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MAY 22, 2017

[Jesus said:] But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

[Acts 1:8-9]

Ascension – Jesus Mafa

Thursday, May 25, is the Ascension of Our Lord. It is one of my favorite festival days of the church year. However, few congregations in our synod, or anywhere else for that matter, will celebrate Ascension Day with worship. There are some that will observe the Ascension this coming Sunday, bumping the seventh Sunday of Easter from the calendar. But I suspect that most will simply not observe it at all.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Amish communities in North America, who typically mark the day by closing their businesses and not doing field work, focusing instead on family gatherings and reunions. For the rest of American society, however, it is just another day.

I also learned recently that many Christian churches in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, hold a ten-day prayer meeting on the evenings between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday.

It’s been three years since I last preached an Ascension sermon. But I vividly remember the first time. It was on May 5, 2005. The Canton ministerial association that I was a part of held an ecumenical Ascension service each year and the preaching assignment was usually given to the least experienced preacher, which happened to be me.

It was an evening service and – in case you didn’t catch the date – it was also Cinco de Mayo.  As you can imagine, there were more people in bars than were in church on that festive evening. To make matters worse, there were more clergy in the service than there were worshippers. Eventually, that ecumenical celebration was discontinued and, you might add, with good reason.

Our society has shaped our worship instead of the other way around. History has shown us that as both Christmas and Easter became more commercialized, they gained a major grip on our consumer culture. The religious tie-in has benefited both church and the economy. It leads me to wonder that if marketing experts could ever find a way to commercialize Ascension, our churches might be filled beyond capacity!

But on a more serious note, I think the observance of this great ecumenical feast gets shoddy treatment, when you take into account that the writer of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts thought this event worthy of narrating twice. And week after week, on Sunday after Sunday or whenever we gather, we recite the words of either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed and we repeat the line, “He ascended into heaven.” It rolls off our lips with little difficulty and I would guess, with little thought given to the meaning of those words.

Without the ascension of Christ, we would not have the Holy Spirit with us. Without the Spirit, we cannot be who we are and are called to be as people of God; sent by the Spirit to be the Body of Christ in the world. Blessed to be a blessing, we are partners in God’s mission by the power of the Spirit!

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Tuesday morning, May 23, I will gather with the rostered ministers of the Canton-Massillon Conference to worship and fellowship and discuss the state of the synod. Normally, these gatherings are held in the fall, but circumstances delayed our meeting until now.

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Pastor Paul Burgeson

Saturday, May 27, at 1 p.m., I will be at Christ Lutheran Church in Struthers for a service of Farewell and Godspeed for Pastor Paul Burgeson. Though retired, Pastor Burgeson has served as Interim at Christ several times over several years. He has now decided to move to Delaware, Ohio, to be closer to his family. I personally will miss Pastor Paul. He was my chaplain during the bishop election process three years ago and has served the synod faithfully whenever asked and in whatever capacity. As he has been a blessing to us, we now send him to be a blessing to others.  

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Because of the Memorial Day Holiday, next week’s Monday Musings will be published a day late. Since we can’t think of a catchy title, we’ll call it Monday Musings—the Tuesday Edition.

In the meantime, may the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you. [adapted from Ephesians 1:17-18]

+Bishop Abraham Allende

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MAY 15, 2017

[Jesus said:] “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 

[John 14:18-20]

 ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN!

Around the Lutheran Center (synod office) we are in “pre-assembly mode.” With less than a month to go before our annual Northeastern Ohio Synod gathering, June 9-10, at the John S. Knight Center in Akron, we are busy making sure that all materials are ready, reports are completed, registrations are recorded, and everyone is prepared for the day-and-a-half when we meet to worship, fellowship, and deliberate the matters of the church.

As one might imagine, the anxiety level is slightly higher than normal.

I thought that holding the synod assembly a little later than in years past would reduce the stress; but as I read the summaries that my colleague bishops post after their assemblies, I experience a small sense of envy, wishing that I were already looking at this event in the rear-view mirror.

But there’s also an advantage in holding the assembly later than usual. A couple weeks ago, I visited the Southeast Michigan Synod Assembly at which they were holding a Bishop Election. It was helpful preparation, almost like a rehearsal. I saw things that we could implement in future assemblies and came across ideas that would be useful in the years to come.

I continue to grow in this office and as each assembly comes and goes, I learn more about leadership, the importance of goal-setting, and the necessity for teamwork. But most importantly, I develop the courage to put my concerns in God’s hands.

