Jan 17

Updated pictures from Van Orsdel Commons build!

While it’s cold outside, Golden Eagle Construction is making the most of the bad weather by working inside. The old Bridger cottage is beginning to take on a new shape as you can see from the pictures below. Thank you for your support and prayers throughout the fundraising process, and we hope you share in our joy as the project is coming together and moving forward!


Chaplain Chris Haughee

some day soon... the Chaplain's office!

some day soon… the Chaplain’s office!

view looking north, Van Orsdel Commons interior

view looking north, Van Orsdel Commons interior

James Spradlin, managing the project for Intermountain, shares a moment of levity with Chris Hohn, maintenance custodian

James Spradlin, managing the project for Intermountain, shares a moment of levity with Chris Hohn, maintenance custodian

Jan 07

Need a New Year’s resolution? Consider becoming an advocate!

2017 is here, and it’s the season when most of us consider New Year’s resolutions and even the most cynical among us dares to think that with a little will power we might do any number of things: lose weight, eat healthier, watch less TV, get that promotion, or repair damaged relationships. This year, I’d ask you to consider a resolution that will make the world a better place and will give you a sense of purpose in 2017: be an advocate.

An advocate is someone who speaks on behalf of someone or something that they feel strongly about. It’s a willingness to put some “skin in the game,” affecting change in a system, situation, or society through personal effort. It involves speaking out, speaking for, and being there for someone or something outside yourself. It is, ideally, a purely selfless act. It’s also a recognition that, while we can’t do everything, we can do something. And, that something just might make the world brighter, more beautiful, and more full of hope.
So, what should you advocate for? How should you go about becoming an advocate?

I have a few suggestions for you, based on my own experience. I trust that if you follow these guidelines, you’ll find yourself connected to a cause and to a group of people that will help make 2017 an amazing year of fulfillment, hope and promise.

First, examine what you do for most of your waking hours. If it is employment outside the home, what is your line of work? What causes might be connected to your place of employment? If you work in the home, maybe you’ll connect best to a cause that resonates for your passion for raising healthy children or supporting other families? I currently residential-vertical-green-blackwork at Intermountain, an agency dedicated to “caring solutions, strong families, and healthy communities” in Montana since 1909. I am passionate about what I do, so it is easy to advocate for the children and families we serve. If you can find someone or something to advocate for that connects to your vocation, you’ll go a long way towards making that job a calling!

Secondly, consider what issues or personal hardships have you endured. If you are here to celebrate the New Year, you are a survivor! Who helped you along the way? Answering this question can help you find people and organizations that will help you “pay it forward.” For instance, my older brother had Muscular Dystrophy and was helped by both the MDA (Jerry’s Kids) and benefitted from having a wish granted by Make-A-Wish many years ago. So, my act of “paying it forward” is to support MDA and volunteer as a Wish Granter with Montana Make-A-Wish! Bymaw-logo mining your personal history, you are bound to find something you can advocate for, even redeeming something from your past that was difficult or troubling. The great thing is, when you take your past pain and put it into service in the present, you are able to connect with those you are helping in a much more profound and compassionate way. As you have been comforted by God, family and friends, you can comfort others (2 Cor. 1:4).

Lastly, ask around at the groups you participate in to discover new avenues for advocacy. Maybe your Rotary or Lions group is passionate about clean water or education? Maybe that booster club you joined is more than you assumed it was and is doing some great work to help students on and off the field? Communities of faith are great places for advocacy… have you considered getting involved in a cause your church or fellowship is invested in? My home church is Headwaters Covenant Church. We’re a community of believers that is passionate about making a difference in our community, state and world. In January we are observing Human Trafficking Awareness month, culminating on the 26th with an evening of dialogue with Attorney General Tim Fox where we’ll discuss what the church can do to prevent modern day slavery! I’m sure your church or community group is involved in something that you would be excited to advocate for.

