Honest Thoughts

Over the last few months, our community of Newberg Friends Church has been fracturing. It’s been painful for us all, in an almost infinitely different amount of ways. There is always hope of something new and good coming out of this, because we serve a God who redeems and resurrects. Grief for what we knew and loved is a normal part of loss, and grief is what I have been feeling. There is also the realization that we have not been a perfect community and some things do need to be different. We, as individuals and as a community, need refining.

In our gathered meetings, things have been said that I do not agree with, that do not describe how I experience Christ and the bible. Hurtful things have been said. I’ve had broken moments before God, because as a pastor and one in leadership, we did not stop hurt. I apologize, and I have asked for God’s forgiveness and direction for the future.

One step I am prompted to take is to share some of my honest thoughts. These are my thoughts; you are free to disagree with them, as I offer them with an open hand and not to coerce. These are my thoughts; I would ask that you not assume that I speak for other pastors, or elders, or anyone else.

Over the years, I’ve changed how I think about what it means for LGBTQIA people to be faithful to Christ. In last Sunday’s meeting, there was a statement that pastors have not given reasons for a change from Faith and Practice that are biblically based. It has been challenging over the last year to be in a different place than our Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice, and I’ve sought God’s direction for how to both have integrity with what I believe and submit to my community. I have not always got that right. Some believe my changes are evidence that I have left biblical faith in Jesus Christ, that I have been influenced by culture. I want to say that from my perspective, these changes have come because of my faith and how the message of the gospel has shaped my life.

Back in January, I surrendered my recording (similar to ordination) with Northwest Yearly Meeting. I want to share the letter I sent at that time as a partial explanation for where I stand. May God help us all in these difficult days. May we all share our beliefs with humility as we strive to listen, discern, and care for each other. May God be faithful to lead us all.

January 30, 2017

To the NWYM Board of Elders,

I am surrendering my recording with Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church.

I am grateful for all the ways this community has nurtured me, mentored me, and taught me. I am grateful for all the ways my family has found life and guidance and has experienced the presence of Jesus through the people and ministries of NWYM. You’ve been a huge part of my development as a follower of Jesus, and I will always be grateful for that. I am sure that many people within NWYM will continue to shape my life.

But I can no longer remain a recorded minister with NWYM.

I no longer support our Faith and Practice statement on human sexuality. This has been a long journey for me. In the last year, I have come to the personal conclusion that I am welcoming to all and affirming that same sex marriage is a viable option for followers of Jesus Christ. I am ready to be part of a church community where LGBTQIA people can openly and honestly be themselves and fully participate. I am ready to be part of a church community where LGBTQIA people are not excluded from membership, leadership, or pastoral ministry based on their sexual orientation or on whether a commitment to celibacy is made. I believe the criteria for membership and leadership should be the same for everyone: a commitment to Jesus Christ, evidence of the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit, and obedience to Christ’s calling.

More than that, I believe the way we have interpreted and enforced this part of our Faith and Practice over the last five years has had the result of excluding and shaming people. It has opened my eyes to the culture of secrecy that our belief and our practice has created, a secrecy that is not in keeping with our Jesus, the proclaimed Light of the world. This secrecy, necessitated by our statement and its enforcement, is having devastating effects spiritually and emotionally and physically, as evidenced by the high suicide rate for LGBTQIA youth.

But surrendering my recording is far broader than one issue. I see NWYM increasingly embracing a holiness theology and practice that is based on purity and separation. Whatever is deemed as sinful or wrong; whatever people, actions or beliefs do not fit within the purity system are to be removed and excluded. This is not consistent with how I interpret scripture. I have not found this way of dealing with sin to be effective in my experience. The power of Christ’s gospel is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) The power of the incarnation is that God took on frail, human, marginalized flesh, identified with us, embraced us in all our weakness, and redeemed us. The power of the cross is that once and for all, the sorrow and the sin and the scapegoating of all human experience was swallowed up by our suffering Savior. The power of the resurrection is that Jesus is the firstborn of a new family, a new nation, a new community; a community not bound by narrow limits of purity or obedience but consecrated by a person’s commitment to the living Lord.