Putting concerns in God’s hands doesn’t mean that we stop doing all that we feel is essential to a fruitful assembly; but rather, that once we do all those things, we put our trust in the one who “gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” [Acts 17:25]

And not only that. Confiding that sometimes God gives the unexpected and spectacular. In his book, Faith Seeking, the British theologian, Denys Turner, wrote, “Our whole lives are therefore lives lived in the expectation of the unexpected, we live, as Christians, in this condition of waiting, open to every possibility or demand; but we will as often as not be unprepared when it comes, for we never know when the Spirit will surprise us. We wait for the Spirit, therefore, but he always comes, for the Spirit is already in our waiting.”

“Pentecost” by He-Qi

As we move further into this Easter season, we anticipate the coming of Pentecost and the promise of the Holy Spirit. It is that same Holy Spirit that empowers us to face the future, for God himself stands by our side, in fact even closer than that. God is so close that he is “in” us, gives us the strength to move forward in faith and enables us to be helpers to each other.

In this coming Sunday’s Gospel reading from John, Jesus promises his disciples: “I will not leave you orphaned.” [John 14:18]

What a comforting reassurance that is! These are words of hope for you and me.

As we move through the various circumstances of this imperfect and often broken world, our risen Savior assures us that we are never abandoned, forgotten or overlooked. We have a God who loves us; who gave us God’s Son, Jesus, and through him has equipped us to be his disciples, to follow his word, empowering us to serve our Lord in the church, and to be a place and community where God and Jesus dwell.

As Paul declares in our first reading from Acts, “In him we live and move and have our being.”

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Courtesy of First Lutheran Church, Lorain, OH

Saturday morning, May 20, at 10:00 a.m., I will be with the people of God at First Lutheran Church in Lorain, to install their new pastor, the Rev. Rosalina Rivera. The service will be held at General Johnnie Wilson Middle School, 2700 Washington Ave., where they have worshipped since fire destroyed their building in August of 2014.

Meanwhile, construction of their new building continues and should be ready for occupancy sometime in the early autumn. Please keep the people of First in your prayers as they celebrate all these joyful transitions.

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Sunday, May 21, I will be with the people of God at Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church in Louisville to preach and preside at their worship service.

I say this to all congregations I visit and it is worth repeating here. The greatest joy that I experience in my call as bishop happens when I am with the people of God at the time of worship and praise and celebration. I find these moments life giving and enriching to this ministry to which Christ has called me. I welcome your invitations.

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May God, who made the world and everything in it, live and move and dwell within you; that you may feel the presence of God’s Holy Spirit this week and always!

+Bishop Abraham Allende

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MAY 8, 2017

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

[1 Peter 2:9]

 ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN!

Today’s musing is fairly personal.

This coming weekend marks three years since my election as bishop. I couldn’t help but notice that, like 2014, the Fifth Sunday of Easter also fell around that date. Thus, the lectionary readings are the identical ones read that were heard in many worship services around the world.

I’ve posted the following words elsewhere, but I reflect on them each year when the Fifth Sunday of Easter rolls around:

Question and Answer session during 2014 Synod Assembly

The synod assembly was just one more event on my schedule. I was aware that my name was on the list of pre-identified candidates for bishop, but that was just a mere formality. I felt totally assured that the voting members to the assembly would pick someone much younger, much more energetic, much more dynamic. My name would be eliminated off the ballot after the first vote.

Well, guess what. As each ballot progressed the possibility that my life, and that of my wife’s, would undergo a radical change became more and more of a reality. And on Saturday morning of May 17, somewhere around 11:30 a.m., it did.

You can imagine the range of emotions that I experienced – shock, awe, terror, dread, and all its synonyms combined. To say that being elected Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was unexpected does not begin to describe it.

In addition, there are also a couple quotes that I keep handy and refer to on occasion. One is from the late Pope John XXIII. In his book, Journal of a Soul, he wrote:

“To have accepted with simplicity the honor and the burden of the pontificate, with the joy of being able to say I did nothing to obtain it, absolutely nothing; indeed I was most careful and conscientious to avoid anything that might direct attention to myself. As the voting in Conclave wavered to and fro, I rejoiced when I saw the chances of my being elected diminishing and the likelihood of others, in my opinion truly most worthy and venerable persons, being chosen…”

The other is from George Barna, from The Power of Vision. Barna writes:

“If you are like most ministers of the gospel, you occasionally have doubts as to whether God made a mistake allowing you to be in a position of leadership. Those doubts are valuable, for they keep you asking the types of questions that sharpen your skills and soften your heart.”

