thanks be to God!!!

-Last Sunday children in grades 2-5 assembled 210 school kits for children throughout the world in need.  Their kits, along with other congregations, will be sent to Lutheran World Relief.

-Our Sunday School is off to a great start.  Our education director, Karen Stein, is working with the teachers who help form faith in the lives of the littlest disciples.

-Our Blessed Change ministry sent $319 to our partners at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio in honor of our former vicar, Pastor Emily Ebert, who was recently ordained and called to serve a congregation in the Buffalo, NY area.

-This Saturday we have a group of 28 people heading downtown to help feed the homeless with Taking it to the Streets.  They will cook the food here at Zion and then feed anyone that is hungry.  Thanks to Tim Tiemann for heading up this important ministry!

-Next weekend we have a group of people going to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity.  We’re working with other Lutheran congregations in the area on this house.  We also have a group of volunteers that are feeding the crew on Saturday.

-We will have the bloodmobile here on Sunday.

-Third Graders are receiving Bibles this Sunday, September 11, as a way of Zion fulling baptismal promises to them. Three year olds have been given Story Bibles in their classroom as a way to introduce the Bible to them. They hear stories from these Bibles in their classroom.

-Our youth minister, Travis Baker, is having a confirmation ministry kick off this Sunday.  We give God thanks for the adults that spend their Sunday evenings with these youth as they go through this important part of their faith journey.

-Our musical groups have started back after a summer break.  We thank God for the people that use their musical gifts to praise the Risen Christ in worship!  It’s not too late to jump into one of our music groups.  For more info, contact Rob Mikulski.

-We recently commissioned a new Stephen Leader for our Stephen Ministry.  Several people in our congregation are considering becoming a Stephen Minister.  If you’d like to have more information about this ministry, contact Pastor Russell.

We are a blessed church!  God is doing some great things through this congregation.

In thankfulness for our partnership,

Pastor Russell

Stories of Faith in Action #2

We’re continuing our series of stories of faith in action.  As people of faith, we are entrusted with caring for all of God’s creation.  It takes all of us using our gifts and these posts are stories of how people have answered the call to serve God in the world.  Today’s story is from Sammy Mikulski, our director of theatre ministries.  She writes:

“For the past 4 years I have had the honor of heading up the Thanksgiving Basket food drive. This is a ministry that is very dear to my heart. When I was a child I was one of those who received those baskets, and the joy that came along with it is unexplainable.

This year we were able to feed 25 families wonderful meals from olives to turkey with all the trimmings,  through to the pumpkin pie desert, because of the generous folks here at Zion. The smiles we received this year were wonderful, and two of the families had us hold hands and say a prayer with them.   They were all so gracious, we were invited in like we were one of the family. To me this is what Thanksgiving is all about.

A huge thank you to Zion for the amazing donations of food, money, and gift cards. And another huge thank you to our food deliverers Celeste, Julie, the entire Christmas family, Bonnie , Brinkley, Lindsay, Gavin, Amy and Manny.  God is Great… God is Good…you know the rest!”

WIGIAT?

One of my favorite questions I was taught to ask is, “Where is God in All of This?”  It’s a great question to help us to begin to realize that God’s presence is surrounding us in all of life.  I thought I’d share two moments of God’s presence in the midst of ordinary moments that happened today:

1.  This morning I received an email from a Northside ISD principal who works at a high poverty school.  We were able to take school supplies to this school and I received a touching thank you note from them.  Here’s a portion of the note:

“On the first day of school, a small sixth grade female student was walking around campus with half of her needed school supplies in a trash bag. She provided what she could. As soon as I noticed her, I took her aside and gave her a backpack and the missing school supplies. Her smile and demeanor brightened immediately. Your donation enabled this event to happen and made a difference in the lives of many of our students. Our kids want support, not sympathy. Thank you for supporting our kids.”

2.  I also found out that we collected over $580(!) with our most recent Blessed Change collection.  Every fifth Sunday we ask people to bring spare change for a cause to support God’s mission in the world.  This time we’re buying a great resource from the wider church called Prayer Book for the Armed Services.  We already give this important resource to people when we know that they are being deployed.  What we collected on Sunday will be given to our partners in ministry in the chaplain’s office at Joint Base San Antonio so they can give them to soldiers stationed at JBSA.

What is striking to me is how God takes ordinary things and uses them in ways we can’t begin to imagine.  A few coins dropped from our pockets or purses on Sunday morning become enough to order lots of books for soldiers serving our country in places across the world.  People purchasing school supplies at the store blesses a young girl in our community.

Thanks for your generous support of these ministries!  What you do makes a difference in a world and is powerful way to serve God by serving others.

Blessed to be in this partnership with you,

prp

What Signs of God’s Goodness Have You Seen?

When one of our former Presiding Bishops, Mark Hanson, was a parish pastor one of the first questions he’d ask with the congregation council was, “What signs of God’s goodness have you seen recently?”  I like that question because I think one of the important tasks the church has is to see what God is doing in the world.

I thought I’d share a little bit of where I have seen and hope to see God’s presence.

