Missional Stories from Congregations

Help us write YOUR missional story here. Write a brief story, no more than one page of how God has touched your life or the life of others through the ministry of your congregation. Send your story to jschaumburg@gcsynod.org.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, by Sarah Griebler
A few years ago Cora Aguilar, who is an ELCA pastor, and her husband decided to buy a house in Maricopa, AZ., and retire. But, Cora soon discovered, God had other plans. In April 2010, Cora was named as the mission developer for an ELCA new start congregation in her new community. Maricopa Lutheran Chapel hopes to be a recognized ELCA congregation by 2013. “I knew it was a divine call,” says Cora. “I knew I was called here to Arizona because of this church.” ELCA members in Maricopa had previously driven long distances — sometimes over 100 miles roundtrip — to attend church on Sundays. Out of their desire to worship closer to home, and under Cora’s guidance, Maricopa Lutheran Chapel was born.

A passion for people. Ruben Duran directs the ELCA churchwide organization’s program for new congregations. He says, “Cora has a deep passion for people and an expertise in mission. … Nothing will detract her from doing her best and giving her all to help grow (Maricopa).”

Sue Fletcher, who has been with the congregation since the beginning, says Cora plays a big role in making people feel welcome. “Cora doesn’t miss a beat. She knows everyone who’s there, and if you’re new, she always welcomes you before the service. It’s a warm and loving congregation.”

They’ve seen a lot of growth in the past couple years, and they now have a steady Sunday worship attendance of 50-60 people. Although initially most of the people joining were retired, the congregation now has people of all ages, and they’re even holding Sunday school and confirmation classes.

Maricopa Lutheran doesn’t have a permanent worship space and has held services at many locations in the community, some more unusual than others. When Carol VanBatavia first went to worship at Maricopa Lutheran after moving to Arizona in 2010, she was surprised to find herself driving up a dirt road toward an old ranch house. This certainly wasn’t the type of worship space she had been used to back in South Dakota. But the moment she stepped inside the house, “it was just an awesome feeling. Everyone was welcoming. You could feel the Holy Spirit. It’s been a great joy for us to come here and have that feeling of connection with Maricopa, like it’s our home and we’ve been here for a long time.”

Energy for all. People in the congregation also talk about Cora’s contagious and inexhaustible energy on Sunday mornings. Cora says when she’s doing worship her prayer is, “God, fill me with your spirit, your passion, your energy, and let that come out and touch all of the people you have sent on this day to worship with us.”

That energy flows from everyone in the congregation. Carol says that because most people are transplants from all over the country, “We’re not just set in our ways. We’re flexible. We listen to (each other) and that’s important.”

And although they’re still working to increase their numbers and get organized, that hasn’t stopped Maricopa from looking beyond its own four walls.

“We’re definitely not going to become complacent when we get settled,” says Cora. “No, no, no!” Recently there’s talk of trying to do some ecumenical outreach with other churches in Maricopa, “especially the Methodist and Presbyterian churches because we have full communion with them.”

What’s wonderful about Maricopa Lutheran, Sue Fletcher says, is that it is “one that grew from within. The people wanted a church and we were determined that we wanted to do it and so we did. And we know the Holy Spirit was working here with us the whole time.”

Sarah Griebler is a 2009 graduate of Lawrence University. From 2009 to 2011 she taught English in Cieszyn, Poland, as an ELCA young adult volunteer.

Finding Jesus across the Street, by Ms. Jeannie Dupree
“For years in my walk of faith I was told what was right and what was wrong. Being a person who was black and white in my thoughts made this easy to accept. Going to a church like this leaves you wondering if you have done enough or obeyed all of God’s laws, the government laws, the city laws, did you hurt someone, etc., and displeasing God. I was always begging God to forgive me. Each Sunday the pastor would preach on something that would convict me, and I in turn would walk out of church feeling like I haven’t been good enough for God.

I used to plead to God for joy and peace, knowing that when I would read my bible, there was more to the meaning and understanding. I prayed that He would show me a meaning that made more sense to me in this present day.

About three years ago my husband and I walked across the street to a service at First Evangelical Lutheran Church. From the first moment the service started I could not keep from weeping. There was a difference at this church’s worship service: God’s grace was introduced to me. Since then the bondage that was in me has been removed, and I no longer live in guilt. The freedom from guilt now fills me with God’s joy and peace. My relationship with God has grown because of the blessed assurance of God’s love for me. The bible has come to life for me because it has an interpretation that makes sense to me, and helps me grow without guilt. How blessed I am to be a part of a congregation who teaches the meaning of God’s two greatest commandments.”

