Friday, November 28, 2008


About a month ago I invited everyone to keep a Gratitude Journal during a sermon on Sunday morning. A few of you have been busy --- I haven't done as well as I would like, but I know that the days I do it --- it really frames the day.

A few weeks ago, Gloria Banjura from the church shared with me a poem that she wrote in her journal, about things she is thankful for. I asked her for permission to print it here.


Winter brings us cold winds and snow,
But also Christmas trees aglow.
For Jesus Christ came on this earth.
We celebrate his joyful birth.

Spring is shy and comes in late,
For sun and warmth she makes us wait.
Flowers are afraid to stretch and grow,
They may be covered by a late spring snow.

But finally summer does appear.
And what is that strange noise I hear?
Rain! It just goes on and on!
Our years, our cars, our homes are gone.

Then gently, quietly, fall floats in.
With sunshine, warm breezes, so we all begin
To build our lives anew with praise,
Thank God for strength and golden days.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


LARRI (Lakeshore AREA Regional Recovery in Indiana) was official created yesterday at the second meeting of the Long Term Recovery committee. LARRI is the Long Term Recovery organization created to partner with the people of Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties as they seek to restore their homes to a safe, secure and sanitary condition.

At the meeting we adopted the name LARRI, a set of Policies and Procedures, as well as elected officers to a two year term. Elected as Chair: Steven Conger, Pastor of Ridge United Methodist Church in Munster Indiana; Vice Chair: Gary Olund, of Northwest Indiana Community Action Corporation; Secretary: Gordon Johnson, CEO of American Red Cross of Northwest Indiana, and Treasurer: Sharon Kish, Director of Porter County United Way. The seven chairs of the sub committees along with the officers and four at-large members will serve as a steering committee for LARRI.

Also adopted by the organization was a job description for a Director of LARRI (Disaster Coordinator). We are seeking persons who might be interested in this position. Persons interested should contact Steve Conger (219-757-1109) or with a resume before the end of November. The steering committee hopes to have this critical position filled by mid-December.

We also discussed our application to Lilly for funds which is due next week. We have currently received $250,000 from Lilly and are applying for round 2 funding (application due November 21). We will keep you informed on the status of this grant application.

Wendy’s of Northwest Indiana made a presentation to LARRI of $9,100 in gift cards. The money was raised at local restaurants in the weeks since the flood. Thank you Wendy’s for your generous donation.


The clean up phase is almost complete! It was reported that about 30 or so houses still need to be cleaned and those should be done over the next two weekends. We know that houses continue to be identified that need our assistance! Thanks to Kathy and her crew who have worked so hard in assuring that all of the homes in Northwest Indiana are "mucked out", and sanitized!

We are very concerned about homes without heat. The Construction/Volunteer management team is working with Case Management to identify the immediate needs and get working furnaces into those homes that need them.

Dates of future meetings:

Construction/Volunteers — Thursday (11/20), 10 AM, Lake Business Center 9200 Calumet Avenue, Munster.
Contact Dale Fieldhouse:

Publicity — EVERY Thursday, 3:30 PM Porter County United Way.
Contact: Byron Kaiser:

Spiritual and Emotional Care — December 3, 8:30 AM Geminus Corporation. Contact: Sandy Appleby:

Preparedness — December 10, 2 PM Lake Area United Way

LARRI — December 9, 8:30 AM Duneland Conference Center, Portage. Contact: Steve Conger:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Charge Conference

Last night we had our annual "Charge Conference". I put it in quotation marks because it was called a "Charge Conference" but it really wasn't. The "Charge Conference" is a mandated meeting by the United Methodist Book of Discipline to elect officers for the coming year, and adopted the appointed pastors salary. All of that was to have taken place prior to the meeting last night --- so what we were doing was not really a "Charge Conference." What it really took place was a cheer leading session as we move to a new structure that we are calling clusters.

What is a cluster?