-A group of people that come to the church every Friday afternoon to assemble the bulletins.  Their work is an important ministry that often goes unrecognized.  But their ministry ensures that everyone who walks through the doors is welcomed to Zion.
-Pastor Dave, Vicar Emily, and I had a chance to spend several days together learning with other Lutheran leaders throughout Texas in New Braunfels.  While we miss being with you all, these times away are very important times for us to learn and grow as leaders in the church.
-I think of the baptism we had at 11:00 this pastor Sunday and the baptisms we will have this Sunday at 9:30 and 11:00.  I love being able to welcome people into Christ’s mission.
-I’m looking forward to hearing about the people that head to St. PJ’s home tomorrow to fix some of their bicycles.  There’s a lot of good happening at St. PJ’s and I’m proud that several groups have come together for this project.
-Three other groups that are meeting tomorrow morning.  Our men’s prayer breakfast, the prayer team, and our quilters all meet tomorrow morning.  Prayer is essential to our life together and I’m glad we’ll have two groups of people praying for our church and God’s world.  The quilters are faithfully making quilts for Lutheran World Relief.
-Meanwhile our drama ministry is hard at work for our Spring show.  I’m glad that we can share some of God’s goodness and beauty through the arts.  I rejoice that people who are a part of Zion and aren’t members of any church are here using their God-given gifts.
-Sunday we’ll hear from President Rick Barger of Trinity Lutheran Seminary.  Zion has been an internship site for 5 different interns from Trinity Seminary and is doing an important ministry for the wider church in helping to train its newest pastors.
-We’ll also be thinking about mission this Sunday in our Sunday school class. Vicar Emily put together a great series of classes to think about what it means to be God’s people in mission.
-Speaking of being God’s people in mission, we’ll be doing a lot of ministry feeding people over the next few days. Sunday you’re asked to bring at least a $1 and a canned good for the Souper Bowl Caring. All the money collected will go to Taking it To the Streets, a ministry that works with the homeless in our community. All the canned goods will go to Christian Assistance Ministry.
-We’ll be feeding people at Fisher House at Lackland AFB this Tuesday. If you’ve not been, you should!
-We’ll also be feeding homeless people in San Antonio this Friday through Taking it to the Streets. If you’ve not been, you should go as well…

Lots of signs of God’s goodness. It makes me thankful to be one of your pastors!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Russell

Website, Part 2 (By the Numbers)

Hi again, everyone…

I thought I’d include a little bit more about our website and how it’s being used. Like many websites, we have programs that help us track how people are using it.  Having this information greatly helps us as we maintain this website.  So – without delay, here is a little bit about our website by the numbers…

-In December 2014 we had 3,770 people that viewed zionsa.org. In January we’ve had almost 2,200 people visit our site.
-The most commonly clicked page from our homepage is the “Location and Service Times” button.
-The second most common clicked page from our homepages is the “Newsletter” button.
-In the last 30 days, 58 people have clicked the “In Need of Help?” link.
-595 people wanted to find out more information about Advent and Christmas at Zion.
-Yesterday (1/22/2015), 16 people found us through search engines, 9 found us through Facebook, and 2 found us through the yellowpages.com.
-In the last 30 days, 215 people have clicked on our online calendar, 44 people have gone from our website to our YouTube channel, and 6 people clicked from our website to our online donation vendor.

So there’s a little bit about the numbers at Zion… Have a great weekend and see you in worship on Sunday!!

Websites

I grew up in South Carolina, where a lot of old houses had beautiful front porches.  Those front porches were visiting places where people could visit and get to know others.  It is a place of hospitality.  I look at our website as a kind of front porch.

Back this fall we introduced this new website.  But like any project, it doesn’t happen overnight.  There are a lot of steps that went into this.

Our work started with a local company called Visage Collaborative.  They are a gifted group of people here in San Antonio that have worked very diligently with us in thinking through the many details that go into a putting together a website.

Who? –
In one of our first conversations, they wanted to know who our audience was for this website.  Since we think a website is a place for hospitality, we went into the process thinking about this question – if I knew nothing about Zion, what sorts of things would I want to know? Some church websites are aimed at “insiders,” people already at the church. But we see this as a way to tell what God is doing through Zion to those that don’t know who we are.

We want people who come to zionsa.org to know that this is God’s church and that they are welcome here.

At the same time, we realize that those already connected with Zion will use this website. We figure that will happen when people look for things like the church calendar, newsletters online, or want to make an online contribution. We started this blog as a way to get information out to the congregation. We will also continue to use our Facebook page, Constant Contact, and other ways we already communicate.

Visual –
We also realized that we live in a very visual culture. It was very important that we have good pictures that helped to tell our story. In our old website, we had a lot of good text that helped to tell the story, but with this one we’ve been trying to use more pictures to help tell the story.

So we looked at all the recent pictures people gave us and we had at the church. We wanted to make sure it was a good representation of the congregation – young, middle-aged, old, male, female, etc… Our goal was to have a good variety of people represented.

Easy to Navigate –
Many websites have homepages that are easy to navigate. Two of the world’s most popular websites, Google and Apple, are examples of this. Being massive corporations, they have many layers to their websites, but if you look at their homepages, they are very simple. Other websites try to have lots of content on their homepages. We chose to be simpler on our homepage.

We also thought about three ways we could help users navigate the website. The labels we used were “Who We Are,” “What We Do,” and “Get Involved.” Each category is related to each other but have some differences. In addition, we added a section on our website called “In Need of Help?” that tells people about our excellent Stephen Ministers, offers prayer, and gives a listing of local agencies we partner with.

Technical stuff –
There’s a lot of technical stuff that goes into websites. Lots. It’s not as simple as sitting down to your computer and typing up a document on a word processor. We spent hours working on some important technical details around our Internet and email providers. For instance, we had a problem over the last year with our email addresses with some Internet companies. We worked hard in resolving that and have fixed it.

So – that’s a brief glimpse into what we did to get to where we are!