Pastoral Search Committee begins work

April 28, 2016 — Your Pastoral Search Committee met for the first time this week. Members are Pat Bohman, Mike Bradbury, Chuck Michaelson, Margot Olsen, Joe Vance, Carol Holm, Kari Willey and Jenica Domanico.

Pastor Anne led the group in getting to know one another and sharing their hopes and concerns about the search process. They explored some of the biblical grounding for their work, with a discussion of one of the Apostle Paul’s metaphors for the church,  the Body of Christ. Also discussed was the difference between a “hire” (Pastor Anne is hired by the Executive Board for a limited period) and a “call” (where a congregation votes on and extends a call to an open-ended partnership between themselves and a pastor). Unlike a hire in the business world, the biblical notion of covenant involves responsibilities, accountability and compassion between both parties.

The committee expressed eagerness to involve the congregation in exploring expectations of what a sole pastor would do here at Falcon Heights Church. In what ways do you expect the new pastor to lead you as you move forward the vision of being seekers and servants, growing in God’s transforming love?

The group is prayerfully considering who will be the chair (or co-chairs), recorders/secretaries, and chaplain for their work. The specific contents of their discussions, and the identifying details about candidates, needs to remain confidential. However, the group is eager to keep the congregation updated and involved in this important work. They ask for your ongoing prayers, as well as your participation in upcoming small group discussions.

–Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis

Tunes and testimony

By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis – Such a strange image in this passage from Acts: a tablecloth-like fabric lowered from the sky holding all sort of non-kosher animals. A nightmare for any orthodox Jew who followed the Torah’s kosher laws, as Peter did. The original followers of Jesus, all Jews, were now scrambling to deal with Jesus’ message spreading beyond their in-house, Jewish understanding of him as their Messiah, the Christ. What do we do with these non-Jews, these Gentiles, who are drawn by Jesus’ message of compassion and justice? Do they need to be circumcised and observe the Torah’s purity laws to be part of God’s plan? What happens if we become truly diverse and inclusive in following the Way of Jesus? Will the center hold?

For churches across the country, debate about diversity and inclusion has often focused on church music. What kind of music is appropriate for communal worship, for praising God? In a congregation that comprises five generations and hopes to grow its welcome to those age 40 and under? Organ, traditional hymns, anthems from the classical era? Piano and gospel? Congas and world music? Acoustic guitars and folk? Jazz? Pop? Rap? New Age synthesizers? Electric guitars and rock-like praise music and projected lyrics on screens? Thinking about these choices, I find it to be a curious and gentle irony that our “Joyful Noise Sunday” falls some four days after the death of the Minnesota music icon Prince. I’ve been listening to radio retrospectives of his huge collection of work over the last few days, and to fellow musicians and music critics discussing the uniqueness of his creativity and the breath of his musicianship. I was struck with their descriptions of the diversity of genres, Prince’s resistance to being slotted in one style, his innovation across different types of music. And I got to thinking….there is a lesson for the church here. God is bigger than one genre of music, and our praise and worship of God has got to be bigger, more expansive than one genre. I sense this will be the challenge of the 21st century church, especially one such as Falcon Heights Church. Not breaking off into different worship services for styles of music that cater to different preferences. But holding our center by blending genres and styles in one common celebration each Sunday. Worship as the place where all ages share the heart of our life together and experience God’s presence more fully. Where we courageously envision a new world of compassion and justice and are enabled to move out and make those changes happen.

We have invited a few of our choir members to testify to how different types of music have affected them spiritually and deepened their sense of connection with God. After each testimony, I ask us to express our gratitude for their sharing by singing together verse of “When in Our Music God is Glorified.”


In the winter of 1965 I spent a lot of time outside in the ice and cold. One particular evening I was huddled down in my backyard snow fort, and heard it for the first time – the song in the wind. I lifted my head and shut my eyes, listening, and experienced what I can only describe as the voice of God singing to me. There were no words, just the whooshing of air inside my brown parka hood, through my stocking hat.

Three years later, I heard it again. I was in the old Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. I was sitting under the balcony, on the right side of that massive hall, in the next to the last row, back by the pencil-poked acoustical tile rear wall. I was there to hear my teacher, Bob Elworthy, who was the principal horn of the Minnesota Orchestra, perform Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, Symphony 4.