So, whether it springs forth from your occupation or vocation, connects to a piece of your personal history, or allows you to connect in a deeper way with your church or community, be an advocate in 2017. You can help our world become a better place and that is a resolution worth making. Happy New Year!


[Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the Helena Independent Record, print edition, Dec 31, 2016]

Dec 30

Happy Hanukkah!

What a blessing it is to partner with Janet Tatz and Jim Nallick, our very knowledgeable and faithful Jewish mentors at Intermountain. Janet had served alongside previous chaplain, Dana Holzer, for a number of years as a volunteer mentor, and then in the last few years as part-time staff. Jim is new to Intermountain’s staff, hiring on as an intermittent staff this year, and he has been an excellent addition to our Chaplain’s Department. Whenever there is a Jewish child on campus that needs instruction and mentoring in their faith, Janet and Jim are there to make sure that the spiritual and cultural needs of that child are met.

Jim, Janet and I also get to work together on joint activities, like the observance of Hanukkah in chapel, an exciting opportunity for all the children. On December 20th, the children were able to learn about the holiday, eat some traditional desserts shared at Hanukkah, sing songs [see “Hanukkah Song Sheet” on resources page], and play dreidel!

Lighting the Hanukkah Candles

Lighting the Hanukkah Candles

Some time ago I had the opportunity to interview Janet, asking her to share a bit about herself and the holiday, so you can have a little snapshot of our experience here in chapel:

Q: Janet, what is the most rewarding part of working with the Jewish children on campus at Intermountain?

A: It is very rewarding to see the Jewish students at Intermountain grow in their understanding of and appreciation for the Jewish traditions, prayers, teachings, holiday celebrations and customs.  Our Jewish faith serves as a medium or bond between the children and their parents and helps reconnect the family in a very positive way.

Q: What can you tell us—those of us who may not know much about the holiday—about Hanukkah and the traditions we shared with the children at Intermountain?

A: Chanukah is an eight day holiday that begins on the 25th day of Kislev, on the Jewish calendar, each year.  We celebrate the victory of a small group of Jews, including the Maccabee family, who fought off the Assyrian-Greeks in a battle that lasted three years ( 168-165 B.C.E.), in order to retain their Jewish identity and practices.  This was the first time, in recorded history, that a people stood up for their rights, and it is a cause to celebrate, even today.

When the Jews returned to their Temple, in Jerusalem, that had been trashed and defiled by the Assyrians, they could only find one small crucible of oil to light the menorah that was lit each day in the Temple.  One of the miracles of the Chanukah story is that this little bit of oil lasted eight days ~ the exact time needed to prepare, purify and bless a new batch of oil.  Accordingly, Chanukah is celebrated by lighting a nine-branched chanukiyah ( candelabra).  Each night, an additional candle is lit, adding more light to the darkening days.

During our Fellowship session, the children heard Chanukah stories, learned a couple of Chanukah songs, played the dreidel ( a spinning top that tells the story of Chanukah) game and enjoyed sufganiyot ( jelly doughnuts) which is also part of the traditional celebration of Chanukah.

Also known as The Festival of Lights, Chanukah is a time to celebrate with family and friends.  It is a joyous holiday.

Q: Do you have a favorite Hanukkah memory you would like to share?

A: I like everything about Chanukah!  The smell of latkes (potato pancakes) cooking on the stove; watching the candles glow in the menorah; singing Chanukah songs; spending time with family and friends.  Chanukah reminds us of the power of hope and faith and is a message that still rings true, after more than 2100 years.  I especially like recognizing that as I light my menorah and say the blessings over the candles here in Helena Montana, Jews around the world are all doing the same thing.

Q: What hopes do you have for the Jewish mentoring and chaplain’s program as we move towards having a permanent chapel space on campus?

A: The Chaplain’s program and, in particular, the Jewish mentoring program, has met in a variety of venues on campus over the years.  After one of the older cottages is “repurposed” we will be able to have a “home of our own” as part of the newly developed multipurpose building that will house the Chaplain’s department. I am excited for the new Van Orsdel Commons and what it will mean for Jewish education on campus!