In theory it is to be four or more United Methodist Churches that cluster together to share resources and ideas. How this is going to work is anybodies idea. I am not a fan of anything that is mandated from on high. For years I have had a group of clergy friends that get together regularly to support each other (sometimes just bitch and moan). This too is being mandated from on high, but hopefully what we do now will be sufficient to keep people happy.

I think the cluster idea has some real value if: you keep the clergy out of it for the most part, you have a clear sense of what you are wanting to accomplish, and you acknowledge that this is not a permanent reality, instead it is a temporary one that may morph and change over time. Without those, I am afraid at is destined to fail.

Regardless, it will be interesting as we see where this is going to lead us.

If there is anything I have learned in my almost 25 years as a United Methodist pastor is --- don't expect things to stay the same. There will be another new initiative to save the church and the world right around the corner.

New Generation anyone???

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Thoughts from Fred Conger

My father shared these thoughts via e-mail this evening. I hope he doesn't mind that I share them with you.

November 4, 2008

On the Eve of a Great Historic Moment in American History:
The Election of the first non-white man as president of the United States of America.

My great grand father, Philander D. W. Conger was born in the frontier town of Jackson, Tennessee in 1819. He was the mayor of Jackson, an inventor, the owner of a sawmill on the Forked Deer River, and according to family legend, the owner of over fifty slaves. The family was proud of the fact that PDW Conger was so prosperous that he was able to own so many slaves.

As a child growing up in Jackson I was a part of a totally segregated society in which Black people went to separate school, churches, shopped in different stores, drank at “colored” water fountains, sat on “colored” benches in the court square, and could not eat in the restaurants where the “white” folks ate. Black people had their place and had better stay there or suffer the consequences which could include physical harm and in some case even lynching although I never heard of any lynchings in Jackson during my life time. Granted this pattern of segregation and discrimination were worse in the states of the old Confederacy it also existed to some degree in almost every part of the county where there were any sizable number of African American people. I am certain that my grand children are unable to conceive of what Jackson Tennessee was like when I was a child and young person.

Even more deplorable, this pattern of segregation and discrimination was considered to be fair and just by the majority of Southern people I knew, as well as by many people in the North, with many good church people considering this to be a sound biblical teaching that there should be no “mixing of the races”. Anyone who had the courage to challenge this cultural consensus risked being persecuted by the cultural majority. Those who came to seriously disagree with this cultural ethos either kept quiet in order to survive or moved north, as I did when I became a young adult. There was much about the South that I loved then and still do but I left because I did not want to live in a society that discriminated against many of its citizens because of the color of their skins. However, when I arrived on the South side of Chicago in the early sixties, I discovered that prejudice and discrimination, although not as pervasive, were still rampant in Chicago. It was only when the Supreme Court in 1954 ruled that “Separate But Equal Facilities” was unconstitutional and later with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under Lyndon Johnson that this insidious pattern of segregation and discrimination began to change.

On Wednesday night when it become apparent that Barack Obama had been elected president of the United States of America in a decisive vote by the American people, I was overwhelmed with a strong emotion that finally we had become a nation that put into practice what we had declared long ago in our Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

I felt that by casting my vote for the first African American president that I had washed out some of the evil stain of slavery that my Great Grand Father had placed upon the Conger family over a hundred and fifty years ago. There were many other cogent reasons why I voted for Obama but this was the most important for me.

The greatness of America is that each one of us can cast his vote for the candidate of his choice according to the dictates of his own conscience. I affirm and support your right to vote for the candidate of your choice and hope that you do the same for me.

Although John McCain, a true national hero, lost this election his concession speech was a gracious moment when he pledged his support to our new president and called upon all the American people to work together to help solve some of the enormous problems that face our nation. If we want to avoid another deep Depression like the one in l929 that ruined my Father’s life and nearly destroyed our nation, then we had better heed his admonition and set aside those things which divide us, seek to find those things that unite us for the common good, and work together to find our way through this national economic crises regardless of political party or the color of our skins. We are not red or blue states but part of the United States of America.

God bless American, Land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her….”