Northern Light’s ‘love letter’ to Orlando reaches United Methodist pastor

July 22, 2016
Northern Light Church members of all ages gathered to create hand-written "love letters to Orlando" following the June 12 shooting at Pulse night club.

By: Christa Meland

In the wake of the June 12 shooting at Pulse night club in Orlando, which killed 49 and wounded 53, members of Northern Light Church in Ramsey felt called to share God’s love with that community.

A member of the church’s art team, which aims to connect creativity with worship and service, suggested that the congregation send “love letters” to Orlando residents—so they gathered after worship one Sunday and on a couple of evenings in late June and prepared hand-written notes providing hope and encouragement to people they didn’t know and would likely never meet. In total, the congregation sent 200 letters to randomly generated addresses.

Amazingly, one of those letters arrived in the mailbox of Rev. Jad Denmark, who serves St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando.

Rev. Cullen Tanner, Northern Light’s pastor, was stunned when he received an email from Denmark, who thanked him. Denmark said his wife is also a pastor, and she serves First United Methodist Church in Orlando; a member of her congregation works at Pulse, and the church has done funerals for a number of the people killed during the night club shooting.

One of the "love letters" sent to Orlando.
“You do lots of things in ministry that you’re just casting your bread on water—you don’t know where it goes,” Tanner said. “Anytime you’re able to see the fruit of that, it means a lot. And to have such a close connection, even though it covers great amount of distance, means a lot.”

Denmark was so touched by the letter that he read it the following Sunday during his sermon, which focused on what it means to be the salt of the earth and affect change for the kingdom of God.

The letter he received said: “Dear beautiful stranger: Some days, I forget my worth. Some days, I feel unloved, and those times, I think of you—the good you do every day. You are loved. We are loved, forever. With love, Northern Light Church, Ramsey, Minnesota.”

Tanner and Denmark exchanged several emails, each asking the other to pray for his community and each vowing to do just that. Tanner told Denmark that Northern Light is just 20 miles from the site of the July 6 officer-involved shooting in Falcon Heights.

Upon learning from Tanner that Northern Light was a new church start, Denmark said it wasn’t so long ago when his own church was in its infancy.

“St. Luke’s is not yet 40 years old,” he wrote to Tanner. “We went from a new church start with nothing…to one of the largest UMCs in the conference with average worship attendance of 1,800 and 4,800 members. I know it’s probably hard to imagine, but who knows what will grow out of your faithful planting.”

Tanner hopes the two congregations will continue to have some type of dialogue into the future—and he told his congregation that the story illustrates that even small churches can make a tangible difference.

“God uses our small acts of faithfulness to do big things,” said Tanner, whose church averages about 75 in worship attendance. “This is something that cost us nothing except time, and it comes from just paying attention to where the Spirit is at work and not being afraid to say ‘yes’ to a new opportunity. You never know where the next moment of grace is going to pop up.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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