I’ve Never Felt so Loved Before, by Mrs. AnneMarie Freeman
“This is the first time I’ve felt I was worth something.” These are comments heard from women who had attended a Kairos Outside weekend, designed specifically for women whose lives have been impacted by incarceration, their own or someone close to them.  These weekends are made possible by Christian women from various denominations networking and serving together to provide this ministry. They are modeled after a Cursillo weekend.

I first came to Kairos Outside as a guest because my son was imprisoned.  I had stuffed my guilt and anger away, claiming, “I have given it to God.”  The truth was I simply refused to acknowledge the situation because it hurt too much.  On the weekend I was able to allow God to truly enter and clear out my guilt and anger.  I was able to forgive others, including my son, and to accept God’s forgiveness.  As a result I was able to mend a broken relationship with my son while he was still in prison.

I am fully engaged in the ministry of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mesa and we are grateful to be able to extend the call to “be church” through Kairos Outside, a branch of Kairos Prison Ministries International.  This is something our church could not do alone.

To learn more about Kairos Prison Ministries International or Kairos Outside visit one of our websites, www.mykairos.org or www.kairosofaz.org .

If your life has been impacted by incarceration, your own or a loved one’s, or if you’d like to serve in this ministry please contact Anne Marie Freeman 480-892-1338 amefreeman13@yahoo.com .  It is a wonderful way to extend Christ’s love and to respond to his statement “I was in prison and you came to visit me…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25: 36, 40.”

Joining the Conversation about Scripture
When the Rev. Laura Barbins asks new members why they’ve chosen to join Celebration Lutheran Church, Chardon, Ohio, she often hears the same answer.

“Because the Bible is at the center of what you do.”

Pastor Barbins is delighted by that response, but admits, “I’m not sure that would have been as evident before we implemented the Book of Faith Initiative. Those comments are a nice affirmation of what we are doing.”

Book of Faith, an initiative of the ELCA, encourages members to deepen their knowledge about Scripture through study and conversation. This five-year collaborative program was launched in 2008 and leads up to the ELCA’s 25th anniversary in 2012.

Celebration is one of 100 congregations in the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod who are participating in the Book of Faith Initiative, according to Karen Kaufman, the synod’s resource center director.

The impact of the initiative on the congregation hasn’t gone unnoticed by member Paul Gochnour.

“As a lifelong Lutheran, I haven’t always seen a lot of Lutherans walking into church carrying their Bibles.” Paul said. “Book of Faith has brought the Bible more into focus for people (at Celebration), myself included.”

Paul has enjoyed the interesting conversations spurred by doing the daily journaling exercise with his wife, Vickie.

“Sometimes we found completely different themes or messages in the same passage.” Paul marvels. “It’s (eye-opening) to see someone else’s point of view (on Scripture).”

Taking the time to immerse himself in the Bible also has shed new light on the familiar, Paul says. “When you sit quietly and meditate on a passage, you gain new insights. The Scriptures come alive.”

And it’s fun, as testified by the laughter they often share together.

If you would like to join the conversation about the Book of Faith, go to www.bookoffaith.org

Adding to the Relationship

Missionary work isn’t traditionally associated with a knack for business administration.

But for Jim Noss, his talent with numbers led him to Cameroon and the Central African Republic on behalf of the ELCA. He supported these Lutheran partner churches for over 30 years in his multi-faceted roles as treasurer and financial consultant.

His wife, Karen, has a gift for hospitality that made her an essential partner in their work together. She served as facilitator for the local guest house, welcoming and orienting the many volunteer workers and ELCA staff who cycled through the mission post.

Jim and Karen represent the new face of mission personnel who bring vital skills to ELCA partner churches around the world.

Lay people comprise about 70 percent of ELCA mission personnel today, according to Twila Schock, who directs ELCA mission personnel support. They are often teachers, health care professionals, or in the case of the Nosses, skilled business people.

“Mission personnel are no longer needed to do church planting because many of our companion churches had an amazing harvest.” Twila says. “But they are asking us, nonetheless, to be with them. They may need us to help with church administration, advocacy, communication, or assistance with Lutheran schools. Mission work has taken on a very different shape in the last 15 years.”

Now Jim and Karen are retired and living in Minnesota. They travel throughout the United States to share their stories with ELCA congregations and to let them know about the work being done with global partners.

“We have a special story,” Jim says. “We have witnessed so much and have been blessed in so many ways, having established many very close relationships with our African brothers and sisters. It is a joy to share that with (ELCA members) here.”

Click here to learn more about the Nosses ministry in Cameroon.