Details on the Alley Church and the Minnesota South District, by Pr. Rossow

On  Tuesday I introduced you to a troubling situation in the Minnesota South District of the LCMS. There is a new congregation in the twin cities in that district named The  Alley. It was  started by Pastor Dean Nadasdy’s church, Woodbury Lutheran Church. This oddly named church (see Tuesday’s post)  has received Ablaze money from the synod but cannot get into its sponsoring district (Minnesota South) because it does not comply with its policies. The Minnesota South District  has a policy that all of its new mission starts must have the  monicker “Lutheran” in their name and must also practice Lutheran forms of worship by consistently using the Lutheran Service Book.

 

These are good policies that help a district exercise its God-given responsibility to supervise the doctrine and practice of its congregations. No man-made policy is mandatory for salvation but by promoting   Lutheran identity and practice, both of which are Scriptural and God-pleasing, the Minnesota South District is faithfully doing its duty to God to insure that His children are kept within the bounds of His precious Gospel.

 

The reaction to this story from members and/or supporters of The Alley church has been strong. You can see their comments by clicking on Tuesday’s post. (Note particularly comments 8, 12, 21, and following for a lengthy discussion of this matter.) Their position is that in order to attract new members they need to jettison the hymnal. They also assert that it is legalistic to require the use of a Lutheran hymnal in a Lutheran congregation. Both of these claims are false. Hymnal using congregations regularly attract new members and requiring the use of a particular hymnal does not threaten one’s salvation by grace alone in Christ (legalism) but instead upholds that salvation. These policies would not be necessary were it not for churches like The Alley that overstep the bounds of Lutheranism. The Minnesota South District is trying to curb the rampant false teaching that goes on in LCMS congregations today that use all sorts of heterodox materials in their congregations.  The suggested reading list on The Alley’s website is a classic example of this. There are four books featured there. None of them is from our denominationally approved publisher Concordia Publishing House. None of the books is by an LCMS author. All of them are by heterodox teachers.

 

Once again I am getting off the main subject. The point of today’s post is to detail the interaction between The Alley and the Minnesota South District (MNS). In 2007 the MNS budgeted money for the Alley as a new mission start sponsored by Woodbury Lutheran Church. (By the way, Woodbury Lutheran Church gave over $200,000 to missions in 2007 and less than 5% of it went to the LCMS. The other 95% went to missions sponsored by Pentecostal and Evangelical groups.)

 

In December of that year the MNS Board of Directors passed a resolution which required that all subsidized English Speaking congregations be required to use the LSB in their service consistently. Another resolution was passed that required all Mission congregations to provide proof that they were practicing closed Communion.

 

At the February 2008 meeting of the MNS Board of Directors a concern was expressed that a 1995 resolution of the LCMS required the name Lutheran to be used by our congregations and that “the Alley” apparently did not have Lutheran in its name.

 

At the May meeting of the MNS BOD the Board approved the constitution and by-laws of “The Alley Lutheran Church.” At the same meeting the BoD “postponed action on the application” of “The Alley” for membership in the synod.

 

At the September meeting of the MNS BoD adopted a resolution which said in part, ‘Resolved, that the Board grant funds only to those congregations and subsidized ministries that fulfill 1995 Synod Resolution 3-13A.”    

 

LCMS 1995 3-13A says:

 

Resolved, that all congregations and mission stations in our Synod boldly profess in their official title and/or name that they are “Lutheran”; and be it further

Resolved, that all congregations and mission stations of our Synod state in their materials (bulletins, newsletters, etc.) that they belong to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod; and be it finally

Resolved, that all LCMS congregations gladly proclaim our great doctrinal heritage to a world that needs the clear proclamation of the truth;

 

 

At that September meeting the BoD again postponed a decision until its December 2008 meeting.

 

At the December meeting  the BoD voted against accepting “The Alley’s” application for membership in the LCMS.

 

It was then discovered that The Alley had received an Ablaze grant.

 

It was also pointed out that while “The Alley” had changed its name to “the Alley Lutheran Church” there was no indication on their church sign, on their website or in their bulletin that they were actually Lutheran church.

