Monday, July 20, 2015

Mt St Francis
On the second leg of my Colorado trip I spent three days in Colorado Springs using the St. Francis Retreat Center there as my home base. I had finished reading "Falling Upward" on the plane out, and didn't get to read while I visited Brett, Julie and Ben Smith. When I arrived at the retreat center I knew that I wanted to do some reading, prayerful reflecting while walking the grounds, and exploring the area.

The retreat center actually started in the 1920s and 30s as a facility owned by the Modern Woodmen of America which treated people who contracted the White Plague, or Tuberculosis. Treatment was done with exposure to fresh air, sunlight and healthy foods. It was an effective treatment for TB sufferers, and was used extensively until the TB vaccination was developed and the number of people with TB dropped. They sold it to an order of Franciscan sisters who used it as a school and as a convent over the years. Now it has many facilities over its many acres which climb Mt. St. Francis, including the retreat center, a nursing home, convent, spirituality center, worshiping parish and cemetery. It was just beautiful and the perfect quiet place for me to spend this private retreat portion of my trip.

Colorado Springs is the site of the Air Force Academy, and along the freeway coming into the city from the north sits the football stadium in a very scenic setting. You may notice at the top of the picture a yellow airplane and a white glider. During the day, these two were constantly buzzing overhead, training for pilots at the academy. Since there is 300 days of sunshine per year, this is the perfect setting for this kind of training.


I visited the Garden of the Gods, a wonderful park featuring interesting outcroppings of geological rock formations. It was indeed a unique and stunning place to drive through.

Always present in the western skyline of Colorado Springs is Pike's Peak. I drove the 20 mile road up one day - it is quite an adventure! There are not very many guardrails, and the quick drop and beautiful vistas on the side of the car were almost like a threatening creature pressing in on me. I had to force myself to focus on the middle lines and ignore things to the right of the car in order to make it all the way up. I also took a sweatshirt on the trip for the sole reason of needing it on the peak. Of course, I left it in my room at the retreat center, so I ended up standing in 30 degree weather with blowing wet snow flurries flying around me in shorts and a t-shirt. Fortunately they sell coffee and hot chocolate at the restaurant at the top, and it is also tradition to get a donut there too.

Leg number two was relaxing and contemplative, as well as inspirational as I read Rachel Held Evans' "Searching for Sunday". I love her writing, and her story is one that I fear many in our society has experienced - being pushed out of church because of blanket exclusionary statements proclaimed by pastors and parishioners alike. As a person who was raised as a "super Christian" in an evangelical church, when she became an adult, Rachel struggled mightily with her own personal Bible study, the stances her church wanted her to take, and and understanding of "Grace" that breaks down all barriers between all of us sinful human beings and God. I hope many folks at Clinton Heights will read it and give me their feedback as well!

