Every year we get several notes indicating people look forward to receiving the Stolpe Star. I know the “rules” about not sending tacky brag-sheets, but I also know that the Christmas letters are often the way we keep some sense of being up to date with our friends. One of the joys of having served in so many places (Illinois, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Texas, not to mention our beginnings in Minnesota and California) is having so many treasured friends. Unfortunately, this translates into a mailing list that might rival some magazines, making the production and mailing prohibitive. While we don’t consider ourselves elderly yet, we definitely are aware of our aging. We are opting for simple more and more and are finding that even simple takes not only more time than it used to, but more time than we forecast. So with that apology, you are getting the annual news from Norm and Candy in this format.
This year I have been conscious of cultivating spiritual acuity, recognizing Christ’s present involvement in our daily journey. Plenty of what we read and hear about every day on a national and global scale can produce joy-stealing anxiety: economy, wars and terror, health care, climate change. Like most of you, we have had our share of family and church issues to face in 2009. This is life. But Christmas reminds us that in Jesus, God invaded our life to transform us. Many times this year, I have drawn strength from these words in Habakkuk 3:17-18: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation.” This is not a denial of reality but perceiving a greater reality that daily circumstances can obscure. As we are discovering it for ourselves, we also wish for you the spiritual vision and power to rejoice in the Lord and exult in the God of our salvation as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The major milestone for our family in 2009 was that Erik graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in sociology and minor in music. We admire his persistence in continuing to pursue this goal through several set backs and struggles. Candy’s Dad came down from Minnesota for the occasion, and Jon came with Isaac from Pennsylvania.
He has been working at a Pei Wei (pan-Asian) restaurant for some time, and that position is developing into a suitable first job after graduation. National unemployment being what it is, we are thankful he has a job he enjoys and excels at.
Erik continues with The Raven Charter, the band with four of his friends based in Denton. They recently produced a music video and have been making their presence felt in the local music scene. Both of his brothers are quite enthusiastic, and they are better judges of this than we are.
Like his brothers before him, Erik is living at home with us post-graduation. Relationship, communication and schedule have been pretty good. Having all of his stuff (boxes and more) does put a strain on our basement-less Texas house. He also has his two dogs, Tess and Isis, with us. Most of the time, they get along with our Amber, who is also aging. But they are high energy, especially early in the day and neither Amber nor we can keep up consistently.
Extended Family Limits
We have not been with Leanne and Jon, Hannah and Isaac since June 2008 for Elizabeth’s dedication in Wisconsin. But Jon and Isaac did visit for a couple of days at Erik’s graduation. However, we did have a wonderful time with Rachel and David, Sam and Elizabeth at Easter 2009 when they visited us here in Texas. We loved showing off our grandchildren to the people of Central Christian Church! Some of them were a significant help to Rachel and David when the adopted Elizabeth, and this visit gave a chance to thank these folk and for them to meet the little girl they helped bring into our family.
In August Candy and I represented our congregation at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis. With a little help, that got us close enough to make a quick run a little farther north to visit my Mom and sister Elaine and Max in Illinois and a few days with Rachel and David, Sam and Elizabeth in Wisconsin.
I took the first of two courses toward certification as a transitional or interim pastor in 2009 and plan to take the second course in the fall of 2010 in Devon, Pennsylvania. We’ll wrap that in some vacation time and spend it with Leanne and Jon, Hannah and Isaac. The site is about a half hour from their house.
Last Christmas both of our distant children gave us web-cams for the computer. With that hardware and Skype software, we are able to have tele-video conversations with them, which we do almost every week. It’s not as good as a visit, but a lot better than telephone. Besides the visual immediacy, we do get to watch the grandchildren grow.
Flash on Sons
Jon is a manager in the Building Automation division of Siemens. He has been raising chickens for eggs. Leanne is director of the weekday preschool for their congregation, Christ Church of the Valley. Hannah is in middle school (by next year, we’ll have a teenage grandchild) and plays violin. Isaac is in Cub Scouts, plays basketball and piano and trumpet.
David is a supervisor (vice-principal) at St. Charles (an alternative school). If all goes well he will get his Principal’s License through Marquette University in May. Rachel continues to nanny at night. Sam won some prizes for his rice-crispy-treat sculpture and trail mix in the children’s food competition at the Wisconsin State Fair. Elizabeth (Bitsy) loves pink, princesses, horses and pandas (so much for gender neutral parenting).
Having served as pastor of Central Christian Church for 9½ years, we’ve been through plenty of congregational peaks and valleys as well as personal joys and tragedies. Thanks to a lot of the ministry of Todd Boddy, Associate Pastor for Mission and Outreach, we have seen a number of people coming not just into our congregation but into a transforming relationship with Jesus in the last year plus. Nevertheless, this urban congregation nearly a century and a half old is facing a lot of challenges making the transition into the 21st century, including finances and the passing of a generation.
Technology is an interesting part of coming into the 21st century. While most Sundays fewer than 100 people are in worship, 800+ people are listening to my worship messages via the internet and i-tunes. Over 150 people a week listen to the dialog Bible study Todd Boddy does every Wednesday with John Cunyus, Minister at Large. You can find out what a “Minister-at-Large” is at http://www.cccdt.org/.
Conversation and prayer about pastoral transition for Central Christian Church has begun, recognizing that I will be 65 in a couple of years. Both the congregation and the Stolpes need a lot of prayerful discernment of God’s leading for good transition for both. While I might “retire” from this congregation, I am not planning to really retire. I think I still have a lot to give the Church, not to mention that we’re going to need several years more income to pay everything we incurred with educating our sons. That is the purpose of getting certified as a transitional – interim pastor. I might also pursue spiritual formation, pastoral care and writing in some fashion.
This is not just a matter of making the right career decisions, but we see it as a transition to a new phase of life. One thing I admired about my parents is how they seemed to be able to embrace whatever life brought next with enthusiasm and faith. “What does God have for us now?” was their attitude. They never seemed to expend energy on longing for (or regretting) the way things used to be. I aspire to make this transition as an adventure with similar excitement.
Peace to all,
Norm (for Candy, too)
Norm (for Candy, too)