Dec 22

Do you hear what I hear? The sounds of demolition!

This month Intermountain Residential in Helena begins the demolition phase of old Bridger Cottage into the new Van Orsdel Commons. With guidance by SMA Architects and the expertise of Golden Eagle Construction, the transformation of one of our older residential cottages on the Helena campus has begun in earnest. Van Orsdel Commons will house chapel services, offices for the chaplain and Jewish Educator, and provide unique meeting places designed for children’s spiritual and cultural education.

“The vision for this space is to make it as comfortable and accessible as possible for all the children, staff, and families we serve– regardless of their religious, ethnic or cultural background,” relates Chaplain Chris Haughee. “True to our founding and heritage within the Methodist Deaconess movement, our mission of healing through healthy relationships celebrates the power of restoration available through a relationship with God, while maintaining a posture of humble service and hospitality towards all.” Chaplain Chris Haughee added, “I am excited to be a small part of envisioning a place on campus that will help all our children, staff, and families feel the love, care, and compassion of God.”

Looking over the preliminary plans for the Van Orsdel Commons

Looking over the preliminary plans for the Van Orsdel Commons

Intermountain CEO Jim Fitzgerald is passionately committed to the project, and will jointly manage the project with lead maintenance supervisor, James Spradlin.

Of course, the process of demolition and construction will be done in a manner that maintains Intermountain’s high standards of care, ensuring the protection of the children in our Residential Program. This posture of care will necessitate that we secure the site during construction, but also limit those hours in which work will be done in order to not disturb the educational and therapeutic environment on campus. The entire building and design team is committed to putting the children and their needs first and recognizing the unique setting in which this building project is in.

So… do you hear what I hear? No, not the sound of Christmas bells. It’s the joyous sound of demolition and the cheers of many children, staff and Intermountain supporters! Join us in celebrating the culmination of a decades-long dream of a permanent home for the chaplain’s program within our residential program in Helena, Montana.

Dec 12

It helps to have all the information! – an object lesson for the 4th week of Advent

Riddle-BookObjects needed:

a book of riddles, possibly an ‘object’ that ties into the riddle you choose to read for the children

Theme/Main Idea:

Riddles are fun—or “work”—because they use assumptions we make about things and turn them on their heads. Maybe it’s a word or phrase that has a double-meaning, but once we know the answer to the riddle it all makes sense. Before then, without all the information, it might confound us. Joseph was ready to “dismiss Mary quietly” when he heard she was pregnant… then he got all the information and the riddle was solved!


“Good morning boys and girls. I have something fun for us today, and maybe a little different. Would you like to see what my object lesson is today?

[kids respond, “Yes!” and then maybe are disappointed when they see it’s a book…]

Some of you don’t look too impressed. But this book can be a lot of fun, because it has riddles in it. Do you know what riddles are?

[children respond… some may even have a riddle to teach you!]

Yes, they are fun and puzzling questions that are hard to answer at first because the answer is unexpected. Here’s one of my favorites… [if you don’t have a book of riddles or a favorite one you’d like to use, I’d suggest you use the following riddle!]

Ready? Okay, what’s black and white and red all over? No, adults… it’s not a newspaper! And, I’m guessing most of our kids are not that familiar with newspapers and why people read them!

So… What’s black and white and red all over? Any guesses?

[children guess, hopefully without success]

Okay, nice guesses… I’ll tell you the answer. It’s black and white and red all over, and it’s… wait for it… a PENGUIN WITH A SUNBURN! Isn’t that funny?!

That’s a pretty silly riddle, but sometimes riddles are more serious. Sometimes riddles are questions that don’t present any easy answers. Joseph had a riddle on his hands when he found out that his bride to be, Mary, was pregnant and going to have a baby!

