St. John's Church
Letters From The Pastor
From the Pastor's Desk

This month includes our next “Fifth Sunday” service. We’ve changed the venue to here in our sanctuary. The women’s guild wanted to host a Tea for all the ladies of Hope and St. John's after the service, so the two Consistories approved the change. Coffee Fellowship will still be held for those who do not wish to attend the tea. (For more information on the Tea, please see later in this newsletter.)

For the June Fifth Sunday Service I want to try something new. Actually I am borrowing this idea from one of my colleagues. It’s called “Ask the Minister Sunday”. On that day, instead of a Message, I will spend that part of Worship addressing as many of your theological, biblical and spiritual questions as time allows. Between now and June 29 please submit in writing any questions you may have wanted to ask in these areas, then email them to me at Or put them on a piece of paper, and either leave or my desk or hand to me after the service.

Your questions can range from somewhat trivial to deeper ones. (Why are there different words to the “Lords Prayer”? How did they decide which books go in the Bible? How do we know something is God’s will? Do our pets go to heaven? Etc.)

Then on Sunday, June 20 , 2024 I will spend about fifteen minutes answering as many questions as I can. I do reserve the right to not answer a question because of the time needed to answer it fully.

If you find this fruitful, we’ll continue to use these on more of our Fifth Sunday Services.

I love these Sunday’s when both congregations share worship and fellowship together. It’s a chance to share your strengths, celebrate your differences, and be reminded that we are never in this “church” business alone. St. John's and Hope United Church have an official Shared Ministry, and as part of Christ’s body, we have a shared ministry with others brought together for God’s purposes and ways.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel
From the Pastor's Desk

This month’s letter from me is a little different. I want to provide an update on some decisions my husband and I have made regarding his ongoing health care while I continue as your Pastor.

As most of you know, my husband has a form of arthritis that has left him on disability for most of our marriage. His original diagnosis predicted he would be in a wheelchair by the age of 35, and thankfully that still has not happened even though we are both well past that age. Yet it still has been degenerative, and has led to other related health challenges.

The modifications you made in the parsonage before we moved have been a significant help, especially in these last six months. We are grateful. However, over the last year the chronic, degenerative nature of his illness has taken another step down. He has reached a point where he needs further assistance than I can currently provide at home if he is to have a good quality of life. We knew that he would get to this stage at some point, just not when it would be.

After much prayer and discussion together we both agree that I still have ministry to do here with your two churches. Therefore we are currently looking for an assisted living facility in Winona that provides the level of assistance that he needs, which includes the ability to assist in transfers when he is in a flare up. It is possible that we may have to broaden the search to LaCrosse. Our last resort would be for him to return to Florida to an assisted living facility there, while I remain here until I retire, or you get tired of me. I shared this with the joint Consistory meeting in April with St. Johns and Hope’s leadership.

I share this for several reasons:

1) I believe in being as transparent as possible and appropriate with the congregations. There is less chance for misunderstandings this way.

2) Related to this, if you remember playing the game of “telephone”, you understand how messages convey through multiple times and multiple ways become nothing like what was originally shared. So if you start hearing about “Pastor Deb’s husband is moving out” or “Pastor Deb and her husband are separating”, you know what is really happening. (Ask me sometime to share the story of how in one church people were looking at me strange when I came in all happy to church one Sunday because they had heard my husband had “died”- which he certainly did not. I don’t want a similar occurrence of misunderstanding here.)

3) We have made this choice in order that I can continue here. I feel that we still have much to offer each other, and I am not ready to leave here, or take an early retirement. It is our intention that this decision will extend my time in ministry here.

4) Once we do find a place, it may necessitate me taking time off on short notice.

5) There may be a tendency to think “I don’t want to bother Pastor Deb with this- she’s got so much on her plate.” Please ask. After over three decades of helping my husband, and over two decades of ministry, I have learned when I am reaching my limit. Please trust I will let you know if I am unable to meet a particular ask, or if I need assistance in meeting my responsibilities to you. I love ministry, and I love being your pastor, and it gives me joy.

I will remain at the parsonage. This makes sense due to its proximity to the two churches and your members.

Many of you have already walked a similar path or are in the midst of considering similar decisions for your loved ones or yourself. My husband and I are not unique. I hope that we are also not unique in our faith that even in the most difficult decisions, and the inevitable changes in life, we have a God of love who desires a good and joyful life for all God’s family. And as God did with raising Jesus from the dead, God’s love will not abandon you even in times of pain, or challenges. For like the Apostle Paul, I firmly believe and have experienced that nothing, absolutely nothing, is able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel
From the Pastor's Desk

It seems strange to be talking about Easter Sunday being in the past at the beginning of March. Thank you to all who dedicated extra time and effort to make the Holy Week and Easter services so special.

Throughout Lent I used poetry in some services and offered one each week for you to take home for your Lenten devotions. So here are two more poems for use in reflections this Easter season. Both are by Ann Weems from her book “Kneeling in Jerusalem”.

Just when I thought
there would be no more light
in the Jerusalem sky,
the Bright and Morning Star
and the darkness has not overcome it.

And The Glory
The silence breaks into morning.
That One Star lights the world.
The lily springs to life and
not even Solomon…
Let it begin with singing
and never end!
Oh, angels, quit your lamenting!
Oh, pilgrims,
upon your knees in tearful prayer,
rise up
and take your hearts and run!
We who were no people
are named anew
God’s people,
for he who was no more
is forevermore.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel
From the Pastor's Desk

What does it mean to forgive? Are we required to forgive someone? Is it true we need to forgive and forget? Can God forgive what I did? These are just a few of the questions that I’ve been asked about forgiveness over the years, and that I’ve grappled with myself.

Which is why this Lent I have been offering a Lenten Study on Forgiveness and Reconciliation. (It meets on Thursdays at 2:30pm thru Holy Week. You are welcome to join anytime.) While I can’t fit the complete program in this space, I thought I’d share some misconceptions about forgiveness, and some of the things that forgiveness is about.

Forgiveness isn’t:

  • letting someone off the hook.
  • for the other person.
  • permission to repeat the harm.
  • saying what happened doesn’t matter.
  • forgetting.
  • weakness.
  • being a doormat.
  • letting bygones be bygones.
  • isn’t easy.
  • isn’t necessarily quick.

Forgiveness is:

  • for the benefit of the one doing the forgiving.
  • freedom from the past, from a perpetrator, from future victimization.
  • healing to individuals, families, and communities.
  • recognition of our shared humanity.
  • a gift we give to ourselves.

Christians are urged to forgive others because God has forgiven us. Yet that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Some things take a long time to forgive. Something that one person forgives easily another may struggle to forgive.

There are those actions, those harms that are so great that even if you find a way to forgive, it isn’t healthy to resume a relationship. But reconciliation is only one option after forgiveness. The other option is release: release with serenity and lack of ill will the relationship, the person, and/or the possibility of change. This why forgiving someone who has died, or whom we don’t know where to find them, or who isn’t safe for us to meet with can still be done. Because when we forgive, we are releasing ourselves from trying to change what has already happened, from taking revenge, or paying back in kind. We release ourselves from letting what happened in the past determine our future. Even if can’t get to the point of forgiving, engaging in the process can help us move forward.

Lent is a time to reflect on forgiveness, what we offer to others and most importantly the grace that God offers us. We recall on Good Friday, Jesus says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” as he dies on the cross. We are heading toward the ultimate act of forgiveness, where through Jesus God refuses to repay violence with violence. Instead God brings a new life resurrected from death and pain. The wounds are still there, the pain was real. But they no longer have the final word for Jesus or for us. God’s forgiveness does the same for us. And through our humble and awestruck acceptance of that grace, we are given the ability to let go of the hurts and harms in our lives and find a resurrected new life ourselves. Both on this side of death, and after death when we reside fully in God’s love.

