Archive for the ‘The Church’ Category

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Un-sexy churches, the story of Bethany North, and the God of small armies

In Bethany North,God's great love,Leadership,The Church on October 10, 2013 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

 Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.”

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The words above were spoken by pastor and author (of the Message fame) Eugene Peterson.  Truer words have not been spoken, “A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place.”  Often times, the local church isn’t very sexy or exciting, or if it is for a while, it quickly fades.  For Bethany North, we now are turning three years old.  And the rite of passage makes me think back on what we’ve done.  Where we’ve been.  And where we’re going.

We started here in late September 2010- with 110 people and 55 kids.  We had hoped for 30 kids so lets just say from day 1, we’ve seen an abundance of God’s provision through the joy of children.  We stayed in the Richmond Highlands gym for 6 months and found another, larger spot.  We moved into the larger digs at Spartan Gym unsure of next steps- sure of only this one.

Now as we progress, we face new challenges.  How do we remain joyful in our volunteerism?  How do we continue to spread the news that there is a church in Shoreline built on making the invisible God visible?  How do we continue to grow based on the principle that the church is a people and not a building?  How do we deliver on the promise that as we connect and serve we will make Jesus known?  How can we inspire others with the truth that as we participate in the local church and the service in our community, God can continue to transform us?  These are the questions that gnaw at me as the leader of Bethany North.  But though questions persist, make no doubt about it; God is doing wonderful things in and among us.

And the truth, church, is that our best days are ahead.  In the book of Judges, God had raised up a leader named Gideon.  Gideon was facing an enemy army, and after being convinced God was calling him, Gideon exhibited great leadership.  He convinced others.  He cast vision.   He built something powerful.  He recruited an army of thousands to lead Israel into victory over the Midianites, a rival people group threatening Israel’s survival.  The army was 22,000 strong.  It was an army up to the task of facing the Midianites in battle.

But then God did something mind-blowing- He told Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me” (Judges 7:2).  Then the army of 22,000 became 10,000.  Then God separated them further down to 300 men.  God took Gideon’s powerful group of 22,000 and made it His own powerful number of 300.

What?  God wants us to win battles- but do it with smaller armies?  Do it undermanned?  Yes- the God of the bible is a God of small armies.  For real power comes from God’s strength and provision and not merely by growing things on our own.  When we build powerful teams and do powerful things, we’re often mindful of our own accomplishments and not on the provision of God.  But when we’re amazed and surprised that God has taken our humble efforts and blessed them abundantly?  Well, we’re able to be thankful.  We’re able to be humble.  We’re able to be mindful that our strength is in the Lord, not ourselves.

This is good news to me today, and for the last few weeks.  This little nugget is giving me hope.  Often times I’m mindful of feeling overmatched and overwhelmed and I’m aware there is much to do that I’m simply not powerful enough.  And yet, I believe in a God who is more powerful than my own efforts.  So, I’m clinging to the God of Gideon, the same God who came and took flesh as Jesus Christ- who took the incarnational, small army approach to transform the people that followed Him instead setting up an earthly Kingdom or regime.  The God of Gideon, this small army God, repeatedly used broken people to profess that God was alive and well and absolutely determined on redeeming this world.

This is my prayer this week: 
“God, will take my small army and make it powerful for You?
God- we confess- there is much about the future for Bethany North
we can’t figure out.
But we know You can.
Lead us we pray.
We are a small army.
We are broken people.
And we give You thanks for all the goodness and growth
and health we’ve experienced so far.
Its clearly been from Your strength and not our own.
Thank you God- You have been so good to us.”

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Tidepools

In Jesus,The Church,The Journey on September 12, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

“This isn’t the real life, this isn’t the real current.
No the tide went out and left us here, encircled, oxygen slowly running out,
hoping to God this isn’t the end.”