Peace and blessings!
Pastor Ralph Wolfe

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fourth Worship Time
On Sunday, July 12 I worshiped at St John's Lutheran Church in Thornton, Colorado with my friends The Smith family. They are all very active at St. John's, and love their congregation a great deal! All three of them are going to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit Michigan this week, so it was great timing to be at worship with them. I must admit to getting a little misty eyed when the congregation had a time of blessing for the people going to the gathering. My own daughter, Hannah, with be there with the youth from Clinton Heights and I did not get to see her after her week at Camp Mowana before I left. I thought about how they were doing the exact same thing back at CHLC that same day, and I wasn't there to help see her off. I am sure they will have a great time!
       The first difference I noticed while in the parking lot is that in the field owned by the church live a whole bunch of prairie dogs. They were everywhere! I didn't expect to see that! Upon entering the church building I was greeted by two older folks who welcomed me there. The entrance area isn't too big, but neither is the rest of the building. The sanctuary is very cozy, and instead of pews there are padded wooden seats. If I were to describe this congregation in one word it would be "informal". Pastor Penni was ever present in the sanctuary getting things all set before service, greeting me and asking the ushers to make sure that the air conditioner was on and that she had a glass of water up front. The music was led by piano, played by a 14 year old girl who was filling in for the regular pianist. She did really great on preludes, postludes and interludes, and the hymns were very good as well. If I had one word of encouragement it would have been to pause a second or two between verses, but I am sure she had nerves going as well!
          It was a new setting for communion from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book for me, although I knew the kyrie from trying to introduce it once in Oak Harbor and once at Clinton Heights. I love it, but many people don't because there is a lot of syncopation that is involved. Penni's message on Prophets was really good - she did the children's sermon between the prayer of the day and the scripture, which is a real possibility for me to try out. They also skipped the second lesson, which is not a bad idea either when the pastor does not plan to talk about it during the sermon. The passing of the peace took quite a while as this often does in smaller congregations where people know everybody and value the relationships there. Communion was easy to follow, and there were some goodies after the service in a room adjacent to the gathering area. If there was one thing that kind of stuck out for me it was that the congregation and pastor might have bordered on being a little bit too informal for my taste. I pride myself on having a confident presence in front when I lead worship, and Penni's posture was one that almost seemed like she wasn't into it too much. But that is my own personal preference and experience.
         Really I enjoyed the experience and St. John's is a welcoming, friendly and vibrant (if not small, like Clinton Heights) Lutheran congregation that if doing wonderful ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.
Welcome to Denver!
Last Friday I flew from Columbus to Denver Colorado for the "personal retreat" portion of my sabbatical. Some people have asked what is the purpose of this portion of the sabbatical. I consider it a multi-purpose trip. First it is to spend just a few days alone, not responsible to anyone else. As I write this blog I am in my room at the Mt. Francis Retreat Center in Colorado Springs, where I will be for a few days. During this time I am able to read whenever I want, go for walks or drives or explore some of the beautiful scenery here. Another reason was that I have always wanted to visit the area because of its natural beauty.

Who wouldn't want to spend some time in the mountains with breathtaking views like this one. I must admit, it took a while for me to keep my eyes on the road when I first got on the freeway from the airport with the mountains in the distance! We just aren't used to this.

Later in my journey my friend Pat Woodward is coming out to join me and we are going to explore some of the brewery scene in Denver, Ft. Collins and Boulder. Craft beers has become a bit of a hobby for me and Pat knows his stuff! He is a chemistry professor at Ohio State and is familiar with the science of beer making. He can also plan out a trip itinerary with the best of them!!

I also wanted to visit some great friends from our days in Oak Harbor, Brett and Julie Smith and their family. I began my visit out here with them since Tuesday they leave with their youth group to go to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. It was a real treat to spend time with them, their sons Josh and Ben, and Jerry and Kathy Robertson and their son Adam while here. They kept me busy hiking at the Red Rocks amphitheater, Lookout Mountain and attending a Drum and Bugle Corps show called, "Drums along the Rockies" in Mile High Stadium (Technically it is Sports Authority Field at Mile High, but to me it is always Mile High).
Brett and Julie were such great hosts - their dogs Grady and Duke made me feel better, since I haven't been around good ol' Foxy, our dog, for a few days!

The amazing thing about Red Rocks is that it is not only an awesome outdoor amphitheater which has concerts with Rock's greats, classical artists and even a yearly Easter Sunrise Service, during the day hundreds of people come here to exercise up and down the steps!

On Lookout Mountain is the grave of Buffalo Bill Cody and his wife, Louise. He requested to be buried here. The government complied...then someone put a restaurant and gift shop to make some $!

One of the groups that performed or Drums along the Rockies was, "The Blue Coats" from Canton, Ohio! It was great to see the Buckeye state represented so well. All of the groups did awesome!

When I get more time I will post about my worship experience here at Brett and Julie's church, St John's Lutheran Church in Thornton, Colorado. I will also share about my time here at the Mt. Francis Retreat Center in Colorado Springs. Today I drove past the Air Force Academy and took a few shots, and went to the Garden of the Gods, a beautiful outcropping of red rocks. Tomorrow I plan to go up Pike's Peak! No I am not hiking it!! I can't decide whether I should go by car or cog railroad. The railroad sounds fun, but by car I can stop every once in a while along the road and take pictures. Oh, and play in the snow too! 
Peace and blessings to you all - Pastor Ralph Wolfe