 

The last time the MNS district declined to accept a congregation into the synod, and this was at its convention, that congregation went to the English district and got accepted.

 

This situation magnifies one of the acute problems in our Synod that the Ablaze program has brought to us. It is an odd day and age in which the Lutheran church needs to pass motions to require their congregations to include the word “Lutheran” in their name. Why is this? It is because the name Lutheran is viewed as a stumbling block for people to join the church. It is because the church has been affected by the same liberal and secular tendencies that are showing up in our culture. The 1960’s and 70’s brought a spirit of anti-authoritarianism and unbridled freedom to our culture and it has made its way into the church. If you read the comments of the supporters of The Alley you will note this spirit of anti-authoritarianism and unbridled freedom. “Don’t make me use a hymnal. You cannot require me to do that. I affirm the independent spirit of this church, etc.”

 

The church is also drinking deeply of the well of informality, another product of the 1960’s and 70’s. Personally I like informality. As I write this post I am reclining in my favorite leather chair, my cat is laying on my outstretched legs and the business channel is on in the background. Here’s to informality! But when I enter the presence of the Holy God to confess my sins, receive His word and eat and drink His body and blood, my personal desire for informality is best  set aside.

 

It is an odd world in which mission congregations can get Ablaze $$$ and yet clash with their sponsoring districts guidelines that are in place to insure that their members are fed the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. We call for more supervision in the disbursement of Ablaze funds. Until that happens, supporting Ablaze is giving money to undo Lutheranism’s historic and incessant dedication to preaching, teaching and spreading the pure Gospel of Christ.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

Details on the Alley Church and the Minnesota South District, by Pr. Rossow — 28 Comments

  1. Pr. Rossow,

    Thank you for clarifying the history of this particular congregation and this situation.

    While I have many difficulties with the Ablaze! (TM) program/movement, best construction seems to require me to mostly beg off of this one at this time. According to your own account, the Ablaze! (TM) grant was given while the membership application was pending, and it was legitimate to anticipate approval since it is rare for a congregation to be declined. If these funds had been granted after rejection of membership, I would be right with you. I agree that it probably would have been better if Synod, Inc. had waited until the congregation was actually received into membership, and that is something that should be looked at. Hopefully from here on out, Synod will not undermine Synod in that place (aka the MNS district) – though I am realistic enough to not hold my breath. If (when) that happens, I will join you in calling (loudly) for the Synod to repent and behave according to the agreed standard. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
    I appreciate that the MNS District takes seriously our common confession and how that confession is shaped by worship practice. While my initial reaction is that limiting mission congregations to LSB (rather than any of the Synodically adopted/approved hymnals) may not be the most financially expedient, if the District is willing to pony up the additional funding, then fine. (As a general rule, I am opposed to the unfunded mandate by fiat, be it legislative or executive, within the kingdom of the left. But that’s a whole other subject…)

    –The Padre

  2. Padre,

    I think you have good wisdom to offer here. I have taken your comments to heart, as I do all the comments on this website.

    You are correct that the criticism ought not to be the giving of the Ablaze funds comapred to the final standard of the district. That sort of administrative mix-up could easily happen in a synod of our size. However, I think my point is actually the interesting situation that we find ourselves in at the end of the day and that is this…

    A congregation can qualify for Ablaze funds (because of lower standards than the district) and then not get into the district when it is time to sign on the dotted line.

    Also, in terms of funding for a hymnal, I think it should be a given that if Ablaze or a district or a congregation is going to fund a mission start, the cost of hymnals would be in that budget. Sadly, this situation illustrates that the Ablaze program does not make that a requirement.

    Pastor Rossow

  3. I recall a woman in my congregation claiming it was legalistic when we read an excerpt from the Formula of Concord in Bible class a couple of years ago (The Lutheran Difference Series from CPH).

    They don’t know what legalistic means . . .

  4. Pr. Rossow,

    Thank you for bringing this congregation and these issues to the brothers and sisters here.

    As a Lutheran convert I can’t help but be amazed at why anyone would want to settle for “church light” when they can have the “full meal deal”. Is there something wrong with being Lutheran? Is there something wrong with our Lutheran distinctives?

