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Pastoral Resignation Letter

Dear First Congregational Church,

I write this letter of resignation with both sadness and hopefulness. For almost five years, this church has been a second home to me and my family. It’s been a great joy serving as your pastor, watching your children grow, and learning with you.

If this seems sudden, or surprising, that’s because it is. Many of you have predicted I would leave someday. If I remember correctly, those predictions started about a week into my work here. But none of us expected it would be today. All I can say to that, is when opportunity calls, you have to make a choice, or miss your chance. A former employer called Jess out of the blue with a great job offer. We turned it down, and they called back with a better one. We talked about it, we made the decision as a team, and we firmly believe it’s the right choice for our family.

If you want to come visit in Janesville, you’ll find it’s not nearly as lovely as it is here. The winters are colder, and there’s less snow. The lakes are green, with mucky bottoms, and the sand isn’t nearly as soft. What you will find is lots and lots of our family. Aunts and uncles, grandparents, and a big pile of cousins.

Knowing you, some will be worried about me not having a pulpit to fill or a congregation to serve. Don’t worry. I’m not. I’m perfectly capable or raising a ruckus if I need to, and after almost 15 years in ministry, I’m looking forward to trying something new. I meant it when I said I’m both sad and hopeful. Not just for me, but for you.

I’ve said all along this is an amazing church, and I still believe it. However much I feel sad at leaving you, I also feel that much confidence (and more!) that you will continue to grow “in wisdom, and stature, and in favor with God, and with humanity.” Pastors come and pastors go, but the congregation continues.

This letter, and the announcement on Sunday, August 3, start the transition. Which would tentatively make August 31 my last Sunday, depending on the decision of the Prudential Board. You can expect more communication from them as this process unfolds. For myself, and on behalf of my family, thank you.

Rev. Rob Brink

Pastoral Installation: Charge to the Congregation and Minister

Photo by Frank Lamb

This is the full text of the charge and prayer offered by the Rev. Dr. D Elizabeth Mauro for my installation as settled minister of First Congregational Church of Saugatuck. The Rev. Dr. Mauro is Dean of the Center for Congregational Leadership. (Check out their Facebook Page!)

MAY 2, 2010

I cannot tell you how excited I am for this celebration.  The pageantry of this day is full of hope for the future; its liturgies full of praise to God for the coming together of pastor and people.  And while Rob settled among you some months ago, today is the formal celebration of your partnership together.  It is a day that marks new beginnings.  I am reminded of God’s words quoted by the prophet Isaiah:  God said “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”  Today we all can say “yes!  Amen!  You bet we perceive it!”  That is the kind of day it is!  Not that the past doesn’t matter, but that today we focus on the new and the changes yet to come.  Not only can we perceive the change, but we can even embrace it!  It is the kind of change that doesn’t scare us or disturb us….not that there isn’t work to be done tomorrow and more change to follow.  But now is the time for celebrating and orienting ourselves in the joy of coming together for God’s work…a new chapter in the ministry of First Congregational Church of Saugatuck and a new call for Rob Brink, committed servant of God.

But the days are coming when change will not be as well received as it is today, when pastor and people may not be able to perceive God as the author of the changes you experience.  Instead of joy, there may be fear, disturbing disorientation, anger or overwhelming sadness.  Why do I say this?  Other than the fact I have over 22 years of experience in ministry, the God I know gathers us for his purposes, not our own, and God doesn’t always make it comfortable for us.  God constantly urges us into new expressions of service and faithfulness.  Change happens…change happens because the Spirit still broods over us, Christ still walks among us and God still calls us.  If you can remember that, trust it, and expect it, you will be able to embrace the inevitable changes to come by this partnership with as much joy and gusto as you do this day.

Photo by Frank Lamb

Rob, as you serve as pastor of this church, I charge you with these things.

First, stay close to the scriptures.  They have been written for our transformation and you have been called to help this community live into them.  It is your responsibility to teach the scriptures and draw people into its meanings, its prophecies, its comfort and discomfort.  St. Basil in the 300’s said “The study of scripture is the chief way of finding our duty.”  The Congregationalists said it another way. They said there should be no “dumb” reading of the scriptures, meaning no scripture should go un-translated, unexamined, or un-revealed.  Because the scriptures are about our transformation, when you bring people into them and do this faithfully, expect changes…all the way around.

Second, nurture yourself spiritually and relationally.  Pray, study, and perform your devotions with an open heart so that you can continue to grow in the sight of God.  You cannot ask people to grow and change if you are not doing the same.  When you do this, expect changes.