My sermon for that Fifth Sunday three years ago had already been written, and it was based on the second reading from 1 Peter, a verse of which is cited above. I had titled it, “Congratulations! You’ve Been Chosen.”

We were holding a congregational meeting that day and there would be elections for members of the parish council. I wanted to instill in the candidates for those council positions a sense of gratitude for the faithful service they would be rendering through their willingness to stand for election. My attempts at cleverness came back to bite me. It was I who had to listen to my own advice.

What follows is an adapted version of what I preached:

In today’s second lesson, St. Peter is telling you that “you” – YOU – “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” That’s you. So, congratulations to you! You’ve been chosen – chosen by God.

In Scripture, that is much more significant because it is God who does the choosing. God is the one who must choose.  Even if you could do it, you would NOT choose it for yourselves, because being chosen by God means you’re going to be rejected by the rest of the world.

Stephen, for example, was chosen by God to be one of the first deacons. He was stoned to death – the first Christian martyr.

Before choosing Stephen, the LORD chose twelve disciples. Eleven of the twelve died as martyrs, and one died in exile.

And then, of course, there’s Jesus himself – the Chosen one, as he is called in the Bible.  He suffered cruel death on a cross.

Based on these examples, we would not necessarily choose a life of serving God for ourselves. One of the biggest problems we have as Christians, I believe, is that we want to be liked.  We don’t want people to run when they see us coming. So we are tempted to conform. That becomes awfully easy in a life of faith and the life of the church.

But Peter is convinced that we, as the people of God, can show forth the goodness of God under the most trying circumstances. We do not define ourselves by what others may think of us. Our place with God has been made sure through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So we are chosen to witness to God’s grace and mercy, to die to selfishness, pride, and the thirst for control and revenge. We are reminded of that each week when we approach the Lord’s Table and receive His body and blood.  Our church is called to be a place of welcome, a safe haven, a refuge, a place of dignity and identity for those who seek a church home.

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Sunday, May 14, is also Mother’s Day. It’s helpful to keep in mind this day that the majority of us have learned most of what we know from our mothers.  Mothers are the ones who nurture.  Mothers are the ones who have tended to our childhood scrapes and bumps and bruises as we go through the growth process from infancy, to adolescence to adulthood. Mothers are the ones who instill in us the values that most of us as adults will pass on or have passed on to our children and they, in turn, will pass on to future generations. We give thanks to God for all those who have been chosen to fulfill that emothering role in our lives.

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Sunday afternoon at 4:00, I will be at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Twinsburg, for the confirmation of the young people of the Southeast Cluster congregations. I eagerly look forward to welcoming these youngsters as they affirm their baptism in response to God’s call to grow in faith, love and obedience to the will of God.

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May you be filled with the goodness of God, that you may be a reflection of God’s grace to others this week and always!

+Bishop Abraham Allende

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MAY 1, 2017

[Jesus said:] “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

[John 10:10]

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN!

As we approach the Fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally know as Good Shepherd Sunday, many congregations that enjoy a talented musician or choir, will most likely feature them by playing or singing a piece titled, “Sheep May Safely Graze. 

Though it is a secular work, it has found its way into church repertoires because it was written by Johann Sebastian Bach, and its lyrics depict the image of a shepherd guarding the sheep so they may graze in safety.

Sheep may safely graze and pasture
Where a shepherd guards them well.
So the nation ruled in wisdom
Knows and shares the many blessings
Which both peace and plenty bring.

The piece is part of a larger work, Cantata No. 208, which was written by Bach in 1713, for the 31st birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels (Germany). It is also known by another name, The Hunting Cantata, because it was performed after the Duke and his friends returned from a hunting party, a popular activity among the privileged of society.

I haven’t read enough to know Bach’s intentions when he wrote these words; but in a curious way, at least for me, the words of this musical piece connect with the Gospel reading from John, assigned for this Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday.

In the final line, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

What does it mean to have an abundant life?

Let me first tell you what it doesn’t mean. 

When Jesus promises life in abundance, He doesn’t mean an abundance of stuff. 

My mind often drifts back to that song made popular by Janis Joplin. “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.”