He knew enough to know where babies came from and how they came to be… I’m not going to get into that this morning… but Joseph knew that Mary was a good person, but that the child couldn’t possibly be his! “How could Mary have done this to me?” Joseph surely thought! He couldn’t find an easy answer, so he was going to break off the engagement and not get married to Mary.

But, that’s when he heard the answer to the riddle he had been given. In Matthew 1:20-21 we read:
‘An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’

Wow! Totally unexpected, maybe like the answer to my riddle earlier? But, once Joseph knew the answer to the riddle it all made sense… Mary was a good person, and she didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, she was such a good person, God chose her to carry the baby Jesus and give birth to the Savior of the world! Now, Joseph was asked to be like a foster dad or adoptive parent to Jesus… Jesus wouldn’t be blood-related to him, but he would very much be Jesus’ dad on earth. What a wonderful riddle and an amazing gift to be given… God trusted Joseph to figure out that riddle and love Jesus as his son and raise him well.

Maybe you’ve had some tough riddles in life. Maybe you can’t figure out how God could possibly bring some good out of a parent’s divorce or a friend moving away. Maybe your riddles are more serious, like they are for the kids at Intermountain, where you wonder if you can trust anyone but yourself, or perhaps you wonder if loving someone is worth the hurt that you open yourself up to?

Let’s close our time this morning by asking God to help show us where he is in the midst of our riddles in life, especially the ones that don’t have any answers that we can figure out. Maybe we won’t get an answer like Joseph did, but hopefully we can trust that God will help us and love us through our questions no matter what.

Let’s pray:

God, we know that you trust us just like you trusted Joseph. We get riddles in life, and often we try to figure them out all on our own. Help us to trust you in return, that if and when we need an answer to any riddle in life, you can give us the answer. And, if the answer isn’t coming to us, maybe you are just asking us to trust you and have faith that it will be okay. We pray for the kids that Intermountain serves, and for the huge questions they have, about you and about other relationships. Show us and show them your love this day and always. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Key Text: Matthew 1:18-25 (NIrV)

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. His mother Mary and Joseph had promised to get married. But before they started to live together, it became clear that she was going to have a baby. She became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph was faithful to the law. But he did not want to put her to shame in public. So he planned to divorce her quietly.
20 But as Joseph was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. The baby inside her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She is going to have a son. You must give him the name Jesus. That’s because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to bring about what the Lord had said would happen. He had said through the prophet, 23 “The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And he will be called Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The name Immanuel means “God with us.”
24 Joseph woke up. He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do. He took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not sleep with her until she gave birth to a son. And Joseph gave him the name Jesus.

Dec 05

What happens when the holidays don’t meet our expectations?

While far from ideal, my childhood provided me with great memories of the holidays. I recall special days of decorating cookies with my Aunt Shirley, sharing a bowl of homemade Chex mix with my Grandpa Haughee while watching football, candlelight services at church, and special meals where family came together. We were a firmly entrenched middle-class American family, and one of the few times of excess and celebration centered around the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It seemed a time when it was “all about the kids,” and being a kid, therefore, was pretty great.

Through my adolescence and young adult years, music and movies took a significant role in shaping my images of the holidays. I still love to crank up Bing Crosby’s Christmas album, and watch the Christmas classics when they come on TV. One of the best parts of moving from the Pacific Northwest to Montana a decade ago was that I could sing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” with an expectation that my “dream” will actually come true! I love the lights and the decorations, and can honestly say that the holidays are my favorite time of year. This is despite the fact that they are also the hardest time of the year for me. Try as I might, my holidays don’t look like they do in the movies.