The Italian is a great piece of music for the novice music-appreciator like I was. About 17 minutes and 22 seconds into the symphony, the two horns and two bassoons played this exquisite quartet: It sounded far away, over the hill and out of sight; it sounded organic and outdoors-y, it sounded like a place where I wanted to go, where I wanted to be.

A couple of years later it happened again, only this time it was on the stage of Northrup Auditorium. My high school choir was asked to perform a work for four orchestras and choirs with the Minnesota Orchestra. The piece, Carré, was written by the avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Unlike the Italian Symphony, Carré was challenging for any music listener: a piece with no melody, no harmony, and no rhythm. After months of rehearsal, I sat at the concert near the middle of the Northrup stage, behind three sections of horn players and next to a 6-foot-diameter gong. As our choir performed, the music simultaneously surrounded me, swirled around me, crashed upon me, and suspended me transcendent above the ensemble.

Each of these moments brought me to be into the presence of God: God the natural force that sings to me in the wind; God that orders the tones of the scale and the harmonies of musical structure; and God the mystery that swirls around me and takes me to places beyond my imagination. Each of these moments made my hair stand on end and my eyes fill with tears. I was changed. Forever.


Worship in a faith community can take many forms. While I can find comfort and refreshment from prayer and silent contemplation, my spiritual growth would be lacking if I didn’t have music as part of my Sunday morning worship experience. Music nourishes my soul and enhances my inner life, and it does so on many levels:

First, there is the pure beauty of the melodies, rhythmic patterns and harmonies. These can delight me or sometimes conjure up deep yearnings for divine consolation. As an example of the latter, I think of our Service of Shadows on Maundy Thursday.

Then there is the characteristic quality of the sound, be it a solo instrument or voice, or an ensemble or the entire congregation. The mood and interpretation can inspire me and often give me a recognition of how we are all called to express ourselves, each in our own way, each on our own unique path.

Another aspect of music making in worship is the simple but sublime satisfaction of joining together with other voices and instruments. To me there is a true merging of souls as we offer up our music to God’s glory.

And last but definitely not least, there is the meaning behind the lyrics of our hymns and anthems. My awareness and connection to the lyrics really awakened in me in two separate stages: when I began to teach children’s anthems after coming here in 2004, and also five or so years ago when I began to explore worship music with a social justice message. That last endeavor has led me to a number of very profound experiences of internalizing the meaning, such as this short verse from a song I found recently:

You know my resting and my rising, You discern my purpose from afar. And with love everlasting you besiege me, in every moment of life or death, you are.

And, perhaps even more sacred and tender is my recollection of hearing children from our church singing in a mass choir at an ecumenical festival in 2014. They sang a contemporary setting of the poem “The Lamb” by William Blake. I will close with its final verse:

Little lamb, I’ll tell thee.
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child and thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little lamb, God bless thee.
Little lamb, God bless thee.


In the past few days, the more I have reflected on my relationship between music and faith, the more I have realized the power of that connection for me. Strangely, this was reinforced for me by reflecting on the death this week of Prince, and the incredible outpouring of emotion this has triggered for many people, including myself – I found myself surprisingly affected and moved by his death.

Faith is something that I think different people experience, or don’t experience, for many reasons, and one of the reasons that makes it easier for me to have faith is that I am fortunate enough to feel a connection to God, in a deep, intuitive, and completely non-logic-based way. This is not something that I feel all of the time, or even every day, but there are certain places and moments where I intuit a connection to God’s spirit. Two common places come to mind – one is in experiencing moments of nature’s beauty, such as while camping at the Boundary Waters, and another is in experiencing certain moments of music.

The most obvious connection for me is of course singing in the choir each week, as I’ve done now for a couple of years, but it is also in experiencing musical moments from others. One example that sticks out for me is the musical “Godspell,” the professional production which Susan and I attended years ago, before we even had kids, but still remains vivid in my memory. We were given tickets and went expecting to be entertained, but left feeling touched by God. I was moved there by songs like “Bless the Lord,” which we sang in the choir a few weeks ago, and also a song called “All God’s Gifts,” which I played again this week to prepare for this remarks, and even today it touches me and brings me close to God in a way that I can’t quite articulate.

For me, music is a type of language that can speak to people in ways that aren’t possible with only words. There is an emotional connection possible with music that is sometimes like a direct line to the heart, to the emotions, to a sense of wonder or joy about the world, and therefore to my spirituality.

