Tag Archives: bethany lutheran church

Sara Groves


Last summer, Immanuel Medical Center Auxiliary Coordinator, Barb Glendenning, sent an email to the staff at Bethany Lutheran Church in Elkhorn, wondering whether the church would like to partner with Immanuel to host a concert in celebration of the hospital’s 125th year of service to the community.  The idea was to feed the spirits of those who fill the many roles required in an organization dedicated to healing, to connect with the Bethany faith family in our common Lutheran heritage, and to welcome the wider community into an evening of grace and blessing.  I was privileged to serve as the facilitator between Bethany and Immanuel.  The artists selected to perform were Sara Groves, with special guest Eric Peters.  Both are long-time favorites of mine, making promotion and oversight of day of show details an honor and a joy.  Experienced and loving team leaders, staff and volunteers from Bethany, combined with enthusiastic and incredibly competent volunteers from Immanuel, made for one of the most stress-free and enjoyable concerts I’ve ever coordinated.  The list of people to whom gratitude is due is very long, but special thanks go to Barb Glendenning, Bob Copple (Immanuel Campus Operations Leader), and Kathy Treu (Immanuel volunteer coordinator), to the Bethany staff (I love you people), and to Cindy Kasten and Helen Ohm for a very long day of delicious made-from-scratch catering; also to Melissa Landholm for giving several hours of her time to pamper the artists.  That’s the tip of the iceberg, but to each of you who helped, my heartfelt thanks.  I know who you are.

Now a few words about the artists.  Today, Sara.  Tomorrow, Eric.

Sara Groves

I became a fan of Sara Groves about 10 years ago, when I found her album “All Right Here”.  I loved three specific things about her music:  First, the beauty of her voice.  It has a texture and tone that is somehow especially pleasing to my ear.  And she sings in keys that I can comfortably sing along with in the privacy of my car as I’m driving around.  Love that.  ♥ Second, she plays the piano. That instrument and the people who play it well hold a special place in my heart.  And third, she is a fellow word nerd.  Her lyrics reflect both her fondness for a well-turned phrase and her mastery at creating them.  Her songs have always invited me to imagine the bigger story behind them, and encouraged me to find my own place in that story.

I first met Sara and her family when she toured with Andrew Peterson’s Christmas tour in 2007.  Bethany had already booked the show when she was announced as the special guest for that year.  What a delightful bonus.  She played again at Bethany when she and her husband, Troy, teamed up with Charlie Peacock, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken and Brandon Heath in the fall of 2008 for the Art*Music*Justice tour, benefitting International Justice Mission and Food for the Hungry.  This is the little girl our family has sponsored ever since:

Marie Rose lives in the village of Gisanga in Rwanda — a village where the Groves’ long-term partnership continues to change lives for the better.

Which brings me to the bigger reasons why I am an unabashed Sara Groves fan girl.  Not only is she a skillful teller of stories, but she is also someone who re-writes the stories of the broken and the powerless. She continues to support the work of IJM in freeing slaves and rescuing young children from the sex trade around the world.  She plays concerts in prison, reminding society’s outcasts of their intrinsic value to God.  She and Troy also played an important role of encouragement in the life of at least one musician I know who was on the verge of giving up his art entirely.  Which would have been a tragedy.  And they have now founded Art House North – “a creative community established for the purpose of common good”.  I can hardly wait to see what grows from the seeds they are busy planting.

On top of all this, Sara and Troy are parents to three great kids, who they are raising to have the kind of hearts that will also change the world for the better.

I hold the Groves family in the highest regard, and count it a great blessing in my life each time our paths cross.

If you need some of Sara’s music, visit her online at www.saragroves.com.

Photo credits: Martha Kennebeck


Jason Gray


This is Jason Gray.

Jason Gray

On February 19 , 2012, he blessed my faith community and our guests with his words and his music.  We’re still talking about it, and I suspect we will be for quite a while yet.

I want to share with you a few of the things I’ve heard  this past week:

“Jason changed my way of thinking.”

“… we truly felt ministered to instead of performed for. Performances can be good and entertaining, but when they’re an end in themselves then they’re quite temporal! What’s done in the Spirit, to the glory of God, for the building up of the saints, is eternal.”

“We need more of this kind of thing.”

“I would’ve never associated the word “lovely” with “loser” until I heard Jason Gray’s song “Blessed Be” at last Sunday’s concert.”

“Such an inspiring man that God has blessed our world with. If you don’t know his music, or story, you need to. “

“Thank you so much my dear friend for bringing Jason Gray into my life and our church. He is an amazing man who loves the Lord with all his heart, mind and soul. What a great lesson he brought to us from his life and his speech disability. Loved him!!!”

“Thank you so much Jason for your message of hope for all!”

“Jason Gray was amazing last night. What an amazing way to experience the Gospel.”

It was a Kingdom-building kind of night, in which Grace and Love were named, claimed, and celebrated, and the ripples continue to wash over and around us.

The first time I heard Jason play live was during a season of turmoil and anguish within my faith family. My community was badly broken, and many relationships had been severely damaged.  I couldn’t imagine the estrangement ever ending.

That night, Jason shared a quote by Frederick Buechner:

“But the worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well… “

I clung to that idea that the worst isn’t the last thing, and though my head believed it, my heart wasn’t so sure it could be true.

Some years have now passed (years!),  and  I have lived long enough to see that the end of a chapter, no matter how dark and bleak, isn’t the end of the story.  One day everything sad, every last sadness, will come untrue.  And if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we will see bits of the Kingdom restored and repaired during our lifetimes, even as we see it broken and torn.  As Christians, we know how the story finally ends.  So while we grieve what is broken, we live in the hope of what is being restored, and in the certainty that in the end, nothing has been wasted.