Only as an adult can we appreciate the stress that the holidays must have brought our own parents. It is as if, through our own experience as parents and adults, we can look back on those memories of childhood with a clarity we didn’t have then. Behind the bows and lights, and hidden in the dark corners where the candlelight didn’t reach, there were all the stresses and hurt I feel now as an adult. I am sure my parents were missing their loved ones that had passed, just as I miss my dad who passed last year. The running around from school program to church service to the mall for Christmas shopping undoubtedly tempered their enthusiasm for our celebrations. There were substance abuse issues, strained marriages heading to divorce, and dire health diagnoses that existed throughout my childhood that were as ever-present as our family gathered to share meals and make memories.

By Produnis - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45731820

By Produnis – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45731820

That’s why my expectations of the holidays, shaped by the movies to conclude with a happy ending despite any difficulty, leave me confused and always a little melancholy as an adult. Intellectually, I recognize how silly it is to mourn the loss of an ideal holiday that never truly existed, but my heart longs for that happy ending and saccharine sweet Hollywood storyline. So, what should we do when we are stressed out, disappointed, or depressed at the prospect of the holidays with no sign of immediate relief? I have a few suggestions that have proven helpful for me.

  • First, name false expectations out loud. Sometimes just speaking the words, “I can’t have a great Christmas unless [fill in the blank]!” helps you see how silly it is. Our joy shouldn’t hang on the outcome of the weather, our family’s gratitude, or getting that item on our Christmas list. Joy comes from within, not without. Take a deep breath. It will be okay, and okay is good enough.
  • Secondly, manage moments and take time for people, not tasks. Some of the greatest moments during the holidays can be found in chance encounters. If you rush around getting tasks done, you’ll miss these moments of joy. Plan for connection with people, realizing that being together is what’s important—whether it’s over a store-bought cookie or one you spent six hours baking in your kitchen. It’s about being fully present at your child’s concert or performance, not capturing it for Instagram or other social media.
  • Third, get outside yourself by serving. When our holidays are about our experience and how we feel about them, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. But, if we look for opportunities to serve someone else and brighten their day, lightening their load, we shift our gaze from our expectations to another’s need. It just may tap us into a deeper reality behind the holidays, especially as we celebrate the birth of the one who came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Lastly, if you take good care of yourself as a parent or caregiver this holiday season, you’ll be better equipped to provide that wonderful holiday you want for yourself and your family. Your children will thank you for it, and they will appreciate the tradition you build around a more balanced and relationally-focused holiday more than any present you could buy them.


Nov 30

Beyond the “Giving Tree” – an object lesson for the 2nd week of Advent

Giving-Tree-imageObject needed:

A copy of the book, “The Giving Tree.”

Theme/Main Idea:

Even when things seem hopeless, God gives us hope. When nothing is left of the tree but the stump, there is still life there… just waiting for the right season to spring up again. Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree, ends with an old man sitting on a stump and the “tree” is happy again… but the ending of the book is pretty sad, really! The story of Isaiah, in today’s passage, is MUCH more hopeful.


“How are you this morning, children? My object lesson today is a book, and I am guessing it’s one that many of you have seen or had read to you before… anyone want to guess?

[take time for children’s guesses… I’d be amazed if someone got it!]

No… though those are all good guesses and well known stories. The book I have [reveal book at this time] is called, The Giving Tree! Do you know this book? Oh, it’s really good. We don’t have time to read it all now, maybe later we could, but for now I want to point out how the Tree in the book and the boy are friends. The book moves through the story with the boy getting older and returning each time to take something more from the tree. At the very end, what is left of the tree?

[turn page to where the old man sits on what is left of the tree… now just a stump]

Right! Just a poor old stump. But still, the story tells us, the tree is happy because the “boy,” now really an old man, can sit on her and she feels connected to the boy once again. And that’s it. That’s the story… kind of happy, and kind of sad. But, of the stories I know that talk about stumps, and I am not sure there are too many, The Giving Tree is only the second best story. I know a better one. It’s in the Bible! It’s a great story… really!

Hmmm… you guys don’t look convinced. Maybe I better explain…

Do you know about Advent? Advent means “the arrival of an important person or event.” It’s the start of the church year, and throughout the season of Advent we recognize the coming of Jesus as a baby. We celebrate that particular miracle on what day that is coming up? Do you know?

