Pastor's Corner

Pastor's Corner - September 2018

posted Aug 31, 2018, 12:42 PM by Linda Dickinson

Greetings Elmwood Family and Friends,

It is that “back to school” time once again.  It was a good summer, but very busy.  Now it is back to the routine that the school year brings.  When I was growing up our family always took a first day of school photo.  My parents started it when my older brother first went off to school and they kept it up until it was my younger sister’s last day of school.  The photos taken through the years were eventually combined into one little album by our mom.  It is fun to look through this little picture book and see how life was in the Thoni family year by year.  We three Thoni kids changed.  Our hair and clothes styles changed.  The family dog, often in the photo, changed.  Even the house changed as remodeling and additions took place.

Here it is September, and guess what, here at Elmwood CHANGE is happening all around us.  We have watched the Wilshire Park Elementary School vastly changed this summer with the huge building project going on.  We have dodged orange cones on the local streets once again this summer with road construction all around us.  To top it all off Elmwood is deep into the revitalization process with change coming constantly.

In the August newsletter I shared the basic vision of the revitalization plan.  On Sunday, August 12, I talked about the plan from the pulpit and we watched two videos about church revitalization.  On Sunday, August 19, Pastor Dan Moose was with us from the North Central District office of the EFCA and spoke to the congregation about the plan, which included a lively Q&A time.  On Sunday, August 26, the congregation held a special congregational meeting and voted nearly unanimously to form a Call Committee to begin the interview process of the two pastoral candidates presented in the revitalization plan.  A Prayer Team, a Vision Team, and a Transitional Leadership Team have all been formed. Many evenings this month are booked up with team meetings.


Change is all around us!  Frankly, it can be rather overwhelming at times.  There are a lot of unknowns, plenty of uncertainties.  But, there is also an amazing spirit of excitement and hopefulness rising in the Elmwood congregation.  God is moving! He is giving us a vision for the future and the hope of seeing our church thrive once more.  He who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever is with us.  He is our guardian and keeper.  His promises are yea and amen.  He is the One who leads us forward in victory!

Transformation not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord must be our heart cry, our constant prayer.  Thank you in the midst of all the change for your rooted and grounded trust in Christ.  Thank you for your on-going prayers for Elmwood’s future and thank you for your prayers for the Elmwood leadership and the teams that have been formed.

Living the life with you, all for Him,
Pastor Fred

Pastor's Corner - August 2018

posted Aug 31, 2018, 12:41 PM by Linda Dickinson

Dear Elmwood Family and Friends,

Thus says the LORD - “Behold, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?”
Isaiah 43:16&19.

I wrote in the January 2018 newsletter:  “Dear friends, we are going to need God’s hope and God’s courage this year.  Change is always happening, but this year life will likely push us to our limits on how much change we can handle.”

Sherrie Lange shared with you in a Church Council Update in the March newsletter about a recent meeting with Pastor Dan Moose, the EFCA North Central District’s Church Catalyst.  The Elmwood Church Council has continued to fervently pray about and intensely discuss Elmwood’s future.

This month I want to share another update about where we are at in all of this.  You may recall that in Sherrie’s report there were seven options listed regarding the future of Elmwood.  Number seven on the list was:  “The ‘not yet revealed’ God option.”  By an amazing series of events it has come about that the “God Option” has appeared.  Through the steady voice of counsel from Pastor Dan Moose and Pastor Andrew Peterson, Lead Pastor at Park Community Church, the offer was made for Park Community Church to partner with Elmwood in a “Church Marriage” and send to Elmwood a number of their members, including Matt Frey, a recent Bethel Seminary graduate, to assist in the revitalization of Elmwood Evangelical Free Church.  This is amazing news, but there is more!  Not only has God put it on the heart of the Park congregation to send people to us, but the LORD has also put it on the heart of Centennial Evangelical Free Church near Forest Lake to also send a group of their people, along with their associate pastor John Stromberg, to join with us and the group from Park in revitalizing our congregation.  In numbers, this may mean 35-40 new members coming to be with our aging body.  If adopted by the Elmwood congregation this would mean that once again Elmwood would become multi-generational and have the potential of being a vital force for the Gospel in St. Anthony Village and beyond.

Pastor Dan Moose, Pastor Andrew Peterson, Pastor John Stromberg, Intern Pastor Matt Frey, Michael Ashworth, and I met together in early July and formatted a document that outlines the steps needed to accomplish this incredible undertaking.  First, the elder boards of Park Community Church and Centennial Ev. Free Church have both endorsed and approved this document.  Then the Elmwood Church Council voted unanimously on Thursday night, July 19, to accept the “Next Steps” document and recommend to the congregation the adoption of this plan. (See “NEXT STEPS…” on page 2).