It is easy for me sometimes to get caught up in troubles I may have, or in the troubles I see in the world, but then I come in to church on Wednesday night for choir practice, and nearly every time, in the act of singing with others, there will be some moment where I am reminded of beauty, of hope, and of God’s love. This feeling of being touched, renewed, and even transformed is something I look forward to each week. It binds me to this community, to our church, and helps me as I try to remain focused on those things that truly matter the most in my life.


I love this time of year for all of the reasons ALL of us love it, but especially because we can open the windows at night. Right on schedule, about 4:30 in the morning, I can usually hear ONE bird singing. Maybe just one measure, but with just enough melody and charm to attract another bird, and then more and more join in… They sing their hearts out and I silently fill in the words: “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning. Born of the one light Eden saw play.”

I have felt many spiritual and uplifting moments in my life, and they often occur within music. To name a few…

I felt God’s presence last Sunday as we sang, “Look at the world, everything all around us: Look at the world, and marvel…” John Rutter’s haunting melodies and gorgeous lyrics have been floating in my subconscious all week, reminding me to praise all creation with a thankful heart…the sunshine and the rain, valley and flowing river…another reminder that music’s spirit is with me and speaks to my core beliefs.

A week ago Saturday, during the celebration of Hugh Faville’s life, we all sang, “Spirit, spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness, calling and free…” The simple words and melody took me back to my canoe paddling days, days of peace and harmony in the wilderness. While singing it again a week ago, something came over me, I felt something bigger than me. My inner voice, perhaps God’s voice, saying, Relax…breathe…find your own rhythm…cherish all of life because we are just passing through.

Profound thoughts happened again while standing next to Cindy Duddleston at her dad’s funeral. Here she was, so poised and so put together as we sang “Be Thou with Me.” I had to pretend-sing to keep the tears inside.

Needless to say, music really does a number on me, whether singing Mozart’s Credo Mass or Bach’s Magnificat in this very space, or even singing “This is My Father’s World” while sitting on a log bench at Camp du Nord. The great master compositions, which require weeks of preparation, seem to awaken the choir’s collective hearts on the Sunday we share them with the congregation. Proof that ALL kinds of music can speak of love, of giving thanks and of the beauty and the fragility of our short life on earth.

I’ll never forget listening to our twin grandsons as they took a break from making cookies with Grandpa Doug and played Christmas carols on their trumpets. Their pride and innocence made me remember 12 years ago trying to sing the hymn, “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry,” when those two little babies were baptized right over there. Especially problematic for me were the lines “I rejoiced the day you were baptized, to see your life unfold,” and I was a wreck when trying to sing, “In the middle ages of your life, not too old, no longer young, I’ll be there to guide you through the night, to complete what I’ve begun.” I love that hymn…It really speaks to me, but again, I had to just mouth the words. Getting choked up usually happens to me when real joy swells inside of me, but when it happens I feel helpless, SO out of control.

But maybe that IS the point! I’m NOT in control! God, through music, sends me many reminders about life’s really big deals…disappointments from my past and about my hopes and dreams for the future. Sometimes my mind races and I start to wonder what comes next in my life and about transformation and appreciating the little things, about being a better person, and being more in touch in the world and with my family and our community and in this church, about still being positive and still having fun, and will I be brave when lots of little surprises come my way? It goes on and on.

Music is the master calmer and reminder that I am not alone and that I am not finished, and that’s OK. As the familiar hymn reminds me, “My life flows on in endless song… How can I keep from singing?” I try to think of music as God’s persistent voice to get and keep my attention. And I know that part of God’s plan for me includes the early morning “all nature sings” wake-up music from my feathered friends.

Thank you.

“Blessing Bags” for street people

Our Senior High Youth Group is collecting items in April for “Blessing Bags” that can be given to people in need who ask for help at street intersections. Bins for donations will be set up in the lobby. These items are needed:

  • Bottled water (12 ounces)
  • Cliff bars (nut-free)
  • Rice Krispie treats (nut-free & prepackaged)
  • Emergency blankets

Money donations are also welcome. Place donations in the offering plate at worship, noting “Blessing Bags” in the check memo or on the envelope.