Third, remember, although you are the pastor, God has made us all spiritually equal.  You are no better or worse than any who gather here seeing your guidance.  You have much to learn from them.  They have much to learn from each other.  So nurture the lay ministry of this place not only so they might help you grow, but also so that they are not wholly dependent upon you for their nurture.  Every person here must be wholly dependent upon God alone, and then in the care of each other.  When you are wholly dependent upon God, expect changes.

Fourth, find wisdom, encouragement and renewal in fellowship with others…other clergy, other churches, other Congregationalists, locally and nationally.  Clergy burn out happens when pastors lose touch with others, working so long and hard that they forget they were created to be in relationships of mutual encouragement, professionally and personally.  When we connect with others in this way, expect changes.

Fifth, remember, this is not your ministry and this is not your church.  This is the body of Christ and this is Christ’s ministry.  You are a servant ready, willing and able to do as Christ calls you.  The minute you think otherwise, you will lose your way.  Offer yourself humbly to your Lord and change will be unavoidable.

No successful, transformative, healthy ministry is ever a one-person show.  If church and pastor are to form a partnership that is strong and enduring you must honor each other as Christ has already honored you.  Everyone here, pastor and each individual person, is both messenger and servant one to another.  Although we install Rob in the special office of minister, called and set apart by vows of faithfulness, such vows do not set him above anyone, nor below anyone.  The community of Christ is bound together in mutual service and message.  You are all in this together.  Given this, I also charge you as God’s gathered people at Saugatuck with these things.

First, expect to change. That is because the Spirit still broods over us, Christ still walks among us and God still calls us.  And you have called Rob to help you discern God’s purposes, to embark on a journey of transformation and come into closer communion with God.  Change will come as your years together unfold.  You will be comforted by this ministry, but you will be challenged and confronted as well.

Second, remember that you are called together as the body of Christ for God’s great purposes.  Rob is not a proxy for your work.  God doesn’t need another fan club.  God needs workers in the vineyard.  Paul reminds us in Ephesians, there is one body and one Spirit and each of us was given Christian gifts, …some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teacher, not for personal glorification but so the saints would be equipped for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ.  (Eph 4).  This world, yea, this part of the world needs to know God’s love and grace through each of you.  This is a partnership of people and pastor on behalf of a mighty and merciful God.  You are embarking on holy work.

Third, honor Rob’s ministry.  While this is a partnership, there is also a peculiar setting apart that happens when someone takes ordination vows of faithfulness and accepts a call from a trusting, yearning congregation.  It can be a lonely position and there is often little to go on to know if you are making a difference.  A pastor is more likely to hear the vocal complainers than the quiet supporters, and the pastor is under enormous pressure to wade into conflict with wisdom beyond human capability when it gets personal.  So honor Rob’s ministry.  Pray for him.  Contact him – notes, texts, phone calls, however – contact him with words of encouragement.  Thank him for being your preacher, pastor and prophet.  And honor him by challenging him, asking for clarification, sharing your viewpoint.  Be full, and real and honest in your support.

The apostle Paul frequently began his letters with wonderful words of thanksgiving, as here in his letter to the Philipians:  “I thank my God every time I remember you” – not just occasionally, but every time – “constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,” – constantly and for everyone – “because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.”  Paul goes on to say, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me…” (Phil. 1:3-7).

Indeed, today affirms once again that all of you are in God’s grace and are partners in the sharing of the gospel.  With joy, thanksgiving and prayer, God’s good work will be manifest among you.

Change will come as your years together unfold.  That is because the Spirit still broods over us, Christ still walks among us and God still calls us.  Down the road, as you settle into your routines, as you build relationships with your new pastor, as you enter the hard but critical work of discerning how best to fulfill God’s purposes for you, change will happen…it must happen because the Spirit is here, calling, beckoning, needing you to do the work of Christ on earth.  Down the road, you may not be able to say with the confidence of today, “God is doing a new thing…yes, we perceive it.”  But if you give thanks for each other, honor each other, and remember that God has called you to this time and place for a reason, that God has work for you to do together, then you can be sure that there are purposeful changes ahead.  May you perceive it with the joy and hope that only the Spirit can give and may your years together be marked with great faithfulness.   Bless you all.

Photo by Frank Lamb


God of grace and God of glory, you who pours power on your people, we gather not so much to do a deed, but to celebrate a deed already done.  If you had not already laid hands upon Rob, no hands of ours can make him holy.  If long ago this congregation was not gathered at your call and summons we by ourselves could consecrate nothing.  And so we give thanks for your workings in our past and our present and with faith look to you to guide our future together.

This day, we dedicate to Your service among Your people Rob Brink.  Bless him with insight, compassion, wisdom and love as he ministers to the lost, the lonely, the young, the seeking, the dying, the bereaved, the hungry, the joyful.