I pray that this Lenten Season allows you to embrace whatever newly resurrected life is awaiting you on Easter, and every day.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel
From the Pastor's Desk

It seems like we just finished Christmas, and in a little less than two weeks Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent on February 14. We will have an Ash Wednesday service for both congregations that evening at St. Johns at 6:30 p.m. Ashes will be available to anyone who wishes.

Starting the next day, Thursday, February 15, I will begin a Lenten Study to be held each Thursday of Lent at St. Johns from 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. for both congregations. It will be “Forgiveness and Reconciliation: How to Find Peace by Letting Go.” We will look at the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, and if you can have one without the other. We’ll use scripture to ask questions such as: must I forgive (fill in the most hurtful thing that’s happened to you), and what if we aren’t yet ready to do so? Finally we’ll reflect on what to do if we are the one needing forgiveness, and how God’s forgiveness is already available to us. I’ll be basing it on the Bible, and also the writings of Bishop Desmond Tutu, as well as a few miscellaneous resources. As always, if you cannot make each session, that’s okay. You can still join us for those you can.

That’s what’s coming. But I want to take a moment and look back at the last year. For I want to give thanks to all the people who volunteer their time, their energy, and their heart to keep St. Johns a vital presence in the community. I don’t want to miss anyone, so I won’t name anyone. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are people “behind the scenes” who do the things that make worship and our church not only function, but flourish.

This is just a portion of the list of those who give freely:

  • Our Officers and Committee Members;
  • Our Food Shelf and Feeding CFC Family Helpers;
  • Our three musicians;
  • Our choir director and those who join their voices in choir;
  • Our Sunday School Teachers;
  • Our Women’s Guild;
  • Those who vacuum, dust and empty trash;
  • Those who take the trash and recycling home to be disposed of with their family’s trash pickup;
  • Those who fill the candles, change the altar cloth and banners;
  • Those who prepare and serve Communion, count the money, lock up the church on Sundays;
  • Those who host Fellowship, and stock the napkins, coffee, cups etc. wash the table clothes and place out the centerpieces;
  • Those who make sure during the winter that any ice is salted before church and the flowerpots are planted and watered come spring;
  • Those who when asked, will say “yes” if it is something that they can do;
  • Those who notice that something needs to be done, just do it.

Thank you to all, both those who find themselves in the list above, and those who aren’t but are just as vital. Thank you to all who are doing more than your share by taking on several of these tasks and responsibilities at the same time or continuing because no one else has said “yes” to helping or taking over. And if I haven’t noticed you doing it (whatever “it” you are doing), well that means I am secure in knowing that “it” will get done without me having to check and/or remind people (or do it myself). I appreciate you all.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel
From the Pastor's Desk

What a wonderful start to the Christmas season with our Christmas Eve services. Thank you to all who helped to make these services meaningful celebrations of Jesus’ birth. Christmas ends on Epiphany, January 6th, traditionally said to be the day the Magi arrived to visit Jesus in Bethlehem.

Since the 6th is a Friday, we will celebrate Epiphany on Sunday the 7th. I will again be offering “star words” – intentions or guiding words for the new year. This prayer practice is connected to Epiphany. As with last year, you will be invited to randomly pick a paper star from the array presented. Then the word on it becomes your “star word” for the next year. Star words might be something that God is leading you to discover, deepen, let go of, or sit with over the next months. It’s suggested that the word be put somewhere where it will be seen regularly, reminding us to regularly reflect on how God might be using the word to speak in your life.

The practice is inspired by the Magi who saw a star that ultimately led them to Jesus. Likewise, we are urged to use all the resources we have available to us to move closer to Jesus. It is a reminder that God uses multiple ways to guide us and speak to us. Star words are one a way practice looking for God in our midst, both actively and in hindsight. They may also lead us to see God in ways we may not have seen God before.

If you would like a star and are unable to be with us on the 7th, please contact me. I will randomly pick a star for you and mail it or put it aside until you can pick it up. At Christmas we celebrate that the Light has come into the world as one of us. Star words remind us that Light is still with us; sometimes we just need to look.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor's Desk

As December begins so does the season of Advent. Not the Christmas Season, but the Advent Season.

Now before you think I am a Grinch who hates Christmas, I love Christmas and all its trappings- shopping and giving presents, the trees, the lights, and Christmas Cookies. I love singing Christmas Carols- once the Friday after Thanksgiving comes around (please save me from the stores that start playing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” on Halloween.)

But as Christians, we are also aware that Christmas celebrates God incarnate, God as one of us born as a baby. Emmanuel-God with us, now and always.

So before Christmas there is Advent. Starting on the first Sunday before Christmas and continuing for four Sundays until ending on Christmas Day. We spend Advent in anticipation, preparation, waiting, expectation.

But anticipation of what? Part of that answer is Christ’s birth. But that’s not the whole answer. The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus”, which can be translated as “coming” or “arrival”. Early Christians established the period of Advent as a time of preparation for the birth of Christ, similar to Lent as preparation for Easter. Later it also become a time of anticipation of Jesus second coming into the heart of the believer, as well as when God’s just and loving reign is over all Creation.

Advent express one of the paradoxes of Christian faith: that we live in a time of already/not yet. At Christmas we celebrate that Emmanuel is here born to us as child, but that the purpose for this child is not yet fully realized. Advent celebrates the future hopes that infant embodies.

And so we light a candle each Sunday symbolizing the growing Light coming into the world. The first is for Hope, then Peace, then Joy, then Love. All qualities seen in the birth of Christ. They also are what we look forward to being fully realized in God’s coming reign. Advent encourages us to seek God’s grace to be the channels through which God is bringing them about in this world. Advent reminds us that we are to be living testimonies to the reality that these qualities are possible, not merely ideals that can never be obtained.

Just as I feel we diminish our experience of Easter if we try to rush our way through or skip Lent, I feel we lose something of Christmas if we ignore Advent.

For now I will wish you a blessed Advent Season. I will wait until the evening of December 24to wish you a Merry Christmas. But I’ll be on the lookout before then for some holiday cheer. (Probably singing “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World” as I do)

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

P.S. This year the fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve. That Sunday we will worship here with Hope UCC at a special time, 9:30 a.m., for the last Sunday of Advent, hearing “What Mary Knew” from an older Mary – sneaking in a little of Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Eve we will begin the Christmas Season with our candlelight service at 6:00 p.m. Please see the rest of the newsletter and the website for more Advent and Christmas opportunities here.
From the Pastor's Desk

How did it get to be November already? Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and then it will be time for all the preparations for Christmas. (Of course the stores have had Christmas items since the beginning of October.) Already the church calendar is starting to fill up.

Here are a few of the happenings going on here over the next month or so.

First: The Women’s Guild Fall Bazaar is on Saturday, November 4 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm There will be baked goods to buy, gift baskets to take a chance on, and coffee and refreshments available to have while you browse or sit to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while. (Thank you to Hope United Church for their donation of a dog themed basket for the raffle.)

Second: The Deacons are asking us to focus for the month of November the Deacons on the spiritual practice of stewardship - which is about more than what you give to the church. It is not only about how we care for our finances, but also our time, our energy, our relationships, and even Creation itself. My sermons during November will also focus on the multitude of areas of life that are shaped by this spiritual practice. The Deacons chose the theme “Because of You, Our Church Changes Lives”.