Our salvation came because Jesus bore the wrath of the holiness purity system with his violent death. His death demonstrated that system’s failure, by rejecting and crucifying God’s Messiah. His resurrection demonstrates God’s power to do a new thing, a permanent thing…an ushering in of the reign of God, “bringing all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10). The holiness purity system has been proven wrong. God’s clear plan and purpose now is one of unifying, not of separating. Why are we as an institution going against what God has done and is doing in Christ?

I’ve watched the Yearly Meeting draw boundary lines which exclude not only LGBTQIA people, but also any who might believe or teach something against Faith and Practice’s statement. This does not match the practice of Jesus, who broke all the boundary lines and purity standards of his day. He ate with tax collectors, let prostitutes touch him, ate and drank with “sinners”. This radical acceptance, I believe, is what made it possible for people to come to repentance and be changed by the Holy Spirit of God. I’ve heard many say: “Yes, but Jesus also said ‘Go and sin no more.’” I would remind that it was Jesus who said that; not the disciples, not the religious leaders. I believe it is the present Jesus Christ, it is the Holy Spirit today that convicts of sin and empowers true change, not our boundary lines or proclamations of sin.

Northwest Yearly Meeting and other Quakers taught me the power and beauty of a wide open, bold pursuit of God’s truth. I learned that all of life was sacramental. I learned the positive power of giving testimony to God’s work in us as opposed to the restrictive power of creeds. But over recent years, I’ve received many messages from NWYM that as a pastor, as a recorded minister, I should not voice my perspective if it did not fit within Faith and Practice. I’ve heard messages that it is dangerous for people to hear something contrary to what has been defined as truth. My perspective is completely opposite. I believe God’s Holy Spirit is active and powerful. I believe it is in the bold asking of questions and listening to other perspectives that the Holy Spirit is able to guide us into all truth. I want to live in a community where we boldly question as we seek God’s truth, trusting the Holy Spirit, the scriptures, and the community to keep us on the path of discipleship. It is discipleship, not purity, to which we are called.

In addition, the recent decision to initiate a reorganization into two Yearly Meetings without asking for approval has clearly demonstrated to me that I no longer belong as a recorded minister of this Yearly Meeting. We are obviously divided. Yet a small number of people have made the decision to define what Northwest Yearly Meeting will be. I left the ECNA church to join Northwest Yearly Meeting for many reasons, including a model of communal listening together to the Spirit of God. I’ve valued waiting and silence, wrestling and churning with my community as we do the hard work of discernment. I’ve grieved our inability to live that out over the last three or four years as a Yearly Meeting.

So it is with regret that I surrender my recording to you. I love the people of Northwest Yearly Meeting. I will do my part to keep relationship open. My hope and prayer is that we all together will seek Christ.

Sincerely and with love,

Gregg Koskela

Universal and Particular

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on December 24, 2016)


Most of us who grew up in the United States probably had an image of Jesus’ birth that was something like this…


or maybe this…


It’s important to be clear to say that Jesus didn’t glow as he laid in the manger…that’s not what it means that Jesus is the Light of the World! Jesus also was not white. He was born to a particular time and place, to Palestine in the 1st century, a Middle Eastern Jewish baby born into a world of color.


Our faith hinges on this unique, miraculous act of God!

God went “all in” for us and with us, becoming a human being like us. This happened in this world, this world which is bound by time and culture and place. For the eternal, all-encompassing God to join with humanity, for that to happen in this world, it had to be defined by a time and a people and a culture and a place.

It really did happen! Jesus was born as an outcast with the shadow of illegitimacy over him, to people who were defeated and oppressed by an occupying foreign government. The unbound, universal God became particular and located, with a color and a language and a smell and a people. It is good for us to look at this picture, and remember that most of us with our color and language and smell and people would be outsiders in this scene.

But something beautifully miraculous happened in this cosmic act of love!