    Regarding “legalism”, isn’t it legalistic to think that the traditional ways of practicing liturgy can’t “work” and must be changed? That is, in order to be “successful” a congregation must conform to a church growth marketing formula to be relevant to the culture around them? That change is not only essential, but necessary? The legalistic are those who think they are bringing people to God through their programs. They have forgotten that it is the Holy Spirit through His Word that brings people to Christ Jesus.

  5. This is legalistic. A REQUIREMENT that churches in fellowship use a particular liturgy is BAD DOCTRINE.

    The Bible, early church, and confessions do not require uniform liturgy, yet the MNS has made it a requirement for fellowship? On what basis? What if Alley wanted to use TLH because it would be cheaper, would it be denied admission? There is nothing in scripture by which to convict the Alley for in its failure to use LSB.

    What hymnal to use, if any, is a matter for the congregation.

    BUT. From what I see, they appear to have other doctrinal problems. By focusing on the doctrinal problems, we might point them back to Scripture, and they might see their errors. Ideally, they would use Divine Service (except 4, I don’t like that one), but if they are otherwise in accord with the confessions and Scripture, we have no basis on which to convict them.

  6. My argument in short: any rule that separates from fellowship a church in which the Word and Sacrament are properly administered is sinful legalism. Proper administration of Word and Sacrament does not require use of LSB.

    I have no idea whether the Alley properly administers Word and Sacrament, but I would doubt it. If so, let’s constructively and lovingly seek to bring them to recognize their error.

  7. My question is what right do these congregations have to receive any money from the synod especially when they do not want to yield to Scripture and confession. Also why would they only give 5% to their own church and pony up money for the heterodox groups that do not want to accomplish the mission of Ablaze because they are not Lutheran and do not desire to promote Lutheranism.

    It is amazing other church bodies are benefitting from the money of the LCMS in the Ablaze program.

  8. Was something wrong with my previous comment? If so, please explain my error. I see nothing in Scripture, early church history, or the confessions requiring uniform liturgy, and adding a requirement for uniform liturgy causes unnecessary division.

  9. Nevermind, something was futzy, my comments weren’t appearing.

    I’m truly curious as what defense can be made for MNS’s policy. It is certainly preferable to have universal use of divine service, and for churches to identify themselves as Lutheran (though I dislike naming our confession after a man, like it’s a Catholic order), but shouldn’t there be something in scripture or the confessions to justify denying fellowship to a congregation on those grounds?

  10. J. Jenkins,

    This is about Scripture and the Confessions. It is all about Scripture and the Confessions. The LSB is a scriptural and confessional hymnbook. It has a wide variety of styles and hymns in it. It is the way we have chosen to worship as synod. Using it guarantees the bishop that there is confessional unity in his district. Otherwise he has to check out 200 liturgies or so every week in his district to assure thay they are scriptural.

    If you look at the “What We Believe” statement of The Alley (included in one of the comments above) you will see that it is not scriptural because it leaves out major teachings of Scripture. It actually sounds more Evangelical/Calvinist than Lutheran. It says nothing of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc.

    Pastor Rossow

  11. J. Jenkins,

    First time commenters have to be cleared – not for content but to make sure they are not spam. Sometimes it may take a while to get posted if we are away from the site for a few hours. Thanks for your post, I disagree with it but it certainly added to the discussion. Thank you also for taking the time to read our website.

    Pastor Rossow

  12. Brian Y,

    Thank you so much for getting us back to the issue here. You are dead right on!

    Pastor Rossow

  13. J. Jenkins,

    Your assertion is correct that the LSB is not a required thing to properly administer word and sacrament. However, you and I can state such truisms in the vacuum of ideology but bishops are being faced with all sorts of challenges to confesional doctrine and practice and need to establish policies to allow them to supervise doctrine.

    This is nothing new and IT IS ACTUALLY IN THE LCMS CONSTITUTION! It has always been there. Churches in the LCMS are to use only those worship materials that have been approved for use by the synod. The most important thing we do as a synod is practice the Divine Service and so from teh very get go the synod has required that in this most important thing we be synod – that is walk together. The Alley desires to be an independent church. This is not synod.