Third: Starting Tuesday, December 5, I am offering an Advent/Epiphany Study at 5:30pm here at St. John's Church. It’s a little lighter than my previous offerings - it’s based on the small book "The Heart that Grew Three Sizes: Finding Faith in the Story of the Grinch." Using Dr. Seuss’s "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" we will explore some of the faith themes in this Christmas classic, including how exactly one’s heart can grow three sizes? Each class will be about an hour. The schedule will be:

  • Tuesday, December 5, 2023:
    When everything is wrong.
  • Tuesday, December 12, 2023:
    When Christmas isn’t Christmas.
  • Tuesday, December 19, 2023:
    When Light Shines.
  • Tuesday, January 2, 2024:
    When Joy is Our Song.

While it is helpful to buy the book to read before each week’s class it isn’t required. I will have several copies available for purchase starting Sunday, November 12. And if you need a refresher on the Grinch, I have a few copies on my own bookshelf that I can loan out. And Hope United Church members are welcome to join.

And don’t forget Hope United Church Soups & Chili Supper Fundraiser on Friday, November 10, 2023, from 4:00pm to 7:00pm in Cochrane, Wisconsin. See for full details.

Of course that isn’t all that will be happening – please check the rest of the newsletter for more events and experiences, and then December’s for details of special Christmas services. Hope to see you at some (or all) these!

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel
From the Pastor's Desk

As I write this the second Presidential candidate debate for the upcoming 2024 election has yet to happen. But based on what I’ve seen from both political parties, I don’t doubt it will be more talking past each other than a debate.

This style of discussion has spilled over from Presidential debates to everyday life. Conversation skills including listening atrophied due to the necessity of limited social contact during the pandemic. Why is this important? Because how can we love our neighbors as we would be loved if we can’t even talk and listen to each other?

I shared in a sermon a few weeks about a scene from the TV show "Ted Lasso" that reflects the problem with this. In it Ted talks about how people usually underestimate him. One day he realized that it wasn’t about who he was. It was that the others weren’t curious about learning about him. Instead of asking him questions, they prejudged. (For those who you who haven’t seen it, search online for it – the kicker in it is worth it even if you’ve never watched the show.) And of course Jesus was curious, asking people questions, listening to them, and seeing them for who they were, not how others labeled them.

So this month I’m offering a sermon series "I’ve Been Meaning to Ask you…" Through scripture passages we’ll be looking at four questions. First "…where are you from?"- which is more than about your hometown. Second "…where does it hurt?" Next, "…what do you need?". Then finally, "…where do we go from here?" And for St. John's Church and Hope United Church joint "Fifth Sunday" service at the end of the month, we’ll have a "creative" worship service to tie this all together.

The writers of the resources for this series describe why they decided to create it: "We started by asking ourselves questions: "How can we listen to one another? How do we find connection despite distance? How do we create space for compassionate dialogue and for seeking holy in one another? We landed on our leading question, "I've been meaning to ask..." because it conveys intentionality, warmth, curiosity, and consideration. In essence, this question also implies … "I’ve been thinking about you, and I’ve been wanting to check in... You’ve been on my mind... I haven’t known how to have this conversation, but I’m getting started with a question." (T)he main objective of this series (is)to cultivate courageous conversations—and to keep having them, even if we need to pause."

For smaller communities like Fountain City and Cochrane, it may seem like "everyone knows everyone." Yet the pandemic and the spillover of political ideological divisions at times may still stretch the ability to fully talk and listen to each other. At the very least, reflecting on this may help individuals feel comfortable listening or know that they are heard, even if disagreement remains. At the very best, it can spill over into our world so that there are less divisive, judgmental conversations, and more relationship building, reconciling, and healing ones taking place.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel
From the Pastor's Desk

As I write this the temperature is comfortably in the 70s outside. Yet last week it was over 90 degrees, with a heat index of 100 degrees or more – no gradual shift. Just one day it feels as if the heat hits you in the face when you open the door leaving one wanting to retreat back inside. Then the next, it’s pleasure to get outside and enjoy the day.

As I reflected on the weather, I realized that the last few years have been like that- and not just with weather. Pandemic, political divisiveness spilling over into communities, friendships, and families. Too often it feels like when we poke our heads out the door we instantly want to retreat back inside. And just when we get used to going back out- another heat wave rolls in. There is just so much going on (wildfires, natural disasters, shootings and other violence, war etc.) that the list can seem endless. Add in the challenges closer to home, and staying inside both physically and emotionally can seem like the best choice.

Yet Jesus shows us a different way. One of community, of connection, of support from God and with others. I truly believe that churches can offer a way of being and relating that is counter to the forces that face us, a community of love and care that can make an impact and offering traveling companions along the way. One where all people (but not necessarily all behavior) are welcome joyously and celebrated for who they are, even if we still wonder "how can they be/think/believe that" or "I don’t get it". We do this because we recognize that God welcomes us joyously in the same way, even when we are not sure if we deserve it ourselves. The Spirit joins us together to give each other hope, and then share that hope and light with others in multiple ways.

I bring this up because as the Presidential Election Cycle heats up, I fear its going to be bumpy ride. To mix metaphors, I feel the next 14 months will add fuel to the fire already raging in so many places and in so many people. There will be plenty of opportunities to dig into "our" side (whichever one we may be on), blame "them" for all the problems, as well as act in ways that further divide us from each other both as individual and communities.

Yet we have a haven in God’s presence and in our congregations. A haven is a place where boats go when the storms get too strong, where ships are repaired, and crews refreshed. Tugboats, freighters, cruise ships, fishing boats - all are welcome to come into these havens when needed. It’s also where they can come on a regular basis to refuel, rest, and prepare to go out again.

So know that you have a haven here, as well as in God’s love. Know that in that haven we are refreshed by each other’s presence, buoyed by their faith and support, and are reminded that God’s is even now working through us and around us to bring about the day when all Creation lives together an abundant, flourishing, and joyful life.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel
From the Pastor's Desk

A friend recently introduced me to the writing of Katie Bowler. The title of Katie’s book "Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) led me to immediately purchase the book and read in two sittings. Katie is a professor, author, researcher, and mother who at age 35 was diagnosed with Stage IV Cancer that had a life expectancy of 1 year. Experimental treatments helped turn her cancer into a currently chronic conditions that she continues to deal with each day as she parents, spouses, writes, and continues to teach at Duke University. Her writing details her journey, and more importantly, the struggle with something hard and people trying to reassure you with platitudes.

And so she writes blessings that she sends out each week: "A Blessing for the Life You Didn’t Choose", "A Blessing for Waking to Summer" and "A Blessing for When You are Feeling Grouchy" are just a few. When this week’s blessing came, I knew I wanted to share it with you. Whoever is struggling now, has struggled in the past, or will struggle in the future (which is all of us) I hope you find the blessing contained within this poem.

A blessing for when you realize everyone is struggling

blessed are you who have realized that life is hard. and it’s hard for everyone. your awareness came at a cost. you lost something you can’t get back. you were diagnosed with chronic pain or a degenerative disease. your family fell apart and things have never been the same.

blessed are you who gave up the myth that the good life is one of happiness, success, perfection. the life that looks beautiful on Facebook, but isn’t real. you who realize it is okay to not be okay. To not have a shinylife, because no one does.

blessed are you who see things clearly, where struggle is everyone’s normal. you walk among the fellowship of the afflicted, a club noone wants to join.

and while this life isn’t shiny, it does come with superpowers. superpowers of ever-widening empathy and existential courage that get you back up after another fall and a deepened awe at the beauty and love that can be found amid life’s rubble.

like flowers that grow from the cracks in the sidewalk. these virtues blossom in you. and thank God for you.

blessed are all of us who struggle, for we are in good company, and we’ll never walk alone.