As particular and as specifically located as this was, there was never any doubt God was doing this for us all. When the angels lit up the sky to sing and shout his birth, peace was announced for the WHOLE earth. When Simeon blessed baby Jesus in the temple, he said: “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of ALL nations; a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”

Magi arrived to honor him as King, Magi who lived so far away it may have taken them two years to travel all the way to find Jesus. This is good news of great joy for ALL the people! In this sense, none of us are outsiders. None of us are outside God’s act of drawing near, of God taking on human flesh.

Jesus did look something like this picture…maybe not with the cheesy costumes, but with this color skin on him and around him. Yet this cosmic act of love by our Creator God to join humanity is something people around the world see as a connection with THEM. It isn’t just Western culture that remakes baby Jesus into our own image. There’s something so powerful about God joining our human world that we all can’t help but feel like Jesus came to our people and looked like us.

We can make our way south from Palestine, through Congo…


and Uganda.


People there see Jesus as their own, too. There’s a wrong way to do this of course, to rip Jesus out of what truly was his Middle Eastern home and claim him as our own, erasing what was actually true.

But there’s a healthy way to do this: never forgetting that Jesus actually lived as a first century Jew, but realizing that it was news of “great joy for all people”…realizing that when God became human, there was a connection forged with us all.

And so you can head east…to India…


to Thailand…


to China…


to Korea.


You can cross the water to Japan…


to the Philippines…


to Australia.


You can leap the vast Pacific and see Jesus in Bolivian garb…


as if he came to Guatemala…


or to the Crow Nation in Native North America.


And while none of that is true in the literal sense, because Jesus was a first century Jew…the actual Jesus who walked Palestinian soil is truly “a light for revelation” to all us outsiders. God truly became one of us. God’s coming to a particular time and place and yet being the savior for us all reminds us of our common, equal humanity before God.

All these beautiful imaginations of the Holy Family remind us that God came to us all!

It truly is a great joy, joy to all the world! Tonight, we say thank you for the gift of Jesus. We say yes to God with our minds and hearts. Let’s continue our thanks and our worship by singing together.

Joy to the World, Hark the Herald

We’re coming to the main point of these “candlelight” Christmas Eve services.

This is my last year getting to lead this service, something I’ve missed only once since 2002. I was remembering that first Christmas Eve service in 2002-I was 34, 5 months into a job that was over my head. We also had a baby who was five and a half months old, so we were sleep deprived and trying to come to grips with life and work.

After the last Christmas Eve service, I was talking to someone up there in the balcony. I wish I could remember who it was. Anyway, he made me realize that many of you were still trying to come to grips with me in this role, too. He said something like, “I wasn’t really convinced you could pull this lead pastor thing off; I’ve been watching all fall. But when you came out here tonight with the sweater and everything went ok, I knew we were all going to make it!”

If only I’d known five months sooner! It just takes the sweater!

I bring that up tonight for one reason only: someone else is going to wear the sweater next year, and it’s going to be just fine for everybody. Because you and I both know that’s a great metaphor: being a pastor is first and foremost about what you put on. Are you covered with the calling and the empowerment of God’s Spirit? That’s what matters, and that’s from God.

The church isn’t a pastor. It’s a community of Spirit-empowered people who help each other gather around Jesus who is our center. Thanks be to God!

Just a few reminders before we share the light from these advent candles with each other.

Even these little flames are dangerous, so please be careful of papers and clothing and hair around you, not to set them on fire. It’s easier to pass the flame by having the lit candle straight up and down and tipping the unlit candle over the lit one.

Use the shield to keep the hot wax from burning your hand, and please do your best to keep it from dripping on the floor or the pews.

These words are ones I’ve been sharing on this night for many years.

May this act of lighting candles bring honor to Jesus, who on a silent night long ago entered our world and our frame of reference so that we would not be alone in the dark.

May our caring for the light of these candles remind us of the need to pay attention to what God is doing in our lives each and every day of the year.

May the ease with which we share the candle light with our neighbors remind us that Jesus lives to be shared with everyone!