Last weekend was our final weekend at the island place where we run a fishing lodge every summer. We closed down the fishing operations on Friday and on Saturday morning, the entire property began to be transformed into a wedding venue.  In 29 years of working at the fishing lodge, we had never hosted a wedding until this weekend.  Former employees met at the lodge, fell in love while working here, and spent seven summers working alongside each other.  When they set their wedding date they asked if they could be married right out front with the ocean in view- and they asked me to marry them.  It was a magical weekend, a time to blend some of my different roles I play in the summer:  fisherman, father, pastor, friend.  It was an honor to perform a Christian wedding ceremony on an island that has almost 800 residents, and only a few dozen go to church.  In many ways this island is a non-religious environment, so it was a privilege to perform a wedding ceremony and preach about how Christ’s spirit empowers our relationships and takes 2 individual lives and transforms them into a 3-stranded cord.

On Saturday night the wedding party and 150 of their closest friends met for a salmon bar-b-que on the rugged north shore of Malcolm Island at Bere Point.  There was a huge beach fire and a bunch of outdoor games set out and beer and wine and 6 different bar-b-ques, cooking nearly 20 salmon, each almost 20 pounds and flavored in a variety of flavors.  The sun hung in the late afternoon sky over the still snow capped Coastal Mountain range, the air was warm with early September temps, and the tide was falling.  On the beach a huge tide pool had collected midway down the sloping shore and the kids and I headed down to check it out.

We waded into the pool and as we slowed down and looked, the vitality of the tide pool became evident.  “Papa!” my oldest screamed, “A sea anemone!”  And she was right, down close to the rocks was an anemone, a bunch of them.  Then there were starfish, hermit crabs, eels, and clams.  And if we were really still, small fish started to dart around the water.  The tide pool was teeming with life.  All housed in a natural fish tank no larger than 20’ across.  It looked so healthy.  As the kids continued to discover and play, I stood back and looked out at the ocean behind me and the recessing tide, just 20 feet away.  The water of Queen Charlotte Strait is huge, in places going down over 1000 feet.  I looked miles and miles across the Strait, from the island we were on, over to mainland British Columbia, to Wells Passage and Fife Sound.  I could see the huge Numas Islands, wild and undiscovered, which lie in the middle of QC Strait.  The water is powerful here, very powerful.  These are big waters, where Orcas travel back and forth and 4 other species of whales inhabit.  It is also the thoroughfare for millions and millions of salmon which travel down each summer, from their winter homes in the North Pacific to their eventual resting place in their river of origin somewhere south of us.  The currents in these waters can literally reshape land, as certain gravel points like Lizard Point get shaped each winter by the power of surging tides and powerful winds.  Some days we get almost 20 feet of changing tides, all of which makes the Inside Passage water flow at a ridiculously powerful rate.  This water has real power.  These are the same waters housed in this small tide pool at my feet, and though there is life in small measure in this tide pool, it simply cannot compare with the real water of the ocean.

There is such a difference between the water of this small tide pool and the mighty waters behind me.  I was thinking about this and reflecting why on an island of 800, just a few dozen people go to church.  At times I wonder if some of us in the Christian church have become pacified living in a tide pool of sorts.  We draw up big walls around us and tell most of the world they don’t fit into our brand or style of faith and then we make a home amidst the small pool.  We see a few fish or sea creatures and tell ourselves that life is healthy, that there are small victories to celebrate, and that the world just doesn’t understand how good we have it here in our tide pool.  All the while, the real power of the ocean’s currents has left us, receding further down the beach.  And the oxygen level in our water is literally expiring until the current comes back.

In the gospel accounts of Jesus, He often railed against institutions, in exchange for personal interactions with people.  And it was always His presence that brought real life.  Jesus wasn’t concerned with starting movements or revolutions, we wanted simply to indwell His followers.  “Come to ME,” Jesus said again and again, and I will give you rest…And I will give you living water…And I will give you life.”  The real current exists in and through a friendship with Jesus.  This is the real current we need to tap into day after day after day.  Jesus spent His 3 years of public ministry healing others, loving those on the margins, and espousing a different life than public and shallow religious services of His day.  “Follow me!  Come to me!  Seek me and find Me!”  These were His most important commands.