    Keep in mind – the desire to experiment in worship is the product of a cultural thing – the radicalism and romanticism of the 1960’s and 70’s. For 2,000 years the church has been just fine using rites to unify and give the opportunity for the church to walk together. The church broadly speaking has such things as the Roman Rite, the Eastern Rite, the Greek Orthodox Rite, etc. The independent sort wants to have the right to do their own thing. The conserving type is happy to use a rite that unites. The MNS’s decision does not divide as you suggest. It unites. Independence is what divides and that even by definition.

    Pastor Rossow

  14. Another aspect that hasn’t been mentioned is that there is a well established LCMS congregation within a few miles from “The Alley.” I’m sure this congregation would love to have new members. Ironically, Woodbury Lutheran isn’t that far from “The Alley,” either. I wonder if they compete for members in the Woodbury-Cottage Grove-Newport area?

  15. Anyone who believes that God isn’t concerned with how we worship has never read the Old Testament, in particular Leviticus. The Torah is FILLED with the way that the Lord would have His people worship Him, right down to how to give a blessing to His people (the Aaronic blessing). Now, does this mean that we have return to the OT forms of worship? No. But it does mean that God is VERY concerned with the WAY in which we worship Him. He is a God of order, and we His people should worship Him in good order. The LSB (or any other Lutheran hymnal for that matter) is an excellent resource for the best way to do that, and that’s why I applaud the MNS for its policy and for sticking to it.

  16. I will bet that not 100% of the people in the town where the Alley is go to church. Just because there is another church somewhere in the area does not mean that they are losing people to the Alley. Nor does it mean that God can not use both churches to reach many in that town.

  17. Paul,

    Wouldn’t you say it is more a matter of starting a different type of church. I have not seen the voters assembly meeting minutes at Woodbury where this new mission was hatched and approvied but that is what I have seen time and time again and that is what is promoted by the authors that are featured on The Alley website. The rational is that we are starting a different type of church in order to reach more people.

    On a secular level that makes sense but as we have argued here it does not compute on a theological level.

    Pastor Rossow

  18. Paul writes, “Nor does it mean that God can not use both churches to reach many in that town.”

    I think that goes without saying. God even spoke through an ass to Balaam. The issue isn’t what God can do, but whether or not His people are being faithful to Word and Sacrament that He gives us. When we begin to jettison traditional liturgy for other practices in the name of being “missional”, we invite scrutiny by our brothers and sisters who do indeed love us and want to ensure that we remain faithful to the Word of God and our Lutheran confessions.

  19. “Churches in the LCMS are to use only those worship materials that have been approved for use by the synod.”

    Wow, that certainly isn’t being followed.

    I don’t have a problem with requiring approval, so long as it is a simple process that permits gifted pastors the ability to cater to the needs of their congregations in a way that complies with doctrine. I don’t think the requirement of LSB use can be justified by Scripture or the confessions.

    On the Cyberstones blog there was a good discussion of this issue, only it regarded a service for Corpus Christi. http://www.redeemerfortwayne.org/blog.php?msg=6950

    I think Pastor Petersen’s argument wins handily. Prudence and caution are necessary when going beyond standard materials in conducting worship, but REQUIREMENTS prohibiting that amount to legalism. If you are going to have requirements, you have to be willing to separate violators from yourself, and prudence and caution also necessitate that a church unified in doctrine is not separated due to differences of opinion regarding adiaphora.

  20. Churches in the LCMS are to use only those worship materials that have been approved for use by the synod.

    Granted, I’ve been out of the LCMS for several years now, but that’s not quite accurate, as I recall it; rather, it is that you are to use “only doctrinally pure hymnbooks and agenda.” Thus, no one should be condemning an LCMS congregation for using the old Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary of the Norwegians (nor the new one of the same name).

    Obviously, if the LCMS were actually functioning as it ought, it would approve only doctrinally correct materials, but we know that the LCMS has approved some truly garbagy ‘songbooks’ in the past…and these should be rejected by anyone who wants to be in line with the LCMS constitution, regardless of their bearing a CPH nihil obstat or synodical imprimatur.