What does all this mean?   Change and revitalization is upon us!   On Sunday, August 12, I will be sharing more about this amazing opportunity.  Then Pastor Dan Moose will be coming to Elmwood the following Sunday, August 19, to speak to our congregation about the revitalization plan.  He will present to the congregation in depth the amazing idea for bringing together the remaining members of Elmwood with the groups from Park and Centennial.  Pastor Dan will discuss the challenges, the financial aspects, the legal/constitutional requirements, the future pastoral oversight, and much more; all necessary to accomplish this God-sized endeavor.  If the revitalization plan is ratified by a vote by the Elmwood congregation at a future congregational meeting, and the pastoral call process is carried out, then these three groups would formally join together to become a new Elmwood congregation.

I personally am overwhelmed by the goodness and love of God to bring this plan of new life for our dear congregation.  Someone once said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God”.  He is the One who has declared that He is doing a new thing! Friends, we are living in the midst of a miracle!  Let us be brave and move forward for the glory and honor of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Together with you, all for Him,

Pastor Fred

Pastor's Corner - July 2018

posted Jun 29, 2018, 10:27 AM by Linda Dickinson   [ updated Jun 29, 2018, 10:28 AM ]

Greetings Elmwood Family!


Summer is here!  BBQ’s, picnics, family get-togethers, going to the lake, or filling the plastic pool in the backyard.  The BIG holiday of the month is Independence Day, the 4th of July.  Once upon a time, before we had children, Kai and I drove to Philadelphia in our little burgundy colored Chevette.  We toured Independence Hall and saw the Liberty Bell.  It was a great experience.  There we stood in the very room where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.  We certainly live in an amazing country, the land of the free and the home of the brave.


Standing as a beacon of light and hope for all who come to America’s shores, the Statue of Liberty has lifted her torch high since 1886 for ships coming into the harbor of New York City. As a

teenager, I excitedly climbed to her crown with my parents.  However, we were not the first of our family to visit this great lady, for it was in the spring of 1894 that my grandfather, Friedrich Thoni, left Switzerland as a young man, not much older than I was, to seek a new life in that distant Promised Land:  Amerika.  He arrived in New York City and passed by the Statue of Liberty on April 24, 1894.  Coming through Ellis Island with only a few dollars in his pocket he was heading for Wisconsin to be a cheese maker.  There inside the Statue of Liberty is inscribed on a bronze plaque the famous poem by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus.”   This great American literary piece concludes with the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  Twelve years later, on September 25, 1906, Grandfather Thoni swore his allegiance to this new land and became a citizen of The United States of America.


The words “yearning to breathe free” make me think of what our Lord Jesus declared about freedom and being free.  He said, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”  (see John 8: 31-36).  It was also during my teenage years, one summer night, that the reality of who Jesus truly is broke into my longing heart.  I too wanted to breathe free, but it was the desire to breathe the air of Heaven, to be free from sin, free to live a life in a Kingdom that lasts forever.  The truth of His words exploded in my heart and I yielded my life to Him so that He might make me a citizen of His fair land and live a life of true freedom.     


Celebrating with you the goodness and greatness of our God,

Pastor Fred


posted Jun 1, 2018, 12:01 PM by Linda Dickinson   [ updated Jun 1, 2018, 12:01 PM ]

Dear Friends in Christ,

Wow!  Summer has come with a bang!  June is here and the memory of snowstorms is fading in the warmth of the summer sun.  For me, being a Wisconsin farm-boy, June means Dairy Month.  June is when ice cream socials are held, with lots of fresh cheese, and vanilla ice cream heaped on top of homemade pie.  Dairy breakfasts are served at some of the finest dairy farms in the nation.  But as a boy, June always meant free milk at the bank.  Yes, free milk was available all month long in the lobby of our local bank.  Customers were free to help themselves to a cool refreshing glass of white or chocolate milk from a large refrigerated dispenser. As part of our local Little League team, we guys stopped at the bank after a hot afternoon on the ball field and proceeded to guzzle several glasses of milk a piece.  We were quite good at emptying the dispenser and requiring one of the bank tellers to come and put in more large cartons of milk.

More milk, please!  All this talk about milk makes me think of what the Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2: 1–3: “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

Peter challenges us to “long for the pure milk of the word.”  We so easily get caught up in the deeds of the flesh like malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander.  Such an ugly list!  Yet, if we are honest, it is this type of behavior that we find ourselves craving for or involved in, rather than longing for the pure milk of the word.