Deepen and enrich Rob’s spiritual life until all words and deeds convey a loving spirit, a grace of understanding, and a quiet, firm, resolute witness to you as the Way, the Truth and the Light.

By your holy spirit unite this pastor and people in a strong and holy partnership, encouraging, honoring, and loving of each other, that together they might be a witness to your glory, hope and mercy.

Rob, you are now installed to do the work of ministry at the First Congregational Church of Saugatuck, Michigan.  May the Lord bless you and keep you consecrated to Himself always.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Every Monday Matters: Oval Beach Cleanup

After a short lesson on creation, children from the First Congregational Church of Saugatuck worked together to clean up Oval Beach. It was a beautiful day, the kids had fun, and the weekly service projects are starting to build friendships.

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If You Could Address a Senate, What Would You Say?

Michigan Capitol by CedarBendDrive

See that big aisle down the middle? You get in trouble if you walk there. They cut off your thumbs or something. Original Work "Michigan Capitol" by CedarBendDrive

Last week, Senator Patty Birkholz invited me to offer the invocation for the State Senate of Michigan.  Here’s what I said. Think you could do better?

Creator God,

We stand united at the start of a new day to give you thanks and ask your guidance. In this moment there is no distinction between Democrat, Republican, or Independent. There is only us, and you. So together we ask for sharp ears, to hear the voices of those we serve, not just the ones who got us elected. Open our lips to speak for those who have no voice. Give us clear eyes to see the solutions hiding behind our current problems. Guide our feet toward common ground and strengthen our hands for the work of reaching it. Embolden our hearts to choose what is right over what is popular, what is good over what is easy, and what is true over what is expedient. We place our whole selves in your care, heart and mind, body and spirit, that as we start our work we might remember who we serve. We ask this in your mighty name, and I ask it in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen


  • When the Lieutenant Governor scolded the senate for making too much noise. The first time, it didn’t stick. So he waits a few minutes, until they’re talking so loud I literally cannot hear the guy trying to introduce the next piece of legislation. Then he slams his gavel on the desk, scolds them like a bunch of rowdy kids, and threatens to have all their staffers removed so that they won’t have anyone to talk to. That one stuck. Suddenly, the entire senate is bending over and whispering, passing notes. It felt like 7th grade!
  • When a Senator spoke in support of a bill that would require that stimulus jobs be awarded to local companies. “If you’re going to spend money like a drunken sailor, at least spend it on Michigan workers.”


  • They actually have a lobby full of lobbyists! There’s a checkpoint beyond which they cannot pass, so they just kind of mill around in the lobby sending in notes and grabbing people by the arm as they walk by. I think we should move the checkpoint to the front door, then we could call them front-porchists, or maybe yardistas.
  • The Senators seem to live in perpetual fear of the press. Maybe that’s too strong. Perpetual awareness. The press get a box in the chamber itself, so any gaffe is fodder for the front page. It’s 2am, budget crunch time, and you’re in severe sleep dep mode? Don’t you dare nod off, or tomorrow’s coverage will all be about the Senator who sleeps while Michigan burns. I suppose that’s better than kicking them out in the lobby too, but it must be wearing on the psyche after awhile. I sure wouldn’t want to live that way.

Thanks to Senator Birkholz for inviting me, and for being such a gracious host. It was obvious that she was very busy, but she never let that show in relation to me. She explained the arcane mysteries of Senate protocol, introduced me to everyone as “my pastor, Rob Brink, from the Congregational Church in Saugatuck”, and kept me in the loop on the progress of the work on the floor. She even let me tag along on a lunch meeting with the Michigan State University Agricultural Extension program. (Free food, new contacts, and I learned stuff. Win win win!)

Favorite moment? When she showed me the “big board” that listed every Senator’s name. I watched as it updated in real time, changing the color of each name and showing the totals at the top. “Green is for. Red is against. Everyone votes,” she said. Then she punched a button with her thumb, and as she watched “BIRKHOLZ”turn green, a little smile touched the corner of her lips. “I like the discipline of it. You have to take a stand.”

Update: The Holland Sentinel picked up the story too!

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Local Radio Rules!

I hear a lot of people lamenting the death of news and radio shows in the face of internet competition. Whatever. As long as people live in one place, they’re going to want news about that place. And since it’s impossible for one paper to keep track of every place’s news, there will always always always be a genuine need for local news. I sincerely believe that if you solve that problem for people, they will pay you for it.

This photo gratuitously stolen from Mike and Dave's Facebook page.