Katie doesn’t believe that hard times or tragedies are given by God so that we can learn by wrestling a blessing out of it. The blessing is not because of the situation but in spite of it. Likewise, I believe that the God who loves us doesn’t bless us with struggles to learn, but blesses us within our struggles with love, presence, and companionship. For somehow, knowing that you aren’t alone, that others have faced similar situations and challenges, can make us feel a little more connected, a little less adrift, and a little less alone.

Which is part of the reason we are to gather each Sunday. So that we can be with each other in times of struggles in ways that bless within the struggle, then share it with others in the community and world. Just as Jesus did, and still calls his followers to do today.

If you are struggling and would like to talk, need a listening ear, or just want companionship to sit silently with you, please reach out to me at 239-994-2528. For to paraphrase the last line of the blessing: blessed are all of us who struggle, for we are in good company, and we need never walk through it alone.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel
From the Pastor's Desk

As we turn the calendar to July, we are well into the hazy, lazy days of summer (made hazier by the smoke from the Canadian wildfires.) Normally this is a time that church life slows to a crawl. But as I look over the upcoming two months, there is still plenty happening in addition to our services.

  • First, St. John’s Church will switch worship times with Hope United Cochrane, and begins meeting at 10:30am starting July 2, through until the last Sunday of June 2024.
  • Saturday, July 22 is the next evening Vespers service at Eagle Valley Church at 7:00pm. followed by refreshments. The service opens with a hymn sing.
  • Sunday, July 30 is our next "Fifth Sunday" joint service with Hope United Cochrane. It will be at St. John’s Church at 10:30am. It will be a "hymn-centric" service. If you haven’t already, please let me know via email one or two of your favorite hymns by July 17. I’ll tally up these requests along with the ones submitted on the June 25 and July 2 bulletin inserts, then build the service around these hymns for us to share.
  • Sunday, August 20 Hope has again invited St. John’s Church to join them for their service at 10:30am followed by their Annual Social outdoors (weather permitting.) We will not hold a worship service at St. John’s Church that morning.
  • The following week, Sunday August 27, St. John's Church is invites Hope United Cochrane to join us for the annual service at Eagle Valley Church at 10:30am followed by lunch in the shelter. (Whether this will be a potluck or food provided will be announced in the August newsletter.)

I hope to see you at one or all of the special services and social gatherings. Whatever you do, I hope it is blessed by God with joy, safety and the reminder of the love of God and this faith community with you.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

Congratulations to Naomi (Fogel) and John Schmidtknecht who were married here on June 24, 2023. May God bless their union with joy, devotion and love.

From the Pastor's Desk

I attended the "Festival of Homiletics" in Minneapolis for as part of my continuing education this year ("Homiletics" is the ten-dollar word for "preaching".) This annual event is described as "summer camper for preachers." The best preachers and preaching teachers from around the nation provide lectures and sermons reflecting theologically on preaching, worship, and how that fits into 21st century church life. This year’s theme was ""Preaching Hope for a Weary World."

The most impactful I attended was "Hope Punk and the Gospel: Narrating Hope When All Seems Lost" given by Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana (how could I not attend with a title like that.) "Hope Punk" is loosely defined as literary, artistic, and spiritual efforts that support positives aims in the face of destruction and despair, especially when a "win" is not imminent or foreseeable. It is the decision to fight as Sam from "The Lord of the Rings" movies: "(we do this) because there is good in the world worth fighting for." Hope Punk, while having an ethic of gentleness and kindness, is not "nice" or "keeping the peace" but is resistant to what is wrong or life draining. It emphasizes community over competition, right over winning, and acting over results.

Hope Punk says that we do our part, and then leave it for the next generation to take it up and move it forward. It is the Good News that we fight, fight, lose, and fight again, not because we eventually will win but because we know God wins in the end. It is what allows hope in the face of desperate circumstances, resistance to injustices, wrongs, and oppression, especially when we wonder if what we do will have any impact. Jesus lives out Hope Punk by resisting the way things are by acting in the ways of God. This isn’t a hope of denial of pain or suffering or injustice, nor is it pie in the sky that nothing matters because it all works out okay in the end. Instead, it affirms their reality while declaring that it is not the way it should be. Kindness becomes a political act that says we will not act in the ways of anger, fear, hate that tear down others even as we stand with and for others. It looks like John Lewis causing "Good Trouble" and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letters from Birmingham Jail." It forms a community of those who look to see what they can do, even if it is "only" doing the right thing and leaves the rest for those who come after.

Already another contentious political season has kicked off, I wonder how different our actions and reactions would be if we consciously express our faith as "Hope Punk. Then whether "our" candidates or "our" side ends up winning, we continue to do what is right just because it is the way God calls us to live. It is a hope that knows that God’s will resists death and destruction and refuses to let them have the final word. It is the hope founded in God’s promises, not our efforts. It is whenever we "fight the good fight" because it is right, not because we think we can win it. Because we know that God already has that in hand.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor's Desk

Since 1949, May has been designated as "Mental Health Awareness" month. Recent studies of the impact of the CoVID pandemic on the mental health of people who had it as well as the wider community indicate that this is needed more than ever. Churches across the nation often designate the third Sunday of the month as "Mental Health Awareness" Sunday. Though we won’t be doing that this year, I still want to share some facts about mental health and illness with you, and some suggestions on how to help.

  • Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are disorders of the brain. Mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.
  • One in four adults experiences a mental health disorder in a given year, though indications are that this has increased since the pandemic. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder. About one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder. This means if you don’t have a mental illness yourself, you probably know at least one person dealing with an illness.
  • Fortunately, most mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan, which may include medication, psychosocial treatments, and other support services.
  • However, treatment availability may be severely limited or not available, especially in rural areas. There are fifty-five counties within the U.S. that do NOT have a single psychiatrist.
  • Mental illness can disrupt a person’s ability to work, care for himself/herself, and carry on relationships. It affects every aspect of life. However, because mental illness may not be immediately visible to others, the person can be negatively judged as being weak, lazy, or uncooperative.
  • This lack of understanding can lead to the stigma of people with mental illness. This stigma impacts the availability of treatment, insurance coverage, and the willingness to acknowledge that one is experiencing symptoms or accept treatment.
  • Friends and family members feel the impact of mental illness experienced by their loved one. Those feelings range from being protective to anger to denial, to exhaustion. All may feel helpless to provide support and encouragement. This range of feelings is common, and friends and family members may feel all of these at different points and should be encouraged to seek professional counseling as needed.

So what does this have to do with the church? Jesus reached out to the marginalized and those who were considered outcasts and calls us to do the same. The way of Jesus was to comfort and not to ridicule, to love and not be indifferent, to show empathy, not hostility. Many of the exorcisms in the Bible by Jesus are thought to actually be healings of mental illness. This has led the UCC to widen its welcome and provide education and support to members experiencing mental health challenges. It also recognizes the wider church’s role over the centuries, and some even now, that erroneously and cruelly labeled those dealing with a mental illness as not having enough faith, dangerous, and even sinful.

The Mental Health Ministry of the UCC suggests these five simple acts as ways to start helping to make the world a better place for people with mental illnesses and their families:

  • Be a friend: Provide companionship and compassion on the road toward recovery. Offer a ride to church or to a local support group.
  • Listen without judgement. Pray for those you know with mental illnesses and for their family members.
  • Be an inspiration: Share your story. Has mental illness impacted you or your family in some way? Your story may empower others to seek treatment or have hope.
  • Watch your language: Pay attention to the words you use and avoid stigmatizing labels. Do not refer to people as "crazy," "psycho," "lunatic" or "mental."
  • Be a "StigmaBuster": Challenge negative attitudes toward mental illness among your friends and acquaintances and in the media.