And in Jesus’ final days alive in Jerusalem, He didn’t climb on top of the Wailing Wall or the Temple to make speeches to the masses, He wanted to make sure His 12 best friends understood His message perfectly.  So He washed their feet so they would remember to serve others.  He served them bread and wine so they would remember that He would always sustain them.  And then He died for them, so they would always know they were forgiven.  This was Jesus final message in all 4 gospel accounts before He died: serve others, remember Me, for you are forgiven.

A poem fragment from the beach:

“This isn’t the real life, this isn’t the real current.
No the tide went out and left us here,
encircled,
oxygen slowly running out,
hoping to God this isn’t the end.”

This is a tide pool- and time will run out.
Time will run out.

When will the current come back Lord?
When will you return?

It feels so normal here and yet not at all….

So and we wait…
So we wait.”

May you feel the real current of Jesus encircling you.  May you have the courage to seek Him.  May you find Him.  And may you never confuse the warm and oxygen deprived water of the tide pool with the transformative and energized water of a relationship alive with Christ.  He is the real current.  In Him is real life.

“Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the King.”
-1 Peter 2:17

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Something in the water

In Bethany North,Practicing Solitude,The Church,The Journey on June 13, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: ,

Greetings friends- sorry for the delay- In the last week I left Seattle to set up the fishing business on the Inside Passage of Canada that I’ve helped manage for the last 8 years.  With 3:30am start times and hours lasting long into the evening, the blog has suffered a bit.  I promise to be better about blogging a few times a week throughout the summer.  As taxing as the long hours are when we’re up here running the fishing lodge, there is a beauty and clarity and simplicity to life up here that is quite refreshing and creativity flows.  I’m hoping the blog bears some of that fruit this summer.

When I left Seattle 8 days ago, we had just finished our second annual beach baptism.  This is quickly becoming a tradition at the church I pastor, where early in the summer we head down to Richmond Beach Saltwater Park after church and have a baptism in Puget Sound.  Over 100 people gathered last Sunday in a semi-circle at the water’s edge of the Sound, to witness and celebrate the baptisms of 3 Bethany North attenders.  Each person being baptized stepped up and shared their “anchor” verse, that favorite verse of the bible that you can always return to time and time again no matter what the circumstances, to be reassured of God’s love and acceptance of them.  After sharing their verse, we moved into the frigid waters of the Sound and asked two simple questions:
1.  Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
2. Is it your intention to follow Him all of your days?

With their resounding “yes” still hanging in the air, worship director Ben Koole and myself dunked each one of them.  As they came out of water, they were celebrating with us that sacred promise of baptism that we are dead to sin, alive with Christ.  It was powerful, both for those being baptized and for the church community that had gathered to celebrate together.  Baptism is such a wonderful signifier that though we say “yes” to Christ, He has loved and created us first.  And that means baptism is a free gift, the indwelling of the spirit, and we merely get to partake in the gift.

I woke the next morning at 2:30 and after a quick shower was on the road for my work at the fishing business.  By noon I was in Canada putting boats in the water, bound for the powerful waters of Northwestern Vancouver Island.  We had arranged  a few days fishing on the open ocean with some of our staff that volunteer each year to prepare the lodge for the start of the season.  We launched boats in the tiny town of Coal Harbour and then ran west through Quatsino Sound bound for Winter Harbour.  We hit the dock of the old cannery we were staying in by 4 pm and after quickly unpacking the boats, a few of us went fishing behind.  We trolled behind Kains Island, with a 4 foot swell surging on the rocks below one of the last manned lighthouses on the coast of BC.  The sun was shining, the rods trolled anxiously for the first bite, and the grandeur of nature was everywhere.  How strange it was, to be trolling for salmon without another boat within miles after having been at the baptism ceremony just 24 hours before.  And then it hit me: Fishing is much like the Christian Faith.  And here’s how…