Children’s musical, “The Sailor’s Bible,” to be presented May 8

Our children’s spring musical, featuring the talents of kids in grades K-8, will be performed during worship on May 8. The show, “The Sailor’s Bible,” tells the stories of Noah and the Flood and of Jonah and the Great Fish. There are fun songs and characters and water–real and fake! Rehearsals have begun on Wednesday evenings, 6:20 to 7:30 p.m., with a dress rehearsal Saturday, May 7, from 9 a.m. to noon. Questions? Contact Margot Olsen at

April sandwich making for Simpson House

All ages are welcome to help make 300 sandwiches and 50 bag lunches for Simpson House on Thursday, April 21. The assembly line begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Gathering Room. The food is distributed to clients of the program as they leave in the morning for another day on the streets. This project is supported financially by our special communion offering the first Sunday of each month.

New First Hour adult series on living our faith

Join us at 9:30 a.m. Sundays to view and discuss “Living the Questions,” a popular video- and Internet-based exploration of progressive Christianity. We’ll hear and discuss reflections by various speakers on some of the most perplexing questions about the life of faith. Conee Biggs and Pastor Anne will lead these sessions. Watch an introductory video about the series.

Topics are:

  • April 10, “Practicing Resurrection”
  • April 17, “Social Justice: Realizing God’s Vision”
  • April 24, “Prayer: Intimacy with God”
  • May 1, “Creative Transformation”

April food shelf collection: canned protein

We continue our focus on canned protein in our April food collection for the Department of Indian Work: tuna, chili, hash, beef stew, chicken, ham, corned beef, peanut butter. Your donations are much needed to keep the shelves stocked.  The Department of Indian Work is part of Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul.

Easter message

By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis — The Gospel of John tells us that Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb first. This is a rather remarkable given how patriarchal and repressive of women the Christian church will later become. Other men and women followers of Jesus were reported to have gone to Jesus’ grave that early morning. But for some reason, Mary Magdalene is the only person mentioned in each of the four different Gospel versions of this empty tomb story. Why this one piece of consistency in four divergent accounts? Why was she so important to be repeatedly named? Could it be that Dan Brown’s popular mystery-detective story, “The Da Vinci Code,” is true? Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers and had a child together? As offensive as this idea may be to some, and as titillating as the idea may be to others, I wonder if the answer for her prominence doesn’t lie somewhere even more challenging. Could it be, as an increasing number of Biblical scholars are suggesting, that she was the follower, the disciple of Jesus, who actually got what he was teaching? Was she the one who didn’t abandon him, when the other disciples did, because she fully understood Jesus’ call to human transformation through self-emptying and sacrificial love?

We follow this grieving and unnerved woman as she stumbles through the early darkness, looking for the body of her beloved Teacher and friend. The Gospel of John has already carefully informed us in previous verses that her visit is not about bringing spices and completing the burial preparations. Nicodemus, the Jewish religious leader sympathetic to Jesus’ cause, had already supplied pounds of myrrh and aloes the night Jesus was buried. The other followers are apparently in hiding; surely the Roman soldiers will be looking for them too. So what is Mary Magdalene up to in the dark? As she approaches, she is stunned to see the closure to the tomb rolled away. Proceeding no further, she runs to get several of the other disciples. Two of them come back with her, and peer into the cave-like enclosure. They note the pile of burial clothes. Curious, as these would probably have been still on Jesus’ body if someone had moved him to another location. The men apparently believe the body is truly gone, but can’t make heads or tails of this. They return to their homes. Note: no one is expecting “resurrection” at this point.

Mary stays rooted to the spot, weeping. Even the cold comfort of seeing and touching Jesus’ body again has been taken from her. Through her tears, she looks into the tomb and encounters angelic beings who question her. She suddenly senses a presence behind her. Turning, she sees someone standing there, who repeats the angels’ question: “Why are you crying?” Not recognizing who this is, she pleads, “Sir, tell me where his body is.” Then this someone calls her by name: Mary. In that moment, she recognizes him. And the unrecognizable all of a sudden becomes incomprehensible – “Oh my God, Teacher, it is you!” And Jesus sees how her love for him is grasping, still looking for a tangible corpse. What she is now confronted with is an intangible aliveness beyond her wildest dreams (Cynthia Bourgeault, “Wisdom Jesus,” p. 130). “Don’t hold on to me, don’t cling to me,” he tells her.

