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When the shutdown here in Minnesota happened last March and everyone was asked to stay home, I remember feeling anxious and worried. Our pastoral team decided, as we shut down worshiping in person, that it would be good to still connect with our families by sending them regular messages through email and social media. This aligned nicely with the project focused on Scripture that I was asked to do as a part of the synod’s Thriving in Ministry grant from the Lilly Endowment. (Read about other projects here and here.)
Each week, I would record myself reading a Bible story from the Spark Story Bible from my living room. The first story I read was from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus reminds his followers, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Mt. 6:34) There was something reassuring about being reminded of God’s providence during the very uncertain times at the beginning of the pandemic.
As spring turned into summer, I continued to do weekly Bible story readings. I began to do them on Facebook Live, and even invited my kids (and occasionally our dog, LeRoy) to join me in telling or acting out the stories each week. For my family, these Bible stories became more than just words or colorful pictures, they became an embodiment of the Living God.
What was most joyful for me was reading the story to my kids ahead of time and asking them to help come up with ideas on how we could retell the story to our friends at church. Watching their imaginations and creativity take hold as they looked for props or costumes in our house helped me to see this as more than just a project for my faith community. Rather, it became a chance for me to live into the promises I made at their baptism, and to encourage our faith community to do the same.
The Rev. Joel Vander Wal
Pastor Joel is part of the synod's Lilly-funded Second Act Cohort for rostered ministers in years four to 10 of public ministry. The cohort is formed around a set of convictions about the center of the pastoral vocation: deep reflection on one’s life and world; practice of lifelong, careful study of scripture; ability to work gracefully with lay leaders; disciplined curiosity about context, community and self; and relationships with mentors to encourage and reinforce those habits.