Pastor Chris Wogaman
Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia, 2017
Pastor Chris Wogaman joined Trinity Lutheran Church, Park Forest, in February 2017. He has previously lived in Minneapolis, MN, New York, NY, Berkeley, CA, and New Haven, CT, where he earned his Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School/Institute of Sacred Music, where he focused his studies on liturgy.
Pastor Chris counts among his interests music and poetry composition, family history and visiting graveyards, playing piano and singing, cooking, conversing and getting to know people. He is openly gay and a member of the Proclaim community of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a community of openly gay Lutheran seminarians and pastors. He is a singing member of the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus, and recently sung with the Grande Prairie Singers. Previously, Pastor Chris sang with the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus and the OneVoice Mixed Chorus in the Twin Cities.
If you make it to Trinity, make sure you introduce yourself to Pastor Chris!
Don't Mind the Gap
It's been over two years since I wrote a pastor's column. Our Technology and Social Media Task Force, which we organized last year as we looked to the future of Trinity Lutheran Church of Park Forest, reminded me that this page looked pretty out of date. My response was to suggest removing the dates of my last columns to make them look newer.
Instead, I can see how this gap, like so many in the last three years, is a sign among many of how time, community, work, relationships, really everything in our lives has changed, disappeared, transformed into something new, different, or simply gone away. And maybe that's ok.
Trinity Lutheran Church is still here in Park Forest. We meet in-person and on Zoom, each Sunday and on special Christian days like Ash Wednesday and the days of Holy Week. I'm still pastor.
Much has changed in my own life during these last years, as has been the case for literally everyone. My Mom died the day before Thanksgiving in 2021, now no longer last year. I met a beautiful partner, Donielle, and we have moved into a lovely house in Flossmoor, IL. After 46 years of mostly being single, it is a happy and definite adjustment, for which I'm grateful even more each day.
The church, both Trinity and many others throughout the northern hemisphere, has continued its decline from mid-century heights of attendance and relevance. We wish to find our way forward, for however long we will be open, but the past also weighs so much sometimes.
Part of that past is the gaps: those people who have died and moved away, the building that we once owned but have sold when it no longer served our purposes or the community, gaps in education, programming, and the daily, weekly, and yearly life that most churches observed as recently as 25 years ago.
But we do not live 25 years ago. Nor 5 years ago. Nor even 5 months ago. The church is forever changing, even if we are slow to change with it. Yet the need for churches, for places for people to go to encounter God in and through human community, is greater than ever. The gaps that open when a church closes, or disconnects from its community, are often painful, as are the gaps when a loved one departs our lives.
My Mom, Sandy Wogaman, was an artist. In her last couple of months, which I spent with her in my hometown of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, she continued painting as she was able.
One day, she painted a flower and was unhappy with it. I was sitting in the kitchen when I saw her tear it apart and throw it in the garbage.
I fished this flower out of the garbage in the kitchen and pieced it together to take this picture. It is as much a metaphor, feeling in pieces but still being beautiful. Beauty does not need to be whole. We do not need to be whole, as much as wholeness is a virtue, in order to be beautiful. Maybe being torn in pieces is as beautiful if not moreso than being intact.
Tearing apart literally instills gaps where there were no gaps before.
Sometimes it feels like God, or society, or the church itself, is tearing apart the church. Sometimes it feels like this country we live in, and the world we need for all life, are tearing apart at the seams, like Mom's little flower. But how precious is this world, that God should think on it and come to us in Jesus?
When I posted Mom's flower on Facebook, pieced together, several friends mentioned the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which what has been torn apart is joined back together again with gold.
What an incredible metaphor for what God does for our souls, which the world tears apart daily, and which God counts priceless as I felt about Mom's little flower. God uses the gold of God's own self to join us back together with our souls and with God.
A few honest gaps are far better than a few dishonest omissions, because even these gaps are holy. Even the time lost, the people and relationships that go another way, the grand sweep of Christian history that honestly was not always so wonderful, all of these gaps are holy. The gaps between the bones in Jesus's hands and in the skin of his side. All holy.
Gaps, too, are holy. And God fills them with love far more valuable than gold.
Advent Waiting in a Year of Pandemic
Advent is the church’s ancient mash-up of anticipating the birth of Jesus at Christmas and waiting for Jesus to come again as he has promised so long ago.
Both of those comings feel so far away, particularly so this year, a year when waiting takes on new and frightful flavors: waiting for a vaccine, for treatments, for medical test results, for loved ones to recover from a mysterious disease.
Waiting to see our family members, friends, and congregations in person again.
Waiting to live regular life like we did all the other years of our lives.
Waiting for changes in our political life that will bring differences, too much for some and too little for others.
Waiting for God to show us the way to comfort each other in these desolate times.
If Advent were a food, it would be nothing like the sweet treats we look forward to at Christmas. It would be a lean cut of meat, or a raw vegetable. A compote of olives and tomatoes, salty and familiar. Maybe a small cup of nuts. It would be very low in carbohydrates, not particularly filling, but nutritious in ways that we didn’t know we needed to be fed. This year, that food would also be bitter in ways that we have never tasted before.