If you want to learn more, good places to start include: the UCC Mental Health Network,, the National Alliance on Mental Illness,, and the National Institute of Mental Health,

If you or a loved one are experiencing mental health difficulties, please reach out. While I am not a therapist, I can be with you as you seek treatment, face any struggles, and let you know that you are not alone. For you aren’t even when it feels as if God is absent, God is always there.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor's Desk

Holy Week starts on April 2 with Palm Sunday. We will have three special services during the week as part of observing this most holy time in the Christian calendar.

First, on Maundy Thursday, (April 6) we will have a joint service with both St. John's Church and Hope at St. John's Church at 6:00pm The service will be built around the sharing of a soup supper, so will be held down in Fellowship Hall.

The second service is the following evening on Good Friday, this time both congregations worshiping at Hope at 6:00pm As part of the service I will present a dramatic monologue. It is one I wrote imaging Nicodemus’ wife perspective of Good Friday as described in the Gospel of John.

Finally, in addition to Easter Sunday services at the normal worship times, there will be a Sunrise Service at 6:30am at the Eagle Valley Church.

Recently I was part of a clergy discussion of whether Maundy Thursday and Good Friday should be incorporated into the Palm Sunday service, as some churches began doing. Many people can’t make the Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services now. They miss the full power of Easter morning, and of our faith missing these admittedly somber but so important times. The argument for combining everything into one service is that it gives the opportunity to hear the stories from those days. I was on the side of refraining from this, that there is too much to absorb in the story of Palm Sunday, and in the story of Jesus’ last two days for it to be experienced in one service.

I don’t say this to guilt anyone who you can’t make it to these services. Life is so much different than even twenty years ago when it comes to family schedules. If you can’t make it to these services, I understand. I encourage you to take time each day of Holy Week to read a part of one of the gospels’ account of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. If you have family or loved ones who can join you in this even better.

Whether you can make the Holy Week services or spend time in private devotion reading and reflecting on them from a gospel, I pray that the week holds new experiences of God’s presence in your life and in the world. I pray that the stories of Jesus’ love and willingness to meet violence with a "no more" to the point of death reveals even more the wonders of hearing on Easter morning God’s NO to death having the final word in who we are.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor's Desk

We have entered the season of Lent. As a child I saw Lent as seven weeks I had to give up something I liked, usually chocolate and later Diet Pepsi, and meatless Fridays. When I was in my mid-twenties in the UCC, I switched to trying to give up what I viewed as bad habits, such as swearing, or too much time watching TV. Most ended in failure, and even if I did some how hold out until Easter, I would usually go back to the way things were before Lent began.

I feel that the reason these attempts didn’t last beyond Easter was because I viewed Lent through a distorted lens. I dreaded the approach of Lent. I thought I had to spend the next seven weeks feeling guilty and ashamed about how bad I was that Jesus had to die. It was a time of penance for my mistakes and failings, a psychological flogging to echo the flogging Jesus would take on Good Friday.

Now I view Lent differently. Lent comes from the Old German word for "springtime" or "new beginnings." So now I see Lent as a time for some "spring cleaning." Just as each year we go into those hidden corners of our homes to clear out all the dust bunnies and whatever else has accumulated there unseen, Lent is a time set apart to look at ourselves and our lives, see what has accumulated that is hindering relationship with God and with others. Fasting, praying, and giving during this time isn’t penance. They are Lent’s tools to free up our spirit and lives by turning our attention from "me" and "ours" towards God and service in love (not servitude) towards others.

Lent is intended to impact the rest of the year. These seven weeks can help us to see where "death" has creeped into the way we live our lives, and then provide ways to let go of it, trusting God will lead us in the next steps. Steps that bring us closer to God and to each. Through these tools God works to reconcile us with God, with each other, and even with our true selves. They prepare us to receive the joy and abundance of love that God offers us on Easter.

When Lent is over, well, sometimes we may be a little more diligent in getting those spiritual dust bunnies out of the corner every week. Or we may forget or decide it’s too much trouble. But Lent will come again, and maybe that will be the year you can let go of what blocks you, even just a small piece. Know that even before you do, you are always held in the love and care of God, who longs to draw all Creation closer, so came to us in Emmanuel, Jesus.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor's Desk

As we turn the calendar from 2022 to 2023, we are still in the Christmas Season, at least in the church. For Christians the Christmas Season begins December 25 and ends on January 6 when we celebrate Epiphany.

A few years ago, it was popular to suggest leading with the question "What's your story?" Not in the disparaging way, such as "What IS your story?" But simply asking "What's your story? to start a job interview, first date, trying to make small talk at parties, is an open ended way to get to know someone. Hopefully it invites more conversation than merely asking "Where do you live?" What do you do?" or other questions.

The thing is that we don't have just one story. We have stories of who has influenced us, major events, and minor moments whose impact us much later. Our lives our made up of stories filled with laughter and tears, public and private moments. And over time, how we perceive our stories changes. At a time, these stories remind us of who we are during times of challenge. Then challenge us to look towards who we might be.

And of course, Christians are people of the story: the story told in and through our scriptures, songs, traditions, and memories of God’s actions and love in our lives, and in our world (or as the hymn puts it "I love to tell the story…of Jesus' and his love.") Stories form communities, strengthen relationships, and allow communities to grow as more stories from more people, times and places are added into the mix.

Over the next couple of months, we are going to share some stories in different ways. First, on February 18 you are being invited to join us for a "Soup & Stories Supper" at 4:00pm. Richard Ruben will start us off with some stories from the history of St. John’s Church. Then depending on the number of people there we will invite people to share at their table or with the whole group some of their stories of their life as part of this congregation. The Women’s Guild will provide the soup and other supper accompaniments. I look forward to getting to know more about the church, congregation, and you on that evening.

Then we move into Lent starting with an Ash Wednesday service on February 22 at 6:30pm. Lent itself is a time of spending time with the story of Jesus' journey towards the cross, as well as the impact his ministry still has today. As part of diving deeper into that story, I am offering a 6-week Bible Study starting February 28 on each Tuesday at 1:00pm at St. John’s Church on the story of the last week of Jesus’ life as told through the Gospel of Matthew. I hope you will join me.

So, what is your story? What is our story as St. John’s Church? And how shall that story continue going forward? Let’s find out together.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

As we turn the calendar from 2022 to 2023, we are still in the Christmas Season, at least in the church. For Christians the Christmas Season begins December 25 and ends on January 6 when we celebrate Epiphany.

Since the 6th is a Friday, we will celebrate Epiphany on Sunday, January 8, 2023. At that time, I hope to start a new tradition- giving out "star words". This is a prayer practice connected to Epiphany and the new year that has been growing in popularity in Protestant churches for over a decade now. I will write a list of intention words, or guiding words, on paper stars. I will arrange the stars with the word face down on a table, and then invite you to randomly pick a star. You can place their star word somewhere they will see it regularly throughout the year to allow consistent reflection on how God has moved through, around, or in connection to that word, as well as incorporate it in your spiritual practices.

Here are some of the theological thoughts behind this tradition:

1. The Magi followed a star, which ultimately led them to Jesus. Therefore, we too use all the resources we have available to us to move closer to Jesus.

2. We trust that God uses multiple ways to guide us and speak to us. Star words are one such lens that might provide us a way to look for God in our midst, both actively and in hindsight.

3. We trust that it is often easy to miss God in our daily midst. Having an intention word to consider both in present days, as well as to reflect on at the end of the year, allows for us to see God in ways we may not have seen God before. This is the greatest gift.

On Epiphany Sunday I will provide both more information about the "why" of this spiritual practice, along with suggestions on ways to incorporate your word in your normal routines.