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Preparing for my personal retreat
Tomorrow I will fly to Denver Colorado for ten days, the portion of my sabbatical that I have been looking forward to the most. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed our family trip to Mexico, but being home for the last week has become routine. Between chores around the house, pitching in with chores for neighbors and cooking meals for everyone, I am ready to get away by myself. I am ashamed to admit that my reading has fallen to the wayside for the last week and a half or so. I am ready to get back to the book that I am in the midst of - Falling Upward by Richard Rohr - and get on to more. I am taking this one and two others with me and I am fully intending to finish them all.
Some have asked what I will be doing while in Colorado. Here is a synopsis:
  Friday to Sunday I will be visiting with Brett and Julie Smith, friends of ours from our years in Oak Harbor who now live in Thornton, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. It will be great to see them and have a good time catching up with them and other family members who also live out there, Julie's aunt and uncle Jerry and Kathy Robertson. On Sunday we will worship at their congregation, St John's Lutheran of Thornton.
  Sunday to Wednesday I will be at the Franciscan Retreat Center in Colorado Springs. I have only seen pictures on their website, but it looks like a beautiful place for a personal retreat. I will be reading and enjoying nature on the grounds of the retreat center as well as exploring the area and the beautiful sites like Pike's Peak, Garden of the Gods and others. I will also have to find a place to watch the MLB All Star Game festivities since that will be going on during this time.
   Wednesday to Sunday my friend Pat Woodward will be coming out to join me as we explore the sites of Ft. Collins, Boulder and Denver together. One of the things that Pat and I both share as an interest is craft beers, and we will be going to a number of breweries to experience their hospitality and process for brewing beers.

Getting away from family and home routines is one of those things that I am looking forward to next week. Don't get me wrong, I love my family, but I need this personal time to be away from any responsibilities. What a great way to begin the second half of this time for renewal, revival and rebuilding!
Pastor Ralph Wolfe

Monday, July 6, 2015

Third Worship Time
Yesterday, July 5, Hannah, Lucy and I met our friends the Roush's at the church that they attend, "Our Lady of Victory" - a Roman Catholic Church in Marblecliffe - one of the "Tri-villages" with Upper Arlington and Grandview Heights. Our Lady of Victory is a lovely stone building, very welcoming and warm. Not like a lot of huge Catholic churches, this one was a little smaller. I know one of the priests that is that, Monsignor Tony Missimi, since he used to serve at Immaculate Conception, right around the corner from Clinton Heights on N. Broadway. Our friends had told him that we were hoping to worship there and that I am on my sabbatical this summer, and Tony went out of his way to welcome us.
When we arrived, we were looking for the Roush's red van. Lucy didn't want to go in before we spotted them, so we waited until about five minutes before mass was to start before we entered. It turned out that they were already there, sitting toward the front and looking for us. We squeezed into a pew that was a row behind a large stone pillar, which was my view for the duration of mass.
It was a typical Catholic mass, which I have experienced numerous times and was very comfortable with. I thought it was funny that the Gospel for the day was about Jesus returning to his hometown in Mark's Gospel, a place where he could do no miracles and whose people questioned him about his ability to preach. The line, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown" comes from this passage. Also in the passage is the line about Jesus' sisters being present. I was wondering if Mnsr. Missimi might touch on that point, since the official RC teaching is that Mary remained a virgin her whole life, and this is one of those passages that seems to dispute that belief. He didn't though.
Instead it was a rather patriotic sermon, being that it was Independence Day Weekend and all. His theme focused on how being a Christian matches up with our three-fold rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as was laid out by our founding fathers. Not too challenging, but a nice holiday message none-the-less.
We did not go up for Communion, wanting to respect the local customs and not put anyone in an awkward position. We really didn't talk with anyone else besides the Roush's and Tony. The passing of the peace was quick and not too sincere - much unlike Lord of Life last week where it took a good five minutes for everyone to greet others around them, and a few pews back, and a few pews forward, etc!
Later in the day I took Hannah to Camp Mowana for her week there with Iris Woodward. Pat and I took the girls and made a few stops on the way home to explore some places we have either been to or wanted to go to. We also talked about plans for when he comes out to join me in the Denver area next week. I am really looking forward to that leg of the sabbatical.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Second Worship Time
On Sunday, June 28, we worshiped at the closest ELCA congregation to our house, Lord of Life Lutheran Church on 161 in northwest Columbus/southern Worthington. We decided to go to the traditional Lutheran Liturgy at 9:00 a.m. instead of the 11:00 contemporary service because we wanted to get on to our day and I am a traditional Lutheran liturgy lover. We chose this congregation on this day because I knew that Pastor Jim Wilson is going on his sabbatical on Wednesday of this week so this is his last Sunday to preach for four months. He is an excellent preacher and I wanted to hear him before he took his sabbath journey.
We found a close parking spot in the parking lot even though there was not a lot of signage. I have been to Lord of Life many times, so I knew where I was going. We went into the correct door, and people were gathering and talking in the Narthex area, which is large and welcoming. There was no one identified to welcome us or other visitors, but as I said, I knew my way around so I found Jim and we started talking. I grabbed a cup of coffee, was told it was okay to take into the sanctuary, so I took my coffee in. We had our two nieces from Cleveland with us who worship regularly at a Catholic parish, so I knew they would be comfortable in a traditional Lutheran liturgy. They were.
The service was a little over an hour including wonderful liturgy, great preaching on the topic of, "When bad things my neighbor" and Holy Communion. Jim shared his own nervousness when he meets a beggar, challenging us to own up to our own nervousness. He then preached on the assigned Revised Common Lectionary text where Jesus is on his way to Jairus' house  to heal his q2 year old daughter and a woman with a 12 year hemorhage touches his cloak - begs for his attention - and he heals her before going on to not only heal Jairus' daughter (one who is privileged in their society) but by the time he gets on his way, he raises her from the dead. It was a message filled with grace and law, both to comfort us with the promise of God love through Jesus Christ and to call us to live out that love in our lives. A better message at half the time of last week's sermon!
After worship we talked with a few people, the most welcoming of which was a pastor's wife who noticed us and wanted to welcome us. We left and speaking personally, I was uplifted with the love of Christ!
Although Jim's preaching is something I cannot promise I can attain to, the service was done well musically and liturgically and I think that Clinton Heights is very comparable to theirs.
Thank you Jim and Lord of Life Lutheran for welcoming us with the love of Christ!