God’s Holy Word tells us that the wages of sin is death.  Even good things can be turned into idols or acts of unrighteousness.  I know from experience that too many glasses of chocolate milk at one time can turn a refreshing treat into a stomach ache!

But that is the way that even God’s people can be.

Because we have “tasted the goodness of the Lord” let us choose each day to grow in our relationship with the Lord Jesus.  Always remember that Christianity is all about being in relationship with the Living God.  “Drinking the pure milk of the word” means that we don’t just read or hear the word, but that we are continually doers of the word.  Staying close to Jesus is one of the best safeguards against entering into sin.

Enjoy the summer, but keep drinking the “pure milk”.  Stay close to Jesus, read His Holy Word, no matter if you are on the road or at home plan to be in His house for worship each week.  Maybe you can even find an ice cream social to attend!

Soaking in the warmth of His love,

Pastor Fred


posted Apr 28, 2018, 9:42 AM by Linda Dickinson   [ updated Apr 28, 2018, 9:43 AM ]

Dear Elmwood Family,

Ozanna, Ozanna, Ozanna Augstiba!      (Latvian for “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest!”)

Thank you so much for your prayers for our ministry trip.

I arrived in Latvia on Saturday afternoon, April 14.  I had had a short lay over in Copenhagen, Denmark and was able to have coffee and pastry (yum) with Daniel Serner Pedersen who was here a number of years ago attending the Lay Ministry Training Center.  I was greeted at the Riga airport by Pastor Martins Irbe, our Latvian-American friend, who together with his dear wife Gunta handled all the arrangements for our time in Latvia.  Sunday morning we attended worship at Old St. Gertrud’s Lutheran Church in Riga.  It was a beautiful liturgical service with Holy Communion, Pastor Paul Anderson preached, and I did altar ministry. We had Latvian pizza for lunch at the home of a pastor and his family.  We then attended the Sunday afternoon service of a Pentecostal/Baptist church where Paul again preached and I did prayer ministry.  This service was very contemporary with much praise and worship.  We scurried off to the evening service at St. Gertrud’s where it was less formal, more of a contemporary service, but still having Holy Communion.  It had been announce at the morning service that we would be there and following the service we did prayer ministry for over an hour.

Day one was over and we headed back to our host home for a late dinner and much needed rest.

Monday morning we packed up and headed to the town of Saldus where St. Gregor’s Mission Center is located.  We were warmly greeted by the St. Gregor’s staff and soon pastors and church leaders began to arrive for our leadership seminar.  Paul and I both preached that day and again there was much prayer ministry.  That evening we had a worship service with Holy Communion at the Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Saldus.  The church is a lovely old place with a large wood fired stove in the front to heat the sanctuary.  We again concluded the evening with a lengthy time of prayer ministry.  Day two, bed time was greatly appreciated!

Tuesday was similar to Monday with messages and ministry.  Meal times were lively and coffee breaks filled with deep discussions.  Our seminar ended mid-afternoon.  Instead of heading back to Riga with the other Americans I headed east to Christian David’s School, with two staff members and Juta Strazdina, the woman I saw in my dream.  Pastor Valdis Strazdina stayed with relatives in Riga in order to attend a special clergy meeting on Wednesday.  The school is located in eastern Latvia, near the town of Modana, about one hundred miles from the Russian border.  It is quite remote, and one of the poorest areas of Latvia.  The farm country and forest of Latvia are quite similar to the landscape of northern Minnesota.  A lot of birch and pine trees with lakes and rivers.  There were wild storks nesting on high poles in many of the farm yards.  After a late supper of bread, cheese, and potatoes it was off to my private room in their guest house.  The stars in the Latvian night sky were magnificent that night, shining brilliantly over the darkened countryside.  Day three and I was at last at Christian David’s School.

Wednesday was a full day at the school.   Jakobs Strazdina, the university-age son of Valdis and Juta, gave me the grand tour of the school and property.  It turns out the school has two properties.  Christian David’s School is located at Kalna and their farm and former school building is in Grotona thirty kilometers away.  The school began at Grostona. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Valdis and Juta were able to acquire the Kalna buildings and move their Christian school to this site.  They have taken in hundreds of children since they began in 1991.  They have transformed the building into a marvelous school with dormitories.  A tremendous amount of renovation and work has been done at the school.  There are still many unfinished projects and dreams waiting to be accomplished.  During the afternoon I was asked to do special prayer ministry with two prayer groups that come to the school chapel from the surrounding community to pray and also a time of prayer ministry with the students and staff of the school.  Valdis returned that evening and we talked long into the evening.  Day four was amazing and Christian David’s School had filled my heart.

