Looking Back On 2020
A year like no other. This likely could have been said other years, but the highs and lows of 2020 are quite unique in my lifetime and in my 35 years of parish ministry. Our congregation “came together” in new ways, as our country felt like it was breaking apart at the seams. The pandemic, forcing our closure mid-March, threw us into uncharted waters, but with a faithful and committed congregation and a strong and creative staff team, Westwood can once again end the year with a strong “Thanks be to God!”
GOD'S LOVE HAS SUPPORTED
GOD'S HAND HAS LED
as we sought to:
care for those who have been locked in and locked down
address the sin of racism by providing special programming during Lent and through ongoing activities sponsored by our Race & Equity Team
move our worship online, upgrading things on the production end and changing job descriptions to accommodate new tasks needed
move most everything online: Westwood U classes, Town Meetings, caring connections, youth group and Confirmation, new member classes, etc.
say farewell to Andrew Paulson and Bekah Engstrand at “drive-through” events and to Pastor Miriam Samuelson-Roberts in a live Zoom party; Jennifer Ortlip, Heidi Johnson, and Jeff Kurtz also left our staff, and Marnie Fujii, Sara Moran, and Phillip Shoultz came onboard
gather in backyard and Zoom groups throughout the summer to see each other live and talk about the proposed Prayer of Good Courage affordable childcare project
stay faithful in our financial giving to our annual ministries, our All Are Welcome capital appeal, and a special “Help Our City” fund after the murder of George Floyd and the unrest that followed that tragedy
Westwood's 2020 Strategic Directions
2020 was met with many challenges throughout our state, nation, and world. Through all these challenges, Westwood Lutheran Church continues to lead and demonstrate being an artisan of the common good. With the Prayer of Good Courage guiding the vision, staff and congregation continue making a difference within the Westwood community and beyond. I am grateful to be a part of a congregation that cares so deeply about living out God’s vision and bringing hope to the challenges we all face. On behalf of the Council, thanks to each of you – staff and congregation – for the gifts, talents, and blessings you share with Westwood and the community.
Below are a few highlights that we are proud of in 2020:
Addressing racism during Lent and ongoing – this work is being led by our Race & Equity Team
Backyard gatherings over the summer to connect with others and learn more about the Prayer of Good Courage Project – proud of the overwhelming response and support for the project by the congregation
Staff creativity and innovation in planning worship and fellowship opportunities that have been meaningful and engaging
I cannot thank the congregation enough for the strong giving and support during 2020 – it is essential to continue all our impactful ministries.
+Chris Hentges, Council President
We have been members at Westwood since 2014. Before Covid, you have probably seen me at Messy Worship or 10:45 service with my wife, Dani, and our two kids, Henry and Evie. I have been involved with the Young Dads Group, leading a session last year, and participated in the last two "Dad’s Retreats".
My husband is Ian, and my sons are Decklan (5) and Kieran (1). I've been a member for 5 years. I'm involved in Moms Connect, served on the Parable of the Talents committee and my kids are involved in children’s ministries.
I have been a member of Westwood since 1985 and find joy in volunteering for the Arusha Road food packing event and now I am the coordinator for this annual event. I also enjoy participating with the Holiday Fair committee and have taught Sunday School. I appreciate the Westwood Community and its outreach. Thank you for the opportunity to serve, learn and grow in faith.
Re-Elected for Year 2
Shelby Strauss, Lanica Klein, and Kurt Koubal
Finishing their Term on Council
Chris Hentges, Jim Fiebelkorn, and Laura Smith
My wife, Sara, and our children, Mary (7) and Henry (6)
Both of our children attended WECC. The fantastic children’s program, tight-knit WECC parent community, and admirable church leadership pulled us into Westwood membership in 2018/19. Since then, I have been a member of the golf league and a couple of small groups (Theology on Tap group and the Westwood Dads of Young Children group).
My work outside of church:
I am a Nonprofit Controller at CliftonLarsonAllen. I assist nonprofit organizations with accounting and finances to help them better realize their missions.
Why I’d Like to Serve on the Council:
Westwood continually puts the Gospel message into action in very concrete and meaningful ways. I see this when we teach our children about generosity when they learn-by-doing in sharing their gift of song or opening their own piggy banks to give to various causes. As a church community, I see us take the message of Christ and put it into action by starting an affordable childcare program through the Prayer of Good Courage Project. Being part of a church that lives the Gospel is exhilarating, and membership in this church has challenged me to better align my actions to those of followers of Christ. While I still have a long way to go on this front, I want to share my time and talents to help Westwood continue being a church that embodies the Gospel.