1.There is power in the water:
Normally most of our fishing happens on the tranquil waters of the Inside Passage that experiences virtually no ocean swell and little wind disturbance.  But on this day, off the western coast of Van Isle near Kains Island, the water was surging and rolling and moving beyond belief.  The next day we almost couldn’t get out fishing with seas coming up to almost 12 feet by mid morning.  When you fish on the open water, you are aware of the infinite power of water.  In fact, 4 anglers had died not far from Kains Island just last summer when their boat flipped.  Water is powerful.  And when I thought back on the baptism service, and the look on the face of each person as they came up from Puget Sound, it was also true- there is real power in the washing water of baptism.  When we follow Christ, we are saying there is a real power to the spiritual life that we cannot control or govern but we submit to it.  The water, symbolizing the new life of Christ, washes over everything and makes all things new.  There is real power in the water of the spirit.
2. Change is constant: 

On the coast of BC, if you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes and it will change.  When you are out fishing, you literally are watching weather patterns that are still 20 or 30 miles out come at you and you can go from sunny and 60 to rainy and 48 inside of an hour.  Things are always changing.  The tide is always either rising or falling and wind is increasing or abating.  Literally, change is everywhere.  That is one of the things I love about fishing.
Why is it as a Christian church that we have sworn off change?  Why are we so scared of reacting in new ways to God’s revelation?  People are so scared to change how we have always done things as Christians, how we have always taught things, how we have always read things.  Isn’t the Spirit of God alive?  Isn’t Jesus called the Living Word?  Truthfully, some want to put the Christian faith into a museum or academic library.  I say lets make it more like fishing.  Just as in baptism we submit to the spirit and say that God is working here in strange and powerful ways that we do not understand, we are bound to follow.  I want my faith to be like that- just like the changing currents of the ocean.  Though the tides are always moving, they follow the Moon, they don’t change alone.  There is a rhythm and beauty to their change- it isn’t chaos.  If Christ is our “moon”- will we be bold enough to follow?

3. This has to be fun:
Though the seas were rough, and fishing was unpredictable, we had a great 2 days out fishing.  I love to fish…and therefore I go fishing.  Sounds simple right?  I continue to seek out opportunities to fish because it is so life giving, it makes me laugh out loud when a huge salmon is screaming out line on my reel.  On the first full day of our fishing, my buddy Geoff and I limited out on salmon, halibut, ling cod and yellow eye rockfish- in 1 day!  It was hilarious!

Is our faith in God fun anymore?  Does it make us laugh out loud at things?  Does it make us feel joyful?  Do we long to gather for worship?  Do we count the days till the next time we get to spend time with God in a meaningful way?  Faith in God is meant to be fun and lifegiving and enriching and something that we want to do.  Not a benign set of rules or dogmatic principles to follow.  A joyful dance with the creator of the universe.  Baptism, and fishing, both testify to the fact that God is at work in the world.  Our job is to joyfully follow.

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Why Go to Church #2

In Bethany North,The Church on April 12, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

I was just coming off the glow of Easter on Monday when I happened by the cover of Newsweek magazine with this as its cover:  “Forget the Church- Follow Jesus” by Andrew Sullivan.

Always one to cash in on the Easter/Christmas magazine bump if they put a Christian theme/controversy on the front page, the left leaning Newsweek didn’t miss a beat.  Interestingly enough Newsweek didn’t ask a scholar or even a leading voice in one of the theological debates now roiling….instead they put the opinion piece of a progressive social commenter and political activist: Andrew Sullivan.

You should read the piece, found here, when you have a chance.  It’s a good article.  An interesting take on the Jesus behind the Christian movement, as evidenced by Thomas Jefferson’s ill fated “Jesus only” bible at the time this country was founded or Francis of Assisi’s breakaway from the conventional Catholic faith to begin his Franciscan aesthetic way.  I’m not arguing with Sullivan for a # of reasons.

#1 If I proceed to punch holes in his argument, which basically indicts Christians of fighting all the wrong wars and thus missing out on the real Jesus, I’m fueling his actual argument…it’s a classic double bind.