Thursday morning I was up early to see the kids doing their morning chores and had breakfast with them.  Then we all went to the chapel to have a time of gift giving.  I had brought Christian wrist bands, colored shoelaces, and Hersey chocolate kisses for the kids from our daughter and son-in-law’s couples group.  They were delighted and soon were showing off their American favors in all kinds of creative ways.  I then asked Pastor Valdis and Junta to come forward and presented them the cash gift of $5300 from Elmwood’s and Real Church’s Lenten offerings.   With shocked delight and tears we hugged and celebrated the goodness of God.  Pictures were taken and time was running out.  After a quick lunch of sausages, quinoa, home-made cottage cheese and bread it was time to leave.  A number of the students and staff gathered in the courtyard to bid me farewell.  We then headed to the other property site for a quick but delightful examination of the farm.  I got to meet the dozen cows, see the chickens and bless the farm.  It is here that the milk is turned into cottage cheese and blocks of cheese.  Valdis that drove us over hill and dale through the Latvian countryside, hurrying to meet up with the others back in the capital city of Riga.  After bear hugs and prayers we parted.  A quick trip to our host home for a delightful final dinner with our Latvian hostess and then Paul Anderson and I were taken to the airport for a late night flight to Finland. There, part two of our ministry adventure began.  Day five, Latvia and Christian David’s School now memories for ever in my heart.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were filled again with seminars and ministry times with two Finnish churches in Tampere, Finland.  There’s not enough room to tell of all we were privileged to do with these dear folks.   I left Sunday afternoon for three days in Iceland, for the final part of my trip, to visit Pastor Agust Olafsson and his family.  I was treated like royalty, we toured some of the fantastic sites of Iceland, and did a special ministry time at the home of Agust’s co-pastor.  A dozen Bible School students were on a missions trip to Iceland and staying in Agust’s church.  I got to be a part of two morning training sessions with them.  Then it was time to head to Reykjavík to visit the ARC pastor from Kristkjirken, and have a final meal at a restaurant near the harbor, before heading to the airport for my flight home.

Ozanna, Ozanna, Ozanna Augstiba!  Thank you for your prayers and support. 
You were with me each day seeking to be the mouth, hands and heart of Jesus.

All glory and praise to Him.

Pastor Fred

Pastor's Corner - April 2018

posted Apr 5, 2018, 7:19 AM by Linda Dickinson

Greetings Servants of the Risen Savior!

In these days after Easter, as we bask in the glory of the resurrection of our victorious Lord, it is good for us to stop and consider the goodness of our God.  Since childhood many of us have known the Bible verse recorded in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The amazing events of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are rooted and grounded in the love of a God who loves us so deeply that He is willing to lay it all down in order to be reconciled with His people who have gone terribly astray.  The apostle Paul describes it this way in Romans 5: 7-8, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Yes, it is true!  Even though you were a sinner, an enemy of God, He loved you with an everlasting love to the point of freely, willingly laying down His life on your behalf.   

As Alfred Ackley declares it in his well known Easter hymn, “Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King!  The Hope of all who seek Him, the Help of all who find, none other is so loving, so good and kind.  He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!   He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.  He lives, He lives salvation to impart!  You ask me how I know He lives?  He lives within my heart.”

Yes, dear friends it is good for us to stop and bask in the glory and love of our God who loved us this much.  I pray that you personally have received Jesus Christ into the core of your life; that you don’t just know about Him, but that He lives “within your heart.”  This reality changes everything.  Let’s live each day like it is Easter morning, because we truly do serve a Risen Savior.  Hallelujah!

Basking with you in the glory,

Pastor Fred

Pastor's Corner - February 2018

posted Jan 26, 2018, 2:57 PM by Linda Dickinson

As Minnesota hosts the Super Bowl this month, the following famous teaching by Pastor Larry Christenson is very fitting. In the game of life we have much to gain by heeding this message. Pastor Christenson ran the race well and on December 26, 2017, crossed over the goal line and has now joined the host of heaven.  In honor of this remarkable man of God, we share a slightly edited version of: THE NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL TALK

Please refer to the February 2018 Newsletter to read the story: Newsletter: Spirit of Elmwood

Pastor's Corner - January 2018

posted Dec 29, 2017, 7:16 AM by Linda Dickinson

Dear Elmwood Family and Friends,


Revelation 22:13 declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”


Here we are at the beginning of another year.  2017 is gone and 2018 has come.  How good it is to know that He who is the beginning and the end of all that ever was or ever will be, is with us, and actually goes before us to make a way personally for us.  How good and gracious the Lord is that He would not only make a way for us, but also be a light onto our footsteps.  Jesus didn’t say, “It is finished,” to indicate that He was done here and we were on our own.  No, He died on the cross to deal with our brokenness and sin, provide a new and living way to the very throne of God, and to actually BE the Way, the Truth, and the Life for us.