Daily, I am watching the Lord work miracles in my community.  Forgiveness and healing are taking root, and we are finding the courage to run the risk of fearlessly loving once again.

Lord, continue to remind us who we are, and help us to live out of that identity.  Thank you for using Jason to speak and sing your peace over us.  Amen.


A Slugs and Bugs Christmas

Randall Goodgame and the children of Bethany

Slugs and Bugs 2011

Last weekend, nearly 60 children joined Randall Goodgame in presenting a Slugs and Bugs Christmas to an audience of 467 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Elkhorn, Nebraska.  Afterward, children, parents and grandparents shared cookies, made crafts and rejoiced in celebrating the birth of Jesus with one another.  It was one sweet festival.  If you have ever (or never) considered hosting such an event, I would encourage you to seriously entertain the notion.  Here are some tips to help you get started.

Step 1.  Talk to the leadership at your church. If you are reading this, you are probably already a fan of Slugs and Bugs.  Tell your pastors and children’s ministry staff why.  Share some music with them, and direct them to the Slugs & Bugs website.  Help them catch the vision of partnering with Randall to minister to kids and their families.

Step 2.  Book Randall Goodgame.  It’s easy – send an email to randallgoodgame (at) mac (dot) com and let him know the date you are thinking about.  It is helpful to have some alternative dates in mind in case your first choice is not available.  Trust me when I say he will earn every penny of his very reasonable fee. Ways to cover expenses include: collecting an offering at the event, charging admission, asking your church if they have a budget for a children’s Christmas program that can be allocated, asking key supporters to contribute, and selling advertising.

Step 3.  Schedule a dress rehearsal. Coordinate with the children’s music director, sound and light technicians, facilities manager, and adult music director.  (And of course, with Randall.  It’s kind of important for him to be there.) The contract and rider that you sign when you book will spell out technical requirements, so you will know exactly what you need to provide.  You can always talk to Randall’s management about those things if you have questions.

Step 4.  Rehearse the drama and music. Randall provides the script, a stage plot and list of props to gather, a songbook with written sheet music, and recorded tracks with and without vocals.  We began weekly rehearsals 6 weeks in advance.  We asked a family with a mom, dad, and 3 kids to do the drama.  You don’t have to do it that way, but it gave that family an opportunity to spend time together focused on the reason for the season, and they could squeeze in extra practice at home when it fit into their schedule.

Step 5.  Identify Team Leaders.  Try to match people’s skills and passions to the team you are asking them to lead. Teams to form might include: Marketing, Crafts, Cookies, Merchandise, Artist Hospitality, and Welcome Team/Offering/Ticket Takers. Love your team leaders well. Help them find volunteers, and plan to spend time discussing details with them, especially if they are new to their role. Clearly spell out your expectations, but empower your leaders to make decisions about their area of responsibility. Your job is to be their champion, not their micro manager.  Make sure they have everything they need to succeed and let them know how appreciated they are.

We had a cookies and Slugs and Bugs themed crafts celebration after the presentation.  (More about that in my next post.)

Step 6. Invite people.  Put up posters at church, on community bulletin boards, at local Christian bookstores and places where children are found – daycares, dance classes, libraries.  Create a Facebook event and invite your friends. Ask your pastors to make announcements after worship. Include details in church publications and on the church web site. Word of mouth is very powerful, so talk about the event whenever you can.  If the event is free and open to the public, you may even be able to get local radio and television to air Public Service Announcements (PSAs).

Step 7.  Take care of your artist.  Provide a quiet, private space where he can prepare mentally and spiritually before the program begins.  Keep him steadily supplied with healthy food, plenty of water and a few snacks.  Make sure there is water for him on stage.  Serve as an intermediary between him and all staff, volunteers, and guests. Make introductions to key people. Show him where he can meet with the kids prior to the presentation.  Make sure he has what he needs to give his best to your audience.  Randall is no demanding diva, so take it upon yourself to notice subtle clues that he may need a soy gingerbread latte (no whip), stat.  It is harder for an artist to get enough rest and eat properly while on the road than you can imagine. Your kindness in helping him with those things will be much appreciated.  And though it may seem counter-intuitive, provide a hotel room for your artist’s lodging if you possibly can.  You are going to like each other, and it is very hard not to succumb to the mutual desire to connect by staying up too late and talking too long if the artist is staying at your house.  This translates into vocal and physical fatigue, and makes it much harder for him to do his job well.

Step 8.  Pray. Actually, this should be Step 1.  And part of every step thereafter. Plan and prepare to the very best of your ability, then leave it to God to use your efforts as He will.  Lay down all stress and worries about whatever is going to go wrong. Relax, and help everyone else relax too.  Extend grace to the small child who throws down his bells and sticks his bottom lip right out. Recognize the inevitable flubs as part of the charm of a live presentation with children.

Step 9.  Clean up and load out. Never leave a mess behind. Be sure your teams know it is part of their job to clean up and put away after the party.   Know that your artist will be spent in having given all to your audience.  So help him get packed up and loaded out as soon after your event as possible.

Step 10.  Say thank you. To everyone. Many times. Say it by email, in writing and in person. Do it right away, while you are all still basking in the joy of having worked together for the common goal of sharing the truth and beauty of God’s great love with your audience and with each other.

Make sure everyone has such a great time they can’t wait to do it again.

(Photo credits: Martha Kennebeck)