The Gospel writers want us to know that Jesus, despite all evidence of his dying, is now alive. This challenging of the power of death itself is the most paradoxical part of the Easter claim for me. Something dead is now alive. Not a resuscitated body; this man who embodied God’s radically inclusive, unstoppable love was dead…and has now been transformed into a living entity. And for several millennia, Christians have been saying much the same thing: we testify to this ongoing presence of the Risen Jesus Christ in our midst, and it is making new life, transformation, possible in us.

There is something almost ridiculous about this claim, in part because our best thinking can’t quite comprehend it. In our world, death so often seems to have the last word. How can it be that confronting violence, dead hopes and dreams, feeling dead inside, is not the final part of each of our stories? This is the grown-up part of Easter, beyond spring bunnies and chocolate eggs. It is almost the stuff of dreams, not unlike the one the Spanish poet Antonio Machado records in his poem “Last Night As I Lay Sleeping.” The idea of new life busting out of deadness is so fantastical and error-like, it has to come to him under the cover of sleep, when his conscious, linear-thinking brain is no longer in charge. Hear his words:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
My mistakes, my failures, my deadness being transformed? This can’t be right. “Marvelous error,” Machado cries, over and over. How can it be that these changes come to me, he wonders. I dreamt I had a fiery sun giving light inside my heart. That’s crazy! “Last night, as I slept I dreamt, marvelous error, that it was God I had here in my heart.” The spirit of the living God, inside of our hearts. “Fear not,” said Jesus at his last meal with his followers, “I will be with you always.”

Can dry hearts be replenished and warmed? Can old failures be transformed? Sometimes we get so caught up in the calculated logic of the world and what our conscious ego analyzes might be possible. “I just can’t let go of that resentment, that disappointment, that mistake.” We miss the possibility of our own inner healing and changing. I often liken Easter morning to a cold glass of water – thrown in my face! Because there has always been something too sudden, too bizarre about Easter. Jesus is killed because he embodied God’s radically inclusive love so totally, that he became a threat to just about everyone. Again and again, he refused to compromise; he would not set limits on God’s unstoppable love, forgiveness and acceptance.

I wonder if in that moment of hearing Jesus calls her name, Mary Magdalene finally recognizes her transformed self. She is not just a woman frantically bereaved, torn from the person who embodied God’s radically inclusive love. She is Mary, beloved disciple and forgiven one, a woman who has come to see her own old failures transformed. One who came to know and accept her own precious self through her relationship with this Teacher and friend. One who has known love and now is called to pour that love out to the world. Jesus is now present in a new and different way; life and God’s love is unstoppable. Mary Magdalene gets it. She will bring the message of resurrection back to the disciples, and she will be called by the early, pre-patriarchal church “the Apostle to the Apostles.”

Our adult lives are full of self-doubts, and often a casual flippancy about what really matters. As we are confronted again by the pain and violence of our world, it sometimes feels more natural to say that death does have the last word. In the midst of all this, we each yearn for a deeper sense of connection with the great Mystery around us. We long for that wellspring of renewal and hope. Water for our dryness, heat for our chill, light for our darkness. For old failures to be changed into sweet honey.

Jesus is standing before us again, as he stood before Mary Magdalene on that garden path. He is addressing each of us by name, recalling us to our own precious selves: “Anne, here I am – I’m alive – my spirit now lives inside of you, it’s changing you in this very moment. Now, what will be transformed in your life?”

Christ has risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia and Amen.

Help immigrants practice their English

Falcon Heights Church has begun a new partnership at Fairview Community Center, helping immigrants in the Adult Learning Center practice their new English language skills in informal conversations with Americans. We will meet Wednesday mornings twice a month to begin with. Our students are hungry for more conversation, and we can use more volunteers. For information, contact Nancy Duffrin (651-348-7880).

Weekend breakfast for hungry kids


Falcon Heights Church is partnering with Falcon Heights Elementary School to help provide weekend meals for students in need. The school sends backpacks home with kids each Friday, filled with food to supplement their meals over the weekend at home. We are currently collecting large boxes of non-sugary cold cereal through June.  Please note that 13 boxes of cold cereal are needed each week.

This program helps 21 children from 13 families in need who live in our neighborhood.  Any and all donations are welcomed and greatly needed.  Please place your donations in the white buckets in the lobby.