    BTW, The Lutheran Church in Lanka wants to know why any Confessional Lutheran would fund a ‘mission’ that is not outwardly identifiable as Lutheran and seems–in the midst of some good statements about Man’s relationship to God and peace with God being made only in Christ Jesus–to avoid the cross and the means of that cross being attached to the Christian in Holy Baptism and the fruits thereof being given us again and again in the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. The LCL website is still in its infancy, but they intend to have a better, clearer, more cross-focused doctrinal statement than what has been posted on the BJS site, also avoiding some distinctively Calvinistic terminology and the confusion of whether the victory was won on Good Friday or on Easter.

    Why is it, they wonder, that they suffer and starve to be Lutherans amongst the Buddhists (who are pushing a new anti-conversion law through parliament), while those who wish to practice in a way that does not lift up the pure Lutheran doctrine are given the ‘mission offerings’ of faithful Lutherans so that they may do so.

    If someone can give me a good answer to that by Sunday at midnight, I’ll check for it during class tomorrow and present Pres. Raja Fernando with the official answer to ‘why this is good and right’. (Note: we are studying Luther’s “Theology of the Cross”–basically, giving them more tools with which to comprehend what all they have suffered and continue to suffer–so they actually already know the answer.)

    It’s 3:05 pm on a lovely afternoon in Minuwangoda, where northern Europeans are doing what they do so well in Sri Lanka…i.e., proving that they should wear more clothing when they swim!

    EJG

  21. Even the ministry of Jesus Christ was not accepted by the established religious leaders of the time. What part of the Alley’s mission do you have a problem with, and what are your recomendations for reaching those that will never darken the door of a “traditional” Lutheran church? I say let them do that which God has called them to and support them. Your condemnation looks to me like a case of “Lutheran before Christian.”

  22. Greg,

    Thanks for your interest in our website.

    You misunderstand what it means to be Lutheran. From Luther, to Walther and right up to this website, Lutheranism has always meant doing church in accordance with the scriptures.

    Here is the simplest, bluntest way I can try to get you to see this. The Alley’s philosophy is “let’s make the church like the culture.” Traditional Lutheranims understands from the Bible that we are not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2).

    Obviously the issue is much more complex than that but on the simplest level, The Alley has a philosphy that flies in the face of scripture whereas the “traditional” Lutheran church is the one that like Jesus, is counter cultural.

    Concerning the matter of reaching those who will never darken the door of church I submit that places like The Alley make it far too complex. Why do you have to totally redo church to accomplish this. Last night we went out to dinner with our unchurched next door neighbors. Over the course of the last few months we have had several conversations about God, Christ and church. They have even started coming to our church. Very interesting, before they started coming, when I told them we were a traditional church and not some funky new thing they said, “Oh good. We are not interested in that. We want a real church.”

    I am very interested in your response.

    Pastor Rossow

  23. “Lutheran before Christian”? I’m sorry, did you misspell the word ‘therefore’ as ‘before’, or do the following statements apply t you (whether you’re a pastor or not)?

    A number of questions must be put the pastor who would defend the statement being examined here. What is there in Lutheranism that is not Christian, falls short of being Christian or goes beyond it? Something there must be, and the defender must know what it is, else he could not make the statement at all. And the question that follows is a very serious one: What is the pastor doing to eliminate the non-Christian element in Lutheranism? Or more seriously still: Why is he content to remain passively in what is partly at least a non-Christian situation without doing anything to right matters? If the pastor is capable in his ministry of eliminating the non-Christian, but Lutheran, elements, then, if he is at all earnest and sincere in his devotion to the Christian faith, he should be actively engaged in eliminating this element in the whole church to which he belongs, not merely in his personal ministry. He should not willingly, without protest, continue in a fellowship which is as such devoted to some Lutheran, but non-Christian activities.