If you would like a star and are unable to be with us on Sunday, January 8, 2023, please contact me. I will randomly pick a star for you and mail it or put it aside until you can pick it up.

As we end this Christmas season and move into the season of Epiphany, may God presence and activity in this world, this church, and your life be seen in ways that you may not have seen God before.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

Happy Holidays! Happy Holy Days!

In the church we are in the Season of Advent, while "outside" the church it is the "Christmas Season". And these competing seasons can cause tension during worship (and in your pastor). People want to sing the beloved Christmas hymns during worship, yet we aren’t there yet. And despite how much I enjoy singing Christmas Carols, I believe that Advent is an important part of the church year as well as our faith journeys together, and so try to hold off as long as possible from making them the focus of a service.

One year I heard a colleague offer his solution as he spoke at a Women’s Guild Christmas gathering. He celebrated both the "Holidays" and the "Holy Days" in December. On Sundays during Advent, as well as his personal practices of faith, he observed the holy days of Advent. Advent is a timing of looking forward both to the birth of Jesus and to a future time when God’s reign through Jesus will embrace the world in love, grace, justice and peace (however that may happen.) It is also a time of expecting to see where that reign is already breaking through in our daily lives. And he didn’t want to miss that. He found taking time to "do" Advent enriched Christmas.

But he also loved the festivities and traditions of Christmas that take place at the same time. So outside Sundays and his spiritual practices, he would celebrate Christmas. Christmas Trees up and decorated both at home and in the church, Christmas luncheons and parties, and all the other trappings that can make this a joyous time of year.

I liked that and adopted that practice. Intentionally practicing Advent in anticipation. So during Advent we’ll slowly sing more Christmas hymns each week, but our focus will be on season of Advent and its Scripture readings.* And I’ll finish decorating my Christmas tree at home with my husband this week (I hope) and decorate my office for Christmas. Celebrating the Holidays and the Holy Days.

So while I’ll wait a little longer to wish you "Merry Christmas", may you find yourself experiencing God’s love and grace in this time in ways that deepen your relationship with God and with others.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

P.S. There will be one exception to this - Saturday, December 17, 2022 at 4:00pm will the be annual Advent Vespers Service at the Eagle Valley Church. We’ll share the Christmas story, sing favorite Christmas hymns, and experience together this special time of the year. I hope you can join us.

From the Pastor’s Desk

Where have the last 10 months gone? Thanksgiving (and Deer Hunting Season) are at the end of this month. Then it’s off to the Holiday Season, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. These all bring beloved traditions, gathering with friends and family, and celebrations.

Except, these past few years. Some were canceled, and others were limited the number of attendees and activities due to health concerns as the result of the pandemic. Others might have changed because friends or family are divided politically to the point that they cannot be in the same room. Of course, there are the changes that are part of life: people grow older, children turn into teens then adults who get married and have their own children, people move away for work or retirement, and more. It’s just as true today as when Greek Philosopher Heraclitus thousands of years ago said, "change is the only constant in life."

Yet there are still reasons to be grateful as Thanksgiving approaches. Your celebrations may be bigger or smaller, quieter or louder, than years past. Yet within all changes, especially the negative ones, there are gifts of God’s grace. They may not be easy to see at times. But they are still there. For God promises us wherever we are, God’s love and presence is there. And that will not change.

So, what will you be grateful for this Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

P.S. The St. John's Consistory will be deciding at their November meeting when/if a Thanksgiving Service might be held. Please watch the webpage and the bulletin for details.

From the Pastor’s Desk

If March comes in like a lion, what did fall come in like this year – an elephant? Two days after an 85-degree day, we were treated to a twenty-degree drop in the temperature. As I write this the forecast is for a possible frost tonight or tomorrow tonight. Autumns arrival means that things are picking up at the church. But after a CoVID-19 forced slowdown for two years, as well as pastoral transition, what does "picking up" mean?

Well for one, Sunday School has resumed. It was joyful to see the number of kids attending this month. The first Confirmation Exploration Class will be held Wednesday October 5, at 3:30 p.m. Faye Connors, Ruth Ehmcke, and Luann Schmidtknecht are facilitating a group who are brainstorming ways to bring more music into the life of the church. Their efforts have led to the revival of the church choir which Betsy Miller-Ruben has graciously agreed to lead. People are returning to worship after weekends spent enjoying God’s works of Creation boating, camping, or in summer cabins.

My question to you is: what else needs to be "picked up" this fall in the life of the congregation? Not cleaned up (though help with those tasks around the church would be appreciated.) What are the activities that were part of the congregation’s life prior to CoVID that you hope you’ll do again? I hope to have a book or Bible Study as we go through Advent and am open to suggestions for that or for others that you would like me to lead. Are there other opportunities for worship, study, prayer, or fun that you did together as a church family that you’d like people to "pick up" this fall? Please let me know. That also includes two other areas that you might need some help in picking up: spirits and relationships.It seems everywhere I look there are articles on the damage done to people’s spirits, as well as their relationships, the necessary lockdowns and social distance has caused.Add in the stress as this congregation went through pastoral transitions during the same time, and I would not be surprised if some of you have found it harder to muster enthusiasm, even interest, in things that were important to you pre-CoVID.

Including church. People throughout the country are experiencing a feeling of distance in relationships both inside and outside the church. They don’t know how to navigate reconnecting, stressful situations, and/or where close relationships have been strained in this (almost) post- CoVID world. Even in their relationship with God.

If you find yourself feeling that way, that’s okay. Know that God’s relationship with you is a constant throughout this and any time. You may not feel that in a moment (or more) and may find yourself struggling to make that connection. That struggle is okay. It’s part of faith. I’ve been through it myself. Part of being a member (official or not) of a church is for us to be with you in that time, holding you in love, and making room for whatever you may question, struggle with, or just not be sure what you believe. Especially if you aren’t "feeling it" now. If you feel that all you have for God (and the church) right now is hurt, anger, doubt, or questions, that’s okay. We are here for you. We don’t do this perfectly. But we do our best to follow the lead Jesus of offering grace, connection, and welcome. And most importantly holding you in love no matter where you may be physically, spiritually, mentally, or emotionally.

Whether you need to pick-up the church again because it’s been a busy summer, you got out of the habit during CoVID, or because your spirit is hurting, we will be here. Join us on a Sunday, a study or potluck, or a phone call to another member or to me. If you aren’t quite there yet, that’s okay. Reach out when you can, in the way you can, to whom you can. I’m available in person, by phone, email, or text, even if we haven’t had the chance to meet yet. Especially to those of you who would love to come join us, but because of other factors can’t make it to the church. What do we need to "pickup" again to flourish in life as God intends all of God’s beloved to do? Let’s take time this fall to discern together what the is next step for both the church and for you that God is urging us to take.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

I write this the Monday after two consecutive Sundays where we worshiped elsewhere. First, at Eagle Valley Church, then with Hope UCC for their annual Sunday Social. These wonderful services were followed by lunches filled with good food and fun. I loved seeing you engaged in conversations, catching up with each other, sharing stories and laughter.

They reminded me the importance of these gatherings for a church. The first Christians didn’t worship for an hour and then go back home. They worshiped around a meal, filled with food that nurtured their connections, built relationships, and shared joy together. Jesus didn’t just teach and heal. Jesus ate with people, time spent beyond worship or teaching.

Getting together had to stop during the pandemic. As necessary as it was, it resulted in many feeling a sense of isolation and disconnect not only within congregations, but our society.

