Monthly News from Pastor Jon

August 2017

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Psalm 150:6

In 1963, Walter “Wally” Hartkopf was called to be the Secretary for Education and Youth at the C-N-H District. He and his family were members of Bethany Lutheran Church, here in Menlo Park. It was also the year I was born and in God’s plan, our lives would soon be intertwined in a way that would shape my ministry forever. Wally was the face of youth ministry in the district when he “recruited” me in 1978. He asked me to serve on a youth task force, then had me appointed as a youth delegate to the LCMS convention in 1979 and 1981, while also getting appointed to the District Youth Committee in 1979. He drove me to meetings until 1982 when he retired from the district (well for the first time, since he never really retired.) Karen and I would meet on that committee in 1983.

My lasting memories of Wally are his desire to share the love of Jesus, his willingness to upset the status quo in order to help people see the love of Jesus, and his strong conviction that young people are NOT the future of the church… young people ARE the church. He not only gave me chances to lead, he cleared the path for me to lead, encouraged me to lead, and mentored me in my leadership. In many ways, Wally was the School of Young Leaders (SOYL) for a different era. Wally helped me understand that we can praise the Lord in many and various ways. He was the grandfather I lost when mine died at age 9, he was the one who would not let me walk away from being a pastor, even when I thought it was not my calling, and he was one of the first people to speak with me when I arrived at Bethany.

When we first began to talk about SOYL I knew it was something that Bethany and I should support because it would follow in the path of the past for Bethany and for me. As much as Wally impacted and led at Bethany, I know that this community also shaped his ministry and his vision for sharing the message of Jesus with all people. When you consider the “young leaders” from Bethany, you have to notice people like Pastor Oswald who started at Bethany in his mid-twenties when Bethany was first organized; Wally, who was always identifying young leaders, and Joel Koerschen who would follow Wally into the district office. Bethany has been a place where young leaders are allowed to lead. My coming to Bethany was no different as the pastor who was youngest to receive the call to Bethany since Pastor Oswald.

SOYL is about encouraging and empowering young people who ALREADY ARE the church, because they “have breath” and “give praise.” The hardest part is letting people assume leadership roles at an early age, because often we feel it implies that we are “losing something.” Yes, in my mid-fifties I prefer not to think about how I might be losing a step here or there. However, I also realize that empowering younger people does not change who I am – but it actually gives me excitement and encourages me to see God at work in the future.

I want to share one more story about how our support of SOYL and how the leadership of the SOYL students led ministry in the weeks they were in the program. In week five the students were at The Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit. Pastor Chris Ng had planned an event with Joy Friends. Joy Friends is a Young Life group which serves young adults, many of whom live at home and some of whom are independent. These are young adults who grew up with government services because they were identified with a developmental disability, but they are 23 or older. Our students were told to expect 10-12 guests and our students decided to make dinner for the night.

Paul came down to Bethany to get money, which V was already fronting for the purchases. When Paul got back to S.F. he was surprised that “there was so much chicken.” One of the students, Vanessa, apologized, but said she wanted to make sure there was enough food for the guests. That night 50 Joy Friends arrived – the largest group that had ever come to Holy Spirit. There was enough food, and students from both groups had a wonderful time. At the end Pastor Chris was very grateful to the SOYL students for helping Holy Spirit grow this outreach in a way that was unexpected. God had provided the increase of participants and our young adults in SOYL had led by “making sure there was plenty of food” and providing a great program.

I saved one thought about that event for this newsletter and did not share it with Paul or the SOYL students. Wally and Ida Hartkopf had a number of children, including Carol who lived with them for their entire lives. Carol was developmentally disabled, although I am sure Wally would have used the term “differently abled.” When I heard that the SOYL students had this wonderful adventure God had provided with “differently abled” young adults from San Francisco, I could not help but think that Wally was smiling down from heaven, seeing that all of us who have breath were praising the Lord in a way he had encouraged and empowered.

God has an amazing way of working in our lives. God empowers young people to lead and to be the church. Thank God for SOYL, for all the people who have supported SOYL and for the fruit of God’s plan, which is evident now.

God’s Peace,
Pastor Jon


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