Churches Reach Out with Ministry of Hope
Eye on LSSI, Spring 2006 ( Download PDF of entire publication)
Each day, Illinois congregations reach out to the “invisible” people — the homeless, the hungry, the incarcerated — to serve these and others who are in need in their communities. To recognize and honor the social ministry extended by these ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) churches, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) initiated the Ministry of Hope Award in 2004. The award recognizes one church in each of the three Illinois synods for its work in addressing needs of the greater community. Eleven such congregations were nominated to receive the 2005 Ministry of Hope award.
The 2005 awards were presented to First Lutheran Church of Galesburg (Northern Illinois Synod), Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Schaumburg (Metro Chicago Synod) and Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Springfield (Central/Southern Synod). In 2004, Zion Lutheran Church in Rockford, St. John’s Lutheran Church in Springfield and Salem Lutheran Church in Chicago received the Ministry of Hope Award in their respective synods.
“With this award, we recognize these congregations’ remarkable contributions in bringing healing, justice and wholeness to their communities,” says Pastor Frederick Aigner, LSSI president.
“We are blessed to have the opportunity to recognize congregations for the ministry they do with LSSI and throughout their communities,” says Lisa Hassenstab, associate director, Office of Church and Government Relations. “The ministry of LSSI is greatly enhanced by the partnership we have with congregations throughout the state and by their participation in their communities, and to recognize these congregations is to recognize the work of the Gospel in the world.”
Following is a glimpse of how these three churches extend their ministry into their communities.
Helping Care for God’s People in Galesburg
“We are very delighted with the relationship [our church has] with LSSI and with having such a caring, compassionate organization in our community to help care for God’s people,” says Pastor Paul E. Johnson, senior pastor at First Lutheran Church in Galesburg. “Our philosophy is that we are called to share the good news of the Gospel, not only in word but also in terms of service in the community.”
First Lutheran is doing its part. The church has its own food pantry and also contributes to another area pantry. Through its Christian Home Mission Fund, the church helps individuals or families that have temporarily fallen short of funds for such basics as food, utilities and medicine.
Another gift is the presence of LSSI. Currently, First Lutheran is home to LSSI’s Galesburg office, which provides foster care services and houses LSSI’s Single Parent Program. In fact, the church updated the building for LSSI, when it moved there in 2004, to make the building more accessible and meet building requirements.
“It was real affirming to me to find that our congregation wanted to provide a home for LSSI here,” Pr. Johnson says.
Reaching Out to Moms Leaving Prison
Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Springfield takes the Gospel’s direction to take care of those in prison to heart. The church’s social ministry focuses on Project Return, a program for mothers returning to the Springfield area after their release from prison. Developed by Luther Memorial, the program is supported by other area churches.
“Mothers in prison are a unique population with unique circumstances,” says Pastor Ronald Moorman, the church’s pastor. “The ladies come out of prison with [many] obstacles to overcome.” He notes that for these former inmates, recidivism is around 85 percent. Project Return works to make the transition from prison to community smoother for these moms — and hopefully help reduce the rate of recidivism.
But the church doesn’t confine its outreach to prison ministry. Working with Atonement Lutheran Church in Springfield and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Colfax, Luther Memorial participates in a program where a group of farmers plants 50 acres, with the Springfield congregations funding the project. After the harvest, the profits are sent to the Food Resources Bank, which uses the money to buy tractors and other equipment for farmers in developing countries.
Members of the congregation have also done a “build” with Habitat for Humanity, volunteered for Meals on Wheels and supplied volunteers, food and money to local food pantries. The church also houses LSSI offices, including space for LSSI’s Storybook Project, a volunteer program of the Prisoner and Family Ministry that enables inmates to read books to their children on tape and send those recordings and books to them.
Providing Shelter and Support in Schaumburg
“We see social service as an integral part of our self-understanding as a congregation,” says Pastor Donald B. Myrom, senior pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Schaumburg. The church reaches out to the homeless, non-English speaking residents, victims of disasters, those living with chronic illnesses or grief and the hungry — among others — through a variety of missions.
Prince of Peace, which has been a PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) site for more than 16 years, also sponsors a Read to Learn program, Chronic Care and Grief Support Groups, yearly mission trips to disaster areas and a transportation program for people who need medical care. Church members also donate Christmas gifts to foster children and organize food drives. In the past, the church collected Bibles and children’s books to be distributed through LSSI’s Prisoner and Family Ministry. One year, the church raised $14,000 for six families in the community who were in financial crisis.
Prince of Peace also provides space for various groups to meet, including Alcoholics Anonymous, an interfaith pastoral counseling program, several Boy Scout troops and PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
“We have such a variety [of social outreach activities],” says Bonnie Wagner, a member of Prince of Peace for about 20 years. “People have a choice of what they want to be involved in. We have something that touches almost everyone.”
Wagner, who says she has also been interested in social ministry, first became involved with the PADS site at Prince of Peace 16 years ago. She remembers that it was a struggle to start the program because initially people didn’t believe that there were homeless people in the area who needed shelter. When the program did start, “It was a powerful experience,” she says.
For information on the 2006 Ministry of Hope Awards, call 847/390-1447.