Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Better at the Big House

On Saturday I got to enjoy some time with my father doing one of our longest and most fun tradition: visiting Michigan Stadium and watching a football game!

Watching a Michigan game is fun, but in my opinion, the best parts of the game aren't the 60 minutes that take place between two endzones. While that is still a lot of fun, going to a Michigan football game is all about the atmosphere before, during, and after the game.

Our game on Saturday wasn't very exciting, but that didn't matter. I was just glad to be back at the Big House!


Michigan Stadium doesn't have a giant parking lot for games, so most people have to park on the streets and lawns of the surrounding neighborhood. I am quite familiar with the area around the Stadium - I pass by there whenever I attend one of our churches. Normally, it's a pretty quiet neighborhood, but on football Saturdays, the area is completely different.

Pauline Boulevard, where the church is located, is clogged with cars going down the main street and weaving around the surrounding streets to find a place to park. My dad and I used to park at the church for free, but now they have pay parking, so on Saturday we parked about 100 yards away on the street.

Parking over here is perfect for us; we have easy access from where we live, and when we leave, we barely hit Stadium traffic that is spilling out.


The tailgating parties start almost after we turn the corner from our parking spot. People around here don't treat tailgating as a fun party - instead, they treat it as a way of life! Even though this wasn't a high-profile game, there were still lots of front lawns, porches, and driveways full of tables laden with Wolverine-themed food, drink, cutlery, plates, cups, and more.

Something that I've added to my dad's and my trips to Michigan Stadium is our travels through what I call Tailgate Row. The parking lot that Michigan Stadium shares with Crisler Center has a lot of cars, vans, and trucks dedicated to hours-long parties. I love seeing the kitchy stuff that people bring along to celebrate their love of Michigan football. And sometimes, just the vehicle is enough to incite excitement among Michigan fans!


My favorite kind of football weather was exactly the weather we got on Saturday. Too early in the season and you're roasting, and by the Ohio State game you need 6-7 layers.

Saturday was in the 50s and nice and sunny. By the time of kickoff (3:30) the sun was behind the stadium wall where we sat. I needed an athletic long-sleeved shirt, a t-shirt, and a hoodie to keep my torso warm, and at the last minute I'd thought to check my parents' house for a hat. I'm glad I did - it was needed!

However, even with all my layers, I wasn't shivering - that's what mattered the most!

Not only was the temperature and conditions perfect, the trees were nearing or at their peak of colors, as well! The streets were dotted with yellow, orange, and red trees, which just added to the wonderful feeling.

Stadium Atmosphere

We got into the stadium very early, and we walked around the stadium first, taking in everything. We went into one of the M Den stores and looked around before it got too busy. I did some winter hat shopping, since I'd lost my beloved Michigan-tassel hat in an unfortunate parking lot incident a few years ago. (The incident being that it dropped out of my coat pocket when I was walking in a parking lot.)

I love the new constructed areas that opened a few years ago which enclose the longer sides of the Stadium. They've got plaques dedicated to the national champions as well as All Americans. All the counties of Michigan have their own signs (though we tried and failed to find my current Michigan county).

There are food stations wherever you look - most of which are pretty overpriced. (It's kind of like being at Walt Disney World!) Dad and I each bought a pretty decent-sized bag of chocolate covered peanuts for $6, and that's all we spent. (I usually save those for Michigan hockey games, but was in the mood for it today.)

At each corner of the Stadium is something cool. Over by Crisler Center is the Ring of Champions, where each pillar shows the Michigan sports teams and the years that they won the Big Ten, Regional, or National Championship. Another corner boasts the Memorial Eagle, dedicated in 1950 to the men and women of U-M that have died in wars. And over by the Pauline Blvd entrance is my favorite corner, because many years back my family got together and purchased a brick in the walkway to honor my dad. It's still there, and doesn't have any cracks in it or anything. It's fun to find it!