[let kids respond]

That’s right! Christmas! So, Advent is the time leading up to Christmas… It’s a time when we look back on the Bible passages that foretold Jesus’ coming so we can learn more about the wonderful gift Jesus was to the world! In the passage from Isaiah that we read this morning, for instance, the prophet talks about the promise of a ‘branch’ that was going to come and save everyone. Do you know what God was actually talking about? Or, maybe I should say… Do you know WHO God was talking about? [kids guess] That’s right… Jesus!

Jesus was the branch Isaiah wrote about. That’s kind of weird, isn’t it? It gets a little less weird if you understand why God promised that branch in the first place.

Back then, the people of Israel were pretty discouraged. They had messed up big time, and they were suffering the consequences of some pretty bad choices. They had turned their backs on God and decided to do things their own way. It didn’t work out very well for them. So, like a big beautiful tree getting cut down, all of the ‘amazingness’ of being God’s people was taken away. They had to leave the places they were living and go live somewhere else. They were sad. They had gone from feeling like a big, important and beautiful tree to a lowly little stump. And, as they felt lowly like that stump, without any hope, that’s when God told them that out of that stump they had become a new tree would sprout! At first it would be so small, it would just be like a little branch coming out of the side of the stump!

Wow… incredible! When they felt their worst and felt like maybe God would just throw up his hands and be done with them, God gave them a promise. God told them that they would have a future leader, a great great great (you keep going on and on for a little while…) grandson of King David, who would help make them the type of people who are ‘right with God,’ close to him, and part of God’s family! That’s a wonderful promise to look forward to.

So, here we are in Advent, just starting out. Let’s remember how God kept his promise to send the branch—the seedling from the stump of Jesse (that was King David’s dad)—and that branch is Jesus, and most importantly… God still keeps all his promises today. In our own small way, we can help extend the hope that God gives us by supporting the work Intermountain does with kids and families.

We handed out change cans last week and have some more for you if you missed that (pass out cans to any that weren’t in church last week), and we’re hoping you fill them up between now and Christmas. You’ll hear a little more about Intermountain as we continue to move through the Advent season. But, for now…

Let’s pray:

God, thank you for your presence in each of our lives. Help us remember the promises that have come true and those that will come true in the future. Give us patience to wait for all the good things you promise to those that love you and place their trust in you. Help us hold out for the best, YOUR best God—for us, and for our church and our community. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”


Key Text: Isaiah 11:1-10 (NIrV)

Jesse’s family is like a tree that has been cut down.
A new little tree will grow from its stump.
From its roots a Branch will grow and produce fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on that Branch.
The Spirit will help him to be wise and understanding.
The Spirit will help him make wise plans and carry them out.
The Spirit will help him know the LORD and have respect for him.
3 The Branch will take delight
in respecting the LORD.
He will not judge things only by the way they look.
He won’t make decisions based simply on what people say.
4 He will always do what is right
when he judges those who are in need.
He’ll be completely fair
when he makes decisions about poor people.
When he commands that people be punished,
it will happen.
When he orders that evil people be put to death,
it will take place.
5 He will put on godliness as if it were his belt.
He’ll wear faithfulness around his waist.
6 Wolves will live with lambs.
Leopards will lie down with goats.
Calves and lions will eat together.
And little children will lead them around.
7 Cows will eat with bears.
Their little ones will lie down together.
And lions will eat straw like oxen.
8 A baby will play near a hole where cobras live.
A young child will put its hand into a nest
where poisonous snakes live.
9 None of those animals will harm or destroy anything or anyone
on my holy mountain of Zion.
The oceans are full of water.
In the same way, the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the LORD.
10 At that time, here is what the man who is called the Root of Jesse will do. He will be like a banner that brings nations together. They will come to him. And the place where he rules will be glorious.