The deep traditions of the church year at Advent, dug a little deeper every year as we remember the stories and practice lighting the candles in these deepening winter nights, feed needs that don’t sparkle and shine like the candles themselves. But this year seems different, heavier, with deeper shadows all around that are not suddenly deeper now than they were at the height of summer.
In the year of 2020, I have felt 70 pounds heavier in soul weight. I wonder if you have felt that heaviness too? Social bonds tried by distance and fear of meeting in person have drifted, as some have from the church, as I have from some friends, as happens every year but maybe more this year. The silences seem more silent, the colors less vibrant, the hope just a little further away.
But this year will still yield its peculiar fruits. Its deep and delicious and rich bullions. Its sweet treats and bitter aperitifs. Its clarities of purpose and calls to rest, to connect, to find that next step forward in ways that work in all climates.
I, like many others in my cisgender, Caucasian kind of body, have reawakened this year to the need to work harder to become anti-racist for the well-being of our Black and Brown siblings. The season of Advent in particular has pitted darkness against light, drawing on Biblical metaphors that did not originate with American racism in mind, but have helped to give it fuel. I love my friend Marjorie Lorenz’s poem “Advent” because it includes this line, “Who would guess/ that darkness could extend/ a healing hand?” Because there are treasures in darkness, literal or metaphoric. And particularly treasures in the Bodies and souls of those who are melanin-blessed.
In the days and months to come, we’re all going to need a multitude of healing hands extending from us and to us in ways that we perhaps never thought we’d need to give or receive. In noting just how heavy this year has been, it is also clear that we might need to take some extra time if we are able to do so.
It can be hardest to reach out when we need help the most, and if you find yourself needing that help, please consider me someone you can reach out to. My pastor e-mail works: email@example.com. I have people I can reach out to who have been wonderful support particularly this year and the vacation time I have taken has helped me maintain my perspective. I’m greatly thankful for my congregation of Trinity and look to next year with anticipation.
What are ways that you have found in these days to help yourself and others through? What are your “treasures of darkness”?
May God bless you with these treasures every day, and give you the power to do so for others!
Where Are We?
As I write this column from my home in Homewood, IL, this question comes to the top from a tired place in my mind and soul. Two months ago, it was not possible for me to imagine where we would be within a week: on the precipice of a full-blown global pandemic, sent to our homes (if we have a home), told to keep distant from others, including members of our congregations and even our own families, and completely uncertain about where we were going as a nation and world and, indeed, even where we are.
I'm sitting in a comfy little seat, with some lights around me that keep me looking well-lit, technology mixed with tradition, a desk that gets a little messy, like every other desk I ever had, some nice flowers (that have changed a few times since this picture was taken), our communion chalice and patten, and the little bell that chimes when we reverence the body and blood of Christ. It's like a little church right here in my home.
Maybe you are sitting in a similar place in your home. We have seen everyone from news anchors to late-night show hosts, to people on our work or family Zoom calls, all sitting in a little corner of their world, which seems to have gotten a lot smaller. in the last couple of months. We bring ourselves together through one of several video chat platforms, and some of us are seeing and hearing from people that we haven't seen for ages. Quarantine has encouraged a lot of us to reach out more. We need to do so in order to keep our health and wits about us.
So what is this new space that we inhabit? In the words of Freddie Mercury, is this the real life? Is this just fantasy, caught in a landslide of baffling technology?
Fear is certainly real. And death. And vast shortages of necessary supplies, like N95 masks, and tests, and many other things that seem like we could have them for those who need them, if only we had enough will as a nation to do so.
In a time when our church of Trinity Lutheran, Park Forest, is in exile from each other, meeting virtually via Zoom (let me know if you need or want our access info!), we have had some of our best church attendance. We have also had the clearest call to mission to our local neighbors through a mask project that several of our members are involved in, along with several people in the village of Park Forest and beyond. We have dubbed ourselves the "Park Forest Masketeers," and we are making and distributing cloth masks for those in need in the area, free of charge.
As real as the fear and death and illness are, so is the resolve of people at Trinity and beyond to work for the good of our neighbors. This resolve has turned into action, and that action has turned into high-quality cloth masks that may help save lives, but that definitely show a concrete sign of care for our neighbors.
It's hard to know these days, at times at least, if I am coming or going. It's hard to remember things I should remember, and Zoom fatigue is real. But the undying love of God in Christ Jesus is even more real than that. It is a love what will not let us go, through disease, or closed churches, or people afraid to go out in the world once things begin to open again, as they are now in many states.
If you find yourself wondering where you are, beyond the confines that I hope are friendly of your home, or of the outdoors that you may see more of for exercise and sanity's sake, remember that Jesus is still just as present now as he was that day on Calvary, or at the empty tomb, or at the Wedding at Cana, or feeding of the 5,000 men, and a lot more women and children, who were apparently not thought worthy to be counted in those days.
Jesus is our ultimate reality, as our ultimate and eternal home. Let us know if you need help, or need a mask. Trinity is still open, even though that space may not be where it has been in the past. And the Holy Spirit is blowing through us as hard as ever.