The Pregame

Once we found our seats we had an hour to sit back and watch the players warm up. We were where the Illinois players were warming up, and it was quite comical. When they were doing passing-and-catching drills, we saw 6 out of 7 Illini receivers drop the ball!

It was Homecoming last weekend, so we got to enjoy a huge Alumni band show off their stuff before the Real Deal entered the Stadium. I have been to quite a few homecomings in the past, and I've never seen an Alumni band this big!

But my favorite part of a Michigan game is watching the Michigan Marching Band take the field. They enter so quickly, all of them high-stepping onto the grass without a hint of hesitation. And there's over 230 members and they race on as fast as possible! The drum major then steps out, and the tradition is that he/she bends backwards till the plume of his/her cap touches the grass. Nowadays, though, the drum major takes off the cap and bends until his/her head touches the grass - and then gets right back up! This year was no different - she was great!

After the band warms everyone up with a rousing version of "The Victors," the M Go Blue sign is put up and the football players march through!


The Michigan Marching Band came out with a program featuring a bunch of contemporary (i.e. the last 50 years) songs that feature four main chords: the I, IV, vi, and V. It was nice - someday I'd like to see them go crazy, like (dare I say it?) the OSU Marching Band. (Seriously, their routines are crazy!)

However, it was Homecoming, so their routine was a bit short so they could get the Alumni band out there again and do some of the classics like "Maize and Blue," "Temptation," and "The Hawaiian War Chant." Those were fun to hear; Dad has a Marching Band CD with those on it, and I learned those songs from that.

Second Half

The Blues Brothers. There's choreography to it and everything! I first learned it at Michigan hockey games, but now I recognize it at basketball and football games, too. (Actually, I'd forgotten that they used to do that song on the field in a tight circle, and got faster and faster! I'd love to see that again.)
Some people would say that The University of Wisconsin's "Jump Around" to start the 4th quarter is the best, and I would begrudgingly agree. But I personally adore Michigan's use of the Otis Redding hit "I Can't Turn You Loose" from


After the game it can sometimes be hard to exit the stadium, but considering how far ahead Michigan was at halftime, quite a few people were leaving even at the start of the third quarter. The couple next to me and the people in front of me were all gone by the time I returned to my seat in the 3rd quarter. It didn't take us long at all to get out of the Stadium.

As you get further from the Stadium, the crowds start to dwindle and go their separate ways, until you kind of feel a sense of normalcy again. By the time we got to our car, it kind of felt like an average October Saturday again.

Home Again

On a crisp fall football Saturday, it's always wonderful to arrive home to the smell of something hot. In my case, it's gotta be some sort of soup, stew, or chili. I'd asked my mother to make her famous Beef Stew for our postgame meal, and it was the perfect way to end the day. Any lingering chill was eliminated after the first bite, but the delicious taste remained!

I love Michigan football Saturdays, and I look forward to doing a few more now that I'm closer to home!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Rooted Colorado: WELS Young Adults

When you enter a WELS church, what would you say is the group demographic that you see the most? Would it be the families with small children? Would it be the seniors ages 55 and older? Or would it be a group somewhere in between?

Churches often struggle to keep members that are entering their 20s and 30s. These men and women are graduating college, moving out of the home, and beginning their careers. In the midst of all this transition and change, a foundation based on church life might be lacking.

The unfortunate statistics about Millennials and church attendance are no secret. According to a 2014 Religious Landscape Study conducted by the Pew Research Center, about four-in-ten Millennials (adults born between 1981 and 1996) consider religion to be very important in their lives (compared to every other demographic, which were over 50%), and only 28% attend religious services at least once a week. About that same amount are active in a religious group.*

It is very important for young Christians to feel a sense of belonging in their congregations. But so often, young adults are few and far between. Many are not making church a priority, and those that go to services tend to find themselves without many in their age group. Even many church events are targeted toward families or older members of the congregation.

So how does a church body bring in those young adults, and allow them to continue their study of God's Word in a welcoming environment?