    Rather:

    The Lutheran pastor can have and should have the conviction that his Lutheran and Christian witness has the blessing of God, for it is God’s Word and not his own that he is proclaiming. His witness will not lead astray, he will not by a false and inadequate witness put a hindrance or stumbling block in the way of sinners We may re-formulate the idea and the sentence with which we began. The Lutheran pastor should say: “I make Lutherans of the non-churched, the ‘outsiders,’ hoping that they will become Christian.” Or: “I want the unbelievers to become Christians, and that is why I make Lutherans of them.” And why not: “Christian, therefore, Lutheran”?

    For the rest of this article by the Rev. Dr. Henry P. Hamann (who dealt with such thoughts already back in 1968…recognizing, too, that Walther and so forth dealt with them back in the 1800s, since such negative statements have always been made about those who insist on doctrine and practice that are faithful to God’s Word and glorify Him alone), please see the Grace, Kincardine and Southampton Lutheran Churches website.

    EJG

  24. I think the Alley has a great mission, which is not to conform to the world. That has never been there mission, nor will it ever be. The heart of the Alley is to reach the lost, which should be the mission of all churches. They may not have an organ like the “traditional Lutheran Church.” However, if you looked at the heart of their music and the church, you would find God fearing people who hold true to preaching and teaching the word of God.

    Let us not hinder the work of God and the Alley with empty criticism. We are the body of Christ, let’s act like it.

  25. I am a very traditional Lutheran, and been in the Lutheran Church my whole life. What you are bringing up against The Alley is nonsense. I do not see one word about their Confession and Absolution. Let me tell you in the wider world, no one knows that Lutheran means Christians. As an educator we have 10 to 15 parents ask us, what is Lutheran, is it Christian. When I went to a Lutheran high school, and ran cross country, other teams asked us if we were Catholic. Names are names. The great Commission asks us to Go OUT. We need churches like the Alley and the Well in California that goes Out to reach those who might never set foot in a Traditional Lutheran Church. It may not be your way, may not be my way, but as long as it is God’s way who are we to step in the way. I wish Pastor Griffin and everyone else at The Alley the best of Lucky and keep the Faith.

  26. I am a member of the Alley church and stumbled upon this article when doing a google search for our website. ( I had forgotten to bookmark our website for those who wish to visit it is: theAlley.org) Although I can appreciate the tradition that is mentioned in use of the hymnal, I have been a member of the LCMS for 40+ years and relocated w times throughout the country only to find that many LCMS churches use the hymnals in varying degrees. n the Lutheran church, I was taught to believe that when not understanding scripture, look to other relevant verses to clarify. It only made sense that when trying to understand what the Lutheran church stands for, one would go back to the writings of Luther. Which brings me to the question “What would Martin Luther say about all the controversy surrounding the Alley? I found myself going back to some the the teachings of Luther that I had not looked at since confirmation, and certainly not in this kind of depth.

    A great source of the translations of Luther’s writings are found through the Project Wittenburg. Since I didn’t know whether this is a reliable site, I was glad to see it was a project from Concordia Seminary. I enjoyed reading through his view on things such as worship, communiion, etc.

    (Project Wittenberg is home to works by and about Martin Luther and other Lutherans. Here you will find all manner of texts from short quotations to commentaries, hymns to statements of faith, theological treatises to biographies, and links to other places where words and images from the history of Lutheranism live.
    Project Wittenberg is the first step towards an international electronic library of Lutheranism. Project Wittenberg documents are available in several places on the internet. This site mirrors texts from Project Wittenberg’s official website, http://www.ProjectWittenberg.org. For the latest versions of our texts, many of which are still being assembled and refined, drop in at Project Wittenberg’s Electronic Lutheran Web.

    ON THE ISSUE OF THE USE OF THE HYMNAL :

    I invite you to search the writings of Luther on the German Mass and Order of Devine Service http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/germnmass-order.txt

    My degree is not in theology, but Luther’s word are pretty clear when it comes to whether or not to demand the order of worship that he speaks about. I encourage you to read through this, noting the words I have highlighted. H

  27. I’ve been attending the Alley church for 3 years now and just want to bear witness that my love for Christ and my love for by neighbor has never been deeper and continues to deepen.

    At the Alley, the focus is on Jesus Christ. —- Follow Jesus. Live Love.

    “And now abide faith, hope, love these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
    I Corinthians 13:13.

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