#2 There is much that Sullivan says that I actually agree with

#3  I believe as Christians we should be known more for what we stand FOR than what we rail against.  So a guy gets Jesus on the cover of Newsweek?  This is a net win for Christ, right?  Why argue with him?

Sullivan’s perspective is fresh and I too think we’ve missed out on the authentic life of Jesus as we protect the conventions around the Christian faith.  However, a deep flaw in Sullivan’s article is one worth noting and actually reminded me of my last post about “Why Go To Church.”  If I grab my scissors and start cutting, who is really my God?  Is it Jesus I seek to know.. or my own beliefs, biases, prejudices and shortcomings?  If I go to Jesus and seek the parts that make sense to me, I’m reinforcing my own pride and sense of GOD in myself instead of being remade and reformed and renewed by Him.

Have we lost sight of Jesus?  Yes in many ways the Christian church gives Jesus about the same “mic time” as other political and theological points and counterpoints.  This isn’t right.   Brian McLaren wrote about this a bit in his theologically challenged A New Kind of Christianity.  The graph to the right is hard to read but you get the idea…McLaren argued (rightly) that the church doesn’t always look directly at Jesus, who the writer of Hebrews tells us should be the “author and perfecter” of our faith.  Instead McLaren argues, the church has been a series of filters or distillations of Jesus…from Jesus to Paul to Augustine to Aquinas, etc.  Each century we build theology and doctrine based on the chronological progression of the church, instead of stripping off the dogma and pomp and circumstance and returning to Jesus.   McLaren is right about that, but McLaren seeks to rock the boat so much that eventually he loses much Christian substance.  As one of my theology professors once said, “Trying to nail down McLaren to what truth actually is would be like trying to nail a jelly fish onto a wall.  It is impossible.”

So get back to Jesus, skip the church and the dogma, and we’re all set, right?  Wrong.  Like Jefferson with his pair of scissors, if we reduce Christ’s message to a “me and Jesus” theme we actually miss Christ’s teaching on the value of community and togetherness.  “Where two or more are gathered,” Jesus says, “There I am with you.”  Why?  Because alone we don’t have the strength of others, we don’t have the accountability, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have vulnerability and confession.  No- Jesus wants us to do life together.  He wants us to do faith together.  And though the church is flawed (see my last post), we are called to gather and learn from one another and seek Jesus….together.

Doesn’t matter which church, as long as it is a spirit filled Christian church.  Though the church is deeply flawed, I don’t know a single Christian living a vibrant and overflowing Christian life that isn’t involved in some kind of faith community.  Maybe you do but I would guess it is a rarity.  We need one another.  The call to Christ is a call to community.  So step out, step in somewhere, be prepared for a bunch of inadequate and fallen people.  But in each other’s fallenness in your local church, in time you will see Jesus in one another.  Keep showing up…its worth it.

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Why go to church?

In Bethany North,The Church on April 7, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

“Just because a 5th grade orchestra butchers Beethoven’s 9th symphony doesn’t mean that Beethoven isn’t a genius and that someone, somewhere might actually be able to play his score beautifully and do him justice.”


Tomorrow we gather in churches around the world for Easter.  People will don their Easter suits, children will pull out their Easter bonnets with chocolate egg induced joy still pulsing through their veins, and the tradition of Easter will begin.  For many people, church is something they do twice a year, on Christmas and Easter, as a way of gathering with their family or paying respect to a tradition.  But though our churches will flood with people tomorrow, many people have already given up on the church.  Why?  Often for good reason.

The church, either locally or globally, has let them down.  The church promised an easier road or a safer salvation and when life proved too difficult or treacherous or challenging, the way of the church proved false.  Or perhaps the church, locally or globally, became a place of judgment or condemnation or exclusion rather than of joy and embrace and togetherness.  Or the church just lots its meaning, becoming a place of tradition and rhetoric and stuffy rules, more like the King County Library than a rock concert, and when the life left the building people mentally or physically checked out.  To you, those disenfranchised or disappointed with church, let me tell you, you are not alone.