And, may the light that will soon illuminate this entire room remind us that however dark it seems in our world, however dark it seems in our lives, there is NO darkness great enough to overcome God’s supreme and ultimate light, Jesus Christ.

Amy-Final Round

Well, the vote totals dropped significantly…it’s like you were all celebrating a holiday or something. Anyway, #1 seed Breath of Heaven absolutely crushed Hark the Herald. The other match was a little closer, but we find that 11 seed Emmanuel pushed through with a big win over Tennessee Christmas.

Get your final votes in by 9 pm PST Tuesday!



#1 Breath of Heaven vs. #11 Emmanuel

Amy-Round 3


It looks like iTunes seeds these Amy favorites pretty well! And, looks like we all love that first CD…3 out of the final 4 are from it. Get your votes in by Monday at 8 pm PST!

#1 Breath of Heaven vs. #4 Hark the Herald Angels


#2 Tennessee Christmas vs. #11 Emmanuel

Amy Grant-Round 2

Here in the warm belt of a Tennessee Christmas, I’ve discovered not just the Rogers clan; there are so many for whom Amy has brought peace and serenity (now) into 2016 Christmas. And lo and behold! I find that you voters are like me, and far prefer Amy’s first Christmas album…many of the upsets came from young Amy’s first Christmas recording. In fact, the only songs from the first recording that lost ended up being ones that lost to other recordings from the first cd…err, cassette. 🙂 Five of the final eight come from 1983.


So let’s do this…let’s vote these 8 survivors down to 4 by Christmas Eve night, and then I’ll give a couple of days for the next round of voting so that you can spend time with your family without being distracted by voting! Deadline is Saturday night at 10 pm PST.

#1 Breath of Heaven vs. #9 Welcome to Our World


#4 Hark the Herald Angels vs. #12 Heirlooms


#11 Emmanuel vs. #14 Love Has Come


#2 Tennessee Christmas vs. #7 Agnus Dei

What Child-Final!


After all the yelling, cheating accusations, angst and beautiful renditions, we’ve come to the final and it’s #1 vs. #2. Finish Advent Caroling Madness strong, and get your votes in by Christmas Eve at 10 pm PST!

#1 seed Andrea Bocelli and R&B power from Mary J. Blige takes on #2 seed Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

What Child-Round 4

The Amy Grant bracket stole all the interest! But for awhile today, I was worried for my favs. But by the end of the day, things look pretty good in my world.

Vote us down to the finals by Friday at 8 pm PST!


#1 seed Andrea Bocelli and R&B power from Mary J. Blige vs. #4 seed Earth, Wind & Fire


#2 seed Bela Fleck and the Flecktones vs. #14 seed Mahalia Jackson

Amy Grant Warmth and Cheer!


Yesterday’s fighting and yelling and angst and ballot box stuffing was great for my blog stats, but was not conducive to building the warm glow of Christmas cheer. So with the big day just a few short days away, it’s time to wrap yourself in the warm fuzzy Christmas blanket that is the bracket o’ Amy!

NO HATERS! If Amy is not your thing, you just get yourself on over to the What Child is This? bracket without saying a word here. I mean it, Josh Reid…and Bethany Bylsma…and Bob Ramsey. This is a linkfest of Amy love, a nomination of Amy nostalgia. Rogers family et. al., enjoy!

(I let iTunes popularity ratings largely control the seedings, with my own little tweaks that always favor the original Amy Grant Christmas of my youth…)

Here we go! Votes must be in by Friday at 8 pm PST.

#1 Breath of Heaven vs. #16 It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year


#8 Christmas Lullaby vs. #9 Welcome to Our World


#5 To Be Together vs. #12 Heirlooms


#4 Hark the Herald Angels Sing vs. #13 Sleigh Ride


#6 A Christmas to Remember vs. #11 Emmanuel


#3 I Need a Silent Night vs. #14 Love Has Come


#7 Agnus Dei vs. #10 Grown Up Christmas List


#2 Tennessee Christmas vs. #15 O Come All Ye Faithful


Get to it!