Which is why I feel it is important to have a Coffee Hour each Sunday after the service. I understand why this has been difficult to get restarted. But I also feel it’s vital to the life of this congregation. You need time to see people you might not otherwise run into, or only say "Hello" to that past week. What type of food or drink isn’t as important as those conversations. Some filled with laughter, some offering support during rough times, and all providing the opportunity to share our lives with each other.

So all this is my long way of asking you to please consider volunteering to host Coffee Hour

one Sunday. Store bought cookies and juice are fine if that’s the extent of your culinary skills or available time. (The hardest part for me of hosting such times is making the plastic box and label to look just like the Hy-Vee Bakery’s.) There is a signup sheet on the table where the bulletins are each Sunday.

I would love to be able to not need to announce at the end of the service that we have coffee hour that week, because we are back to having it each week. But I can only do that with your help with this vital ministry.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

Change in dates for Confirmation Exploration Orientation and Start Dates.
Confirmation Orientation has been moved to Wednesday, September 28 at 6:30pm. Confirmation Classes will start on Wednesday, October 5 from 3:30pm to 5:00pm. The complete schedule of class dates will be handed out at Orientation. If you or your child unable to attend Orientation night, please contact Pastor Deb at the office or at

Pastor Deb will be on vacation from September 4 through the September 18, 2022.
If you have a pastoral emergency during that time, please contact Church President Dale Schmidtknecht and he will connect you with the appropriate person.

From the Pastor’s Desk

It’s hard to believe that the dog days of August are here already. Which means fall is coming shortly and activity picks up as September roles around. So here are just a few things that I have coming up as we look ahead.

Sunday, August 21 is the annual Sunday Service at Eagle Valley Church, followed by a lunch provided by the Friends of Eagle Valley Church. There will NOT be worship held at St. Johns or Hope on that Sunday.

Sunday, August 28 Hope UCC has invited St. Johns to join them at their annual Social and service at 10:30am.

Confirmation Exploration Orientation for Confirmation Exploration Classes will be Wednesday, September 21, 2022 at 6:30 pm at Hope Church. This is for both students and parents.

Confirmation Exploration Classes will start on Wednesday, September 28 at 4:00pm at St. Johns. Classes will last until 5:30pm.

Creation Preaching Series - Over four Sundays starting September 18, I will be doing a series of sermons using a four-week cycle of suggested readings and reflect on what God’s desires are for our relationship with our environment as individuals and as a church.

Sunday, October 30 will be Confirmation Sunday for those students for whom the Summer Intensive of Confirmation Exploration Classes is their second year and choose to be confirmed. This isn’t everything of course. Check this newsletter, the bulletin, and online for other happenings at the church.

And as always, I am open to suggestions (maybe a blessing of the animals on or near October 4?) If there are traditions that I am missing, please let me know. If I am not doing them most likely it’s because I don’t know about them. What else might we be doing together? Let’s see where the Spirit leads us next.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

P.S. Have you had a chance to explore our updated website? While still a work in progress the new design makes it easier to find information and do things (did you know you can give online?) Thank you to John Stettler and Cindy Ziegler for the time they have put in working with Corey Scholl as he redesigns and manage our website.

From the Pastor’s Desk

As I write this, we are in the middle of a second contentious week in our nation. (Or perhaps I should say even more contentious.) Emotions are running high over recent Supreme Court decisions, and the ongoing Congressional hearings. Protest and celebrations are filling public spaces, as well as social media and the airwaves. It doesn’t look like this will end soon. It is only another factor in the very divisive state that this country has been experiencing over the past few years. It is contributing to the ending of friendships and even some family relationships as has many of the issues of the last few years. As a result many are feeling hurt, attacked, betrayed, or enraged.* So, what does this have to do with the church? First, on these and all issues, I hope our faith informs our decisions and opinions both personally and how we believe it applies to others, and especially how we act in living that out.

However, even when it does, that doesn’t mean we will always come to the same conclusions or decisions. And it is here that I think our faith has three words that if lived out would help heal the divisiveness if not the actual differences. They would enable more discussions instead of diatribes lobbed at each other that get us nowhere. The three words are: beloved, grace, and humility. First, beloved. You are a beloved child of God who desires only good and abundance for you. So is your neighbor across the street. As is that pundit on the news (take your pick from any of these listed in alphabetical order: CNN, FOX, MNSBC, Newsmax, etc.) that makes your blood pressure raise 100 points whenever you hear their voice, as well as the shouting angry voice in the crowd they are discussing. If we keep that in the forefront of our minds and spirits, it takes the edge of animosity off our thoughts and interactions.

Second, grace. God offers us all the grace that we are imperfect, will be wrong at times, and yet are still beloved. Grace from us recognizes that we don’t know anyone else fully or why they believe or feel a certain way. Grace remembers all the times we have been coming from either good motives or fear, certain that the things we thought were right so must be continued, or wrong so must be stopped.

So, if we have been, we can accept that others may be coming from similar places even if we are certain that they are wrong in what they do or say. Finally, humility. The humility to admit that we aren’t always right. The humility to know that we are not God. While hopefully we are striving to live our lives in ways that God desires for all of God’s family, we are still not God. So, no matter if "our side" is on the "winning" or "losing" side of an issue or decision, we remember that God is still at work bringing about good and grace for all God’s beloved children, no matter who they are, what they believe, which side that they are on. Ours or other’s actions and words are not always beloved by God. They may even grieve God, or break God’s heart. But that doesn’t change that we are still seen as beloved by God, who desires good and grace to all. I know when I can see that, if even only for moment before going back to it being hidden behind my own hurt, anger, or fears, well, then I am loving God and neighbor. And then my thoughts, my decisions, my actions at least for that moment, especially when it comes to those affecting others, will be one be informed and filled with God’s Holy Spirit, as Jesus’ was every day of his earthly life. It is said that during the Civil War that one of President Lincoln’s advisors said that he was glad that God was on the Union’s side. The response attributed to Lincoln includes the humility and grace that we need so desperately right now. "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right." We don’t need to wonder if God is for us or against us, for we are always God’s beloved, who God is for. But so is the person on "the opposite side." If we strive to discern what is God’s side (hint: it probably is one of that is based on love and justice that sees all as worthy even in our differences) then even when we fall short, we are headed in the right direction. May God bless us, and keep us, until then.

If you are feeling any or all of these and need to talk, please let me know. We can set up a time for you to come in, share what you need, and we can look together at where God is present for you and for others in the midst this. No matter what, we are never alone.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

Spring has finally sprung here filling the bluffs and riverbanks with a multitude of nature’s colors. Now I am not much of an "outdoors person"- my idea of camping is Howard Johnson’s motels, and I will leave the hiking to someone else. I DO like to be outdoors so look forward to drives with my husband exploring the landscape, going bird-looking, and finding some walking trails to spend time among the trees and other fauna, perhaps with my camera. I also hope to find a place along the Mississippi River where I can just sit and be as we move into the summer months.

The wonders and varieties of nature never ceases to amaze me. There seems to me a never- ending diversity within states, and nations, as well as over the seasons, all brought together in a mosaic of God’s creation. And of course, people are part of that. I hope this summer you find ways to appreciate the wonders of all of God’s creation - whether through boating or hiking or spending time with family and friends. Some of that may take you away from joining us here on Sunday’s. You can catch the worship service on YouTube where it is posted in the afternoon.

Remember: you are part of the colorful mosaic of this congregation that God’s Spirit continues to bring together. And those of you who will be here most Sunday’s, so are you. Over the summer we’ll continue times of Fellowship after the service giving us more opportunities to reconnect after two years of being apart through Covid. And of course, there will be times other than Sunday’s to not only serve God, but be together in love and fun (preparing for the Rhubarbfest anyone?) Opportunities to support each other and this congregation’s ministry. Chances for the wonders and varieties of the people of this congregation to be brought together again, so each can be amazed and appreciate what God is still creating and building here.