The answer in Colorado was simple: create a group! Rooted was created in 2011 by several young people from neighboring WELS churches in Colorado, including Dan Kleist and James Free of Fort Collins. According to Kleist, “When we [the young adult group at St. Peter’s Fort Collins] heard of a young adults group forming in Zion, Denver, we decided to get together after the area Reformation service and invite young adults from the surrounding congregations to join us as well. We've been meeting ever since!”

There was a need for people in their 20s and 30s to come together for fun and fellowship. While it might be difficult for a single church to attempt to bolster their young people activities, the idea was made easier by combining the churches in the greater Front Range area. "Most Colorado congregations have too few young adults without children to create social groups with just their own members," says Free.

Lorraine Alff, who lives in Castle Rock, shares that sentiment. "It provides an opportunity for people in the same stage of life to gather around God's word in unique places."

The first gathering was just food and games, but it was clear that these Coloradans were looking to enjoy the great outdoors with each other as well. Events included ice skating, skiing, hiking, and camping. But each time an event took place, there was a special emphasis on studying God's Word.

"[A benefit has been] having 20+ people take serious time out of their lives to meet and then having them voluntarily express afterwards that they really appreciated the Bible study," Free says. It doesn't matter if you bring the Bible in book form or downloaded on your phone!

Now Rooted meets once a month, with a different Colorado congregation serving as host each time. They start with a Bible study, followed by a special activity, ranging from disc golf and beach volleyball to bowling and movies. Interspersed between these regular monthly gatherings are other big events, like concerts, camping trips, or the now-annual February ski weekend at Grand Lake.

Bible studies are usually conducted by the host congregation's pastor, covering a wealth of in-depth topics, like evangelizing, homosexuality, atheism, judgment, and marriage. It is encouraging to discuss these topics with people who have experienced current events and cultural changes at the same point in their lives, but who come at these topics with different perspectives.

Rooted not only creates a community of young Colorado Christians, but it also welcomes new faces to the area. I have heard from many Colorado transplants (myself included) that they knew no one when they first came to Colorado. They moved there for work, school, or family, and didn't have those roots that they'd had in their previous location. But they were invited to a Rooted gathering, and through that group, friendships were created. The welcoming atmosphere of Rooted not only provided them with new friendly roots in a new state, but also strengthened their roots into Christ and his Word.

A great challenge of Rooted and other similar groups is organizing and planning the events. Amy Maurer from Aurora has organized a few events for the Rooted group. “A lot of time and work goes into planning and promoting events. When key organizers grow individually, they take on more roles and commitments with family, work, church, etcetera. We are learning how to delegate these organizational roles so leaders can transition in and out as lives change.”

No matter the leaders or the events, the goal of the group stays the same. The Facebook description for Rooted says, "Our hope is that this group connects WELS Lutherans and their friends from across Colorado's Front Range...God-willing, through these events, we will be able to encourage each other in our daily lives, and more importantly in our walk with God."

The success of the Rooted: Colorado group continues even after people leave the area. As a matter of fact, the Rooted group has a sister group in the Phoenix area, started by Rooted members formerly from Colorado! “We've had a couple vicars who have been involved in the past take interest in offering something similar in the area they've been called to serve,” says Kleist.

Plus, Rooted is not the only group in the WELS targeted toward this demographic. Several groups have started up in the Midwest as of late, including the Watertown (Wisconsin) WELS Mingles Group and the TnT group out of Chicago.

The potential is vast for more regional Rooted-like groups, but good leaders and good organization will help them succeed. Free notes, "Our biggest need is to establish continuity beyond depending on any particular organizer's involvement. This will also create a model that is easier to implement in other parts of the country."

That sentiment is shared by Maurer. “What are the long-term goals for Rooted? Hopefully we will be able to establish a solid organizational structure so Rooted can be enjoyed throughout the WELS for generations to come and grow in their faith.”