There is a tremendous article floating the web now called “Why I Quit the Church”- it’s worth a read.  The writer, a pastor’s kid, left the church because all he saw was condemnation and hatred instead of transformation and hope.

Call me crazy, but I still believe in the church.  I still believe that we can gather as broken people made whole by Christ’s great love, which we celebrated with his sacrifice at Good Friday services.  I still believe that gathering together makes us stronger, gives us a footing in a shifting-sands world, and allows us to be known by other seekers.  The writer of the article quotes the old adage, “not all who wander are lost.”  The church, when it is at its finest, is a collection of people who are still wandering, still journeying, still exploring what it means to be a Christ follower.  The church isn’t a collection of people without problems or without challenges, but rather imbued with the saving work of Jesus Christ in their back pocket, we get another chance to love others, to serve others, and to make Jesus known.

I hope you go to church tomorrow for Easter, and that you can find a local body of worship that fits your own worship and liturgical tastes and desires.  I hope this body is a people gathered in the name of Jesus to proclaim His love and forgiveness and that collectively, the body you worship with is a group marked by His joy and transformation.  Not sure about the church anymore?  Just because our local churches often sound like 5th grade orchestras, please know that God has written a beautiful symphony to this life.  Seek Him, and find a place where you can go and get good teaching and meet other pilgrims on the journey.

And if you’re in North King or South Snohomish County tomorrow, we’d love to see you at Bethany North.  We worship at 10…join us for Easter.  And perhaps come back the next week so we can start getting to know each other.

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Drop the Mask

In Bethany North,Jesus,Struggles with faith,The Church,The Journey on April 2, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

I had the chance to preach at Bethany North on Sunday about Psalm 32 and the power of vulnerability.  Click the link if you want a refresher on the Psalm a powerful word from David on the value of confessing our sin.  David said when he didn’t confess, his sin was literally eating at his bones and causing him to waste away.  But as he acknowledged his sin, and didn’t hide, and confessed his failures, he found forgiveness with God.  And this forgiveness lead to great joy.  Read it – it’s all there in the Psalm.

God’s desire is for us to be real and authentic, and not hide our pains and failures from one another and form him.  When Jesus when He was on earth, He was always empathetic to people who realized their failings and their humanity (woman at the well, thief on the cross, woman caught in adultery, etc).  Jesus had no patience for people who wore masks, especially those who wore religious masks hiding the real them behind the religious veneer of pretending everything was fine.

If you want to be known by God, you have to allow Him to see you as you really are.  You need to confess.  And if you want to be known by others- same rules apply.  You must be real and let others in.  Being a mask wearing culture, and a mask wearing church, isn’t getting us anywhere.

Brene Brown (in her Ted talk on vulnerability below) said that shame is the fear of disconnection and that the people who learn to be vulnerable and ask forgiveness become “wholehearted people” who have authentic relationships.  If we’re not careful, we become mask wearers to our friends, and our family, to our God, and eventually to ourselves.  And as a church, we must learn from the mistake we’ve made that allows this “mask wearing” for too long.  The danger is that if a church is made up of people who are always just “fine” and never vulnerable with one another (a.k.a. mask wearers), then when someone struggles or messes up or has a problem, they will never come back to church.  They can’t- because the church is full of people (so they think) that have no problems!  This is a real problem.

The hope as children of God and as God’s church is that we can move into God’s fullness when we aren’t enslaved by our past mistakes.  Our call is to be real, and be vulnerable, and drop the masks we wear the the world and wear to God, hiding ourself behind the facade.  God wants us to be real…so that he can renew and regenerate us through the fullness of His good news.  If you have time- watch this TED talk on vulnerability.

Powerful stuff.  Be real.  Be vulnerable.  The fruit of this labor is joy and a clean heart and lightened load.  It’s a joy I wish you all to share.  God uses humans not when they are perfect or sin free- but God uses humans when they have come clean and dropped the mask and they step fully into God’s big picture.

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Check out this blog

In Spiritual Practices,The Church on March 19, 2012 by scottsund

  A great post on communion from the real writer of our family.

http://bit.ly/FVNofn