God will not buy you a brand-new Mercedes.  God is NOT going to give you whatever you want.  God is not going to give you your best life now, to quote a popular prosperity preacher. This is not a prosperity message. 

Despite what the prosperity preachers on television will tell you, an abundance of material goods can actually get in the way of life in abundance. 

That’s because a life of abundance, in this case, refers to an abundance of a life lived in relationship with God.

So much of our life is about protecting ourselves, our families and our possessions. The more we have, the less we are willing to risk. But in trying to protect ourselves, we cut ourselves off from the opportunity to really feel alive, to reach out to others, to show love and provide assistance to someone you don’t know.

Living life in abundance means being like Christ to the people around you – taking a risk and speaking and doing as Jesus would have – showing the love of Christ even though you don’t know how it will be received.

The Good Shepherd – Jesus Mafa (Cameroon)

Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd, who came down from Heaven, became human, and faced rejection, betrayal, suffering, and death. He laid down his life for his sheep. And in so doing and so dying, he gave us a gift more valuable than any material possession we could ever hope for, the gift of eternal life.

To live an abundant life is to trust implicitly in our relationship with God because then, like Christ, we are set free, transformed by grace, spirit and truth, to be the person God made us to be.

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Thursday through Saturday of this week I will be with several of my regional bishop colleagues in Port Huron, Michigan, where Bishop Donald Kreiss and the people of God in the Southeast Michigan Synod will hold their synod assembly. Chief among their items of business will be the election (or re-election) of a bishop. Please hold them in prayer as they discern who will lead their synod for the next six years.

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Sunday morning, May 7, I will be in North Lima to worship with the people of God at Good Hope Lutheran Church.

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Later that same afternoon, I will celebrate with the people of God at Bethesda-on-the-Bay, in Bay Village, as they install their new pastor, the Rev. Angela Freeman-Riley. That service will begin at 4:30 p.m.

May you safely graze in the goodness of God’s abundant grace, mercy, and love, this week and always!

+Bishop Abraham Allende

 

 

 

 

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APRIL 24, 2017

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

[Luke 24:21]

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN!

As you read these words I am on the way to Pokagon State Park in Angola, Indiana, and our Region Six First Call Theological Education Retreat. 

For the next three days, pastors and deacons in their first call, along with mentors, bishops and bishop staff, will gather to share experiences, learn more about this ELCA church body in which they serve, and refresh and renew their sense of call. The goal is to support our leaders and equip them with resources that will enhance their ministry and enable them to better serve the people of God.

One can find a wealth of statistics on the internet as to how many pastors or church leaders are leaving the ministry and the innumerable reasons why. It is difficult to determine which ones to believe. It is even more challenging to determine how to best support them as they go about doing the mission and ministry of the church.

One point that I continually stress, especially at the installation of a pastor, is that our expectations of pastors are often unrealistic. Once a pastor is installed, many congregation members abdicate their responsibility for that mission and ministry and leave it up to the paid professional. Nothing could be further from the truth. We all are called to participate in God’s ongoing and miraculous work to heal, comfort, and restore this world.

This upcoming Sunday is the Third Sunday of Easter. We hear the Gospel story from Luke of the two disciples who make their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, passing the time and “talking with each other about all” that has happened, including the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. It’s important to note that although we hear it two weeks after the Resurrection, this story takes place on the same day of the Resurrection.  So the sad events of Good Friday and the mysterious discovery of the empty tomb are still fresh in their minds. 

They are joined on their journey by a seemingly clueless and out-of-touch stranger, and they begin to recount to him “the things about Jesus of Nazareth who was a prophet mighty in deed and word.”

The unknown visitor on the road listens patiently to the story of Cleopas and his companion. They talk about Jesus, recalling who he was and what he had done the preceding three years. They had expected Jesus to liberate them from political oppression.

They even talk to Jesus, who walks with them for seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Nonetheless, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” blinded by their mistaken expectations about what God was doing in Jesus.  

The three words that always jump out at me in this reading are, “WE had hoped…”

“WE had hoped…” therein lies the key.  Our hopes, our plans, our expectations are often quite contrary to God’s plans and expectations.

In the waters of Baptism, God calls each and every one of us to be God’s chosen people. As Lutherans, we subscribe to the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers.” Ministry is the responsibility of all the baptized, not just professional clergy.

The pastor cannot do the ministry of Christ’s church alone. Your support is needed. Your support is vital. That is how God has meant it to be. We all have the power to make a difference in the lives of the people around us, not just the pastor. In our actions and in our words, we, too, can reach others, helping them understand the presence of the resurrected Jesus.