Council Member at Large
My husband, Robb Tronson, and our daughters, Estelle (20) and Ava (18)
Member since 2006. As our kids were growing, my Westwood involvement revolved around teaching Sunday School, VBS, and Confirmation. I have also been a regular lefse baker. I am currently a member of Westwood’s Racial Equity Team.
My work outside of church:
I am a senior researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Social Research and Data Innovation.
Why I’d Like to Serve on the Council:
I love the work Westwood has been doing to get to know our neighbors, challenging ourselves to follow Jesus’ example in loving and standing up for all people in our shared community. I would like to serve on the council to give something back to the church. If chosen to serve, I commit to furthering the good work and many excellent programs at Westwood. I am especially passionate about ensuring communication and coordination among the Racial Equity Team, educational activities at all levels, and other Westwood initiatives.
Council Member at Large
I am a mother of three, Maya (20), Rhys (16), and Chase (13)
Facilitator for Educator’s Vocation Group, women’s small group, and the fall IDI Group (Race & Equity).
My work outside of church:
Educator, Author, Transformation Builder, and Executive Director of Thrive Ed (an organization that works on transforming education).
Why I’d like to serve on the Council:
I hope to serve as a leader at Westwood at this time because I feel called to be part of continuing to create a church community that invests deeply in its local and global context, to be light and love, and to authentically learn to be equity-focused and action-oriented. Westwood has been a gift to me, a place to grow in my faith and find a welcoming community.
The Racial Equity Team completed and the Westwood Council affirmed a Racial Justice Statement.
Lent 2020 was entitled “Who Am I? Deepening Our Conversations on Race”. Westwood’s 2nd year focused on our collective vocation by engaging challenges of systemic racism.
Over 25 people worked with Richard Webb, Westwood’s Racial Equity Coach, to take the Intercultural Development Inventory and worked through their own goals and growth plan.
The Racial Equity Team hosted quarterly movie nights and conversations.
The Racial Equity Team collected over $21,500 and numerous supplies that were dispersed after the killing of George Floyd to support rebuilding efforts and to support race equity work.
The Children, Youth, and Family Ministry planned to distribute family anti-racism books/resources with the hopes of giving out 30-40 books. They ultimately gave out 282 books to Westwood families.
Sonja Muus +
The two of us serve on Westwood's Racial Equity Team. The group spent much of the first year building relationships with each other and completing our IDIs (Intercultural Development Inventory). Much of our year was focused on hosting bi-monthly movie nights centered around topics of systemic racism. After the tragic murder of George Floyd last spring, we raised money to support churches in the Longfellow area as they distributed resources to people in the community. We are looking forward to some exciting goals for next year, like hosting a BIPOC focused movie night or speaker every two months, continuing our IDI engagement, and adding more diverse images of God and Jesus to our church’s collection of art, as well as continuing to add more diverse children’s books to our church library.
Total Gifts Given
faith giving for pledgers and non pledgers
given to the General Operating Fund
Westwood has been life-givingly important to us. The pandemic and Dennis’ cancer journey have kept us from making a lot of in-personal connections. Westwood has provided terrific opportunities with a small group Bible study in our condo building and a Zoom group looking at the “vocation of grandparents”. We have received caring phone calls and cards. The Wednesday Zoom Vigil and Sunday online worship have been wonderfully encouraging. In the middle of political divisiveness, large numbers of hungry people, and racial injustice, we have been virtually connected in following the way of Jesus by a congregation of people trying to be mindfully grateful, acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly.
Total Website Visits
529% increase in 2020
Most Traffic to Our Website in 1 Day
Easter Sunday 4/12/20
13,644 New/Unique Visitors
up 23% from January 2020
online weekly average
Pre-COVID Average Worship Attendance
January - March 2020
In 2020 we locked down, broke down, pivoted, relaunched, quarantined, sanitized, innovated, and celebrated! During a year of uncertainty, we came together to provide exceptional, Christ-centered, early childhood programming. The overwhelming support that we received from the Westwood community during this challenging time helped make our days a little brighter. Thank you!