No matter who you are, no matter where you’ve been on a particular Sunday or Sunday’s, you are always welcome here. See you then!

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

May signals the blooming of new life and possibilities, even as the weather stubbornly refuses to completely let go of winter. Our Holy Week and Easter services reminded us of the joy and new life still waiting to blossom and grow in unexpected ways even from the darkest of days and painful experiences. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to preside at a sunrise service out at the Eagle Valley Church, complete with the baptism of Sullivan "Sully" Klaben, (son of Joy and John). What better way to celebrate the Risen One than to offer this visible sign of invisible grace of God to an infant, surrounded by family and friends, and the joyous music of Easter.

There are lots of things happening this month at the church, and details are included elsewhere in this newsletter. Here are just a few I want to highlight: First, grab your sweet tooth and your wallet for the Cake Auction to be held after worship on May 1, 2022. I’ve been told that the bakers of this church create confections each year that garner multiple bids and often barely make it home before being consumed. So come prepared to bid and bid often to support the Sunday School of the church.

Second, on Sunday, May 15, at 3:00pm here, St. John’s UCC, Hope UCC, and the Northwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC will hold the Service of Installation for me as Pastor of both Hope and St. John’s, followed by a reception. It celebrates my call here, yes. It also celebrates the shared ministry that St. John’s and Hope has embarked upon, the first task of which was the search committee working together to call a pastor. So it is also a celebration of the time, dedication, and prayerful consideration of the search committee as the members took into consideration not only the needs of the churches they attended, but of their new partners in ministry. Clergy from the Northwest Association will be attending, but covenant with each other in ways that strengthen their ties within the Body of Christ. Associate Minister of the Northwest Conference Rev. Rob MacDougall will join us, providing the sermon for the afternoon, celebrating the ongoing ministries of these two churches.

We will celebrate the faithfulness of both churches that kept you going these past few years through the pandemic, as well as of the saints who came before, and the unimagined possibilities God holds for this shared ministry and each congregation. I hope you will join us on this special day for both congregations and the wider church. Finally, I have tentatively scheduled Graduation/Baccalaureate Sunday for Sunday, May 22, 2022. If you or a loved one is graduating this spring from High School, Technical School, College or other higher education program, please let me know. We would like to honor your accomplishments as well as celebrate your future during this service. So even as spring weather seems to be dragging its heels in coming, opportunities for celebration, joy, and fellowship continue to bloom here at 303 S. Hill Street.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

Some of my favorite services to prepare are the ones in Holy Week Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship. They offer me a chance to reflect on the impact they can and do have on myself and the church.

Maundy Thursday tells of the preemptive grace of God. Jesus shares one last meal with his disciples who will soon betray and abandon him to the Romans, and he holds the first Communion as a sign and reminder that he still loves and forgives them. He transforms what could have been memories of shame and guilt into a celebration of God’s love for all and of the wider Body of Christ that begins to form after resurrection.

Good Friday tells of how the world thinks power should work (crucifixion and death, with some on top over the rest), how it works under God’s reign (vulnerability to others, refusing to meet violence with violence). Good Friday reminds me to ask not about where I would have been at Jesus crucifixion, but where I am today in the deaths by violence that still take place in the world. These prepare me for the joy of Easter, when God refused to let death in any form have the final word or abandon us by brining new life where there had only been pain, betrayal, and loss. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services are often the lowest attendance of the year. Some people avoid them because they see them as "sad" (and they can be) and have attended ones in the past that seem intent on shaming or scaring people into repentance and following Jesus. While there are those who can’t attend due to schedules or distance, many decided that they were too hard or dark to sit through.

If you don’t attend because of one of the above reasons (or another that I don’t know of) please consider joining our Maundy Thursday service on April 17 at 6:00 p.m. here at St. Johns, and join with Hope UCC in Cochrane on Good Friday at 6:00pm Maundy Thursday we will share in Communion, as we retell this part of the story of our faith.

Good Friday I will be offering a dramatic monologue as Mary Magdalene as the sermon, imagining how she felt as day faded into night that Friday. Yes, they will both be more solemn than our usual Sunday services. But the point is not to shame us. They remind us that even in our darkest moments there is God’s love and grace are there, ready to bring new life out of death in all its forms in surprising and wondrous ways beyond what we can imagine. I hope you will join me.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

The season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, March 2; that day St. John’s and Hope will come together for an Ash Wednesday service at 6:00pm at St. Johns. We will distribute ashes for all who choose to receive them on your forehead or the back of their hand.

Lent is a time of reflection and repentance. The "three pillars" or practices that traditionally connected to Lent are prayer, fasting, and giving. For some this may seem quaint. Others find this too hard, bringing up shame, or hurt, or the feeling that one is unworthy. And so, unless giving up chocolate or smoking in any attempt to improve health, for a good portion of the population Lent means merely another seven weeks to Easter.

I’ve come to understand Lent as a sort of spiritual spring housecleaning. These three pillars are some of the tools we use as we go about it. These seven weeks can become a time of reconciling or growing deeper in relationship with God, with our families, and with our communities. In a phrase used in Twelve Step programs Lent is an opportunity to "clear our side of the street." We are encouraged to let go of what keeps us from being the people we want to be, and more importantly, the people God created us to be.

For repentance isn’t that we need to feel shame, or perpetual sorrowful for our actions; it is about turning around and going a different way. Repentance means looking honestly at what we wish we did or did not do, taking accountability, then asking God to show us a better way. Organization specialist Kon Mari became popular suggesting to declutter we take each object in the home and ask, "Does this still give me joy?" If it did, keep it, repairing if needed. If not, either donate it or recycle/discard it. Lent invites us to do undergo a similar process with ourselves, our values, habits, choices, and relationships under the gaze of the Good News. We take the time to ask "Does ‘this’ (habit, action, value, judgement, inaction, etc.) bring God joy? is it part of living the abundant, joyful life God intends for us and with each other?"

As a follower of Jesus, what in your life isn’t bringing joy for you and for others? (Not happiness, but joy.) Sometimes what isn’t sparking joy is a situation that we cannot change, but is there a way to find moments of joy and grace within it? Join me over the next seven weeks asking that question. Remember, out of the worst day, God has, can, and will always bring resurrection. So check under the couch cushions in your life to see what’s there, find those cobwebs in the back rooms of your life that only you see, and then ask God’s Spirit of love, grace, and new life to blow through. Who knows what may happen? Let’s find out.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

Thank you for your warm welcome to Fountain City and St. Johns Church. I look forward to getting to know you better over the next few months. If you want to reach me there are several options.

I am holding office hours on Tuesdays. Feel free to stop by and poke your head into the office to say hi. My cellphone number is 239.994.2528. You can also reach me at You can catch me before or after a worship service to set up another time we can connect to talk further. I would also appreciate a note to remind me later (even a just a sticky left on my desk with your name, number and a word or two about what we talked about). Sundays have a lot of moving parts, and this way I won’t be wondering later who it was and what it was I asked to do.

I look forward to what God has in store for us as I settle into Fountain City together.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

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In 1957 St. John’s Evangelical and Reformed Church became St. John’s United Church of Christ as a result of a merger. The denominations of the Congregational Christian Church, along with Evangelical and Reformed Church joined to form United Church of Christ. UCC is a distinct and diverse community of Christians that came together as one church. They joined faith and actions and currently are over 5,000 churches with nearly one million members across the U.S. The UCC serves God in the co-creation of a just and sustainable world. The UCC is a church of "firsts," a church of extravagant welcome, and a church where "…they may all be one".
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