As the Word declares, Jesus wants to be the beginning and the end of our lives.  This past year we celebrated the birth of new babies and the death of old friends.  For Kai and me, we joyfully welcomed into our family our first granddaughter, Josephine Elise.  We also deeply grieved the death of our spiritual father, mentor, and friend, Pastor Larry Christenson.


In these times of joy and sadness it is so good to remember that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last letter.  In other words, Jesus is saying, “I am the A and the Z, the first letter and the last letter, the beginning of everything and the very last of it all.”  From start to finish He is with us.


As this new year unfolds before us, the constant presence of Jesus gives us hope and also gives us courage.  Dear friends, we are going to need God’s hope and God’s courage this year.  Change is always happening, but this year life will likely push us to our limits on how much change we can handle.  Elmwood’s long and rich history of being a church that trusts in the Lord and lives by His Holy Word will be a vital resource in the days to come.  Not only will there be personal challenges to our life and faith in Christ, but as a congregation we will need His hope and courage to wisely determine His plans for our future.  As 21st century disciples of Christ we must choose to look not to the darkness of the world or the wild waves of change around us, but see Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega of our lives, the beginning and the end of all things, and trust in Him with all our hearts.


I am excited to see how our Lord and Savior makes Himself known, in even greater ways, to us in the days ahead.  I am also confident, that as His Word declares, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God,” so “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”


With joy and expectation we press onward, our utmost for His highest,

Pastor Fred


posted Dec 2, 2017, 7:47 AM by Linda Dickinson

Dear Elmwood Family and Friends,

The words of the lovely Christmas carol “What Child is This?” have been in my thoughts lately.  I did some research and found that William C. Dix, an English business man, had been critically ill in 1865 and during his sickness and recovery he had a powerful spiritual awakening.  Out of his new born faith he wrote a poem “The Manger Throne” from which this carol is taken. Set to the tune of Greensleeves it quickly became a favorite, especially here in the U.S.  Following the Civil War, this carol spoke to the deep pain of our war torn nation. The carol boldly asks us to consider this Boy-child whom angels greet and shepherds seek.  Why is this king found in such a mean estate?  Why is He found where cattle are feeding?

The carol invites us to recognize Jesus as the King of kings who brings salvation to us sinners and to actually enthrone Him in our hearts.  When, like Dix, we choose to “own Him”, we find the same compelling grace flooding our lives, causing us to boldly proclaim that this Jesus is truly Christ the King; whom shepherds guard and angels sing.  With them, once again this Christmas, let us make haste, haste to bring Him laud, praise Him forever more, this Jesus, The Babe, the son of Mary.

A very blessed and joyous Christmas to all,

Pastor Fred and Kai


posted Nov 1, 2017, 12:46 PM by Linda Dickinson

By Kai Thoni


At the time Elmwood hosted Alpha, I downloaded an app onto my iPhone. It is the Alpha Bible in One Year app. One day while listening to the daily Bible readings, I was struck by a passage from Numbers 11:23.  Moses is in a difficult spot. The Israelites are grumbling about the steady diet of manna. (Never mind gratitude for daily provision.) The Lord tells Moses that he has heard the people’s wailing and the complaint, “We were better off in Egypt!” The Lord tells Moses that they are about to get meat, meat and more meat!  

Moses counters with the reality of the “impossible that he sees” by saying to the Lord:  “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” God’s answers Moses: Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

God’s words, “Is the Lord’s arm too short?” struck me. I realized that for us not to call upon Him and trust in Him to do the “impossible” is really an insult. The opposite is also true: To call upon Him and trust Him in difficult situations is what is needful and honoring.

When Dan Moose met with the Elmwood Church Council in September, he called for us to be in dedicated prayer for Elmwood.  This is why during the month of November and the first week of December we will be dedicating the last part of each Sunday morning’s worship service to prayer for Elmwood. It is a time for us to honor God by placing our faith and trust in His plans for Elmwood’s future and to say to Him: “We trust you. We know that Your arm is not too short! We honor you! Your ways are higher than our ways!”

Be encouraged in your prayers for Elmwood by these Scriptures: 

·         Isaiah 59:1:   Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.

·         Isaiah 65:24:  Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.

·         Jeremiah 32:17:  Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.

"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and see my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place."          ~ 2 Chronicles 7:14-15

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