Nov 18

Operation Christmas Child 2016: Learning Empathy, Giving to Others

Recently we participated in Operation Christmas Child with the help of staff members who helped donate items for the annual event. The children had the opportunity to put together gift boxes for children in various places around the world. We spoke about how this gift might be the first gift some of these children would receive and how we can learn to be grateful with what we have been given, even if we know our lives are far from perfect.

Children took the opportunity to write letters to the children that would be receiving their gift, taking the time to pray for them as they did so. They were reminded that some of the children in Intermountain’s care have very similar stories to the children that would be receiving their gifts. Another great connection made by the children was one between our Fall series on the Lord’s Prayer and the work of Samaritan’s Purse. While reflecting on the line in the prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread,” the children remarked that it was great to be given enough that they could share with others!

What a wonderful reminder that even in the midst of very difficult circumstances, we can learn to be grateful and give to others something that might be an encouragement to them? Our children are an encouragement to me daily, and I hope that we can carry ourselves with the same attitude of selflessness and love that they are learning to express during their time at Intermountain. I hope you are encouraged to read a few samples of the letters our children wrote for their Operation Christmas Child boxes:

img_20161114_140518242_hdr img_20161114_140947868 img_20161114_141553418 img_20161114_143010832_hdr

Nov 16

A thank you to our supporters: FREE ADVENT MATERIALS!!

By Otets at lb.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16297772
By Otets at lb.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16297772

Once again, I would like to make available to you and your church free Advent children’s object lessons! While written primarily for a Children’s Sermon format, these object lessons could be used in a Sunday school setting, youth group, or even as sermon illustrations! Though written as a companion and a resource to couple with change cans, none of the lessons are dependent on Change for Children (CFC) participation! Our desire is that they would be a gift to you and a thank you for your support. If you choose to dovetail CFC into these lessons, it’s as simple as contacting us and requesting our prayer cards or setting a goal of numbers of cans returned by Christmas!

Click here for: CFC 2016 Children’s Sermon Packet

In my twenty years in children and youth ministry, the object lessons I have used for children’s sermon times have been a very effective way of communicating the truth of God’s Word.  Many of the adults in the congregation would tell me they preferred my children’s sermons to my “regular” sermons!  Jesus taught in object lessons and word pictures, too, so it should be no surprise to us that this method is highly effective—surely Jesus knew what he was doing and set an example for us to follow!

These lessons have been carefully crafted around the stories of the Advent season (Revised Common Lectionary, Year A) and how the message of God’s love for us in Jesus impacts our hearts and lives. I hope this resource blesses you, saves you time in preparation, and makes your workload a little lighter. It is my hope that our relationship will truly be a partnership of mutual benefit. As Intermountain’s Chaplain, I want to be a resource to you and an encouragement in your work with children and families. The children’s sermons can be found on the “Resource” page, as well as examples from previous years, should those object lessons fit better with what you are planning.

So, enjoy these lessons, and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you and build a stronger relationship between the chaplain’s ministry at Intermountain and the good work you are doing in your church and community.

Chaplain Chris Haughee

Nov 13

Was Jesus’ ministry “trauma-informed?” [part 4]: Responding to trauma within the compassionate Kingdom of God

There is a movement taking shape across the country when it comes to ministry settings: becoming trauma-informed. I am personally invested in this movement and I am intrigued by the ways I see connections between Jesus’ teachings and trauma-informed ministry principles. In the first post in the series, I focused only the first identifier of a trauma-informed ministry: the realization of the widespread impact of trauma and potential paths for recovery. In the second and third posts, I examined how Jesus recognized the signs and symptoms of trauma in those he not only interacted with, but then became followers themselves of his life and teachings.

As a reminder of the full context of this point within the larger definition of “trauma-informed” practices, I will repeat the framework that is guiding this series. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the concept of a trauma-informed approach would mean that “a program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.”