I pray that you will keep your pastor and the rest of your congregation’s staff in your prayers daily, and that your spiritual gifts can be added to the mission and ministry of your congregation, so that God will be glorified through you.

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This coming Thursday and Friday, April 27-28, I will be in Columbus at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, attending the 26th Annual Nelson W. Trout Lectures, celebrating African American preaching. This year’s theme is Preaching and Moral Imagination. The featured presenter is The Rev. Frank A. Thomas, Professor of Homiletics and Director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis.    Presentations are free and open to the public. The Trout lectures, established in 1991, honor former Trinity Professor, the Rev. Dr. Nelson W. Trout (1920-1996), who was the first African American Lutheran bishop in the United States.

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Saturday, April 29, the Northeastern Ohio Synod Council meets at Martin Luther Lutheran Church, in Youngstown.

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Sunday, April 30, I will be with the people of God at St. Stephen Martyr Lutheran Church in Canton, as they celebrate their 50th Anniversary.

May you be filled with the abiding hope of the empty tomb, as Christ walks alongside and among you this week and always!  

+Bishop Abraham Allende

 

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APRIL 10, 2017

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

[Jeremiah 31:3]

It’s Holy Week.

This is one of the busiest, if not the busiest, weeks for pastors, deacons and church leaders. There’s a lot of planning that has already gone on and will continue to go on until Sunday.

I am hoping that, along with all your other plans, you are making plans to welcome people who have not been to church for a while. For those who come to church on a regular basis, it is easy to be cynical and look down your nose at those who attend on a less frequent basis. But that is not what Christ asks of us.

I confess here that I wrote some of these thoughts for a parish newsletter several years ago, but I feel they are worth repeating again.

As I read through the readings for this Lenten season from the Gospel of John, I was struck by how Jesus basically walks up to strangers and engages them in conversation, while others (his disciples, mainly) stand back and pass judgment.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman

Take, for example, the woman at the well, which we heard on the third Sunday in Lent (March 19). Although it was not customary for a man to approach a woman, nor for a Jew to engage in conversation with a Samaritan, Jesus casts aside convention and asks her for a drink of water.

Jesus heals a man born blind
Jesusmafa.com

The fourth Sunday in Lent, again, Jesus’ disciples were casting judgment on a man who had been blind from birth, wondering who was to blame for the man’s condition. Jesus, instead, walks up to him and heals him of his blindness.

In both cases, the people that Jesus encounters realize that He is the Son of God. They undergo a conversion experience.

There are many examples in the other Gospels. I chose these two because they are current in our lectionary for this year and this season. But consider overall of the criticism Jesus regularly received for “eating and drinking with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.”

People are lonely. They often feel like outsiders. If they do make it to a house of worship on a Sunday morning it is not to meet friendly people. It is to find friends!

I wonder what, if anything, would change in our own lives and the lives of our congregations, if we were to practice that kind of genuine love for the stranger? That stranger God has placed in our path for a purpose.

This coming Sunday, we will see many faces we have not seen in months, even years. We will also meet newcomers who have never entered the doors of your church. At some point, you may have been one of them. You found your way and were welcomed into your congregation. It is easy to forget that experience and the impact it had on you.

So, let us prepare for Easter. Make way for the coming of our Lord. Make way for the transformation of hearts, not only yours, but the person you welcome as well.

Have a blessed Easter!

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A quick reminder for rostered ministers that tomorrow morning, Tuesday, April 11, we will gather at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kent for our annual Renewal of Vows liturgy in which we renew our vows of ordination, or consecration, and bless the oil which we’ll use for anointing during the next year.

It’s also the Home Opener of the baseball season for our beloved Cleveland Indians. But that is at 4:00 p.m., so it should have no bearing on your attendance.

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Thursday, April 13, at 7:00 p.m., I will join the people of God at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Newcomerstown, as we observe Maundy Thursday, which recalls Jesus’ last meal with his disciples the night before his arrest, trial and crucifixion.

But the story does not end with his death. The sadness of Thursday and Friday will convert to amazement, disbelief, and joy on Sunday as we learn that Jesus is not dead, but alive. 

Sunday is the first day of a new creation.  Jesus Christ is risen!

May you experience the love of God in your comings and goings this week and always!  

+Bishop Abraham Allende