In a demographic that usually strays from the church, groups like Rooted are making an effort to encourage young Lutherans in their faith through fellowship and God's Word.

Statistics about the disconnect between Millennials and the church are everywhere. But don’t give up if your congregation is struggling to retain young adults. Maybe they just need a like-minded group to help them stay...rooted.

For more information about Rooted in Colorado, check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/rooted.wels. Be sure to check if your local area has a young adult group!

*Statistic from Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, November 23-December 21, 2010 Social Side of the Internet Survey.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Beware of Mid-October

For the past few years, this time of the year gets me a little jumpy. I get a little more reflective, too. This year especially makes me think of two major events in my life that happened at this time - one from ten years ago, and the other from five.

It's not pre-Halloween jitters or anything (though yes, I do despise the holiday). It's just that past history has taught me to tread on this third weekend of October very lightly, because stuff in the past has taken place that's very much outside my comfort zone.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

I was enjoying a nice quiet Saturday at Martin Luther College. I was nearing the end of my Practicum - a four-week student teaching warm-up before I did the real thing in Wisoconsin - and was starting to get excited for a new congregation, school, supervising teacher, and location. (One can only handle rural Minnesota for so long.)

Not only was I excited about that, I was anticipating something I'd never seen in my lifetime - a Detroit Tigers team in the World Series. They were on the cusp, up 3 games to 0 against the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS and playing at home with Jeremy Bonderman on the mound. FOX was going to air the game, which meant I could watch it.

Near the end of the game, I got a phone call. It was from my Practicum supervisor - a Kindergarten teacher in the Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop school district. We had a great relationship and she taught me a lot. But what she had to say wasn't good news.

She was calling to tell me that one of our kindergartners had been playing on her playset at home when the playset had crashed down. The resulting injuries she sustained in the accident were too severe, and she had died. That day.

This call stupefied me. After all, I had just seen the girl the day before. She had made some comment with her friend that I just so happened to notice as I walked by her table. And now she was gone.

I proceeded to contact other fellow teachers that I knew in order to get their expertise on such a terrible situation, but they all had the same thing to say: they had never had to experience one of their own students die during the school year.

So how did I deal with the grief? Well, that night at least, I watched the Tigers game. Oakland led early, but Magglio Ordonez hit a walk-off 3-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to send the Tigers to the World Series.

I was elated, but that knowledge of what I was going to have to face on Monday never left my mind. It did sour the happiness a bit.

It's been ten years since that Kindergartner died. She should be a sophomore in high school, but she's not. Instead, I have her funeral service folder in my scrapbook. And whenever I see Ordonez' home run, I think of her.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I'm not going to mention the full details of this day. They're too painful.

However, I will say that this day really set me on a new path - a better one. Before this day, I was pretty cocky and I needed a good dose of humility. Well, maybe not a dose. Apparently God felt I needed to be fully immersed in humility.

Was it an awful experience? You bet. Did it improve my life in the long run? You bet. Do I still cringe at the mental scars whenever October 15 rolls around? You bet.

The kick in the pants I received allowed me to take a step back and see how I needed to change. Outward circumstances meant it was a lot more harsh than maybe it should have been. But it didn't change the fact that it was needed.

It made me see how my life needed to be, and how I could make myself improve instead of trying to put the blame on others. At the same time, I try my hardest to open the lines of communication instead of being closed off.

And as the years have progressed, I have matured. I build on the past, learn from the mistakes, and make sure to do lots and lots of prayer. Setbacks abound, but my hope is that they seem smaller and smaller in personal impact on my life.

Sorry for being so vague - like I said, there's still some mental scars.

I don't hide under the covers when this weekend rolls around, even though sometimes I wish I could. Eventually I realize that it's a pretty stupid thing to do, and perhaps I should just move forward and enjoy the present.

But when I go to bed in the end, I breathe a little sigh of relief and thank God that I made it through. The rest of the year seems so much more conquerable now that this weekend is over.