Last Saturday, Mike and Dave’s Morning Grind, Saugatuck’s very own radio show, hosted my first radio interview. (If you’ve never heard them, check out this great article from the Holland Sentinel.) What a blast! I’ve been listening to them since I arrived, so it was an honor to receive the invite. Mike and Dave are hilarious. My only regret was that it couldn’t last longer. Thanks to everyone who listened in, including my sister, and few fine friends from Allegiance. Special thanks to my lovely wife for letting the boys listen too. When I got home, the youngest asked, “Daddy, how did you get home from in the computer?!”

In case you missed it, Mike and Dave game me permission to trim the audio and share it here. (Favorite moment? About 9:35 into the segment) This isn’t the full show, just my segment. If you want the full show, or if you want video and not just audio, check Mike and Dave’s Morning Grind website, or if that isn’t working, try their Livestream channel.  I’ve occasionally had problems getting the player to work, but that’s where I pulled this recording, so I know it works at least part of the time. :)

If you’re a local, listen live! They broadcast on FM 92.7 from the Annex Coffee Shop in downtown Saugatuck right next to Coral Gables. A few of my friends enjoyed the show so much that they plan on becoming regular listeners even though they live as far a way as Minnesota, or even England. I hope you’ll join them and me, tuning in online Saturday mornings at 7:30am Eastern. I know first-hand that the guys read the chatroom during the show, so let’s give them something to talk about. Bonus points to anyone who can make Mike lose his train of thought.

P.S. – Here’s their Facebook page.

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Welcome to Saugatuck!

I love the boardwalk, and the colors are just starting to turn.

Check out the boardwalk, and the fall colors! Photo by Caribb shared under a Creative Commons license.

Wow, what an amazing week. Kinda crazy seeing your name in three local papers in the same week. Either I’m famous, or folks around here are really bored! Actually, that’s not true. I’ve only been here in Saugatuck a week or so, but I’m already getting the feeling that these people care about each other. It’s a tight-knit town, where people actually read the paper.

Here’s the link to my favorite of the three articles, by the Local Observer.

Someone even recognized me when I was out for supper! (The Commercial Record sent out a photographer, but they didn’t post the story online.)  It’s been a joy getting to know the staff here at the church. We laugh a lot and still manage to get stuff done. Quite a few church members have invited me out for dinners too, a great way to get to know people and learn some more of these new names.  Thank you, everyone, for a wonderful first week.


Open Source Reprieve

I’m going camping this weekend with a bunch of folks from church, which means I’ll be out in the middle of nowhere Saturday. Now, I could be a rule-minder and go find some coffee shop to work out of for a couple hours, but I think that’d rank pretty low on the Daddy Awesomeness Scale. Therefore, I’m giving all you wonderful contributors a reprieve. I get back from camping on Sunday, so you have between now and then to add your suggestions to the Open Source Sermon Topic thread. I’ll give things a look once I get back and post Sunday night. Assuming all goes well, that post will include our texts and a link to our very own wiki! (What’s a wiki? Click here!)

Spread the word people. This has never been done before. And if that’s not cool enough, your ideas might speak from a pulpit in the not too distant future. Have something to say to the church? To the world?


Church Tackles Invasive Species

Sometimes, churches get it right. I’m pretty pleased to be a part of this project to restore native plants to a strip of land near our church. The area was completely overgrown with invasives that would have choked out all the wildflowers and shade trees. That’s a lose for everyone. The congregation loved shade (and the and the energy savings that came with it). The neighbors loved the wall of green that protected their homes from street noise (and increased their property values). The drivers on the parkway enjoyed the tall trees and greenery that make that particular stretch of Menominee River Parkway one of the prettiest, drives in Milwaukee. (Seriously. Driving that road will drop your blood pressure.) So what are we doing about it?  We’re teaming up with the county, and with master gardeners around town, to reintroduce native plants.  The process is already started, with most of the old stuff gone, and some new plants already taking root.

And now we’re getting good press for it. Tom Heine posted a story about it in his blog for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Thanks to Mr. Heine for the article, to the county for the help, to the workers for slogging through mud and rain, and to everyone who has donated money to get this project started. We’re not done yet! You can help by donating time, native plants, or money. Interested parties may contact the church.

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Tosa Skateboarders Get Famous-er (and me a little bit too)

Me sharing the \We made the paper! Walked into work this morning and our administrator showed me the article. Turns out someone over at the Journal Sentinel thought the story of a church that supports skaters was worth sharing. Why would a church give a care about a bunch of skateboarders? You’ll just have to read for yourself. Better yet, go out and buy a copy, then email Annysa Johnson to tell her what a great job she did writing the article, and then go to your church/business and challenge them to get on board too!

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