A few WECC Highlights
Liz + David Teigland
Soren + Rory
Our son Rory, 19 months, is now in Toddler 1, and Soren, 6, graduated from WECC this summer, having been there since he was 5 months. This year has been full of fears, uncertainties, challenges in parenting, and feelings of loss. For our family, WECC has been a constant to lean on. They have allowed us to have a community where we can openly share fears and concerns. They have worked with parents through all the ventures which we could not see the ending. They have been extremely thoughtful in how to care for our children in this time, even when that care was from a distance. They have been partners in being the hands leading and love supporting our children. We're grateful for WECC. It means so much to us!
MPLS Area Synod
1st installment of a 12-year commitment
Dodoma Christian Medical Center, AIDS Orphans, and Outreach Inc.
Cause of the Month +
Help Our City Fund
Outreach established a new partnership to be launched in 2021 to support food insecure students at Aquila Elementary School in St. Louis Park through the Every Meal program (formerly the Sheridan program).
2020 saw the inception of a new Westwood initiated Outreach ministry, initially called 'The Prayer of Good Courage Project'. After much prayer and groundwork, a new 501 C3 non-profit called Rise Early Learning Center was incorporated with the vision of opening a 62 spot childcare with 31 of the spots designated as affordable (paying on average 50% of full price). The center is projected to open in 2022 in a CommonBond Communities development of 100-120 units of affordable housing.
Here were the major developments in 2020:
Rise Early Learning Center was incorporated in May of 2020.
On Sept. 15th the Westwood council, after a process of congregational feedback, approved a 3-year $1 million dollar appeal launching in 2022 with all proceeds going to Rise Early. This is the catalyst for Rise Early to move ahead.
Six other faith communities, including Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, committed $125,000-$175,000 of support over the first 12 years of the program.
Rise Early received over $200,000 in donations in 2020.
Rise Early board established its vision, core values, and 3-year goals as part of a business planning process.
This year can be summed up with 3 Cs, Covid, Community, and Connection. We each have had to adapt and sacrifice not only for ourselves but for the well-being of all. Phone calls, outside gatherings, notes and zoom sessions have connected our congregation in ways that have reiterated that we are ONE body. During a time of no hugs, members at Westwood have wrapped themselves around one another in the greatest embrace of love.
Westwood Phone Fellowship
14 weeks, 38 participants
Prayer Shawls given
cards sent by Caring Response Team
booklets, notes, and messages shared with widows
outside home visits
In 2020 the worship and music department said goodbye to Andrew Paulson and welcomed Phillip Shoultz as Cantor for Worship, Music, and the Arts, as well as Gavin Berg as organist. Elsa Lee became our online worship producer, and we sought to get creative on how we make music as a community while not gathered in the same spaces. We diversified our music and liturgy selections by including elements of worship from 5 continents and songs sung in 4 languages.
Virtual Choir Projects
in regular online Re-Zoom rehearsals (Children, Youth, Adults)
Outdoor Worship Services
This year was filled with adaptive twists to children’s ministry. Families jumped into new Covid-safe options, including our virtual summer Compassion Camp, outdoor tie-dye event, pizza box curbside pick-up for fall ministry activities, an Anti-Racism Family book club, our Halloween Trick-or-Treat Drive-Thru, Messy Worship on Zoom, and connecting through our new Parents Connect blog. We know parents are the strongest faith guides for their kids, and this year has given us the opportunity to support them more as they stayed at home.
Virtual Compassion Summer Campers
Books for Westwood's Anti-Racism Family Book Club
(birth-12th grade and parents)
Virtual Children's Ministry Kids
Our youth and families supported each other in each twist and turn 2020 threw us. We moved parent/student learning to a pre-recorded online format, our senior high youth activities online and/or masked outside, our anti-racism work continued, our students wrote letters, collected food, packed gratitude bags, delivered groceries and much more to care for their neighbors. We are grateful for all the ways our families have leaned on one another and cared for each other in this wild year!
The Lovas Family
We have been so blessed to stay connected to our Westwood Community during this COVID disruption in our daily lives. It's definitely not the same, but our kids have embraced Messy Worship via zoom (often while we're eating family dinner!) and have engaged in a variety of the other activities offered. We are grateful for a leadership team that transforms with the times and responds accordingly with a robust blog of resources and ideas, as well as activities that continue to engage our community.
Prayer of Good Courage
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.