A trauma-informed approach to ministry starts with the realization of the widespread impact of trauma. Certainly, if a church or ministry is not aware or is in denial of the problem posed by adversity in childhood, toxic stress, and the effects of trauma on whose they minister too, it cannot properly address potential paths for recovery and healing. Secondly, churches and faith-communities seeking to be trauma-informed will be constantly growing in their ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in those they minister to.

Jesus knew the tremendous brokenness of the world, and he knew the power of the Kingdom of Heaven to address the needs of people traumatized by the evil of this world and the effect of sin. Jesus’ understanding of the fundamental failings of most human systems is clear in his critiques of both the religious establishment of his day, as well as the Roman political and military complex. But rather than just point out the failings of the system, Jesus suggested that a new system could be put in place that would result in the justice, equity, and safety that a trauma-informed society would want to emulate.old_fireplace_mantelpiece_-_annunciation_cathedral_toronto

Therefore, while a whole thesis or multiple books could be written on this subject, I want to address the third way in which I observe that Jesus’ ministry was trauma-informed: Jesus sought to respond to the hurt and damage that trauma had caused in the world by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into an alternative way of social organization- a “Kingdom of Heaven.” This present and future kingdom would be governed by policies, procedures, and practices that would reflect the principles of a trauma-informed organization.

These principles are:

  • Safety: physically and psychologically
  • Trustworthiness and transparency that builds trust and maintains compassionate connection
  • Peer support and mutual self-help
  • Collaboration and community that results in a levelling of power differences between those served and those serving
  • Providing opportunities for voice and meaningful choice
  • Individuality and uniqueness is honored—each one an individual, not a project or a category
  • Raises and addresses cultural, historical, and gender issues

For this first foray into the topic of Jesus forming a trauma-informed alternative to existing “kingdoms” in his day, I’ll attempt to focus my thoughts by looking at one passage of particular importance: Jesus’ interaction with Pilate in John 18:33-37,

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”(John 18:33-37, NIV)

Pilate, the fifth prefect of the province of Judaea, embodies the military and political might of the Roman Empire. He is familiar with the way that Rome governs—imposing “peace” through overwhelming military strength. Pilate, by nature of his position, was also familiar with the other significant rule in place over Judaea, the religious ruling and governing class represented by the Chief Priest, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin—70 men who formed a supreme council, or court, in ancient Israel. These were the two main “kingdoms” in place that Jesus posed a threat to.

When questioned about his position in regards to these kingdoms, Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (verse 36). Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he has focused on what the kingdom is or what is like. Here, before the Roman authority, Jesus focuses on how the Kingdom of God differs: it will not use force or intimidation. It is a Kingdom that speaks on behalf of truth and truthfulness, and those who recognize that truth listen and respond in kind. Absent is any form of coercion, physical or spiritual.

Jesus represented a compassionate, not a coercive, call to align with a new and alternative “kingdom.” This principle of non-violence in the face of oppression was as radical then as it is today. Jesus understood that any peace enforced by the threat of violence would never provide the sense of safety and security the human soul longs for. Jesus is completely transparent and trustworthy, a leader of integrity that guides his followers by his example and willingness to sacrifice position and power to place himself in the role of servant and messenger of the truth. In this way, Jesus serves as the ultimate example of one who created a community where power was shared equality and equitably. Jesus gave a voice to those without a voice—the marginalized and the overlooked. His desire to build an inclusive and accepting community placed him in the crosshairs of the religious elite, those who would label him a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19). Jesus raised cultural, historical and gender issues that still reverberate through the church two thousand years later!

One may argue how well the Church exhibits the qualities of the compassionate Kingdom of God that Jesus ushered in with his ministry, but that fault lies with us—Jesus’ followers—and not with his teaching or personal example. In future posts, I hope to example a few of Jesus’ specific teachings on the compassionate Kingdom of God for further evidence that Jesus intends for that Kingdom—embodied by the Church—to be trauma-informed.


© Chaplain Chris Haughee, 2016

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