Friday, June 26, 2015


Well, I have read more in the last month that I have in the last year - three and a half books, to be precise. It may not have been more than I have read total, because I read things when I am in the office from the Lutheran magazine and other publications as well as commentaries on the weekly scriptures, etc. But I have read three and a half books since my sabbatical has started, and I have enjoyed them all.
      It all began with the theme book for my sabbatical, "Rebuilt". As I made my way through it, I discovered that not all of it applied precisely to Clinton Heights Lutheran Church, but it applies well enough to help us think critically about where were are going as a community of Christ. I hope that my congregation's leadership can learn that a church must consider why we do what we do, not just because we have always done it that way, but because it is valuable in sharing he gospel with people who are lost or hurting.
       John Ortberg's book on "Soulkeeping" was a wonderful personal reflection on making spirituality a priority in life, of trying to eliminate the "hurry" from life to experience God's blessing everywhere and not to make the best the way we have been taught to as successful Americans.
      Daid McCoulough's book, "The Wright Brothers" is a masterpiece on the family from Dayton Ohio who dedicated themselves to solving the problem that puzzled humanity until the early 1900's. Orville and Wilbur had a sister, Katherine, who was just as dedicated to solving this problem as they were. McColough paints a marvelous picture of the years 1899 - 1910, which were formative in the aeronatic birth of our world. The Wrights were not done when they first flew at Kitty Hawk- their battle continued until Wilbur successfully showed the crowds at Le Mans, France and Orville at Camp Myers in Virginia, that flight was not only possible, but that their machines could move through the air with the greatest of ease! What a book it was!
       I am half-way through the book, "Falling Upward" which is a nice devotional book by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr. I will share more about this book later, but suffice it to say that it is a formative book for me as it speaks to the "second half of life" when success and striving after those things like wealth and fame as over, and we settle into the parts of life that are more important, like experience and relationships, etc.
      I must make one final comment today as this is the day when the Supreme Court decided that marriage between people of the same gender is allowed under the law. YAY! I am so happy and I hope that my congregation will join me in celebrating this landmark decision. I am not willing to perform ceremonies without the approval of my congregation, but I plan to encourage Clinton Heights to joyfully agree to perform weddings between all genders in the future. Thanks be to God that the love that our people have for each other can be made valid through this rite of marriage!
Peace, Pastor Ralph